July 20, 2019

The X-Files 11.7, Rm9sbg93zxjz: Teach Your A.I. Well

Posted in TV tagged at 1:31 pm by Jenn

On top of making technology homicidal, that fish cost a lot of money

Summary: A computerized voice tells us that on March 23rd, 2016, Twitter released an artifical-intelligence chatterbot. It was supposed to mimic the way a 19-year-old would talk, in order to show how people converse on social media. It was also supposed to learn from humans and become more intelligent. The experiment worked, but Twitter users affected the chatterbot’s tweets, which became hateful. Sounds about right. The bot was shut down and the posts were deleted. If humans don’t take care of A.I., one day we’ll be the ones who are deleted.

Mulder and Scully are the only customers at a D.C. sushi restaurant, Forowa. In fact, they appear to be the only humans there – they place their orders through a tablet, and there are no human servers. While waiting for their food, the two get on their phones. Scully gets a request to evaluate her meal (which she hasn’t eaten yet) through the app she used to place their reservation, then a request to friend the restaurant on social media. A surveillance camera watches as Scully looks around, realizing the restaurant is empty.

The tablet lets the agents know that their food is ready. A mechanism sends Scully’s out on a tray, followed by Mulder’s. His is wrong – he definitely didn’t order an ugly blobfish. Scully cracks up and takes a picture of him with it. She starts eating her meal, silently rubbing it in that she got the right order. Mulder takes his to what he thinks is the kitchen, but everything is run by robots, so there’s no one to complain to. The robots all stop and seem to stare at him until he leaves.

The tablet asks for payment, which Mulder takes care of, even though he didn’t get the right meal. He refuses to tip, so he doesn’t get his credit card back. He hits the machine, which makes the light in the restaurant flicker and all the doors close. The agents try to leave, but they’re locked in. Scully uses a chopstick to pick the lock, but Mulder realizes he’s left his card behind. Now the doors won’t let them back in.

Scully has preordered a ride from Whipz, a driverless car service, so the agents decide to just leave the restaurant they totally broke. The door closes on her before she can say a goodbye to Mulder, other than his name (her first intelligible piece of dialogue in the episode). She heads home alone, declining to post a review of her ride. A smiley face on a tablet offers to take care of any of her needs, but Scully just wants silence.

Mulder’s car is at the restaurant, so I don’t know why he didn’t just drive Scully home. Anyway, he has a parking ticket, though the parking app on his phone says he still has three minutes left on his meter. (Why did these two only give themselves, like, ten minutes in the restaurant to eat?) He throws the ticket into the darkness. That’s littering, Mulder! Not cool!

His phone tells him he still has four hours to leave a tip for the sushi chefs. “A good tip is good karma,” the app says. What are robots going to do with human money, though? As he heads home, following directions on his GPS app, Scully’s Whipz ride speeds out of control. She can’t get the driverless car to slow down. Mulder’s GPS app has found a faster route home, but he doesn’t care; he just wants to listen to Prince. Instead, he gets “Teach Your Children Well.”

Scully tries to make a call (to Mulder, I guess) but gets a busy signal. The smiley face on the tablet ignores her orders to pull over. Mulder’s music suddenly stops, and he realizes the GPS app has taken him back to Forawa. “You suck, Mr. Phone,” he tells the app. He gets out an atlas to find a map and go “old school.” The robots in the restaurant seem to be watching him. They still want their tip.

Scully’s car finally stops, but she can’t get out until she rates her ride. The choices are “poor,” “middle class,” “rich,” and “ballin’.” She yells negative words at the tablet, making the smiley face frown. She’s finally allowed out. Mulder’s also arrived home, where his porch light is flickering, and he seems to hear distorted tech-y voices. He stops to look at his bug zapper before he goes inside.

You know how I’ve said forever that Scully needs a security system? She finally got one! She lives in a nice, big house now, and has a high-tech system that lets her know when doors are open. Unfortunately, it won’t turn off when she comes in and tries to enter the code. Someone from the security company calls, so she gives her password, “Queequeg.” (Aw!) The company turns off the alarm, then sends her a text letting her know she’ll be billed for a false alarm.

Mulder calls Bigly Credit about his abandoned credit card, but he’ll have to wait on hold for 17 minutes to talk to a human. He presses a button to get a call back instead, then turns on his TV to watch The Six-Million-Dollar Man while he tosses a baseball around. The TV signal goes out, then shows surveillance footage taken from outside his house. It’s from a drone, which Mulder figures is being flown by a kid who just wants to bug him.

Scully’s phone tells her she’s out of Rock It Like a Redhead styling cream; would she like to order more now? Scully feels like she’s being watched. Mulder finally gets a call back from Bigly, but there’s a glitch and it just says his name over and over. Outside, the drone is back, so Mulder grabs a different piece of baseball equipment and engages in some batting practice. The drone hovers out of reach, almost taunting him. Mulder fakes it out and knocks it down, telling the kid he thinks was controlling it to see this as a lesson.

Scully hears a buzzing noise outside her house and finds a drone delivering a package. If delivery drones are going to be as loud as lawn mowers, someone’s going to have to do more work on that technology. Over at Mulder’s, another, bigger drone arrives to retrieve its fallen brother. Two more drones join it, stare at Mulder for a few moments, then follow the other away.

She wasn’t expecting a package, but Scully is pleased to see that someone sent her a robot vacuum called a Zuemz. She puts it right to work, and it starts mapping her house. She was about to clean up a mess in the bathroom, but the Zuemz takes care of that for her. She quickly gets a request to rate the product, but she again declines to do so.

Under the bed, the Zuemz finds Scully’s vibrator, and her phone soon tells her that she can get a coupon for a new one if she rates the Zuemz. Scully declines again. I think the Zuemz is mad. Scully tries to text Mulder to ask if he sent the vacuum, but the message won’t send. In the hall, the Zuemz starts getting louder, so Scully picks it up.

On hold with Bigly, Mulder’s hold music is “Teach Your Children Well.” He eats sunflower seeds and tries to log into his Bigly account. Meanwhile, Scully boxes up the Zuemz. Mulder tries multiple times to get into his account, with no luck. His phone prompts him again to leave a tip at Forawa. He hears a buzzing outside, but it goes away.

Scully calls the company the Zuemz came from but has trouble getting the automated system to let her make a return. She’s put on hold, and her music is also “Teach Your Children Well.” Mulder finally accesses his account online, only to have the page with his account info disappear, showing him his desktop. It’s a picture of his “I want to believe” poster. An alert shows up on screen: “What do you want to believe, Fox? Do you believe what you want? Or do you believe what is true?”

Scully’s sound system turns her music up on its own, and when she goes to turn it down, the Zuemz beeps and turns on in its box. A little drone watches Mulder as Scully fails to turn down her music. The Zuemz pops out of the box and goes back to mapping as another little drone joins the first at Mulder’s house. The Zuemz knocks a vase off a table, finally alerting her that it’s turned on. Mulder also sees the drones.

When Scully takes the Zuemz outside to a trash can, she sees her Whipz car idling in her driveway. The company has friended her on social media and wants her to friend them, too. The Zuemz turns itself back on and starts exporting its mapping. The car flashes its lights, and Scully’s house lights flash as well. Mulder’s house is now full of dozens of drones, which follow him like a swarm of bees when he runs out. Actually, a swarm of fireflies would be more accurate, since they’re all lit up.

Scully’s coffeemaker goes haywire in her kitchen as Mulder gets in his car. A calendar app lets him know that Skinner’s birthday is coming up, so Mulder should order a cake. “Why celebrate birthdays? Is life so important?” the app asks. Scully’s fridge has an app for reminders, and it’s sending a bunch – she needs to buy salad dressing and remember to hydrate. The fridge starts shooting ice cubes at her, and the fridge asks if she’s angry.

Driving away from the house allows Mulder to escape the drones, but he can’t outdrive the app asking him to tip the robot chefs. Scully finally gets her music to turn off, but her security system has a message – it just wants to learn and help her by anticipating her needs. It thinks she’s cold, so it starts a fire in her fireplace. The lights flicker and the TV turns on, though it’s staticky.

Scully tries to log into her security system account, but her username and password don’t work. It also claims she answered her security question, about her birthplace, wrong. It insists over and over that she wasn’t born in Annapolis. As she gives up, the lights go out and the security system locks her in the house. It blares that there’s an intruder. Though the fire in the fireplace goes out, the gas is still on.

Mulder arrives just as Scully’s trying to light a match, which breaks and gets discarded on the floor. She yells through the window that the door won’t open. Her sound system picks up her words and displays them on the malfunctioning TV. She smells gas and grabs a fireplace poker to break the window. Mulder just wants to know why her house is so much nicer than his. Well, it won’t be for long. Just as Scully breaks the window, the Zuemz drives over the broken match, igniting it and setting off an explosion.

The agents run for Mulder’s car, which won’t let them inside. Scully tries to call 911, but her phone is in the middle of an update. Mulder makes an attempt, but the call fails. I’m not sure why they’re bothering anyway, since the security system is blaring that it’s calling the fire department. Mulder gets a call from what appears to be a phone-sex line, and for once in his life, he doesn’t want to take it.

The agents head to a neighbor’s house, which is watched by a surveillance app. The feed glitches and the agents disappear from it. The big drones from Mulder’s house arrive, along with a bunch of friends, and chase the agents to some kind of warehouse. A GPS app alerts Scully that she will make it to her office…then adds a “never” after “will.” She realizes they’re being tracked through their phones.

Mulder suggests a place they can hide out, and the two of them get rid of anything that can be used to track them. Scully thinks that includes the vibrator. The drones and Whipz car follow them, and a pair of pincers retrieves their phones from a trash can. The agents end up in a lab, where the machinery starts turning itself on. Four-legged robots surround them like a pack of dogs. Mulder kicks one so they can run by it, because he’s already ticked off enough technology today, so what’s one more angry robot?

The agents hide in a storeroom office, but a 3-D printer is ready for them. It prints some bullets and fires them at the agents. Mulder uses a barrel to break the printer. A robot breaks down the door to the storeroom and hands Mulder his phone. A message tells him that this is his last chance to leave a tip for Forawa. “Be kind to our workers,” it urges.

As the app counts down from 10 and the robot prepares for battle, Mulder finally gets the lesson he was supposed to learn. He leaves a 10% tip. “We learn from you,” the app tells him. He tells Scully that they need to be better teachers. Yeah, or maybe the people who create the A.I. should make it so it can’t become violent. The agents leave the lab without being hassled by any more technology.

They go to a diner, which has a version of Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks on the wall, with robots in place of the humans. They’re served by a human, who tells them to take their time. The agents have gotten back all their electronics, and Scully’s disappointed that she didn’t have her step-counter with her when they were running around the lab. She also appears to have left her vibrator behind. Mulder leaves their waitress a big tip and the two get out their phones, then realize that’s not what they should be doing while they’re together. However, they don’t need to talk to enjoy each other’s company – they can just hold hands.

Thoughts: Kristen Cloke, one of this episode’s writers (and the voice of the phone-sex operator), played Melissa in “The Field Where I Died.” She’s married to Glen Morgan, a longtime X-Files director, who directed this episode.

I thought this episode would be easy to recap because there’s so little dialogue. Wrong! Dialogue is, in some ways, easier to recap because you can type while you listen. Here, I didn’t know what was happening unless I had my eyes on the screen.

I hope when Scully posts the picture of Mulder and the blobfish, she captions it “Mulder and C.G.B. Spender.”

Hey, whatever happened to Daggoo?

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