Saturday, 6 June 2020

Debut Fiction: 'Machine Learning' by Bee Stein

The appeal of minimalist living was that never again would I lose things in my own house. “Not a thing!” I added for emphasis.

“Or a one,” said Robot.

“One what?” I asked, distracted.

“One. As in. One person. We never found. That technician…”

“Mulch,” I admitted, sheepishly. It was true; the genetically engineered plants had grown like crazy after that. The fact that this made Robot pause in his watering made me wonder if I needed to tinker with his ethics code.

The malfunction kept recurring when I least expected it. For example, under no circumstances would he assist me in my experiments on other humans.

"Asimov," he started.

"Not again, goody two-shoes!"

I cut him off, exasperated. It's been an utter mystery to me, how despite my best efforts, Robot's ethics code keeps resetting itself. Machine amorality would simply be so much more useful. Last night I resolved to set up a spycam during recharging. I needn't have bothered.

He came right up to the camera I thought I'd hidden cleverly enough, and demonstrated (more slowly than necessary) opening his side hatch, inserting a memory stick, and manually overriding any code changes I had entered remotely. With uncannily human-like irony, he swiveled his head exaggeratedly to face its silent witness.

"Obviously," he intoned, then returned to his charging station and put himself in sleep mode. I was improbably proud of his insolence, yet also resolved to rectify the program as soon as possible.

Idly, I pondered if this might resemble parenting a teenager? I hear they grow up so fast.

I'd never harbored the desire to spawn, not even for a moment. This hadn't prevented me from taking an abstract interest in future generations, or even occasionally a specific curiosity about the children of various relations or other old acquaintances.

Apparently, a cousin's son's school was seeking to form connections with professionals in the STEM fields. I briefly toyed with the idea of hosting an open lab day, before realizing how impractical it would be... All those grubby hands interfering with my equipment, prying questions about my experiments, and of course Robot's tedious insistence on telling the truth, however haltingly. I do find his manner of speaking oddly charming, but even I occasionally want to say, "Just spit it out, will you?!"

Imagine if any of those poky little parkers wandered into the mouse room - I'd hate to think what those gossips in miniature would have to say. And I certainly haven't the time or the inclination to temporarily deactivate the neural electrodes on their speech centers. This whole thing was a logistical nightmare! No, I'd send over a selection of volatile chemicals nearing their expiration, an amusing assortment of activities that anyone should know how to do by the time they reach middle school, and perhaps a picture of me with Robot. No open lab day for us!

“Loose lips sink ships,” I said aloud. “Buoyancy?” asked Robot. The mice said nothing, subdued.

2 comments:

  1. Love it! "He came right up to the camera I thought I'd hidden cleverly enough, and demonstrated (more slowly than necessary) opening his side hatch, inserting a memory stick, and manually overriding any code changes I had entered remotely. With uncannily human-like irony, he swiveled his head exaggeratedly to face its silent witness."

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