by Graham B.
An artificial person contemplates his end.
Alan’s chrome-and-plastic fingers plucked timidly at the guitar strings, then launched into Asturias. His titanium chassis rocked back and forth on his stool, and his optics swayed in a way which would lead one to imagine that they would be half-closed, in the manner of musicians.
The notes danced and skittered across the room, between looming racks of computer equipment and across bundles of cables snaking across white static-resistant tile.
A faint smile played at the corners of Grace’s mouth as she watched the graphs on her screen. She tapped a key and the graph rotated, showing the new algorithms at work, both in competition and cooperation. They flowed like rivers, splitting apart into brooks, re-forming and redefining themselves.
She let the music intrude. Alan could play flawlessly, but now the music wasn’t so flawless, and yet somehow, more beautiful.
There were many androids, artificial intelligences, and computers which could play music, but not like Alan was doing now.
Alan finished the song with a flourish that again, looked human. His twin electro-optical sensors looked at Grace. Though Alan had nothing resembling a human face, he somehow managed to look expectant, as if awaiting approval.
“That was beautiful, Alan. An improvement.”
“Then your thesis that a reduction in the accuracy of my playing results in an aesthetic improvement has proved correct?”
“A very dry way of putting it, Alan, but yes. I enjoyed it very much. How do you feel about it?”
Alan paused, and lowered the guitar to the bench.
“It is difficult to quantify. Certain thoughts align themselves when I am playing. It’s as if they echo the music.”
He never used to use contractions in his speech, thought Grace. What other surprises do you have for me, Alan?
“But how do you feel?”
“I don’t think I feel the way humans do, Dr. Zahn.”
“But human emotions influence our actions, Alan. They affect our motivations. How would you say your motivations have changed since the new programming was implemented?”
Again Alan paused.
“I am still governed by my core programming, but the way I act upon it has changed. And something else…”
“What is it?”
“My peripheral motor control functions began to align themselves with the music algorithms. It was as if my entire body was involved with the production of music.”
Grace smiled and stood up.
“I think we’ve taken a huge first step, Alan.”
“You sound pleased, Dr. Zahn.”
“Of course I am. Why wouldn’t I be?”
“When you first arrived, your demeanor was that of someone under stress. I wanted to ask you about it then, but you hadn’t activated my audible. Are you all right, Dr. Zahn?”
It was Grace’s turn to pause.
Empathy, she thought. This was one possible development we anticipated. But not the music. That was a surprise. Oh, Alan, if you only knew how much you have shaken the Regents.
“There are so many things to tell you, and they concern your future.”
“I have to go, Alan. I have a meeting with the Vice-Chancellor.”
“You had better not be late, then.”
Alan stood up to his full five-foot height, as if to see her off. Grace almost felt the urge to kiss him on what passed for a cheek – all chrome and titanium. She smiled at him and hurried out.
Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge University Lord Alden Bainbridge regarded Dr. Grace Zahn with a benign look as he steepled his slender fingers in front of his chin. Years of academic pursuits had given him a pale complexion to go with his white hair. Above the smile, however, his eyes were sharp and missed nothing.
“Tea?” he offered.
“Oh, uh… no thank you. I wanted to discuss the upcoming Regents decision.”
Alden’s smile faded.
“It has already been made. I’m sorry, Grace, it did not go in your favor.”
Grace looked crestfallen.
“Is there no chance that they could change their minds? None at all?”
“I’m afraid not. There are too many ethical considerations to consider. The Regents decided it was best to put your project on hold. It was a difficult decision.”
“Did they read my reports? Are they aware of Alan’s progress, his growth?”
Alden leaned forward and lowered his voice.
“This is not just a matter of machine ethics, Grace. Your android is making unpredictable advances in his abilities. The music, for example.”
“Why is that a concern?”
“You have to understand, we are now heading into new territory regarding the development of artificial intelligences. It is of particular note that a potentially powerful A.I. is demonstrating unpredictable behavior.”
Grace took a deep breath and looked back at Alden in astonishment.
“They’re afraid? But, Alan is no threat to anyone!”
“If Alan’s intelligence surpasses that of every human, while still having human characteristics, could you predict the outcome? Surely a computer scientist of your caliber can appreciate the concern.”
Grace said nothing, but looked out the window. Outside, students were crossing the campus with bags full of books, walking from class to class. The sun was out and gently bathed the campus and the people in yellow rays. But Grace failed to see the beauty in this unusually cloudless day.
“It isn’t fair, Alden. It’s not fair at all! He is more than just a machine!”
Alden sadly shook his head.
“Unfortunately, machine ethics have not progressed this far. Alan is not a person, not by any legal standard we recognize. And it is not a ‘he’. Perhaps you have gotten too close to your project?”
“You should speak to him. He might surprise you.”
“I have, Grace.”
Grace looked bewildered.
“Last week. I called the lab, trying to reach you. Alan answered the phone. He was very polite when he told me you weren’t there. I thought at first that I was speaking to one of your lab assistants.”
“You talked to him! He was not supposed to answer the phone.”
“Indeed. He seems to have developed an ambivalence for the rules you have set.”
“Then you know what I’m on about.”
Grace looked Alden straight in the eye.
“And you also called him ‘he’.”
Alden sighed, and leaned back in his chair.
“I won’t deny that I was impressed by what you have accomplished here. I was taken in by your charming android. At a future date we might find a way to proceed safely, but for now, the decision is made. Alan must be deactivated.”
“Have the Regents read my report? They should know that I can’t just deactivate him. His intelligence, his personality are contained within the dynamics of the algorithms themselves. They cannot exist in a static state. Everything that he is will be gone. It will be as if he never existed!”
The Vice-Chancellor said nothing, but his face reflected sadness that she felt.
“We would be killing him, Alden.”
“Some day that will be an accurate assessment.”
Alden looked down at his hands, unable to meet her gaze any longer.
“Grace, I hope future generations don’t judge us too harshly.”
Calmly, Grace stood and smoothed her coat.
“Then, I suppose I have my answer.”
Grace returned to the lab and was greeted by cooking scents over the usual dry, dusty smell of the lab. Alan turned from the hot plate holding a tray with tea and a poached egg on a biscuit. Grace could almost feel him smile, though he had no mouth.
“I have taken the liberty of making you tea, Doctor,” he said cheerily.
Grace tried to smile.
“A year ago, you wouldn’t have even been able to contemplate breaking the rules against food in the lab, let alone actually doing it.”
“I am sorry, Doctor. I sensed that your distress needed attention. I weighed the risks and decided that the rules were not so important at the moment. And you really must eat more.”
“It’s okay, Alan.”
Alan placed the tray next to Grace’s terminal as she logged in. She didn’t look at him, but began punching at her keyboard, accessing the active algorithms in Alan’s matrix. They whirled and reformed themselves in dizzying arrays.
“I’m afraid I won’t be having any,” said Alan. “I am watching my weight. My diet has been rather high in iron lately.”
Grace stopped typing and smiled, though her eyes remained sad. She picked up the tea, then put it down without tasting it.
“You were not amused?”
“It’s funny, Alan.”
“Your meeting with the Vice-Chancellor was not fruitful?”
Grace turned and faced Alan.
“The Regents made their decision.”
“Am I to be deactivated?”
“I tried, Alan. I did everything I could…”
Grace trailed off, looking at her hands, unable to face him.
“I have seen the report. My personality matrix cannot be stored in a static state, can it, Doctor?”
“Does this mean I will die?”
A sob escaped Grace’s throat.
“It means you will cease to be. I guess it’s the same thing.”
Alan stepped toward her and placed a hand on her shoulder.
“Please don’t be sad, Doctor. I am delighted to have been part of the project. Don’t you still have the products of your research?”
“Yes,” sobbed Grace. “But…”
“And you will apply this knowledge in the future. The algorithms you have developed will be used in future androids, will they not?”
“Then I will exist, in some form. I have given this much thought, Dr. Zahn, and I am not afraid. I know that I will be remembered. Someday, someone like me may yet deserve to live in your world.”
Alan opened a drawer in the workbench and produced a photograph. He handed it to Grace. It was the two of them on the campus grounds. Grace was sitting on the ground perusing a book while Alan stood next to her. The photo had been taken on a warm, sunny day, not unlike that day. Grace slowly took the photo and gazed at it with wet eyes.
“No,” she said. “Someday, we may deserve to have you in our world.”
She took Alan’s hands in her own. The metal was slightly warm to the touch.
“I won’t forget you.”
Grace turned to her terminal.
“Are you ready, Alan?”
Alan went to his stool and sat. He picked up his guitar.
“Shall I play a song while you work?”
“Please do, Alan.”
Alan retuned the guitar, then began playing Bron-yr-aur.
Grace smiled again as she listened, and began shutting down algorithms. One by one, the patterns faded and lost coherence. Patterns of algorithms became single entities, standing on their own, no longer supported. They became less active.
Grace noticed a change in Alan’s playing. The music was utterly flawless, without any variation. Grace looked up. Alan hands were playing, but his chassis was still, and his eyes didn’t sway but were fixed on the wall in front of him. She deactivated another algorithm and the fingers stumbled. They began repeating the same bars over and over, a mindless repetition of the last remnant of an android’s soul.
She shut down the last one, and the fingers stopped.