Adapted from the film A.I. by Bryan Harrison
Those were the years after the polar ice caps had melted because of the greenhouse gasses,
and the oceans had risen to drown so many cities along all the shorelines of the world.
Amsterdam, Venice, New York...
all of them, forever lost.
Millions of people were displaced.
Climates became chaotic.
Hundreds of millions of people starved in poorer countries.
a high degree of prosperity survived when most governments in the
developed world introduced legal sanctions to strictly license pregnancies.
This was why robots, who were never hungry and who did not consume
resources beyond those of their first manufacture,
His team was restless, awaiting his announcement. What they needed was a vision, a spark. They were the best in their field and they had made Cybertronics an innovator in the world of mechanical life simulators for decades. Their achievements had sparked numerous attempts at copycats and the company had ruthlessly pursued intellectual rights litigation when competitors had crossed legal boundaries.
Today he had something new
for them. Something special. He had spent weeks, months checking and
rechecking his data. He had designed dozens of programs to simulate
his desired result. Now he was sure that he could accomplish his goal.
He had the genius. He had the impetus and desire. Most of all he had
the right people at his side. He turned to address the room.
He made his way though the group of anxious scientist and technicians. He smiled up at those seated along the balcony of the room. They regarded him more like an entertainer about to perform some sleight of hand than the director of the most advanced Mecha manufacturer on the planet. He caught individual eyes as he passed, fixing each one with a look that spoke of his expectations from them.
"The artificial being is a reality of perfect simulacrum; articulated in limb, articulate in speech " he stopped next to a young attractive woman seated near the back of the room, " and not lacking in human responses," he finished, and reached into his vest pocket. Something glittered when he withdrew his hand. Without warning he grabbed the woman's arm and quickly thrust a pin into her the back of her hand. She yelped in surprise at the assault, pulling away from his sudden abuse. The junior members of the team gasped, unlike the group of engineers at the front of the room who recognized the woman and had expected some display of this sort. After a shocked silence the woman placed her hand back where it had been. There was no blood. She shed no tears nor spoke a single word of protest. Her handsome, angular features betrayed no emotions at all but a vacant smile.
"And even pain memory response," the director continued. He reached for the woman's hand again but, she pulled away, fixing him with an impatient glare. This look was a programmed response and was quickly replaced by her noncommittal default smile as the room erupted in laughter.
The Director let the room humor play out and knelt before the seated woman. He spoke softly to her. "How did that make you feel?" he asked. Her eyes were blank as she processed this question. "Were you angry? Shocked?" the Director queried further, already knowing the disappointing answer.
"I don't understand" she replied finally, her eyes scanning his facial expression for some visual cue on what he might mean.
"What did I do to your
feelings?" he elaborated.
"You did it to my hand." she said, displaying her assaulted appendage to show her understanding.
The director stood and faced the room again. His face was pensive. "Aye, there's the rub," he said. He moved behind the woman's chair and slid her gently into the middle of the room. She was the center of their attention now. "Undress," he requested softly. She stood obediently and began to disrobe, slipping off her jacket as the Director continued his presentation.
"At Cybertronics of New Jersey, the artificial being has reached its highest form. Universally adopted: Mecha, the basis for hundreds of models serving the human race in all the multiplicity of daily life." He gestured to her then, the highest achievement thus far in Cybertronics long line of artificial life. The room burst in applause. They had all been part of this achievement. They had all had some small, yet crucial duty to perform to make a robot like this almost indistinguishable in a room full of her organic creators.
"That's far enough," the Director said as the woman began to unbutton her blouse. He waved his arm to quiet the round of applause. There was something more he had to say to them. "We have no reason to congratulate ourselves," he said as he moved to her shoulder and pressed her down into the chair. "We are, rightly, proud of it. But what does it amount to?"
The room was quiet. This was the height of their abilities: Sheila, the latest Cybertronics model of Mecha, used in multiple functions from indispensable secretaries that take hours of dictation sans notepad, to custom designed pleasure models that can perform various acts of pleasure while simulating every enticing human response with precise mimicry. No other artificial manufacturer had accomplished so much. What more could he expect from them?
The Director knew what they were thinking. He paused to let these thoughts play out in their heads. "Sheila open," he ordered finally, and the Mecha obediently opened her mouth wide, tilting her head back. The Director placed a finger against the inner jaw in back of her front teeth and pressed. The silicon-based material gave way with a barely audible snick and her face changed subtly. He then placed the palm of his hand on the central vertebrae between her shoulder blades, and pushed quickly down on the bone.
Sheila was revealed.
Across the room an apprentice to the great man noticed something as the woman's face flicked open like a canopy, revealing the gray metal of her true Mecha face. It was something that had welled in the robot's eye socket as the Director clicked on the release valve in her mouth, and had dropped from her flesh simulating silicon skin to glisten against the metal face beneath. Was it an excess of lubricant, or perhaps a trick of the Directors, to make a point? It looked oddly like a tear. But these sim's weren't designed for emotions. The director seemed oblivious to it as he continued. He pulled from the opening in Sheila's forehead the small black box of data processors that was everything the robot had ever seen and known. He held the box up for the room to see. It fit in the palm of his hand, this thing that simulated life itself.
"A sensory toy," he continued, "With intelligent behavioral circuits using neuronal sequencing technology as old as I am." They had all seen the box before, even the newest members of the Cybertronics team. They had all contributed to its creation in some grand or small way. The Director held it up for their scrutiny for a moment longer. It was time to tell them his vision.
"I believe that my work on mapping the impulse pathways in a single neuron can enable us to construct a Mecha of a qualitatively different order. I propose that we build a robot who can love." He waited for their reaction. This was where he was not in control. This was the place at the fringe of his genius. He heard someone in the room repeat the word. "Love". It hung in the silence like an anachronism.
"But, we ship thousands of lover models each month," a member of the marketing team said, his voice full of confusion.
"Of course" teased another, "Your own best customers!" There were snickers from the group.
"Quality control is very important," the marketing man replied, and laughter erupted again.
The Director didn't share their humor. He walked briskly back to Sheila's side and reinserted her brain. The Mecha's head whirred with the activity of minuscule pulleys as her face plates clicked back into place. Her engineered flesh melded smoothly, making the outline of the plates impossible to distinguish without intense scrutiny. She looked up at him, her creator. No time had passed for her.
"Tell me," he asked her, "what is love?"
Sheila smiled. She knew this answer. "Love is first widening my eyes a little bit and quickening my breathing a little and warming my skin and touching my..."
"Exactly so," he stopped her. "Thank you, Sheila," he said and excused her from the presentation. There was the sound of applause to which Mecha responded with a nod and a smile. She had experienced this reaction before, in earlier presentations, and knew the appropriate response.
The Director waved his hand to halt the applause. "But I wasn't referring to sensuality simulators," he explained. "The word that I used was 'love'." He let his point sink in. "Love, like the love of a child for its parents." He scanned the room as he presented his mission, "I propose that we build a robot child who can love. A robot who will genuinely love the parent or parents it imprints on with a love that will never end."
"A child substitute Mecha," an engineer said behind him, an excitement behind his words. His vision was igniting them already. But there was more.
"But a Mecha with a mind," he elaborated, "with neuronal feedback. You see, what I'm suggesting that is 'love' will be the key with which they acquire a kind of subconscious, never before achieved; an inner world of metaphor, of intuition and self motivated reasoning..." He had their minds going now and decided to brave the gates, " of dreams."
A skeptical silence fell over the room. "A robot that dreams?" someone asked incredulously. "How exactly do we pull this off?" asked another. The Director smiled at their questions and the talking that broke out among them. He took a seat as the conversations heated across the room.
But one of them did not share their amusement at his vision. She had been disturbed by something in this presentation, something that always seemed missing in these discussions. History had given a name to the results of this unmentioned aspect, a name to the presumptions that drove the markets their robots filled; the idea that Mankind, or Orga, (as organic life forms had come to be delineated from their mechanical servants) and the services of Orga, were the ultimate function of all science and human endeavor.
In history, before the calamities that had united them, these boundaries had been drawn along racial and religious lines. What were the Mecha now, but a new subgroup? What were these devices but a new race of being built specifically to serve as mankind's eternal subculture, as their butlers, maids and sexual toys; discarded when their parts wore out or their processors developed some malfunction? Like her own ancestors, as slaves, had been discarded centuries ago when their hands could no longer pull the cotton or push the plow. And like those slaves, there were no rights, save those of property, that protected Mecha. A telling statement, and a symptom of the repeat of historical ills that few seemed to notice was occurring. Mecha were now held as the symbols for all Mankind's problems. They were the perfect scapegoat for those whose lives had been destroyed when the world had been ruined by the greed of long dead men. Men, who in the relentless pursuit of power, had been unwilling to heed the warning of Science. Now there was a target for this anger, someone to blame: Robots that were programmed not to fight back because Orga were always right. These things that stood passively and let themselves be destroyed were to serve a function for man that none here seemed to acknowledge.
They were the outsiders. The 'other'.
But was there more to them than met the Orga eye? The Director was talking about building a robot that would develop it's own innate understanding of the world. And what would it see? What horror would that be?
Had that been a tear?
She spoke before she had really accumulated her thoughts "It occurs to me with all this animus existing against Mecha today, that it isn't simply a question of creating a robot who can love." She had the room now and she chose her words carefully. "But isn't the real conundrum: can you get a human to love them back?"
The Director responded to the challenge quickly, "Ours will be a perfect child, caught in a freeze frame, always loving, never ill, never changing. With all the childless couples yearning in vain for a license, our little Mecha will not only open up a completely new market, it will fill a great human need." He leaned back into his chair, a satisfied grin on his face.
The apprentice considered this response for a moment. She greatly admired this man. He was a true genius and his vision and guidance were the reason she had come to Cybertronics in the first place. But in his reply she heard a trace of the unspoken arrogance that was at the crux of her question.
"But you haven't answered my question" she said cautiously. "If a robot could genuinely love a person, what responsibility does that person hold towards that Mecha in return?"
The Director was quiet. He gazed at this woman as if from deep thought. The room watched the cerebral confrontation carefully. Was this something the Director hadn't considered? How were Mecha feelings an important part of the equation?
"It's a moral question, isn't it?" she said, after his silence had grown uncomfortable.
"The oldest one of all," he replied finally, "but in the beginning didn't God create Adam to love Him?"
The room filled with talk, speculation. Was this really possible? Ideas were forming. Programmers were already discussing strategies, and technicians pondered aloud the materials they'd need to satisfy the no doubt countless demands they would have from engineers in the ensuing months. Marketing people began to huddle among themselves. Lawyers whispered about regulations and intellectual rights.
The Directors spark had ignited a flame that was growing before his eyes.
Across the room Sheila applied her makeup, apparently oblivious to the engaging discussions around her; about her. She finished quickly and tucked her kit back into her purse. This was all a programmed routine made to look spontaneous by the most ingenious code sequencing ever devised. She had no reason to be pretty, save the whim of her Orga creators. She would never love, nor seek love. She would never feel the ravages of age or the loss of loved ones. The sights and sounds filtered by her sensory interpreters were meaningless numbers until some combination agitated a string of neuronal triggers that required a response. No original thought would ever inspire her to do something outside of the range of activity proscribed for her. She looked around the room and smiled her pretty, vacant smile.