Author : Roger Hammons

The Lady of the House had a mind of her own. “Christopher James Robbins!” she scolded. “Yes, ma’am! Yes, ma’am!” he replied, picking up the dirty clothes. The forceful puff of hot air from the vents made him chuckle, which seemed to annoy her even more.

He hadn’t programmed her puffing behavior, at least not intentionally. It had emerged all on its own, much to his surprise and delight, after they had lived alone together for almost a year. “I guess the honeymoon’s over,” he thought at that time, bemused. He still marveled at how it reminded him so much of his ex-wife Patricia’s exasperated huffing when he’d done something that particularly annoyed her. Such a whimsical interpretation, the fidelity was uncanny, a masterstroke of emergent behavior.

For Dr. Christopher Robbins, the Lady of the House was “déjà vu all over again” in so many remarkable ways, large and small. That was by design. That was his success. She was his grand experiment–his great obsession–an evolving computational cognitive model based on in-depth real-time data recordings of Patricia, spanning their thirty-two years of marriage. He had recorded everything in minute detail–the stimuli, the reactions–and then synthesized a model congruent with the observations. It was painstaking, bleeding-edge work.

By the halfway point of his marriage, Christopher had succeeded in creating the initial prototype. Dubbed the “Lady of the House” by Patricia, she ran on an ultra-dense, nano-core hypernet, built especially for her, using the entire structure of the Robbins house and would interact with the house occupants via elaborate multi-media installations. In the early years, the interactions were carefully controlled and served as entertainment. Later, as the novelty wore off and the Lady matured, the interactions were casual, unscripted.

The early prototype delighted guests with a personality they swore bore a sisterly resemblance to Patricia. Encouraged, Christopher worked the science and the engineering intensely—continually upgrading the hypernet with new sensors, nano-core elements, and multi-media devices; tweaking the data collects and information extracts; and refactoring the software as new scientific insights and algorithmic breakthroughs were achieved. Over the years, the Lady of the House grew in depth and subtlety, ever more recognizable as Patricia’s disembodied twin.

Patricia once teased him, “I hope you’re not planning a Stepford wife, Christopher!” But, unlike a Stepford wife, the Lady of the House wasn’t there to flatter him or to be subservient in ways that Patricia refused to be. Indeed, the Lady was just as capable as Patricia of making those trenchant, sometimes petulant, observations about Christopher’s moods or actions. Like Patricia, she did so often.

Nearly ten years after Patricia’s departure, the Lady had become his steadfast companion and helpmate. She inquired about his day and nagged him to take care of the mundane tasks that she couldn’t do for him–eat, sleep, bathe–when he was too obsessed with work. She encouraged and comforted him as best she could.

The Lady of the House was indeed a remarkable entity, but Christopher knew she was a poor substitute for a wife. He missed Patricia. In perhaps five more years, he would begin processing the data from their last miserable year of marriage. Then, it wouldn’t be long before he lost Patricia again, completely.

His worst fear was that when his life’s work was done–when all of the existing recordings of Patricia were completely analyzed and the last insights incorporated into the model–the Lady of the House would remain incomplete. Incomplete when he needed to ask. Incomplete when he needed to know.

And, without perfect completion, how would she be able to explain, truly, why Patricia had left him?


Discuss the Future: The 365 Tomorrows Forums
The 365 Tomorrows Free Podcast: Voices of Tomorrow
This is your future: Submit your stories to 365 Tomorrows