My New Friend, the Toll Light

Way back in 2011, I confessed my love for the woman in my GPS. I still love her, but I have a new friend: the green Thank You light at the tool booth.

This year, I finally joined the rest of the country in using a transponder at toll booths instead of paying cash. If I go through the toll at a reasonable speed, and my transponder is paid up, a green light says, “Thank you.”

It makes me so cheerful!

In fact, it makes me happier than hearing a human being say the same thing. Why could that be?

When a human toll-taker has said “Thank you,” I can’t say the message is delivered with particular warmth. And that’s no ding on them; my “Thank you” in return is cheerful enough, but not effusive. To be honest, our exchange is nothing more than polite convention.

How can a “Thank you” from a machine be any better?

I’m new enough at this transponder thing that I worry whether I might go too fast, prevent the transponder from being read, and get a bill — or even a ticket — in the mail. When that signal lights up, I know I have done something right. The green light relieves my anxiety and tells me, “Beagle, you did well.” I have mastered a skill that, while small, is greater than passing $1.25 out my window.

Also, I get the sense that the intelligence and intent of all the people who designed and built the nifty transponder system are somehow represented in that light, not to mention the deliberations of many highway administrators and politicians. When the light says “Thank you” I feel they’re all behind it. It’s as if a whole chorus of people is thanking me. When I interact directly with a human toll-taker, the chain of connection seems to end with him or her.

At a recent meeting with philosophically minded friends, we were speculating on whether we will form emotional attachments to our future robotic assistants. I think my bright, green friend is telling me that we will.

2 responses to “My New Friend, the Toll Light

  1. I hope you have had a chance to watch the new series “Humans” on AMC. It explores the whole concept of emotional attachments to future robotic assistants.

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