Fourteen Today

Change Machine

Change MachineThere are few more specialised robots than the change machine, a staple of arcades my entire life. It has exactly one purpose: to change a note or coin into smaller denominations. In the UK, typically into 10p coins or tuppences, in the US almost exclusively into quarters. You can find them in certain other places (coin-operated laundromats for instance) but whatever the venue, the role is the same: to convert one kind of money into another, to feed into the hungry mouths of other robots.

We only form a cyborg with a change machine for under a minute – long enough for it to 'thunk' out coins (almost always with a slower rhythm than a fruit machine jackpot). But then we are bound up in its cybernetic network for however long it takes to spend the coins; perhaps an hour in an arcade if we are lucky or skilled enough. The money it dispenses is the same value as what we put in, but in a way the coins are almost 'spent' the moment they are delivered since they are destined for the coin slots of other machines nearby. Considering the technology of the change machine is nearly identical to that in the fruit machine, the experience is radically different, and never comes close to touching the rush of the win that is mechanical cousin offers. 

How could we even begin to make a moral judgement about the qualities of the change machine-human cyborg? It does not seem very likely that this technological configuration could encourage positive qualities in us. Yet recall the risks of contactless payment, the backgrounding of the exchange of money. The change machine has the opposite tenor: it brings into abundant clarity the money we are about to spend. When I feed one a five dollar bill and walk off with twenty quarters I know I am about to spend five dollars on videogames, or pinball, or laundry. When the coins are gone, I have to make a conscious decision to get more. There is a positive value here, that of mindful prudence with respect to money, that is inherent in the cybernetic network of the change machine. It is a most curious situation to reflect upon, since who in their most abstract moment would suspect that such a device could be seen in such a positive light?

A Hundred Cyborgs, #55, part of a ten part mini-serial on Arcade Cyborgs.


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indeed, universities here in the states literally cash in on the fact that student IDs can double as cash cards and make the money being spent seem insubstantial and get kids into being lifelong card (virt cards on phones I imagine) users (wait til they can get implants).
seems like the 'smoother' the user/machine interface the more hidden the work being done becomes, might be good to add in a little friction to push back on the growing phenomena of out of sight/touch out of mind, and even eventually to foreground some of the framing of our
uses/ interactions
"This history also points to the fact that attempts to produce intelligent behavior in machines often run parallel to attempts to make human behavior more machine-like."

Hey dmf,
I never thought I would find myself defending the virtue of coins, but as you say here, the 'smoother' the transaction, the more easy it becomes to simply leech money. Universities are the last places you'd expect to see this... but alas, the thing that goes by this name is nothing like the thing Kant imagined, and are yet another kind of profit centre, farming either students or research grants. I find it extremely troublesome.

Many thanks for the history of AI commentary link. AI was my Masters degree... the thing I learned on that course was that what science fiction called AI had no bearing on the field. In the time since, it has only got worse. Utility, here and elsewhere, overrides all other values - the blight of our times.

Thanks again for your engagement,


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