It’s just another one of those mid-afternoon lulls in the office when a peripheral vision notification pops up. It’s your beauty tracker app telling you that you’ve only gotten 2 instances of beauty so far today. Puzzling, since you know there have been more than that. There was the jaunty golden retriever during your walk to the station; then in the subway car, that cute kid flashing a smile wide with delight and the open sweep of a teenager’s hand welcoming a gray-haired lady to the seat he vacated a moment earlier; the gorgeous billboard promoting tourism to Arcadia, its swath of lush meadow before a granite mountain range reigniting your desire to visit that distant land; the clump of furry moss vividly verdant upon the maroon of the brick wall you walked by on your way back from lunch. Maybe you didn’t look at these things long enough for your smartglasses’s sensors to pick them up. Or they were too far away. The kid was half a train car away from you.
You dismiss the notification and head out for a break, to find some beauty that will get you closer to the daily beauty count goal of 15, which is supposed to lock in the health benefits of parasympathetic nervous system activation. To stack the odds in your favor, you visit the art museum just a few blocks away.
As you wander familiar galleries with wooden floors that creak under every step, you make sure to stare intently at the paintings that delight you — especially the ones with little dashes and dabs of vibrant pastels that seem to encode lush seaside hills as a spray of confetti and render bowls of fruit in festive, luxurious static. At length, your gaze absorbs the nuances of each piece so the smartglasses will have time to register these works of art as instances of beauty. This prolonged observation is especially easy to do while you’re in Quasars of the Mind, the special exhibit featuring a new series of massive holograms by FJ Trítrí. Each enthralls you with its depiction of a cognitive maelstrom churning luminous ideas, reconfiguring numerous constellations of concepts. After just half an hour in the museum, you’re confident you have a shot at today’s leaderboard for your department — if not the entire company.
On your way back to the office, you pull up your quantiselfie dashboard and find that your step count is now over 7000 yet your beauty count is only up to 5.
How is that possible? your thoughts balk. A bug?
You check for software updates and find none.
Is the machine vision hardware malfunctioning?
You run LookNLearn, and within moments of booting up, this AR language learning app has correctly labeled the elements of the sidewalk scene before you; the people, trees, bus stops and buildings in your field of view all have the correct Arcadian logograms hovering beside them.
Shortly after returning to the office, you take to your usual stairwell to make a customer support call.
“I’ve looked at twenty beautiful things today—at least. Only five were logged,” you explain after the agent’s boilerplate greeting.
“And you’re sure the app has been running continuously in foreground or background mode?” the agent asks in a tone both firm and warm that neatly avoids sounding patronizing.
“Then you were probably looking at things that aren’t canonically beautiful — aren’t conventionally considered beautiful. The app has difficulty recognizing those sorts of cases.”
“That means the app isn’t doing its job properly. It’s not counting my experiences of beauty.”
“Yes, we’re sorry to hear that. The situation can be remedied by enabling training mode in the settings. Then you can manually log things as beautiful with a double tap on the left arm of your glasses. This will modify the scoring algorithm so the app can better identify things you feel to be beautiful. The data will be sent to us for the purposes of making future improvements.”
“Great, I’ll give training mode a try.”
“Sounds good. Is there anything else I can assist you with today?”
“No, that’s it for the moment. Thanks.”
“Sure thing. Thanks for using BeauTrackUp, and have a great day!”
You linger in the stairwell, wondering if the call was being scored by some algorithm. If so, did it classify the interaction as smooth, effective or professional? Will this algorithm too be improved by comparisons of its evaluations with those made by humans?
When you get the customer service survey that will undoubtedly show up in your inbox soon, you will rate this call a 5 out of 5 — regardless of whether you were talking with a person or bot. You can own the leaderboard now.
Soramimi Hanarejima is the author of Visits to the Confabulatorium, a fanciful story collection that Jack Cheng said, “captures moonlight in Ziploc bags.” Soramimi’s recent work can be found in [PANK], Firewords and Tahoma Literary Review.