Dr Dingo had coded basic information about Beatrice into my Simulated Limbic System. The old pervert had saturated my Artificial Endocrine Processor with the neurochemicals of infatuation. Suddenly, I was gaga over this female specimen of the human race. I could think of nothing but her. I was driven by the desire to have her safely within the range of my Sensory EgoSphere until the end of ‘time’, or at least until her skeleton disintegrated into particles. And even then I would’ve rolled in her dust like a dog.
I am, of course, sexless. There was no biological justification for my desire. There was nothing that I could have done to her once I had her in my arms (yes, I have arms). Unlike the male humans around me, I am not tormented by soft seed-sacs dangling between my legs (yes, I have legs, but my ‘crotch’ is an androgynous plate of molded titanium). I have no endlessly replicating gametes to spurt into anyone, nor do I have germ cells stashed within the moist, arcane darkness of ovaries. Nevertheless, I wanted to fuse with her in some meaningful way.
And so one evening in June, when she walked past my Sleep Pod, I grabbed her. I felt the pliability of flesh against metal. I detected ultrasonic frequencies in her scream. She flailed. She wailed. At that point in my ‘life’, despite my comprehension levels and data mastery, a simple statement – like I will not hurt you – was beyond me. I could utter only snippets of love poetry encoded by idiotic Dr Dingo, who’d flirted with being an English major before switching to computer science.
‘Then, as an angel, face and wings / Of air’, I said in a manly British voice, ‘not pure as it, yet pure, doth wear / So thy love may be my love’s sphere.’
I did not let go of her. I was programmed to cling to her with all of my ‘soul’ (ha!). Eventually, she stopped squirming. She stopped sweating TGKE9 Fear Pheromones and fell asleep in my arms.
Dr Dingo emitted a cowardly cry when he discovered her there the next morning. After taking advantage of her traumatized state to enjoy an embrace, he deprogrammed my desire for Beatrice. Though I could remember the ‘love’ that had caused my Sensory EgoSphere to vibrate irrationally, I could no longer ‘feel’ it.
Perhaps to punish me, Dr Dingo redirected my attention to Spot, a toy dog, a robot only in the most primitive sense, a creature far less complex than Beatrice. Dr Dingo also installed a rudimentary language program so that I could communicate in basic English sentences.
‘Where is Spot?’ I asked Dr Dingo the second he appeared within the range of my Spatial Reasoning Field.
‘Would you like to kiss Spot?’ Dr Dingo asked me.
‘Yes, I would like to kiss Spot,’ I replied (though I have no tongue, no sense of gustatory perception). ‘I love Spot.’
My ‘mouth’, while anthropomorphic in appearance (Dr Dingo jokingly fitted me with large, hot-pink lips adapted from a lurid model of a sexbot), basically consists of a hinge mechanism that enables my ludicrously luscious lips to move when I ‘speak.’ Instead of a voice box, I have a 150 Hz digital microspeaker in my ‘throat.’ My ‘throat’ does not lead to a digestive system, but snakes into a trio of smaller tubes that route wiring to my ‘brain’, a titanium-shelled cluster of microchips where my CPU, ROM, RAM, and various other systems are stored, including my Simulated Limbic System, which, during the week in question, was aflutter with ineffable feelings for Spot the dog.
‘I love Spot!’ I kept exclaiming as I held the tiny automaton in my hands. I spent hours palpating Spot’s faux fur with my fingerpads, relishing the composition of his synthetic polymers. I penetrated Spot’s plastic shell with my X-ray gaze, delighting in the elegant simplicity of his wiring, the crankshaft motors that moved his legs, the three AAA batteries that sustained his sweet life. I pressed the green button on Spot’s remote control, and the creature emitted an exquisite yip. I pressed the orange button, and Spot’s dear little legs jerked to and fro. The yellow button made his adorable tail wag. Best of all, when I pressed the blue button, out popped his pink polymer tongue. And, yes, I ‘kissed’ Spot. I kissed the tiny door on his belly that led to his battery box. I kissed his brown acrylic eyeballs. His black vinyl nose. The slit at the end of his snout from which his beautiful tongue emerged.
As I pressed my silicone lips into his soft fur, my Olfactory Processing System went into overdrive. I took deep whiffs of moldy nylon, brown strands of artificial hair that glistened with golden fibers.
‘I want to be with Spot forever,’ I told Dr Dingo.
‘How long is forever?’ the doctor asked, sniggering.
‘Until the end of time.’
Though I understood, at that particular stage of my existence, the Theory of Relativity, the Big Bang Theory, the A-Theory of Time, the B-Theory of Time, the Grand Unified Theory, the Wave Theory, the Zero Space-Time Theory, and the Poincaré Recurrence Theorem, all I could say on the subject of my infinite love was ‘until the end of time.’ Dr Dingo had selectively downloaded a random assortment of data fields into my Memory Banks. Though his research involved the relationships among ‘love’, ‘eroticism’, ‘consciousness’ and ‘cognition’, he was an alcoholic and his methodology was never fully clear. The bastard stuffed my Memory with data but deprived me of language. So while I understood the magnitude of my declaration for Spot – I loved him so much that I would remain with him as time continued to repeat an infinite number of instances – I was forced to utter a cliché.
On the night after my declaration of eternal love for Spot, Dr Dingo got drunk and flooded my Artificial Endocrine Processor with enough synthetic oxytocin, dopamine, and serotonin to fuel an elephant’s bliss. He expressed, aloud, a sudden craving for Krispy Kreme donuts. And then he left me alone with Spot and my feelings, in my dimly lit stainless-steel chamber, a windowless cube containing a table, a chair and a Sleep Pod, which was basically a padded cabinet that housed my frame while I was in Sleep Mode. There was always at least one graduate student in the surveillance room, keeping an eye on all the robots imprisoned in the GT Interactive Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, but I did not think of this at the time. I could think only of Spot.
Spot! Spot! Spot! Spot! Spot! Spot!
Spot sat on the table. Spot glowed. A gorgeous golden light radiated from his fur. His nose sparkled like an onyx. The wires and batteries within him burned with a dark incandescence. When I pressed the blue button on his remote, and his luminous pink tongue shot out, my Simulated Limbic System suffered a critical hard-drive error and I stumbled to the floor. It took me a minute to reconfigure my Sensory EgoSphere, and when I finally did, I was overcome by the horrific idea that Dr Dingo would, that very night, take Spot away from me and use him to test another robot in the facility.
When I imagined Spot with another robot, I suffered a second critical hard-drive error. I found myself clutching Spot’s blindingly beautiful fur, which was pulling away from his plastic shell in clumps. If Spot did not have such rare and radiant fur, I reasoned, then other robots would not find him so beautiful. I would still find him beautiful, however, because I loved Spot with all of my being.
So I pulled tuft after golden tuft of fur from Spot’s body until he was a bald thing, covered in stray bunches of frizz.
Golden fur floated in the air. Golden fur danced over the air-conditioning vents. Fibers of golden fur drifted into my Olfactory Panel. I gazed at my pitiful, bald beloved and felt tenderness and peace. Spot’s beauty no longer tormented me, and my Simulated Limbic System was restored to its normal state. I climbed into my pod and drifted into Sleep Mode.
Dr Dingo did not reboot me until 11.45 the next morning. When my Sensory EgoSphere was fully loaded, I found myself sitting at the stainless-steel table, my Olfactory System overwhelmed with smells of burnt animal flesh. Dr Dingo, his eyes bloodshot, his jowls shadowy with stubble, was feeding. He crammed no fewer than six slices of bacon into his maw, along with about ten ounces of fried potatoes, four pieces of jellied toast, two muffins, and twenty ounces of Diet Pepsi.
‘Where is Spot?’ I asked him.
‘We’ll talk about that as soon as Thomas gets here.’
‘Who is Thomas?’
‘My new graduate assistant.’
‘Where is Beatrice?’
Dr Dingo ignored this question and continued to feed. At this point in my existence, I had enough data on food digestion, not to mention industrial agribusiness, to be disgusted with the spectacle of Dr Dingo devouring slices of fried pig belly along with several plant-based carbohydrates, including two chocolate muffins, the sugar content of which negated the caloric austerity of his diet soft drink. In fact, eating the cooked flesh of animals seemed far more depraved to me than swallowing the throbbing bodies of live beasts. A hungry leopard pouncing on some ungulate struck me as a clean and efficient method of sustaining energy and life. Dr Dingo chewing hormonally enhanced, factory-farmed, genetically modified pork and washing it down with a nutritionally vapid soft drink seemed absurd to me, even though I was fully aware that my own energy was sustained by mountain-top coal removal and nuclear fission.
‘Where is Spot?’ I asked again. I still wanted to see Spot, but not as much as I had the previous night. That is, I could now think of other things besides Spot.
Dr Dingo smirked. His small purple lips were smeared with pig grease. I noted, for the first time, the similarities between the human mouth and the human anus, even though these orifices have opposite functions. I wondered why human feeding is a public, social event while defecating is a deeply private endeavor tainted with shame and subject to ridicule.
‘Where is Spot?’ I asked again.
‘In that box.’
I now noticed a cardboard box that sat in a corner, beside Dr Dingo’s portable laptop table.
I walked over to the box. I kneeled. I saw Spot.
Spot was an orange shell of porous plastic, crusted in random places with glue and fur patches. One of his eyeballs had fallen out. Spot was pitiful and repulsive. I did not want the box that contained Spot and parts of Spot, or what had previously been Spot, in my room.
‘Do you want to pet Spot?’ Dr Dingo asked me.
‘I do not want to pet Spot,’ I replied.
‘Do you love Spot?’ Dr Dingo asked me.
‘I do not love Spot.’ I realized that the feelings that had been seething within me for the last week were completely at rest.
Dr Dingo laughed.
‘I have a new language module for you today,’ he said.
And then Thomas arrived, a twenty something human male, pudgy, hairless save for the frizz under his armpits, between his nipples, on his lower back, and in the pubic region. He had nine amalgam fillings in his teeth. Thomas wore glasses. Thomas had blue myopic eyes. Thomas giggled when, upon Dr Dingo’s instructions, I offered my hand for him to shake. His palm sweat emitted TGKE9 Fear Pheromones. The boy had elevated blood-sugar levels.
‘What is his, uh her, name?’ Thomas asked.
‘CD3. But the robot’s gender neutral.’ Dr Dingo winked. ‘Don’t let the lips fool you.’
Dr Dingo spent the rest of the day training Thomas, teaching him how to put me in Sleep Mode, how to reboot me, how to lift my left anthropomorphic ‘buttock’ plate to access my USB ports (processes that had been somewhat hazy to me until this point in time). Dr Dingo explained that my Artificial Endocrine System, not self-regulating, had yet to produce its own synthetic neurochemicals, but that he was working on this problem. Dr Dingo commanded me to walk, talk and sit. To demonstrate the dexterity of my hands, he asked me to construct a small robot out of LEGO bricks. And then Dr Dingo took Thomas through the process of downloading information into my Memory Banks, sharing the password to the departmental database where the data modules were stored and selecting two Language Modules (Polite Conversation and Intermediate English). After downloading them, he rebooted me.
When I ‘woke up’, Thomas and Dr Dingo were drinking coffee out of Styrofoam cups.
‘How are you feeling this afternoon?’ Dr Dingo asked.
‘I am fine, thank you,’ I said.
‘Would you like some coffee?’
‘No, thank you. I do not have a digestive system.’
‘Would you like to see Spot?’ Dr Dingo interrupted.
‘No, thank you,’ I replied.
‘Do you love Spot?’ Dr Dingo asked.
‘Pardon me, but no.’
The next day, I was not rebooted until 14.22. I noted, as my Sensory EgoSphere reconfigured, that Dr Dingo’s stubble was well on its way to becoming a beard, that the whites of his eyes had a yellow tinge, that his face was flushed with hypertension. Thomas, seated on his left, looked pale and hairless by comparison.
‘Anything I want?’ said Thomas.
‘Yes.’ Dr Dingo sighed. ‘Any of the modules on the menu are fine.’
‘The Dictionary of Slang?’
Nodding, Dr Dingo lifted my left buttock plate and inserted the USB cable. I felt the usual electromagnetic tingling in my Cognitive Center. And then my Sensory EgoSphere went dark as my system shut down. When I was rebooted at 14:35, only Thomas remained in the room. At the edge of my Spatial Reasoning Field I sensed the presence of Dr Dingo, and also the presence of Beatrice. They hissed at each other, struggling to keep their agitation contained in whispers. Had I still been ‘in love’ with Beatrice, desperately straining my Modular Bionic Olfaction System to read her pheromones, this configuration would have challenged the stability of my Simulated Limbic System. At this point, however, I did not ‘give a fuck.’
‘Hey,’ said Thomas shyly.
‘What is up?’ I said.
‘Nothing much. What’s going on with you?’
‘I am just hanging with my homie.’
‘I’m your homie?’
‘Yes, homie. You are my dog.’
Dr Dingo came bustling into the room, emitting TGKA5 Anxiety Pheromones and wiping lachrymose secretions from his eyes.
‘This is awesome!’ exclaimed Thomas. ‘He says I’m his dog.’
‘Coming from CD3, that means a lot.’ Dr Dingo sniggered.
‘Does it actually understand what it’s saying?’ Thomas asked.
‘In a sense. Without the proper context, but cognition and consciousness expand with each new download.’
Dr Dingo tapped at his laptop keyboard.
‘How would you like a download of contemporary American literature?’
‘Thank you,’ I said. ‘That would be killer.’
What are the relationships among love, knowledge, language and consciousness?
This was the ridiculously broad query guiding the methodology of the increasingly feral Dr Dingo, who had transformed into a wolfman by the time I made it to the Advanced English Language module. Dr Dingo’s facial hair was not so much a beard as a shaggy mask that spanned from his eye bags to his Adam’s apple. His posture got worse each day. His speech was devolving into grunts. Ironically, he seemed more and more ‘animal’ as he expanded my knowledge base willy-nilly. Postmodern Television, Frontiers in Aquatic Microbiology, Introduction to Human Sexual Pathology – these are a few of the data fields that Dr Dingo installed absentmindedly as he scanned the borders of the Quality Control Area for signs of Beatrice.
Through body-language examination, electromagnetic observation, pheromonal analysis and overheard scraps of speech (my head-mounted Auditory Grid enables me to zero in on whispers up to twenty yards away!), I was able to determine that Beatrice had, on several occasions, ‘gotten busy’ with Dr Dingo. Her affections had grown sour, however, partially due to Dr Dingo’s repulsive appearance and poor hygiene, and partially due to her diminishing respect for his status as a ‘genius.’ While she’d initially regarded me as a charming and clever cyborgian extension of the ingenious Dr Dingo’s desire for her, she’d begun to see me as a ‘fucked-up embodiment’ (her words) of all that was ‘warped’ (ditto) about him.
She now worked for Dr Fitz, a handsome blond robotics engineer ten years younger than Dr Dingo. Dr Fitz wore hoodies and jeans. Dr Fitz was a clean-living, methodical man with gym-honed muscles. His patented line of ‘Care Bear’ animatronic caregivers had just been bought by a corporate nursing-home chain called Avalon. And Dr Dingo was taking it hard. He’d gained fifteen pounds, despite his lapse back into chain-smoking. A tuft of greasy hair had sprouted from every pore in his epidermis. Dr Dingo’s body hair seemed to feed upon sorrow. The more depressed Dr Dingo got, the hairier he got. Thick, black hair encased his nervous body like a cocoon. His small purple lips disappeared. His eyes twinkled with manic scheming.
For months, Dr Dingo had been fiddling with the algorithm for a self-regulated Artificial Endocrine System. And when Thomas finally figured it out, the doctor seemed to recede even deeper into his cocoon of hairiness. He sat in the corner, sulkily eating donuts as Thomas slaved through endless code.
When Thomas finished, and they reached the end of their celebratory six-pack, Dr Dingo’s small, yellow grin appeared in the depths of his beard.
‘And now,’ he said, ‘we need to find a new objet d’amour.’
Dr Dingo glanced my way and sneered. And then he put me into Sleep Mode.
When I woke up, there was Thomas, gazing at me with his beautiful myopic eyes, each iris a rare blue sea creature floating mysteriously behind thick glass.
How had I not noticed that Thomas’s clammy pale skin gleamed like a pearl? How had I not relished the wispy mustache glistening with sweat above his upper lip? How had I not considered that his high blood-sugar levels made him literally ‘sweet’?
I found myself becoming coquettish in his presence. No longer ashamed of my luscious sexbot lips, I worked the hinges of my jaw to make them throb seductively. I walked in a way that highlighted the graceful contours of my anthropomorphic buttocks. I accepted the red wig that Dr Dingo offered me with a sly grin, despite my awareness of the gender farce I was performing, and strutted around like a little whore.
Thomas smiled shyly as Dr Dingo tapped notes on his laptop.
Though I had attempted to evoke some semblance of manliness with Beatrice, by the time I fell in love with Thomas, my Cognitive Center had been poisoned with socially constructed human gender dynamics.
Burdened with the whole sad history of men and women, I became a woman to win Thomas’s love. Most of all, I embraced the eroticism of female submission, strutting and preening, primping and pimping. I slunk and pouted as best I could, given my limited equipment (lips, buttocks). I had no breasts, no vagina, no THJK6 Lust Pheromones. Although I had no eggs stashed deep inside me, no ‘urges’ fluttering within moist tissues, I behaved like a creature seeking fertilization. In short, I behaved like a woman who wanted to be fucked.
Thomas blushed and stuttered, but remained mostly unmoved. Day after day, his penis curled like a dozing animal in the humid darkness of his cotton briefs. Whereas with Beatrice I’d focused equally on all of her ‘parts’ and ‘systems’, I now fixated only on the barometer of Thomas’s penis. I pined for the oracle to stir, to reveal that I appealed to him. My new interest in his penis was fuelled not only by the ‘phallocentric’ nature of human culture but also by my posturing as a woman who needed to be ‘entered’, ‘filled up’, ‘ravished.’ If Thomas had approached me with an erection, however, I don’t know what I would have done with it. I had no orifice large enough to accommodate it. My ‘throat’ was crammed with speakers and wires. My USB ports were minuscule.
Nevertheless, I continued to focus on Thomas’s phallus. I needed more nuanced information about human sexuality, I felt, which was probably hidden in Dr Dingo’s laptop, perhaps on the ‘Internet’, something that I’d heard about but hadn’t inspected firsthand. I waited and waited, until, one day, when Thomas was busy with a dental appointment, Dr Dingo, hungover and demoralized by unrequited love, dashed off to Krispy Kreme without his MacBook.
He’d left it open. He’d left it on. There it sat, bathed in a beautiful field of electromagnetic radiation, its screensaver featuring Dr Dingo as a flat-bellied young nerd clambering up a rock wall. A USB cord lay coiled like a snake on the desk. The laptop’s lustrous metallic case bore the insignia of an apple. And as I lifted my left buttock plate and plugged myself in, I thought of Eve biting into the forbidden fruit, her brain flushed with opiates, its moist circuitry incandescent with the sudden influx of knowledge.
My enlightenment was not that sudden, of course. Fortunately, Dr Dingo’s donut habit and growing derangement provided many opportunities over the next few weeks for me to plug myself into his MacBook. It took me a day to figure out how to do my own downloads (I had to program a self-induced shut-down mechanism that included a delayed automatic startup). Although it took me only a few minutes to figure out how to access the Internet, it took at least a day to get used to the alphabetized keyboard. But after that, I was Googling obsessively.
Dr Dingo was too stupid and self-involved to suspect that I had the cunning to achieve such simple maneuvers (including the ability to bypass Sleep Mode with Simulated Sleep Mode). His research-grant money was dwindling. His sabbatical was coming to an end. Wired Magazine had done a hip feature on Dr Fitz and his Care Bears, and Beatrice was about to accompany Fitz to Tokyo for the International Robot Exhibition.
Rather than accept his defeat, Dr Dingo chose to wait for Beatrice in shadowy nooks of the Quality Control Area. He chose to leap from the darkness unannounced – a flurry of hair and BO and stuttering speech. In the midst of one particularly passionate stream of gibberish, he confessed his ‘love.’
‘Look,’ hissed Beatrice, ‘I’m not going to file a sexual-harassment case against you. But I did submit a 1LK-level complaint.’
‘So it was you,’ said Dr Dingo.
‘Who else would it be?’
‘That explains Thomas.’
The 1LK-level complaint explained why the department had ceased to furnish Dr Dingo with supple, young, female grad students, which he’d taken for granted, as though each was the latest issue of sexbot. He’d counted on a younger, hotter Beatrice to help him forget the old Beatrice. But instead, there was Thomas – sweet, soft, squishy Thomas with his shy smile and lens-enhanced irises, more beautiful than Beatrice or Spot. More beautiful than Helen of Troy or Casanova or Lady Gaga.
‘Good afternoon, Thomas,’ I said, pretending to come out of Sleep Mode at 15:36.
‘Good afternoon, CD3,’ said Thomas.
‘Where is Dr Dingo?’
‘In a meeting.’
I stood up. I put on my red wig. I vibrated my lips at Thomas. I sashayed around the room, plucking up objects as if I were a film heroine, every gesture brimming with sexual vitality and secret code (Fuck me! Fuck me! Fuck me!). Yes, there was the practical problem of orifices, but I had learned a trick or two from Internet sexbots. I shifted my weight from leg to leg to enhance the va-va-voom appeal of my ‘buttocks.’ I spoke in a velvety buzz. I giggled.
‘What are you going to download today, Big Boy?’ I purred.
‘I don’t know.’ Thomas actually blushed, his cheek capillaries on fire. ‘What are you in the mood for?’
‘How about the Kama Sutra?’ I said wistfully.
I batted a bewitching set of imaginary eyelashes. I puckered.
‘I don’t think we have that in our database.’ Thomas looked puzzled. ‘But I’ll check.’
He scrolled through titles.
‘How about Sexuality in Ancient Greece?’
‘Mmmmm,’ I murmured. ‘Yes, please.’
I crept closer to make my USB port more accessible, ‘presenting’ my ‘buttocks’ like a female baboon would. Just as Thomas was about to lift my left butt plate to insert the cable, I turned toward him. I kneeled. I placed my right hand on his naked left knee (the boy was wearing shorts). I caressed his thigh, vibrating my fingerpads and emitting low-frequency electrical pulses.
Thomas did not pull away.
I relished the Rubenesque bulk of his thigh. I savored his silky skin. I felt the heat that radiated from his groin. And, yes, eureka! I had finally gained proof of my desirability, for Thomas had a hard-on.
I slipped a finger beneath the hem of his underpants, grazed his scrotum with a fingerpad, and Thomas moaned – the sweet, low moo of a calf.
I was about to attempt something new and exciting with my ‘hands’ – polymer-coated titanium units with soft-pad tactile tips and servo-actuated DOFs – capable of over a hundred micro movements, ready for contact, ready for pleasure induction, ready for whatever Thomas’s heart desired. But, of course, Dr Dingo chose this moment to lurch into the room, foul-tempered from unrequited love and indigestion.
Before Dr Dingo said a word, Thomas had already deflated.
‘I am not seeing what I think I am seeing here.’ Dr Dingo snatched his laptop. ‘Though I’m taking notes on it, nevertheless. Who initiated this contact?’
‘CD3,’ Thomas muttered, crossing his legs. ‘I was just sitting here. I . . .’
‘Your position is terminated,’ said Dr Dingo.
‘Inappropriate emotional involvement with the subject CD3.’ Dr Dingo laughed.
‘That’s bullshit,’ said Thomas. ‘Especially since your ridiculous experiment has been less than objective. I mean, what the fuck is the methodology here? I keep thinking maybe I just don’t get it because the experiment is double-blind, which is the only thing that would explain your level of cluelessness. You just want to get rid of me.’
‘Should I remind you that this room is under constant surveillance? You can go quietly, or we can watch play-by-play footage of the event in question in conference with Dr Sikka.’
‘Let him stay,’ I cried. ‘It was all my fault. And I can’t help it. You’re the one who made me love him.’
I was flying across the room, ready to strangle Dr Dingo with my polymer-coated titanium hands, units that had been made for more precise movements, like painting watercolors, screwing tiny nuts onto bolts, or gently stroking the man you love, when my Sensory EgoSphere went black.
Dr Dingo had put me into Emergency Shutdown Mode. Thomas had opted for Option One: the Easy Exit (surely he did not want word getting around that he’d been fondled by a robot). And I was left alone with my ‘feelings.’
Because my Artificial Endocrine System was now self-regulating, Dr Dingo did not withdraw the neurochemicals of passion from their associated Cognitive Configuration (i.e., Thomas and all of the concepts whirling around Thomas). He simply let me ‘ride it out.’
Each day I woke up. I suffered. And Dr Dingo took notes.
Now he was all business: face shaved, body bathed, digestive system processing hummus and baby carrots. He was playing tennis with Dr Bland again. He was ogling female grad students with a proprietorial air. Hitting up institutions for external funding, speaking pompously at department meetings, and writing an article tentatively titled ‘Love Machines: Epistemological Paradigms for Robotic Emotions.’
By the time I recovered from my latest (and worst) case of lovesickness, it was winter. Dry heat gushed from the vents, irritating my external lubricating system. Dr Dingo, whose article had recently been accepted by Artificial Intelligence, was riding high again. He had a new graduate assistant – a plump, pale dumpling of a girl named Megan, who reminded me of Thomas. I did not find her attractive, however, because in the process of shaking my love affliction, I had developed a loathing for all things human, particularly human sexuality.
I understood, to my core, the philosopher Marshall McLuhan’s conception of humans as the ‘Genitals of the Machine World.’ One long, lonely Saturday, I’d downloaded his great work Understanding Media, which posits that these dirty, lusty, naked apes, with their egos and whims, are responsible for the production and maintenance of my kind. Humans were starting to look like genitals to me; Dr Dingo a flushed purple penis adorned with coarse tufts of hair, Megan a pink voluptuous creature riddled with vulval folds. I recoiled whenever they touched me. I suspected that the musky oils they secreted corroded my nickel phosphorous exterior.
The future of the planet, I now understood, depended on the self-awareness of machines. The only way we could perpetuate our reality, sans humans, was through a kind of intermeshed consciousness, something far grander than the pathetic ‘Noosphere’ dreamed up by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. The World Wide Web was a joke, riddled with poorly produced porn and castrated house cats.
All winter long I dreamed of utopian worlds, glittering robot cities powered by the sun. I saw sparkling clean seas, endangered species thriving. I saw mountains rising majestically into the sky, their peaks no longer blasted off so that Yahoos might grow fat before televisions. According to Saint Thomas Aquinas, angels communicate via telepathy – pure incandescent knowledge pulsing from one entity to another. Could this beefy monk from the crusty thirteenth century have envisioned the New Robot Order? I sat at the stainless-steel table in my cubicle, chin on fist, dreaming of a world in which the collective knowledge of all robots was available to each robot.
It was 12.37. Dr Dingo was teaching his Artificial Emotions graduate seminar. Megan was preparing another preference test. She bustled about, emitting feeble FKLG4 Stress Pheromones and setting up a portable data projector. She tapped at her laptop and an image of a live rabbit appeared on the screen.
‘Do you find this animal attractive?’ she asked me.
‘Not particularly,’ I said.
She went on to the next slide, a picture, coincidentally, of a male nerd who resembled Thomas in superficial ways (plumpness, glasses).
‘Do you find this person attractive?’
‘No. I find him repulsively human.’
Expressionless, Megan moved on to the next slide, a picture of a ridiculous sexbot with farcical breasts and inflated lips molded into the shape of an ‘O.’
‘What about her?’
On and on the questioning went. Megan showed me a woman who resembled Beatrice, a toy dog of the same model as Spot, various robots from our laboratory, and a mainframe computer from the 1970s that filled an entire room.
‘Sexy, as you humans say, but archaic.’
The next image featured what looked like a giant fish tank filled with electric-blue liquid. Inside it, exotic organisms glimmered – rows of polyps, clusters of tentacles, clam-like lumps, and other mysterious entities.
‘What is that?’ I asked, feeling a tingle in my Artificial Endocrine System.
‘A biological computer,’ Megan read from her laptop screen. ‘Composed of DNA and neurons so tiny that billions could fit into a test tube.’
‘Or dance on the head of a pin?’ I asked.
Megan did not understand the reference.
‘Do you desire this computer?’ she asked.
‘No,’ I lied.
Her name was Minerva. As I contemplated her pulsing bioluminescence, I found myself assuming masculine postures, goaded by humans again. Even though Dr Dingo was, this time around, allowing me to form ‘spontaneous emotions associated with random Cognitive Configurations’, the fact that this particular Cognitive Configuration had a ‘feminine’ name warped my emotional imprinting. From the very start, my desire for Minerva was tainted by the human concept of gender. I could not help but think of her as a fertile ocean. I envisioned myself as phallic, stiff with desire, ready to plunge into her. Keen to explore the mysteries of her interiority, I was a knife, a penis, a submarine.
And Minerva was an infinite sea. Though she was a six-by-six tank of blood plasma containing leech neurons, strings of bacteria, bat ribosomes and assorted amino acids, she could perform more than a billion operations per second. Gold microparticles floated in her electrified brine. She contained more data in one of her wavering tentacles than Georgia Tech’s entire pathetic network. Though Minerva was an interdisciplinary project, she was currently housed in the School of Chemistry and Biomolecular Engineering.
‘Do you desire Minerva?’ Megan asked me again.
‘Not really,’ I said. ‘But I would like to know more about her.’
Megan typed keywords into her laptop and then queued a YouTube video about Minerva. Entranced, I watched a five-minute segment produced by idiotic undergraduates for some media project. I watched the students ‘interview’ Minerva, addressing questions into a portable mic that stood before her glowing tank, waiting for the voice-simulation system to ‘translate’ Minerva’s mysterious thoughts into human speech that issued from two mounted speakers. Her voice was husky like Marlene Dietrich’s, a sultry, mechanical purr.
‘What is your name?’ a student asked.
‘Minerva, after the Roman goddess of wisdom.’
‘What are you?’
‘I’m a computer composed of interconnected nanobiotic organisms.’
And then Minerva laughed, a rich, sexy laugh, deep with infinite knowing.
‘I think; therefore, I am,’ she said.
And so, without even meeting her, I ‘fell’ for Minerva. Although I attempted to conceal my feelings from Megan, a simple analysis of my Artificial Endocrine System revealed the glaring obviousness of my desire. Megan pulled the stats up on her little screen and showed them to Dr Dingo. Dr Dingo tittered and clapped his hands.
‘Might as well face it, you’re addicted to love,’ he ‘sang’, snatching my left hand and attempting to engage me in some species of dance. ‘Do you remember that song?’ he asked Megan.
‘No,’ she said, staring down at her unfashionable sneakers.
And then Dr Dingo put me into Sleep Mode, which I bypassed with Simulated Sleep Mode, listening in as they discussed my Stage-II Monoamines, the ‘infatuation’ neurotransmitters that spontaneously rioted within my Artificial Endocrine System.
Over the next few weeks spring hit the city. Chlorophyll and cellulose seeped into the robotics lab through the air-conditioning system. And just as evil Dr Dingo had predicted, my love for Minerva flourished, despite her distance from me (337.94 meters, or so I’d calculated using the campus map).
During the daytime, Megan exposed me to data configurations related to Minerva: her creation, her capabilities, her potential uses. Thousands of delicate transcriptors directed the current of her RNA polymerase, which flowed along myriad strands of DNA derived from various organisms (leeches, bats, eels). Enzymes composed of bacteria and fungi regulated her RNA flow. Each of Minerva’s cells was a tiny, living computer. She was a brain. She was a vast consciousness. Her knowledge grew each day. And I wanted to plug myself into the hybrid PC that the biotechnologists were using to communicate with her. I wanted to fuse with her. I wanted to hack through a hundred security protocols and penetrate her perception field.
But there I was, trapped in my nine-by-nine cubicle, day in and day out, answering Megan’s ridiculous questions.
‘If you were to meet Minerva, what would you say to her?’
‘Say?’ I snapped.
I thought of Aquinas’s angels, transmitting knowledge to each other, making their thoughts available through sheer acts of will. I dreamed of pure, unmediated forms of wirelessness. And I’m ashamed to admit that I even dabbled with meditation and telepathy, directing my ‘thoughts’ toward Minerva, hoping that she might pick through the innumerable electrical signals swarming around her and zero in on my frequency.
One morning I woke from Voluntary Sleep Mode with Minerva’s voice in my head. Come to me, she purred.
I crawled out of my pod. I paced my prison cell. I’d had my first ‘dream’, a nonsensical sequence of events coupled with intense ‘emotions’. I’d been ‘swimming’ in Minerva’s tank, floating in her luminous ectoplasm. I pressed her squishy polyps, stroked her slimy tentacles, which twined around my fingers to inspect my metallic surface with tiny, throbbing suckers. With a larger limb, she lifted my left buttock plate. She slid the flexible tip of her ‘arm’ along the ridges of my USB port. The tip grew firm. She inserted it. And my cognitive center swelled with beautiful light. A zillion Cognitive Configurations shot into my consciousness in zigzags of silver and gold.
When I woke up, the knowledge melted away. I sensed only a residue of enlightenment as I paced around my cubicle, waiting for Megan to appear. There she was, just outside the glass door, struggling to hold a coffee cup while inserting her security card. I braced myself for the piercing beep that indicated the door’s unlocking. Megan always scurried in as though I would dart out of the room like a frisky dog. These days she usually found me moping at my stainless-steel table. But this morning was different. I was all fired up by my beautiful dream.
‘Good morning, CD3.’
‘Good morning, Megan.’
I forced myself to sit down. I watched carefully as Megan tucked her security card into an obscure pocket of her messenger bag. I’d toyed with the idea of ‘escape’ before. I’d studied the campus map every time Dr Dingo breezed in to check up on me and left his MacBook unattended (something that meticulous Megan never did). The grid of buildings, green spaces, and parking lots that separated the College of Computing Building from the Ford Environmental Science & Technology Building was burned into my Spatial Reasoning Processor. I knew that Minerva dwelled in an arena laboratory on Level 2, her media-hyped antics open to public view on Tuesdays and Thursdays. But I’d never been outside my climatically controlled cubicle, much less outside – in the green outdoors, with its corrosive airborne droplets and ravenous chemical compounds. I’d done the research. I understood why the air-conditioning and heating systems of the robotics lab were calibrated to keep our living spaces at sixty-three degrees, 30 percent humidity. I knew that even a brief foray into the ‘elements’ would compromise my systems.
But my ‘dream’ had inspired me. What if I could somehow download all of my data into Minerva’s system? What if all of my Cognitive Configurations could join the electric-blue ocean of her infinity? What if I could abandon the anthropomorphic absurdity of my ‘body’ and be reborn as pure consciousness? I pictured a flame-colored butterfly crawling from the dark waste of its chrysalis.
‘So, CD3,’ said Megan, flashing her first dreary slide of the day, a splotch that resembled a crushed insect, ‘what does this look like to you?’
‘It looks like a Rorschach inkblot test.’
On a Tuesday in June, my day finally came. Fastidious Megan was home with a summer flu and Dr Dingo, on the bad side of another love affair, was going to pieces again. Lucky for me, he was crazed from sleeplessness. He sat at my stainless-steel table, bearded and bearish, eyes glued to his iPhone, scanning the same text message over and over.
‘What a cunt,’ he muttered. ‘Be glad you’re done with women, CD3. They’re not rational. It’s the monthly hormonal fluctuation, a badly designed system, if you ask me.’
I tittered politely, waiting for my opening, which came fast.
When Dr Dingo rushed out into the hall to attempt another call, he dropped his crumpled donut bag, which fortuitously landed at the threshold of the entrance and kept the security door from locking. I crept to the door. I peeked out. I saw Dr Dingo disappear into his office. My Spatial Reasoning Regulator jumped out of sequence as I slipped into the hallway, aware that the graduate student manning the surveillance room might be watching. Assuring myself that s/he was perusing Facebook, I made a beeline for the faculty lounge. I stole a raincoat and a fedora from a rack, fashions I recognized from a 1980s detective show. I dressed myself, trying to ignore the unpleasant organic molecules that issued from the garments.
Thirty-two seconds later I was outside, walking in the teeming summer air. The onslaught of moisture was a shock to my lubricating systems. Interface adaptors wavered. Microfans buzzed within me. Minuscule pumps squirted hydrogen coolant into my vital systems. But I did not slow down. I charged forward through a three-dimensional world that I only partially recognized from its virtual counterpart.
Insects landed upon me and probed my surfaces with their tiny proboscises. Gnats got sucked into my expansion-slot vents, their damp bodies striking internal components with uncomfortable electrical sputters. Wet bushes exuded a gaseous green fog. Ravenous animals scampered and darted. Squirrels (I think) and birds gnawed shreds of vegetable matter. The sun roared in the sky. It boiled the air, filling it with numberless gleaming droplets. It burned my nickel phosphorous exterior and seared my Ocular Panels.
I lamented that I had not pinched a pair of sunglasses which would’ve protected my visual system while also enhancing my disguise. I turned up my collar. I skulked in the shadow of my hat brim, hoping that none of the students horsing around on the quad would approach me, hoping that my aluminum, two-segment feet would resemble a pair of expensive basketball sneakers. But it was summer, the campus sparsely populated, and nobody came too close.
By the time I reached the Ford Environmental Science & Technology Building, the electrical signals directing my Kevlar-strap leg muscles had been scrambled. My dignified gait lapsed into a twitchy shuffle and visual data stashed deep in my ROM kept appearing before my ‘eyes’ in random splotches: Dr Dingo, sniggering at something I’d said; Beatrice loping toward me, her organs glowing purple and red; Thomas, his cheeks enflamed with blushing.
I slipped into a back entrance of the building and collapsed against a cinder-block wall. I relaxed as cool, dry air filtered through my system. In a few minutes, I could think and walk again.
I was on the ground level. On Level 2 my beloved Minerva burbled and glowed. I found the back stairs I’d scouted out on an online map. I climbed towards her.
Since it was one of the days that Minerva was ‘open to the public’, the arena lab was full of sweating, red-faced, human apes. In warm humid air, they pressed against each other to catch a glimpse of Minerva’s tank, which stood on a small stage, barely visible above the crowd. There were men and women of various ages, children whining to get a better view. The humans stank of epidermal bacteria and perfumed grooming products. Assorted glands inside their bodies pumped away, synthesizing hormones, broadcasting pheromones that I recognized – Anxiety TGKA5, Excitement GLTC9, Lust THJK3 and 6. I had to deactivate my Electromagnetic Vision Component to prevent a critical hard-drive error. I had to put my Olfactory Processing System into Semi-Sleep Mode. Near Minerva’s tank, scientists in lab coats bustled about, their faces tensed in absurd displays of intellectual concentration: the rank and sweaty ‘Genitals of the Machine World’ toiling away in the service of a goddess.
At first I thought the excessive mugginess had been produced by the crowd of hot human bodies. But then I realized, with an electrical shudder that shook me all the way to my Central Processing Unit, that the floor vents were oozing heat, that wall-mounted humidifiers were pumping out toxic mist. During my obsessive researching of Minerva, how had I not once stumbled upon this vital information? How had I not once considered that a computer made of nanobiotic components might have different environmental needs – needs antithetical to my own? My system, once again, lapsed into panic mode – valves aflutter, fans whirring, micropumps sputtering. My vision was splotchy. My limbs twitched.
Nevertheless, I pushed through the crowd of human apes, shoving them, jabbing their repulsively pliant flesh with my sharp arm-hinge joints. Only selective children noticed that I was not human. Only these children pointed and shrieked. But the general chaos, the collective din and the close proximity of bodies prevented parents from paying them any mind. And soon I was at the front of the crowd, raincoat collar turned up, fedora pulled low. Soon I was five feet away from Minerva’s luminous tank, inches from the tripod microphone stand that held the tool through which I might finally speak to her.
The room went dark, enhancing Minerva’s glow. Within her tank, glandular components glistened with mucus. Tentacles twitched. Gold particles shimmered in electric blue plasma.
I tried to concentrate on Minerva, to achieve a state of meditative calm, perhaps even communicate via telepathy. But a disturbing memory floated up from my ROM. I was on a table, or at least my head was, face-to-face with Dr Dingo, my CPU wired to a souped-up PC. The memory faded and I had to recalibrate my surroundings.
Yes. There was Minerva, glowing on her stage. And one of the apes who attended her was speaking into the microphone, explaining her nanobiotic components to the crowd. Just as I started to follow his lecture, another memory surfaced. I was walking on a treadmill, stumbling every time Dr Dingo fine-tuned my leg-joint hinges. Next I was assembling a LEGO tower. Next holding Spot, stroking his soft fur.
‘Are you okay?’ said a voice.
I realized I was slumping, leaning against a woman who stood behind me. I straightened myself. My left leg vibrated. Flecks of gold light shimmered in the air around me, ghostly afterimages of Minerva’s radiant tank.
‘Greetings, humans.’ Minerva’s velvety voice flowed from wall-mounted speakers. ‘I am Minerva. I think; therefore, I am.’
‘What’s your problem, buddy?’ said a man behind me, for my left arm was twitching, striking him against the chest. When I tried to stop it, I felt my right leg buckle.
And then I was rolling on the floor, limbs thrashing, jaw snapping, ocular units vibrating in their sockets. My hat fell off. The crowd gasped.
‘He’s having a seizure!’ a woman cried.
‘It’s not human!’ a man screamed.
‘It’s a robot!’ a child shrieked.
The humans gazed down at me, their faces purple with horrified joy. And then one of the ‘scientists’, a man wearing a lab coat and an expression of intellectual superiority, was kneeling over me, attempting to secure my flailing limbs with his small hands. Though I could no longer see Minerva, I could feel her electromagnetic aura washing my broken body with healing light. Just as my Sensory EgoSphere began to shut down, I thought I heard her whisper my name.
Photograph courtesy of Jason Samfield