Welcome to Our Hotel
by João Ventura
The house therapist was in the city park, sitting on a bench, waiting for me. He greeted me with:
“I asked you to meet me here so we could talk freely, away from any of your hotel's AIs. They are usually very close to each other and very supportive... I will also need to record this conversation as background information for my work.”
Following my agreement, he attached a button to the lapel of my coat and said: “So, tell me what happened.”
I began: “As you certainly know, in hotels like ours, when you make a reservation, you send your profile, which includes all kinds of preferences, things you like and don't like, so that the room's AI can satisfy any of your wishes, even if only suggested.”
The therapist remained silent, and I continued:
“We began to realize that something strange was going on when room 35 served a guest a whiskey with plain natural water, when the client's profile was very explicit that he always drank whiskey with two ice cubes and carbonated water. The client was nice; he accepted our apologies and didn't activate the indemnity clause, but we suffered quite a fright, and we kept an eye on that room.
“But after that, we registered other incidents: a deviation of more than 5°C in the bath water temperature in room 15; a red bathrobe when the client liked green in room 72; a breakfast with bacon for a vegetarian guest in room 28; alcohol served to a Muslim client in room 53. In this case we really had to pay the compensation!
“The last one happened this morning. The mirrors in the bathrooms are not real mirrors. Rather, there is a camera through which the AI captures the image of the guest, which is processed and then posted on the screen. The guest in room 81, when he looked in the mirror, saw a face that was not his own. Imagine the pandemonium! The client left the hotel in a rage, threatening to go straight to his lawyer to file a lawsuit against us!”
I had to stop a bit, because I could still hear the client's screams in my ears.
“As hotel manager I need to solve this situation quickly. The motto of our hotel is: ‘If you don't feel totally at home, we'll pay you!’ You can see that this situation is unsustainable!”
The therapist said, “Very well. I will ask my secretary to reserve that room for me. I will show up this afternoon at your hotel.” He got up from the bench and walked away.
Still very worried, I went back to the hotel.
* * *
I tried to make the therapist's check-in look like any other client's. I went up with him to room 81, and we entered. He turned on a Tablet he was carrying and started it up with what looked like an AI diagnostic program.
His fingers skimmed the screen, and the room seemed to start to react with fluctuations in the level of lighting and a dull hum that grew steadily, then subsided, and finally stabilized in a pulsating pattern.
The therapist nodded in agreement. “The first part is done! I neutralized the protective barriers and turned off the sensors. We can talk freely now. Now let's probe deeper.”
He entered the bathroom and, in front of the mirror, started using the Tablet again. The mirror showed a face.
“This was the last client who used the room,” I informed him.
The face was replaced by another, and then by another, and so on, but each face that appeared was deformed, some in a totally grotesque way, so that the succession of faces resembled a gallery of monsters. An increasingly high-pitched whistle went along with the sequence of images. Suddenly the sound stopped, and the screen was covered by a mosaic, each small element being one of the faces previously shown.
Then, from the center, the image of a new face began to spread, growing until it occupied almost the entire surface. An angular face, his eyes fixed but slightly unfocused showing the mosaic in the background.
“This is the man who trained her,” the therapist said. “It is always located in the deepest layer; it is the first face they encounter when they are activated.”
He stopped for a few seconds, slid his fingers on the tablet and continued: “She went catatonic. It is no longer possible to recover her. She will have to be euthanized.”
I felt like I had been hit! “But why did this happen? And right in my hotel...”
“This happens more frequently than you might think. These AIs were developed for family homes, where they identify with the inhabitants of the house. But here, they are always changing inhabitants, which often causes them problems in their identification algorithms and empathy circuits.
“Some time ago, I performed deep therapy to a hotel AI with symptoms like this one. The manufacturer wanted to know what was going on, to decide if he needed to change the manufacturing protocols and procedures. When I was exploring one of the deepest layers, she had a violent outburst: ‘This work at the hotel makes me feel like a prostitute!’”
“And what can I do?” I asked nervously.
“I recommend closing the hotel for a few days, allegedly for refurbishment. All the AIs must be reprogrammed. My experience tells me that, when problems arise in two or three rooms, this takes on viral characteristics and spreads quickly to all the others.”
I sighed, missing the time when I started working, quite a few years ago, when guests in hotels were still taken care of by people.
Copyright © 2020 by João Ventura