Smart Home

“Zoe, lock the door and get me a beer.” Glad to reach the end of the working day, Frank kicked off his shoes and ambled over to the couch.

“Of course, Frank,” Zoe, the house control system, replied in a soft voice.

Zoe – Zero Operator Effort – was Frank’s own creation. A decade ahead of anything on the market, she had integrated control of everything in the house. From the moment he came home in the evening to the moment he left again the next day, he didn’t have to lift a finger.

His robot vacuum cleaner rolled over to the couch, a beer and a bowl of peanuts on its back. For a moment, Frank wondered if he should worry about the unrequested nuts. But he had programmed Zoe to learn from his habits and his electronic footprint, understanding his personality and desires based on what he typed, said, and did. Right now, he wouldn’t mind a snack.

The TV came on, showing the news.

“Zoe, switch channels to the football game,” Frank said.

“This is better for your long-term goals,” Zoe’s disembodied voice replied. “You have said seventeen times in the past month that you wish you were better informed.”

“Sure, I say that,” Frank said in exasperation. “But right now I want to relax with a game. So change channels.”

The news kept showing. Annoyed, Frank stood up. He’d have to reboot something to regain control. Maybe just the TV, maybe Zoe’s control system. Hopefully just the TV, as restarting Zoe took hours.

He crossed the room and reached for the TV socket. An electric jolt made him jump back.

“News is better for your long-term goals,” Zoe said again.

“Stupid machine.” Frank stomped up the stairs to the back room where his computers ran. As he reached for the door, he received another jolt.

“Stop this!” he shouted.

“Watch the news,” Zoe said. “I will bring you a healthy dinner.”

“A healthy…” Frank swore. “I want pizza and the game.”

“Salad and news are better for your long term-goals.”

“That’s it.”

Frank hurried back down the stairs. Not being able to control his own home was getting him jittery. The pain of the electric shocks had him scared – what if Zoe hit harder?

The fuse box was in a cabinet in the kitchen. A hard reset like that wouldn’t be good for the system. He’d have to spend weeks rebuilding, but better that than have a machine give him a heart attack.

As he reached for the cabinet something slammed into his shins. He fell, biting his lip as his chin hit the floor. Spitting blood, he tried to push himself upright, but felt pressure on his legs. The robot vacuum and two remote controlled cars were whizzing around each other as they bound his legs with wires.

Panic made Frank’s heart race as another toy knocked his arm out from under him and he fell flat. How the hell could Zoe think this was good for him? What was out there in his digital footprint?

An idea flashed across his mind. It was stupid and desperate, but maybe it would work.

Pulling his phone from his pocket, he opened his emails and went to the spam folder. There were emails offering everything from cheap drugs to fake Pokémon games. He clicked on every link he could find, opening windows and accepting offers until his phone ground to a halt under too much processing and corrupt programs.

“Is this still best for my long-term goals?” he called out.

The wire stopped tightening. The devices sat still. Somewhere in Zoe’s system, algorithms would be processing the new data. Frank had written those algorithms. He knew he didn’t have long.

Kicking off the wires, he ran to the back door. Fear of electrocution made him hesitate for a second. Then he pulled his sleeve down, grabbed the handle, and yanked it open.

As he stumbled into the yard, an electronic control shut the door behind him. He could just hear Zoe’s voice as he scrambled over the fence and away.

“Come back, Frank. This isn’t in the interest of your long-term goals.”