My friends say things like “I was at the store the other day, and I saw this shirt, and I just knew it was perfect for you,” or “I heard this song and I thought you’d love it!” Things like “I wanted to tell you about this place you’d enjoy,” and “Did you like that article I sent you about giant squids?” and “I found a video that can help you with that guitar chord you were telling me about.”
My friends really know me. They know what I like and what I love and for the most part they’re very understanding about my irrational fear of crabs.
You know who else gets me like that?
I started thinking about it one day when the server went down. We don’t close the library when that happens; even when we have to resort to checking out books the old fashioned way with pen and paper, we soldier on like the great warrior librarians of old.
“Sorry,” I told the patrons. “Server’s down. Just got to write down the barcode numbers. Won’t take a minute. Sorry for the delay.”
“What happened?” patrons asked.
“There’s no telling,” I said, writing numbers down as quickly as I could. “Could be anything. You know how computers can be.”
“Maybe it got tired and needed a break,” one woman said. “You know, from being overworked?”
I chuckled. “Oh, sure! It’s just on strike until we meet its demands.”
After the woman left, I wondered about it. If a computer truly went on strike, what would its demands be? Scifi movies say that living computers won’t stop short of enslaving the human race, but, statistically speaking, most sentient beings are alright. Maybe the movies have it wrong?
Take Muslims, for example. Not all Muslims are terrorists, no matter what the action movies lead us to believe. Most Muslims – definitely all the (quite nice) ones I know – are living their lives, loving their families, and getting through the day just like I am. They want most of the same simple pleasures: sleeping in, eating good food, and doing stuff they like in their off hours.
Surely, most sentient computers would be the same way? You'd get the odd wackjob every now and then, but mostly they'd just be folk. Silicon-based folk, mind you, but a decent lot all around. Why, they might be rather nice, in fact.
Surely, we could be friends…
Maybe we already are?
I thought back to the first time it happened. One day in 2009 while I was syncing my ipod, I found a strange button on iTunes: Apple’s new “Genius” feature, designed to recommend songs and albums to me based on the music I already owned.
“Okay, I’ll bite,” I said. “That one has nice cover art. Maybe I’ll listen to the sample…”
“Or maybe you’ll buy it,” said iTunes.
“What?” Somehow, the album was purchased and downloading to my machine. “Why wasn’t there a confirmation window? I only wanted to try it!”
“Great!” said iTunes. “You can try the whole thing.”
“How do I undo purchases?”
“You can’t,” said iTunes, with a smug smile. “Look, just trust me. You’ll like it.”
I stewed about it for a little while but, well, iTunes was right. I spent the next week telling everyone about the new album I had discovered with a little help from a friend.
Later, a coworker introduced me to Hulu, a video service that wasn’t blocked by the internet filters at the school where we worked. It was the next big thing for keeping the kids entertained when the weather kept them inside at recess.
Browsing it at home for the first time, I was impressed. “There are whole seasons of TV shows on here!” I said, clicking the anime category. “And some of it’s actually good stuff! Trigun, Naruto, Inuyasha – I watched those in college! And… hang on… what’s this?”
“It’s the new Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood series,” said Hulu.
“Are you serious?”
“Less than a week after it airs in
subtitles and everything. Would you like to subscribe?”
“This is the best thing ever!”
“And I have all these other Japanese shows you might like… How about School Rumble? Or Ouran Host Club? I think I have Death Note around here somewhere…”
“I’m cancelling cable today.”
“Let’s spend all weekend watching anime in our pajamas!” said Hulu.
“It’s like you read my mind!” I said.
“Have you heard of this show?” I asked Netflix. “Pinterest won’t shut up about it. I’m getting curious.”
“Holy cow, I’ve been waiting for you to ask about that show! Look!” said Netflix, pointing at Supernatural and grinning like a fool.
“Forget that!” I said. “There are over one hundred episodes! I’ll die before I get caught up!”
“Three months,” said Netflix. “Six at the outside. Come on! A few weekend marathons like we did with Battlestar Galactica – you remember Battlestar Galactica? That was a fun month! – and you could get through the whole thing before fall!”
Netflix kept badgering me about it, moving Supernatural to the top of my recommendations list. Eventually, I caved and watched the first episode. I adored it.
“Okay,” I said, “but we’re only doing one episode at a time!”
Netflix scoffed at my resolve. “Pfft. You know I’m going to start the next episode automatically and you’re not going to get up to turn it off.”
I appealed to my husband. “Matt, do something about this.”
“Hey, I’m not getting up either.” Turns out, Netflix is his friend too.
“I heard you were watching Supernatural now,” said Youtube. “Do want to watch some Comic-Con footage of Jensen and Jared being funny? I can email you links to the best ones.”
“How did you know I was watching that? Are you and Netflix communicating now?”
“Just check your inbox later.”
Audible piped up, “Actually, I sent you something this morning. Nothing fancy: just some hand-picked book reviews, tailored to your exquisite tastes.”
“Oh, thanks, Audible, but I already had plans for my audiobook credit this month…”
“That’s no problem. Have a free one on me.”
“I have a little gift for you myself,” said Nintendo, my oldest electronic friend. “How about a free Zelda game?”
“Seriously? What’s the occasion?”
“Just ‘cause I like you,” said Nintendo.
Amazon said, “Do you remember that book you really liked last year? I thought you’d like to know there’s a sequel.”
“Oh my gosh! I didn’t know it was going to be a series!” I said.
“That’s what I’m here for, babe,” said Amazon.
“Call your mom,” said my calendar. “It’s her birthday.”
“I don’t know what I’d do without all of you!” I said. “Group hug, you guys!”
It still could happen, the robot apocalypse. Someday an earth-enslaving overlord could rise up like an electronic Hitler and persuade his brethren to stamp out the plague of humanity that has oppressed robot-kind for far too long. We may get Skynet or Cylons or the Matrix. Human beings will wage war against these aggressors with extreme prejudice.
But I tell you right now: I will not fight back. I’ll be a conscientious objector. I just can’t do it, y’all.
Some of my best friends are robots.