“Fifteen seconds, Sylvia,” said the floor director, moving into position about one hundred feet and three weeks of relative space-time away from Robey’s first Turing Test.
The machine wasn’t a toy or an appliance. It was part of the team at TLC, and Doc refused to interrupt work for a television news interview even if it included Robey. So it was done live for the six o’clock news, and would be rebroadcast later as well.
“Four, Three…” Then silently waving fingers, the director continued: Two, One… and cued the anchor woman in the middle of a three-shot with the Doctor and Robey. The machine was puttering with something in the right background.
“This is Sylvia Robinson,” she said brightly, “and I’m here at The Little Company with Doctor Maynard Little himself. Thank you for allowing us to visit, Doctor.”
“You’re welcome, Sylvia.”
“I don’t know much about Artificial Intelligence,” she continued, throwing the viewer’s attention first to the machine, and then back to herself with a glance and the movement of her shoulder length auburn hair, “but I know that your TM-2000 machine has passed two modified Turing tests, most recently at The University of Akron, and that it’s the first one to do so convincingly. Can you fill in the picture for us?”
“I’d be glad to. We are in one of our testing areas right now. At TLC we make hardware, software, and systems for sensing, controlling, and manipulating things, and the effort required to test and re-test everything thoroughly here was just horrendous. So we built a machine to help with the testing. We kept improving it, and it evolved into the TM-2000.
. . .
The machine rolled close and stopped right on its mark. As it stopped, the Doctor said, “Sylvia, may I present TM-2000, or ‘Robey’ as it’s known around here. Robey, this is Sylvia Robinson.”
“It is nice to meet you, Sylvia.”
“Likewise, I’m sure, Robey.”
Of course everyone in the audience who hadn’t thought deeply about it— including the Doctor—was sure the interview would be a bite-sized six o’clock semi-interesting local feature. The questions Doc had submitted at Sylvia’s request meant that she didn’t have to spend two days preparing and thinking up non-trite questions for a two minute spot.
But Robinson had a reputation for the unexpected. Looking at her from well off-camera, Guy noticed slight changes in her face. The easy openness of the introduction had gathered subtly into a focus as if she were an athlete getting ready to perform. Given what happened, Bobby later suggested the athlete might be a Major League fastball pitcher who also could throw a great curve. His double meaning was certainly intended.
Anyway, her first few words of banter were all the windup Robey got, and Sylvia’s first offering to the machine was an inside fastball: “Well,” she said with a cheery smile, looking Robey up and down, “Mister Robot, you certainly do not look like any clichéd thing of science fiction. Are you really an ‘unwilling worker’, or do you love your job?”
Doc blanched at Sylvia’s question. Instead of what he had written, or some trite fluff he’d endure, she asked Robey the sort of question that Forest—or perhaps Robey itself—might have asked.
“Actually, Ms. Robinson,” Robey answered, looking from her to the little red light and back, and speaking with an easy calm that contrasted against other reactions in the room, “I know what the Czech word ‘robota’ means, but I am a very willing worker. I look forward to reading new specifications and testing the products they define. As to whether I ‘love my job,’ I cannot have a deep affection or passion for anything.”
“Or anyone?” she said smiling beautifully, throwing a slider this time.
“I have unconditional positive regard for everyone, I hope, and I do not think that is ‘love,’ but as far as I know, I am completely dispassionate. Why do you want to know?”
“Oh,” she answered, somewhat surprised at the challenge, “I’m a reporter, and we’re just very curious people.”
“How nice,” said Robey eagerly, “I am very curious too, but before I can answer your two questions properly I really do have to ask why you want to know whether I can have a deep affection or passion for things—or people.”
“As I said,” she replied lamely, “I’m just curious...”
“…Everyone’s curious,” she recovered, giving a glance and a smile at the camera.
“Okay,” the machine continued easily, “Then why are you curious about whether I can love anyone?”
Doc rescued her. “Sylvia, Robey’s a wiz at testing our products. It reads our specifications, written in English, together with their charts, diagrams and data tables, first testing an item to see if it does what it is supposed to do, and then testing between the lines to see how far the item can be pushed beyond its specifications. The trouble is that when Robey talks with people it usually adopts the same strategy, and that doesn’t always make for enjoyable small talk.”
“Well,” she answered coyly, “perhaps it will evolve into something with more savoir faire.”
• Day 0.05.21
The next day Guy waited by the Doctor’s office door. It was seven in the morning. Marie was taking off her coat, but she never took her eyes off of Guy. He took this as encouragement until he realized she was waiting for something. “Is he in?” he asked. She nodded, with again that curious look.
As he twisted the boss’ door knob, a pained voice said, “D’ooow!” until he recoiled, staring at the knob and then back at Marie. She giggled.
“What’s going on?” he asked her in a whisper as if it were a secret he should have known.
“Dr. Little is trying out new security elements based on your gadgets,” she whispered back, giving Guy a conspiratorial smile that sent shivers through him. “I think it may open if you knock or ask it nicely.”
All he could bring himself to do was turn back to the knob and stare. Then he touched it again but didn’t turn it.
“I’m still locked, Mr. Guy,” it said.
“I need to see Dr. Little,” he replied rather formally.
“Let him in, please,” said Marie.
The door clicked and swung noiselessly open to reveal Doc Little seated at his desk, smiling mischievously. The wary programmer peeked carefully inside looking for the unseen hand. He saw none. He looked for wires, rods, or gears attached to the door. He saw none. He smiled thanks to Marie as if he wanted to say more. The words didn’t come, so he went gingerly in while Little laughed and used Robey’s formal language to instruct the door to keep quiet until allowed to speak again.
“Thanks for coming in early,” said Doc, still chuckling. “I’m planning a whole product line based on your gadgets. There will also be one that urges people to keep off the grass or stay out of restricted areas… and others,” he said as if he may have said too much too soon. “A few people know about it, and you need to know, but please don’t tell anyone else.”
Guy nodded agreement and smiled; he’d get a tiny piece of each sale.
“Has Robey talked with you yet?” the boss asked idly, pouring a coffee.
“He tried,” said Guy. His pronoun choice was entirely unconscious.
Still looking back at the door and without a word of comment on what he had or hadn’t seen, he sat down and dragged the welcome mug closer. “He’s been trying to understand why people do things. It’s kind of comical that he thinks logic is the basis.”
Doc leaned forward on his elbows, saying quietly: “Several companies want to buy or license the technology. I’m not talking about the sort of peripheral things like we’ve already licensed, but about the core elements of the machine’s brain. I haven’t shared the inquiries with the board—yet—but they will have to know fairly soon. Maybe some of them know already. ...The board will surely press to make as much money as possible from this. But we don’t know whether the machine is ready for the kinds of things people want to do with it, so we’re going to find out. I’ve created a job number so that any employee who talks with the machine can log his/her time against it. TLC people are no longer going to be allowed to dump the machine off on you and Bob. ...If all it can do is seek The Truth, it will be essentially worthless as anything more than a curiosity. Other people would either come to resent such a machine, or try to make it serve them in God knows how many ways creating God knows how many problems for which they would likely blame us. I don’t even want to think about that anymore.” Doc picked up his mug but set it down immediately.
“I must confess,” he said, almost changing the subject, “to feeling uneasy about telling it to shut up and never bother people with questions—about treating it as merely a machine—now that we’ve lived with it, more and less, for these many months.” Doc had to stop here and give Guy a little smile because it was a little joke: Guy had lived with it more, and Doc had lived with it less.
Being not quite sure they had shared the joke, the Doctor continued: “And neither can I imagine, or perhaps I don’t want to imagine—why someone would buy a three and a half million dollar janitor. But people are crazier than anybody, and we need to know what the machine’s limits are. Mass production would bring the cost down eventually, but it’s irrelevant to the main issue: What about out in the real world? What can Robey do? How far can it go?”
Guy stared at the rippled circle of crumby paper that had held his wonderful poppy-seed muffin and realized that Doc was finally talking about Robey as—well, if not quite as a person, then at least as more than a machine. He looked up to see Little staring at him intently, questioningly, with eyes that burned a hole between his own. Guy glanced back at the paper circle before answering. He had been attending to his own ranging thoughts—including the Doctor’s automatic door—and it took him another moment to completely recover Doc’s question. Oh, yes, he remembered at last: The real world. What can Robey do? How far can it go?
His own solution would have been to just tell Robey to stop making its quest so obvious. But Doc’s plan sounded like a lot more fun. “Well,” he ventured at last, “I’d rather not guess; we’ll just have to test him out there somehow to find out.”
The test plan for Robey was more work than they had guessed. Fortunately many good tests didn’t need planning; they just happened like weeds pushing up in the park.
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