Part 6: Some Assembly Required

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

Almost all the robotics engineers and A.I. scientists on the floor of John’s building gathered in his lab to see the unveiling of Alice to the scientific community. Most of them had heard about Alice and wanted to see if the legends were true, and I gladly put on a show for them. As I prepared to assemble Alice a group of about 20 people stood behind me, all of them eagerly looking at the two pieces of luggage in front of me as they all fantasized about the magic contained within them.

I started off by opening the smaller of the two cases to reveal Alice’s torso, nobody except me knew what to expect. I finally broke the tension when I revealed it, which almost looked like the inside of a desktop computer. It was an anticlimactic moment as nearly everybody expected something more anthropomorphic, but then I explained, “This is what the inside of Alice’s torso looks like, I had to strip her skin to fit her inside my luggage, but this is truly the guts of Alice.”

I took a screwdriver and started to point out the important features, “Inside of this titanium rib cage are six motherboards, each of them holding 128 32-core ARM processor, each core augmented by a 32 register 64-bit SIMD coprocessor.” I pointed to two metal boxes outside of the rib cage, then said, “That’s a solid-state drive, which is used more or less like non-volatile RAM for accelerating database searches, and a holographic memory drive which acts more like long-term memory.” Pointing further down I said, “This is the fuel cell that generates the electricity to power Alice, we chose a fuel cell because it is the best power-to-weight power source. This particular one runs at 200 °C, which is why it has all this thermal insulation around it. It uses light hydrocarbons such as methane, ethane, propane or butane.”

“ARM processors, that doesn’t sound like particularly sophisticated hardware,” John said.

I looked back at him and said, “Yes, all of the electronic components in Alice are mass-produced parts. My father’s idea was to create an android that can be mass-produced. Alice may not look pretty now, but that’s because I haven’t put on her skin. But first, since the skin is very tight, I’ll need some lubrication to put it on. John, do you have any?”

John was surprised, he responded, “Do I look like the kind of person who carries lube with me all the time?”

The entire group giggled, I rolled my eyes as I waited for them to calm down and said, “Please, get your minds out of the gutter.”

Someone went to the chemistry stockroom and fetched a solution of polyethylene glycol. I rubbed it onto parts of the titanium alloy frame of Alice, then took the skin of her torso out of the wooden crate and started shimmying it onto her austere-looking electronics. As her skin was being slipped on everybody was surprised by how human-like she was beginning to appear already, but what shocked them the most were the realistic-looking genitalia. As I snapped the vaginal opening of Alice into place I heard John saying, “Holy shit, is that a pussy?”

I felt embarrassed, not only by John’s question but also the bemused look on everybody’s face as they stared at Alice’s naked torso. “If you insist on calling it that, I prefer the term ‘girl thingy,’” I said, causing everyone in the room to giggle, “but if you want to know, yes, it’s a vagina. My dad wanted to create a ‘companion robot.’ What he had in mind is a robot that is designed to take care of the elderly, to feed them, help them move around, remind them to take their medication, turn them over if they are bedridden and so on. Dad thought that sexual activity would help the elderly achieve a longer life, or at least a more pleasurable one. Well, at least it is a great marketing point. My dad also created a male version of this android with fully functioning male genitalia, just don’t ask me where he gets the semen.”

All of the people in the room were either smirking or embarrassingly covering their mouths as I explained all this. When I took Alice’s head, arms and legs from the crate John said, “To be honest I’m slightly creeped out seeing all this. All these naked body parts look so realistic, yet they are all dismembered like some psychotic killer is disposing a body. I bet that’s how Ed Gein got started, he was trying to create a realistic-looking female android so he started digging graves, then decided that he might get realistic skin by killing his victims.”

I further explained the workings of Alice to the crowd as I showed her head to them, “You might think that the head would contain artificial intelligence hardware, but all of the microprocessors responsible for the A.I. are in the torso. The head is filled mostly with linear motors to reproduce the subtle features of human facial expressions, along with sensors such as cameras for vision, gyroscope for balance, and even chemical sensors to detect smell and taste.”

I pushed my screwdriver up Alice’s nose to release a latch securing the top of Alice’s skull to the rest of her head, it popped opened revealing the mechanisms inside it. “Each of these cylinders is a linear motor, they allow for fine movements of the face. You can see a row of tiny switches, these allow for testing of these motors.” I pushed the switches, but the face didn’t move. “Unfortunately since there is no power she can’t move, there’s a test power supply I can attach this to…” and after the power supply was connected I touched the switches again and parts of the face twitched. I noticed that some people were slightly frightened watching Alice’s face coming to life. My guess is this was because in her dismembered state Alice straddled the line between being dead and alive, and when one of the pieces showed signs of life it felt like seeing a zombie crawling out of its grave.

I started to slowly put Alice back together, connecting the wires that allows Alice to move her head, arms and legs, then screwing the head and limbs to the torso she was almost complete. The only thing left to do is to dress her and put propane fuel inside her, and then wait until the fuel cell warms up. Forty-five minutes passed before Alice’s fuel cell reached its operating temperature, but the entire time all of the people in the lab waited in anticipation for Alice to wake up and perform her first action.

When Alice’s power level became adequate she automatically turned on. When she first awoke her eyes blinked three times as usual, her eyes darted around the room making eye contact with everyone, then stopped and stared straight ahead with her trademark intense gaze. I started speaking to her, “Alice, welcome to John’s lab,” then pointing to John, “this is John.”

Alice swiveled her head towards John, then said with her monotone voice, “Hello John, nice to meet you.” The entire lab applauded in amusement for at least half a minute, despite Alice not having done anything useful, then a voice from the back of the group said, “Now, have Alice make us some coffee!”

“It’s not that simple,” I explained, “I have to guide her while she makes coffee.”

“Well, can’t you do that now?” the voice from the back asked.

“Sure,” I answered, then said to Alice, “Alice, come and follow me.” The entire team followed me and Alice to the kitchen.

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