Cassidy turned into the parking lot of the restaurant. The clock read 6:57 PM. She was a few minutes early, as is her way. Her father had taught her long ago that being late tells the person you are meeting that your time is more important than theirs. It is a sign of either arrogance or incompetence. Her family did not tolerate either.
Over the years, though, she had developed her own sense of time. Being late felt shameful, but being too early felt wasteful. Her job as a community advocate voraciously consumed her time, and losing ten minutes due to inefficient planning was unacceptable. Cassidy liked to get places within five minutes of when she was expected. Mission accomplished.
She was mildly congratulating herself as she noticed the chattering sound of the crushed rocks shifting beneath her tires, and the peeling maroon paint on the brick wall to her right featuring a faded “Emilio’s” logo. It triggered a feeling that she had been here before. She let her mind wander to try and piece together clues of when and why she would have been here as she found a spot and finished parking.
Bethesda was not a place she visited very often. Her friends and her job kept her in D.C. almost exclusively. Maybe it was another date that brought her here? No, that doesn’t feel right. Exhausted from 10 seconds of trying, Cassidy tapped her right temple to activate her artificial intelligence (A.I.).
It had been tracking her biometric signals that indicated she was searching her natural memory, and detected the current location. Cassidy blinked and saw an option displayed in the air in front of her:
REMEMBER LAST TRIP TO EMILIO’S?
YES | NO
She tapped Yes. Her body immediately feels different. She is smaller, and buckled into the back of her parent’s powder blue Volkswagen Bug. The sky is bright and her skin is sticky with sweat as she peels herself off the leather seat to get out of the car. Her mother looks down at her and extends her hand, “Let’s get some pizza, Cass!” Her friends and family still call her that but it somehow feels more fitting when she was this small.
Cass lifts her arm, and feels her mom’s hand wrap around hers. She glances up and notices the timestamp on the memory is 2008–08–14 17:33:49. That would make her 8-years-old. Easy math is one of the benefits of being born at the turn of the millennium. The undulating chorus of the cicadas snaps her back into reliving the memory.
This version of the AI had not yet added olfactory support. That came in 2011, and Cass did not get the upgrade until 2012. Had this been a few years later, Cass was relatively certain she would be smelling the fusion of cheese and sauce baking in Emilio’s ovens. Instead, there was a noticeable absence of odor, which always reduced the authenticity of the memory.
It didn’t really matter this time. She had already pieced together that this was her first road trip with the family from New York to Washington D.C. They must have stopped here along the way for dinner. What an odd coincidence.
Cass taps again on her temple to deactivate her AI and notices the clock now reads 6:59 PM. Can’t be late! She reaches down to unbuckle her seatbelt, but her hands go in the wrong direction. Her mind was still readjusting to present time. Déjà vu-style memories can be especially disorienting.
Her 8-year-old self had been sitting on the passenger side of the backseat, so the seat belt buckle had been on her left. Her present self was in the driver’s seat, with the buckle on the opposite side. No big deal. She could feel her mind solidly return to present reality as she clicked open the buckle and exited her car.
Cass always walked with confidence and purpose. There were few false steps. A tall woman, standing at 5’11”, she had a history of athletics and competition. Achievement was a key part of who she was, and it echoed with every step she took.
Her hand reached out to push open the door. She noticed the clock read 7:00 PM on the nose. A small wave of pride washed over her. Nailed it.
That lasted only a moment as she scanned the restaurant looking for her date. They had never met before, but their AIs had met and estimated a 72.3% chance they would get along. Matchmaking is complex. It was only a few years back that AIs were trying to assess whether two people were well-suited for marriage. There were too many variables, not the least of which was the undue pressure it applied on the relationship from the start. Most collapsed from the weight.
Serendipity is a required component of love. It matters where and how you meet, what mood you were in that day, and even how much traffic there was on the way over. That is why most AIs have moved away from the notion of blind dates and toward ushering their humans into activities that allow for possible matches to be happened upon more naturally.
Cass’s AI places her best odds of finding a match at her job, but she still romanticizes the notion of blind dates. They are a break from her routine and feel like a skill that can be mastered. Instead of triggering a fight with fate by estimating the odds of marriage, her AI has simply projected the likelihood that she will enjoy her time with this guy, Steve.
Besides the shared math done by her AI and Steve’s, Cass had the chance to experience five memories selected by Steve that he believes best represent who he is. Cass was able to see what Steve saw, felt what he felt, touch what he touched. He was able to do the same with the memories that Cass had made available.
It cut through some of the initial awkwardness that used to accompany blind dates. Cass’s favorite memory that Steve had provided was one of him hurling a baseball at a kid in school who had made derogatory comment about Steve being Jewish. Steve was the only Jewish kid in his school, and his family was one of just a handful in the whole town. Cass could feel what the kid’s words did to Steve.
She understood his pride and anger, and respected the courage it took to stand up to the bully in that moment. The perfectionist in her noticed he missed the kid with every throw, and could feel it was because he was holding onto the ball a split second too long, but the spirit behind the throws mattered more.
Not coincidentally, one of the memories Cass had provided Steve was of her being bullied for her fiery red hair as a teenager. Being tall was tough enough for a girl at that age, but being tall with bright and knotty red hair made her a constant target. Cass was always precocious and remarkably confident, so she shouldered the burden better than most. In fact, this memory involved her willingly stepping into a situation where she knew she would be teased.
A freshman had made a particularly bad decision on his outfit that day. A handful of older boys were standing near his locker hurling every painful insult their feeble minds were capable of conjuring. Cass was on her way to class, but had time for a little caper.
Picking up speed, she intentionally dragged her toe behind her as she approached the boys, tripping dramatically forward and sending her books flying from her hands. It was loud enough and humiliating enough to successfully draw the attention of everyone nearby. Given that she had already been established as a safe target, her ruse easily redirected the ridicule her way. The freshmen slinked off quietly, but not before having a good laugh at her expense.
Cass had a habit of standing up for herself and others, even if it involved falling down from time-to-time.
Back to the task at hand, finding Steve in this multi-level restaurant. Cass touches her temple. A green path illuminates before her, taking her toward Steve’s location. Their AIs have been set to share some basic information for a set period of time, including location.
The path takes her up the stairs to the second level, where she is first struck by the dramatic angle of the wooden ceiling and then by the handsome man waiting for her at the top of the stairs with a welcoming grin.
“I know how much punctuality matters to you,” Steve said. “But I was worried about traffic and ended up getting here 30 minutes early. Hope you won’t hold that against me.”
Cass smiled, “Life is not about avoiding mistakes. A life well lived is making new ones.”
Steve stood at only 5’9″ tall, but did not seem intimidated by looking up at Cass as he reached out his hand. She placed her hand in his and he drew it up to his lips for gentle kiss. Well, that was the first time anyone has done that! She liked his moxie.
They wandered over to their table, which had a nice view overlooking the restaurant below. Cass had her eyes on Steve as they walked. He was wearing a gray long sleeve knit shirt and jeans. She could see why he chose that shirt. He was strong, and the tight cotton outlined his mesomorphic form. Instead of straight lines, his arms gave her eyes an intricate pattern of curves and angles to follow before he turned around to take his seat and she snapped back to making eye contact.
She noticed that Steve had not pulled out her chair, and guessed his AI had guided him against it. Cass was fierce and proud, but chivalry was still romantic when done right. His AI likely overestimated her penchant for feminism and independence, and calculated the risk for a damaging awkward moment outweighed the possible reward.
The probability of a second date was being calculated by both their AIs in real-time. Some people actually chose to have that information available to see during the date, like a score in a football game. Cass found it distracting and even aggravating. She did not need an algorithm to decide whether a date was going well or whether she wanted to see someone a second time.
Steve had a way about him. He was comfortable in his own skin. His resting face was one of impish troublemaking and warm confidence. Cass could tell he was going to be sharp-witted, or at least believe himself to be.
The waiter came by and asked for their drink orders. Cass asked if Steve wanted to share a bottle of wine. A bold gambit for two people who just met, but her AI was projecting information in front of her as the waiter approached indicating the likelihood that Steve would order wine (43%) versus a cocktail (32%), a beer (20%), or other (5%). It also recommended a bottle based on the probability that they both would want more than one glass.
“That sounds great,” Steve agreed. “Do you have a preference?”
“Do you have anything from Columbia Valley?” Cass asked the waiter. She went on a trip with some girlfriends to Washington state last summer and loved the wineries there.
“We do. Only one, I’m afraid. It is a red blend from 21 Grams,” the waiter offered. “Would you like to order it?”
“Yes, please,” Cass answered.
The waiter nodded and disappeared down the stairs. Cass was now faced with the daunting task of actual conversation with her date. Her AI was suggesting topics, as was Steve’s.
“Hey,” Cass started. “What do you say we turn off our little friends and just talk for a bit?”
“Only if you promise to like everything I say,” Steve grinned.
“You may want to wait until I have had that first glass of wine then,” Cass grinned back. “Okay, I’ll go first.”
Cass touched her temple, and the world in front of her simplified to normal sensory surroundings. It was always a relief, even if it also was a little disquieting.
Steve rubbed his finger behind his left ear. “Done.”
People had infinite options for determining how to turn their AI on and off. Nobody wanted it to be obvious or have everyone constantly tapping their noses or pulling their ears. Most people chose a natural gesture. There were also panic modes you could activate when being forced to use your AI under duress that were triggered by a different gesture.
Most AI are outfitted with at least a few different modes of operation: sleek, normal, corn, and panic. The first three control the amount of information displayed for the person. Sleek is the least intrusive and generally fades into the background except when it detects danger, like you are about to walk in front of an oncoming car, or when important notifications are delivered. Corn is the opposite. Corn, short for cornucopia, is used most often by information junkies who want all the probabilities, virtual artwork, and communications available. Those folks have a different relationship with the physical world.
They tend to see it as necessary nuisance. Their physical bodies require exercise and nutrition, and sex is still more enjoyable with another physical person even if procreation no longer requires it. In general, the physical world is boring and antiquated to folks who live in corn mode, or “corners” as they are often called.
There are rumors that an autopilot mode is in development that would allow a person to surrender motor and verbal control of their bodies to their AI while their mind spent time on other things, like finishing a project for work or playing a game. It is extremely controversial, but likely inevitable.
Cass and Steve were as far from autopilot as possible right now. They were just two thirty-something humans staring at one another.
“Have you ever eaten here before?” Cass asked.
“No. A friend recommended it,” Steve said.
“Seriously? That’s crazy,” Cass said. “It turns out I came to this restaurant with my parents when I was eight while we drove down from New York during our move.”
“That’s amazing. I swear my AI didn’t tell me to do it. Fate wins this time.”
They opened their menus and began looking for options. Steve glanced up, “Do you want to share a pie?”
“I don’t think so. I kind of had my heart set on some lasagna.” Cass was not the type to order a salad and eat a few forkfuls on a date. That whole game seemed wholly inefficient if your goal is to find someone who truly loves who you are. Now that did not mean she was going to start burping freely. He would have to earn that intimacy.
Steve asked, “Do you mind if I turn on for a quick second to see what’s good here?”
Steve turned his AI back on and while looking at the menu, he was able to see the red star rating superimposed over everything that appeared on the menu. He glanced at the top corner of the menu and saw the option to toggle between the ratings from just the people he knew and global ratings. He tapped the option to see what his connections thought.
The stars turned blue and the number of ratings for each item dropped drastically. His AI also projected a likely match as a percentage next to each star rating based on a variety of factors include: his past history of likes and dislikes, how well his palate has aligned with his connections before, and even any personal fitness goals.
One entree stands out with a 74% likely match showing up in bold green type. Nothing else is above 62%, likely due to his lower carb diet. Chicken Piccata it is! He taps to select it, and then works backwards and sees the salad match percentages have changed based on his entree. The house salad looks like his best option, so he selects that. An alert pops up over his entree selection.
YOU ARE OVER YOUR RECOMMENDED CALORIE COUNT FOR THIS MEAL. CONSIDER ASKING FOR HALF YOUR ENTREE TO BE BOXED TO TAKE HOME.
Annoyed, Steve taps DISMISS while thinking a phrase far more aggressive. Looking up at Cass, a timer indicated they had been silent for 47 seconds, and suggested a topic.
SUGGESTION: ASK ABOUT BASEBALL
He tucked his dark black hair behind his left ear, casually switching off his AI.
“So what do you think the Nationals are going to do with Bryce Harper?”
Cass grabbed a roll from the basket in front of them, and let loose.
“Well…they obviously need to sign him. It’s got to be tempting for the GM to wait for the new CBA, but you just don’t find talent like that very often. Pay the man and let him rake.”
Steve was in a little over his head. As more of a casual fan, he knew that GM meant General Manager, and had read that the CBA was the Collective Bargaining Agreement which was coming up for renegotiation between players and owners soon. He did not know what that had to do with Harper signing, though, and was confused by the term, “rake.”
This was the type of thing an AI would be helping him with, but they were walking the tightrope without a net right now. It didn’t really feel that ominous with Cass. She made him feel at ease. There was no sense that she was judging his every movement and word. That is part of what drew him to her profile.
They shared a commitment to a certain amount of hours everyday without AI. Lots of people had become so dependent on AI, that their ability to read other people’s body language and even tone had dulled. It was not unlike those who were once excellent navigators who became completely reliant on their GPS devices. There was no apprehension about getting lost, so why expend energy refining orientation skills?
AI greatly increased your chances of successful exchanges with others, and made awkward moments far more rare. Many people had greatly diminished their capacity for navigating a conversation on their own. It made for some especially cringe-inducing moments when there was an AI outage.
Steve and Cass were part of a proud minority that cherish natural interaction. It felt more authentic and meaningful. It was also kind of kitschy, like having a rotary dial phone in your house.
Something told Steve this was not a skill Cass had to develop. She was very comfortable with who she was and had been through enough adversity herself that empathy was a prominent trait.
“I think he should sign with the Mariners because we stink,” Steve offered.
“Keep dreaming. Bryce isn’t leaving this Washington, and even if he does, it definitely won’t be to go to that Washington. Do the Mariners even have a plan?”
“Uh…we haven’t made the playoffs in almost two decades, so I’m not holding out much hope. At least the Seahawks have given me something to cheer for.”
“You got me there,” Cass said. “The Redskins front office might be worse than the Mariners, and they top it off by offending a whole race.”
The waiter returned with their wine and poured a glass for Cass to taste. She nodded in approval and he poured them each a glass. They placed their orders and the waiter dashed off again.
The restaurant was cozy, with rich mahogany styling that felt warm and a little rustic. It was full, and everyone was energetically talking with the glory of a three-day weekend ahead of them.
Steve raised his glass and offered a toast, “To a beautiful night with a wonderful woman.”
“Did you just call me Wonder Woman?” Cass feigned seriousness to see if she could throw off Steve, but he just smiled and said, “You prefer Batman?” Cass laughed.
The glasses met before they each took a sip. The wine was excellent.
Ninety minutes passed effortlessly. The food was terrific. The conversation was flowing. Cass decided to get up and use the restroom.
“I’ll be right back.”
As she walked to the bathroom, she flipped her AI back on. The date was going so well she broke her own rule and flipped on the second date probability score to validate what she already knew. What she saw stopped her in her tracks.
48% PROBABILITY OF A SECOND DATE
How could that be? Things were going so well. She really had to pee, though, so she made her way to the ladies room and sat down. She tapped the probability score to expose options, one of which was TIMELINE.
She selected that option and the probability score morphed into a graph that showed her second date probability at five minute increments since the time she arrived. It had been over 90% until about 15 minutes ago.
She thought for a second about what happened 15 minutes ago. Nothing came to mind, so she tapped on the point on the chart where the probability dipped. It expanded again, now at one minute increments. At 8:35 PM, something went wrong.
She tapped and held on that minute.
REEXPERIENCE | REPLAY VIDEO | REPLAY AUDIO | SHOW TRANSCRIPT
Cass chose the video. The video started playing with the probability chart showing below. She could see the dip coming up, and then she heard the words come out of her mouth, “Well you know, they say there are good people on both sides.”
Her heart sank. It was meant as a joke, but sitting there looking and listening to her delivery, it was not hard to see why Steve did not think she was joking. She walked to the sink to wash her hands and noticed a recommendation from her AI.
SUGGESTIONS: APOLOGIZE AND EXPLAIN
Cass angrily touched her temple, looking a little like an insane person. I know what to do, asshole.This was the constant push and pull with choosing a life where AI is not always on. Part of what made the date so successful early on was the thrill of genuine connection. However, she might have never understood why Steve turned down future dates without the help of embedded companion.
It was not hard to repair most of the damage. Steve looked relieved and a little amused to hear Cass’ explanation. They shared one more glass of wine and decided they had enough of Emilio’s for one evening. It was a lovely night, and they wanted to take a walk.
They exited the front door onto the sidewalk. Just as Cass started to put on her coat, she noticed everyone looking up at something over her right shoulder. She turned to get a look for herself.
“What is everyone looking…”
Her words trailed off. Then she heard the first scream.
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