The Infallible Ticket Machine - When Machines Do Make Mistakes

The LinuxJournal posted a great article about good and bad consequences of technology.

I have had similar thoughts. What people may forget is the problems you may get into with machines and that they do make mistakes. But let me tell you what happened to me.

I went to buy train tickets. They were non-refundable day tickets valid for one day only (not 24 hours).

I went to the machine. I chose the type of ticket. Then I chose a date. Then I chose to take two of them. Then I paid and left. A few hours later I looked closely at my tickets and found out that it did not apply the choice of date to both tickets. One of them was valid only for yesterday. I had bought them at about 11.45 pm. And yesterday was now already past.

Okay, there were several problems: The machine should have warned before selling you a day ticket that would be valid only for 15 minutes. It should actually automatically select the next day then. But the very least it must of course apply your choice of day to the tickets when in the last step it asks you for the number of tickets.

Okay, I thought, no problem. Luckily there are still humans. I went to a service person. The date and time of purchase were printed on the ticket, so it was an obvious situation. I told them about it and was quite surprised about their reaction.

The tickets are non-refundable they told me. That I aleady knew. I said again that I told two tickets and that the date was not applied. They told me I must have made a mistake when ordering them, so it was my fault. That kind of remark is hard to deal with, especially if you're earning money with IT services. I tried to explain this to them and they informed me that machines don't make mistakes.

Ah. That was new to me. I gave up with her and went to another service person somewhere else:

I: Hi, I've gotten the wrong ticket from the ticket machine.
S: Well, the tickets are non-refundable.
I: Oh yes, I know. But I didn't choose that ticket.
S: Then it wouldn't have printed it - you must have made the wrong choices.
I: Aha. (explaining the choices). Could the problem be with the machine?
S: No, there is no problem with the machines. You should simply buy the tickets one by one.
I: And now?
S: You're too late to exchange it now. Try writing a letter to the central custumer service department.

By now I had no time to buy new tickets and had to run to catch my train. It turned out that the train personell didn't even notice the difference in dates when checking my tickets. So luckily in the end a human error helped me avoid problems after the machine's error.

In the end I quite agree with his critic view on technology: One should always keep in mind that machines do make mistakes. And when they do, it can be extremely hard to impossible to convince people of it.

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