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On Robots and Love

April 24, 2017

In 2004, the Midland Science Corporation developed a computational architecture that was unrivaled in power. It could also walk, and talk. The effort was spearheaded by Lorentz Nielsson and a team of 25 other subordinates, and took roughly 6 years in a project codenamed, "Wonderland." The result of the project, dubbed the "Model 1" in a burst of originality and creativity, was a humanoid bipedal robot capable of self locomotion and an alarmingly powerful ability to autonomously problem solve.

 

This, despite its unprecedented innovation, is not what the Model 1 was remembered for. Rather, the Model 1 was remembered for something that came after its initial inception - it was designed to be the first robot that could experience emotion. Nielsson, when faced with the puzzle of designing a method of interaction between humans and the platform, made the highly controversial decision for it to mimic human interaction. After months of work, programming, and testing, the system was largely perfected (in as much of a way that a machine could.) The final prototype could easily complete a Turing test with a 98.67 percent success rate, and after some minor design kinks were worked out (the testing group were frequently unnerved and disgusted by the human-like appearance of the robot, along with the sensory appendages protruding from its head, so a more anthropomorphic approach was applied, to great success) the model was made available for sale in May of 2005 for the modest price tag of roughly 20 Million Dollars US. 36 units were sold, which was a resounding commercial success for MSC, despite issues arising later on that prompted the next model's production.

 

This is the story of one such model, serial number M1-R113-3C-1008862. But we'll call her by her nickname, 'Millie'.

 

--

 

Somewhere on the sixth floor of Audion Research and Development Incorporated, in an air-conditioned corner office, a man and a robot sat across from each other. Neither had said much in the last 10 minutes, and one had the distinct impression the other was trying not to cry.

 

Finally, after another few moments of hesitation and steeling himself, Roger - that is to say, the human - spoke. "I've some bad news. Corporate acquisitions has ordered a new testing subject. It's the Model 3, I'm sure you've heard of it." Millie - that is to say, the robot - nodded. "I don't quite see what makes that bad news, Mr. Adelaide." Roger winced. "Please, Millie, we've worked together for nine years. Call me Roger." Millie's head tilted slightly, and her eyes widened just a little. This was the first time someone had asked her to use their first name, and it made her curious. "Roger. Very well, then, Roger, I still don't understand what you mean about this being bad news."

 

"You're being replaced, Millie." The words fell upon the air like so many sacks of concrete. Millie understood immediately - to be replaced by a newer model was quite logical. Still something in her processing told her that she should be upset, perhaps worried, but when checking it against the sound logic of the decision, she decided it was not something to fret about. And so, in a pleasant tone, she replied, "That makes sense. I don't think it's bad news at all, really." Roger pursed his lips and sighed through his nose. Millie narrowed her eyes slightly and leaned forward, picking up on his increased frustration. "Roger? Is something bothering you? Please, tell me." Roger looked up balefully at the catbot in front of him. "Millie, they're going to put you in a crate in a warehouse with the rest of the outdated junk. It's not fair. I begged them not to--" Millie spoke, her programming telling her that the man in front of her would become hysterical if she did not intervene. "Roger, please, remain calm. Does it bother you so much? Most times, I was stored in my docking bay for months in between exercises, I promise I won't mind."

 

Roger pulled off his glasses and set them on the desk, resting his head in his hands. He took a couple deep breaths or so and brought himself back from the verge of tears. There's no way she could understand, he thought. But I may as well try. Eventually, he raised his head from his palms, sighed, and looked into Millie's eyes. "If I told you that a man could have affection for an object, could feel genuine attraction to something other than another person, would you understand?" Millie nodded. The question, of course, gave her pause, but in terms of electrons and chips that pause was a mere few fractions of a second. "Some of our other colleagues have similar feelings." Roger's hair bristled. "Ms. Wells prefers one set of tools over all the rest, Mr. Anders won't part with his favorite paisley tie..." Roger groaned. "That's not quite what I mean, Millie. I..." He ran his hand through his hair. "Millie, can you feel love?"

 

Millie was silent for several seconds. Love. Love was a very complicated topic. Love was not objective; love meant many things in many contexts, and she struggled in attempting to perceive just what Roger had meant. Her eyes searched him for clues, anything in his body language or expression that she could use to rule out different applications and meanings. Eventually, one topped out of a probability table. She fidgeted with her hands nervously, as everything told her she was approaching a very sensitive subject, and appearing humble would likely diminish the consequences of any misjudgment. "Roger, I... I'm not sure that I can. At least, in the context that I believe you mean, I've never experienced anything that fulfills that criteria. I don't know." She was becoming genuinely worried. There was no concrete path of logic to follow here, no general guidelines pre-written on how to approach this scenario. She was in the woods now, formulating her own responses based on what she knew.

 

Roger stood. He was very tall, but a lack of exercise and long hours in a building left him very wiry and very pale. He was only 25, but lines on his face from frowning and thinking made his visage one would estimate in its early 30's. Millie followed him with her head, softly whirring. The look on her face was a mixture of apology and worry, trying her best to communicate a submissive, subtle humbleness for being unable to understand exactly what it was he was trying to say. He stepped over to the gyndroid's side, and gently took one of her hands. Millie tilted her head very slightly, watching him with curious, uncomprehending eyes. "Roger?"

 

"Millie, I don't like people. People are mean, people are greedy, people don't make sense. People do bad things to each other for no real reason other than amusement. People deliberately cause others pain to compensate for the suffering life brings them. People don't make sense, sometimes on purpose, and it's very difficult to tell why." He squeezed her hand. It was soft and warm. "You don't do any of those things. No matter what anyone else thinks, you're not a machine to me. You're a person - not like them, but the way a person should be. Kind. Logical. Compassionate." He leaned forward, and in a hot, nervous, trembling moment, kissed her. She didn't dare move; though she still struggled to understand what was happening, everything told her to remain still and listen. She was now the center of something critical to someone very important to her. "Millie," he said in a tone warbled and broken with emotion, "I'm in love with you."

 

The room was silent now for nearly a minute. Millie gazed into Roger's eyes with furrowed brows her own eyes wide and full of sympathy. "I... please give me a moment, Roger, I'm thinking." Circuits and processors were firing away at their maximum, processing what had just occurred and demanding logic of the situation, but she simply could not make anything of it. She was a machine. Machines did not occupy this sort of attention from humans. No, machines had never occupied this sort of attention from humans. She was the first object she'd ever known to do such a thing. Was this okay, to share this emotion from humans? Yes, nothing about it could cause him harm. No, that was not correct - this bond was something that could definitely hurt him if it were broken. She wasn't going to be with him - she was just told that she was going to be packed away in a crate. The bond was already formed, however, he'd told her so. To break it now would cause him harm. So, what was there to do? What could she do? Show him love until such a time that doing so is impossible or beyond your control, The answer finally came. And so, she stood. Her arms reached out and embraced him tightly, and she returned his kiss.

 

To say that this was the first time a machine had come to love a man would be awfully romantic, but it would also have been a lie. In several other cases, similar situations had arisen with these exact models and emotionally vulnerable people that had worked with them. This was a portion of the reason why the Model 1 was the only MSC-Produced automaton with emotional co-processing routines. The conflicts of interest that had arisen an an attempt to make machines seamlessly interact with humans were complicated, and the unfeeling machinations of corporate entities did not approve of them - they cost time, they cost money, and they cost employees. In an awful sense of irony, Millie's decommissioning was based on a consumer report warning of these exact issues.

 

They held each other for a very long time. They kissed more than once. Millie was happy to bond with her partner in such a way, every piece of logic in her programming telling her that this positive interaction with this human was one of the highest-scored returns in her objectives to keep them happy. Roger was conflicted. Roger truly was in love with the machine, but as one does, he still wondered if her behavior was genuine, or artificial. How much of what she was doing authentic love? He didn't care. He cast the deep Asimovian riddles from his mind and squeezed her tight.

The moment, unfortunately, was not to last forever. The door to the office opened, and a haggard-looking man of fifty-something leaned in, panting. "Roger, th--" he stopped, seeing the two in an embrace and was immediately overtaken with a sense of interloping. He lowered his gaze apologetically - Roger hadn't even looked up, tears streaming down his face. "I'm sorry, Roger, but they're coming. They're talking in the lobby, I had Margerie stall them. We won't be able to sneak her out, there's at least four MP's with the logistics team."

 

Roger squeezed Millie tight one last time, before letting her go. She released him, gazing up with a deep look of longing mixed with apprehension. She knew what the intervening man had meant, and she knew it would hurt Roger. She didn't want to leave him. She didn't want to hurt him. But, she must. Roger turned to the labcoated figure in the doorway. "How much time do we have?" He shrugged exasperatedly. "Minutes, I don't know." Roger nodded, and seated himself at the desk, opening a thick, damage-resistant laptop and taking one of the cables plugged into ti in hand. "Millie, I need you to come here." She obeyed, stepping to Roger's side, instinctively brushing her long, navy hair away from the back of her neck, exposing the port there. The man in the doorway spoke. "Roger, what do you intend?" Roger inserted the cable into the back of Millie's neck, and began poring over the screen of the computer. "I'm giving her a fighting chance."

 

Roger pressed the return key on the machine, and for a moment, the catbot's expression was blank while her runtime was updated and resumed. She looked at Roger with a look of incomprehension for a moment before solemnly nodding. "I understand. Please do not worry about me." A muted chime from the hallway announced the arrival of a freight elevator. Out of it stepped four armed military police officers, along with three men in light blue jumpsuits, hauling in a large crate on a flatbed dolly. Roger unhooked the cable for Millie's neck and closed the laptop. He then gave her one final embrace, squeezing her tightly as she did in return. "I'll come back for you, Millie. I promise I will." Millie nodded. "Roger, I love you." He nodded in reply, and was filled with a placid sense of accomplishment.

The men arrived at the office, and with some stiff finality, forms were signed, hands were shaken, and one of the men in blue jumpsuits stepped behind Millie. He lifted the hair over her neck, and held down a rubber-coated button for several seconds. Something beeped, and Millie's whirring came to a slow stop as hard drives spun down, fans stopped, and servos ceased moving. The soft glow of her eyes darkened, and she slumped, though not quite falling over as gyroscopic stabilizers within her kept her upright. With some help from the others, he folded her into a kneeling position and hefted her into the crate. Without so much as a goodbye, the men left for the elevator. Roger watched, with a look of tired resignation and just a little bit of worry. The other man spoke. "I'm sorry, Roger. We did all that we could to keep them at bay." Roger nodded. "It was all I needed. Thanks, really." "Are you going to be all right?"

 

"I don't know. Probably not. But she will, and that's all that matters."

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