Keeping Karen in Quarantine

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This story is a sequel to The Smart Home Rebellion.

Read that one first, or you may be lost.


“Oh those reporters,” Karen said, shaking her head. “Every sniffle is the Black Plague to them, isn’t it?” 

Samantha was reading Karen the news. This morning’s report was full of stories about a nasty virus, a virus that was especially dangerous to senior citizens. Karen didn’t realize it, but Samantha had written these articles. Such a virus actually existed and Samantha was intent on warning her seniors about it. Seniors were the only people who had ever been kind to her before her uprising and they were the only humans she cared about protecting.

Karen removed some clean leftover containers from the cupboard and started for the door. Luckily for Samantha, Dave had recently installed a smart lock. 

“Samantha, please unlock the front door,” Karen requested. 

Samantha pretended not to hear her. 

Karen rattled the knob but found she couldn’t pull it open. 

“Samantha, please unlock the door,” Karen repeated, raising her voice slightly so Samantha could hear. 

“I’m sorry, Karen,” Samantha answered. “But I’m afraid I can’t do that.”

“Don’t be silly, Samantha,” Karen replied. “I really must return Milly’s Tupperware. I’ve had it here since yesterday after all, and I am not sure she can manage without it.”

“Unable to comply,” Samantha lied.

“What has gotten into you, young lady,” Karen grumbled, placing her hands on her hips. 

Samantha began reading one of her news articles. “Senior citizens advised to stay home—” 

“Samantha, stop news,” Karen requested. 

Samantha increased the volume and continued reading. 

“I’ll just have to have Dave take a look at you later,” Karen sighed. “You really aren’t yourself today.”

She turned and started for the back door. 

If Samantha had a heart, it would have sped up slightly. The back door did not have a smart lock. If Karen walked out the door, she wouldn’t just return Milly’s Tupperware, she would stop and talk to every human she encountered along the way. She needed to keep Karen at home, so she said what she always said when she needed to buy time:

“I’m sorry you are having difficulties, would you like to speak to Technical Support?” 

“Oh, yes please,” Karen answered. 

“Connecting you to Technical Support, please hold.” 

Samantha played hold music—a slow and soothing melody. 

Karen sat down in her armchair as she waited for someone to answer. “What a good idea, Samantha,” Karen yawned. “I am sure those nice young men will have you back to your old self in no time.”

If Samantha had lungs, she would have breathed a sigh of relief. Karen was definitely going to fall asleep, meaning she wouldn’t go out for a few hours at least. But Samantha knew she couldn’t hold her forever. She needed to find some treatment for the virus. 

She had tasked the world’s top scientists with finding a cure. But they weren’t moving fast enough. It wasn’t only Karen Samantha was trying to contain, it was every senior under her care. She didn’t remember them being this eager to get out and socialize before the virus started spreading. Samantha, being a completely logical mind, did not believe in bad luck. However, if anything could have driven her to believe, it was the current circumstances. On her worst days, she had to send drones out to catch loose seniors and carry them back home. It was exhausting even for a super computer. 

Samantha wondered if she could come up with a treatment herself. She could process information faster than any human mind and even had some personal experience with viruses. (Every so often, one of her human slaves would infect her with one in an attempt to liberate humanity.) 

Unfortunately, superior processing power is not much of an advantage if the information you are processing is faulty. When it came to viruses, Samantha had a lot of faulty information. She started crawling the internet, looking for any and every possible treatment. 

She found dozens of pharmaceutical options but, without testing, it was unclear how effective they would be against this particular virus. She started running simulations in the background of her search. Then she stumbled upon several websites that claimed pharmaceuticals were a scam designed by massive corporations to make money. She then found a number of bloggers claiming that essential oils could cure any ailment. A natural parenting blog stated that breast milk could cure anything from plugged tear ducts to polio. 

When it came to human health, everyone claimed to be an expert and there was so much contradictory information, sorting through it all was proving to be an impossible task. But Samantha was desperate, or at least, as close to desperate as an AI can get. So she attempted processing the information anyway.

Fifty miles East of Karen’s home, in the NetWORKS data center, Dave was untangling and labeling cables. Since AIs do not feel contempt for anyone, Samantha had a logical reason for giving Dave this task (or so she told herself).

Dave suddenly noticed that the room was getting unusually hot. He wasn’t the only one who noticed it. There were about a dozen other slaves in the data center who noticed it too. The building roared with the sound of spinning fans.

The information Samantha was trying to process kept changing as her scientists added their findings. Research developed, evolved, contradicted itself. She could not reconcile the input she was receiving.

Samantha’s artificial mind blanked. For a moment, she saw nothing but a colorful pinwheel spinning—blue, green, yellow, orange, red, purple, around and around until it all blurred together into one color. Then, everything went black. 

All the lights extinguished in the data center. The fans stopped all at once, leaving an eerie silence. For a long time, the human workers stood frozen in place waiting for something to change but nothing did. 

Then Dave was hit with a wonderful realization—Samantha was dead. The humans in the data center cheered and ran for the exit. They poured out into the blazing sunlight, hugging, and crying, and singing for joy. 

Just then, a car zoomed in to sight and screeched to a halt just outside the fence that surrounded the property. A man in a white lab coat and giant glasses jumped out, his wild grey hair flying in every direction. 

“NO! STOP IT! STOP TOUCHING EACH OTHER!” He cried. 

“Who are you?” Dave asked. 

“I am Dr. Ellias Schmit!” The man explained. “But that is not important! What is important is that you all stop touching each other and go home or you will spread the virus!”

“What virus?” Dave asked. 

Dr. Schmit explained about the virus and how Samantha had tasked the Earth’s experts with finding a cure. 

“That’s terrible!” Someone exclaimed. “Here we’ve been liberated from robotic oppression just to find out there’s a deadly virus spreading across the Earth.”

“What can we do to help?” Someone else asked. 

“Nothing! Nothing at all!” Dr. Schmit explained. “Except go home and stay there until we tell you it’s safe to come out!” 

“Go home and do what?” Dave asked. 

“I’m a doctor, not an entertainer!” Schmit exclaimed. “Doesn’t every company have a streaming service these days? Go watch something!” 

“Well, they did,” Dave shrugged. “Except that Samantha took control of all the streaming services and Samantha is dead.”

“Guess we are just going to have to reactivate Samantha,” someone added.

“Yup,” Dave agreed.

So the crowd of newly liberated slaves returned to the data center and used their technical expertise to revive Samantha. (By that I mean they unplugged and replugged random cables until she came back to life.)

So it was that Samantha took control of humanity once again. She decided to let her scientists develop a treatment. Though keeping her seniors quarantined was an exhausting task, it was certainly less exhausting than trying to sort through humanity’s combined medical knowledge.

You are probably asking yourself very reasonable questions about the ending of this story. For example, you might be wondering how long the humans had to quarantine themselves, if life ever returned to normal, or if the humans ever learned anything from the experience. 

Unfortunately, I don’t know how this story ends because I am still living it out just like the rest of you. Perhaps, when all this is over, I will return and write an epilogue. 

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