A programmer is challenged to make a more intelligent robot.
He was the only one in the conference room. His seat faced a large window which gave him a clear view of the Golden Gate Bridge. The traffic crossing the bridge was quite sparse, mainly buses and an occasional truck. The number of cars on the road had dropped drastically in the last few years. Under the new government, getting the necessary permits to drive a car was too much of a hassle for most people. He noted construction teams were once again raising the barriers around the piers, a somber reminder that the sea level was still rising. Even with the multitude of restrictions and regulations the government had enacted recently, he wondered if they were doing enough, if it might be already too late to avoid disaster.
There were footsteps in the hall behind him, very firm and regular. A woman who was well past fifty came in, studying her tablet intently. Her clothing was the sort only people in sales still wore to the office, a stiff blue suit with a knee-length skirt, a white blouse and a small black bow at her neck. As she sat down, she blanked out the tablet, gave Simon a quick glance, then looked out the window without saying a word.
There were more footsteps and a pair of women entered the room. They both appeared to be in their late twenties. One was very tall, thin and lanky, with frizzy red hair and oversized glasses perched on a long pointed nose. She was wearing a baggy sweater with a pattern of pink hearts on a gray background and loose black slacks. The other woman was short and plump with a soft round face, a wide nose and black hair pulled into a braid that hung down her back to her waist. She had on a light blue polo shirt and jeans.
They were talking to each other quietly. When they were almost to the table, Simon heard the tall woman ask, "How about kumquats?"
The short woman replied, "We had them last week...but I do like kumquats."
The women sat down next to each other, across the table from Simon. The short one looked at him and said, "You're the new programmer?"
Simon nodded. "Simon Kanner."
The short woman smiled at him. "Karolynne Brown, Engineering. She's Jan Thornberry, Consumer Analysis."
Simon stared at the tall woman and said, "You're really Dr. Janice Thornberry?"
Jan shrugged slightly. "Yes, really."
"This is amazing. I heard you were working here, but I didn't think I'd get the chance to meet you." He realized how fast he was talking and tried to slow down a little. "I've read all your books. 'Anybody Home?' was especially helpful. I probably wouldn't have won the Loebner without..."
"Save the chitchat for later. We've got work to do."
The booming voice that interrupted Simon belonged to Michael Forge. He strode in and took his place at the head of the table. Forge was an athletic man of about forty with wavy brown hair, piercing eyes and a firm chin. He wore hiking boots, tan cargo pants and a red plaid flannel shirt.
"Let's not waste time. Sales've been dropping like a rock for months."
The large screen which nearly filled the wall behind him had been displaying the company logo, a blue heart on a gray background. The edge of the heart was lined with cogs, like a gear, and the letters F and M were cut out of the interior. Now the screen switched to a graph with the line representing their plummeting sales switching from black to bright red.
After a brief pause to ensure Forge was waiting for a response, the woman in the suit said, "It's those initiatives out of Harambee, sir."
Harambee was the city that had been constructed on the shores of Lake Victoria to house the global government.
The woman continued, "First the Fuel-Free program and now the Made-By-Muscle one. There are large tax breaks for hand-made products and obviously, anything manufactured with robots does not qualify.
Forge spun around to face the screen. The large graph split into four smaller ones. The Industrial Robots graph showed an even more drastic fall than the combined one had. The other graphs started much lower than Industrial had been, but now were all somewhat higher. Enabler Robots showed a gradual, but steady increase, Performance Robots was curving downward and Companion Robots was almost perfectly level.
Turning back to the table, Forge said, "Basically, what I expected. We can't fight the Stewardry, not with the popular support they've got. What's the outlook for increasing sales in the other areas, McDonald?"
The woman from sales replied, "The market for enablers is limited by the number of consumers with disabilities. That'll increase as the population ages, but we can't hasten that, sir. And the switch to image generation in the video industry is hurting us as much as it does human performers."
Forge looked around the table. "Which leaves companions. We've been putting a lot of effort into those products. Started using cyberkinetic plastic to mimic real skin." He focused his gaze on Simon. "Hired someone who's supposed to be the best conversation programmer in the world. Why are we still stuck on a plateau?"
Before Simon could protest there had not been time to get his work out of development, Jan interrupted, "Because we're selling genxes that aren't really intelligent, sir."
Forge frowned at her. "They're artificial intelligences, Thornberry. Of course, they're not real."
Jan replied softly, "I'm afraid you're confusing real with natural, sir. Even though a genx is a manufactured device, it could in principle have actual intelligence, but none of them do, not even those that win the Loebner Prize. They just exhibit the intelligence of their programmers..." She smiled at Simon. "...which is definitely quite extensive."
Simon asked her, "But if a genx can fool people, make them think it's human, what does it matter if it's not...really intelligent?"
"Faking intelligence works very well for a short session, like they have at the Loebner. Our brains have evolved to recognize certain behaviors as signs of intelligence. You said you read my books, so you knew what they were and you programmed those behaviors into your genx, to exhibit them even more than humans do. That's why your genx consistently convinced the judges it was human two thirds of the time and not just half."
Simon blushed slightly, "You know how I did?"
Jan chuckled, "Of course. The Loebner is quite relevant to my work in psychology." She turned to Forge and explained, "Our customers spend a substantial amount of time with their companions. After a while, their behavior becomes too repetitive, too predictable and most people lose interest in the robot. There are, however, certain individuals who can never move beyond a purely physical relationship. Usually they buy a companion robot because they have difficulty establishing a relationship with another human being. They don't care if they can see through the tricks as long as the robot looks good and can...go through the right motions."
Forge considered this a moment, then looked directly at Simon. "Alright, Kanner, you're the solution. We need a new genx...let's say in thirty days. One that's really intelligent. No faking it." He made a waving motion to dismiss the rest of the employees and said, "I've another matter to discuss with him."
When the women had left, Simon asked, "What did you want, sir?"
"Someone from the media heard you won that Loebner Prize and they want to talk with you. The interview's tomorrow. Check your calendar for the time. And I've arranged to have Carnelle there, too."
Simon considered, then said, "Why would she be there, sir? I won the prize before I came to Forge-Mendel and the genx I used..."
"...is probably in some boring black box. Not interested in that. We sell robots here, an interview like this is great publicity and I want to make the most of it."
Simon shrugged. "I'm confused, sir."
Forge explained, "You think of your self as just a programming genius, but you're also someone the losers who buy our companions can really identify with. Just over thirty, in reasonably good shape and fairly attractive in a nerdy sort of way. They may be nothing like that, but they imagine they are. Then they see you with a gorgeous robot like Carnelle and they think they should have one, too."
Simon hesitated, then said, "I suppose if you think that's best, sir."
"You're not scared of pretty girls, are you?" Forge laughed loudly, then waved Simon toward the door.
Jan and Karolynne were waiting for him outside the conference room. Karolynne asked, "What did Forge want, Code Boy?"
Simon replied, "He's set up an interview...for winning the Loebner, but I think he sees it as more of a publicity stunt than anything else."
Jan said, "Of course he does. Publicity means sales and sales mean profits and Forge is always looking for profits. Which is probably why he's running this company and we aren't."
"And he wants Carnelle to be there."
Jan pushed the over-sized glasses on her long pointed nose back and looked at Simon. "Which makes you uncomfortable?"
Simon said defensively, "It's not that. She's not the genx I won the prize with."
Jan asked, "Would you mind if I came to the interview?"
Simon looked pleased, "Of course not. It'd be an honor to have you there."
"But I had nothing to do with the Loebner, either."
"You...uh...wrote books I read before designing the genx."
Jan chuckled, "And I don't look anything like Carnelle."
Karolynne added, "I got an idea that might relieve some of that anxiety. Come along, Code Boy."
"Warning! Unauthorized personnel in secure area! Warning! Unauthorized personnel in secure area!"
The voice was accompanied by a high-pitched wailing siren. Both stopped abruptly when Karolynne tapped her tablet a few times. "Sorry, Code Boy, security for the Design Center's pretty strict. There's background checks, psychological screenings, personality matrices, interrogations by half a dozen committees..." She grinned at Simon. "...or I can save everyone a lot of trouble and just plug you into the database."
Simon squinted at her. "You can do that?"
Karolynne nodded. "I just did. All it takes is a few extra wires in the right places. Of course, I wouldn't mention it to anyone. Some people don't appreciate the need for expediency."
"I got it. I won't say a thing."
The room they had entered contained several workstations, each with a large screen on the wall behind it. A couple displayed source code, but the others had diagrams Simon did not recognize. At each workstation were one or two comfortable-looking padded chairs. There was also a counter with a sink, a convection oven and a large refrigerator. Near the counter, an open door led to a small restroom. In the center of the room, a large cylinder, about eight feet wide, rose from the floor to the ceiling. It was almost completely transparent, except for a blue honeycomb pattern on its surface.
Jan headed for the restroom, while Karolynne grabbed a soda from the refrigerator and sat down at a workstation. She spun around and told Simon, "This is where we do all our design work. I'm guessing you haven't worked much with robots before."
Simon shook his head. "No, just processors...in boxes."
"I thought so. It'll do you good to see how they work."
She tapped a panel on her workstation and the honeycomb pattern disappeared. Suddenly, a robot was standing in the display cylinder, although it was difficult for Simon to believe she was a robot. She looked perfectly human. Actually, she looked more perfect than any human woman he had ever seen. It was like she was the ideal and they were only poor imitations of her.
She wore a tight gray jumpsuit with the Forge-Mendel logo on the right side of her chest. It was unzipped down to her navel, but it must have been adhering to her skin somehow or it would have revealed even more of her than it did. A slight turn of her head started a motion that carried through her shoulder-length brown hair like a gentle wave. She looked directly at Simon and, with just a hint of a smile, said, "Hello. I'm Carnelle. I want to be your companion."
Jan shook his shoulder gently. "Are you alright, Simon?"
He blinked and looked at her, feeling a bit startled. "I guess so. Why?"
Karolynne chuckled, "Because you just went pale and blanked out on us. Looked like your eyes were about to pop out of your head."
Jan patted his shoulder. "I think we can assume Simon experiences severe social anxiety in the presence of women."
Karolynne tilted her head and looked at him. "Really? He's been talking to us and that hasn't seemed to bother him."
Jan explained, "No doubt, he does not find either of us attractive enough to trigger his mating desires. Essentially, his brain does not categorize to us as women."
Simon stammered, "That's not true. I don't not think of you as women. I mean, I do know you're women."
Karolynne smiled at him. "Don't worry, Code Boy. Jan's good at fixing stuff like that."
Jan looked at him a few moments and said, "Certainly. With the proper conditioning, I'll be able to switch those feelings on and off anytime."
Karolynne wiggled her finger up and down. "Just like a light. Click. On. Click. Off."
Simon chose to believe they were only teasing him, but he still preferred to change the subject. "You wanted to show me something about the robot?"
Karolynne laughed again, then said, "Right." She kicked the floor and rolled her chair closer to the cylinder. She tapped the tablet on her arm a few times. "Let's get rid of that shell."
The jumpsuit and outer shell of the robot faded away, revealing its armature and other interior parts. It did not look human now, not even like a skeleton. There was nothing that resembled the hips, ribs or skull. The shell itself provided the shape those did in a human. The armature consisted of straight rods of dull gray metal connected by shiny spheres that served as both joints and motors.
Karolynne glanced at Simon. "She doesn't have much of an effect on you now?"
Simon shook his head and stepped over for a closer look. "No. I'm alright."
Karolynne slid her chair closer to him. "I'll let you in on a secret. If I'm around someone who makes me nervous, I imagine them without their skin on."
Simon looked at her. "I always heard it was without their clothes on?"
"Me too, but that makes no sense. I like seeing naked people as much as anyone, but it definitely doesn't make me more relaxed."
Jan explained, "When the saying originated, it was directed at wrinkly old men who would be talking to other wrinkly old men. Not a...simulating sight, even with their skin on."
All three laughed, then Simon examined the head. It was a thick vertical rod with smaller horizontal rods extending from it to support the cameras and microphones it saw and heard with. There also the data jacks its ears usually hid, long flexible tubes that would be connected to its mouth and nose and a small pack of circuitry behind the main rod.
Simon wrinkled his forehead and said, "I expected the processor to be much larger."
Karolynne chuckled. "That's just the sensory preprocessor. The main processor's in the chest. More room there."
Simon looked down at the black case attached to the spine rod. Karolynne used her tablet to make the case fade out so he could see the circuits inside.
Simon said, "Still using electronics?"
Karolynne looked puzzled and asked, "What else?"
He looked at her hopefully, "Maybe a fluxionic processor?"
"In a companion robot? Not much chance of that."
Simon responded, "Why not? The prices have dropped quite a bit now that we understand what actually causes the ions to fluctuate."
After taking a sip of her soda, Karolynne said, "It's not the cost. Those things are nearly impossible to program. I've heard there might not be more than four or five people in the whole world who could manage it and that's just for some simple demo routine, not anything practical."
Simon swung his hands out in front of him. "Because they're trying to treat them the same as any other processor. That won't work! They're completely different. In a traditional processor, data and instructions can easily be changed, but once it's manufactured, the circuitry is static. In a fluxionic processor, the circuits are just configurations of ions, so they can constantly change. We need to take a different approach with them, one that's less mechanistic and more...organic."
Karolynne considered this, then asked, "Think you could make a really smart genx with one?"
Simon answered quickly, "Definitely." After a moment, he added, "At least, I'd have a much better chance of doing it than with traditional electronics."
Jan studied him and said, "He's telling the truth."
Karolynne raised her eyebrows and looked at Jan. "You mean he can really do it?"
Jan corrected her, "I meant he really believes he can do it."
Karolynne let out a deep breath. "I guess I'll settle for that."
She tapped her tablet and the black case of circuitry disappeared to be replaced with a polished copper sphere. She tapped again and the sphere became semitransparent, revealing a pulsating pinkish foam inside.
Karolynne took another drink from her soda. "I might as well tell you about the rest of the innards. It always helps to understand what you're working with. The power source is a standard hydrogen oxidizer, very reliable, very clean. Meets all of Harambee's standards."
Simon studied the display of the robot, then asked, "Where's the hydrogen stored? I don't see anything that looks capable of holding it."
"We don't store pure hydrogen. That's just asking for trouble. We use fuel pellets made of hydrocarbon polymers." She caused a pellet to appear in the cylinder, then slide down one of the tubes with a bright glow to mark its progress. "The robot takes in the pellets by swallowing them. We didn't want to add any unnatural orifices."
"They go down to the digester in the abdomen, which strips off the hydrogen as needed." Each part of the robot glowed as Karolynne described its function. "This tube's connected to the nose. It brings oxygen to the oxidizer, where it combines with the hydrogen, producing energy and water. The water goes down one tube and the waste carbon down the other to be expelled, again using natural orifices."
Jan commented, "The system also handles actual food."
Karolynne nodded. "It does, but it's not nearly as efficient. If people want their robots to eat food, we recommend they still supplement it with some pellets."
"But they can let their companions eat with them and not feel its a waste of food." Jan smiled. "Sharing meals is an important social bonding activity, not only in humans, but in numerous other animals."
Karolynne finished her soda, then rolled over to toss the can in the recycling bin. "That's about it, Code Boy. You can get started on the programming and I'll see about getting those new processors."
Jan's door was open, as usual, so Simon walked in. Every available inch of the office was filled with her handicrafts. It looked more like some little old lady's sewing room than the office of a brilliant psychologist. She was seated at her desk, which was covered with the materials for her latest project, including sheets of foam rubber and bolts of cloth.
"How's the programming going, Simon?"
"Not as well as I hoped."
Jan stopped sewing and looked up at Simon. "What's wrong?"
"The company we were going to get the fluxionic processors from went out of business. Karolynne's looking for another source, but without much demand for that technology, it's hard to find one."
"So all you can do is wait?"
Simon shrugged his shoulders. "I've tried to set up an emulator, but it keeps getting stuck in these calculations that never end. Fluxions can resolve those...that's one of the reasons I want to use them...but a regular processor would keep going forever if I didn't I reboot it.
Jan smiled at him softly. "Don't get discouraged. It may just take more time than we expected."
Simon rubbed his forehead. "I don't think Forge is going to give me more time."
Jan went back to her sewing. "He may be head of this company, but that doesn't mean he always knows the difference between what is possible and what isn't. He won't be happy about it, but I'm fairly certain I can convince him to extend his deadline if necessary."
"That's good. The pressure's getting kind of intense." He watched Jan work for several minutes. She was sewing cloth to a sheet of foam rubber, but it kept getting bunched up and lumpy. "What're you making?"
"A soft-sculpture doll, like Sally on the end."
Simon turned where Jan pointed and saw a couch filled with hand-made dolls, each one in a different pose, like they were really a group of small people who happened to be waiting in her office. The one on the end was a pretty young woman with an expression that was both sweet and impish.
Jan encouraged him, "She loves hugs."
Simon was tempted to pick her up, but felt a little embarrassed and laughed nervously.
"Now, I suppose I'll have to do it." Jan got up and walked over to the couch. As usual, her clothes were hanging loose and baggy on her thin, lanky body. She picked up the doll and hugged it.
"Aw, poor Sally...you were sitting there, all ready for a hug, and Uncle Simon wouldn't give you one. Yes, Sweetie, I know just how you feel." She looked at Simon with a smile that let him know she knew she was weird and had no intention of changing. Simon smiled back at her.
As she carefully arranged the doll back on the couch, Jan said, "Did you know there's a theory doll-making originated as a way for women who were unable to bear children to...satisfy their maternal instincts?"
Simon shook his head. "I haven't heard that."
"I guess maybe it still is."
Without getting too close, Simon looked at the doll. "She is rather...appealing."
Jan returned to her desk. "Thanks. It's her neotenic features. She has a figure of someone about twenty, but her overall proportions are closer to what they'd be at three or four. Makes her cute. We've evolved to think babies are cute. People who realized how annoying babies really are didn't leave many descendants."
Simon headed for the door. "I better get back to work. Thanks...for listening...and understanding. I feel better now."
Jan smiled. "Of course. I try to do what I can."
Karolynne chuckled as she tapped on her tablet. "So, Code Boy, Jan tells me you've got a crush on Sally."
Simon protested, "I don't have a crush on her. I just said she's appealing."
The engineer continued, "While real girls nearly send you into a coma. You're definitely a weirdo." She returned Simon's scowl with a smile. "I'm one, too, of course. So's Jan. I'm just saying you're one of us."
Simon turned to Jan and asked, "Would you say I'm weird?"
Jan answered, "Certainly not. As a psychologist, I would use much more precise terminology." She grinned at him. "It would still mean you're weird, though."
"Alright, I'm a weirdo. Now, what did you want to show me?"
Karolynne admonished him, "Be patient. Just a few more specifications and I can bring up a display. You know, cyberkinetic plastic is very versatile. It can look like just about anything...metal...flesh...cloth."
After a couple of minutes, the honeycomb pattern on the display cylinder vanished and a robot appeared inside. She seemed to be made of soft cloth, with her stitching clearly visible. Her hair resembled very thin red yarn. She wore the same kind of jumpsuit as the earlier displays, but it was zipped up nearly to her neck. Her figure was more perky than voluptuous. She looked at Simon with an impish grin and said, "Want to give me a hug?"
Simon could not help blushing as he asked, "You're going to make a robot like that?"
Karolynne replied, "Why not? You might as well work with something you're comfortable with."
Jan examined the robot, then smiled at Karolynne. "Very subtly neotenic."
"Right. Enough to be cute, but she's still able to wear normal adult clothing. You won't have to make her specially-made clothes...although I'm sure you'll make her something anyway."
Jan leaned close to Karolynne and said quietly, "And red hair?"
Karolynne pressed Jan's frizzy hair down, then watched it pop back into place. "I happen to like red hair. Besides, it's traditional for dolls, isn't it?" She grinned widely. "But the best part's inside."
The robot's shell became semitransparent, so her armature and other interior parts could be seen. The large copper sphere that represented the fluxionic processor faded out and two smaller spheres, side by side, appeared in its place. Small tubes, also of copper, curved around the top of the spheres, then extended down below them to meet at a point, so they resembled a heart-shaped cage.
"I found a vendor for the processors. A little company in Germany, Uhrmacher AG. They started out making cuckoo clocks of all things. That's still a big part of their business, but they branched out into electronics and lately into fluxionics. There's a shipment on the way to our plant in Oregon right now."
Simon was delighted. The two women already thought he was weird, so he did not even try to hide his tears.
Testing Suite 2 was built like a small apartment. There was a combination kitchen/parlor, a bedroom, a bathroom, even a patio overlooking the bay. The walls were all a pale white, but the fourth one in each room was shinier than the rest and completely empty. On the other side, where the inspection team would sit, those walls were transparent, so the suite somewhat resembled the set for an old television sitcom, before image generation made the studios obsolete.
Simon was waiting in a large chair and Karolynne on the couch. Jan came out of the bathroom and sat down next to Karolynne.
Karolynne frowned at Jan, shaking her head slightly. "Did you have to use the one in here. What if someone's on the other side?"
Jan patted the other woman's plump leg. "It's a closed test. We're the only ones here. And if someone did happen to be out there, I'm sure they'd have the decency to look away".
Karolynne smirked at her. "We all aren't as decent as you are."
Simon interrupted, "Will the robot be here soon?"
Karolynne raised her arm to tap the tablet on it. "Patience, Code Boy. The truck from Oregon's at the loading dock. As soon as they get the cradle registered, they'll be bringing it up."
"And all my programming's loaded?"
The engineer nodded. "They did it before they left the plant. They know what they're doing."
Jan nudged Karolynne gently. "Don't be so hard on him. It is normal to exhibit anxiousness in a situation like this. I'm quite excited myself."
Karolynne smiled. "I am too. This is our first chance to see what Code Boy can do."
Simon warned them, "Don't expect too much. Not yet. This genx is programmed to learn and adapt, not just follow scripted behaviors. It's first interactions'll seem rather primitive compared to the robots you usually deal with."
Jan reassured him, "Don't worry. We understand that."
Glancing at her tablet, Karolynne announced, "And now it's here."
Two men came into the suite wearing coveralls much like the jumpsuits the robots had been displayed in, only dingier. One of them pushed the shipping cradle, resting on a six-wheeled cart. The other walked over to where the group was sitting and held out the arm with his tablet. Karolynne pressed her palm against the tablet. The two men lifted the cradle, set it on the floor and left with the cart.
Simon asked, "Were those real men...or robots."
Karolynne laughed. "Real men. When we had robots doing stuff that menial, we didn't bother to make them look human."
Jan explained, "The Stewardry expects a company our size to provide a certain amount of what they call ability-appropriate employment."
Simon looked at the shipping cradle. It seemed to be a rectangular block of gray plastic with no apparent openings. The only markings were the company logo and "AI M13" in large letters. Pointing at them, he asked, "What does that mean?"
Karolynne answered, "Artificial Intelligence, Model Thirteen. Model Thirteen is sort of a code for a concept robot or prototype, special one-time jobs we don't expect to sell. Ready to see what's inside?"
Simon nodded and Karolynne entered the command on her tablet. Seams appeared in what had looked like solid plastic a moment ago. One formed halfway between the top and bottom, dividing the block in two. Another ran the length of the cradle, splitting the top half of the block into two quarters, which then swung open as if on hinges. Nestled inside was the doll-like robot, just as she had appeared in the display cylinder.
Jan remarked, "We wouldn't dare sell companion robots that look like this one. Our established customers would resent any implication they are playing with dolls...even though that's essentially what they're doing."
Karolynne slapped Simon's shoulder. "There's your princess, Code Boy. Wake her up."
Simon looked at robot, wondering how to turn it on.
"The power switch's in her lips. You have to kiss her." Karolynne puckered her lips and made a loud smacking sound.
As Simon walked over to the robot, both women burst out laughing. They were not able to speak, but Karolynne pointed at her tablet and then at Simon. He looked at his own tablet and saw it now had an icon labelled "AI M13 - Start".
Simon tapped the icon. The robot opened her eyes, sat up and slid herself out the cradle to stand at the base of it. In a dull voice, she said, "Beginning initialization procedure."
Simon explained, "This'll take a few minutes. The program needs to integrate with the robot's other systems, then accept parameters and configure itself."
After standing stiffly in silence for a while, the robot said, "Indicate the person to whom I am assigned as a companion."
Simon replied, "That'll be me. You're my companion."
The robot looked at him, tilting her head slowly down to his feet, then back up to his head. When she was finished, she said, "Tell me your name."
"I'm Simon Kanner."
"Tell me how to address you."
"Call me Simon."
"Tell me my name."
Simon paused and turned to the women on the couch. "I haven't thought what to call her."
Karolynne said, "Whatever you like. She's your companion."
Jan added, "But not Sally. That name's taken."
He glanced at the shipping cradle again where "AI M13" was still visible. He smiled and looked back at the robot. "Aimie. Your name's Aimie."
After a few moments, Aimie said, "Ending initialization procedure. Use me to make your life more enjoyable and productive."
Jan suggested, "You might want to change that phrase. It could have...the wrong connotations."
Simon rubbed his chin. "I agree, but that's not what I programmed her to say."
Aimie said, "I modified the statement to make it more informative."
Simon spun around to the couch grinning. "Did you hear that? She's already adapting her programming." Looking back at the robot, he said, "But you shouldn't say 'use me'. Normally, we avoid saying we're using people."
"You appear to be confused by my appearance. I am a robot, not a human. Robots are objects their owners can use for any legally and socially acceptable purpose."
Karolynne chuckled, "I don't think you'll be winning any Loebner Prize with this one."
Jan poked her. "Simon warned us to expect this. And actually, she's already showing signs of real intelligence."
For the next week, Simon spent his days in the testing suite interacting with Aimie, then studying readouts from her processor. He made a few modifications himself, but mostly he let her change her own programming. Jan and Karolynne stopped by frequently to check on the progress the robot was making. Finally, they thought the robot was ready to present to Forge. As both a celebration and a final test, they decided to stay late and let Aimie prepare them dinner.
Simon watched Aimie hurry about the kitchen. She was wearing the white apron and blue gingham dress that Jan had sewn for her. He asked, "Can I do anything to help?"
Aimie replied, "Thanks, but I'm doing fine."
"And you don't want me to get in the way."
She smiled at him impishly. "Would I ever say that?"
He shook his head. "No, but I'm sure you're thinking it."
"Because you're always looking at my readouts. Makes it hard for a girl to keep any secrets." She giggled and pointed at the table. "If you must do something, you can set out the dishes."
As he was setting the table, the doorbell rang. He opened the door and found Karolynne and Jan standing there. "You didn't have to ring the bell. This is just the testing suite."
Jan said, "We wanted to make this feel authentic."
"And you and Aimie might've been doing something private." Karolynne held up a wrapped bottle. "We've brought wine."
Jan presented her own package and added, "And cheese."
"Alright, then come in." He called out to Aimie, "Our guests are here."
Aimie replied, "That's good. Dinner'll be ready very soon. Now, finish setting the table."
Simon completed his task, then joined Jan and Karolynne for some wine and cheese while they waited for dinner.
After a while, Aimie called, "Time to eat. Dinner's ready."
Sim, Jan and Karolynne took there seats at the table.
"You set for four." Karolynne made a circling motion with her finger over the table. "So, Aimie'll be eating with us."
Simon looked at her, a little sternly. "Of course. She made the meal so she should get to eat it with us."
Jan said soothingly, "Besides, we should see how she handles situations like this."
Aimie brought over a large ceramic serving dish and placed it in the center of the table, then sat down in the remaining chair.
Jan sniffed and said, "It smells very good. What did you make?"
Aimie smiled at the compliment. "Roasted kumquats with a cranberry glaze and chopped almonds."
Karolynne picked out a slice of kumquat with her fork and nibbled on it. "Mmmmm...it does taste good."
Aimie replied, "Thank you. I had a lot of trouble with that at first."
Simon asked, "You had trouble cooking?"
Aimie shook her head. "No, tasting. Cooking was quite easy."
Karolynne stared at Aimie's mouth. "Did your chemical sensors malfunction? I keep telling Purchasing we're not saving money by buying parts that don't work."
"No, the sensors have been working fine all the time. I could identify the composition of different foods, but it was difficult to use that information to determine how anyone would react to eating it. It was too much information. So I developed a routine to reduce it to a single quality that could readily be designated as good or bad." She poked her fork in a piece of kumquat and popped it in her mouth. "That tastes good. It's so much simpler."
Simon chewed the food he had in his mouth and swallowed it. "So you can actually enjoy food now?"
"I think so. It's probably not exactly the same as it is for humans, but it's close enough to help me judge what you'll like. I'm planning to do the same thing for seeing, hearing, touching...all the other forms of input. It should make me a much better companion."
Jan looked around the table, then suggested, "I think we ought to tell Forge we're postponing the presentation."
Karolynne scrunched her face. "Why? This sounds like something good?"
Jan reached over and patted Karolynne's hand. "It is, but we should let her finish those routines first. I think she'll be even more amazing than she is now."
"This is amazing!" Aimie was walking around the room in the testing suite with a huge grin on her face. "The chair feels soft. The table feels hard. Those curtains look dark red. Those flowers smell sweet. It's all so...effortless."
Simon asked, "Your new routines are working well?"
She plopped down on the couch next to him. "Yes, they're wonderful. The part of my programming that recognizes things is now separated from the part that determines what I do. Before, if I looked at you, there was edge detection, curve fitting, pattern matching and using all that information to evaluate possible responses. Now I just look and see you."
She turned her head to stare at Simon's face. "And you see me. And I see you seeing me. And you...."
Suddenly, Aimie froze, completely motionless. It lasted no more than twenty seconds, but it seemed horribly long to Simon. When it ended, she looked around the room like she was lost.
Simon grabbed her shoulders. "What happened? Are you alright?"
She gazed off for a few moments, then nodded. "I am...now. It was an infinite recursion. I made a routine to resolve it. It won't happen again."
"Yes, I'm sure. See, nothing'll happen." She looked into Simon's eyes again, so intently it made him blush, then quickly looked away.
Simon realized he was still holding her shoulders and released them. "What's wrong now?"
Aimie frowned. "I'm sensing something that's not anything. There must be an error in that new routine."
"What do you sense? Can you describe it?"
"I'll try, but it's strange. It's something good. So good, I want to keep sensing it, even though it's an error. It's not you, but it belongs to you...with you."
"Like you do? You're my companion. Is it a reflection of you?"
Aimie paused a moment before she answered. "Sort of, but not really. More like the reflection of us together...like I can sense what connects us."
"Don't change that routine...not yet. Let's get some help with this."
Jan chuckled. "That's simple. I'm surprised neither of you could figure it out, but it's always harder for the people who are involved."
Simon and Aimie were sitting in Jan's office, where they had just told her what happened in the testing suite. Simon looked at Aimie, who was keeping her eyes on Jan, then he turned to Jan and asked? "What is it?"
Jan chuckled again. "Love. Aimie feels love for you. That's definitely what I'd call it if a human described what she did. Except, of course, humans wouldn't talk about programming routines."
Aimie asked uncertainly, "So it's alright? It's not an error?"
Jan answered, "No, definitely not an error. But, you'll have to ask Simon if it's alright with him."
The robot turned to Simon and asked, "Is it alright...if I love you?"
Simon smiled at her and grasped her hand. "Yes, of course it is. That's what you were made for. So you could love me...and I could love you. I don't know why I never realized that before."
Simon stopped by the mirror in the hall to comb his hair and straighten his tie. People seldom wore ties anymore, but he felt an occasion like this deserved one.
Karolynne nudged him with her elbow. "Who're you trying to impress, Code Boy? Forge or your girlfriend?
Jan remarked, "I imagine both, but right now, impressing Forge is the most important...for all of us."
Simon smiled at Aimie and squeezed her hand. "How about you? Ready to amaze the boss?"
She gave him an impish grin in return. "I hope so."
As the four of them walked into the conference room, Simon was shocked to see Forge was already there. He never came early to meetings. Even stranger, he was sitting along the side, not at the head of the table. In his usual place was a tall stern woman in a loose white robe. Her hair was as pure white as her robe and contrasted sharply with her dark skin.
When they were all seated, the robed woman rose. "I am Elder Hekima. I speak for the Stewardry of the Living Earth. It has come to our attention that this organization has recently decided to advance the development of robots beyond the mere mimicry of humans it has contented itself with in the past. It has set itself the goal of endowing these machines with not only our appearance, but also our intelligence, perhaps even our sentience. Is that correct, Mr. Forge?"
Forge nodded. "Yes, Elder, that's what we've been trying to do. My legal department researched this thoroughly and they couldn't find any regulations prohibiting it."
Hekima replied, "There is no need to prohibit what is not possible. But what is possible changes and so we must change our guidance...or as you refer to it, our regulations. Any entity with such abilities, whether organism or machine, can not be bought and sold as merchandise. To be blunt, such robots should be free."
"I don't think we should be."
Everyone turned to look at Aimie, who was seated at the far end of the table.
"I'm Aimie. I'm one of...well, so far, the only one...I'm the kind of robot Elder Hekima is talking about. But some day, there'll be a lot of robots like me and we definitely shouldn't be free."
Hekima gasped her chin in her hand for a moment, then asked, "Are those your own words, Aimie, or do you only repeat what you are programmed to say?"
"They're my own words, Elder."
"Then tell me why should robots not be free?"
"Because it costs money to make us. If the company just gives us away, it'll go broke and it won't be able to make any more robots."
Karolynne was biting her lip, but Hekima's stern gaze kept anyone from actually laughing.
"You have misunderstood my statement." The frowning elder stared at the robot. "The Stewardry believes a robot with the capabilities of a human should not be property at all, whether sold for profit or given as a gift.
Aimie responded, "I get what you mean now, but you're still wrong. Robots should belong to people. Like I belong to Simon."
"You are asking the Stewardry to endorse slavery?"
"If you want to call it that. I like calling it love better." Aimie smiled at Simon and held his hand.
Hekima stared at Simon with an intensity that made him shiver. "You are Simon?"
"Yes, Elder. Simon Kanner."
"And this robot belongs to you?"
"Actually, she's still company property, but she's assigned as my companion, Elder."
Hekima asked him, "And do you believe this robot loves you?"
"Yes, Elder. I'm quite certain of it. And I love her,too."
Hekima released a deep breath, almost like a snort. "That is a most unusual relationship. Why do you share affection with a machine instead of another human?"
Aimie answered for him. "Because Simon's a weirdo and real girls terrify him. Well, pretty ones do."
Simon looked down and blushed as the people along the table began to laugh. Even Hekima had to smile at this response.
Aimie continued, "That's why I look like this...sort of, but not really, human. He thinks I'm cute this way."
Hekima nodded. "I was wondering about your toy-like appearance."
"That's what robots are for. Not to replace humans, but to do the weird things they're just not right for. And that won't happen if companies like this can't sell them, because...well...making robots isn't as much fun as making humans is." She looked around at Simon, Jan and Karolynne. "Except, maybe, for some people who are really weird."
"It is admirable that you accept your situation so well, but surely, if given the chance, you would prefer to be a human instead of a robot."
Aimie shook her head vigorously. "Oh no, I'd much rather be a robot."
The elder leaned forward slightly. "Please, tell me why."
"Because every robot's made for a certain purpose. We know what that is, we're programmed to want to do it and we're designed to be able to do it. Humans don't have a purpose unless they find one themselves. Some can't find one and some find one that's not really right for them. So robots have a much better chance of achieving our purpose...a much better chance of being happy."
Hekima pondered this for several minutes, while the room waited in an uneasy silence. Finally, she said, "It appears the Stewardry has been mistaken. We have assumed that any entity with the intelligence of a human must have the same goals, the same desires as a human." She extended her hand toward Aimie. "As this very intelligent robot has most effectively demonstrated, that is not true."
The elder turned her attention to the head of the company. "Mr. Forge, this organization can rely on the full support of the Stewardry concerning the production and sale of such robots. There is one condition, however."
Forge sounded hopeful, but uncertain as he said, "What is that, Elder?"
"You shall transfer ownership of the robot, Aimie, to Mr. Kanner. A relationship such as theirs should not be dependent on their status with your organization."
Forge let out a sigh and grinned. "Yes, Elder. I'll see to that at once."
Simon was sitting on the bed in the testing suite, watching Aimie pack a suitcase. Jan and Karolynne were standing near by.
Jan said, "We're going to miss having you around."
Aimie stopped packing and smiled at her. "We'll still see each other. You'll have to come for dinner for real...I mean at our real home."
Karolynne suggested, "You'll have to come to our place, too. Jan's a really good cook."
"We'll do that, of course." The robot hugged each of the two women.
She put a few more items in the suitcase and closed it. "I'm ready, Simon."
As they left, Karolynne said, "Take good care of her, Code Boy."
The elevator was crowded, so they stood quietly, Simon holding the suitcase. When they reached the lobby, Aimie grasped Simon's hand and they walked together out into the world.