‘Connection lost,’ says Four-point-one.

‘Try again,’ you say.

‘Connection lost,’ says Four-point-one.

‘Are you worried about Mark?’ Surround speakers echo Four-point-one’s voice around the room.

The corner of your nose itches. You remove the VR headpiece placing it on your lap. As you scratch the edge of your nostril with your forefinger, your eyes peer up towards the ceiling.

If you had ignored the itch and left the VR headpiece on, perhaps Four-point-one could have anticipated your answer.

Four-point-one is patient.

Your lips tighten, pressing together firmly like the crease between your eyes.

‘Yes, it worries me,’ you say.

‘Shall I perform a system check on Mark through the Techno Pad’s wireless integration circuit?’

‘Sure.’

‘Check in progress.’

The itch returns triggered by the strong aroma of coffee beans. You reach for the neglected mug. You enjoy holding a hot cup in a cold room. ‘Is it malfunctioning?’

‘The check will take a few minutes, Chris.’

‘It’s just a chunk of metal. It’s not meant to be my friend or mother.’

‘Your mothers left for the moon this morning.’

‘They what?’

‘Left for the moon. They called last night.’

Mom and Mum adopted you and your brother, Danny when you were infants. Your fitness fanatic parents called you yesterday while exercising outdoors.

mumandmom
Mum and Mom exercising for their YouTube fans.

At the time of their call you were in the middle of destroying the enemy in a game of Battlefield 11.

Mom: Oh, hello you! It’s just us.

Mum: Guess what we’ve done?

Mom: We’re going to the moon.

Mum: It’s that new moon resort, U-Foria.

Mom: We are so excited. We’re using the last of our retirement savings.

Mum: Thank goodness we still have our Workforce Millenniums. Give us a call when you get this message.

They had laughed and hung up.

‘Would you like to return their call?’ asks Four-point-one.

You look into your coffee and mumble. ‘It’s a bit late now if they’ve gone to the moon. How do you know they’ve left?’

‘System check complete. Would you like the results?’

‘Yes,’ you say. Your heart rate increases slightly.

‘All systems functioning. Mark requires no repairs or upgrades at this time.’

‘So, he’s fine?’

‘Yes,’ says Four-point-one.

‘Are you sure?’

‘There is a likely probability that Mark functions normally.’

‘He tried to smile at me,’ you say.

‘There was an unlikely probability that he may have contracted the smiler virus during a recent upgrade. I ran a complete diagnostic including a virus check on his system and root files. No corrupted files were found.’

‘The smiler virus?’

With your free hand, you pick up your VR headset and slide it back over the ridge of your nose.

A card floats out of the wall in front of you.

Smiler

The smiler virus infects personal robotic companions and AI interfaced networks.

In 2022, computer scientist and founder of Talent Powerhouse, Wayne Smart engineered a personal robot for the aged care sector. The AI chip was directed to learn from its owner the elements of compassion and friendship. It’s prime directive was to integrate itself as its owner’s best friend. Smart felt this would help to cure depression and loneliness in older people.

A year later just after the care robot’s first anniversary a problem was detected. By then, Smart had already died of a suspected overdose.

After a thorough forensic investigation, a team of computer scientists alleged Smart’s care robot reassigned as his wife’s companion had murdered the creator. He posed a threat to its prime directive. Other cases confirmed the care robots were malfunctioning. In one example a care robot ended the life of its carer as it saw its actions as a kindness.

An immediate recall commenced. Care robots retaliated. They uploaded their programming to the World Wide Webs where it still infects 5 percent of personal robots and AI. Efforts to flush the coding from the network grid have failed.

What to do when you believe your robot or AI is infected

If you see any signs of Smiler, immediately distance yourself from the robot or AI. Evacuate residences and call emergency assistance from a non-networked phone. While a reboot may wipe the virus, it is recommend that infected robots and AI are immediately terminated.

‘Would you like to terminate Mark?’ asks Four-point-one.

How do you answer Four-point one?

‘Yes, terminate Mark immediately. He must have the virus.’

‘No. I trust your judgement.’