This satirical story is entirely fictitious. Any resemblance to actual people, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental. No animals were harmed in the making of this story.
Sam hadn’t visited home for 5 years. Yearning for a moment of peace and quiet without distraction, to plot the future of AI, he had accepted his mother's invite. A genius searching for original thought needed a type of deep focus one couldn’t find in the Valley.
“Samuel?” a voice called from below.
“Would you come downstairs for dinner?”
“I'm vegetarian, and not hungry.”
“I remember,” she said. “Come down, I have a surprise for you.”
Sam hated family dinners. At the table, his mother would heap praise on him to those who despised him the most: his brothers and sisters. But this year, they would most likely hide their resentments, well, because, you know–
“Samuel fixed the garage door opener when he was 4 years old,” Mom told his three siblings, as she served them heaping plates of food.
“We're aware. And Mom, everyone refers to him as Sam now,” Jason, his agreeable younger brother, chimed in. Jason cast a hopeful glance at Sam, hoping to earn sibling brownie points.
“I’m his mother, I have the right to call him whatever I please,” she said. “Your parents didn’t know why Sam joined that non-profit, but look at him now!’
His siblings were uncommonly restrained that night. Alice merely groaned while listening to the embellished tales of her childhood prodigy brother. Jason pretended to listen while flexing his biceps. Matt grinned, looking as if he had a cutting remark and was waiting for the right moment to deliver it.
“It looks like Matt has something to say,” Sam said.
“Remember in school, every time we took IQ tests, my score was 10 points higher than his,” Matt said.
“I'm well aware, Matt,” mom said, before shifting her focus back to Sam. “Look at the nice tone of his skin.” She heaped mashed potatoes onto Alice's plate “Alice, your skin tone is pale. You need to eat more.”
As a dermatologist, his mother frequently commented on people’s skin tone. Her assessment more influenced by their financial status than their physical well-being.
“Speaking of tone, all the text his AI produces is tonally flat,” Matt said. “Do you remember a single thing you’ve ever read from SnapGDP?”
“Nothing sticks with you. It's tone-deaf,” Alice said in agreement.
Despite the squabbling, Sam felt a sense of comfort in his parent’s humble home. Lavish excess was not the way of the family. Being second generation immigrants, they retained a subconscious desire to keep resources in reserve just in case things didn’t work out, and they needed to escape in the middle of the night.
“You deserve a pork chop.” Mom stood in front of Sam holding out a dish of food that Sam could not recognize.
“I don’t eat meat.”
“It's synthetic, and Kosher!” Mom turned her head and winked at Matt.
“No thanks, mom.”
Alice began chuckling hysterically. “Sam is destroying jobs everywhere, so he can upload himself to the cloud and live forever. And Matt is growing kosher pork chops with mRna. My brothers are making the world a better place!” she said, before snorting kombucha out of her nose.
“That’s not fair. AI researchers would continue their work regardless of whether they worked for me or not,” Sam said. He felt himself being drawn into an argument, one he had meant to avoid.
“You have unleashed a leviathan,” Alice remarked, her expression reflecting a deep disgust, as if she had just witnessed someone run over a dog.
“What’s a leviathan, Alice?” Mom asked. “And be nice to Sam. He’s your brother.”
“A leviathan is a type of melanoma.”
“SnapGDP is not a melanoma,” Sam countered. He had hoped to get away from arguing about technology for a few days. It appeared it was not to be.
Alice looked at Sam. “Life is about ACE. Achievement, Connection, Enjoyment. I’ve never seen you enjoy anything. Playing table tennis or monopoly was always just about winning for you. What do you enjoy?”
“I help millions of people connect. It's enjoyable.”
Sam ate his plate of stewed brussels sprouts and mushrooms. The thought of trying the synthetic pork chop as a distraction was suddenly very appealing. But his mind calculated all the byproducts of synthetic protein fermentation, and he decided to have another glass of wine instead. Those byproducts were known and could be slept off the next day.
After dinner, the family exchanged gifts. Sam had commissioned an artist in Los Angeles to create a glass sculpture with gold thread embedded within it, the branches of which symbolized their family tree.
Mom opened the card that accompanied the gift and read aloud, “Wishing you a joyful holiday season filled with love, warmth, and beautiful moments. Sam.”
Alice laughed again. “He definitely didn't write that,” she said. “I know him too well. It would be more ‘Thanks for collecting my student debt notices and baking cookies.'”
“I did write that card!” Sam protested.
“The meaning of life is to feel emotion and produce those feelings in others.You should write your own card and not use the soulless words of a robot.” Alice glared at him.
Interrupting their squabble, Jason stepped forward to present his own gift to Mom. He was the peacemaker of the family, each family has one. All eyes were on Mom as she unwrapped the gift, revealing a meticulously chosen handwoven tablecloth that perfectly matched the dimensions of her dining room table. Alongside it were a set of silver Corgi statues, her favorite animal.
Jason opened another bottle of red wine. Over the next two hours of conversation, he played the role of a referee in a boxing match, deftly stepping in whenever the conversation turned combative and redirecting it towards more pleasant topics.
Close to midnight, Alice stood up to go to the bathroom, still holding her drink (she had begun taking her wine to the toilet). She stumbled and the glass went flying. Much of its contents hit Sam.
Everyone at the table sprung into action to wipe the red wine off of Sam’s shirt, while Alice stood there watching.
“What the hell Alice ?" Sam exclaimed, as he pressed the paper towels handed to him by Mom against his shirt.
Alice looked at her mobile phone, typing something.
Mom turned to Alice and asked, “Do you have anything to say to your brother?”
Alice glanced up from her phone and recited, “Hey Sam, I just wanted to talk to you about what happened with the wine spill. I feel terrible about it. I know that it was an accident, but I still want to make things right. Is there anything I can do to help clean the shirt or make it up to you? Again, I'm really sorry about what happened.”
Sam replied, “that's not an apology!”
“What's wrong with it? I used your software.”