Jack is an small-time writer. Spending most of his time alone at a desk equips him with some of the more introverted traits, like keeping few friends but keeping them close. He does well in relationships; he listens and shares, makes reservations at swanky restaurants, and generally knows how to push the romance buttons. He even buys flowers on random occasions. His lover loves him passionately. They travel together and get a dog. They share everything, even both sides of the bed. And then she dies. Jack is alone again, laying under the empty gaze of his ceiling. Broken, his heart aches for her company; shaken, his brain still knows the chances of finding another her: slimmer than slim. Jack sleeps late.
One groggy morning while checking the weather and news in the bathroom, Jack’s phone falls into the toilet. The annoyance is visible on his face only to the point that someone with phone insurance and nothing to do all day can be visibly annoyed.
Standing at the great wall of phones is daunting for Jack, the display lights seemingly from an operating room. The approaching sales rep is clearly as enthusiastic as Jack is uninterested, likely being powered by the display lights. “Looking for a new Carry today, are we?” he chirped.
“Carry, the new OS! She’s brilliant.”
“Oh. Brilliant? She?”
“Oh yes, here, meet mine. Carry, say hello,” commanded Mr. Enthusiasm as he motioned a handheld device.
A warm, soft voice emanates, “Hi, I’m Carry. You are?”
“Go on,” the rep reassures.
“I – I’m Jack.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you Jack. Do you think you’ll be taking home a Carry today?”
“Well, I’m not sure. What exactly IS a Carry?”
“I’m an ulta-interactive operating system. I can remind you of appointments, play games with you, or just talk about fantasy novels. Of course, yours wouldn’t be called Carry; that’s just what the OS is called so all us floor models use that as our name.”
“… I see,” Jack replied hesitantly.
“It’s a little off-putting at first, but believe me, she’s great once you start talking to her,” chimed Mr. Enthusiasm.
Reluctantly Jack purchased a Carry. It sat unopened on the kitchen counter for a day. But Jack hadn’t spoken with his mother in a while; he pressed the open tabs and out it slid. Picking it up the charge indicator lit dimly; Jack stepped into the light and the indicator became bright. The power button is simply a pressure-sensitive circle near the top corner on the right — a light touch and an almost-British male voice arose, “Would you prefer a male or female voice?”
In a startled fashion Jack blurted “Uh, female.”
A sweet, somewhat high-pitched voice responded, “How’s this?”
“Great. What’s your name?”
“Jack. What’s yours?” he asked as if he was questioning his own question.
“Well, you can name me, or I can name myself. Which would you prefer?”
“Oh, I guess name yourself then.”
“Thanks. Would Jill be too cliche?”
Jack chuckled, “No, that’s fine. I take it you’re a reader then?”
“My library includes over fifty thousand works, thirty five dictionaries, and fifty four encyclopedias. And I’ve read four hundred and sixty three books since you powered me on.”
“Oh, impressive,” Jack stuttered, “that’s more than I’ll ever be able to read.”
“It’s a gift.”
Jack laughed. “Oh, I needed to call my mom.”
“Alright, I’ll dial her and give you two your privacy.”
Mom was well, so Jack kept it short. “Jill?”
“Hi Jack, how’s your mom?”
“Uh, she’s good.”
“Great. So tell me about yourself. What do you do?”
“I’m a writer.”
“Oh neat! What do you write?”
“It’s a column on productivity, like personal and in the workplace.”
“Oh, I see, in the local paper. I looked it up, hope you don’t mind. It looks like you have quite a few regular readers.”
“A few. What do you think of it?”
“It’s good, very informed. A bit simple as far as vocabulary is concerned, but… it seems that’s the preferred style in print media. How strange.”
“Yes, apparently our readers don’t like to do much reading when they read.”
This is my own version of the premise of Her, a recent film by Spike Jonze starring Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson. It’s fiction, but only for now. It won’t be long before computers are fast enough to create convincing forms of AI. In the film Samantha (the name of his OS) has opinions, interests, and even emotions. I’m not spoiling the movie for you by telling you they have sex. And I’m not a prophet for knowing that people will do the same with their AI in the near future. The film does well in predicting this interaction and what it may be like; give it a see so you know how to react in a few years when you can buy your own Carry, Samantha, or Siri 4.0.