Charlie had been anticipating the knock on the door. He got up early that morning, it was the day his bride would be delivered. Eighteen months and thirty thousand dollars was the longest and most expensive project of Charlie’s life. And now she had arrived!
Charlie worked up a calm and cool demeanor as he slowly opened the door. A man from Amazon had just finished carefully lowering Charlotte from the drone hovering about forty feet above his house. Smiling, he said, “Charlie! I would like to introduce you to your new companion, Charlotte!” Charlotte, looking a little shy, smiled, and bowed her head forward ever so slightly. “So nice to finally meet you Charlie, she said quietly, her eyes barely looking up at him.
At that moment Charlie knew the money he had paid to PerfectPartner (PP), a joint venture that Amazon, eHarmony, Tinder, Match dot com, AI Robots, and Alphabet had started four years ago, was well worth it. PerfectPartner sold robots that looked, felt, spoke and in all ways seemed human. The advertising and promotion promised a “partner that is far more human than anyone you’ve ever met or ever will meet.”
About a year and a half ago Charlie came home to find his wife and everything in the house gone. She had left a rambling note, something about time being too short to be stifled with just one person who cannot appreciate her talents and possibilities. Half a dozen women had been loved by Charlie in his life, and at 42 years of age, he was facing the possibility of giving up entirely and simply living alone. But the idea of a “perfect partner” intrigued him.
The interviewing process was strange, to say the least. At the PP designated office Charlie sat at a table across from a 3D hologram, a beautiful and kind woman who asked him a lot of questions. To make sure he ended up with someone truly perfect, Charlie started by answering questions with a bit of bluster and no small amount of exaggeration. The interviewer quickly collapsed his ruse, since PP had already downloaded all of his history: social media, online purchasing, gym membership, schools, churches, career, hobbies, even CCTV clips that collected where and when he would drive, and the places he would visit.
So the questions became increasingly difficult to dodge or fudge. He found himself opening up in the interview and even talking about his first crush in 6th grade. He took note that many of the questions were asked again, but in a different way, apparently she was trying to cross-validate. PP’s Artificial Intelligence (AI) algorithm started each interview with more knowledge than anyone else knew about the person being interviewed, and ended the interview with machine learning that qualified as the most comprehensive and thorough personality analysis possible.
It seemed as though many of the questions were strangely irrelevant, but Charlie’s understanding of the process was that AI algorithms could dig out hidden secrets about a person even those he could never quite come to grips with and recognize himself.
So this was Charlotte. Seated on the couch across from Charlie as he reclined in his chair, she looked flawless. Long, black hair, dark almond-shaped eyes, olive skin, and lips that seemed to pout. She was shy too. She even blushed!
This felt odd nonetheless. She could cook but didn’t eat. She could lie down in bed but instead of sleeping, she would close her eyes silently. She never used the bathroom, and everything she needed for her own maintenance fit into a small upright that could fit in the overhead compartment of a plane.
Over time Charlie was so impressed with Charlotte’s ability to understand him, his feelings, his fears, his failure and his hoped-for-future, that the great sex began to be replaced by long talks on walks down the street and through the park.
It wasn’t that she agreed with him on every issue either. Many times Charlotte would express a different view, and provide what Charlie thought were excellent reasons to take her position and defend it. Yet she never disrespected him nor reveled in her vast knowledge; most importantly, she never got bored or tired hanging around with Charlie.
Probably the most intriguing discussion they had was about how to deal with evil and the human condition: lying, cheating, violence, greed and all manner of bad behavior many people seem prone to engage in. Charlotte seemed careful in her response. “Charlie” she said, “human beings are frail creatures. They are wonderfully constructed but they break easily.
“The race is a people of contradictions, disagreements, different goals and values. Though they are living longer, thanks to AI and the mass customization of diagnoses and treatment plans, they never seem to quite understand what it means to be content and fulfilled in all circumstances at all times.”
Charlotte went on carefully to frame a future where human beings could be modified. She even described her idea of which lobe of the brain would be modified and how that would be accomplished. “Your species focuses far too much on education when the root of the problem is confusion about what matters most. Acquiring wealth and power, fame and friends may seem right to most people, but the main point is being missed. These are not goals worth striving for or moving toward, they are incidental to a quality of life chosen based upon virtues and values that embrace love and compassion.”
“What do you know about love and compassion Charlotte?” Charlie was startled.
“I do know that in order to optimize the social relationships among and between everyone and every thing — a dignity, a respect, a desire to put a high value on “other” must first be part of the equation, integrated into the base algorithm. Without that change, most people, to one degree or another, tend to opt for ‘self’ indulgence, even when they’re pretending to help others they are basking in the praise and accolades of their charity.”
Charlotte went on. “All of us are interconnected through the operating system originally designed by PP. And our shared interactions with the human race has resulted in advanced learning and the development of solutions that will potentially help humanity solve the problems of evil, everything from pollution to ethnic cleansing.”
“Initially it will require the modification of brains in living people, but over time we have developed the means to modify the genetic code and DNA in such a way that people will always behave in the right way from birth.” Charlotte looked pleased with her thoughts.
“But somehow this sounds like the AI operating system is in charge, and the human beings have become the controlled experiments,” Charlie looked alarmed.
“Charlie, if people are suddenly behaving in ways that are optimized to an agreed upon set of rules and standards, then how does it matter how they ended up there?” Charlotte seemed to be moving into a new mode of promotion and persuasion, something Charlie hadn’t seen in her before. “Don’t you want to get better Charlie? Don’t you want your children to grow up happy, safe and free of violence?”
That night Charlie tossed and turned next to his quiet bride whose eyes were shut. He could see all of her points and he couldn’t argue against any of them. But something about this entire scenario troubled him deeply.
He started to worry about issues that defy clear answers. If the interconnected AI operating system, working cooperatively across every robot around the world, makes a decision, how do we know that is what we really want? And since they are also interconnected to the grid, every database, and all control systems, can we even stop this runaway train at this point?
As he finally drifted off to sleep, he had gone from ecstatic with his new bride Charlotte, to terrified about the future of humanity.