Here in the 21st century, when we want to order a pizza we can pick up a smartphone or laptop and order by app or website without ever having to talk to a person – but in 1974, the idea of a computer being used to order pizza was revolutionary. In the Artificial Language Lab at Michigan State University, a computer called Alexander became the first non-human to order a pizza for delivery over the phone.
The computer program developed at the Artificial Language Lab was an attempt to help the disabled communicate via phone. Although their first four calls ended in hang-ups, the team at the lab was finally able to place their order. They did so after programming in a message that informed the person on the other end of the call that a special assistive device was being used.
The video of the phone call is now a classic moment in the history of technology. Although there were some bumps and hiccups – at one point Donald Sherman, the MSU alumnus operating Alexander, had to ask the pizza man to rephrase a question – the order was successful and the team got their large pizza.