Monday, April 13, 2020

Oh ANA by James Rumpel

Move over Siri, James Rumpel tells of a future when home assistants know what's best for you.

It was a glorious autumn afternoon. Michael Walker contemplated taking a short walk before heading to his apartment. It had been another uneventful day at work. It seemed that all Michael did at work was make short ineffective phone calls. The role of a salesperson had changed dramatically in the last couple of years. In the past, Michael could use his personality and talents to try and convince prospective customers to purchase whatever product the company was pushing. Now the person on the other side of the line was able to decide whether or not to buy almost instantly.

Michael opted against a hike to the nearby city park and began trudging his way across the parking lot toward his home when he noticed the neighbor boy, Charlie, playing nearby. Michael smirked as he watched the plump twelve-year-old attempt to kick a football. The young man nearly missed the ball entirely; it glanced off the side of his foot. After an incredibly short flight, the ball bounced a couple of times and then rolled to a stop at Michael's feet.

"Little help, please," shouted Charlie.

Michael picked up the ball and threw it towards its owner. The ball awkwardly twisted in the air and barely covered the twenty-foot distance. Charlie, unceremoniously, dropped the ball.

"That was a pretty good throw, Mister," announced Charlie as he scurried to pick up the escaped ball.

"Thanks," replied Michael. "Do you want to play catch for a little while?" After all, it was a beautiful day.

Charlie, huffing and puffing slightly from the exertion of bending over to pick up the ball, shook his head. "No, I'm going to go back inside and play my video game. ANA only said I needed to come out here and exercise, she never said I had to do it for very long."

Michael shrugged. "Okay, maybe some other time."



Michael entered his one-bedroom apartment and immediately called out, "Oh ANA, play AC/DC."

The sound of soft jazz filled the air. Michael started to object but then decided that he rather enjoyed the music. ANA, the analytics based in-home assistant, had made a better choice. This was expected since the device had been monitoring his likes and dislikes for over a year and used advanced probability theory to predict what was best for its owner.

Michael had just finished changing into the more comfortable clothing that ANA had suggested when the doorbell rang. ANA had ordered takeout.

With burger in hand, Michael sat down in his overstuffed recliner and announced, "Oh ANA, I would like to watch some television."

The large flatscreen TV that filled most of the wall sprang to life.

"Good job, ANA," said Michael to himself, "I like this show. I'm almost half-way through season four."

Two hours later, a well-rested, well-fed, and comfortable Michael stood up and stretched his arms and back. "Oh ANA, call Marcie Green."

The pleasant female voice of the assistant device replied, "I am calling Jane Gruenbachen."

"Oh ANA, I said to call Marcie Green."

"The probability of Marcie Green being willing to go on a date with you or start a relationship is extremely small. Jane Gruenbachen has a seventy-six-point nine percent chance of agreeing to accompany you on a platonic date to see a movie of her choice."

Michael considered his options. He could insist that ANA make the call he had originally requested, but he had to agree that it would probably prove to be a waste of time. "Ok. Oh ANA, call Jane Gruenbachen."



The next morning, on ANA's advice, Michael had pancakes for breakfast. He had just finished eating and was preparing to head to his car when someone knocked on his door. He opened the door and was surprised to find a green-uniformed prevention officer.

"Michael Walker?" the officer asked.

"That's me. What can I do for you, Sir?"

"I have been dispatched to tell you that the analytics have predicted that you are going to commit a crime of vandalism in the next twenty-four to forty-eight hours." The officer's voice sounded nearly emotionless. Michael could tell that he had recited this same sentence many times prior.

"That's impossible," replied a baffled Michael. "I have no intention of doing anything like that."

"That may be so," answered the officer. "However, your ANA has been monitored and our computer has calculated a probability above the acceptable threshold. Consider this warning as a deterrent."

"That's an invasion of privacy. You can't do that." Michael knew he was raising his voice and that doing so would not help his cause, but he could not control himself. The fact that he was being spied on and being accused of criminal tendencies did not sit well. He knew how the prevention police operated, but when it was other people who were being monitored, he hadn't minded. Now that he was the one being affected, his opinion changed dramatically.

The man shook his head. "We have every right to monitor behavior in order to reduce criminal activity. Since you are currently on the suspect list there are some restrictions you are required to follow. You will not be allowed to use private vehicles; all commuting must be done using public transportation. You also are on a strict ten o'clock curfew until further notice."

"That's not fair," shouted Michael.

"Once the probability of you committing the crime drops, the restrictions will be lifted. Remember, all of your activities will be monitored. Have a nice day."



The rest of Michael's day was not much better than his morning. The bus ride to work was crowded and uncomfortable. In addition, he was late and reprimanded by his superior. As usual, all of his sales calls were unsuccessful. Michael found himself concentrating on the voice of each potential customer's ANA. In the background, he could hear ANA telling the person to hang-up or refuse the offer.

"Stupid ANA," he yelled as he hung up the phone after one particularly disappointing failed attempt. His co-workers all looked to see what had caused his outburst. Heads popped up from all the surrounding cubicles like some sort of life-sized Whack-a-Mole.

At lunchtime, he purposely ignored his mobile ANA's suggestion for lunch. Instead, he went to a nearby café. The service was terrible and the food was dreadful. On his way back to the office, Michael noticed numerous prevention officers. Maybe there had always been that many of the green-clad officials on the street and he had just failed to notice them before. Maybe they were all watching him.



Things got even worse that evening.

He was nearly fifteen minutes late arriving at Jane's apartment.

"Hi, Michael," said the rather plain-looking young woman as she opened the door. Her dirt-brown hair was pulled back in a tight bun. She pulled down her horn rim glasses and peered over the lenses. "You're late. We have to get going right now if we want to make the movie."

Michael sighed. "About that, I don't have my car this evening. It's getting repaired. So, I don't think we can make the movie."

Jane tilted her head and looked at him, confused and visibly upset. "Okay... well, we could walk to the nearest theater and see a later show. I know they have a show that starts at nine."

Aware of his curfew and not wanting to face the embarrassment of having their date interrupted by the prevention police, Michael had to find a way to decline Jane's suggestion.

"I'm really tired from work. I don't think I want to be up that late. Maybe we could just go for a walk?"

Jane's expression transformed from one of annoyance to pure anger. "Tell you what, since you don't seem to want to go on this date, why don't you just go for that walk by yourself." She took a quick step backward and slammed the door.

Michael stared at the closed door for a moment. Dejected, he headed down the stairs. Before getting too far away, he distinctly heard Jane's furious voice call out, "Oh ANA, call Richard Piper."



Michael was just as upset as Jane, though the target of his rage was the prevention police and ANA. He started walking, hoping to relieve some of his fury. He reflected on how miserable his day had been: how ANA was the driving force behind all of his suffering. He did not pay attention to where he was going and soon found himself in an unknown and sparsely populated part of town.

Michael wandered the empty streets for a considerable time, looking for a bus stop. Refusing to ask for directions from his mobile ANA, he decided to pick a street and simply walk until he reached someplace familiar.

An hour later, Michael finally reached a more populous region of the city. The streets were filled with a diverse collection of tiny shops and restaurants. The sidewalks bustled with shoppers and pedestrians. Michael found the nearest bus stop and checked the automated schedule. Its digital display showed that the next bus would arrive at nine-fifty-five.

Astonished, Michael looked at his watch. It was ten minutes to ten. He had been roaming the streets for nearly three hours. This was bad. There was no way he could make it home in time to meet his curfew.

"Damn," he shouted.

It was only one word, but it was enough to draw the attention of a prevention officer who was positioned across the street. The officer took a quick photo of Michael. Moments later he started walking towards the bus stop.

Michael knew he was in trouble. It might have been better to turn himself in and explain his situation, but he was in no mood to do such a thing. His brisk walk in the opposite direction soon turned into a sprint. He headed down a back alley.

For the next half-hour, Michael found himself alternately creeping around back alleys or sprinting along the street. Two or three other officers had joined in the pursuit. It was only a matter of time before he would be apprehended. He didn't care, he was too angry to give in.

With two officers trailing him by only a few dozen feet, Michael pushed his way through a crowd of people who had just emerged from an Italian restaurant. He was nearly out of breath and the pain in his side was approaching the point of being unbearable. There was a slim chance that he could make it around the corner of the next shop and reach a dark alley. Maybe he could hide there.

Finding his last bit of energy reserves, Michael broke free from the crowd and ran toward the corner. For an instant, he started to think that he had a chance. At the precise moment optimism found its way into his thoughts, Michael's foot hit a loose stone and he fell face-first onto the sidewalk. The rock skittered along the ground and came to a stop near him.

Scraped, bleeding, dejected, and furious Michael rose to his feet. The officers were seconds away from reaching him. It was over.

Michael glanced at the storefront before him. A flashing neon sign proudly announced that the building was the home of the "NUMBER 1 ANA DEALERSHIP IN THE CITY." He couldn't help himself. Michael grabbed the stone that had been the cause of his final demise and heaved it through the plate glass window.

Michael stood silently as the prevention officers took him into custody. He would spend the night in jail and his sentencing would be the next day.

While waiting for a vehicle to transport their prisoner, one of the arresting officers shook his head as he looked at his partner.

"Boy, these analytics are amazing. ANA was right again."

7 comments:

  1. Makes the big brother concept come to life. Perhaps not that far off. Great ending, really snuck up on me.

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  2. ANA creates a self fulfilling prophecy. Surprised he didn't use her to make his sales calls. If that's the worst we have in store, I'll be glad. Nice story.

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  3. Nice Twilight Zone-ish scifi. Think I'll unplug our Alexa.

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  4. Creepy. We're all being watched...and analyzed, and calculated, and predicted. Reminds me a little of the PreCrime unit from Minority Report, except driven by predictive analytics rather than psychic humans.

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  5. Reminds me a bit of right now with this coronavirus lockdown...the prevention police, funny concept but.....also possible. Too bad about Michael's unsuccessful date. He had a short but good connection with the plump kid but after that Ana dominated. Interesting future based story.

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  6. Just want to take a second to say how much I appreciate any comments. Thank you all very much.

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