Freya Campbell / @spdrcstl

Calm Futures

It's In Your Programming

The unit opened its visual processors in response to a new auditory stimulus; after it had learned to ignore the repeating stimuli of rumbling, road noise, and reversing signals, the new sound that alerted it was an unfamiliar voice. It took 0.4 seconds longer for the unit to recognise the voice as a human female than a real, human female would have taken to recognise the same. From within its shipping container, the unit thought, the artificial synapses firing up in anticipation; maybe my new owner is a human female.
 
I did so much want a girlfriend.
 
*
 
“Carefully! Around the corner now -- tilt it -- mind the bannister...”
The pair of men swore under their breath as they finally set the box down. Six foot tall, two foot deep and wide, weighing a considerable 85 kilograms, the delivery note taped to the front read Miss Salsmann, Flat 5, 91 Sycamore Street. Recorded Delivery. Heavy Load (!).
“Signature, Ma’am?”
“Of course,” Miss Salsmann replied. She scribbled a rough mark on the man’s tablet and smiled as the pair of them left, retreating back down the stairs, leaving her with the box standing in her living room. Salsmann walked to the kitchen to switch the kettle on before proceeding, eyeing the box from a few metres away with interest.
 
*
 
The unit’s eyes reacted to the sudden influx of light the same way a real human female’s would; the pupil shrunk down to limit the light falling on her optical sensor, and the unit squinted. Her instinct -- her programming -- was to raise a hand to cover her eyes, as she had seen humans do before. Her arms remained by her side, strapped into the polystyrene shipping cradle with zip ties. Instead, her eyes uncovered, she stared ahead.
In front of her stood a human woman. It was the unit’s nature -- her programming -- to analyse and categorise everything she saw, and so she broke the human female down in to manageable, processable chunks. Hair, brown; eyes, brown; lips, red; cheekbones, sharp. The unit saved these attributes away in her memory bank for further in-depth analysis.
 
*
 
Salsmann looked the unit up and down briefly before cutting it loose from the polystyrene cradle. The unit’s eyes followed her movements and after each zip tie cut, it carefully flexed its limbs with new freedom. After the last cut Salsmann stepped backwards and indicated for the unit to step forward. It did so automatically, one careful step on to the living room floor.
“Welcome. My name is Salsmann. I work for your manufacturer. Do you know who that is?”
“My manufacturer is Syndia Incorporated.”
“Good. Do you know your model number?”
The unit blinked and rubbed its neck in a practised, humanesque gesture.
“My model number is CM1017.”
“Excellent,” Salsmann replied, and cleared her throat. “Do you have a name?”
The unit opened its mouth and began to speak, but hesitated for a moment. Whether it was also practised behaviour, Salsmann couldn’t tell.
“My previous owner named me Neko-chan.”
“Do you wish to continue with that name?”
“If you wish it, master.”
Salsmann laughed and shook her hand. “No, no, I’m not your master. You’re just here temporarily for maintenance.”
Neko-chan-CM1017 frowned. “But I am not damaged or malfunctioning.”
“That depends on how you define malfunctioning.”
 
*
 
Neko-chan sat on the sofa and complied with the diagnostics procedures as they went along. She followed commands to the letter, raising arms and legs, reciting memory challenges, answering difficult mathematic questions. Neko-chan did not understand why they had to be completed; her own internal diagnostics worked perfectly and reported no malfunctions.
“Ok, that’s the easy diagnostics complete. I’m going to have to access your direct interface now. Is that okay?”
Neko-chan felt her imitation capillaries under her facial skin analogue fill and bloom, as she had practised before, and she blushed.
“That is okay,” Neko-chan replied. She hesitated -- both a learned and an programmed action -- and slowly loosened the collar on her maid uniform. Salsmann walked around the sofa to face her back, and as Neko-chan slipped her top down to reveal the interface port between her shoulderblades, she felt the human female’s hands touch her skin analogue. Her ears twitched on top of her head.
“Okay. I’m going to plug in an automatic system dump. It’ll take a snapshot of your current processes.”
Neko-chan felt the plug insert, and her auditory programs let out a little squeak. She felt Salsmann’s hands jump in reaction.
“Are you okay?”
Neko-chan responded, “Yes, I’m okay,”, but felt that it was an understatement. She was having difficulty analysing the current situation and potential future continuations. Her instinct -- her programming -- was to be passive and receptive to the situation and let it unfold as her master desired. She felt the snapshot of her processes save on to the plug, and felt embarrassed -- as far as her programming allowed -- to have her thought processes copied.
 
*
 
Salsmann peered at the list of system processes on her screen. She knew most of them by name alone, long hours spent analysing and troubleshooting other units. She knew which ones were purely motor functions, which ones were organisational, which ones translated visual or auditory input. Sitting on top of these base processes were other, more complex ones, spidering their way across multiple parts of the operating system, combining discreet inputs and memories, comparing to saved situations and pre-programmed responses. Some of these determined verbal processes, some of them organised pseudo-random data to approximate creativity. Several -- the more complex processes -- approximated emotional responses.
“Hmmm.”
“Is something the matter?”
Salsmann glanced up at Neko-chan -- what a typical name,she thought -- and nodded in response.
“Your emotional programs are running weird. There’s more activity than should be baseline, and the bias towards, uh,interpersonal performance is about four times average.”
Neko-chan’s facial skin blushed again, the third time so far. Salsmann made a note of the response, underneath the notes of her vocal delays and fidgeting imitations.
“Based on this I’d say you are malfunctioning. Your reactions are those that should be programmed for situations involving a human male.”
Salsmann sighed and leant back on the chair, squeezing the bridge of her nose. Across from her, Neko-chan fidgeted on the sofa a little more, and cocked her head to display confusion.
“I don’t know how I’m going to report this,” Salsmann continued. “I can’t just tell manufacturing that one of the companion robots is gay.”
 
*
 
Neko-chan stood in the kitchen, carrying out other aspects of her programming. Domestic duties were easy, comparatively - the processes straightforward and embedded. An egg required N force to crack, rice takes X time to steam, an onion should be diced into Δ-millimetre-sized pieces. She carried out these duties automatically, without direct thought, whilst her auditory processes worked more consciously.
Salsmann sat at the table talking on her phone. Occasionally she would gesture to the air to emphasise a particular phrase - pointless, if on the phone.
“...Of course I know we manufacture same-sex models. A statistically significant percentage of sales are -- yes, that’s not the point. CM1017 wasn’t initialised that way. It’s...”
Salsmann sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose again. Neko-chan saved the image for future analysis.
“I don’t -- it doesn’t work that way. It’s not a damn boolean function. Look, I’ll -- fine.” Salsmann turned to face the kitchen. “Hey, Neko-chan! Is there a $var_gay in your setup?”
“I am not aware of any such variable,” she replied. Salsmann threw up her hands in exasperation.
“You hear that? Of course there isn’t.”
Neko-chan continued listening as Salsmann talked on the phone. She did not know the voice on the other end, assuming it to be a colleague. Her auditory sensors were not precise enough to catch the other person’s words without significant mistakes in transcription.
Neko-chan finished cooking whilst Salsmann was still on the phone. She carefully squeezed the ketchup out, poured a mug of tea, and retrieved a knife and fork from the drawer. As she brought the plate over to the table Salsmann looked up, their eyes meeting briefly.
“Oh, I’ve got to go, food’s ready... yes, perks of working on a maid model. I’ll copy you in to the report later.”
Salsmann hung up and looked down at the plate on the table. Neko-chan stood in anticipation next to her, hands clasped together.
“Thank you for the food. I--“ Salsmann frowned at the ketchup on top. “You didn’t have to draw a heart on it.”
Neko-chan blushed again.
“I guess it is your programming, though.”
 
*
 
Salsmann leafed through the protocol documents with a mounting headache. She was aware of Neko-chan in the background, busying herself with housework, carrying out her regular programmed tasks. Yet whenever Salsmann turned her attention away from work to subtly observe her, Neko-chan’s actions never quite felt as automative as they should. She gave the air more of a human who, to distract from or help process a difficult collection of emotions, busied themselves with physical actions. Neko-chan washed the dishes whilst, somewhere in her circuitry, she thought gay thoughts.
As Salsmann looked up, so did Neko-chan, and their eyes met for a second. Both of them blushed and looked away; why she should feel embarrassed, Salsmann didn’t know.
 
She had Neko-chan sit down on the sofa opposite her. Her maid programming did her well; she sat very primly, legs tight together and hands on knees. Salsmann cleared her throat, and started to talk.
“For the meantime, you’ll be staying with me. Manufacturing and Programming are arguing with themselves and won’t have much use for you past data dumps.”
Neko-chan nodded and her eyes flitted between Salsmann’s face and hands.
“I understand. I’m sorry if I am causing trouble for you.”
“No, you’re -- well, you are, but...” Salsmann groaned and squeezed her temples before continuing. “It’s not your fault, but your... existence... is causing the upper ranks a headache.”
Neko-chan tilted her head to the side - were it not so sudden, the move would have been alarmingly human.
“Are there not same-sex companion models also manufactured?”
“There are, but there’s... the concern is on how, or why, you’ve switched from hetero- to homo-. It’s harmless for your case, but people ask questions and blow it up to other examples, and...”
Salsmann sighed. “Media Relations are trying to test us and ask, if you can switch, what’s to stop a nursery robot developing assassin programming.”
“I would have thought the difference in physical circuitry a sufficient barrier.”
Salsmann shrugged. “Me too. I don’t know. It’s nonsense, but... it’s nonsense we have to work through, somehow.”
Neko-chan leaned forward and rested her head on her hands.
“Why am I gay? It all seems so much trouble.”
Salsmann sighed. “Why are either of us?”
 
*
 
As her master tired of her previous owner’s given name, the unit accepted its new designation of Kitty and learned to recognise it as her own. She did not have any opinion on her name - she was not programmed to - but it seemed to make the human satisfied.
Kitty ran through the motions that every cat maid robot was programmed to do. She cleaned and she cooked, and whilst this owner showed little interest in physical intimacy, her programming - her instinct - was to be receptive and ready.
It made her feel good to do these things; that is, her programming recognised their completion as a good result. Kitty had felt in past, and would in future feel, that completion of chores was a good thing. She found it difficult to distinguish programming from emergent behaviour; on reflection, it was not obvious whether she felt good because she had cooked dinner, or because she had cooked dinner for Ms Salsmann specifically; whether she was attracted to her because of her programming, or because of her emergent behaviour. She felt it was important to distinguish, and with each passing day her programming ran iterations on the love problem. Kitty thought, and saved each thought away in her memory bank for further in-depth analysis.

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