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Automated bots reserve tables at restaurants before you can

Categories: Community, Science & Technology

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Bots are making it more difficult for the average person to reserve a spot at popular San Francisco eateries. (Toru Hanai/Reuters)

In the latest in the ongoing battle between humans and machine, developer-made bots (or custom written programs) are reserving tables at popular restaurants, beating out other diners 

Developers program the bots to scour trendy restaurant websites. As soon as a table frees up, the bot reserves it - all in a matter of seconds.

Programmer Diogo Monica discovered the growing use of reservation-bots while developing a programme to help him spot free tables, he wrote on his site.

After finding it increasingly difficult to score a table at his favourite San Francisco eatery, State Bird Provisions (SBP), Monica created a code that sent him an email whenever a table opened up.

Quickly, Monica noticed his programme wasn't effective.

"One day I found myself looking at it and noticed that as soon as reservations became available on the website (at 4 a.m.), all the good times were immediately taken and were gone by 4:01 a.m. It quickly became obvious that these were reservation bots at work," he wrote.

Bots aren't just making it more difficult to make restaurant reservations. Perhaps the biggest example of bots beating humans shows in concert ticket sales.

It's a familiar scene. You log on as soon as the tickets go on sale only to discover that more than half have been sold out in the first 30 seconds.

Ticketmaster admitted that more than 60 per cent of tickets for their most popular shows were bought by bots, according to a New York Times report in May.

"If I'm there pushing my button, pushing my button, pushing my button ... and I do not get those tickets and they sell in 12 seconds, people start smelling a rat, and people think this is not fair," University of Calgary computer scientist Tom Keenan told CBC News in April after a Mumford and Sons show sold out in just seconds. 

'Fight fire with fire'

When Monica realized bots were beating his original reservation alert code, he decided to 'fight fire with fire,' making a similar bot.

His code is available for public use online.

How do you feel about online bookings? Will retaliation like Monica's leave the folk who call, book online or simply walk in waiting for a table as machine wars continue?  Is there enough being done by businesses to prevent bots from buying up what you want?

Tags: community, Technology

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