Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning

A Fit of Anger

An egg-sized, flying droid makes an apartment dweller’s life miserable.

Credit: Alicia Kubista / Andrij Borys Associates cylindrical container in red light

It was 4:30 in the morning when I awoke to the loud buzzing at my apartment door.

I’m not a morning person, so getting up is a chore. But this noise penetrated the walls of my tiny bedroom with such piercing aural dissonance that I quickly jumped out of bed, grabbed my robe, and made my way down the short hall to the front door.

A quick check through the peephole confirmed my immediate suspicion: a Pep Droid with a pulsating red light emanating from its anterior lobe.

A quick check through the peephole confirmed my immediate suspicion: a Pep Droid with a pulsating red light emanating from its anterior lobe.

“Loft 6-8-0-9, please open the door.” The robotic voice was loud and somehow able to rise in gain above the continuing buzzing.

My head began to hurt. Hurriedly, I unlocked the door and opened it. The buzzing immediately stopped, and I was face to face with the tiny android.

“Mr. Bjork, you have been selected by the municipality for a compliance inspection.” The robotic voice spoke in a monotone cadence as the red glowing light continued its rhythmic pulse. “May I proceed?”

I stepped aside and watched the Pep slowly glide through the cold air of my apartment, level with my forehead. Peps are similar to eggs, both in shape and size—so small that you could easily whack it out of the air with your hand, if you were brave and crazy enough.

As it made its way inside, I closed the entrance to my abode. The Pep spun around and faced me, hovering like some oversized mosquito looking for a blood meal.

“I see in my records that you made your monthly tax payment on Saturday. Thank you.”

“Get on with it,” I responded. My patience was thin after being awoken so abruptly; I was in no mood for pleasantries with an intrusive, nosey robot no bigger than my fist.

The Pep continued floating down the hall and turned left into the first opening—the small area that I called a living room—but there wasn’t much living going on there. I followed several feet behind, not wanting to get in its way. As I walked into the room, I watched the Pep perform a slow, steady spin while suspended in the air, scanning methodically. It hovered for what seemed like an eternity, then turned to face me.

“You have not changed your ionizing air filter for five months. As per municipal clean air regulations, you are required to do this monthly. Why haven’t you done this, Mr. Bjork?”

I shrugged. “Busy. I’ll get to it today, I promise.”

The robotic voice responded: “We will deduct your monthly stipend by 1.5% for the next year due to your tardiness. I hope you understand.”

Just what I needed to begin the day. I was already swimming in debt and now I get fined thanks to an air filter.

The Pep didn’t seem to notice my irritation. It just floated by, passing my shoulder and moving back into the hall, where it headed for the kitchen. Fearing what would come next, I followed.

Arriving in the kitchen, the mechanized snoop bot performed the same scan as before—unhurried, paced, and deliberate.

Municipalities started using Peps a couple of years before to replace human inspectors. They claim it was for “safety” reasons, due to an incident where an inspector was attacked by an irate tenant. But the true reason, many suspect, was cost savings. Plus, who would argue with a robot?

“Your protein quotient is inconsistent, Mr. Bjork. You also have a quantity of carbohydrate-laden foods in excess of the government mandated amount by 55%.”

“Are you kidding me?” I exclaimed, my voice raised in pitch and volume. “So, I bought some extra snacks. What’s the big deal?”

“Municipal regulation 2-6 dash 3-1-2-7B requires the correct balance of food groups in your kitchen at all times, Mr. Bjork. I will send the expected ratio information to your visor for you to review.”

My visor! I left it on the side of the bed in my rush to answer the door.

“Excuse me.” It felt a little strange to say that to a droid, but politeness was insurance at this point. I walked back to the bedroom, grabbed the visor, and put it on. The first thing I saw through the glass lens was the food ratio information sheet. Aggravated, I gestured in the air with my right hand and swiped it aside.

As I stepped back toward the kitchen, the Pep made its way to me, humming like an annoyed butterfly looking for a flower on which to land in a barren field.

“Mr. Bjork, due to the protein ratio infraction, your monthly stipend will be reduced a further 5% for a period of six months.”

What!?!? My instinct to swat the electronic irritant immediately surged to the point where I had to physically restrain myself. The consequences of damaging a Pep were nothing to trifle with.

My instinct to swat the electronic irritant immediately surged to the point where I had to physically restrain myself.

After muttering a few choice expletives under my breath, I raised my voice. “You can’t keep doing this! I won’t be able to make next month’s tax payment!”

Without so much as an acknowledgement, the flying egg floated past me and into the dark bedroom where I had been so soundly asleep only a few moments before. I didn’t bother turning on the light, content to let the Pep stumble around in the dark.

Again, the agonizingly slow 360 degree spin in midair as the Pep scanned. But why the bedroom? What could be here to warrant a violation? Bedsheets strewn across the mattress? A pile of dirty clothes in the corner?

The Pep’s pulsating red light turned a solid bright blue as it moved past me, through the door, and into the hallway. It pivoted left and went toward the bathroom. Again, I followed, and again, it turned in place and scanned.

“The amount of dental paste in the cylindrical container exceeds the allotted amount by 280 milliliters. Have you been performing regular dental hygiene duties, Mr. Bjork?”

“I missed a few brushes before going to bed last week.” I responded.

“This is most concerning, Mr. Bjork,” the Pep droned on in its robotic tone. “Based on the excess paste, I calculate that you have missed approximately fifteen brushes over the past four weeks. I will raise your dental responsibility payment to 13% for the next three months. It will come out of your stipend, of course.”

My face immediately flushed red with anger. Without a second thought, I reached out, grabbed the Pep, and threw it against the floor like I was pitching a baseball.

A whirring sound gave way to a high pitched tone that began to fade, along with the glow of the Pep’s blue light. Acid spilled out of its pale body, and a smell of burnt lithium filled the room. The miserable creature let out a final electronic gasp, rocked back and forth a few times, and then lay still on the floor.

I stood there for what seemed an eternity, staring at the terminated Pep and pondering my impulsive mistake.

And then I heard a loud buzzing at my apartment door.

Join the Discussion (1)

Become a Member or Sign In to Post a Comment

  1. Nice story, it’s got it all: annoying tech, obnoxious AI, techno inevitably, and government overreach. 🫠

The Latest from CACM

Shape the Future of Computing

ACM encourages its members to take a direct hand in shaping the future of the association. There are more ways than ever to get involved.

Get Involved

Communications of the ACM (CACM) is now a fully Open Access publication.

By opening CACM to the world, we hope to increase engagement among the broader computer science community and encourage non-members to discover the rich resources ACM has to offer.

Learn More