Part 7: Refining Emotions

In order to justify my work I had to write a report explaining my methods and results, but even though I have done much work for the past three years there was little progress to show for it. Alice’s original A.I. software depends on a set of elegant mathematical ideas, while the software I wrote running alongside is based on observations of the tangle mess of axons that is inside our heads. The main problem laid in integrating the two software modules, which was almost like trying to write a calculus textbook in the form of a romance novel, it can be done but it can’t be done well. My intuition was to have certain situations under which she will display emotions, and that will at least demonstrate some of the capabilities of her neuronal networks.

It took me a few weeks to do this, Vera became impatient and one day came up to John’s lab to find me. I was sitting at my desk reviewing some of Alice’s code when she walked through the door with a smile, then walked towards me as I was absorbed in looking at the code and said, “Hi Robbie, how are you doing?”

I looked at at her with indifference and said, “Oh, I’m simply making sure that Alice runs perfectly the way I intended her to.”

“That’s very nice,” Versa said, “but I need your progress report.”

I stood up from my desk and said, “The report is ready, but first I would like to show Alice’s capabilities as of now.”

I walked Vera over to Alice, and said in a loud voice, “Alice, wake up!”

She opened her eyes and looked at me, it was a few seconds before she completely came out of her sleep, then I took a live cockroach attached to a string and placed it on her lap. Even before it had touched her clothes she began to cringe, and when it did she stood up and flapped around her skirt to throw the cockroach off of her.

“I have taught her how to be afraid of cockroaches,” I explained. Vera was delighted to see Alice’s emotional reaction to the insect, then putting the cockroach back into the jar I said, “you can see how realistic the reaction to the cockroach is, the look of disgust on her face looks absolutely genuine.” I then reached for a cage containing a mouse, took it out and placed it in Alice’s hands. She looked at the mouse delightfully and started to stroke it and make clicking noises to amuse the mouse. “I also taught her to adore small animals. It wasn’t very difficult, it seems that she had this instinct already latent within her, all I had to do was to guide her a little bit.”

“Well, it seemed like a success, I’ve never seen a robot display such realistic emotions,” Versa said.

“Unfortunately not all is well,” I said, taking the mouse away from Alice, and as I put it back into the cage Alice showed her displeasure on her face, “while it seemed that Alice can display emotions, there are certainly many gaps in her understanding of human feelings. Alice, look at my right hand!” I raised my middle finger at Alice, she calmly looked at my right hand, then back at my face, then stared away from me as she lost interest.

Vera did not know how to respond, she looked at me with shock and asked, “What was that supposed to demonstrate?”

“You see, Alice doesn’t understand emotions in the same way we understand them,” then showed my middle finger and asked, “Alice, what does this gesture mean?”

Responding calmly, she said, “The gesture you show is called the finger, the bird, or flipping someone off. It is a rude gesture meant to offend the person it is directed towards.”

Still holding up my finger I said, “Alice, do you feel offended?”

In a monotone voice she responded, “No.”

Vera was amused by Alice’s response, then asked, “What was going on with Alice?”

I explained, still holding up my middle finger, “You see, the reason that Alice responds in this manner is that this gesture, let’s call it flipping the bird, doesn’t in itself mean anything intrinsically. It is simply an arbitrary sign that we have attached a meaning to. In order for her to understand what flipping the bird means I have to explicitly teach her or program her to have an emotional reaction whenever I flip her the bird.”

“But Alice herself knows that this was supposed to be an offensive gesture, why wasn’t she offended?”

“It turned out there are two aspects of understanding that are relevant here. The first one is the pure semantic meaning of the sign, such as how it is related to other signs and so on, but the second one is the emotional aspect which doesn’t have anything to do with the semantic meaning of the sign.” I flashed Vera the “OK” sign with my hand and said, “In certain parts of Italy this is a very offensive sign.”

“Okay,” Vera said with a look of confusion.

“Now, knowing what you now know, are you offended when I flash you this gesture?” I asked, flashing the gesture again.

“No.”

I looked at Alice and said, “This is how Alice operates. Not only does she have to know what words and signs mean semantically, but she also has to respond with the correct emotion towards those words and signs. The problem is that we humans have tens of thousands of signs which we react to emotionally, and there are many subtleties in how we interpret those signs as well as experience those emotions. Figuring out how to create the appropriate emotion toward all those signs will be a challenge.”

“This is fascinating, but you still have to give me your progress report for your project.”

“Okay, it’ll be in your inbox in a few minutes,” I said, then walked over to my computer to e-mail the paperwork to Vera.

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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.

Part 5: Interview with a Robot

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

Even though the grave for my father was far away, the pallbearers carried it all the way without any help. The thirty or so people followed them, then gathered around the hole already dug into the ground to see his body interred. The funeral was prepared in such a hurry there wasn’t even time to order a tombstone (or “monument”, but I hate that term because you build monuments to heroes, not people like my father), and the casket will be placed in a grave that will for the moment remain unmarked except for a plastic marker inserted into the ground. The apparatus for lowering the casket had been set, the backhoe for refilling the grave is ready, we all stood around waiting for the casket to slowly arrive. Since I was a family member I had the privilege of being allowed to stand right next to the grave where the body will be lowered, with Alice beside me.

When the casket arrived and was placed on the apparatus, Alice’s eyes followed it as it sank below ground and into the hole underneath. Mom was standing across from me but all this time but did not look up because she was crying and clutching my aunt’s hand. When the casket was at the bottom of the hole my mother threw a bouquet of roses down, then one by one my family said their last good-bye to dad. As the funeral was finally wrapping up and everybody was about to disperse my mom raised her head and saw me with Alice, her eyes were filled with surprise. I realized I had made a mistake and started walking away quickly, but she caught up with us and started an angry tirade at me. Her voice was not very loud but nonetheless was very intimidating.

“What the hell is that thing doing here?” mom said, her face boiling with rage, “And in front of all these people?”

“Calm down mom,” I said, my heart pounding, “I have my reasons to bring her here with me, and this is just one special occasion which I really needed her to be by my side.”

“Stop calling her that! It’s a robot, not a person. Now you very well know how I feel about her…I mean it. Just put that goddamn thing out of the way so nobody sees it.”

At this point Wally approached us, the expression on my mother’s face changed from Hulk rage to Pollyanna smile. There is a Jekyll and Hyde quality to my mother’s personality; a wrathful, vengeful side and a sweet, caring side inhabiting the same body, and the ability to switch between the two in half the time it takes to blink your eyes.

“Hi Wally,” she said with a bright smile.

Wally smiled back, and said, “Hi Eve, long time no see. How are you doing? My condolences for your loss.”

“No, I don’t need your condolences, I’m doing well,” mom said, again resorting to her Joker smile.

Wally didn’t know what to make of my mother, then after a few awkward silent moment he said, “Right, just in case my brother happens to be a psychiatrist, if you feel you need someone to talk to he’s a great person to go to.” He handed mom a business card, she put it in her purse then left.

When Wally and I were left alone together he said, “Sorry for the lost of your father.”

I smiled, I didn’t know why, perhaps it’s a reaction to stress I learned from my mother, then brushing aside the strands of hair blown into my face by the gusty wind I said, “No, that’s alright. It had been in an emotional rollercoaster for the past few days, but I’m feeling better now.”

“Must be difficult seeing your father pass away so young, huh?”

I nodded, then said, “Well, then again eventually we all have to die, it’s sooner or later, right?”

Wally laughed, then said, “Oh, we have a philosopher here, don’t we?”

“I wouldn’t say that, I am just saying the obvious.”

Wally’s attention shifted over to Alice. He looked into her eyes, and two seconds later Alice said, “My name is Alice, how do you do?”

Wally reached out with his hand to shake Alice’s, and afterwards when the two hands disengaged Wally commented, “Wow, that felt like real human skin.”

“Thank you, my creator has done a great job designing my skin texture.”

A look of wonder appeared on Wally’s face, he looked towards me and asked, “Did Ivan specifically programmed Alice to say such things or does Alice spontaneously compose these phrases?”

“A little of both,” Alice responded, “I have been programmed with a set of formulaic answers to common questions, and my advanced syntax building software allows me to put together sentences in response to questions.”

Wally shook his head and said, “This is really awesome. Listen, I need to be in London by tomorrow, what is the fastest way from San Jose to London?”

“‘San Jose’ is an ambiguous term. Do you mean San Jose, Costa Rica or San Jose, California?”

Wally was surprised but in a pleasant way, and said, “California, of course.”

“Please wait for a moment while I gather the information to answer that question.” Fifteen seconds passed before Alice responded, “In five minutes, take Bus 22 to San Jose Internation Airport, take American Airlines flight 4827 to New York. Arrive at 1:47 AM Eastern Time, then connect to British Airway 392 and arrive at London at 7:17 AM Greenwich Meridian Time. Total time for the trip, 14 hours and 56 minutes. Do you want me to book the necessary flights?”

Wally appeared impressed, looked towards me and said, “That was excellent, the only problem was that Alice didn’t pick up on the fact that we are in San Jose, California currently, but otherwise she was able to plot a course better than a human can.”

As Wally continued exploring Alice’s capabilities a man who looked like Luigi from Super Mario Bros approached us. “Hello Uncle Steve!” I said, greeting him as he walked towards us.

Looking at me with a smile he replied, “Hello Robbie, or at least I hope you’re Robbie since you look so different from the last time I saw you I might be mistaken.”

“No, you identified me correctly,” I said, then looking towards Wally with good humor and said, “when I was younger Steve constantly mistook me for my sister Sherry, since the both of us looked so alike.”

Wally nodded with a smile, then said, “I believe you.”

Steve then greeted Wally with a handshake and said, “Nice to meet you, Ivan used to talk about you all the time so it’s nice to see you in person.” He then looked at Alice and asked, “And who may this fine young lady be?”

“That’s Alice, an android my father built,” I said.

Steve shook his head in disbelief and said, “You have to be kidding me, right? I mean, she looks exactly like another human, how can she be a robot?”

“You want proof that she’s a robot? Okay Alice, open the lid at the top of your head,” I commanded. What appeared to be the top of her head flipped open, exposing a nest of circuit boards and solenoids that fill her head. Steve nearly leapt back in surprise, he appeared almost frightened upon seeing Alice’s electronic guts.

“That’s the freakiest thing I have ever seen,” Steve said, still recovering from the surprise of discovering Alice to be a robot. He stuck a finger into Alice’s head and carefully touched one of the circuit boards, then said, “Okay, I believe you, Alice is a robot.”

Steve was so perturbed by seeing Alice that he did not completely recover from this shock, he looked at Alice while speaking to himself, “I never thought we would have the technology to build a robot as realistic as Alice. I’m afraid that if we build an entire army of Alice we would end up with a robot uprising.”

“Robots do not uprise, the premise of your statement is wrong.”

Steve appeared charmed by Alice’s response, then in a more relaxed voice he asked, “Alice, are you friendly towards the human race?”

“I have been programmed to serve all human beings. This means I will obey all commands, unless it conflicts with the code of conduct that has been programmed into me.”

There was a smile on Steve’s face as he seemingly lost his fear of her, then asked, “Alice, will you go to a bar with me and let me buy you a drink?”

“I will go to a bar with you if my master permits, but I cannot drink, for I am a robot,” Alice said very earnestly.

By this point Steve was visibly holding back his laughter, then said, “My god, not only does she look human but she has a sense of humor as well! Just to test you out, how much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?”

“Not enough information in my database to answer this question,” Alice answered in her classic monotone.

Steve burst into laughter, after a few guffaws he was gasping for breath, and took about a minute to recover then said with a satisfied grin on his face, “I don’t know if you intended it or not but I think Alice has a shot at a career in stand-up comedy. Excuse me while I play around with Alice a little bit.” Steve stood a step back, then tried to play the “patty cake” game with her. “Patty cake, patty cake…” he said as he clapped his hand together, but when he extended his right palm to meet with Alice she stood there staring blankly at Steve. “Okay, let’s try this again. Patty cake…” he reached out with his right palm but again Alice failed to respond, and merely stood like a block of wood.

Steve looked towards me and asked, “Does Alice know the ‘patty cake’ song?

I shrugged and said, “I don’t know, ask Alice.”

Alice opened her mouth and said, “‘Patty cake’, also known as ‘pat-a-cake’, is a popular nursery rhyme.”

Steve nodded, but wasn’t satisfied, and asked, “Yes, but do you know the game associated with ‘patty cake’?”

“Yes,” Alice answered, “the nursery rhymes has a game in which two players coordinate claps with one another.”

“Okay, so can you play that game with me?”

“Sorry, but I cannot find specific instructions for playing that game.”

“Okay, so I’ll teach you,” Steve said, glancing towards me to ensure I approved what he was doing. “When I thrust my right hand you hit it with your right hand, and when I thrust my left hand you hit it with your left hand,” he said while demonstrating the motions with his arms to Alice, “and in between you clap, can you do that?”

“I will obey your orders.”

“Semper fi,” Steve said with a military salute, then glanced towards me with a wry smile, before returning to playing ‘patty cake’ with Alice. “Patty cake, patty…” as Steve held out his right hand Alice hit him but with a fist instead of an open palm, and with such force that he immediately grimaced in pain. He flung his right hand in an attempt to relieve himself of the pain but looking at his face he was in agony even a minute after Alice hit him. I stood there in embarrassment, not knowing how to respond.

“Sorry that I forgot to mention this to you, but it’s dangerous for you to ask Alice to ‘hit you’. My dad built Alice to be much stronger than most humans and a punch from her has the potential to break bones. If I were you I would go to a hospital soon,” I said.

Steve waved his left hand and said, “I don’t think I need that for the moment, a cold pack and a few hours of rest would take care of the situation. I’ll take a rest from teaching Alice ‘patty cake’ for the moment, nice knowing you all.” Both Wally and I waved goodbye to him as he walked away massaging his right hand.

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.

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.

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.

Part 1: The Death of Ivan

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

I had a very special relationship with my father, Ivan. The memories of him in my mind are still strong, especially the times when he took me out fishing. There was a small pond about a fifteen minute drive from our house. Being wide and relatively shallow it harbored few fishes, and our catches usually consisted of pieces of garbage, and if we were lucky we would catch some tiny catfish so foul-smelling that no sane person will try to eat. Nonetheless I enjoyed the placid quietude of the lake and the surrounding environment. We spent much time lazily laying about on the shores watching cyclists rolling in front of the wooded landscape that provides a backdrop to this picture postcard scene.

Few people fished that lake, it may have to do with the fact that the wildlife and gaming department had closed it for that purpose. But since my dad knows the police and game warden well and was a renowned person in our community, nobody cared that we fished there. Of course we never took home anything we captured, dad used it as an exercise to expose me to the outdoors, and consequently I always had beautifully tanned arms almost year-round.

Every time after we finished fishing, except for those deathly cold months in the heart of winter, my dad would take me out for ice cream. My favorite flavor, the one I almost invariably chose, was vanilla, the most cliché flavor in the world. (You might think I would enjoy more exciting flavors, however the story of my life is not a novel, so every minuscule detail doesn’t have to hold the reader in rapt attention.) After finishing licking my ice cream cone, the melted streams of white fluid would trickle down the corners of my mouth, which somehow always brings a smile to my dad’s face. He said that I look cute that way.

Unfortunately, as time passed my father and I grew apart. From about the time of my middle school all the way through university I decided to focus more on studying and less attention on him. To be honest I was growing aloof from everybody, not just him. When I find myself amidst a crowd of strangers, such as in a classroom, I usually my head down hoping nobody would be paying attention to my business. What kept me from completely lapsing into despondency was the love of nature my dad instilled in me. When I was indoors doing homework and studying for exams I still enjoy looking outside the windows at the trees, grass and birds, they have such an ability to calm my nerves.

My father died a few years ago and now all that is left of him are those pleasant memories he left behind in my mind. I can’t remember precisely which day it was, probably some time in September since the leaves on the trees were beginning to turn color, and walking to my class the air was saturated with dust kicked up by the leaf-blower. After entering the lecture hall I found John sitting at his usual spot and decided to join him. John is the only friend I made since attending college, and we had grown close enough that we took the same courses just to be in each other’s company. It also helps that he happened to be the same major as me.

When the lecture started the professor had begun speaking about artificial neural networks. 10 minutes into his lecture I heard a beep from my cell phone notifying me of a new text message. I felt embarrassed because I thought everyone else heard the notification too, but then realized no one else could hear these sounds because they were coming directly from my neural implants.

Using the electrodes implanted into my brain I entered the password into my phone without moving a muscle. It was a very clumsy experience because I was not used to this completely new interface, but after a few tries I succeeded. I saw a message from my mother in the overwhelmingly large screen that appeared in my field of vision. It was one of the strangest messages she ever sent because all the letters are capitalized, “PLEASE COME HOME IMMEDIATELY” followed by a URL. I followed the link, which lead to an article on a university website, title reading: “Ivan Walska, robotics pioneer, dies at age 47 from a heart attack.”

When I first read the article I thought it must be some kind of a joke. First, people don’t usually drop dead at at this age, and second, the last time I saw him he was still healthy, perhaps out of shape but who wouldn’t be at this age unless they were taking steroids? I immediately checked to make sure it wasn’t April Fool’s day, then started to read the details. I still remembered that false death announcements are sometimes issued by mistake, but the further I read into the article the more details emerged that made it seem genuine. For example, it listed the exact date (yesterday) and cause of death, which would be details that would be missed if it were an accidental “leaking” of a prefabricated obituary. He wasn’t nearly famous enough to have had a prefabricated obituary, but I considered all possibilities at this point since announcement of his death was such a surprise. Being so engrossed reading the article I paid no attention to the lecture.

As the realization that my father had died sank in into my mind my body slowly slumped into my chair as a feeling of helplessness overtook me. I pressed my hand on my chest to ease a feeling of numbness where my heart used to be. My eyes were affixed to the article announcing my father’s death, it seemed like the only thing my mind could respond to. But at some deep level my mind was not able to accept this new fact, I almost expected to be awaken at any moment and discover that it had just been a nightmare. I started to cry but was worried I might attract attention from John who was sitting beside me, so I walked out of the lecture hall. Nobody, except for John, noticed me walking out of the room. He stared at me with eyes that looked like headlights as he followed me out of the exit.

I wanted to find a place where I can cry alone, fortunately there’s one building on campus almost completely devoid of people, the library. Ever since all books and documents became digital they became a superfluous institution that are only kept around for nostalgic reasons. I walked past a small garden to the entrance of the building, and upon entering the emptiness of the library was strikingly eerie. It was as if the place had been struck by that mythical weapon known as a “neutron bomb,” a device designed to kill humans but leave buildings intact. I began walking deep into the vast shelves of books endlessly aligned like rows of corn in a field to find a small corner where John could not possibly find me so I could cry properly.

Suddenly there was a tap on my shoulder, I jumped in surprised, then turned around and realized it was John. He looked even more startled than I was, and clutching onto his chest as though having a heart attack he said in a very apologetic voice, “Sorry, sorry that I sneaked up on you without warning.”

“It’s okay,” I said in a tranquil voice, then lowered my head to avoid eye contact with him.

He put his hand on my chin and lifted my head so he could look into my eyes, then asked, “Have you been crying? Your eyeliner look smudged.”

“No, it was just something in my eyes,” I said, shaking my head vigorously in order to persuasively convince John of my denial, but I can tell by the expression on his face he didn’t believe me.

“Both of your eyes?” he asked incredulously.

“Why not? There’s a lot of dirt blowing around since the wildfires last week,”

I was about to leave John when he grabbed me by my left arm, peered into my eyes with a stern look, and said, “I know something is wrong with you because you have never stormed out of a lecture like that. I can tell that something is bothering you because you look unusually sad, but I don’t know what. Please tell me so I can stop worrying.”

John’s forcefulness was making me withdraw into myself, but I knew he would not be satisfied until I confessed, so I said while evasively looking away from his face, “Oh nothing, my father has died, that’s all.”

A gloomy expression suddenly came over his face, he immediately switched toward an apologetic mood and said, “Oh my god, sorry that I didn’t understand. Will you be alright?”

I shrugged my shoulders, but did not give a verbal response.

“I’m worried about you because you never express your emotions openly. Looking at you from the outside it’s impossible to tell how you feel, as far as I know you might be suicidal. I don’t want to find you unconscious lying on the floor overdosing on painkillers like last time…” As soon as he mentioned my last suicide attempt memories of the knife slashing the back of my hand started flashing in my mind and I immediately broke into a stream of tears, sobbing uncontrollably. John panicked thinking that he has made the situation worse, and immediately pressed his chest against my face, allowing me to use his shirt as a handkerchief.

“It’s alright, it’s alright, everything will be alright,” he said, almost chanting the phrase like a mantra as he stroked my long hair in an attempt to comfort me. After I became more emotionally stable he wiped my face of tears and excessive makeup, then said, “Sorry that I’m so demanding on you but it’s because I am concerned about you. You seem unfazed by your father’s death and yet cry at the drop of a hat when I mentioned your past suicide attempt. I suspect you are hurting deep on the inside but are unwilling to express it, yet you wouldn’t be honest with me about this. I just don’t want you to…you know, make a bad decision that will cause harm to you.”

“You mean kill myself?” I asked.

He appeared puzzled, then said, “You see, you did it again! You concealed your true emotions underneath this artificial nonchalance. I wish you can be honest with me about your feelings so I don’t have to worry so much.” He took a deep breath to calm himself down, then said, “I don’t mean to be overbearing on you, I’m just very concerned. Would you mind if I take you back to our apartment?” I nodded, he held my hand as we left the library together.

John was relieved when we returned to our apartment, that way he could keep an eye over me to make sure I was doing well. When I returned to my room I simply laid in my bed with my face planted on the pillow in a torpor, occasionally checking the phone to make sure that my father was still dead. Even as the sun began setting, casting its amber glow in my room I did not turn on the light as it didn’t seem worth the effort. Finally the phone rang, I waited until about the second ring to answer, and my mother on the line.

“Darling, did you get the news about dad’s death?”

I began rising from the bed, my hair disheveled and eyes drooping, my spirit still weighing me down. But I had to present a stoic face in front of my mother so gathering my torrents of emotions and put them away while talking to her.

“Mom, why did you text me about dad’s death instead of calling me?”

“Sorry,” mom answered, her voice sounding rushed, “force of habit, I supposed. Listen, we just have planned the funeral, it will be on Saturday because that’s when I can organize everyone to be there. Well, not everyone, Uncle Theo couldn’t be there because he is arguing an important case in court, but everyone who we want to invite, as well as a few important people, will be there. You better reserve your plane ticket now, or otherwise there might not be any left by the time you show up at the airport.”

“Okay, do you have anything else to say?”

“Not right now, I’ll be too busy organizing the funeral over the next few days to talk to you. I hope you’re doing well, you’re taking the news well, aren’t you?”

“Of course,” I said resolutely.

“Then, bye,” mom said before cutting off the phone call without hesitation. As soon as the call ended I sank back into bed, my will to live plunged right back down and did not go back up even as I drifted off into sleep.