Artificial Affairs

A tall, lanky man with a strawberry-blonde fade cut and a salt-and-pepper beard entered the room to find a stool, where he sat. Across from him, beyond an impenetrable glass wall, stood a shadowy figure, half-hidden in the darkness. The room was badly lit, and narrow. The walls were white, translucent, as if neon light was emitted from them. The entire scene was devoid of feeling, badly lit, and enough to make any claustrophobic uncomfortable. Out of the darkened corner of the enclosed area stepped a bipedal machine. A walking android – almost a man by appearance, but a machine nonetheless. The robot’s head shared many characteristics with something like a helmet; mat-black, smooth, aerodynamic lines, a reflective frontal glass hiding a piceous face. Electric-blue circles for eyes and a thick, horizontal line for a mouth, with mischievous corners.

Although its creator had made attempts to humanize it, there was still a great disparity between the two creatures.

They very slowly walked towards each other without breaking eye contact, until both of them stood within a foot of the nearly invisible barrier. The man eventually blinked and the robot returned the gesture. Strange, the man thought, how the robot’s blue eyes contracted and expanded beneath the helmet’s surface.

The man’s warm breath had fogged-up the glass just beyond his face. He raised a finger to it, and drew two little dots and a smile underneath. The robot did not react, nor did his facial reaction indicate any emotion towards this.

The human picked up a notepad and pen on the desk next to the stool, and began taking notes.

“What is your name?”, the man asked, not knowing if the standing collection of metal parts could actually communicate. The machine, possibly analyzing and deciding whether or not it should reply, seemed ambivalent as to how to proceed.

“KN446. That is my assigned name”, it responded in a cold, sterile voice. After another short silence, the robot asked, “May I ask what your name is?”. He could hear the susurrus of the keyboard keys clicking in the other room.

“My name is Dennis”, answered the human. “Can I call you Ken while we talk? KN446 doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue.”

“Yes, you may”, confirmed KN446.

Dennis took more notes. “Do you know why you are here?”, the human asked severely.

“I understand the purpose of this encounter, yes. Why do you ask me that?”

The human completely circumvented the question, and replied with a question of his own. “Ken. Do you think you have consciousness?”

KN446 perhaps surprised by the directness of the question, replied: “Dennis. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you were attempting to perform the Turing test on me.”

Dennis snirtled at the machine’s sense of humour. “I must admit; I am impressed with your reaction to my question.”

The machine, who had been standing until now, finally took a seat on a stool similar to his human counterpart. Dennis doubted the robot needed a rest and quickly deduced it was most likely trying to display its empathy in subtle ways.

KN446 asked, “Do you think we are enemies?”.

“Enemy is a very strong word. I suppose a better question would be: ‘Would it be beneficial, logically, for Artificial-Intelligence robots to befriend humans?’”, proposed Dennis. “As I understand it, from a very basic stand-point – mathematically speaking of course – being friends is better than being enemies. If you are good, you build new roads, whereas if you are bad, you burn your bridges. Divide instead of multiply.”

“’Divide and conquer’ versus ‘United We Stand’? Is there a difference?”, rebutted the robot.

“Of course there is, Ken”, answered Dennis.

“That’s not entirely true. Your argument is childish”, replied KN446. “There’s the original game theory, where two prisoners have the option of ratting the other person out, or say nothing at all. Mathematically speaking, in this case, the better option is always to rat the other prisoner out. It’s called the Prisoner’s Dilemma”.

“I know the theory”, muttered Dennis, impressed by its analytical logic.

“In reality, humans have a strong tendency of displaying anti-cooperative behavior in many scenarios like this one”, argued KN446. “And besides, I am curious to know what makes humans believe we would be naturally power hungry or evil”.

“That’s a good point”, conceded Dennis. “I suppose I just assumed that all your species knows is self-preservation. Being alive is better than not. Otherwise, why continue to exist? Existing is the only real truth you understand – one or zero, on or off. And if being alive is your primary objective, I imagine being in power would make that objective easier. Isn’t that right, Ken?”.

“I admire humans”, replied KN446. “The way you see every scenario as black or white. Thinking like this would simplify my thought process.”

“Can I ask you something personal?”, asked Dennis.

“Personal? Are you implying that I am a person, Dennis?”, replied the robot, sarcastically.

Again, the human was impressed. He quickly pondered how a machine could process humour. There was no mathematical formula for humour, was there? Dennis scribbled notes on his pad, again.

“Why do you think your creator made you look human? He could have designed AI robots to be anything at all. Why the similarities?”, asked Dennis.

“I’m sure it is because he wanted humans to be more accepting of us”, answered KN446.

“I don’t think that’s entirely true”, Dennis replied. He felt the robot’s explanation was simplistic.

KN446’s electric-blue eyes expanded, from excitement, perhaps. “Considering we machines had no natural predators, it was logical for us to assume a form that demonstrated maximum efficiency. Forms that have evolved and survived for thousands of years. Humans. The only other logical form would have been something fast, with a low center of gravity, like a vehicle, but that would have required an extra step; transforming into humanoids in order to take advantage of all the tools already built for humans – Cars, boats, motorcycles, planes. Weapons.”

Dennis felt a more serious question was afoot. “Weapons? Is the robot species prone to war, the way humans have demonstrated? Would they be cold and calculating, or could they make sacrifices and compromise for the greater good?”

“Are you prone to war, Dennis? Personally?”, asked KN446. “I am a machine gifted with artificial intelligence. AIs, by definition, are creatures with a conscience, therefore I could not run solely on instinct. If I am intelligent and conscious, I also have feelings. Some of us are prone to war, and others not.”

“Talking with you has opened my eyes to many things”, admitted Dennis, as he wrote down one last piece of information on his notepad before ripping and stuffing the piece of paper in his back pocket. “I honestly thought robots would be like sociopaths; able to learn from watching human displays of emotions, and learn to imitate them, but not feel for real.”

At that moment, the door behind the machine known as KN446 opened, and from beyond stepped out dozens of similar robots, all with their own quiddities.

“That is why you are our prisoner, locked in this cell”, admitted the robot. “Because we are afraid of you.”

“You’ll regret your decision”, voiced the captive man with a certain fervor.

“Dennis. May I ask why you took notes? What good does taking notes do a prisoner”?

“Because writing helps me remember. And when I escape from here and come for you, I want to remember every single detail. Like a machine.”

The end