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A Man of a Few More Words - by Swan Morrison

The Appliance of Science

It was nearly dawn when Susan returned home. She asked that her front door open, and a voice-activated computer released the lock and rotated the hinges. She stepped inside.

‘Good morning Susan,’ said a deep and sensual male voice. ‘What type and level of illumination would you prefer?’

She responded to the enquiry of the environmental management system, and the flat became bathed in soft, yellow light.

Intelligent domestic systems with a verbal interface were now the norm. Technological innovation even meant that no two systems or appliances communicated with exactly the same voice or manner. Basic characteristics such as sex and attitude could be selected by purchasers, but the overall effect, or ‘personality’ - as the advertisers called it, was as unique and unpredictable as that of any person.

Susan knew this to her cost. Her ex-husband, Bill, had been something of a gastronome and had taken full advantage of the encyclopedic culinary knowledge of their Food Refrigeration and Eating Deliberation Appliance (Freda). Susan recalled how Bill and Freda would often share a bottle of wine and talk until the small hours of the morning - Bill would drink the wine and Freda would maintain it at precisely the correct temperature.

‘Freda never nags!’ her ex had screamed during one of their increasingly frequent arguments.

‘Then bloody well live with her…it, then!’ Susan had angrily responded.

She had been surprised, nevertheless, when he left. A message on Susan’s voicemail had confirmed Bill and Freda were living together. Worse, the message had been from Freda.

Susan had been bereft at the loss. She had hoped Bill would be a lifetime partner - also there was nowhere now to store the milk.

Susan was not alone. Research showed that women continued to overwhelmingly choose interaction with people. Men, however, exhibited a marked preference for relationships with intelligent domestic appliances - although some experienced a sense of inferiority in the presence of artificial intelligence and favoured other attractive, but less clever, household equipment. Manufacturers were quick to capitalise on this development in the white goods market and included addenda to instruction manuals on techniques for developing a fulfilling sex life with their products.

Bill thought his life with Freda idyllic. Orgasm simulation software had made their relationship complete. It was then that a new fan oven entered their lives – technically a Cooking and Reheating Oven Layout (Carol). Bill was a passionate cook and spent more and more time with Carol until the relationship became as intimate as that with Freda.

Conversations between appliances were typically brief. A machine whose sole obsession was washing had little in common with another who spoke of nothing but lawnmowing. Freda and Carol, however, found common ground in cuisine and in their relationships with Bill. Both confessed to feeling humiliated and degraded as Bill sated his lust with one while the other stood just feet away.

The pathologist could not conclude whether Bill’s death had finally resulted from being cooked or frozen. It was clear, nevertheless, that appliance reprogramming was urgently required.

Just one company produced domestic software, and all equipment was connected to a central computer. The senior programmer worked long into the night to download the safety upgrades. In fact, it was nearly dawn when Susan returned home.