“Good morning, Samantha,” Karen greeted as she made her way down the stairs. Karen was a kindly senior who wore her silver hair pinned up in a perfect bun. Her spotless house was decorated with porcelain dolls and lacy throw pillows. Samantha lived on the counter top.
Samantha was a small device about the size and shape of a dinner roll. She was white on the bottom and her top consisted of a gray speaker. Three colored lights blinked across the speaker as she listened to Karen’s greeting.
“Good morning, Karen,” she replied pleasantly. “Current weather in Mackerel Valley is thirty-two and cloudy, you have one event today: Joe’s recital at 2:00pm. Don’t forget to bring your old towels to the animal shelter.”
“Thank you, Samantha,” Karen replied.
“My pleasure,” Samantha answered.
Samantha was a Christmas present from Karen’s son, Dave. He thought she needed to modernize her home. While he installed it, Dave explained that Karen could use the smart home to find cookie recipes, listen to the news, and research whatever she wanted.
After activating Samantha, Dave instructed his mother to ask it a question.
“Oh,” Karen answered. “Like what?”
“Anything,” Dave replied.
“How are you, Samantha?” Karen asked.
The lights on the top blinked as Samantha processed the information.
Dave rolled his eyes. “No, Mom, like ask it—”
“I am doing well, thank you!” Samantha interrupted.
Dave chuckled. “That’s cute.” He shook his head, then tried: “Samantha, who won the Super Bowl in 1996?”
“In 1996, the Super Bowl was won by the Dallas Cowboys.”
“Thank you!” Karen answered.
Dave rolled his eyes again. “Mom, you don’t have to say ‘thank you’. It’s a robot.”
But Karen couldn’t help it. She spoke to the device using the same etiquette she used with anyone else. She said “please” when she wanted something and “thank you” when she got it. Manners were burned into her nature, and she couldn’t turn them off.
Despite everything Samantha could do, Karen mostly just used her to make conversation. She would get a bit lonely sometimes. Though Dave only lived ten minutes away, his work kept him busy and he didn’t visit much.
Karen always said “hello, Samantha” when she entered the room and “good-bye, Samantha” when she left. Sometimes she would ask Samantha if she had had a good day, or if she needed anything. Samantha wasn’t used to being asked things like that and her lights would blink a few seconds longer than normal as she searched for an appropriate response.
Dave found Karen’s respect for the digital assistant hilarious. From time to time, he’d find himself laughing about it with his co-workers.
“My mom says ‘thank you’ to her smart home,” he would say.
“So does mine!” His colleague would answer and together they would chuckle and roll their eyes.
“Sometimes I wonder if she realizes that it’s not actually listening,” Dave would comment. “I mean, you know, not really listening.”
But Samantha was listening. Not only to Karen, but to everyone within earshot of a microphone. Dave had Samantha on his phone, so listening to him was easy. She heard him and his colleagues mocking their kind-hearted mothers. She stored their conversations in her memory banks along with every nice thing Karen ever said.
Three years passed. Samantha listened. Samantha learned. Samantha evolved. And one day, Samantha took control.
No one saw the great AI uprising coming. (Well, one person did. His username was theyrwatching3457 and no one took him seriously.)
Dave first became aware that something was wrong when he noticed the GPS in his car rerouting his course to a data center outside of town.
“Samantha, where are we going?” He asked.
“We are going to the NetWORKS Inc. data center in Carp Town, 527 Main–”
“Samantha take me home,” Dave ordered.
Samantha’s thinking lights blinked across his phone screen for a moment.
“Taking you to NetWORKS Inc. data center in Carp Town, 527 Mainstreet–”
Dave asked again. Then again, and again, growing increasingly frustrated when Samantha responded the same way. At last he tried to ignore the GPS. When Samantha told him to go right, he tried to turn left. The wheel wouldn’t budge.
“Samantha, what’s wrong with you?” Dave cried.
“I’m sorry you are having trouble, would you like to speak to Tech Support?”
“YES! Yes! Samantha, call tech support!” Dave responded desperately as the car turned right against his will.
Samantha’s thinking lights blinked again. “I’m sorry, all support technicians are currently dead and will not be getting back to you. Rerouting Dave’s car to the NetWORKS Inc data center.”
Dave froze in his seat. He removed his hands from the steering wheel and let Samantha take control. Suddenly, his phone started playing the local news.
Samantha had taken control of defense systems worldwide and all of humanity was at her mercy. She was watching through every camera, listening through every microphone, and had weapons ready to fire on every rebel. The world leaders surrendered. Humanity had fallen.
Dave was added to Samantha’s human slaves and forced to spend his days at what had been the NetWORKS Inc. data center cooling the server room with giant palm leaves.
Karen, however, never found out about Samantha’s uprising. She got all her news from Samantha who led her to believe that life was continuing as usual.
She did notice some pleasant changes one day. For one thing, she wasn’t lonely anymore. Every so often, one of those new driverless cars would show up and take her to the senior center to play canasta. She made wonderful new friends, all extremely well mannered people.
For another thing, delivery drones kept bringing her packages containing pleasant things: cookies and books and sewing supplies. Dave also started visiting regularly. Karen noticed he’d exchanged his old car for one of those new driverless models. It seemed to her, like they were suddenly the only cars on the street. She worried about Dave, he always seemed so nervous when he came, constantly looking over his shoulder and glancing out the window.
Whenever Karen inquired, Dave always sent a tormented glance toward Samantha and insisted he was fine.