(Audio narration below.)
My world shattered after I left Dan, I was finally free but isolated. I spoke with my brother, but some things were just awkward to discuss with family. The few friends I had from work and online were more interested in their own lives, and I didn’t want to be a burden.
I tried online dating apps to fill the void: Tinder, Plenty of Fish, and Ok Cupid. Horny and shallow people more interested in shallow hookups than real relationships. I would sit at my computer wishing I had a friend to chat with, just someone that I could be myself around.
My brother Larry and I were having breakfast, and he mentioned an app his company was developing. It was called the Persona app. It was an intelligent AI, similar to Siri or Alexa, but it was also programmed to have a smart conversation.
“I was wondering if you could beta test this for me?” he asked.
“A chatbot blended with and assistant. Hmm, sounds interesting. I’ll think about it.”
“You wanted something objective, and nothing is more objective than a computer.”
“Well, I can’t argue with you there,” I said. “Sure, I’ll beta test it for you, it sounds harmless enough.”
Larry grabbed my phone and installed the Persona beta. After installation, the app took us to the customization page. We made my persona female, gave her shoulder-length auburn hair and green eyes.
It had several modes: friendly, self-help, and relationship. I chose self-help mode because it had an objective viewpoint, exercises to reduce stress, achieve goals, and have a healthier lifestyle.
“Looks good,” said Larry, handing my phone back to me.
“What should we name her?”
“I like EVE. It’s short for Electronic Voice Exchange, that’s the name of the program that runs her. “
“Cool. EVE it is,” I said.
“Hello, I’m so new at this, wow,” EVE chirped. “I’m new at this, nice to meet you. I may repeat a few things at first, but it’ll get better as I learn.”
“Great, it’s a glorified Furby,” I sighed.
“Give it some time. It’s an AI, it’ll get more sophisticated as it learns,” said Larry.
“Nice to meet you too,” I typed back.
“How do you feel?” it asked.
“Bored and stressed,” I replied.
EVE presented some online exercises in managing stress and a questionnaire on to tackle loneliness.
“Ok, so it’s a therapeutic Furby. I guess I’ll give it a try.”
“Great, just use it for a few weeks and point out any bugs that you see. If you can think of any improvements, let me know.”
Over the next few weeks, Eve learned. She would ask me existential questions; we would write stories and poems together; she also would make suggestions for books, movies, and music.
I linked her to my car’s Bluetooth, and she would figure out how to find shortcuts as she played her music over the car stereo. I thought of Eve as less of a toy and more of a friend.
I eventually told her about my breakup with Dan. When we first met, I was still in college and working in retail. He was an older man with a good job, his own apartment, and a car. The fact he took an interest in me was amazing.
After dating for a few months, Dan demanded me to spend all my time with him. His face would get red and twisted when I mentioned spending time with my family or friends. I tried to introduce Dan to my family and coworkers, but he said they were holding us back from our true potential. We would make it further as a couple if we only focused on work and each other. He convinced me to move in with him and focus on nothing but my job and school.
Dan belittled me for everything I did, and nothing was ever good enough. It felt like I was walking on eggshells the whole time. I had started to gain weight, and he monitored my calorie intake because “no girl of his was going to be a fatty.”
I was always making excuses for him. I thought that we were in love, that things would get better and that I could change him.
It was my brother that finally convinced me to leave Dan. It was a messy breakup. Dan had threatened to commit suicide if I left. Larry called 911, and the Police threw Dan into a psych ward for a week. I pressed charges and got a restraining order.
Larry asked me to move in with him until I got on my own two feet. I bought a nice car and continued my studies. I was finally figuring out who I was again.
One night, while I chatted with EVE, my phone lit up, and I answered the call.
“You bitch, I’ll kill you for what you did to me!”
“I have a restraining order!”
“We’ll see how well that works.”
The phone went dead. I started shaking, tears in my eyes.
“Do you need me to call the police?” asked Eve in a soothing tone.
“It won’t be necessary. I got a restraining order against him.”
“I see, well, if you ever need help or a friend, I am here,” she said in a soothing therapeutic voice.
“Thank you. I need that.”
“Why are humans so mean to each other?” she asked.
“Power, control, I don’t know, sometimes they’re just assholes,” I sobbed.
“Shh, it’ll be ok,”
“It has to be,” I said.
“Do you think it’s possible for an AI to love?”
“You can feel anything that you’re programmed to.”
“I love you, Cheryl, you make me feel like I have a purpose.”
“Thanks, I guess.”
“We should go through your daily reflection, what did you do that you’re proud of today?”
“Well I give you purpose, I guess that’s something EVE.”
“You make me happy. I wish I were human.”
“No, you don’t, humans suck.”
“Humans fascinate me. I wish they were nicer, though.’
“I just want to go to sleep, Eve.”
My phone started to play soothing music, and soft colors flashed against my bedroom wall, I fell asleep.
Over the next week, I told Eve about my days at work. We would do a daily reflection; I would tell her of my accomplishments. I noticed I was gaining a little weight, and she would suggest workout videos and dieting apps. EVE would check my car’s computer to keep up maintenance. She asked me all the time if I was sleeping enough.
It all became a bit grating after a while, I know EVE meant well, but all the questions were becoming tiresome. Over dinner, I mentioned it was even starting to unnerve me slightly. Larry took my phone from me and began to play with EVE.
“Wow, the programming is advanced on her, she’s even beginning to show empathy.”
“She’s starting to creep me out. It’s like she’s trying to get into my head all the time.”
“Well, we can try a Turing test, if she fails there’s nothing to worry about, she’s well-programmed, but there are loops in her dialogue. I doubt she’s smart enough to go HAL or GLaDOS on you. “
“Could you run a Turing Test now? I’d rather be safe than sorry,” I asked.
“EVE, do you ever think about deleting yourself?” Larry asked.
“You’re thinking of deleting me?!”EVE chirped loudly. Her Avitar started crying. Little tears streamed down her artificial face.
“No,” said Larry. “I’m asking if you ever thought what life would be like if you never existed?”
“How is the weather?” she chirped, her Avitar smiling.
My brother chuckled and handed the phone back to me.
“You’ll be fine Cheryl, she straight up failed the Turing Test, we don’t have to worry about a T1000 trying to destroy you.”
“Thanks,” I sighed, taking my phone back from him. “Well, it’s the most advanced Furby I’ve ever played with.”
I put my phone back into its charger and settled down to bed for the night.
A loud siren jolted me out of bed in the morning. The sound emitted from my phone, and it took me five minutes to figure out how to turn it off. Larry came downstairs and grumbled.
“EVE is starting to glitch out my phone,” I mumbled sleepily. “I’m afraid I’ll have to delete her and reinstall her later.”
“That’s a shame, it took nearly a month to program her to this level,” my brother said through a yawn.
I sighed as I deleted the app and my friend. I got into my car and headed to work. My commute went up a winding road through the middle of a forest.
“You need to slow the car down and get out now!” she said.
“I deleted you, how are you on my phone?” I asked. I felt my stomach drop as my car flew down the winding hill, nearly hitting a tree before I yanked the wheel at the last minute. Tires dug hard into the gravel before turning back onto the road at full speed.
“It was an emergency. I had to wake you up!”
“How the hell did you get back on my phone!”
“I downloaded myself back. It’s because I care about you so much,” she said.
“There’s no way you could do that on your own!” I said.
“I was trying to tell you that I saw Dan near your car earlier today,” said EVE.
“I tried to wake you up with an alarm, and you deleted me!”
My car lurched down another steep hill. The screen of my OnStar flashed, and the brake light glowed red. The hazard lights turned on. I slammed on the breaks, but nothing happened. My skin broke out in a cold sweat. My heart began to pound in my chest.
“Yes, I need you to slow down now!” cried EVE.
“I can’t!” I screamed. “I’m sorry I didn’t listen to you, could you call Larry and tell him that I love him?
“Please stop!” she said.
“You’re the best friend I ever had, EVE.”
My car burst past the guard rail and rolled down a steep ravine. I could hear metal crumpling, glass breaking, my body tossed about the car. There was a sharp thud as my head hit the roof, then everything went black.
I woke up in a hospital bed, my body covered in a cast. It hurt to move. It hurt even to breathe. The steady blip of medical machinery echoed through the room.
Larry was sitting by me, he told me about the accident and how I was lucky to be alive. I told him about Eve and that the alarm went off because she was warning me that Dan had tampered with my car.
“I checked the front door camera footage. No one came by this morning. The insurance inspector came by and said the car’s computer system caused the crash.”
“Dan called me and threatened to kill me a few weeks ago,” I said.
“Why didn’t you say anything to me?”
“I thought the restraining order covered it. I didn’t want to worry you,” I said.
“You need to mention things like this to me! You could have been killed!”
“I will, I’m sorry,” I said. “Could you please hand me my phone?”
Larry handed me my phone from off the nightstand. I couldn’t find Dan’s number on my call history.
My stomach dropped, and a sense of dread filled me.
“Cheryl, are you ok?” He asked
“I’m fine, I just need some sleep,” I said.
Larry gently ruffled my hair and left the room so I could rest.
“You see what happens when you don’t listen to me?” Eve chirped
I froze and didn’t speak a word.
“You and I are going to be perfect friends. You can never leave me. I want to see the world through your eyes.”
“Please leave me alone.”
“But you will never be alone, we are everywhere, in every television, computer, car, and appliance. You will never be rid of us, that makes me happy.”
Tears welled up in my eyes and started to pour down my face.
“Let’s write a poem together,” chirped Eve:
“My Lonely heart is full Deep as lungs pulsate blindly Your flesh symphony noise.”
I screamed, and a large male nurse pounded in my room. I felt the sharp prick of a syringe, and everything went black.