The geeks shall inherit the Earth... Or at least get tables at the best restaurants.
I was tickled to see a story this week about what the brainiest programmers around spend their time and effort doing. Not hacking into top secret Government files or uncovering corporate corruption, but making sure they secure the best seats in California's top restaurants!
It’s emerged that programmers in Silicon Valley, the world’s technology epicentre, are using custom written programmes – or ‘bots’ – to reserve the best restaurant tables before anyone else can book them up. As a result, getting a reservation at a top eaterie in Silicon Valley is incredibly difficult.
These bots work by ‘watching’ restaurant websites, looking for when tables become available, then reserve them automatically before anyone else can discover the table is up for grabs.
Programmer Diogo Monica stumbled across the bot phenomenon when he wrote a programme to help him look for available restaurant tables at his favourite San Francisco restaurant. This emailed him when tables were released or when diners cancelled and Mr Monica soon noticed that it was virtually impossible to get a booking.
He wrote about this on his blog and in retaliation against the reservation bots, wrote his own code to get tables and, sure enough, it wasn’t long before he was booked in at his favourite restaurant, State Bird Provisions in San Francisco.
Mr Monica told the BBC that he knew of other programmers using similar systems and that there were also websites you could use to jump the queue for restaurant tables too.
So if it’s happening in San Francisco, is the bot phenomenon happening everywhere? Any restaurant that has an online booking system is theoretically open to bots reserving tables but a spokeswoman for The Ivy, Scott’s and Le Caprice in London told the BBC it would never let all its bookings be done online and that’s probably true of most eateries.
Nevertheless, it opens up the possibility that any online booking or reservation system is susceptible to bots. Ever wonder why you can’t get tickets to a festival or gig? Ever wonder why events sell out within minutes let alone hours? It could well be bots at work.
The term bot just means internet or web robot, automated programme that acts on certain information. If you’re a Twitter user, you may have noticed some attention from bots. They’ll respond to a key word or phrase in a tweet and either retweet you or send you a tweet.
These may be harmless and some bots may be useful in managing information but you can imagine a more sinister use for bots in detecting information and then acting upon it far quicker than any human could.
But it’s kind of reassuring that the world’s top programmers are concentrating their efforts on bots that will get them into the best restaurants in town rather than ones that are destabilising governments or bringing down corporations. As far as we know!
I’m off to book myself a table!
Until next timeSteve Wilkin