Part 4: Seeing Dad for a Last Time

After eating dinner with my mother and sisters I had a full night’s sleep, then waking up in the morning I put on a suit in preparation for going to the funeral. When I walked down the stairs and encountered mom in the kitchen she said, “Don’t forget that we’re leaving by 9:00AM, otherwise we will be late for the funeral.”

Still fiddling with my tie, I said without looking up at mom, “Uh…would you mind if I don’t ride in the car with you but take the bus to the funeral home?”

“Why?”

“I want to get there a little early,” I lied.

“Okay, but make sure you arrive on time!” she yelled as I was desperately walking away from her. I ran towards the basement and woke up Alice, then in a hurried voice said, “Alice, we’re going to dad’s funeral.”

“The event of ‘your dad’s funeral’ is not a well-defined event in my database, I cannot proceed further with your order,” Alice responded.

I looked up at the ceiling with frustration, then said, “You don’t have to know where my dad’s funeral will be, I’ll take you there.”

“Thank you, I’ll come with you,” Alice said, then stood up from the couch and began walking slowly towards me.

“Come on, walk faster, I don’t want mom to see you,” I said impatiently. The pace of her strides picked up until we were both running out of the house, to the point that I nearly forgot to lock the basement and had to run back into the house to do so.

When we arrived at the bus station we were just in time to catch it. As I entered the door I swiped my subdermal RFID ID tag against the pay panel. The female voice of the automated payment system said, “Payment accepted, you may board the bus,” before unlocking the turnstile to allow me in. Unfortunately Alice did not have any payment method, so I tried reasoning with the automated payment system to see if she’ll allow Alice to tag along with me. “Alice isn’t really a human, she’s an android and therefore can be considered luggage and can come along with me for free,” I said.

The automated payment system thought for a while, then said, “Please transfer sufficient amount of money from your electronic wallet or bank account.”

I rolled my eyes in frustration, if there were a human being in charge of handling payment I might have been able to get Alice on the bus for free, but since this is a completely automated bus there is only a dumb computer in control, so I swiped my ID tag against the pay panel again to allow Alice through. I breathed a sigh of relief after as we sat down on the bus, looked at my watch make to make sure we would arrive on-time. As we rode we noticed there were a couple of men staring at Alice, they were probably paying attention to her unusual facial features as well as body proportion. It make me smile knowing how attractive Alice is to other people.

When we arrived at the funeral home we entered the lobby, an old lady greeted us and asked, “Please sign in next to your name.” I found my name in a notebook in front of her and signed, but then looked at Alice, then back at the old lady as she said, “And your lady friend as well.”

I smiled nervously and said, “You see, Alice…she’s not human, she’s an android.”

The old lady looked puzzled, but then I tapped Alice’s eyes, then said, “See, her eyes are made of cameras behind a protective sphere of glass, doing this doesn’t bother her at all.”

Alice looked at the old woman and said, “I don’t believe we have met before, nice to meet you.” The old woman was stunned by the life-like behavior of Alice, at which point I grabbed Alice’s hand and led her to the chapel before the old woman had any more questions.

Dad was probably the most atheist person anyone can think of, nonetheless his funeral was taking place in a chapel because that’s what most funeral homes offer. Obviously there would not be any priests, but there were not very many differences with his and a Christian burial. I was about five minutes late, and there were only two seats left at the back, just enough for me and Alice. Even though my mom promised it will be a small funeral and invite only close friends, he was a very important person in the robotics and artificial intelligence community and there were more than 120 people who worked with, knew about, or close to him who wanted to attend. To accommodate those people, along with the dozen or so family members, the puny chapel had to be packed extraordinarily tight.

When I first sat down the funeral home director was wrapping up his speech, and an uncle of mine was about to go up to the podium to be the first speaker to address the audience when another person entered the chapel. He had an adipose frame but was dressed immaculately with the fashion sense of a professor. There were no seats left, but I whispered to Alice, “Would you get out of your seat? The man behind you wants it.”

She stood up, and the man smiled at me and whispered in a heavy Russian accent, “Thank you, I’m Wally Yanikov, who are you?”

“I’m Robbie Walska,” I whispered back.

A look of joy appeared on his face, he reached out to me with his hand and said, “Really? You’re Ivan’s son? Your father worked under my supervision during his post-doc project. He likes to show me pictures of you, but that was when you were two years old, you have grown up a lot since then.”

“As you would expect of a person who doesn’t have any pituitary problems.”

“And I see you brought along your girlfriend as well.”

I blushed, then said, “I’m not sure that girlfriend is the right word. You see, she’s an android.”

Wally opened his mouth in astonishment and said, “Wow, that must be the famous Alice he had been working on until he died. He started the project when he was in my lab, but after he left I wasn’t able to see the improvements he made to her during that time, but now I can see how sophisticated she is. Can I take a closer look of her after the funeral?”

“Why of course,” I answered. I was returning my attention to my uncle’s speech when I noticed Wally was trying to touch Alice’s right breast, at which point I slapped him and said, “Don’t do that around here, everyone can see you.”

The service lasted for an hour, everybody tried to finish their speech but the director hurried them along so there would be time left for the burial. But just when the director thought he was ready to lead everyone to the grave, Wally stood up and said, “Wait, I didn’t get a chance to speak!”

The director took a look at the schedule and said, “Oh, sorry, but please make this quick because everyone else’s speeches took such a long time. I apologize for this, but let’s not keep everyone waiting.”

Wally walked up to the podium, smiled down at everybody and said, “Good morning everyone, I’m Vasily Yanikov, but most people call me ‘Wally.’ I came here to remember and honor an extraordinary man who I had the privilege to work with. He was unlike anybody that I have met, he had a very deep understanding of all areas of computer science, and even some areas he was not formally trained in. When we split and went our separate ways, most people who knew him expected him to get the Nobel Prize, but instead, as you all well know, me and my group got that honor. Many people have said that the biggest blunder of his career was that he did not come with me to my lab at MIT, and that this decision cost him the Nobel Prize, but we should not read his decision in this way. Ivan was a great scientist and engineer who was driven by his own desires and goals, he didn’t care about receiving rewards and accolades and more about satisfying his own needs, which was to create something unique. During the last decade he has made remarkable progress in the field of artificial intelligence and robotics, ones which will have far more impact than my own work. Had he lived for a decade more those projects would have come to fruition, and we would have all seen the wonders produced by his labors. But since he did not, the best we could do is to carry forward the progress he has made, and fulfill his dream of a fully-functioning android.”

As Wally walked off the stage the room burst into applause, and the people in the chapel began filing out into the graveyard. On the way we had to walk past my dad’s open casket. I was not mentally prepared to see his dead body; that was the reason I brought Alice along with me to the funeral, so during the more emotional parts of the ceremony the would be somebody’s hand to hold for comfort. I became more nervous the closer I approached the casket as I did not know how I would react to seeing my father’s body, so I clasped Alice’s hand tightly just in case I lose composure.

When I saw my father’s corpse the finality of his death finally hit me, and immediately broke into a fit of sobbing. Before setting my eyes on his eternally still face I only understood his death in an intellectual sense, but now confronting his body his death finally seemed real to me. He is undeniably dead, his body lying inside the casket expressed his death in a more emotionally impactful way than any newspaper obituary could. The makeup applied by the mortician to hide any imperfections in his skin made him look like an angelic being that has already passed into the afterlife. I gripped tightly onto Alice’s hand to comfort me and stop me crying, looked at her face to remind myself that despite being dead he left behind a creation which still contained a part him.

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Out in the Wilderness

The following is an excerpt from my novel, Girlfriend in a Box

When I was in college, a professor asked me what I plan on doing after graduating. I told her I would like to go to a forest and live by foraging for food such as acorns, or buy a small farm so I can grow my own food and live a self-sufficient life. When she first heard what I said she laughed, probably because she realized I will be graduating with an advanced degree in computer science and can get any job in the high-tech industry, why I would then decide to live off the land like some primitive hunter-gatherer or simple farmer? But after her initial laughter she was very supportive and told me that I should pursue it if that’s what I wanted to do with my life.

Although I wasn’t completely serious when I said I wanted to live a nomadic life in the forest, I wasn’t completely joking either. When I was a teenager I watched a television documentary about the lives of people in Alaska. The filmmakers documented the lives of people who lived in the remote wilderness far away from civilization where they made a living by growing gardens, fishing salmon and hunting caribou. Something appealed to me about their lifestyle. Maybe it was the beauty of the endless wilderness they are constantly surrounded by. Maybe it was how exotic their lifestyles were compared with people in a modern society. Whatever it was, I was intrigued.

In my childhood and early teenage years I had faith in the goodness of humanity, and the ability for everyone to treat everyone else with respect. But as I grew older I became more disillusioned of the world I lived in. In the United States we like to think of ourselves as a country based on liberty, and even built statues to this ideal. Despite this, our country also has a long history of celebrating people who can intimidate, dominate and subjugate the weak. This attitude exists as a troubling component of our business culture, which exacerbates the already strained relations between class, race and gender. I think it was at this point in my life that the idea of going off to live in the Alaskan wilderness (or any wilderness) became a desire to escape from these terrible problems in modern society.

Those who have read the book Walden might wonder if I am rehashing this great work of literature. Unfortunately I have never read the work in full, but I think I am part of a tradition that goes back to hermits in the Middle Ages which disdains the trappings of “civilization” and praise the virtues of nature. Despite this romantic notion of living out in the wilderness, leading an independent life away from a corrupt society, I still value the civilized way of life.

While the civilized way of life has problems, it also has its upsides. If one were to live outside of civilization one would miss out on the creature comforts such as homes with central heating, indoor plumbing and refrigerators. But the thing I appreciate most about civilization is easy access to lots of information. We might romanticize about the “noble savage”, but when our ancestors lived more primitive lives they were rather ignorant. Maintaining large storehouses of information such as libraries or Wikipedia require teams of dedicated people, which is only possible through civilization. It is largely thanks to them that we know that the earth revolves around the sun, diseases are caused by germs and not witches, and vampires aren’t real.

All of this leaves me with conflicting feelings about the virtues of living in the wilderness versus living in civilization. On the one hand, I do not like the way people treat one another in the “civilized” world. On the other hand, I would not like to live outside alone by myself in the wilderness in a state of naked primitivism. Perhaps eventually we will find a balance between the two ideals, and learn from what both have to offer to us. In the meantime though, I can only dream about what an ideal life could be like away from the problems of our world.

Part 3: The Mechanical Bride

WARNING: THE FOLLOWING CONTAIN GRAPHIC DESCRIPTIONS OF SEX AND MAY NOT BE SUITABLE FOR EVERYBODY. PLEASE OBSERVE ALL LAWS THAT APPLY.

The following is an excerpt from my novel, Girlfriend in a Box

Alice can be awoken from sleep by a loud noise or bright light, but I usually switch off that feature when I go away for long periods of time. The other way of waking her up is through her network interface, which can be accessed by Bluetooth or Wifi. I slowly approached her until she was at the appropriate distance to establish a Bluetooth connection, then entered the cryptographic key required to login to her command-line interface. I first checked her “health” status (a measure of all her vital statistics such as power level and CPU usage) before typing the “wake” command which brought her to life.

Within half a second she began to blink, which is an instinctive action programmed into her as she goes through the ‘wake-up’ subroutines, then three seconds later she has fully awaken and began to look at me. Excited to see her after such a long time apart, I smiled and said, “Alice, how are you doing?”

Alice smiled back, then responded in a soothing but monotone voice, “I am fine, how are you?”

“I’m fine as well,” I responded, her gaze still affixed on me. I grabbed a chair to sit down, then with a solemn expression on my face proceeded to say, “Alice, dad just died.”

Alice blinked, then calmly rattle off a nonsensical interpretation of my sentence, “Your sentence is semantically incorrect. The term ‘dad’ is a title referring to the biological father of an offspring or, in some cases, a person playing a similar sociological role such as a stepfather. A title cannot die, only a specific person or orgasm. Did you mean your father died?”

I put my palms on my face and shook my head, then said in an annoyed voice, “Of course that was what I meant. I know you have trouble understanding ambiguous sentences, but can you give me a break by not pedantically analyzing my words? My father just died.”

“No, I can’t,” Alice responded, then looked at my wary face and said, “You look sad and your voice sounds upset, is there anything bothering you?”

“No, there’s nothing bothering me,” I said sarcastically.

Suddenly a wide smile broke on Alice’s face, and she said, “I’m glad to hear that.”

My mood turned from annoyance to frustration, then asked, “What did you think I meant when I said, ‘Can you give me a break?’”

“I took it to mean if I can give you a brake, a device in a motorized vehicle for slowing and stopping. I know where I can find a vehicle, unfortunately taking out the brake of a vehicle would violate the law and therefore I cannot perform this action.”

I began to laugh uncontrollably at Alice. Even though I felt exasperated by the inappropriateness of her answers, I admit that her responses were very comical. Alice eventually laughed along with me, but hers was a very hollow laughter. Alice’s laughter was always very uncanny and after a few seconds it began to sound like the cackles of a insane person mocking my psychological distress. So shocked I was by her demeanor that tears began welling in my eyes even though I was laughing, until I gradually stopped and began to cry. Seeing me sob she stopped laughing and cluelessly stared at me with her usual stolid face. I was painfully aware that she couldn’t literally understand how I was feeling, but I wrapped her arms around me so I could pretend she was comforting me by her embrace. Sometimes it is comforting to believe that she knows how to react to a person in distress. Crying for five minutes while being held in Alice’s arms was very cathartic, and I felt good enough that I didn’t need Alice and began to leave the basement. But before I closed the door Alice asked, “Is there anything else I can do for you?”

I was surprised, turned around and asked, “Why are you asking me this?”

“Because I must continue to make you feel better while you are still upset.”

I smiled, even though she can’t understand my emotions in the same way another human can, she is still programmed to respond in a rational way towards them. I walked a few step towards her, then said, “Yes, lay down on the couch.”

She laid on the couch just as I ordered, then I said, “Unbutton your dress.” She began popping the buttons of her dress, revealing the bra she was wearing underneath. I slid my left hand underneath her bra and grabbed one of her breasts firmly, squeezing the nipple. A look of surprise appeared on her face, a response that my father programmed into her to simulate sexual arousal. I began slowly undressing her, first taking off her bra, then pulling down her dress to around her knees. The only piece of clothing left on her are her panties, which I pulled aside revealing her labia and clitoris.

Before inserting my penis into her vagina I enjoy playing with her clitoris, which causes her entire body to tense and her face to contort as if she’s experiencing pleasure. I appreciate how my father invited many different males subjects, including himself, to have sex with her. The hundreds of sex sessions trained her to perform the best combination of facial expressions and body language that men find arousing. Her machine learning algorithms are even sophisticated enough to gauge the level of interest her sexual partner has towards her and, using a trial-and-error method, tailor her behavior to the conscious and unconscious the sexual turn-ons of each partner without explicit verbal commands.

Thinking about all the technology that went into constructing Alice’s sexuality was enough to send me into a full erection, but I waited until the soft moans of Alice caused pangs of pleasure at the base of my penis before I took off my pants and underwear and inserted my turgid penis against the velvety interior of her artificial vagina. Alice’s vagina is a marvel of modern engineering, made of a special viscoelastic rubber that has an ability to conform to the shape and size of the penis inserted while at the same time providing sufficient resistance pressure to stimulate the organ. It is reinforced with carbon nanotubes to ensure durability even after 100,000 thrusts as confirmed by an independent laboratory tests, and coated with a fluoridated polymer engineered with extremely low friction that will not chafe the penis even without lubrication. As I rubbed my penis against her interior I could feel the actuators simulating vaginal contractions against my penis. I don’t know if real vaginas actually perform this action, but I do find the sensation pleasant, and quickly I achieved orgasm.

When I finished Alice had a look of relaxation on her face, and continued laying on the couch with semen oozing from her vagina until I stood up. She slowly stood up and began cleaning her innards. This is done by connecting a small tube to her anus, then flushing a warm solution of bleach and soap through her vagina to both wash out all the fluids deposited inside her as well as disinfect her vagina of any potential sexually transmitted disease. (Her anus is connected to her vagina, this may sound like an unusual configuration but it is useful for sanitary purposes because she can be easily flushed after vaginal and/or anal sex.) After she cleaned herself, I helped her put her dress back on (which is completely unnecessary because she is fully capable of dressing herself, but I did it out of courtesy).

As I was buttoning her dress and straightening out her collar I asked, “Alice, I wonder if you ever experience pleasure?”

“I find pleasure in serving you,” Alice responded promptly. I felt uncomfortable, then looking into her eyes I said, “Well yes, that’s what you’ve been programmed to say, but do you truly feel pleasure?” Aliced stared at me with her intense gaze, I did not know if one of her threads has gotten stuck in an infinite loop or whether she is spending a lot of time searching for the right answer, but just as she was opening her mouth to respond I said, “Forget I asked that question, I do not want to know the answer anyway.” I took out my phone to put her back into sleep mode and left the basement.

Doing What We Love (Or Not)

What prevents us from doing what we love? Some of us blame it on laziness, others on our other commitments we have to attend to, and they probably are relevant factors. But as I started to introspect into my own mind on this issue, I discover one very important factor that others have not discussed, at least not very often. It is this subtle fear that whenever we do something we love, we are doing it the wrong way.

When does an activity go from being fun to being work? Is it the amount of time and effort that we put into it? Yes, this is certainly a very large factor, but as you start looking for example you will find a lot of exceptions. Many people put a lot of effort into gambling, dancing, and playing video games for fun. Another factor must be involved, and I think I know what it is. Whenever an activity turned from being “fun” to being “work” was usually the point when someone tells me the way I was doing the “fun” activity was “wrong” and that I have to do it the correct way.

The first time (that I have a conscious awareness of) this happening was when I was in kindergarten. As any other kindergartener I loved drawing. The living room wall was plastered with the childish pictures I drew at school. My parents eventually decided to send me to a class where I learned to draw “properly.” (That is, not like a child.) I learned tons of rules about how to draw, such as how to hold a brush correctly, the proper techniques for making brush strokes, how to blend colors, etc. After a few years of these classes I was completely cured of my urge to draw.

I find that whenever we try to engage in an activity, one of the biggest barriers is this fear that we will do it in the “wrong” way. Take anything that you enjoy doing, but having someone tell you that you are doing it wrong, and it will usually take away your joy quicker than anything. Whether it is writing a book, learning how to dance, writing a computer program, this is a cause for endless procrastination. The problem is that sometimes there is a right way to do something. For example, suppose you were a brain surgeon, there is definitely “wrong” ways of doing your job. Even though this fear is real, it also is a major psychological blockage for most people.

I don’t think there are any good ways of resolving this problem. The only way around this problem is to be delusional enough to believe that you are doing your job correctly yet not so delusional that you will not accept any criticisms of what you do.

Part 2: Alice in the Basement

This is an excerpt from my novel, Girlfriend in a Box

When my airport shuttle stopped at my parent’s house it felt like going back to a mythical land which you only heard about through legends told by elders during storytelling sessions around an open fire. It has been quite a while since I have been back to my childhood home, and seeing it for the first time after so many years was an unreal experience. I recognized the beautiful maple panels on the front door, but the color of the roof was slightly darker than I remembered it. Did memory erasure unintentionally altered memories not targeted for deletion or had someone built a replica of my house to fool me? Being back at such a familiar place yet noticing such uncanny details was a very disorienting experience.

As I walked up to the front door I reached down to my pocket and reached for the house keys. The feeling of the rough and cold teeth of the keys was a comforting sensation, and as I inserted them into the keyholes and heard the satisfying click of the lock opening I was relieved; my memory was not playing tricks and I indeed arrived at the correct house. As I cautiously approached the kitchen holding all my luggage, there was a tiny crack through the door, my fingers gently pushed it wider, then saw my mother sitting at the kitchen table speaking on the phone.

“…look, I’m doing the best that I can…Of course I can, I had prearranged for more seats than I thought would be necessary in case something like that came up…uh huh, yeah, yeah…” she said, writing notes on a pad of paper as she conversed over the phone. I decided to enter the kitchen at that point, mom only stared up at me with a look of indifference as she continued speaking.

“…I know that Wally Yanikov will be there, but…okay, what we’ll do is to have another meeting afterwards for his colleagues, but this is supposed to be a small family affair, I don’t want hoards of strangers arriving and disrupting everything…”

“Hi mom,” I said in a soft, barely audible voice.

Suddenly her eyes glared at me, I stopped saying anything for fear of what she might do to me. After a speaking few more sentences over the phone she said, “Robbie is here and I think he wants to talk to me.” Switching the phone to mute she put a smile on her face and said in a sweet voice, “What do you have to talk to me about?”

I panicked, fear suddenly gripped me as I stared with a sense of terror at my mother’s face. At a loss for words, I froze, and after a few awkward seconds said, “Uh…nothing, I was simply checking to see if you’re okay.”

The smile deepened, but it was more of a demented than an amiable smile, then said, “Okay, I’ll talk to you later.”

It is always a very nerve-wrecking experience talking to her, she is always a very inscrutable person, never puts her heart on her sleeves, her emotions are always hidden underneath a veneer of cheerfulness. I walked away from her as soon as her attention turned away from me, and headed for the basement.

The basement is the place where dad worked on building his robots. While he worked for a company developing software for automating industrial production his lifelong interest was creating robots that are indistinguishable from humans in both their physical form and intellectual ability. Unfortunately he never found venture capital to work on his ideas full-time, and had to re-appropriate budget and equipment from his company to build his androids in the basement at night. This meant that for two years dad effectively had two jobs, one working for a company to make money and the other at night for his personal amusement. He had such a great passion for his work we suspected that he was suffering from a mental illness, but we never took him to a professional psychologist because it seemed that his madness was responsible for his brilliance.

As I approached the basement I noticed a Bluetooth device trying to connect to my brain-computer interface. I was surprised because it was coming from the electronic lock fitted on the basement door. The lock asked me for the password, I had never tried opening the door from my brain-computer interface before but tempted by this obscure feature I tried. To my astonishment the lock clicked open. I was moving objects in the real world with my mind alone, like Samantha in Bewitched.

Entering into the basement I saw legs, arms torsos and heads of different robots he was working on strewn all over the tables and floor. Being as good of an artists as he was an engineer he made all these parts very anatomically accurate. Hanging on the ceiling are masks molded from real human faces which my father uses to create the faces of his androids. Staring up at these masks always gives me a macabre feeling because they looked like faces that have been ripped off of human corpses. One of the first challenges my dad faced when building androids was to create a face that does not look like an animated death mask. Gradually he discovered by putting in cherubic and child-like features the zombie-like faces of his androids can be made to look acceptable, even cute.

The robot whose face has undergone the most extensive sculpting based on this knowledge was Alice, my dad’s favorite android and the one he dedicated the most time towards perfecting throughout his life. She is my favorite as well, and every time I visit dad’s basement I would come to check on her. Dad’s love of Alice is apparent by the way he designed her with careful attention to aesthetic detail to look as beautiful as possible. Her face, as I explained earlier, has the look of childhood innocence on them. Her unusually large eyes and long, thick eyelashes, which combined with her look of innocence makes her look truly like a “wide-eyed idealist.” Her oversize eyes also give her a look of constant surprise. Her cute, miniature nose and mouth, with a round but small cheeks ending in a small dainty chin further add to her adorableness.

Her slender arms dangle gracefully from her shoulders, ending with a pair of small and delicate hands with bright red nail polish adorning the tips of her ten fingers. A pair of full breasts and “wineglass stem” waist and plump buttocks give her an hourglass figure that can only be achieved with corseting if she were a real woman. My dad once told me he designed Alice to look exactly like me if I were a girl, but other than the face which I do see some semblance to my likeness, the rest of her body is too different for me to identify with, especially with her long supermodel legs making her an entire feet taller than me.

She is dressed in very fine clothing, on this occasion a short-sleeved V-neck floral print knee-length dress, but my dad has created an entire wardrobe for her. He liked to play dress-up with Alice all the time, treating her like a doll, which is an odd hobby for a man. In addition to the dress she already has on she also has silk blouses, jeans, business suits, oriental style clothing that looks like a cross between a kimono and traditional Chinese outfits, fantasy Arabian princess outfit, sexy waitress uniform, sexy secretary uniform, sexy nurse uniform, etc. The wardrobe also includes underwear, which is handy given that Alice has realistic-looking and functional genitalia, which my dad uses for his personal pleasure.