Guy woke with a start. As he stirred, the lights went on. He had fallen asleep, seated, with a desk for a pillow, in the small windowless TM lab.
He yawned severely, stretched, and touched his toes. It seemed as if he had been at this project forever.
He nuked the coffee he could find, drank it, and waited for it to take effect.
When all put together, the new testing machine would look like an even chubbier version of the older machine, but minus Dr. Coffee and plus a head and shoulders that now replaced the sensor stalk. These might be considered human-esque if one squinted and the room were dark. Bony-looking articulated arms stuck out from the shoulders, and various tools could be attached to the ends depending on what the machine had to do at the moment.
It had a diagnostic touch screen on the back of the cabinet. And there was supposed to be a tablet video screen mounted on the head under the eyes, but that was still sitting off to the side, connected by electronic cables but waiting to be bolted into place. The head would house all sensors usually associated with heads, and the tablet—which was dark now—would show a modeled video representation of a human face. The machine could modify both that image and the timbre of its voice to express emotions. That was the hope, anyway.
Caffeine finally kicked in. Guy looked at the startup list. There was only one last item: “Push the Red Button,” in bold block letters. Glad to be alone just now, he held his breath, reached out, and pushed that button for the first—and hopefully the only—time.
He sat on the edge of his stool next to the test bench, looking at the monitors and status read-outs as their numbers converged on values Doc had predicted for successful start-up. As they did so, a strange thought emerged: There don’t appear to be any more glitches. He ticked items off the startup list, and that thought morphed into hushed words gliding slowly through his barely open mouth: “Wow! This thing might actually work.”
He continued to study the read-outs, ticking each item off as he did so, and he nearly had a heart attack when a vaguely familiar voice said in a hoarse whisper, “Wow! This thing might actually work!?”
He whirled to see the machine's face now showing on the tablet screen, with its eyes staring not quite at him and then at him, and then away again.
“Hello?” he asked.
“Hello?” it answered in exactly the same way.
Finally understanding that the machine had been this most recent joker, and that the voice he had heard was the machine imitating him, his calm returned.
The eyes he saw were not its eyes. They looked like eyes and moved like eyes, and were pictured on an animated image of a face, but they didn’t see anything. The machine’s real eyes on its head assembly nearby were also staring at him but did not look at all like eyes.
Doc had forbidden the use of his own face or any living human or copyrighted image. Its face was Guy’s to design. The programmer didn’t think his plan was especially creative. He chose to use a blank 3D head model and map onto it a picture of the youngest George Washington he could find. The software would display and “move” that face on the screen.
Might as well get on with it, Guy thought as he sidled a few degrees to his right. Eye sensors still tracked him. He walked about sixty degrees off center from the screen and stopped, looking at its sensors looking back at him. After a few seconds the machine slowly turned away to look again in the direction of the door. He thought that was odd. For sure it was not what he had expected.
When the TM stopped moving, Guy said, “Hello there.”
The machine returned its head toward him, repeating “Hello there,” but it did not stop turning as it had before when it faced him. This time it continued on around to its left “lock” position, whereupon it said, “Pain!?” in an odd, urgent voice. Guy felt in that voice a complete lack of emotion coupled with an earnest curiosity, as if it were thinking, ‘So that’s what pain is.’ ”
It turned the other way, scanning past him to its right all the way until it banged a bit against the right lock position. It said “Pain!?” again and rotated back the other way but slowed as it neared left lock. This time it reached lock position without complaint. After another moment it scanned the other way ‘round again, stopped with its eyes facing him, and said, “Hello?” in that odd voice, which Guy now realized was its own—its real voice.
It had a tenor range and a bright tone. It didn’t sound metallic. It was almost child-like. It sounded human but not human… He was having an easier time deciding what it wasn’t.
The programmer opened his mouth to say something but felt a mental check: Why had the machine appeared to be confused by the sound, but not, apparently, by the sight of him? Ah! The ears! He had forgotten to fasten them in place, so they were not moving as were the eyes when the machine’s head moved. He quickly said, “TM-2000 keep still!”
“Keep still. Acknowledged,” said the machine.
He secured the ears in place. He fastened the tablet in place to be taller than it was wide.
Then he checked for any more screw-ups, but found none, again. Stepping to where he had been during the machine’s confusion, he called, “Hello there! You may move now. My name is Guy.”
This time the machine turned to its left about thirty degrees and stopped. “Hello?” it said again.
“Here I am,” the man answered, and the machine returned to face him. He gave it a little finger wave and a smile.
“A family name?! Have you a family name?!”
“Wilson. But you can call me Guy.”
Excitement gripped him, but it wasn’t the excitement of a messenger with good news. He never considered calling the Doctor. No, his was the excitement of a little boy with a new toy. It hadn’t occurred to him yet to share with the other children, but at least for him this was not entirely due to ordinary selfishness. There was now a problem to solve. He usually solved them himself. That’s what he was paid to do. That’s what he liked to do.
The issue was whether the machine was confused. Then he realized it actually should be confused. Is it possible I made a terrible mistake by not fastening the ears in place before turning the machine on?
After a moment he told himself, No! No harm done.
And then, Well, possibly. Whatever happens to it in the first hours of life is bound to be more influential than at any other time. If it is terminally confused by misalignment of its senses, then that’s a problem. And also, of course, if it’s not confused at all by the misalignment, then that’s a problem. So how to proceed?
Guy was acutely aware that since the initial monitored readings exactly matched the Doctor’s predicted values for startup, no changes to its brain would be allowed. Now the only tools he could use to teach the machine or diagnose problems were the spoken and written words he could feed into it, the sensations he could give it, and the data it could give back to him.
This is great, great, great, Guy sang to himself as he got the next testing script from the specification folder on his tablet and finished running through tests that dealt with hardware and connectivity issues. When everything checked out, he decided against stuffing all of the hardware back into wherever it belonged because the thing might then stop working. Instead, he ran off to find the Doctor.
A Literary historical science fiction mystery
Table of Chapters
Chapter 0. Problems
Chapter 1. Headaches
Chapter 2. Happy Holidays
Chapter 3. Mr. Nice Guy
Chapter 4. The Brainless One
Chapter 5. A Little Crazy
Chapter 6. Grave Consequences
Chapter 7. Core Directives
Chapter 8. Expect Difficulties
Chapter 9. Caveats
Chapter 10. Mister Machine ------------------------>
Chapter 11. Good News, Bad News, El Cheapo
Chapter 12. New Memories
Chapter 13. Little Problems
Chapter 14. Lasers, Language, and Happiness
Chapter 15. Chatterbots
Chapter 16. Ready Or Not
Chapter 17. Not a Turing Test
Chapter 18. Reality Test
Chapter 19. Chess, Anyone?
Chapter 20. FOM
Chapter 21. Chairman of the Board
Chapter 22. The Usual Suspects
Chapter 23. M. God
Chapter 24. Walkabout
Chapter 25. Why
Chapter 26. First Blood
Chapter 27. More Machines?
Chapter 28. POV
Chapter 29. ROI
Chapter 30. Last Blood
Chapter 31. Don’t Want to Talk About It
Chapter 32. Round Table
Chapter 33. A Change of Mind
Chapter 34. Threes
Chapter 35. Knight Moves
Chapter 36. Little Combinations
Chapter 37. Can We Talk?
Chapter 38. Pas de Deux
Chapter 39. The Jig Is Up
Chapter 40. Good, Bad, Ugly Chapter 41. Function Goes On