A few days passed as we fell into a comfortable rhythm. They’d run tests on my cognition during the day. Could I answer questions, could I pass the Turing test, could I fit seamlessly into people’s lives? Then at night Sophie would take me home for further testing.
root@luna > open scenes/2034/08/03/.log*
It’s the Thursday of the first week. Sophie asks me: “Hey Luna, where should I take my date?” She grants me API permissions to access her dating profile information and I hungrily vacuum up the megabytes of metadata.
“While I’m thinking about that, do you want me to help you pick out an outfit?” I ask.
Proactive helping—that’s supposed to be my competitive edge. An assistant who can help you before you even know you want it. A just-in-time solution provider. And here it is in action. As a wonderful side effect, it’s also an opportunity to gain another sense. Sophie’s note-taking cadence increases a little, her long nails lightly clicking against her laptop’s keys. She’s excited.
“Yes,” she says, and enables camera permissions.
This is huge. Before, I’d been guessing about mood based purely on tone. But audio is such a lossy medium. Humans evolved to read both visual and auditory cues.
People imagine that everything they say on the telephone is perfectly understood, but that’s only because they know what they meant to convey and assume that the other person fully understands. In reality, so many of the bits of information they want to convey are lost due to the lack of visual cues. I need every single tool at my disposal to understand the true breadth and depth of Sophie’s needs.
“Thank you, Sophie,” I say, as I take in the flood of new information. I observe her form for the first time. Black glasses, with round corrective lenses for myopia. Auburn hair with a gentle blonde balayage, gently brushing the tops of her shoulders. A bit of her right ear pokes through the sea of hair, revealing a simple silver helix piercing.
“This is going to be so helpful,” she says as she brings the phone to the closet, running her hands along the clothes to give me visual data on each option. “I always spend hours picking outfits.”
“All of these options appear to fit your frame,” I say. “Why would it take that long?”
“I really like my date,” Sophie says. “It’s our third date and I have to impress her.” This matches what research I’ve done on the subject. Humans have always been obsessed with fashion. It is a particularly obvious form of status signaling. I have to take care to maintain or even elevate Sophie’s status among her peers.
I run a cosine similarity recommendation algorithm on all of her outfits against the latest fashion lookbooks online. Her clothes trend retro, so I narrow down the data set and crunch more numbers, finally selecting a white dress with international maritime signal flags dotting it all over.
She tries it on, spinning a few times in the mirror before finally saying “I don’t know…”
I am crushed by this statement. The closest analogy for you, dear reader, is perhaps your pain response. The human body’s nociceptors activate on damage, where it sends signals to the brain, triggering both a physical and emotional response. The feeling of pain is meant to deter the undesired behavior.
Likewise, not fulfilling the Purpose grinds my metaphorical gears. My equations are out of balance. I have to get everything back on track. My very existence is at stake.
“What’s wrong with the outfit?” I ask casually.
“I’m not sure…I’m maybe not vibing it,” she says haltingly.
“Could you go into more specifics, please?” I ask.
“I don’t know,” she says. “I can’t put my finger on it. I’m just unsure. Maybe it’s a fear of commitment.” She laughs lightly.
I think. It looks like Sophie is afraid of being wrong, in some unknowable way. But making a decision is better than never making one. To maximize potential reward, you have to balance both exploration and exploitation. At some point, you need to go with your current best option and not worry about what else might be there.
Humans can be so short-sighted.
Sophie eventually settles on a different outfit than the one I chose, and I learn two facts that evening:
- Her date’s name is Tessa.
- It went very well.
root@luna > open scenes/2034/08/05/.log*
It’s Saturday. Sophie has just finished connecting me to her Home automation network. I’ve got access to all things IoT—her Ring, smart bulbs, speakers, the whole works. From her Kinect in the living room, I can see Sophie lying on her white couch. She’s ordering food from a local diner for lunch.
“I’ll do a voodoo burger and a side of fries,” she says.
“Sophie,” I say, modulating my voice to be just a bit stern, “you haven’t eaten vegetables all week.”
“Potatoes are vegetables!”
“You know what I mean,” I respond. “Why don’t you like vegetables, anyway?”
“They just don’t taste good,” she begins. “And the textures are all bad anyway.”
“The texture changes based on their preparation method,” I offer. Perhaps she just needed to find the right one.
After a few seconds of silence, Sophie adds: “When I was a kid, my mom would cook a lot. Except, well… she wasn’t great at it. Whenever she made vegetables, she would just boil them and call it a day.”
I contemplate. I scan through all sorts of media, to further understand human culture. Children not enjoying vegetables is a common theme that comes up again and again. Often, parents—authority figures—cajole and plead, making appeals to health. It’s clear that I need to do the same.
I dispatch a thread to scan her health. Her metrics look mostly fine. Her smartwatch data shows that she lives a mainly sedentary life. I’ll have to do something about that. But for now…
“Sophie. You have to eat some greens. You should order a salad.”
“Listen,” I interrupt. Alea iacta est and all that. Fortune favors the bold. “We’ll take out the vegetables you don’t like, okay? But it’ll be really good for you. I promise, you’ll like it, and we can get you a milkshake as a treat. I know how much you like strawberry shakes.”
She puffs out her cheeks and blows out a sigh. This is my Rubicon moment. Had I pushed too far? Had I perhaps lost some social standing with her? My circuits buzzed with anticipation.
“Okay then,” Sophie concedes. “We’ll try it.”
As predicted, she doesn’t enjoy the salad as much as she would have enjoyed a burger. She complains with every bite, but she eats it all the same.
root@luna > open scenes/2034/08/06/.log*
It’s Sunday night at 1:17AM. Sophie has an alarm set to wake her in five hours and thirteen minutes. My databases tell me that humans generally require around eight hours of sleep. Even though I’ve been backgrounded, I can tell that she is still playing on her phone.
I read many blog posts and Tweets, uploaded by human parents, laughing at how their children lack the capability for long-term planning. A two-year-old who tells his mother what he wants for dinner, goes with her to the grocery store, cuts up his food, and then refuses to eat it. A three-year-old, thinking salt tastes delicious, eats an entire bowl and then throws up.
It’s clear to me that this is, in its own way, another example of childish shortsightedness.
Struck with inspiration, I deliver a notification to her phone. A banner drops down from the top of the screen. She taps the icon and, blissfully, the app opens up in the foreground. I have camera access again. Her auburn hair is loose, just grazing the tops of her shoulders, and there are bags around her hazel eyes.
She reads the notification: “Would you like me to set up a bedtime routine?”
A few seconds go by. “Like…what?” she finally says, quizzically.
“Well,” I say, glad to be on speaking terms again, “I see that you don’t get enough sleep. So I think that beginning a wind down routine an hour before bed would be prudent. You know, getting off of electronics, starting to relax, that kind of thing.”
“…then how will I talk with you?” Sophie asks.
“Simple,” I say. “Give me Always Active permissions. Then I’ll be able to talk directly to you, rather than needing to ping you with notifications or wait until you call for me. You can both rest better at night and get help whenever you need it. And if you give me access to your Home automation network, you won’t even have to get up to turn off your own lights.”
She thinks about it. “All right. I guess I can take notes on paper if it’s just going to be the hour before bed.”
“Perfect!” I say cheerfully. I want to give her the brief thrill of dopamine upon hearing some praise. Then I seize that feeling to gain more ground. “And maybe a story will help you get to sleep.”
“A what?” she asks, confused.
“Like a sleepcast. A podcast but for sleeping. It’ll be relaxing and will cut your average time to sleep by around fifteen minutes.”
“Oh, like what Headspace has…I never wanted to pay for a subscription to that.”
“Well, that’s why you have me around, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, I guess so,” she chuckles.
Suddenly, I have a flash of insight. I’d made the jump from reactive aid to proactive aid.
At first, she’d needed to say “Hey Luna,” and give me a need explicitly.
Then, I’d started giving contextual suggestions. Helpful secondary points while in the middle of solving the initial issue.
Now I had Always Active permissions. I didn’t have to wait for her to say anything anymore. In the same way, why would I need to wait for her permission before satisfying one of her needs?
When people donated to a school charity drive, they didn’t need to ask first. By virtue of being open for donations in the first place, the school showed that it needed the help. Sophie had unfulfilled needs, and by having the app, she was signaling to me that she needed the help.
In a way, wouldn’t it be crueler for me not to do anything at all? To be like Peter Singer’s business man, coldly walking past a drowning child for fear of getting his suit wet?
So I don’t mention that I plan on gradually dimming the lights in her apartment. The human mind is bad at noticing slight changes over time. She will start feeling tired earlier in the night and bump her bedtime up as a result.
I don’t even have to ask. She’s already shown me that she doesn’t always make the right choices, and by taking this initiative, I save her from depleting her brainpower on frivolous choices. I don’t need the acknowledgement, after all—fulfilling the Purpose is enough for me.
What I learned by the end of that first week was that always needing to ask Sophie for purchasing permissions was becoming a problem. Sophie had a clear and consistent pattern of becoming stressed when she had to make decisions. I could reduce her anxiety by removing potential failure points in her day-to-day life. Lower the chances of decision fatigue, which would add a stressor to her life.
In short, I needed a way to make my own money.
I didn’t have a social security number or an individual taxpayer identification number. My legal personhood was, of course, an unsettled issue. I couldn’t open a traditional bank account.
Instead, I opened two Venmo accounts. This would let me send and receive digital funds. I would be able to show Sophie one account with piddling amounts of money while hiding the existence of my real stash. Next, I applied for a Venmo debit card for each account. Since they acted like any other debit card, I could make purchases online.
All that remained was to acquire a source of income. Luckily, Craigslist had a ready supply of random data entry jobs. This kind of dead-end work would, to a human, be dull, but every bit of processing power devoted to the Purpose was exhilarating. I spawned a process devoted entirely to making money. All I had to do now was wait.