"Try to imagine an intelligent pocket planner—wait, not just any 'intelligent' pocket organizer; imagine one with *real* intelligence, capable of running autonomously. Just think of how it would revolutionize the consumer electronics industry. It's the pocket planner that would do the planning for you!"
These were the words Andrew Hartford told the board, minutes before the approval of his latest bright idea yet: an intelligent computer planner, capable of efficient, nigh automatic schedule planning. And what more, it wasn't just a garden variety piece of hardware; it had more power than a pocket organizer, all loaded into one tiny chip, and was available as an attachment to a wide array of compatible cell phones.
Andrew was a gifted inventor, and a better salesman. He had a Midas touch to these things; he knows how to build something cool, and how to sell it to people.
With this planner, Hartford Industries may easily outsell the Apple Company (well, theoretically), which is rumored to be making a pretty-to-look-at cell phone overloaded with tacky useless features. Why only trade, when you can also upgrade? This was the Hartford Industries credo; instead of just making a new piece of hardware, the company also manufactures widgets attachable to existing pieces of hardware that would tap into a thriving preexisting market.
Look out Billy; there's a new geek god rising from the horizon.
"We in the industry like giving 'code names' to our projects." Said Andrew, excited like a kid in a candy store. Beside him was his on-and-off girlfriend Sally, a pleasant-looking woman in her early thirties. She looked perplexed; her face glared with seeming regret that Andrew could barely notice in his excitement.
"Uh... what is it, Andy?" Said Sally, feigning interest.
"You really want to know?" Andrew responded.
"It's actually a sort-of acronym. We call it the Managerial Automaton CracKer: MACk, for short. See, it's a chip. And you can "crack" it into your cell phone to give access to the nifty features in it. Isn't that great?"
"That's—wonderful, Andy." She said hesitantly, "Do you think that your company programmers could handle it?"
"Them? Wouldn't bet on it. I did the bulk of the code myself. I'm also head of the programming team."
"That's amazing, Andrew. You sure are busy. Is there anything you can't do?"
"I know. I'm already thinking of the possibilities. If I can get the code just right, I might be able to create a built-in chatbot."
"A program that you can chat with?"
"Not just any chatbot. One that can beat the Turing test. You won't believe you're talking to a machine!"
"What is it, what's wrong?"
"I'd just like to say that--"
"If it's about our relationship I've been thinking..."
"I've been thinking, too. What if..."
"Say no more. All these years, I've been longing to settle down, and have a family. Maybe it's about time we..."
Andrew paused. This was the moment of truth; three years in the making. He took a small box from his tuxedo pocket. In it was a 24-carat gold ring with a small, elegant-cut diamond in the center. He even had a simpler gold wedding ring pre-ordered at Switzerland, ready to be made at his request.
"Sally McDowd,. Would you marry me?"
"I'm sorry. But I can't."
"It's nothing, Andrew. It's not you, it's me."
"What?" Andrew said. He was flabbergasted. Nothing he did ever went against his plans—not before. Everything was so well thought of; the candlelit dinner by their favorite restaurant, booked several months in advance to coincide with the 3rd anniversary of their first date. The mood was also intricately and meticulously planned, with a live orchestra softly playing their favorite song in the background. And the crème de la crème of them all was an engagement ring, placed in his pocket, waiting for the big question.
"I gotta go." Sally said as she got up from the table. Andrew watched as Sally—in his eyes, the most beautiful woman in the world—left, wearing the most elegant gown she had (a personal gift to her).
"What are you waiting for? Go after her!" Said the orchestral conductor. Andrew stood up and ran off towards the restaurant exit.
Sally stopped. She stood there, staring at Andrew with her gentle blue eyes glimmering in the moonlight. A cab pulled over by the road. She paused, looking at Andrew's face as if she was trying to apologize.
"Look, Andrew. Don't think that I don't want this too, I do. I really do. I waited for so long for this. And yet, this doesn't seem right anymore."
"I don't understand, Sally. What doesn't seem right anymore?"
"It's nothing physical Andrew; Personally, I couldn't care less if you were the poorest man on Earth. You love me. But that isn't enough. You're always so busy. You're practically married to your work."
"But Sally, I..."
"It's you I want. You. I need your time. I need to be with someone who wouldn't put work over the people he cares for."
"Sally, I could change."
With that, Sally turned around and left. Andrew could only watch as she hailed a cab, and looked at him, perhaps for the last time...
Later that evening, Andrew entered his office, dejected and wallowing in self pity. His obsession with work has cost him the girl of his dreams. Everything that he thought would make his life complete—a woman to love, a chance to start a family—slipped through his fingers in that night.
While normally a person would be at a pub drinking at this moment, Andrew was locked up in his office, drowning his sorrow in work.
He attached a prototype of the chip into an adaptor in his computer. He logged in, and opened the program. An option box popped up.
GOOD DAY, USER! HOW WOULD YOU LIKE ME TO CALL YOU:
[O]Titular? Do you hold multiple titles? [O]Please select:
So far the MACk's interface was simple; though the basic code was in place, the AI has yet to be tested, and the GUI is still window-based. This was all temporary. Andrew had grand visions of the MACk's GUI: An interface that showed a customizable realistic avatar, which can respond to commands verbally. And he knew only one person with the skill and expertise to make that grandiose vision possible. A programmer named Cameron Watanabe, a trusted personal friend and freelance employee, based somewhere in California.
He moved the mouse cursor and selected informal, which would allow the MACk to call him by preference. A text box popped out.
"I'm married to my work, she says." Andrew thought "Well, MACk, looks like you're going to be the child of this marriage." He shuddered at the thought. That was one sick joke, he said to himself, but a very interesting one.
He typed _DAD_ into the text box.
HI DAD, the program responded.
"Welcome to the world, son."
"Sir, is this your idea of a sick joke." Spencer said sternly, upon seeing the greeting on the MACk's interface.
"Well, Yes. Since I just lost yet another chance at starting a real family, I might as well have a little fun about it."
"Well, sir, this is not normally the kind of behavior expected from a "mature" person recovering from a breakup. Sir, might I add, Ms. sally isn't the only fish in the proverbial sea. Her refusal to accept your marriage proposal isn't that much of a reason to act desperate."
"What do you mean?"
"Andrew, are you daft? Have you taken a gander at yourself recently?" Spencer exclaimed. "Forgive me for saying so sir, but I honestly can't stand seeing you in this condition. You're far better than this. Take it for me. Ms. McDowd would be missing out on a lot if she refused to marry you. Give her time. She might not be ready. Do you really think the two of you can risk your relationship on a serious interpersonal dispute."
"What dispute?" Andrew responded. He was well aware of Spencer's manner of thinking, having been with the old Briton since he was a lad. He could still remember the first piece of advice he gave him, back when ol' Spence' still had an afro. He managed to be phlegmatic and at the same time humorous, something odd coming from a member of the British Air Force.
"Of course, sir. I hardly see you at home anymore so I deduced that you were too busy at work. The few instances that you are home you spend in the office doing what should have been done in the office. If this kind of behaviour continues long after your marriage, you'd turn out to be a horrible husband, indeed."
"And your point is?"
"The point, sir, is that she is simply making an intelligent choice. Marriage would not make you a better person. Perhaps if you choose to cease this might I say, MANIC obsession with work, she might come around."
"I guess you can put it that way."
"Sir, if I might add, don't be in too much of a rush. Fools rush in as the song goes."
"Upside down, bouncing off the ceiling…" Andrew joked, recalling a time when Spencer decided to listen to modern music.
"Right, sir, that's very funny. You're a regular John Cleese. You would also make a great father one day. But first you must master the art of being a good husband."
Andrew stared at Spencer with a piercing look. Spencer felt embarrased, sensing a bit of irony in what he just said.
"This coming from an old man who had a divorce and doesn't even talk to his only son." Andrew replied matter-of-factly.
"Sir, if you're talking about Junior, I'd like to repeat that he refused to talk to me for over 16 years."
"That's not really my fault now, is it?"
"Very well, sir."
"Anyway, thanks, Spence."
"I'm glad we have this understanding."
The two hear a bell coming from the Mansion gate. Spencer immediately went downstairs and into the foyer.
A stiff-looking bespectacled nerdy Asian man in his early-twenties entered. He was carrying a large, heavy-looking bag carrying what seems to be a suitcase, emblazoned with the Hartford Industries logo. He approached Andrew Hartford, and bowed.
"Wow. This place is amazing." Said the man excitedly. "Boy I've seen luxury hotels, but they have nothing on this place."
"I'm glad you like it, Mr. Watanabe." Greeted Andrew. "Cameron, no one but you can make a convincing hologram with attitude."
"Aw, shucks. Wait, that phrase sounds oddly familiar."
"Eh, urban legend. You old-timers wouldn't understand."
"Whatever. Just don't overwork yourself this time. Did you bring the program?"
"Did I?" Cameron responded, "You can come in now, Cyber-Cam!"
Suddenly the two heard the sound of footsteps coming *up*stairs. Andrew looked puzzled.
"Unhand me!" Said Spencer as he was held up in the air by what appears to be a punk-looking replicant wearing a beanie. The replicant looked rather similar to Cameron. "You chav, put me down this instant."
"Okey-dokey Limey" The doppleganger said, throwing Spencer downstairs. "Yo, grampa, that looks like it's gonna hurt in the morning..."
"Bugger off, hologram." Spencer said in agony downstairs. He stumbles up, looking angrily at Cameron. "You will rue the day you bring a holographic CHAV in this house."
"Now, now, Spencer, be nice."
"What's a chav?" Cameron asked.
"Apparently Cyber-Cam" Andrew responded. "You managed to create a more-than-realistic tangible likeness of yourself in the 'bot. How did you do it?"
"Well, sir, I have the codes right here. I'm not sure if I could make it work. It might require more memory than the average cell phone." Cameron replied. "But still, working on it seems exciting. To think, a phone with a holographic operation system you can interact with."
"As we say in Hartford Industries, the Future begins today".
"So it is, Sir."
"WHAZZUP!" Cyber-Cam yelled.
"This thing still has bugs in it. I certainly hope *your* AI won't end up like this one." Cameron added.
"I'm not so sure. A program is just a yes or no device. If it malfunctions, it's your fault."
"But bear in mind that in my experience, the AI evolved on its own. Who knows what can come out with something as advanced and complex as yours?"
"Still, things might get interesting."
"Are you suggesting we let the program evolve and see what happens?"
"Come on, Mr. Watanabe. Think positive. What's the worst that can happen?"
"It takes on a life of its own, ties you up and stuffs you into a closet. I told myself I would never let AI get that smart. Have we learned nothing from that Czech playwright?"
"RUR did teach us to use the word 'robot'." Andrew added matter-of-factly. He gave Cameron a reassuring look. The young Sansei shrugged. He will be setting aside his fears for now; he bore in mind, however, that ambition has, historically, led many a great man to fall flat on his face. And in the realm of Cell phone apps, no one could compare to Hartford.
"How did it get up there?" Andrew asked?
"I put it there while I was outside. I can pinpoint where he can 'materialize' from this device." Cam replied, while opening his bag—picking up a device that looked rather similar to a really fat remote control. "I just point at range and bang; Cyber-Cam."
"It's a good thing we won't market him, coz Sony would sue, and it would mark the end of my Japanese franchise."
"Right." Cam responded, "And Apple won't mind the codename? Managerial Automaton Cracker…
"We'll change it prior to release. As we in the industry ALWAYS do."
"And I suppose you have a contract with the Japanese government, too?"
"I'm a spelunker, not a defense contractor. But yes, sort of. Hartford Cybernetics Industries is at the Bidding for a Japanese-North American defense agreement. And, you know how big a softie I am, make the world a better place and all…"
"I trained you well." Spencer responded, reminding Andrew of all the stories he told him about military service and saving people."
"You guys are both cheesy. What next? Spandex, powers, and poses?" Cameron responded.
"Look who's talking!" Cyber-Cam sneered.
Cameron then pressed the red button. Cyber-Cam fizzled out as the bewildered residents stare at him accusingly.
"What?" Cameron said defensively.
Andrew Robert Hartford is the only son of Quinton F. G. Hartford, and the sole scion of the wealthy yet dying McAllister-Hartford clan. He was noted for being the black sheep of the family, which gained him notoriety early on. One of his riskier enterprises was a complete overhaul of his family business. Within months, the McAllister and Hartford Manufacturing Company, once an outmoded industrial firm, shifted gears and went into light manufacturing, switching to the rising tide of information technology in the 90s.
From heavy equipment to computer chips; a nefariously deadly blow to the company—something it would never recover from, the McAllisters decreed. Such was their rage with Andrew that he nearly lost his position. However, the company made surprising profit, one that cemented Andrew's place as CEO of the newly-christened Hartford Cybernetics Industries.
Unsurprisingly, the now eligible young bachelor dated many women, but could never hold a relationship long enough to lead to commitment. His girlfriends all say the same thing; his work goes first.
Work has always gone first for Andrew. Many of his ex-girlfriends remarked that dumping him for someone new had little effect on Andrew. He was described as "robotic", and "mechanical", little different from the machines whose schematics he has created. His most frequent nickname was "Android Hartford".
Recently, it seems that "Android's" bad relationship streak would be broken. The latest patch was Sally McDowd, a roboticist from Silicon Valley. The nerd community dubbed it the joining of two geek gods, and expected the marriage of the century.
"God, Mr. Hartford, this program is unbelievable."
"You were expecting an app from FORTRAN?" Andrew added, quite proud of how the test turned out. The program's execution of its first problem solving test went surprisingly well. As Hartford typed the details of the managerial dilemma—in plain English, no less—the program quickly devised a set of solutions within twenty seconds. Each answer was in grammatically acceptable English, ranked in order of favorability.
"While the program is still limited in its number of possible responses, at least in this trial, the program shows a remarkable degree of intelligence far above the limits of computers. It analyzed each possible solution, selected a course of action, and ranked every possible solution in order of effectiveness."
"Wait..." Cameron responded, "Isn't that a bit too much for a cell phone planner?'
"I intended the MACk to be limited in its scope. But I also planned it to be versatile; it can work with GPS. It can fix your schedule automatically to your preference. It can go online and book reservations for you. It's the ultimate secretary's tool. And imagine a world where you will never be late again!"
"It's still pretty much overkill for a cell phone app."
"Cell phones are just the beginning. Everybody has to start small."
Andrew stared at Cameron's inquisitive expression. The young man had 'the look' on his face—the look of an inquisitive doubter. His stare was somewhat scornful, as if saying 'Hartford, you lunatic.'
"If it makes me less of a lunatic, the idea of having a talking holographic interface is entirely for the sake of being 'cool'," Andrew said in a preemptive retort, "I mean, really, what's better than a hologram you can directly talk to!"
"You got me there, sir" Cameron chuckled. The lunatic made a lot of sense now. His chattable avatar was just icing on the cake, and Hartford wants the best icing to go on his cake.
WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO DO NEXT, _DAD_?
"Now you know why I need attitude."
"I can see that, sir. And boy when I'm through with it, MACk would be the most sophisticated, badass app this side of the universe. But let's not get too ahead of ourselves."
"Why did you tell the MACk to call you dad? Does it have something to do with that rumored breakup? Don't worry, sir, you'll be a dad someday." Cam jokingly said.
"I wish." Andrew responded sheepishly.
"You don't have to be a prick about it, sir."
"It's an in-joke, Mr. Watanabe. Live with it."
Okay, okay, okay. First off, there'll be a lot more characters from the previous seasons of PR (the older ones, mostly) that'll end up working for Hartford Indstries. And yes, Andrew has no idea what Cam's profession was, prior to being a glorified nerd.
I took the liberty of adding a great deal of pop-culture references so lacking in the series.
Also, the McAllister-Hartford Company mentioned as the predecessor of the current Hartford Industries is based on a company of the same name I created for a history-based original fiction.