“Don’t exaggerate, Richard.”
“Okay, so maybe not trillions. But a hell of a lot of money.”
Ruth made him wait for her nod. It was her way of taking back control, reminding him who was in charge and the kind of department she ran. That whatever time it was, it was never time to panic.
Some ‘intensively directed concern’, however, wouldn’t go amiss.
“What do I tell them?”
“Well, the severance interface is incongruent with the division board, which is interfering with — ”
Ruth jutted out a hip. “I’m not versed in Ancient Geek, Richard. Again. And in words that don’t end with -ize, -ism, or cause me to say ‘Uh?’”
“Just cut the technical mumbo-jumbo. I have to explain to the higher-ups what’s going on. When they ask why their car isn’t working, it isn’t because they’re interested in which engine part’s failed. They’re asking what you’re going to do about it.” She watched Richard freeze, mouth open like he was auditioning to be a mailbox. “Tell. Me. What. The. Computer. Is. Doing.”
“Oh. Oh, it’s trying to find matches.”
“It does that all the time. That’s what it’s designed to do. Product to person, or vice versa.”
“Well, now it’s matching person to person.”
“Uh? Why would it do that?”
“It’s…” And to give him credit, Richard blushed. Had she known what he was about to tell her, Ruth would have insisted he at the very least blush. “It’s trying to find them their perfect partner.”
“I need to get this straight,” Ruth said. “Because words are important to the higher-ups. Their billion-dollar investment. Their state-of-the-art computer system that collects every bit of data on every person out there. Their refined super-marketing tool is spending its time trying to be an unpaid dating agency?”
“If you put it like that. Then: yes.”
“And my next question: why?”
“We don’t know.”
“Well someone must have told it to do so. Someone must have changed something in its programming.”
“We’ve checked the logs and there are no incidents of anyone accessing it.”
“Then check again.”
“Er, okay.” But when he was at the door, she called him back.
“You’ve already rechecked it, haven’t you?”
She pinched the skin between her eyes. Not a good day. Not a good day at all. “We looked for backdoors, viruses, everything. It’s clean.”
“So it just decided for itself to follow this new line of enquiry?”
“Then what are we going to do about it? Can’t we just reboot the thing?”
“Er… It’s not quite…”
“Yes, yes, yes. Just tell me what it involves.”
“Oh. Right. Then… we can close it all down, wipe its operating system, restart it to its default settings.”
“And that will solve the problem?”
“Yes. It should. It’ll mean some losses. But…”
“Losses the board can understand. As for matchmaking…” He was leaving again when, for a second time, she called him back. This was getting like an episode of Colombo. “Just as a matter of interest: were the matches good?”
“The machine has more information on a given individual than they even know about themselves. It can match precise products that the individual didn’t even know they wanted. I suppose this is no different. We’d need to study its results, give them a practical application in order to find out for sure.”
“Okay,” she said. “Interesting. Oh yes, go on, do what you gotta do.” And this time he left. Although he did pause at the door in anticipation of a third curtain call.
Ruth wandered over to her own link to the computer, running her fingers along the keyboard in a manner she knew was unconvincingly casual.
“What the hell…” She yanked out the chair, sat down, glanced over her shoulder and typed her own name into the database. The new category choice was even presented with a pink heart. This was going to involve some pretty wild conjecturing when the glitch was sorted. She held her breath, let it out slowly and clicked open the heart. “Oh me oh my.”
Richard sat before his monitor and watched Ruth’s screen from his remote connection. He was worried he might have over-sold her on the computer’s infallibility. He smiled. Unlike an I.T. Department Head, the computer only saw the world in ‘ones’ and ‘zeros’ — it didn’t have the capacity to dream of ‘two’. Well, not without a little assistance.
The lengths you had to go to to get someone to notice you.
True to form, Ruth checked a couple more times. He wondered if she liked Chinese food or Indian.
Jez Patterson is a teacher, currently based in Madrid.