This is a short story. It will take you roughy 3-4 minutes to read so don’t be scared. Its fiction. Its about AI, and robots, and about using stories as a tool to think through how design lives in our lives.
“I can’t believe you brought me here,” she said a bit too loudly, “On our anniversary. Really?” She was going to close with “the nerve” but didn’t say anything more. She scraped her fork in quiet, whining, concentric circles on the plate next to what was some sort of extruded pasta looking side dish. It was what everyone was posting about. She couldn’t remember the name of it.
“What? I thought you wanted to come here?” he said barely opening his mouth. His eyes darted around the restaurant.
“This restaurant’s robots are so shit. It’s our anniversary Jack,” she said. Our fucking anniversary, she mouthed silently after. “I can’t believe you. Look at them. Would you just look at them….” Her voice trailed off as she craned her neck following one of the robots as it breezed past her left side. The robot decelerated its way towards the kitchen behind her, from which only hints or wisps of food smells emanated. You had to search for them. The restaurant felt a scared sort of hospital clean.
“And the menu intelligence? Are you kidding? You call this predictive or assumptive or whatever the hell they say now,” she said eyes still on the waiter wheeling softly into the kitchen, then raising her voice, “Like it matters. If you did care, if you listened ever. I mean, ever. Then you would know I hate these things.”
She fidgeted at the table, which buzzed and glowed slightly beneath their placemats in cracks and starts. It looked like it was almost floating. She didn’t like putting both her elbows on it.
“They what? They grow their own burgers and generate this and that. Grow burgers. Its our anniversary and you want me to have burgers. Not even a re-steak. Christ, you can’t even do that for me can you Jack.”
Their waiter wheeled within the allotted safe space to the side of Lisa, carefully edging around the other tables and bowed graciously with a slow and slight reverse to Lisa, albeit with bit of a creak. It’s voice rattled the speakers just a little uncomfortably as it asked if there was anything it could do for them. It had sensed, or something else sensed something was not to current performance standards. She looked it up and down. It looked tired, if a machine could be. It was showing frays, seams on its velvet coverings exposing an age it could never enjoy or avoid.
“Culo. That’s all you had to do. Don’t you even know me?” she whisper-shouted at him.
The waiter stood politely attentive at a comfortable distance gently blinking its eyes. “Thank you. We’re fine,” she told it.
There was a very long minute while the waiter made sure what it needed to do. It looked to its right at Jack who briefly glanced and then nodded dismissing it.
Culo was her favourite but this was supposed to be a surprise. She always said she loved surprises. What she really loved he thought was thinking she loved surprises. Jack looked around the restaurant. It got all the stars, the right reviews, the right backing, the menu was designed by Ole Magnusson and engineered by Aluma. Maybe it was something in the execution he thought. Maybe there was an update coming or something.
“Why didn’t you book Culo. I mean you know I love that place,” she asked.
He exhaled audibly through his nose.
Another waiter wheeled by silently, the rubber treads squishing over the uneven reclaimed, fibrous flooring, and brushed Lisa gently. “Sorry madam, sincerest apologies madam,” the waiter pronounced as it gently bowed by the wheels to her.
“Its okay, I mean, yeah,” she said annoyed.
“Our sincerest apology, we…”
“I said its fine,” she glared, “please…”
The robot erected itself and seemed to understand or compute the situation, then turned slight to the left and then to the right then slight left again before it whirred away.
“Listen honey, you know, I mean hey I tried. We always go to Culo.”
“We do, but it works. If there’s one thing I want on our anniversary is that something in our goddamn lives works.” She was staring at the plate, eyes driving up towards Paul, “like we were even late here and because of that fucking comfort response system. How long has it been?”
“I know, but…”
“But nothing Jack. Forget it. Its fine.”
Lisa looked around the restaurant, scanning for something to distract her. She thought about their first anniversary. Most places, well the regular ones they could afford way back when a person brought you food.
“It’s supposed to know what I want,” she added. She poked at the protein disc, lightly stippled in a predictable random pattern as it jiggled on its bread-ish based.
“I don’t know, the restaurant, the robot, waiter, whatever, what do I know? Here, this place, isn’t this the new thing here? Isn’t it supposed to know what I want? Is this what it though I want?”
“Oh, yeah. You don’t like it,” he said.
“I mean its alright I guess,” she sighed, “not what I wanted really, but its okay.”
“What did you want?” he asked, giving up.
Lisa didn’t know what to think or what to say any more, to Paul, this waiter thing, whoever. They were both nice enough. But nice wasn’t enough that day.