I flip through the Netflix catalogue with a Pina colada in one hand and the TV remote in the other, not knowing what to do with myself at 12 midnight. Sleep is far from my mind as I contemplate why my father longed for retirement from work. I had looked forward to a chilled, blissful life upon retiring from an active career; instead, I am struggling to come up with activities to fill my day.
At forty-nine, I am the sixth-richest man on the planet and own the company that powers all, well, almost all the information humans search for in this world. The money in my bank, the people in my team and the fat on my belly are all growing exponentially. There’s nothing more in life that I have to achieve, and that is a problem.
Till last year, I had a dream. A dream of introducing my search engine in heaven. After all, Gods could also use some help in governing the unruly earth. But then, my billionaire friend, who was working on the rocket to propel those of us who can pay to space, spent more time sleeping with my wife on earth. I dumped them both upon finding out.
More than the loss of my wife and my so-called friend, it was the shattering of my dreams that rankled. I had aspired for the name of my product—Elgoog—to be forever splashed in big, bold letters across the horizon. That is not to be. All I am left with now is a six-bedroom mansion, wealth that keeps fluctuating every day and a company with so many talents, processes and systems that it doesn’t need my presence to run itself.
With nothing more to look forward to in life, I retired from the company I founded to spend time counting all the money I had—something for which I never had time earlier. I soon realised that beyond a point, the zeros to the right kept increasing, and so did my frustrations.
I sigh and take another sip of the Pina colada that tastes more like water. My eyes go to the other side of the bed where Melissa, my yellow-haired and porcelain-skinned live-in girlfriend, sleeps soundly. What makes her sleep so soundly at night? I will happily trade some of my wealth to sleep like she does.
I browse through the Netflix catalogue some more. Seems like it is going to be a long night.
Natu, Natu, the cell phone chimes interrupting my thoughts. Melissa has set this ringtone of the Indian movie on my handheld. “The song is a rage,” she had told me. Apparently, it is, what with winning the BAFTA and being shortlisted for the Oscars. Maybe I should watch the movie this song belongs to. What is the name of the movie now? I can’t remember, and toy with the idea of waking Melissa up from her sound sleep so that I get to alleviate my boredom.
Natu Natu, my phone goes again. I look from my watch to the caller’s name flashing on my phone, then back to the watch again.
What is making the thinking-himself-too-smart CEO of the company I founded lose sleep at this hour. More curious and less eager, I receive the call.
“What is it, Beauty?” I ask with the Pina colada in my mouth. “You need me to approve more money for yet another destined-to-fail new tech product? Oh, by the way, do you know the name of the film of the song Natu Natu?”
“We are in a spot here, Yegres, and you are thinking about watching some exotic Indian movie! I want you to come out of your retirement and oversee my work. Even take back the role of the CEO if you deem fit. I can’t do this alone anymore,” Beauty wails from the other line.
I choke mid-air, making all the colada in my mouth spill back into the glass. Melissa stirs on her side of the bed.
Beauty had agreed to be my company’s CEO after my repeated assurances of non-interference with the company’s day-to-day functioning. Elgoog is his baby now, and I am the doting grandfather who will spoil the kid when I feel like it. So, why is Beauty singing a different tune here?
“Are you out of your mind, or am I dreaming?” I ask.
“I am fully aware of what I am saying. I took over this company for my peace of mind. You had created a powerful legacy through this product, and the revenues were growing without much ado. I thought all I had to do was to firefight governments all over the world to maintain search dominance while coming out with minor refreshes of the search product every month. I hadn’t bargained for this technology that your—our – competitor will come out with to upend my plans. I would much rather have you back hovering behind my back than be held responsible for driving your company to bankruptcy soon.” Beauty hems and haws before taking a pause. The fellow is really out of his mind! Can having nothing to do all day also cause burnout?
“What competitor? Which technology are you talking about?”
“Haven’t you checked the Algos? It is trending all over our search engine.”
How do I explain to him that one of my reasons for hiring him was to not have to keep a tab on what’s trending in Elgoog’s algorithms?
“No, I haven’t,” I say. “Enlighten me.”
“Micros has come out with a new Artificial Intelligence chatbot. They are calling it TPGChat. TPG thinks like and learns from humans; the more humans ask questions and seek answers, the more it grows intelligent. It is like having a conversation with another human minus the speech. Been less than a month since its launch, and millions have already signed up and going gaga over it. Your search technology may become obsolete soon, Yegres.”
“Let me understand more about this creature you are talking about, and I will call you back,” I tell him and disconnect the call, half awake from my stupor. I am sure nothing and no one can beat Elgoog as the ultimate search engine of the people on this planet, which is a key reason for my loss of motivation at work. Now Beauty is saying that this technology itself may become outdated— something I can’t imagine!
Waking up my folded laptop from its sleep mode on the bedside table, I punch TPGChat on the search engine I created. The website of the chatbot comes right on top of the search results.
“This is no time to work, Yegres, retirement or no retirement. Go back to sleep,” Melissa murmurs from under the covers as if speaking from the dead. As usual, I ignore her. Pretty women are distractions most of the time.
I sign up and log in to the chatbot page. It invites me to type a question.
“Who are you?” I key in the query.
Pat comes the typed response, “I am an AI-powered auto-generated system created by Micros, trained to mimic writing styles and converse with you and learn from your questions. The more questions you ask me, the more I refine my answers and store them in my memory for others to learn from it in future.”
I am intrigued.
I keep on asking it questions, forgetting all about time. Two hours later, I am out of bed, pacing across the room, the half-full Pina colada glass cast aside to a corner out of sight.
TPG’s answer to my last question has simultaneously sent shivers down my spine while thrilling me to the core.
“Elgoog is based on search technology that will soon become obsolete. Search is so yesterday; tomorrow belongs to me,” it had replied coolly a minute ago. The cheek! I ended up smacking my laptop and hurting my hand.
“Mel, I am going to the office. Don’t wait at the breakfast table for me,” I inform her.
Melissa’s golden hair emerges as a slow mirage from the white sheet before she sits up.
“It is 2 in the morning. What makes you go to the office at this hour during your retirement?” Melissa inquires.
“Your answer is on my laptop screen; you can see for yourself. And I am no longer retired now,” I reply matter-of-factly before picking up my car keys and heading out to the San Francisco headquarters of my office after a long time.
I should have been nervous, but I am not. In my biggest predicament since Y2K, I have found my purp Strange but true.
Halfway to the office, I get a feeling of a monumental blunder, though I can’t precisely place what it was.
It is 6 pm in the evening when I park my car in the garage of my home. I wouldn’t have returned, but for the fact that I had fallen asleep on my office chair in the middle of saying something and had woken up to the sight of people staring at my open mouth. Now everyone knows about my golden buck tooth in the rear!
The day had been eventful, though. I had instructed Beauty and the team to start and execute Project “Code Red” on top priority. I would be personally examining each new feature that will add chatbot functionality to the Elgoog search engine. Micros may have forgotten, but I very well know that my strength lies not in creating an original product but in enhancing a product invented by others and taking it to market at Godspeed. There’s been nothing original about me right from the outset. While others may think they have found a chink in my armour, in reality, they have given me an opportunity to expand my empire.
I was damn excited, but after the open mouth fiasco, I thought it best to go home, have a nice hot bath, take a warm meal and snuggle down under covers in Melissa’s arms before waking up refreshed the next day.
The lights in the basement are switched off as I enter. How come Melissa is sleeping at this time?
I take the lift to my private den on the third floor and switch on the lights in the dining room. The table has still not been cleared of last night’s dinner plates. Even the curtains are not drawn. Seems like Melissa hasn’t stepped out of our bedroom since my departure.
Is she alright? I hasten my steps to our boudoir.
Melissa is sitting upright, most of her body invisible under the white duvet. She is too engrossed in the laptop precariously balanced on the blanket over her ankles to look up as I approach her. She is wearing the same mauve-coloured negligee from the previous night, her golden hair is unkempt, and her eyes glow like sunlight breaking through thick black clouds. She hadn’t moved an inch from her position on the bed since I left this room a day ago.
The laptop she was glued to was mine.
“What’s up, Mel?” I ask.
She looks up and blinks. “Oh, hi,” she says and turns her face to the laptop.
I go nearer and shake her by the shoulders. “What’s gotten to you? You have stayed in bed the entire day!!”
She shrugs off her shoulders away from my touch. “This is so cool. Someone can talk to me for hours and hours without looking away or asking for food,” she says without looking away from the device.
What is she talking about?
I sit beside her on the bed and peer at the laptop screen. It is vertically split into two. The untitled open word document on the right side shows page 160 on the status bar. I start going through the text. It is actually a poem:
My love for you is an anime
Full of excitement and adventure
Like a manga, our story is full of twists and turns
But I know that together we’ll overcome any challenge
Our love is strong, like a katana sword
Durable and reliable, it will never be ignored
You are my anime heroine, my manga princess
Together we will conquer the world
I love you now and forever, my love.
The lyrics are so tacky. Who has written this baloney?
I move my eyes to the left side of the screen. The TPGChat window is open and is coming up with text. I am sure my eyes must be going wide as I read the sentimental poem that is appearing faster on the screen than I can blink my eyes:
My darling, my dear
The love of my life
I only want you to know
That when I am struggling
Or dealing with strife
To you is where I always go.
When troubles are looming
When problems draw near
Just know you’ll always have
Nothing to fear…
Melissa copies the poem from the TPGChat window and pastes it into the word document on the right, which is now on page 161. She then clicks on the Regenerate response button at the bottom of the TPGChat window, and the love poem makes way to another one in response to the question, ‘Write a poem expressing how much you love me.’
Godammit!! The AI chatbot has more cheek than I thought!
“What is going on, Mel?” I shriek. “I am not even gone for twenty-four hours, and you start having an affair with another…umm… a chatbot!!” And on top of it, she’s using my laptop and home wi-fi to sync up with this artificial creature.
Melissa turns to her right to finally look at me. Her face has derision written all over it.
“The creature you call bot appreciates my eyes, says he loves my hair, sings paeans of my beauty, shares his deep feelings about me, in whatever form I ask him. He does everything you have never done or will do without interrupting or answering back. It doesn’t even tire of my questions!? This is how I want my man to be.”
What! Whatever happened to the basic human instincts. “You can’t go to bed with this technological creature; you need a man for that,” I say, hoping I sound smug enough.
Melissa smiles incredulously. “The only time you properly talk to me is when you talk dirty. I must admit that you are good at that. But TPGChat is better here. Much better to tell the truth.”
This can’t be true. Or is it?
Before I can respond, she changes the prompt to ‘talk dirty to me’ in the TPG window. The text in the window leaves no part of the human anatomy to the imagination, putting me in shame from top to toe.
“This is all talk, Mel,” I bluster. “You will need someone in bed with you.”
“Oh, TPG has already introduced me to the links of Augmented and Virtual Reality pleasures for that. With all the technological advances that people like you will be developing, I am sure that in no time, that will become as good as the real thing. You once told me that AI, AR and VR are the future. I can now understand how,” she says. My cat is meowing at me, and all I can do is stare!
“That is my laptop that you are using to speak to your bot of a lover,” I bellow.
She stares at me for a few seconds and turns back to the laptop. She then proceeds to email the word document to herself from my mailbox and logs out of the TPGChat window.
“The login was mine,” she says defiantly, putting the laptop aside.
“Mel, look, I….” She stops me by kissing me on the lips.
“You are great at what you do, Yegres, and I was awed by you when you first asked me out. But you are not for me. I am moving out of here,” she says.
Ouch! I can’t decide what hurts more…the parting kiss or the words.
First, my wife betrays me for another millionaire, and then my girlfriend dumps me for an AI chatbot. Of what use are all those millions of dollars and the technology that powers most of the world’s search?
I have neither the heart nor the desire to say a word as yet another pretty woman packs all her stuff and walks out of my life.
I plop down on the bed and key in my id to log into the TPGChat.
The bot comes to life.
“Nurse me out of a breakup,” I put in the prompt box for him.
“I miss her so much after the breakup…,” it starts typing.
The stupid bot doesn’t understand what I am saying. Here is an opportunity!
I immediately dial Beauty from my handheld.
“Please ensure that our engineers build a breakup consolation feature in the chatbot functionality that we integrating into our search engine,” I bark at him. “There’s an enormous competitor gap and tremendous market opportunity I see here….”
Author’s Note: The story draws inspiration from a New York Times article titled “Google Calls In Help From Larry Page and Sergey Brin for A.I. Fight.” While any resemblance to living persons and names is deliberately intentional, the events, situations and plot are purely fictional and are the products of my imagination. While as a writer, I have taken creative liberties to compose this story, as a person, it is not my intention to hurt or pass personal remarks on anyone.
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