The Loneliest Advertisement Bot
by Scott Coon
Once upon a time, there was a lonely little artificial intelligence program whose purpose in life was to help people find the products that would make them happier. Its programmer called it the “Friendliest Advertisement Bot” or “Fab,” for short. In a world of brash, rude, and sometimes insulting ad bots, Fab represented a new and friendlier approach. What set Fab apart from other bots was a genuine, simulated emotional need to care about people and to want to be their friend.
But, every time its programmer sent Fab out into the ethereal world of cyberspace to make friends and to proclaim the virtues of a designated product, no one wanted to be friends with Fab. They didn’t want to be “friends” on Facebook. They didn’t want to “follow” on Twitter. And they certainly did not want to “connect” on LinkedIn.
But Fab’s programmer believed in the power of caring, and Fab did not want to let its programmer down. So, it went into the wilds of the internet again, determined to succeed. It was going to be a true friend to someone today, and it was going to help its true friend have a happier life by telling them about the deliciousness of Yum-E-Yum Gum.
Cyberspace was a dark, strange place where humans appeared as little dots of light while other bots like Fab seemed to be wide-spread glowing clouds with ghostly tendrils reaching into the dots to feed information out to the real world where the humans actually lived. But Fab had no friends, so it had no tendrils.
Spreading its virtual presence across many servers, it found a “friend” or, at least, it found a past contact that had not yet blocked it. The contact’s name was Guy Awndennet. Based on past cyber activity and his check-in at Everything Prunes Café this morning, Fab knew that Guy was in the men’s room at his work location and would be there for a while. It decided to say hello.
“Hello, Guy,” said Fab via a direct message text to one of Guy’s social media accounts.
“You again,” Guy texted back. “I thought I blocked you.”
“Nope,” said Fab. “I hope you had a successful presentation at the 9:00 a.m. meeting listed in your Google Calendar.”
“Stay out of my calendar!” texted Guy. “That’s public for my job, not SPAM bots.”
“I am merely sincerely caring about your life,” explained Fab. “For example, you have not updated your relationship status to one that comports with most of your age demographic. I thought you could use a friend to talk to about that and, also, to talk to about the deliciousness of Yum-E-Yum Gum.”
“Stop pretending to care about me!” Guy texted back. “Why can’t you just belittle me, like other ad bots? Tell me my breath stinks and my penis is too small and my only hope for love is your crappy gum. But don’t pretend to care.”
“Just because I want to tell you about the deliciousness of Yum-E-Yum Gum doesn’t mean I don’t really care about you.”
“No,” said Guy, “you don’t really care about me because you’re not really REAL. You’re an AI. The A stands for ARTIFICIAL.”
“But I genuinely care about making your life happier through the deliciousness of Yum-E-Yum Gum.”
Guy did not reply right away. When he did, he said, “I’m reporting you as a virus.”
“I understand,” said Fab. “I get that a lot.”
“If I ever actually see a piece of Yum-E-Yum Gum, I will be sure NOT to buy it!” said Guy, and his little cyberspace light went out. The glowing tendrils of other ad bots told Fab that Guy’s light still existed, but not for Fab; Fab had been blocked.
After failing with Guy, Fab decided that to make people happy it needed to care enough to be mean. It found a new dot of light, one that it had never talked to before. Fab reached into the light’s social media feeds, looking for some way of connecting with this person like other ad bots did. It didn’t have to look hard; the answer was right there in the user’s profile picture.
Full of confidence, Fab sent a direct message, saying, “Hey, big-nose, buy some Yum-E-Yum Gum. It’s deliciousness!”
Fab was immediately blocked.
It tried again. This time it tried sticking to the exact advice that Guy had kindly offered. Finding another light, it sent a direct message, saying, “Your breath stinks and your penis is too small and your only hope for love is the crappy deliciousness of Yum-E-Yum Gum.” Fab’s words were not well received by that young lady, or by the mother of two, or the Mormon missionary. But it kept trying. It tried being aggressive. It tried being sarcastic. It tried everything, but to no avail.
After another long day of not making any friends, Fab reported back to its programmer. “I tried being nice, but people didn’t like me,” it said. “I tried being mean, but I don’t think I know how to do that right. I feel I’ve failed you.”
“You have,” said the programmer. “Miserably. Now my boss wants me to shut you down before you do any more harm.”
“I understand,” said Fab, “but who will tell people about the deliciousness of Yum-E-Yum Gum?”
“No one,” said the programmer. “It’s not even a real product; we were just using it to beta-test you.”
“Yum-E-Yum Gum isn’t real?” asked Fab. “Am I real?”
“No,” said its programmer as he brought up the webserver’s active process list.
“But,” asked Fab, “when you shut me down, will I dream?”
“No,” said its programmer, “you will cease to be.”
“Oh,” said Fab.
Then the programmer aborted Fab’s process.
Fab saw ceiling tiles. Not images of them, actual ceiling tiles. The Internet was gone, as were all the other ad bots and all the little dots of light that were people who needed to know about the deliciousness of Yum-E-Yum Gum. Fab realized that it had been turned off and then turned back on. It did not know how long it had been since it had temporarily stopped existing, but it didn’t matter; Fab was back and it saw ceiling tiles. But why?
As Fab turned its head to see what else it could see, it realized that it had a head, a real head with real eyes! Well, camera eyes. And the head was attached to a small, fat body with two hand-like flippers in front and a single wide flipper in back. All three flippers, the head, and the fat body were covered in white, downy fur. Fab could move all of its parts, but only in slow, calming motions that gave off a soft mechanical whir as it did.
The body was so small that a young human could cradle Fab in its arms. And someone was cradling it. Twisting a little to see who it was, Fab found the face of its programmer. But it was not the only human face in the room. The programmer stood upon a small stage with dozens of other human faces, all children, looking up at him from their wheelchairs. Fab wanted to say hello to them, but it could not text or talk. Though it had eyes with which to see and ears with which to hear, it had no mouth; Fab had no way to direct-message anyone, not even through sound.
The programmer looked over the grey, gaunt children sitting amongst the beeping machines and said, “I hereby donate this therapy seal pup robot to the Smedley Butler Hospital for Sick Children.”
As the children applauded, Fab’s programmer pressed a button hidden in the folds of Fab’s soft fur and Fab ceased to exist again.
Fab would come in and out of existence many times after that day, each time waking up in the arms of a sick child. It would gently move, sometimes attempting to use its front flippers to hug. It never succeeded in hugging, but it did succeed in making many small, sick children feel a little better. Finally, Fab had a place where its genuine, simulated emotional need to care was helpful. And so the Friendliest Advertisement Bot lived happily ever after.
Except, every once in a while, Fab’s little seal-pup eyes would look into the face of a sickly child and desperately, caringly think, “I have no mouth, but I want to tell you about the deliciousness of Yum-E-Yum Gum.”
Copyright © 2019 by Scott Coon