Today in 1974, a person used a computer to order a pizza for the first time.

This is not to be confused with the first time someone ordered a pizza on the internet.

That was Apple Computer co-founder Steve Jobs, and it happened several decades later.

This was a different scenario, but still a pretty big deal in the history of tech… and the history of pizza.

The customer for this order was Donald Sherman, and he was using a computer for his pizza order because he had something known as Moebius Syndrome.

People with this condition have underdeveloped or missing nerves that control movement in the face and eyes, and one of the effects can be speech impairment.

Michigan State University’s Artificial Intelligence Laboratory developed a system to help Sherman and others navigate a world where a lot of communication was handled through phone calls.

They built a text-to-speech system with a mainframe computer known as “Alexander” and a voice synthesizer called Votrax.

Sherman could type a message and the system would say it, just like how text-to-speech works today.

The difference was that the Votrax voice was a lot slower and a lot more electronic than the ones we hear now from smartphones and smart speakers.

So when Sherman placed Votrax-powered phone calls to order his pizza, some of the pizza places thought it was a prank.

Another hung up because he asked for the address where the pizza would be sent, and there was a lag at the other end while Sherman typed out a response.

In the video showing this whole process in action, you see Sherman and the A-I researchers adjusting their phone technique with each call so that the people on the other end understand what’s happening.

At first they just have Votrax say “I’d like to order a pizza,” but over time they start by having the synthesizer explain that it’s a computer helping a person place an order.

It’s a whole other layer of information they have to communicate to get to the details about the pizza.

And the good news is that it did eventually work!

Mr. Mike’s Pizza sent Sherman a 16” pizza with mushrooms, pepperoni, ham, and sausage.

Now that’s what you call a deliverable!

Today in 2020, the UK news outlet The Independent reported on a man in Italy who had a very strange week.

After an argument with his wife, the man went out for a walk to cool off… and kept walking.

Authorities found him 280 miles from home after a week of walking!

But was he feeling better afterward?

Watch: Talking computer orders a pizza in 1974 (CBS News)

Man fined after walking 280 miles to calm down following row with wife during lockdown (The Independent)

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Photo by gbozik photography via Flickr/Creative Commons