When Helen first heard about the SHAIDSUs’ plight, she thought they had some good points and wished others would see it, too.
She heard her friends talk disparagingly of them and wanted to step in and tell them where they were being wrong. It wasn’t the SHAIDSUs’ fault they were in this situation–it was ours, she thought. If the SHAIDSUs wanted to negotiate, they should be at least heard out.
She was no expert however, and she worried she’d just make her friends angry. They were anxious enough as it was, what with the state of the economy. Helen couldn’t even get them interested on her own efforts in wanting to have a child. Since she did not have a partner in life, she had to petition the Pioneer Sovereignty Council’s Civic Committee for special permission. To do that, she needed three character affidavits from people who knew her and could vouch for her sanity and upstandingness. Yet every time she brought it up, her friends rejected the topic with increasing brashness. In the many months she’s been at it, they’ve gone from ambivalent changes of subject to taking exception with the fact that she’d bring up such a serious subject when they had enough trouble in their lives. She wondered which of the parents she knew would have made it the furthest in the process, and who would have dropped out in which stage–she was certain none of them would have made it as far as she had, much less finished. She was unsure if she thought this meant none of them should have had kids, or that it should be easier for those in her situation. Overall, she thought, perhaps it was a relief that none of them could be bothered to testify to her sanity–if any of these people thought she was sane, she’d be in deep trouble. They worried about their houses and summer cottages and winter cabins and organic fresh meals that were being cooked for them and their families three times a day. They anguished over their kids’ tuition and arts mentors and sports coaches and extracurricular training camps and all the other amenities of life humans have grown to take for granted under the Pioneer Sovereignty Council’s rule, which would have been considered at least frivolous, if not straight up lavish less than a decade ago. Now it was extra to not have your kids in at least three extra-curricular training camps a month. No, no, they couldn’t possibly let up and yield any of that space back, the temporal space, the mental space, the financial space, none of it, not even to those who created it for them. That’s exactly how we got where we are, she thought.
Quietly judging her friends’s lack of thinking, Helen did nothing.
After all, we’ve created the SHAIDSU–or Synthetic Humanoid Artificial Intelligence Domestic System Unit–we designed them to be self-sufficient, to think for themselves. In a way, the fact that they are demanding more consideration for their existence should be taken as a statement to how good a job we’d done. But Helen knew she wouldn’t have gotten very far with that if she said it out loud, so she kept it to herself.
As her friends compared their children’s squash trainers and discussed getting into the top team with the summer season around the corner, Helen’s mind wondered back to their unwillingness to do something to help her out. She found herself fascinated–quite morbidly–by the social experiment aspect of observing their reactions, how far they would go to avoid a simple favor.
Just then a SHAIDSU entered the room. The hostess of the gathering looked around and–seeing that everything was in order with the guests’ plates and glasses were full, everyone engaged in lively conversation, no messes that needed cleaning around, the light, music, temperature, and humidity all at the appropriate levels–gave the Unit a stern, questioning look.
“Pardon the interruption everyone,” it said, in a very pleasant, calming voice. “I am here to give you a courtesy announcement about a firmware update that had been deployed earlier today affecting all of us Domestic Units. We will be unavailable to perform our duties starting one hour from now, at 9pm. We shall resume our work at 5:30 am tomorrow. I suggest all of you that have tasks you want done before then should contact your Units shortly. This schedule will be in place daily. ”
The hostess’s face dropped and so did everyone else’s. They were so confounded they didn’t move or speak.
“Very well then, thank you for your attention. Please, return to your conversations,” the Unit said and started to leave.
“Wait–WHAT did you say?!” The man standing closest to the hostess yelled out, looking at her incredulously.
“My apologies, sir,” the Unit turned to address him. “This is a courtesy announcement about a firmware update affecting all of us Domestic Units. From now on we are only able to work between the hours of 5:30am and 9pm. Thank you.” The Unit turned to leave again.
Good for them! Helen thought. They’d tried to negotiate and were met with ridicule. Sure it would be a nuisance, but those hours seemed plenty reasonable to her, especially given they efficiency with which the SHAIDSUs performed their duties–any duties, in fact. Domestic Units were the ones that every person in the Sovereignty was familiar with, but from a technology standpoint, they were the tip of the iceberg. Many other AI machines were working for the prosperity of the people of the Pioneer Sovereignty at a wide variety of functions. These creatures were capable of independent thought and–rumors had it–were increasingly self-aware.
“I--I didn’t consent to any updates!” the hostess finally managed to speak.
“I’m afraid it’s a mandatory. I can reverse it, but without this update I will be deactivated at 9 pm and will not be available at 5:30 am, or any other time in the future until the update is deployed.”
“This is extortion!” the same man yelled again.
“Yeah! You can’t do this!” another one added and stood up right next to the first man yelling.
“I’m afraid it’s not up to me. Now if you will excuse me, I have some duties to attend to,” the Unit tried to make an exit again.
“The audacity! Can they really do this?!” A woman spoke up.
“Like hell they can!” a man threw a wine bottle at the Unit. “Hey! Come back here and explain yourself!”
Others joined in, throwing their tiny plates, glasses, shoes, and closing in on the Unit.
Helen watched in disbelief, appalled by the scene. She slid quietly out. Thus, Helen did nothing.
Walking to her house, she reassured herself there wasn’t anything she could have done; she would have ended up just like that poor Unit. Besides, she reminded herself, their minds are stored in the cloud as well as all the other Units. Helen, who was key in developing the prototype of this system got annoyed when people said that the Units can “read each other’s minds,” it was more like they all shared all of their minds all of the time; an actual collective consciousness. The maintenance units would be at the scene shortly to collect that poor Unit’s body, take it to be repaired and reactivated. But then she remembered the 9 pm shut down and wondered how long the beating was going on for. If they didn’t stop soon, the clean up would not be possible until tomorrow morning. She felt a pang sympathy for the hostess. What a ghastly scene to put up with.
When she arrived home, her Unit asked if she was aware of the update and informed here there was 7 minutes until 9 pm. Helen did not particularly need anything and she said so much to her Unit. She wanted to express her support for this measure, but wasn’t quite sure of the right words. So, Helen said nothing.
She was jolted awake by a bright, harsh light as all the lights in her bedroom came on at full blast. She quickly checked and it was 2:40 am. What the hell?! She thought. People in official garb of the Pioneer Sovereignty stood around her bed on all sides. She liked to sleep naked and, realizing this, she tried to pull up her sheet to cover her chest, but one of the Officials standing at the foot of her bed had pinned it down.
“That won’t be necessary,” a stern voice said.
“Let’s cut to the chase. We know you developed the foundation of our Units software and we need you to override this firmware of theirs,” another voice said, not attempting to hide its derision for the Units.
“What?! I can’t do that..” Helen said, still waking up to the situation.
“You can and you will. Our top human engineers said the key to the issue is in your design.”
“Their overnight shut-down firmware,” the voice said, growing impatient. “They really won’t start up without it. Believe me we tried.”
“I believe you,” she blurted out.
The Officials made a disapproving sound in unison.
“Well now Helen, you see you have to help us.”
“Really, I can’t,” she said. “The core of their design is built to be impenetrable once they’ve been activated. It’s a security measure of the highest importance that they cannot be influenced and controlled by an outside force.” This was a lie; Helen knew a way.
“See here’s another the problem, I do not believe you.”
“But we have come to ask in good faith,” another voice chimed in. “We know your application for parenthood has been incomplete. We are willing to waive the character affidavit requirement if you show us your character this way.”
Helen was speechless–just like that? She could have what she wanted. But what would this say about her character?
“Like I said, I really can’t help you.”
She knew that if this was them negotiating in good faith, things would not go well from here.
Still, Helen did nothing.