You know the kind of disasters which strike you once in a while. Just when you feel that life is a bed of roses, God is in heaven, and all is well with the world, Fate sneaks up from the back. Your Guardian Angel decides to proceed on a vacation. The blow falls.
Two weeks earlier, Aunt Agatha had set in motion yet another of her mould-the-wastrel-Bertie programs. Having been forced to be affianced to Honoria Glossop for this period had been a trying experience.
With each day came the challenge of having to read at least fifty odd pages of serious literature, often followed by a visit to some frightful art gallery or the other. Being made to attend quite a few classical concerts proved to be a traumatic experience. I was left convinced that blokes like Beethoven, if I get one of the names right, should have been banished from the country.
Mere participation in such pursuits was not considered sufficient. The fact that I was expected to actively participate in serious discussions and prove my intellectual mettle had left me all of a twitter.
Each and every encounter with my spouse-to-be proved to be an experience which tried the soul. Romance was a distant dream. Instead, talks of an intellectual kind dominated the discourse, leaving me in a highly enfeebled condition.
Then, one quiet evening, when Honoria and I were seated in the lobby, sipping tea and relishing some delicious hors d’oeuvres dished out by Spenser, Aunt Agatha’s butler, the blow fell.
‘Bertie,’ she said, ‘I have been thinking about our life after we get married.’
‘Eh? Oh, that sounds great.’
‘I think that valet of yours has too much of a negative influence on you,’ said Honoria.
A cold hand clutched at my heart.
‘You need to get rid of him,’ she said as she looked at me sharply, as if trying to gauge my reaction.
‘Get rid of Jeeves, do you mean?!’ I gasped.
‘Yes. I don’t like him.’
‘But he does a fine job of managing things in my life, don’t you think so?’
‘Dear, you might be paying him a handsome salary, but he is the one who calls all the shots. Was he not the one who sent you on a futile midnight bicycle trip once, looking for a door key which was already with him? I hear that he keeps dominating you even over such trivial matters as the colour of your ties and the kind of jackets and hats you need to wear.’ said Honoria defiantly.
I gaped at her much as a clueless newt would have gaped at its mother when reprimanded for having not done its school homework.
‘But, dear, he also manages the house so very well. Everything in its place, taking care of guests, planning for lavish luncheons and dinners and what not, if you know what I mean. A most amazing cove, I would say.’
‘What is there in managing a house?’ said Honoria, glancing at me in a challenging manner. ‘I think I have a better solution.’
‘Hmm….and what might that be?’ I said, hope of a reprieve from a calamity gently starting to fade.
‘I would say we should provide you with a valet bot, enabled by state-of-art Artificial Intelligence. Perhaps, we can locate a valet which operates on Artificial Super Intelligence. It would take care of all your needs, and shall never boss you over. Never would it hold the view that you are a person who is, well, mentally negligible,’ said Honoria with that unique glint of enthusiasm in her eyes which girls normally get when they believe they are on to a really hot idea.
I shuddered. I knew that matrimonial alliances do tend to demand a lot of sacrifice on one’s part, but a supreme sacrifice of this magnitude? For the rest of my life, would I now wake up in the mornings with a humanoid approaching me not with a silver tray but with an iPad instead? The mind boggled.
In her zest, Honoria continued with her futuristic vision.
‘Bertie,’ she said, ‘I would go to the extent of suggesting that we re-do your entire flat. Make it a Smart Flat, so to say. What do you think?’
‘Er…I say, eh, what do you mean?’
‘Ooh, Bertie! Can’t you see? You will have the latest gadgets at your
place. A giant TV screen which would softly descend from the ceiling, enabling you to read serious and meaningful literature at the flick of a button. It would be backed by the latest multimedia functions. In the dining room, we shall put a giant screen which will keep showing paintings of such stalwarts as Edward Munch, Pablo Picasso, Rembrandt and the like. The study would get converted into a small theatre where, after sumptuous dinners, we shall be able to watch recordings of classical concerts from all over the world. Your intellectual proficiency would improve in no time. Father would be so very pleased.’
I tottered. Before I could lodge a feeble protest, she continued to narrate her frightful plans.
‘Bertie, the flat would have a universal software interface. Wi-Fi. Tea machines, ovens and gadgets which would be remote controlled. Retinal scanners at the entrance door. iPad-controlled door locks. Hidden flat-panel screens in all the rooms, which can be popped down at the flick of a button. Underwater lighting shows in the bath-tubs. Lighting fixtures and window blinds which can be shut at will, even by a remote. The place would be heavenly! Don’t you think so?! Would you not be happier, darling?’
‘But…er…listen, I say, I am happy the way things are, dear!’
‘Oh, Bertie, you are so very unromantic’, protested Honoria.
‘Well, dash it….., don’t you think that we shall need a software expert to manage all the advanced gadgets you indicate?’, I tried to reason, hope rearing its head yet again.
‘That is the beauty of the scheme I propose, dear. The moment such things get installed, Jeeves would find himself out of his depth. For all you know, pretty soon, he will put in his papers. That would bring sunshine and freedom back into your life.’
‘Sunshine? Freedom?’, I said doubtfully.
‘Bertie, would you or would you not fulfil this simple wish of mine?’
‘Hmm, let us think about it’, was the most I could mumble, just as my Guardian Angel decided to back me up, what with Spenser entering and announcing that my car had been brought to the gate. A perfunctory kiss on the cheeks of my spouse-to-be and I was off, temporarily elated at having had the wisdom of avoiding an unpleasant argument with Honoria. But the brow was decidedly furrowed. Dark crowds hovered over the horizon.
Reaching the metropolis, I decided to ward off the feeling of impending doom by stopping over briefly at Drones for a snifter. I can’t say it helped me much. As I headed for the flat, I brooded as much as my poor grey cells would allow me to, but could not come up with a solution to the challenge posed by my affianced. I just could not imagine a life without Jeeves. So very competent in every aspect.
Technology is all very well, if you know what I mean, but what about the human touch? Was there no value attached to the big head bulging at the back? The supreme intelligence which had so far protected me from so many disasters in life? Would a robot be able to whip up a pick-me-up, like Jeeves would, as and when necessary?
Could one count the number of times he had avoided the prospect of his master walking down the aisle with one of the finer specimens of the tribe of the delicately nurtured? What about his unique capacity of being able to judge the psychology of the individual? Could any robot even try to replicate a fraction of it?
As I entered the liar, things were as neatly arranged as ever. If Jeeves were to ever start offering consultation to big corporates in TQM or 5-S or some such rot, he would be literally rolling in millions, I thought.
‘I trust your trip was satisfactory, sir?’, he asked deferentially, as he started unpacking the stuff.
‘I wish it had been that way’, Jeeves. ‘Do you think you could fix a w. and s. for me? Make it stiff, if you like’, I said.
In time, he waltzed in with a tissue restorative, a perfect picture of timely service and feudal zeal.
Having shoved down a couple of gulps down the hatch, I spilled the beans.
‘Jeeves, something frightful has happened.’
‘Time to come to the aid of the party, eh, what?’
‘My services are at your disposal, sir.’
‘Thanks to Aunt Agatha, I have got betrothed to Honoria Glossop.’
His left eyebrow went up a quarter of an inch. I am certain that Gandhi could have learnt a lesson in equanimity from Jeeves.
‘I wish you both great happiness together, sir.’
‘Thank you and what not. Though I realize that you would not approve of an alliance of this nature, you know what Aunt Agatha is like. Hitler himself could have taken a kindergarten course under her and failed to come up to her exacting standards.’
‘Perhaps you wish to convey that she comes up with proposals which try the soul, sir?’
‘Absolutely. What do you think, Jeeves?’
‘Sir, if the banns are getting announced, I wonder if I could get relieved of my responsibilities at an appropriate time?’
I was stupefied. Shaken to the core, if you know what I mean.
‘What makes you say that, Jeeves?’
‘You are aware, sir, that it is not my policy to serve in households where the master and his spouse are best left alone in rest and repose.’
‘I understand, Jeeves. In fact, Honoria has also been suggesting some frightful plans of upgrading the flat and make it more…..er, what is the word which has technology in it and ends with heavy or something?’
‘Perhaps you allude to the term tech-savvy, sir?’
‘Indeed. I wonder how you know all these things, Jeeves.’
‘Kind of you to say so, sir. I do believe that the future belongs to those who are in sync with the Internet of Things.’
‘Internet of what things, Jeeves? Why do you always talk in terms of riddles?’
‘My apologies for having had the audacity of testing your patience, sir. I was referring to the rapid advancements in technology which are changing the way we interact with things, sir.’
‘You may already know, sir, that robots and humanoids are increasingly taking over all kinds of routine tasks. Robots, algorithms and chatbots are becoming a part of everyday life. From Artificial Intelligence, people are trying to move on to Artificial General Intelligence and even Artificial Super Intelligence.’
‘Strange, Jeeves. How do you think things are going to shape up?’
‘Quite revolutionary, if I may venture to hazard a guess, sir. For example, the next time you walk into the Marriott Hotel in Belgium, a humanoid robot by the name of Mario could be checking you in. Likewise, the Hilton chain has launched Connie, a robot embedded with IBM’s Watson technology. As the trend picks up, hotel chains could replicate this experiment, thereby making you well known to all their properties across the world.’
‘Oh, so someone like Tuppy Glossop would no longer be able to get off with a misdemeanour at one of their swimming pools, looping the last ring or something of that kind?’
‘I fear not, sir. When you go for shopping, you may just need to punch some buttons and the desired object would appear on a screen. If you decide to buy, you punch another set of buttons, make the payment using internet banking, and the item would be offered to you on a designer conveyor belt, duly packed. No human intervention in the entire retailing process.’
‘Oh, so next time Aunt Dahlia asks me to go and sneer at a silver cow creamer at an antique shop, there will be no cove at the sales counter, registering my scorn?’
‘Quite likely, sir. In a similar vein, secretaries like Amy Ingram are now helping overworked office managers with quite a few of their mundane tasks. Thanks to a self-learning algorithm, Amy gets smarter all the time.’
‘Good news, indeed. So, there would no longer be a possibility of Aunt Dahlia wishing me to become the secretary of someone like Mr. A. B. Filmer, the Cabinet Secretary, who got thwarted by the overtures of an angry swan, what?’
‘Not really, sir. But at some future date, there is a possibility that our civilization reaches that state of perfection in its technological endeavours.’
‘But don’t you think we are being rather foolish, creating machines which might turn out to be smarter than us? The mind boggles. Sure enough, the foundations of our civilization are quivering.’
‘There is a lot of merit in what you say, sir. However, to be able to replicate the emotional responses and humane feelings of Homo Sapiens may not be easy. Eventually, both the skill-sets would be required for humanity to grow. As more and more routine tasks get done by robots, human beings can move higher up the cognitive and spiritual ladder.’
‘Do you think many other professions could also get invaded by this machine mania, Jeeves?’
‘I do believe so, sir. Even lawyers and judges could soon lose their jobs to their AI-enabled counterparts.’
‘Ah, what a relief that would be, Jeeves. Poor Aunt Dahlia, when trying to avoid my going in for thirty days without the option, would no longer need to offer the services of Anatole to such unscrupulous characters as Sir Watkyn Bassett, I guess.’
‘The contingency would indeed appear to be a remote one, sir.’
‘And what about the realm of tissue restoratives? That is an area you specialize in, Jeeves!’
‘I do believe, sir, that two young gentlemen from London have already come up with a brew called IntelligentX, which evolves its flavour based on responses from social media.’
‘But, surely, you would not spill the beans when it comes to those pick-me-ups of yours?’
‘That is a prospect which is best avoided, sir. But perhaps Ellie could solve quite a few of our problems.’
‘Oh, never heard of her. What am I missing, Jeeves?’
‘Sir, Ellie is a virtual psychotherapy assistant in whom you can readily confide all your problems. I hear that scientists at the University of Southern California have developed her. She can help diagnose signs of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), sir.’
‘But do you think she can replace such eminent loony doctors as Sir Roderick Glossop? After all, a specialist with his extensive practice can hardly help taking a rather warped view of humanity and might wish to check things first hand.’
‘Indeed, sir. But I believe that the eminent personality you refer to has already a couple of them working for him. This reduces his onerous overload of having to keep a tab on the vast number of patients he treats. In fact, just before you came in, Mrs. Gregson called up to say that one such specimen would be arriving soon enough to have a short diagnostic meeting with you.’
‘Oh, so what do you suggest, Jeeves?’
‘Sir, I would not wish to impose myself in any way. Nor would I like to stand in the way of the happiness of yourself and Miss Honoria.’
‘I respect this feudal approach of yours, Jeeves. That is precisely the reason I am seeking your support in the matter.’
‘If so, with your permission, I would suggest using a virtual feline creature which is programmed to make the right noises at the right time, while Sir Roderick Glossop’s assistant is in a discussion with you. I had managed to borrow a specimen from one of the friends who had developed it and wanted it to be tested. Unless, of course, sir, you wish it otherwise….’
‘No, no, far from it, Jeeves,’ I butted in, hope dawning at last. ‘I appreciate this initiative of yours. But you mention only a single specimen. Last time, I thought, you had twenty-three cats!’ One always strived to get the numbers right, you see.
‘Thank you, sir. You are right about the last time. However, this time we are handling merely an assistant. Also, the robot cat I have in my possession now can generate ten different kinds of meows at random, thereby giving the impression that there are so many in the place.’
‘Splendid. So, we are also spared the trouble of encountering a dead fish wanting a written explanation and apology!’
‘By the way, may I know how did you manage to learn all this about the Internet of Things, Jeeves?’
‘Sir, bots powered by superior forms of Artificial Intelligence are soon likely to be the interface, shaping our interactions with the applications and the devices we rely on. Pretty soon, internet-connected cars, elevators and smart cities will pose newer challenges. Internet of Things is the future and I thought I have to be ready to be able to handle it.’
‘Don’t tell me that you are already an expert in handling computers, motherboards, servers, networks and the latest gizmos? You never fail to amaze, Jeeves!’
‘Kind of you to say so, sir. I merely strive to keep my skills upgraded at all times, so I may continue to provide satisfaction. Stephen R Covey has famously held that one should always keep one’s saw sharpened.’
‘Covey….who is this brainy cove?’
‘Sir, he is an expert who is revered in the field of management these days.’
‘But how did you manage to learn this much?’
‘A bit of money which an aunt of mine had bequeathed me came in handy some time back. Also, a little bit of subterfuge, sir, if I may confess. You may recall my having requested some leave last year around this time, sir?’
‘Yes, you said you wanted to hone your skills in shrimp farming, if I remember right.’
‘Your memory does not fail you, sir. In fact, I had used that time to take up an intensive course in the Internet of Things, sir.’
‘Well, well! How did you ever manage that?’
‘Sir, the Junior Ganymede Club had earlier succeeded in forging a closer alliance with companies which make hi-tech gear for the aristocracy. Mr. Brigstock, the secretary of the club, had confided in me that talks with outfits like Crestron and Savant had eventually borne fruit. These companies have designed training programs to teach aspirants to my kind of service-oriented career as to how to run and troubleshoot smart-home systems. The club is already running a separate academy which imparts knowledge to wannabe gentlemen of gentlemen in IT networking and programming. This, it is hoped, would ward off the threat to this age old profession from bright engineers and IT-savvy youngsters who wish to improve upon their pecuniary circumstances and earn six-figure emoluments.’
‘You have certainly earned a hefty raise for yourself, Jeeves. Name it and you shall have it.’
‘I am much obliged for your generosity, sir,’ he said, suddenly looking at his iPad which was blinking softly.
‘Sir, one Ellie-99 from the office of Sir Glossop is at the door, seeking an interaction with you.’
‘Oh, already, eh, what? Is the virtual cat in place?’
‘In perfect working order, I hope?’
‘Bung her in, then. Let us scare her off, so the fixture with Honoria gets scratched without further delay.’
‘Your wish is my command, sir,’ he said as he shimmered out to let Ellie-99 in.
(Illustrations courtesy the world wide web)