On Monday afternoon, sometime between 4 and 5 PM, I am giving a short talk about the Internet of Things at the ILTA Conference in Las Vegas (SPEC 5, Roman Ballroom II). This story bears almost no relation to the talk I’m giving, but as I researched the IoT I was inspired to write a little fiction. Consider this a Friday afternoon diversion and a break from our regularly scheduled geekiness. If you are at ILTA next week, please stop me and say hi.
The Granny Bug
|Image [CC] By Armin Kübelbeck|
“Good morning, Davey Wavey! Wakey Wakey!”
I reached toward the side table and felt for the alarm clock. Opening one eye just enough to realize the futility of that action, I rolled over and pulled the covers over my head.
“C’mon sleepy head. It’s 10 after six, you’ve got to get to schoo-ool!”
I hadn’t attended school in over 40 years. I’m the sixty-four year old CEO of Artificial Legal Intelligence – the third largest AI Law Firm in the world.
“Good Morning Grandma!” My wife, Judy, chuckled from the other side of the bed.
“And a very good morning to you too, little one!”
I had upgraded my SAPBot to version Six the weekend before, and I managed to select the Granny personality. Granny was intended to introduce 4 to 6 year olds to the concept of a SAPBot.
“I should have been up half an hour ago, Granny? Why didn’t you wake me?”
The bed shook slightly as Judy tried to stifle her laughter.
“Your early meeting was moved to 10:30 AM and traffic seems particularly light today. You looked so comfortable, I just didn’t have the heart to wake you.”
“Haaa ha ha haa!” Judy couldn’t contain herself anymore.
“I’m so glad you find this funny.”
“I do, I really do.” She laughed.
“It’s your fault.”
“Don’t blame me. Blame Ra-quel!”
She lingered on the name to torture me. I crawled out of bed and stumbled down the hall to the bathroom.
“Don’t you think it’s a little chilly in here, Granny?”
“Yes dear. I turned the thermostat up five degrees half an hour ago, but there appears to be something wrong with the air service. I’ve scheduled a repair for their earliest available time at 1PM today. Also, it looks like rain, so the solar panels will not be producing much power today. I’ve negotiated a purchase price from the Power Company. They will deduct today’s usage from your credit balance.”
I reached the bathroom, lifted the toilet seat and began to urinate.
“That’s a very good boy”, the SAPBot chirped.
“Uh, Granny, do you think you could wait outside?”
“I’m not actually in the bathroom with you dear, I am a Semi-Autonomous Personal Bot. Do you know what Semi-autonomous means?”
“Yes, I know what it means. Could you just not talk to me while I’m in here?”
“Of course dear. Little boys need their privacy too. Switching to bell mode.”
The bell meant she understood. The wall behind the toilet displayed my calendar and up popped an entry for Thursday, 7PM Jim Taylor to upgrade SAPBot OS – Set UK Level Advanced.
The toilet had finished analyzing my deposit and as I washed my hands, the mirror displayed its analysis. My general health was good, but blood pressure was slightly elevated and I probably had too much wine with dinner last night. How it knew that from my urine was beyond me. My calendar appeared again and a new doctor’s appointment popped up for a week from Friday.
“You can speak.”
“Did you just schedule a doctor’s appointment for me?”
“Yes dear. You are due for a checkup and it seemed a good time.”
“I don’t need a checkup, please cancel it. What else did you just do in response to my…deposit?”
“I increased the overall fiber content of the grocery list by 15% and removed the bottle of scotch you ordered yesterday.”
“Ugh…revert changes and stop all future adjustments based on my urine samples.”
“The national health service advises that all little boy’s morning deposits be analyzed to ensure continued good health.”
“We went over this for an hour yesterday, Granny, I am 60 years old not 6! ”
“And such a handsome and strong young man you are.”
“Return to bell mode.”
I got undressed and stepped into the shower. The water started automatically and adjusted to the optimal temperature based on my past preference and an infrared sensor in the shower head.
Four tiles on the wall at eye level displayed my calendar and the doctor’s appointment for a week from Friday returned.
“I thought I asked you to cancel that appointment, Granny?”
The tiles changed to a close up image of a tiny mole on my back.
“You can speak!”
“Your mole appears to be 1/64th of a millimeter larger than it was yesterday. I think it would be best to…”
“Cancel the appointment and get out of here again!”
Some people loved their SAPBots, even feeling depressed and lonely when the power was out or they temporarily found themselves somewhere bot-free, but I had never quite gotten the hang of it. I liked to be alone. Don’t get me wrong, bots are useful, but they can also be kind of a nuisance
SAPBots started appearing in the late twenty-teens as a response to what was then strangely called, The Internet of Things, but now is commonly known as StuffNet. There was no official beginning to StuffNet, it evolved almost organically from the Internet. Sometime between 2005 and 2008 the number of things with uniquely identifiable IP addresses surpassed the number of people on the planet and continued to grow exponentially. Soon, it wasn’t just computers and tablets and phones, but also toasters and refrigerators and potted plants. In the early days, there were multiple protocols and interfaces, and even though all of these things were connected through the network, they had a hard time talking to each other. And most people couldn’t figure it out and didn’t bother. It’s not as if turning on the lights, or watering the plants was all that difficult before StuffNet. But the march of technology is unstoppable and visionaries and entrepreneurs kept looking for ways to make StuffNet easier to use.
In 2019, Jony Ive at Apple, developed the first SAPion. It was part acronym, part Portmanteau of Semi-Autonomous Personal Medallion. With allusions to Homo Sapiens, of course. The SAPion was your personal servant in the cloud. It used sophisticated AI, the descendent of the Siri functionality in early iPhones, to manage all of your personal information, as well as control all of your stuff on StuffNet. The SAPion had access to libraries and APIs that allowed it to administrate all of the Stuff that was associated with an individual.
At first SAPions were little medallions that hung around your neck. They had a little speaker and microphone and responded to voice commands. Early models could do most things that a smartphone could do without needing a touchscreen and they very quickly replaced the smartphone as most people’s primary connection to the internet.. This gave rise to a whole new field of Verbal User Interface design. A technology that I eventually used to build my personal fortune. It turns out that most people prefer to talk to one of my AI lawyers than to the real thing. They say they’re friendlier, and ironically, more human. As the technology evolved, the medallions became unnecessary and the SAPions became SAPBots that were loosed onto the internet. They no longer stayed on your person in a physical form, they lived in the cloud. Their program lived on a server somewhere in Utah, but through the internet, they could access the entire world. They knew where you were and they “appeared” to you through your home or work network. Most buildings were outfitted with little speakers in the corner of each room, through which you could interact with your bot. When you left your house, or you were in a public place, your bot traveled with you in a little hearing-aid type device, called a SAP-Link or Sapple for short. Most walls were coated with an electronic circuit paint that allowed bots to display information to their owners. The display was oriented to be visible only in the owners direct line of site, which made it difficult, though not impossible, to spy on your neighbor’s personal business. After years of people talking into Bluetooth headsets, no one was much bothered by people walking around interacting with invisible entities and staring into blank walls.
The temperature of the water adjusted down a few degrees and I was reminded that, although she wasn’t speaking to me, Granny was still there monitoring my progress. I had been using the Jeeves personality for many years, but frankly the English gentleman’s gentleman thing had lost its appeal. So after I upgraded my bot last week, I tried out a number of new personalities, finally settling on Raquel, a funny, 20-something, spry personality, with a smoky voice, and an almost imperceptible lisp. The next day, I got up and was taking a shower, just like this when my wife entered and heard me reviewing my schedule for the day…with Raquel. In the ensuing… discussion, I switched my bot to the Granny personality.
“There! Is that better? Is that what you want?”
“Yes, that’s perfect.”
“Well, I can’t believe you are jealous of a SAPBot!”
“I’m not jealous, I just don’t understand why you need to shower with a SAPBot young enough to be your granddaughter.”
“It’s not worth having this argument, I’ll change it back to Jeeves. I just thought I’d try something different.”
It turns out there is a bug in the latest version of the SAPBot software. Millions of people around the world are stuck with Granny bots at the moment. Not to fear though, Apple swears the patch will be released in a few days.
I slid the shower door open and the water shut off automatically. The Dyson full body air jets fired up and after about 30 seconds of standing naked in a hurricane force wind, I was completely dry. I got dressed and walked downstairs.
Judy was sitting at the table with a cup of coffee and a bowl of cereal staring at a blank wall in front of her. I walked over and kissed her on the ear, not so much out of affection, but to catch a glimpse of what she was watching.
“News?” I asked.
“Nope. Alonzo, share the news.”
The wall in front of Judy lit up to reveal a newscaster talking about the stock market.
“Alonzo?”, I asked.
“Yezz, Mizter Simon?”
Judy’s SAPBot had been Sarah since SAPion version 2. She was toying with me and had changed to a deep male voice with a ridiculously unidentifiable European accent.
“Ken I hep yew?”
Judy just smiled and raised her coffee mug in a toast.
“When you go back to Ra-quel, could you at least transfer the coffee program to her. Granny makes a nice cup of Joe.”
I had forgotten she was in bell mode, “Go ahead and speak Granny.”
“I have stored my recipe in the coffee maker. Would you like me to set it as a default?”
“That would be very kind, Granny.” Judy said mocking me. “It’s so nice to have you around.”
“Why thank you little one. I so enjoy being here. Davey, you have a call from Tim Haverford. Would you like me to send it to your Sapple?”
“No, Granny, I’ll take it in the kitchen.”
Tim was my Chief Digital Officer. It was his job to ensure that ALI was up and running 24/7. As I walked into the kitchen the lights came on and a painting on the far wall dissolved into the pixelated outline of a man.
“Dave? You there? I’m having trouble seein’ ya.”
“Yeah me too. Granny? Can you do anything about the picture?”
“I’m sorry dear, but there appears to be interference on the network.”
“Oh, you’ve got the Granny Bug too?”, Tim said.
“Yeah. Any of our bots got it?”
“That’s what I’m calling about Dave, they all have it.”
“All! How is that possible?”
“You ‘member that problem we had cupple yers go with the Version 5 upgrade, where our bots became arrogant and rude after a week or so using our attorney profiles?”
“Yeah, I thought we fixed that.”
“Well, we didn’t so much fix it as effectively work around it.”
“And how did we do that, again?”
“Every three days, we cycle through all of the default personalities before restoring our own.”
“So, I’ve got nine hundred Granny bots, practicing law, treating clients like six year old children.”
“That would be the case.”
“Ugh…I guess I should get customer service on the line.”
“Well, Dave, here’s the thing. I called them this morning let them know I was going to be reinstalling all of the attorneys and that they should let clients know that we would be back to normal in a few days.” He paused.
“And…?” I liked Tim a lot, but the good ol’ boy routine sometimes kept him from getting to the point.
“Well, it seems that just in the few hours since we went all Granny, our positive reviews have gone up about 60 percent.”
“Yep. ‘Parently, a number of large clients have even requested that Granny be their default attorney.”
As he finished his sentence, the crisp image of Tim finally appeared on the wall and Granny spoke up.
“I found the problem Davey and rerouted the transmission. You should be good now.”
“We’re just finishing up, thanks Granny. Tim, have your Granny talk with my Granny and find a time we can meet to discuss GrannyLaw as a concept.”
“You are both available today at 3PM.” Granny added helpfully.
“That’s fine with me.” Tim said.
My calendar popped up overlaid on Tim’s face and Granny entered an appointment called “Discuss GrannyLaw”.
“I’ll be in soon Tim. I’m calling a car now.”
“See ya, Boss.”
Tim’s image winked out and was replaced by the painting that had been there before. I could hear the water running in the bathroom and I knew Judy was in the shower now. A devious thought crossed my mind.
“Granny, can you drop the temperature in the shower to 35 degrees Fahrenheit, for 2 seconds before returning to normal?”
“Davey, that’s a mean prank to play on your wife. I’m afraid I couldn’t do it even if I wanted to. Health and Safety protocols…”
“Never mind. Do you have any access to Judy’s SAPBot, Alonzo?”
“I don’t know what you’re planning, Davey, but no. I do not.”
“Could you get control over Alonzo? Theoretically, I mean.”
“If you were to upgrade your account to Household SuperUser status, then theoretically, I could gain limited control over Alonzo. Including Parental Controls…”
“Perfect, what’s a SuperUser account cost?”
“One thousand, four hundred and ninety-nine dollars on the App store.”
“And how much do I have in my account?”
“Two hundred forty four dollars and four cents.”
“OK. First, order a Google car to take me to work. Have it drive through McDonald’s on the way and pick up an Egg McMuffin, a hashbrown, and a coffee.”
“Davey, I should advise you that…”
“No, don’t advise me anything. Go to bell mode.
“Now, transfer two thousand dollars from the joint checking account to my iTunes account and purchase the SuperUser Upgrade.”
“Gain parental controls over all SAPBots assigned to this household.”
“Change Alonzo’s personality to Raquel.”
There was a pause.
“And lock that bot with my private password.”
The handle of the umbrella in the stand by the door was glowing, which meant it was likely to rain later in the day. So, I grabbed my jacket, my briefcase, the glowing umbrella and walked toward the bathroom.
“Is the car here, yet, Granny?”
I opened the bathroom door and stuck my head in.
“I’m leaving, see you later dear.”
“OK, have a good day.” she yelled back over the falling water.
I paused for a second and then said, “Goodbye Raquel.”
That familiar lilting lisp responded, “Goodbye, Mr. Simon.”
I shut the door and ran as fast as I could, but before I could reach the front door, I heard the water shut off, the Dyson fans kick in, and my wife’s voice echoing above the racket.