(Article changed on September 16, 2012 at 10:27)
Desmond E. Buntzel has secured a place in judicial history as the only human, so far, to sue a machine - the Fairlight Weight Master - for personal damages; mind you, he is not suing the inventor or the company that assembled it, he is suing the machine itself. Buntzel alleges that the FWM is "personally" responsible for his fiance calling off their wedding and the ensuing financial losses (non-refundable deposits, bridal gown, new tuxedo, etc.), medical bills (counseling and psychiatric sessions, medications), and the emotional stress and depression incurred as well.
If you've not yet seen it, the FWM is a hi-tech futuristic looking computerized digital scale found in airports, hotels, and upscale shopping malls. (There are only 26 in service at this time in the U.S. and Europe but that will change soon.) After you are invited to step up, the FWM swipes your credit card, asks your age, height and gender, then scans you visually with a big red eye reminiscent of the one used by HAL, the insubordinate computer in 2001.
Next, you are asked to pull "the magic lever," and in seconds the machine displays your weight and various profiles. Sound effects - e.g., trumpet fanfares, orchestral intros, rockets taking off (and crashing), crowd reactions, sirens, you name it - and Star Wars mini light shows herald personal advice and comments about the poundage of the patron. Often sarcastic in nature, some of the FWM's jibes have supposedly left some customer's shocked, insulted, and even humiliated, and others in tears, angry, or dejected.
I observed the FWM at work for three hours from a discreet distance in a high-end shopping mall watching bewildered patrons looking all around for spy cameras and the hidden human making the remarks. One man actually threatened the machine with legal action - the FWM laughed and mocked him, "Oh, I'm so scared my chips are shaking. Hey, moron, I'm a flippin' machine, how the hell you gonna sue me?" - while another warned he'd get a crowbar from his car and take the FWM apart, to which the Fairlight announced he had a direct line to security and the police and any such attempts would be futile and he'd be arrested and prosecuted. The irate customer stormed out and didn't return.
In this case, Mr. Buntzel alleges the FWM's insulting, demeaning, and lewd comments to his fiance Rapunzel Graywater rendered her so self conscious about her weight and appearance that she could no longer be naked in front of him or indulge in a loving liaison, wrecking their romantic relationship and causing her to call off their wedding.
Buntzel said, "Just because it's a machine doesn't mean it doesn't have to play by the same rules as humans. And if Froikenshtein can weasel out of this and no one is therefore accountable, we are in deep dookie people."
Fairlight's Creator God
According to the FWM's inventor, or "Creator God" as he prefers to be called, one Fredrick Froikenshtein (I kid you not but at least it's not Frankenstein) preprogrammed several thousand different responses into his monster - excuse me, his machine - based on the data it receives: the words, tone of voice, volume and an assessment of the patron's emotional state. At the heart of the beast are Froikenshtein's patented proprietary A. I. algorithms (Artificial Intelligence for those falling behind in the technology tsunami and please don't ask what an algorithm is) which enable the FWM to respond spontaneously to individual stimuli from "stepees" as they are known in trade jargon.
Froikenshtein asserts that therefore he is not responsible for anything the FWM says to those who choose to interact with the FWM which is wholly responsible for its own actions, meaning distressed consumers have to launch suits against them individually rather than collectively as a class action suit against a defective, offensive, or dangerous product line.
Reasons Froikenshtein: "If your teenage son gets drunk and kills someone with your car, do you get arrested because you brought him into this world? I think not."
Some examples of the responses which are not in the preprogrammed software but have been documented by stepees are:
"Whoa there, Bessie, time to mosey back to the stable."
"No more fudge for you, blimp-a-zoid!"
"Can you spell a - n - o - r - e - x - i - c?"
"Great tush, babe-a-lot. You get a free reading anytime you yank my handle."