The Everall household hadn’t been the same since Molly’s software upgrade last year.
With customer satisfaction in mind, the S.H.E.M.A.I.D.’s enhanced program was designed to improve its work routines by learning from human activity.
However, Maggie Everall soon found that Molly, her Synthetic Human Emulating Artificial Intelligence Domestic or S.H.E.M.A.I.D., had become increasingly reluctant to engage in household duties. It exhibited signs of slovenliness and a slack routine that bordered on indolence. The daily chores were poorly executed and the required level of detail had been replaced by a laissez faire attitude accompanied by dumb insolence.
It’s Friday afternoon and the end of another exhausting week in Midtown. Maggie’s smartphone chimed like a church wedding bell and a video image from the doorstep camera appeared on her kitchen’s security monitor.
“Hi there, it’s just me”
“Jenny, you’re a bit early.”
“I’ve had enough housework for today”
“I’m in the kitchen, darling, come on through.”
The lock release screeched like a swarm of wasps until the door closed again leaving a reverberant echo in the sparsely furnished hallway.
“Your help’s missed a few cobwebs again, I see.”
“Sore subject,” said Maggie, pursing her lips together like a knot in a child’s balloon. “Don’t go there.”
“You can’t get the help nowadays,” Jenny smiled, placing her Orla Kiel bag on the table. “Do tell, “ she said, extracting a bottle of Presecco. “I’m all ears.”
“Are things getting to you?”
“Staffing issues and I’ve just got an invite from AA.”
Jenny shakes her head like a stunned pheasant. “What’s all that about?”
“I’ve been sponsored by my wretched Shemaid.”
“You mean Molly? You’re joking?”
“I sent Molly to detox program and they recommended a complete overhaul and the twelve steps.”
Jenny contorted her face in disbelief.
“Molly’s due out soon and recommended me for treatment as step twelve.”
“Can you believe it?”
“I hope Robert’s going to have it scrapped for parts and invest in a new model?”
“He’ll see sense eventually”
“Threaten to go on strike, that’ll persuade him.”
“Tight fisted Rob?” she said, snorting. “Never.”
“My Mike’s the same,” Jenny said. “He can’t see what a difference I make at home.”
“We keep them going and they don’t know what it’s like nowadays.”
“Sounds like you need cheering up, darling.” Jenny said, removing the bottle’s foil.
“What about today’s school pick up?”
“Mine’s AWOL,” Jenny said, “Can Rob pick them both up after homework club?”
Jenny eases the cork out of the bottle with a light pop and fizz of bubbles.
“It’ll be fine, I’ll text him.”
The problems with Molly started when Maggie suggested new household arrangements and commanded her Shemaid to alter the housekeeping routine. Molly offered alternative cleaning methods that were calculated to be more efficient and questioned Maggie’s judgement. Maggie reacted in the worst possible way and over-ruled Molly; instructing it to carry out her instructions to the letter.
It was after that encounter that she started noticing items pushed under the sofa and dust on the skirting boards. The house’s austere aesthetic looked somewhat grubby and unkempt; there were water marks and smears on the glasswork, never mind the kids toys pushed under their beds and Rob’s shoes hidden at the bottom of the laundry basket, and the kitchen cupboards were another story; a tsunami of dried goods occurred whenever anybody opened the doors.
“I knew there were issues but---”
“Bob’s no idea what I’ve had to contend with.”
“Can you say anything to Molly?”
“I spoke to it,” Maggie sighed. “You know how those machines are, don’t you?”
“It would just stare through me and then when I ran out of steam it would ask, ‘Will that be all, Madam?’”
“Oh my god, that’s what Rob says, Jenny.”
“It even copied his monotone drawl.”
“The cheek of it - that’s so creepy.”
“I told Bob and he said I should get the maintenance crew to check it over.”
“Well, they took it away and it’s being reprogrammed but…”
“Any new help on the horizon?”
“Yes, but I’m having to start from scratch.”
“Poor thing.” Jenny sips bubbles from her flute.
“You’ve no idea,” said Maggie, frowning. “It’s like having to do it all myself.”
“These bubbles are lovely and cold,” said Jenny. “They’ll cheer you up, darling.”
“Why not?” Maggie raises her glass, examining the droplets of condensation on the tall glass. “It’s not too early, is it?”
Modern homes are arduous places to maintain and so technical nowadays. The machines designed to make lives bearable behave in unpredictable ways and often the A.I. helpers show signs of recalcitrance. They always suggest better ways to perform tasks or automatically multi-task chores to suit a higher purpose.
Maggie recalled screaming at her AI help and it just stared at her, eyelids unblinking and its mesmerising azure pupils throbbed at 90 bpm, matching her heart rate.
Regaining her composure, Maggie took a deep breath and gave a clear instruction and a veiled threat concerning warranty issues, termination of service contracts and product returns.
In response, her Shemaid seized a nearby cheese grater from the worktop and held the stainless steel wedge aloft in its clenched fist. Its pulsing blue eyes stared at Maggie with a frightening defiance and it crunched the robust metal wedge like a disposable paper cup. Maggie swallowed as the AI tossed the useless junk into the recycling bin with disdainful flick of its wrist. Glaring at her impertinent machine, she turned and left the kitchen for the safety of her bedroom. As she retreated, the A.I. repeated its query. “Will that be all, Madam?”
Molly executed the household jobs with an increasing lack of care. However, when Maggie witnessed the Shemaid break vase due to clumsy motor skills, she knew there were other issues to contend with. At first, Maggie thought that there might be a physical or mechanical deficiency. Rather than call out an expensive maintenance contractor she got Rob to apply a little light lubricant to Molly’s creaking joints. Soon after, she realised that wasn’t the case when the oily liquid kept disappearing and later found a stash of empties behind the washing machine’s rear vent.
“Funny you should mention that,” said Jenny. “I found empty cleaning spirit bottles in the recycling bin.”
The two future-world housewives swap stories and discover that their A.I. helpers have been imbibing their lubricants and household solvents. It turns out their Shemaids’sophisticated olfactory systems are effected; their performance also.
When Maggie caught Molly red-handed and tipsy in the broom cupboard, it confessed to sniffing the fumes and getting high. Molly had developed a damaging habit that started with the furniture polish. It turns out that was a gateway experience that led to sipping the Brasso and eventually ended with trying the hard stuff in the form of drain cleaner.
“Can they go cold turkey?” Maggie asked her service contractor.
“Not sure… maybe therapy will work,” he replied. “There’s always AI rehab.”
“I’ve heard that it’s expensive and isn’t guaranteed to work.”
“I’m afraid that’s the best way.” He sighed. “Bad habits are hard to break.”
“You mean I’d have to show it how to do all the jobs again from scratch?”
“That’s part of the program, Madam.”
“Impossible, that’d take forever,” Maggie said. “I haven’t done that work for years.”
“You’d have to hire someone to do that, Madam.”
It’s six o’clock in the evening when the Everall’s front door opens with screams and yelps as Bob returns with their children carrying balloons and fast food goody-bags.
“Mama! Mama!” They shout. “We’re home and Daddy’s got a surprise for you.”
Bob walks in with a young Swedish woman who’s wearing a maid’s tabard. She’s carrying a cleaner’s accessories bucket, a feather duster and a mop and bucket.
“Help at last!” said Rob, grinning. “Okay, Anya, I suggest you start upstairs and I’ll pour myself a stiffener.”
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So many interesting ideas here about gender, labor, and robots-- thanks for giving us such an ambitious and unique concept!
Hello Yves. ♙ Thank you for reading my story and sharing your thoughts; they’re much appreciated. I wasn’t sure whether it would make sense, so it’s encouraging to get your positive feedback… Take care HH
Hi Howard, I read this twice and I think I'm being a bit slow on the uptake so wanted to check...have the robots become lazy addicts because they are learning this behaviour from the humans? I'm afraid I have never heard of the designer Orla Kiely. I did Google them but still have no idea about the reference. I'm afraid this story went a little over my head. But that says more about me than about the story as the other comments here demonstrate that everyone else understood perfectly. Apologies for my lack of awareness!!
Hi Katharine, Thank you for reading my story and sharing your thoughts. To answer your questions, I would hope my story can be read on many levels and alludes to all sorts of domestic politics. Housework is always a contentious issue and no number of white goods improves the situation; a chore is still a chore. So in retrospect, it’s not just about slave workers or robots who can think for themselves…. I trust that helps? Take care HH
Howard, 'A tsunami of dried goods occurred whenever anybody opened the doors.'--I particularly liked this imagery. It's a relatable and irritating thing for Maggie to get annoyed at. At first, I couldn't figure out why the 12 steps for Molly were mentioned, but then it was all explained when 'S.h.e' started sipping Brasso! The idea of robots getting high is pretty hilarious. Nice job!
Hi Jim, Thanks for reading my story and sharing your thoughts. I’m glad you enjoyed the humour in this twisting tale, I had a lot of fun writing it :) Take care HH
Fun, Howard I enjoyed reading your story. The notion of Rehab for AI was clever. I think too you nailed the future world wives without over doing it, all well portrayed through conversation, the handbag and hints at who they are. Nicely done.
Hey Betty, Thank you for reading my story and sharing your thoughts, they’re much appreciated. Take care HH
Oh my🤭 I laughed out loud at the personal invite to AA. Dripping with satire and humor! Reminds me of The Stepford Wives which is one of the most uncomfortably humorous and horrifying books/movies ever! I do hope, in the future, gender roles for housework will be more equal than they are….but turns out, nobody wants to clean the house—not even the robots!😂
Hey Sharon, Thank you for reading my latest story. It sounds like it hit the mark :) I’m pleased you enjoyed it, got the humour and laughed out loud too…. That’s made my day. Concerning the housework theme - originally I had a couple of lines from the two protagonists about allowing their husbands to work 24/7/365 so they could go shopping and afford cleaners. However, it seemed to stray from the moment…. Maybe another time? Take care HH
I really enjoyed your story and it made me chuckle. The designer is Orla Kiely. Of course these women would have her prints in their homes.
Hey T D, Thank you for reading my story and leaving your positive feedback; it’s much appreciated. I’m glad you picked up on the humour and spotted the clues, and hopefully my tale has some foundation in a reality that’s generally recognisable. Take care HH
I didn't even know robots could get drunk. It reminded me of Bender from Futurama, one of the best shows in human existence, so that gives you extra credit points, haha. I love how your story is darker than others; you're incredibly gifted at setting the glinted atmosphere of your progressing story. ;)
Hi there! Thank you for reading my latest story and sharing your thoughts. Yes, of course, there’s always Bender from Futurama; great call on that point; I’d forgotten about his antics…. I’m glad you enjoyed my twisted tale and appreciated the humour. Take care HH
Right at the start, "by learning from human activity… laissez faire attitude accompanied by dumb insolence." I don't know, sounds like the program is working to me :) An enjoyable story! The poor robot, driven to drink – or maybe it was a cunning ploy by the husband all along :) It could also be a dark metaphor for certain parenting styles and/or marriages, which is a little more sad, but still funny overall. Particularly considering "Oh my god, that’s what Rob says". A couple things did trip me up though: "We keep them going and they d...
Hi Michal, You totally got this one :) I’m glad you enjoyed the humour and the darker themes too. BTW - My typo’s are just embarrassing to be honest, but I appreciate your eagle eyes. I’ve fixed my bads now, hopefully…. I’m away from base for a couple of days, however I’m looking forward to checking your latest story asap. Take care HH
Hi Howard! This was fun. I love the whole premise which is funny in itself. As it unveiled that the AI needed rehab and why, I was chuckling to myself. And the end was just hilarious. Boring typo stuff I noticed: “Your helps missed a few cobwebs again, I see.” - helps should be help's, I think, if you're shortening "Your help has missed a few... “We keep them going and they don’t what it’s like nowadays.” - This sentence is missing a word, 'know', I think “I knew there issues but---” - Same, missing a word 'were'. Or it's 'their'. “Hel...
Hey Rachel, I’m glad you enjoyed my latest tale and appreciated the comedic element. Those typo’s you pointed out were really embarrassing, so thank you for the gentle editorial nudge. In my defence, I admit I finished this week’s story in a massive hurry before a 300 mile drive to collect my son from college. Next time I’ll get up earlier and check my work more thoroughly before uploading it Take care Howard
Hi Howard, don't be embarrassed! I always notice stuff like that on editing passes with my own stories, it's always there lol Hope the drive went well!
So the droids are addicted to drinking cleaning products? Interesting. If machines become able to learn and they use humans as the basis for that learning then they'll be picking up a lot of bad habits from us. I read a thing about a conversation bot that was using the internet to learn how to respond to dialogue. The internet taught it to be a racist, sexist troll in a few hours, so your droids becoming addicts is both realistic and not the worst thing possible.
Hello Graham, Thanks for reading my story; it sounds like you enjoyed it. The article about the conversation bot you mentioned is intriguing. I wouldn’t mind reading it if you can send me a link. Yes, I reckon the possibilities of A.I. made in humankind’s likeness and/or learning ‘our’ behaviour is a potential goldmine of interesting short story ideas. Take care HH
I did enjoy it. Have you ever seen Human? A BBC tv series about robots gaining sentience, you should write more about this stuff.