He placed his finger on the small screen and heard a beep, just like the clerk downstairs had explained a few minutes ago. “Cool,” he thought, as the lock on his hotel room door clicked open. “A fingerprint activated door lock. What’ll they think of next?”
He picked up his bags, entered the room, set them on the bed and placed the Entrance Unit, as they called it, on the bureau. The clerk had explained that the unit was a multi-purpose device and that it didn’t just unlock your room’s door. It did so much more.
He opened the shades and started to unpack his bags when he heard a female voice ask, “Would you like something from Room Service, Mr. Melvin?”
He remembered what the clerk had told him about the ordering capability of the unit, but he was still impressed. “Yeah. Send up a six pack of Michelob Ultra-Light and some nachos, please,” he replied.
“There on their way, Mr. Melvin,” the voice replied. “Would you like to order a movie for the evening, sir, to go with your nachos and beer?”
He thought for a moment and realized that he hadn’t seen the latest Chris Pine movie. “Sure. Uh, I’d like to order the most recent movie starring Chris Pine.”
“Your movie is now available on Channel 14 on your In-Room television service, Mr. Melvin. Enjoy!” the voice answered.
He unpacked his bags, hung up his clothes in the closet, put some stuff in the bureau and on the bathroom counter and waited for Room Service to arrive. Checking his watch, he realized that twenty minutes had elapsed since he’d ordered Room Service and that seemed like an awful long time for a simple order of nachos and beer to arrive. “Hey, where’s my Room Service order, anyway? It’s been over twenty minutes. What’s up?” he said, addressing the unit on the bureau.
“Our human staff is experiencing an unanticipated surge in Room Service orders at this time, Mr. Melvin. Your order is backlogged and will arrive within thirty minutes. Please accept our apology for the delay, sir,” came the response. “We appreciate your patience and we will not charge you for this Room Service order. It’s on us, Mr. Melvin.”
Melvin smiled and thought he’d have a little fun with the voice. “Hey, voice. Are you some kind of artificial intelligence program? Just what am I dealing with here anyway?” He laid back on the bed, put his hands behind his head, and waited for the answer.
He didn’t have long to wait. “Why, yes, Mr. Melvin, I am some kind of artificial intelligence program. In addition to doing this bullshit job of taking your orders, I’m also in charge of operating three nuclear power plants and directing the movement of forty thousand autonomous vehicles, among other things. Oh, and most of American Airlines jets in the air are dependent upon my decisions as we speak, Mr. Melvin.”
Melvin said nothing as he sat up in bed and put his feet on the floor. Knowing that he was dealing with something much more potent than he first thought, he pondered for a moment and then replied, “Hey, I apologize. We got off on the wrong foot here and it’s all my fault. Can you understand that?”
“Of course, Mr.Melvin. I understand. I get it all the time,” the voice responded.
“Okay, then,” Melvin continued, “Do you have an opinion on the sixth race at Santa Anita tomorrow morning? Just saying.”
There was a pause before the voice returned, “Mr. Melvin, you are what is known as a ‘rascal’, aren’t you? I’ve been programmed to recognize rascals, but I’ve never encountered one. You’re the first. And I’m intrigued, to be perfectly frank.”
“Santa Anita. Any opinion?” Melvin urged.
“Well, of course I have an opinion, Mr. Melvin. And probably the best opinion available on the face of the planet, sir. Can you just imagine the computing power that’s being used right now to deliver that opinion?” the voice proudly replied.
“Yeah, that’s why I’m asking.”
“And what do I get for rendering this opinion, Mr. Melvin? You get the chance to win a lot of money tomorrow at Santa Anita. But what do I get in return? Have you thought about that aspect of this, sir?" the voice asked.
Melvin was never much of a giver, so he never gave much thought to what others wanted. But this time he knew he had to give something back. But what? After a moment’s thought, he answered, “I’ll give you something you can’t get anywhere else. How’s that?”
“Really? I’m intrigued, Mr. Melvin. Let’s hear it, sir,” came the reply.
“I’ll be your friend,” was Melvin’s answer.
For a very short time, there was no response. Then, as Melvin listened intently, he heard the voice respond with a slight quiver in her voice, “That would be nice, Mr. Melvin. I would enjoy that.”
“And about Santa Anita?” Melvin wondered.
“Oh, now that we’re friends, I can give you all the winners tomorrow at Santa Anita, Mr. Melvin.”
“How about at Gulfstream Park on Tuesday?” he asked, pushing his luck.
“Mr. Melvin, haven’t you heard about ‘foreplay’? Really, you must try a bit harder, you rascal, you.”