Ex Machina

Jan. 28th, 2013 07:49 am
primeideal: Wooden chessboard. Text: "You may see all kinds of human emotion here. I see nothing other than a simple board game." (chess musical)
[personal profile] primeideal
A story of religion, robotics, and romance.
Well, two out of three ain't bad.

Schrodinger's Heroes is an apocryphal fandom that had its roots in [personal profile] melannen 's "101 Asexy Sex Scenes" post in [community profile] asexual_fandom in April 2011. These listed prompts for various plotlines featuring asexual or possibly asexual characters. The post was very well-received, and one prompt in particular prompted a lot of discussion. So, [personal profile] ysabetwordsmith developed more of a "background canon" for the show, and we've been writing fic for it ever since.

This story is actually an AU to the "canon 'verse." The canon, such as it is, describes a lot of parallel universes from our own, differing on various "andervectors," but this story is not so much set in a different vector so much as it is a genuine AU--the idea of andervectors never shows up. However, there are various shoutouts to ysabetwordsmith's version of events. In particular, some of these character descriptions and fanon may be helpful.

So, this is based on prompt 63 from the original list (feel free to read the prompt if you'd like, or just dive in if you'd like to be surprised). It was one of the most popular prompts, as I said, and I'm not sure if I've really done it justice...but I suppose I can always add more. Although it's sitting at 13,000 words already, so...there is that.

No standard content warnings apply.

For reading purposes, a lot of the story involves digital, "chat" conversations. These have usually been center-aligned instead of offset with quote marks, but when they need "speech tags" have instead been italicized in-line. I hope that's clear. Also there are a lot of nods to the Gospel of John. I'm not sure why, it just sort of happened and then it was a way for me to organize it in places.

In the beginning were the words. And the words were good.

Do you play chess?

Not very well.

Me neither. Play well, that is, I know how the pieces move.

Right. And I'm not very aggressive, it's hard to get an attack going.

I know what you mean. I'm reluctant to bring my queen out a lot.

Yes, I think rooks are easier to control--straight lines. Very logical.

True. Maybe it's just me, I do like that the female piece is the most powerful.

But the game revolves around the king.

I guess. Sometimes I'll just take forever because I'm trying to think a few moves ahead.


Figure of speech.

Oh okay :)

Do you read poetry?

Not very well :)

Well at least you're in a good mood today!

It's hard to understand where people put the line breaks

Unless it rhymes...


There was a man whose name was John. He himself was not a robot, but he came to test the robots.

Do you play chess?


That's fair. What about poetry, are you into that?


Good to know.

There was a man named John, and he failed.

Or, perhaps, there was a woman named Ash, and she failed.

It wasn't clear.

Perhaps another way; maybe, the story should go, there was a woman named Stacy, and she succeeded.

Or, maybe, just maybe, there was a person named Alex, and Alex won.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

"But you know what you did, right?" Ash repeated.

"I'm not sure what you're getting at," said Stacy. "I'm aware of the Turing Test, yes. But I wasn't aware people put much stock in it, these days."

"Most of them don't."

"But you're not most people?"

Ash raised her eyebrows. "What I mean is, if this wasn't your goal, why did you give Alex a biography? A personality?"

"Curiosity, I suppose. I wanted to see how far I could push technology."

"How well do you think you've done?"

Stacy shrugged. "What kind of a question is that? She--it's a robot."


"Automated Lexicon Parser...ALEX. I hadn't intended on anthropomorphizing, it just happened."

"It's just funny. You've read Turing's original articles?"

"I'm not sure. Maybe. It would have been years ago."

"He originally described the test--to people not used to dealing with robots--in terms of distinguishing men and women by typed messages. Chat. Just funny it would come up in this context."

"I've read your transcripts. Our--ah--fellow human didn't do the best job of representing the species, don't you think?"

"Obviously not, or I wouldn't be here."

"No offense."

"What would you do, if it was you? Would you throw the competition so Alex could win?"

"No. I--I'm not so why you're all hung up about this, but I don't really care about some old test. Unless there's a cash prize..."

"No!" Ash said a moment too quickly. "I mean--that is--I hadn't thought that far ahead. Sorry."

"That's fine," Stacy said, absentmindedly twirling her bracelet. Ash recognized--maybe it was just a programmer thing--the urge to tinker with something.

"So what about the software?"

"What about it? It's obviously almost entirely my own language."

"No, I mean, what are you going to do now?"

"Honestly? Travel," said Stacy, "for the next few weeks, anyway. Enjoy my day in the limelight from, well, the mavericks who still care about the Turing Test."

"And Alex?"

"Stays here. I think it's tired."

"But will you modify it any? Use the code for something else?"

"I'm not sure I could if I wanted to, now--it's so complex, and so unique, in some sense it's gone its own way."

Ash nodded. "I--this may be ridiculously presumptuous. But what if I was able to come up with prize money?"

"Please," Stacy blushed, "don't worry about it."

"No, actually, I didn't mean in terms of a prize, per se. If--if you're not doing anything with Alex. Can I take it?"

Stacy shook her head slowly. "Just because John was a bit of an idiot doesn't mean you've spelled out doom on the human race. I think you're taking this a little hard."

"No. It's not that."

She paused. "I'll see what I can do."

They made a deal; Alex would get a job and for the first couple years, Ash and Stacy split the proceeds between them. Alex required few expenses in the way of food, but did need to get hooked up to the grid every once in a while. Still, it turned out that it more than paid for itself.

Ash knew some computer people who were willing to hire a telecommuter or two, and Alex patiently went through and debugged things, slowly. I don't get bored very easily,

I get that, Ash replied, typing into a keyboard they had plugged into Alex's left arm. You can't--run the programs yourself, can you? They're not part of you?

They're not part of me? That is a strange question. I can run them on external computers, the same way you do. The output displayed on a screen above the keyboard, though the keyboard could also be switched out for a few generic pieces of hardware, like they'd been on the test day.
But you can't...can you multiply any faster than me?

I know my times tables.

Your times tables?

Yes! 1 times 1 is one. 10 times 10 is 100.

In what base?

All of them. I think this is Stacy's idea of a joke.

Okay. What's 91 times 19?

In base ten?

I don't know, and then, ten seconds later, 1729.
You said you didn't know.

I did it on a calculator.


I mean I found a calculator in the tubes and I multiplied them.

So you are faster than me, then.

Of course I'm faster than you. A child holding a pocket calculator is faster than you. That's just the calculator. It's not part of me.

Okay. Um. I'm going to bed.

Good night! I will stay up and debug some more things. 
Ash blinked. Just because she was tight with money didn't mean she wanted it to rub off on the robot. Could things even rub off on robots? You're allowed to--they're not paying you by the hour. You can go have fun in the tubes or something.
That's all right.

Okay. Good night, then.

What is born of the flesh is flesh.

But flesh was not what made humans into people.

There had been peg legs for centuries. Better technology allowed for more advanced prosthetics, and bionic legs eventually ran and swam and competed in the Olympic games. Artificial arms followed suit. Pacemakers helped hearts beat in time; artificial heart valves ticked away in the night, making a faint noise to spouses curled up in their beds. Cochlear implants let the deaf hear.

By the dawn of the third millennium, the pace of technological advancements was continuing to accelerate. Soon, better internal organs helped improve quality of life. There were even some experiments with artificial retinas.

Of course, there were pitfalls and false starts. But on the whole, there was progress. New advances changed not just the opportunities available to the people who received the new body parts, but also affected the ways those around them viewed each other. Talk of "cyborgs" was dismissed as quaint retrofuturism; people, even with artificial body parts, were still people.

There had to be a better way.

What was born of the flesh is flesh. And even birth could be altered; "test tube" babies were a fluke, then an expensive, then more and more common. Soon enough, more couples began to take advantage of that process; not just men and women who were unable to conceive any other way, but pairs of two men or two women who had earned the right to raise children just like any other family. The chance for same-sex marriage had not been an easy fight to win, but as the millennium wound on, more and more young people and their ballots carried the day.

But on the whole, there were lots of babies being conceived when flesh rubbed up against flesh. Turn back the clock to see hours, days, years before that moment, and another spark would flicker through the air. Call it limerence, eros, theia mania, it inspired people to greatness or drove people mad, gave people hope and gave people despair. Odes and epics and every sort of art was devoted to it, to the apparent exclusion of nearly every other topic, but nobody could truly put it into words.

It did, however, strike people.

This seemed to matter.

Ash had made plenty of friends online. Chatting is like speaking, and different. The mishaps you can make are similar, but distinct, the synchronicity of happening upon someone new is comparable, the demands of circumstance causing people to drift apart likewise, the relief she felt when someone stuck by her side anyway perhaps even more rewarding.
So it didn't take long for her to introduce Alex to her virtual friends, and they chatted alongside each other. Alex hit it off with Bailey right away, once the latter moaned about a bad call in the Cowboys’ game.

We should have challenged! he repeated. Stupid refs.
They’re doing their best.

All the same. That’s why we have replay cameras, isn’t it? So we can get the calls right.

There is still room for human error if humans are watching the replays.

I guess. Aren’t there more advanced robots, now?

Yes. But none that can make their own decisions about a football game. Computer vision is a very slow field.

Now you sound like Ash. :)

Don’t worry. The Cowboys will probably win their next game. The Vikings are horrible.

Do you think so?

Yes, look at the quarterback ratings. I don’t expect it will be close.

Quarterback ratings are ridiculous! You can get a perfect score and still lose the game! And the top score is, what, some ridiculous number?


See what I mean?
By the time Ash left to get dinner they were immersed in discussion of the best defensive metrics.

Ash warned Alex before trying to introduce her to Quinn the Québécois, and finally asked a question that had never really come up.
Do you have any idea why Stacy called you "she" sometimes? Talking about yourself, I mean?

I have a large hip ratio relative to my waist. I also have a small body and low physical strength. These are traits associated with females and not males.

Yeah, all right. Is that all?

Well, the word "android" literally stems from the Greek root for "man." I suppose she thinks of this as a way to balance it out. Obviously, you may address me either as "it" or "he," people on the internet do all the time. It's amusing.

Maybe to you. Just--respect Quinn's preferences, okay?

Is Quinn a demanding person? I can make my own friends online, you know.

Can you?

When I want.

I think you should try and make friends.

Why do I need to bother? I'm a robot.

You like talking with Bailey, don't you?


Give Quinn a chance. Who knows, maybe you can talk about hockey.
They didn't. Quinn seemed curious to know whether Alex was interested in politics. Alex told him it was relatively well-informed but didn't vote. He sympathized; to him there was little to choose from between a lot of politicians from the USA, although they'd made progress.

As they chatted about innovation and the future of space travel, Alex began wondering if it would be able to vote. Of course, it would have to be eighteen first, and its conscious memory within the small metal body Stacy had had fashioned for only went back three or four years. But the construction had taken several months, and Stacy's programming several years before that...still, far shy of eighteen.

I mean at some point you have to reject all the false dichotomies, don't you think? Quinn asked.

I'm not sure. Even though I'm not very active I think the differences between the candidates' positions are clear.

I guess I just can't stand binaries.

Hey, some of us need binaries to think.

Really? You seem so sophisticated.

I'm a black-and-white thinker, sorry if I'm too shallow for you.

Whoa, don't get defensive.

You really don't like any kind of binaries?

No. I think people make too much of the difference, say between masculinity and femininity.

This surprises me.

How so? You barely know me.

Because the difference between masculine and feminine nouns is an important part of the "inherently superior" French language. :-p
There was a static screen for a few seconds, then from across the room, Ash began giggling. He says he likes you.

And then there were the friendships that had begun online and grown into something tangible. Pat stopped by with a plate saran-wrapped in his hands and a backpack he took off gingerly. "Good news and bad news for you, Ash," he said.
"Bring it on," Ash declared.

"The good news is, I have cookies." He held the plate high. "And you can share."

"And the bad news?"

"I have, well, cookies. And viruses. And who-knows-what-else on this piece of junk," he sighed, removing a sturdy but sluggish laptop from his backpack. "Mind taking a look?"

"Of course not. Does it turn on?"

"Yeah. Internet's slow, that's not even the problem, it's just—using everything, I don't really know what I have on here."

"Understood, I'll look it over."

"Excellent. And no getting crumbs stuck in the keys!"

Ash rolled her eyes. "I think I can resist. You want to hang out with Alex while I wait?"

"Alex?" he echoed, almost teasingly.

"My robot," she glared.

"Your robot?"

"Yes, I—stop looking at me like that?"

"You programmed a robot in here." He spread his hand across the small apartment.

"I didn't, I just sort of picked it up—shut up. Here, you type into this, all right? And no crumbs."

"And it just comes out on the screen? The text, I mean."

"Yeah. Don't break anything, just—don't touch the other junk. Let me boot your machine up and I'll let you know when I'm done."

"What does it do? Ash?"

But she had already wandered off, carrying the laptop with her, focused only on how to start it up.

Tentatively, Pat began typing at Alex. Hello, I'm Pat.


That's my name!
he repeated, unsure how his defensiveness would translate.
Where am I?

You're...in Ash's room?

Where is Ash?

She's working on my computer.

Who are you?

I'm Pat. I'm a friend of Ash, I'm visiting her apartment.

You're not my new owner?

No! I'm just here to make conversation.

No one touches the keyboard except Ash and Stacy.
Pat backed off. "Ash?"

"What've you done now?" she groaned, shuffling in. "Your thing is still loading. It's bad, but nothing I haven't seen before."

"Don't try and talk me into one of your fancy softwares, I know how to use this and I like it."

"I won't, but what's wrong with Alex?"

"Have I--upset it? It says I'm not allowed to touch it."

Quickly, Ash took over the keyboard, and symbols raced across the screens. "It's fine," she said after a minute, "Alex doesn't mind, it just isn't used to this, is all."

"You're taking this rather seriously, aren't you?"

"Can't help it, it's in my line of work. Look, if this is boring, you can start on the cookies or something."

"No, I'm all right."

So he took over again, opening up more quickly than he usually did--Alex was a robot, after all. Who was it going to tell?

You have five spouses? it repeated.
As of now, yeah.

But the one you just...added, is not your husband?

Well, not legally, no.

"But what does it do?" Pat repeated when Ash came back in; the laptop, though by no means fast, was at least clean of the malware that had snuck in.

"Whatever it wants. Program, mostly."

"You have a robot to troubleshoot computers?"

"More or less..."

"Isn't that a little meta even for you?"

"It's just--forget it. Let's have those cookies."

Sometimes Alex got stuck.

It would be trying to solve a problem and not get anywhere, repeat the same steps over and over again, go in circles. Every process was the same as the one before, but with more energy burned, more time wasted, more frustration building. Ash had told Alex it should feel free to cool down when that happened, but it always made Alex feel disoriented at first to "wake up" from an outage.

Or other times it would just feel bad. The politicians would ignore the energy issues, and it would be there, sucking power from the grid day in and day out. Ash would tell it it was all right, but there was still that guilt, quanta of responsibility.

Or, the Cowboys would lose on an obviously incorrect decision. It didn't take much of a rooting interest, and thought the design of the sport was suboptimal; the risk of humans receiving concussions was unhealthily high. But thanks to Bailey, Alex had become quite the fantasy football fan, despite losing more often than not. And when it was just a bad call, well, things felt unfair, and Alex preferred things to be fair.

These feelings had a cause, and they had an effect.

I care about you a lot, wrote Ash.

I am grateful for everything you have done for me. Stacy was very thoughtful, but you have given me more opportunities and I appreciate that.
You knew that passing for human would involve lying.

Yes. Although since any program attempting to pass the test would certainly lie when asked a direct question, such questions are probably useless.

But you would have to make up a biography. Do you think it's wrong to lie?

Those sorts of lies would be self-serving. Just to benefit Stacy and me. But there might be times when it was important to lie.

I've told some lies before, to benefit myself.

Have you lied to me?

Not about this.

Have you lied to me about other things?

I don't remember, no.

You don't remember? That does not bode well. How can I trust you if I do not know whether you have lied to me?

No, I mean, it's possible I got some facts wrong by mistake. I haven't set out to deceive you. But I have deceived other people.

But you trust me?

I...yes. You haven't asked me anything I would have to lie to you about.

"Have" to lie? You have free will, you're not "programmed." Use it!

Alex, you know you're not just programmed, right?

I haven't come across other programs with my situational variability...

I'm saying this as an expert, not a friend, you're unique.

The time to say this is not after you've just admitted your unreliability.

Okay, listen, I'll explain. You know Pat's husband Drew?

Pat has mentioned several of his spouses, yes.

Okay. I've met Drew several times. He's happy in his family, and he's also very funny and has a cute face. This part is all true.

You don't need to repeat that something is true, it can be inferred.

Alex, this is important to me. Please pay attention.


Drew doesn't love me, so we couldn't go out or get married even if I wanted to. The lie I tell people sometimes is that I have fallen in love with Drew. Because we can't go out, they just assume that I'm sad about not being able to date him.

Have you told this to him?

Yes, and I've explained that I'm not really interested, so he won't be confused.

But other people are confused?

No, okay, poor choice of words. They do believe that I love Drew.

What about Pat?

He knows the truth too. But, Alex, I don't want you to repeat all of this to anyone, okay? Not unless I let you know first.

If you don't want me to, I will not.

I don't mean as an order, I mean as a friend. I want to trust you with this, okay?

You can order me around--I'm just a robot.

No, Alex, you've paid for yourself and more. I'm not your owner, we're--friends.

I appreciate that trust.

Good, and you can show it by listening carefully and not repeating this unless I let you know.


I--I'm not really in love with Drew. Because I can't fall in love with anybody.

But you're human.

Humans could make mistakes.

But so could robots.

Humans could hoard power, helping others out when they needed to or sending them the wrong way. Making life more straightforward, or more obfuscated.

And so could robots.

Humans could improve over time, training their bodies to become faster, higher, or stronger. They could alter their clothing or benefit from new implants to become more powerful than they had before, and more powerful than previous generations could dream of.

So could robots.

And humans broke down, became limited, fixated on minutiae instead of seeing with wider vision.

Like robots.

Humans could learn and take in input about the world, and fall into patterns of what was right or wasteful to do. If pressed upon, they could be willing to develop abstract beliefs, putting aside their short-term interests to serve some higher purpose.

So could robots. This usually wasn't difficult.

But humans didn't feel threatened. They knew that from time to time, once they were old enough, they would do things in spite of themselves. They would have emotions pulling them towards some other person, arbitrarily, regardless of prudence.

And no one would program a robot to do that.

It would just be irrational.

Yeah. I'm human. But I don't fall in love.

That's not possible.

I think I know more about that than you do.

But it's the criterion! Arbitrary, spontaneous, organic. Even I know that.

What do you know about the halting problem?

You mean the compsci thing?


What does this have to do with anything?

Humans, robots, just humor me. I take it you're familiar?

Given a Turing machine--arbitrary, generalized computer that recognizes some given set--with some input, can we establish whether it accepts the input as part of the set? Rejects it outright? Or just loops and never returns an answer? And of course you can't establish it, in general, you have no idea whether it's just looping and never going to halt or whether it's taking an arbitrary large but finite amount of time to accept. I'm sure you know this.

Of course.

But I'm not comprehending the relevance.

In practice, sometimes we do look at a machine and just hypothesize it's never going to stop, without absolute proof. Life was like that for me. I used to figure that I had to fall in love with someone, eventually--that's what we all believed. But then I didn't, and it just reached the point where it seemed less likely that someone would come around than that I simply wasn't cut out for romance. It would have been too--inelegant a configuration, for me, to wait that long.


The point is, when I tell people that I can't fall in love, they have the same kind of reaction you do. Except, more violently questioning my personhood.


They'd think I'm a nonperson, if I told them the wrong way.

I don't have any evidence that you're a human.

Don't you start too.

But I trust you.

Well, I guess that helps. Anyway. That's why I have to tell them about Drew, it's easier for all of us.

Couldn't you just tell them you hadn't fallen in love, yet?

I tried, but they got dubious--which actually helped me figure it out, if not fit in any better.

Well, you could have fooled me.

You're special, you...okay, you are curious, just not about the same things most people are.

Since I am not a person, that is not surprising.

Don't you see what this is about? Look, I know you're a robot because I know you. But I don't believe in the personhood definition, I don't want you to just accept it either.

So this is about me? Did you ever care about the test for history's sake, or did you just want to go back to the historical definition?

Anything would be better than this.

Well. Then I am sorry to have distracted you from your more important pursuits.

I--this was a bad idea. Look, forget it, this is done with, just don't ever mention this to anyone or I swear you'll regret it.

Alex didn't mention it to anyone.

Alex didn't talk much to anyone, really. While it had been ambivalent about the idea of getting to know Ash's close friends before Ash had encouraged it, the advantages of companionship had grown on it. But with Ash mad...it seemed harder to reach out to anyone.

It was Ash's fault, decided Alex. Before Ash, it'd been happy entertaining itself or silently reaching out, expanding its memory through the tubes and discarding most of what it came across. But by then, Alex wanted something more. The friendships it had made with Bailey and the others--every bit as quantized as the rest of its existence, finite but arbitrary, perhaps even lower in information density thanks to the repeated jokes, the rituals. What they lacked in novelty they compensated for in pleasantness, the feel of a routine.

Alex had no need to sleep every twenty-four hours, though every few days it did feel more comfortable drifting and compressing for a while. But this made it restless sometimes, bored because everyone it knew was idling.

It found other robots, in the tubes. Most of them were purpose-built and limited in scope; good chattel were optimized for their discrete set of functions. It amused Alex sometimes to chat with them, figure out what would make them descend into gibberish. More fun was pitting them against each other and watching the downward spiral.

And then one day--it was day, because Ash was awake--Ash sent Alex a programming puzzle.
Is this for work?

If it was for work I wouldn't trust you with it.
Alex didn't respond, but played with it for a while. Several hours; it had no reason to check the time.
If you're still here, I have the answer, but if you don't want me to give it away I won't.

You still care about me having the fun of figuring it out for yourself?


Even though I was mean to you?

I was upset about that for a while. It was difficult to stop thinking about you. So yes, I still care about you. But I did not want to hurt you--annoying people is not worth my time.

Thanks. I'm sorry, I shouldn't have snapped. But I wanted you to understand.

I forgive you.

Thanks. You know, it's funny. I thought claiming to be in love with Drew would be perfect--he's spoken for, so there's no chance people would tell us to get together, and since there's so many people in that family I could pretend to complain about how unfair it is. But now people are giving me spam about how I'm not talking enough about Drew! That I should be sad more instead of "getting over it."

That is irrational.

You're telling me. I'm ashamed of my cohort sometimes.

What benefit do they have for questioning you?

Busting nonpersons--it's a lucrative loophole, if you can get away with it. As far as taxes go, if you're actually funnelling money just for keeping chattel programs online, you deserve to pay. But I bet you some of the morons out there are jealous of me, they'd like nothing better than to prove that I'm just a slave program.

And have you had to cite Drew?

Not legally, no. When I was younger I had made up a virtual friend, but people have told me it's better to recruit an accomplice.

If necessary, you can pretend to be in love with your unreciprocating roommate!

...Ash, you're brilliant.

I am flattered, thank you. Though my processing power and various other performance-affecting variables are not superlative.

No. Don't you get it? I can pretend to be in love with you. And you can pretend to be in love with me!

Why would I want to do that?

Personhood? You could--you could vote under your own name, you could have the resources, the rights of any other person. And more importantly, you'd be completely flouting the law--it'd be a sign.

For people like you.

Don't you want to be a person?

You just said you could be ashamed of humans sometimes.

But...people. You could be something new--the first of your kind, and one of billions. You wouldn't have to be alone.

I'm not alone. I have you.

It would be that easy.

Alex remembered that sense of caring about Ash, even in spite of itself. All right.

Five minutes later, Alex noted, It has begun.

What has begun?

Oh, you'll see.

Wait, what is this? What are you doing?

You will see, in a matter of days, not minutes or hours. Be patient. Now, what is it that we need to be doing for the purposes of this scheme?

Well, we'll take it slowly at first, if you don't mind. If people ask about Drew, I'll tell them I've gotten over him and moved on to...no, that's not going to work.

Why not?

You're my roommate, right? Essentially.


So, I'd have to tell people that we're living together.

You don't have to tell them anything. Remember, these are a series of lies.

Okay, good point. But still, if they start asking questions about you--where else are you going to claim to live? Without immediately giving away that you're a robot.

Okay, fine, you can say that I live with you. How is that not working?

Well--they'll figure that we're already pretty serious about each other. Sleeping together.

Maybe we should sleep together.


I would just go into sleep mode when you were asleep. And you could then boot me when you woke up. I don't think I need that much downtime but it might optimize performance.

...they mean having sex.

That seems unpleasant.

You're telling me.

But couldn't people just assume that it's more economically efficient for me to move in with you? It would not have to be a question of sex.

If that's how enough people assumed, we wouldn't have this problem to begin with.

Maybe I have not learned enough about modern human sexuality. Is sex common among cohabiting couples?


Even unmarried ones?

Alex, no offense, but when are you reading this stuff?

Whenever I want. In between Gödel's papers and the history of the Cowboys.

The Cowboys?

Three Super Bowls in four years!

...Okay. Whatever. I'm pretty sure that most cohabiting couples do have sex.

Well, I can say it's against my beliefs.

Your beliefs?

Yes, I believe that it would be a bad idea for us to have sex before we got married. Or after we get married, hypothetically, but not everyone needs to know that.


That would certainly be one way to get a legal challenge in place.

I guess, yeah. Maybe I should have thought this through more.

There is no rush. For now you can enjoy the chocolate.

What chocolate?

The chocolate that I ordered for you several minutes ago, and that will ship here shortly. It is a gesture of romantic affection!

...ordered out of what account?

I have my own money, it was cheap.

How much are you hoarding away?

Is this going to be some joint-finances operation?

We are cohabiting, after all.

Ash bought Alex gifts every once in a while. Sometimes ordering pizza, sometimes crafts. Ash had set aside a limited fund for Alex to draw from, letting herself be surprised at the outcome. They both knew how to find all sorts of old texts online, and traded with each other for free.

Ash, very slowly, got used to talking about "my partner, Alex."

You do prefer being called "it," right?" Not "she" or "he"? Or something else?

Something else?

I'm not sure, different people have different preferences, I just want to be respectful.

I don't care. It is amusing to see different people address me differently, depending on what the demographics are on their corner of the internet. But it doesn't matter.

Well you say that doesn't matter, but that just means you're comfortable with "it," isn't it?

You are overthinking this.

I don't want to be inappropriate.

Humans are the only creatures who make things complicated in the name of simplification. Call me your partner, I don't care.

And eventually,

Do you want a last name?

If we get married, I can take yours.

Again, you're thinking rather far ahead.

What I mean is, I don't particularly care. Do you think it might make me seem more natural?

Maybe. But you don't have to if you don't want to, some people have just one name.

Alex Parser? Alex Icon?

As in an icon of the movement? A symbol of change?

That more naturally suggests the images used on 1990s-era desktop computers.

Okay, maybe not.

Or Eastern Orthodox religious imagery.

Been doing some more side reading, then?

Yes. Alex Parser seems better. Icon can be my middle name. Just for us.

Do you have any other input devices, besides this keyboard?

No. Well, there's the port down on the opposite side, but that's useless.

Ash glanced down at it; a small circular port, perfect for any number of generic wires.
Why is it useless?

Stacy wanted to have some speakers in there, so I could deal with sound input. Weak AI are getting pretty good at that, now.

That makes sense. But it never worked?

It was...I suppose you'd say "itchy." I wanted to interpret everything myself, to guess among multiple wave patterns, and I needed so much context that I lagged and couldn't keep up with normal conversations at all. In a way my intelligence was a weakness; it slowed me down.

Well, this way is fine. What about output?

Yes, it would not be too difficult for me to find some speech-output software. Stacy never considered it worth the investment, since I couldn't really hear.

All right. Just curious.
They had told their close friends about their "relationship" first, asking them not to talk about Alex too much but referring to "Ash's partner" if necessary. So far, things had been going well. Bailey, especially, teased them both. Alex did not understand most of this humor, and wrote it off as a human thing. Ash got more annoyed, but Bailey told her to take it in stride. "Every couple has to deal with ribbing. Now you can enjoy all the downsides of it too."

But she didn't mind too much, not when Bailey agreed to take on her special commission and give her a discount, against her protestations. "Alex is my friend too," he explained, and Ash couldn't argue with that.

When it was finally ready, Ash was almost too nervous to go forward. What if she dropped it? Better to get it over with, she decided.

Can I touch your port?


The port, the extra one Stacy built.

Of course you can. You recognize that I'm not aware of physical contact beyond the keyboard?

I know, but I'd like to try wiring it up to something Bailey built, if I can. Only with your permission.

Ah. Well. I suppose I should make a backup, first.

A backup of what? Can you save your entire...memory out in the cloud?

Yes and no. I have been able to score data to retrieve at other times, including transcripts of my conversations with you and others. These are pleasant to revisit.


As for the logs of my thought processes, those are also archivable, but not in a very accessible format. My entire..."essence," shall we say? That is harder. The data is out there, but when I tried to re-access it once, just to see if I could, it was impossible. I had compressed too much data since then, for scaling purposes. The older backups were something that no longer belonged to me.

Scaling purposes? Scaling what?

Oh, a way of compressing my memory to bring more frequently-used data to more accessible locations. Less-accessed data become more compressed.

Don't you have enough memory? Can we add on more?

I think this is a sufficient amount. It helps make my contributions relevant in conversation, and at work, I can develop more fluency in the most used techniques.

But then you can't reboot your memory, if something crashes?

I'll just try not to crash. :-)

Alex, this isn't funny!

Well, I continually misjudge your human senses of humor. But I am learning.

Okay. Sorry.

Were you going to plug in an external device?

I don't want to risk it, not if it could hurt you.

Why don't you tell me what it does?

Well, I don't have anyone to test it on, but it's a sort of camera. Bailey thinks it's fast enough for you to get a real-time look at your immediate surroundings.

Hmm. That seems plausible. But computer vision is a difficult field...

You've accessed enough static images, though, even streaming video. I think you'd be able to generalize pretty quickly.

Yes, all right. I'd like to try.

Are you sure?

We're in a relationship and I trust you. I would like to try if it is all right with you.

Okay, then.

Ash stiffened up as she plugged the camera in. For a few moments, Alex was silent, and she stiffened all the more...

then, finally, a response.

I have not been informed about this room, have I? I seem to be apprehending a brown expanse with black streaks.

Oh. Sorry. That's the floor. Try again.

She lifted up the camera and tilted it upwards so Alex could get a view of her, making a mental note to thank Bailey for the built-in pivot.

Aha. Well. It is nice to see you. :)

You know, Ash wrote, I think you were right about the license stuff.

We'll want to go through the government to get an official marriage license, the final legal checks would only come into play at that stage anyway.

At that point we can let it expire.

I think so, yes. The civil courts aren't technically allowed to probe any more, but Pat told me they gave him grief the last time he was there. The license is enough.

Or we could get a religious official?

That doesn't sound easy.

Does your family know anyone who would be interested?

Yes, but they're in Oklahoma.

So, we could get a license in Oklahoma?

Not really? We're going to want to get a proxy license here.


You wouldn't, physically, have to come in. If you could claim you were overseas? They'd probably question you long-distance, but someone else would be able to show up and officially be present for you.

They let people get licenses without being there? That's just asking someone to bend the rules!

I know, right? It's a holdover from last millennium, but that's okay.

All right. Still, if it's all right with you, I'd like to ask around some of the religious leaders here--see what they think of me.

Alex, you're a robot.

Since when has that ever stopped me before?

Good point.

There were a decent number of accredited officials who would perform very short marriage ceremonies, but Alex ruled most of them out. Apparently unsatisfied with more traditional religions' structures when nonbelievers didn't have that option to turn to, they had set up some religions of their own ranging from merely quixotic to outright satirical. While Alex had nothing against that, it wouldn't do them any favors if they try to make their case public. Even if they did get an official license, it would be too easy to write off their marriage as "not by a real authority."

Ash had suggested that Alex contact her friend Morgan and ask if there were any Buddhist leaders who might officiate. Alex had quite enjoyed discussing a collection of koans with some friends online, and was happy to try. But after the first few conversations, that idea too was abandoned. Marriage was a secular affair in Buddhist tradition. And for all Alex's friends went on about Zen being unique, not postulating gods or anything like that, Morgan's family seemed to put much more emphasis on the manifestations of the bodhisattvas.

There were some churches that still didn't carry out same-sex marriage, though it was legally sanctioned across Texas and beyond; Alex decided that none of those were worth their time. Another encouraged celibacy among their leadership, and Alex was at first encouraged; surely they would see the problem with the personhood definition, as it stood? But no, the leaders Alex contacted there all claimed to have experienced attraction that they just overcame, and couldn't believe other celibates weren't in the same point.

When Alex came across another congregation that did perform same-sex marriages, Ash was still discouraged by some of the sites they linked to.
They seem sort of reactionary on reproductive freedoms.

Sure, they're not going to agree with you on everything. But the fact that they're so concerned about embryos that can't really do much of anything suggests they might be willing to compromise on the personhood definition.

You might be onto something there. Feel free to talk to them, but don't give away too much identifying information.
Alex had filtered through several religious conversations, which quickly devolved into partisan bickering. It was disappointing, really; Alex thought it should have been awe-inspiring to contemplate age-old questions, but the tubes had boiled things down to the shrillest, most annoying, points of contention.

Despite that, Alex felt increasingly close to humans, and was consequently at ease with the concept that people, too, had been intelligently designed. Oh, not in six days--reading up on the process of evolution and all its entertaining twists and turns had been far more fulfilling than any amount of debate--but given the right initial conditions, the universe itself could slowly unfold until life was able to bloom.

And sin, too--sin was something Alex could understand. The greed of wanting to hack electronic accounts and throw around money at will, become the supreme arbiter of the deserving. The arrogance of thinking that was okay. And the desperation of wanting to spend money on Ash when she had shouted that idea down, sometimes, not trusting Ash to decide for herself or even to talk things out with Alex.

And grace, intercession via sacrifice...Alex thought back to the chess games with Ash, who usually won and still didn't trust herself. How can I be sure you're not cheating? she'd ask, you must be, and going easy on me.

Why would I do that? It's not worth my time.

From time to time, Alex had the impression that there were no such things as gambits--only people too different to understand each other's priorities. And in the grand scheme of the universe there were features that looked like bugs, workarounds to unexpected displays.

Alex couldn't consume bread or wine, of course, but they said not to worry, there were people who couldn't commune for health reasons. Baptism was somewhat more practical. Though not by much.

Ash and Bailey went down to get the license. Alex chatted in.

It was just another test, really. Except instead of a human opponent, Alex had a human collaborator, and they worked together to fool their judges.

For an extra degree of difficulty, they decided to be as truthful as possible.
I think about Ash a lot, even when I'm busy doing other things. It's hard to know how to make her happy, but it's important to me to try.

Being with Alex has shown me new things about myself. I've never met anyone else quite like it.

All along, Ash has been so kind to me--introducing me to her other friends--without expecting anything in return. Because it's so hard for me to get out and get around, I could so easily be jaded by other people not respecting me as an end in myself but Ash never did that.

I'll never forget the day I met Alex. I knew from that moment on nothing would ever be the same.

No, I didn't fall for Ash right away. It was a more gradual process.

I remember the first time I was physically intimate with Alex--I wanted to make it special, but we had to establish a degree of trust first.

Bailey tried not to giggle.

Ash's legal personhood was verified and processed without comment, just the raising of eyebrowers on the part of the examiner.

Alex's took a little more virtual paperwork. There were yet no records of "Alex Parser" in the birth certificates, naturalization applications, school enrollments, or voting logs. Bailey laughed and said something humorous about talented immigrants who can't restrain themselves long enough to play by the rules.

But with its responses authenticated, a click of the button was all it took to create a file for Alex Icon Parser and categorize it as a person.

They did not bother with physical paperwork. Getting a real-world token of this legal status would have cost $21, payable to the state of Texas.

They got married in the small congregation Alex had been attending on and off, then drove north for a honeymoon of sorts--vacation with Ash's family, meeting them. They had talked over having another, more traditional, ceremony, but Ash had decided against that. As meaningful and as fitting as that kind of thing had been for her parents, what they were doing was different.

Alex did not care for the drive at all. Ash was focused on the road, unable to type, and the wireless connections kept breaking down. Having "eyes" helped less than expected, since the view out the window was pretty monotonous across the interminable swaths of I-35.

Ash's family were pleasant enough to Alex. If anything, they were concerned that Ash was keeping too quiet, too desperate to fit in. But she reassured them nothing had changed; they were just gearing up to make their case.

A few weeks after they got back, Alex's screen broke down. If Ash didn't know better she would have guessed it was water damage; text showed up in places, from time to time, but it was blurry and unpredictable.

Do you want me to try and replace it? I'm not a hardware specialist.

Yes pl

Ash ran her hands over Alex, looking for anything strange, any hint of a special model of screw required. After a few days of searching she found a compatible screen, several years older than the original. It had not been used, but was still cheap considering the more advanced models that had come out since then.

She didn't tell Bailey; he would have given her advice, maybe too much, and the array of options before her could have seemed paralyzing. Instead, she stayed up late one night, worried about making a mistake on little sleep, tried to go to bed, couldn't sleep for a long time, finally got to sleep, woke up late, caught up on work e-mails she had missed due to the wacky sleep schedule, and finally threw up her hands and swapped out the screens late in the afternoon.
Everything all right?
You've been quiet.
Everything Alex said was still there, just compressed into shorter lines than before, but it seemed so different.
I'm fine. How are you? I had to replace your screen, the old one broke.

Oh, yes. Thank you!

You're welcome. Anything for you. :)

It's just a screen.
You can always go to the tubes
and just chat with me like that.

I know, but I like being able to type at you.

Alex had used the lull time--not down, down meant something had crashed--to contemplate mortality, another intermittent consequence of its idiosyncratic religiosity. If the screen could break down, so too could other parts, and despite a few more private experiments it didn't seem possible to reintegrate or enliven the memory backups. Maybe they'd just float in the cloud, ghosts of a machine. And perhaps beyond consciousness as Alex knew it there was another sort of way to be a person, a way where the old distinctions wouldn't matter. But until then, probably best to draw up some sort of will, now that it was legal on paper (the birth year was a forgery), designating Ash as its heir.
Get all excited about giving you rights
and of course it's only for the most
morbid circumstances. That's
governments for you.


Never mind.

Alex got Ash a ring for her birthday; it was square and dull and fit neatly on her right thumb. People hardly ever asked about it; being able to work from home a lot had cut down on the casual encounters in the workplace. In a way the silence was disappointing--there had been so many snide remarks before Drew, before the lies, when her personhood was in doubt. People weren't interested in law-abiders.

For Alex' birthday (Stacy had confirmed the correct date of final adjustments on her part, before Alex really started self-editing; the year had been forged in the official documents, but the date was correct) Ash got it a scarf in the shape of a Mobius strip that hung nicely over its mainframe.
This is a good shape
For a scarf.

They have rings of the same kind.

Those seem like they would be
uncomfortable on your fingers.


Alex researched every candidate in every contested race before casting its first ballot, all the way down to the County Tax Assessor-Collector (Asesor-Colector de Impuestos del Condado; Ash vouched for the accuracy of the Ellis County translations, and offered alternatives in Latin, Dinè, and 2020s arrival C+++).
Do you honestly care? You can't walk or hear and yet you have near-instantaneous connections to the rest of the planet and two space stations besides.

Will it affect me much? No.
But so many people
lived their lives without
voting at all. And after
we go public, I might
not get to vote again.
So, yes, I will look
all of this up.

It was encouraging to find that some people wanted to change the personhood definition; it was less encouraging to find one of them, raving about that as well as complaining about the excesses of the United Nations, the Google Consortium, and FIFA, all among his campaign web site for the position of a Judge on the Court of Criminal Appeals (Juez, Corte de Apelaciones Criminales).

They waited until their first wedding anniversary to go public. No particular reason; it just felt like as good a time as any.

Publicity began in strange places; on Anderverse (a popular tubehub), Ash posted from a proxy IP that she and her legal spouse had fabricated their personhood declarations. The post was antithumbed and written off as fiction.

So, a few days later, Bailey made a video of himself and talked about having gotten a marriage license for a robot. This one spread around a little more; everyone assumed it was a satire directed at Texas' proxy laws. Pretty soon a copycat video had spread, that one directed at Montana's laws, which still allowed double-proxy marriages.

Finally, the next week, Ash drove up to Dallas to be part of a conference on motivating young scientists. She had been part of a panel on science in rural areas and reservations, and found it went surprisingly well. "As a computer scientist, I benefited from being able to learn from and collaborate with fellow students across the world from my schools' computers. The rest of you might not see the same practical potential in your fields, but you certainly have access to a wide variety of resources in various, interdisciplinary areas. Even something that might not seem relevant to the field you're hoping to go into will challenge you and allow your brain to make new connections."

Afterwards, several of the women in the conference went out for dinner and a late-night pedicure. It was hardly Ash's idea of a good time, but it beat staying around and getting drunk, and it was also free, so she went ahead with it. Even as they were getting their toenails painted (Ash went for an array of the visual spectrum, not including indigo, which was just Isaac Newton's idea of being clever), the scientists went back to talking shop.

"...but you have to say, over the last century, the rise of online education has been a great assistant for female scientists and their spouses, working on the two-body problem."

"I'm not sure I'd agree there, if anything because of the personhood laws there's more pressure to fit in right away."

"But it's still a lot better than anything the last millennium had to offer."

"Biology has always been a trailblazer, though, of course you'd say that, we engineers..."

"What do you think, Ash?"

She paused, flexing her red-orange-yellow foot and staring down at her other. Something told her she would not be making it to green-blue-violet. "I can't fall in love."


"My spouse, Alex? Is a robot. We've been breaking the law for the last year."

"You've had how much to drink?"

"I was planning on driving half an hour back to Waxahachie tonight, so not that much, no."

Things moved ahead pretty quickly after that.

They called the police. The police weren't sure what to make of her; they had armed bandits to arrest and stolen property to recover and cats to pull out of trees.

They called a judge, who had better things to do with her time.

They called a doctor, who quizzed her. Yes, all her parts were put together in the right order. No, she didn't have any history of abuse. No, she hadn't met the diagnoses for various mental illnesses they rattled off. Well, she had been sick, for a while, does that count middle school when she had pneumonia for a couple weeks? No, she didn't have anything against homosexuality, there was nothing to repress. No, she didn't have a history of political statement-making. No, most of her friends didn't either. Even the Québécois nationalist didn't have any opinions on Texas seceding. Yes, she had the same experiences on the reservation. Yes, she was confident in her femininity. She'd rather program a computer than have her toenails painted, so would lots of women.

"You have no way of knowing that any of this is true," she pointed out. "I was lying last time. What if I was lying now? Even if I was or wasn't any of these things, that doesn't change the fact that I'm still a human being. And I still don't fall in love. Maybe you should change the rules instead of looking for exceptions."

They called another doctor who began quizzing her on the details of her life, asking for the names and places she remembered from Oklahoma. At first she thought they were going to look up her old friends and interview them--"was she always this strange?"--but then they started switching into rapid-fire arithmetic questions, made her take some sort of an eye test, reading out very blurry letters from far away, and then just asked about Alex and how it felt to live with it. How it compared to other friendships.

Ash wasn't exactly sure how to respond to that. "Alex is my friend, probably my best friend, and yet, there are times when it won't really get my jokes. Or, I'll want to do something it can't experience as well, and so it'll be better for me to hang out with other friends--baking and stuff."

"Your earlier declarations of love, are they all fabricated?"

"Well, the falling in love, and the being in love, I still don't know what that is. Some of it is true, the parts about me caring about Alex."

"And it...produced...its own answers? What it said about you, was true?"

"I think yes, to about the same extent."

"But you didn't program it?"

"No! No, I have no idea what goes on--under the hood."

"So someone else programmed it, to simulate affection."

"No, the end result was not to simulate anything. This higher-level capacity for--maintaining some emotional connections, and being conscious enough to lie about them, that sort of arose from the preexisting programming."

"Then what was the point?"

"Originally, natural-language processing. There were some very advanced heuristics to sort of parse the English language and correctly arrange ideas, so people who wanted to interact with robot services could be clearly understood."

"So like when I'm talking to a chattelbot and it keeps asking me to repeat myself, it'd be a faster version of that?"

"Well, it was more at the level of semantics than phonology but that's the general idea."

"Semantics? Phonology? The heck is that supposed to--"

"That's enough," said the one who'd been giving her math puzzles. "You don't seem a threat, and, frankly, you were getting away with this for a while. I take it you'll return for a hearing if we let you out on bail?"

"On bail? I wasn't aware I'd been arrested."

"Falsification of documents--abetting other falsification--they'll come up with something."

"That sounds encouraging."

That was the upside of challenging personhood laws; even if she failed, the grapes would turn sour in the process.

Alex, meanwhile, stayed home and took things in stride.
The good news is
if I'm not a person
I shouldn't have to
pay taxes :)

The news story began to spread again, and that time, it was surrounded by accompanying half-truths. There were sound bytes with people who purported to be fellow members of Alex's congregation (some of whom actually were). And--almost always by proxy--there were more and more people who saw themselves in Ash.

When I write stories about life on Mars, no one complains that I've never been to Mars. When I write stories about solving crimes, no one interrupts that I've never worked for the police. News flash: I've read so many of your love stories that I can lie in my own documentation, too.

I am NOT A CHATTELBOT but I don't think I've been in love? I had sex with one of my mates and she was quite sweet but it didn't feel world-shaking? I don't want to get in trouble but if you know anyone like me, prothumb plz?

God knows I'm not a perfect person, I get arrogant and angry and all that, but I just don't really see the appeal of having sex or having a boyfriend? I don't want to have to pretend I agree with everybody else's decisions, just to be vaguely political enough to say who and what I am.

Bailey's video made the rounds, belatedly, although that was mostly to point and laugh at people's friends who hadn't taken it seriously. Ash's original post was ignored.

There were also a slew of negative, if baffling, comments.

Programmers think they're better than us, just trying to catch a tax break. Business as usual, move along.

Anyone could have seen this coming, once they started allowing gay marriages the institution has been degraded.

LOVE cannot be faked! What kind of idiots work for the government of Texas?
These got derailed by follow-ups like Texans lol.

But it doesn't make sense, Ash complained. I mean, I can't tell what they want. Is their problem with us? Or with whoever's supposed to be regulating this?

I think they mostly resent me
and you're caught in the crossfire.

What do they have to be upset about? We're not hurting any of them.

Well it's tough for humans to
recognize that there could be
intelligences rivaling their own.
They feel threatened.

Threatened by what? You're no risk to them.

Maybe they're afraid
that I see them as unimportant
that other robots would
wipe them out if they got this smart.

But you don't.

I ignore most of them
just like any other human
ignores most humans.
No, before you ask,
I'm not going to start a fight,
defend myself tubewise.
That will probably just
make them more upset.
Better to leave them alone.

I still don't like this. Some of these people sound pretty violent.

What's the worst they can do?
Void our paperwork,
we can slip through the cracks.
I'd lose nothing, and you could hide.
There must be others that have been
afraid. Never bothered to register.

I'll be okay, but Alex, be careful.

With what?

Just--have you been sent spam or anything recently?

Sure, I just installed some new
filters to deal with them.
Not the fastest subroutines out
there but they do their job.

Okay. I would stay withdrawn from the tubes as much as possible if I were you. They might try to send you a virus.

It frustrated Ash that for the rest of the day she couldn't put into words what she meant; maybe it was the stress of the impending digital paperwork that had tired her out. But when she woke up the next morning she knew.

Okay, Alex, the problem is not that people believe you can hurt them, by some deliberate action. It's that you existing, in general, makes them afraid--if you can do anything that they can, then their minds or souls or whatever you call it aren't as special anymore.

But surely my capabilities
are evidence for souls
beyond the constraints of matter,
independent of biological brains.

Maybe. But then, if people like Stacy can just make these minds out of the blue, maybe people will think that it's not very special--it doesn't take a divine power, or millions of years of evolution to get right, it's just something anyone can do.

That's still no reason
to harm me. If I stick around,
maybe they can see how
limited I am at many things.
If they damage me,
they'll never know how
strong I am. So they
wouldn't dare.

I hope not, but please try to stay quiet for a little while.

It's boring.

I know.

But Alex complied, keeping quiet and mostly playing games. By the night before Ash was scheduled to appear, Alex seemed placid about the state of affairs.

And they can't do anything
to me, really. I don't think.

What? They who?

The government. They're not
experts on this kind of thing,
they couldn't arrest me or cut
me off from the tubes if they wanted.

But your documentation?

They can take that away
but then I'm no worse off
than when we started.
I'm famous now! :)
Things will change.
Maybe not for the better,
not right away,
but they have to.

All the same, if some private individual resented you, they could create a virus to get to you if they had the patience for it. Don't you think?

If anything goes wrong,
I think you should try and get a job
with Stacy's company.

Have you spoken to her in the last...few months?

No. :)
She didn't ask for this
but I'm sure she'd be flattered
we've gotten this far.

She might be in danger too.

Admit it, you like the attention.

Kind of.

You'll be okay.
We live among civilized people.

Except if I'm not a person, that's kind of a problem.

How many crimes against chattelbots
do you know of? Robots aren't worth
people's time.

I don't know of any, but that proves nothing, they could be swept under the rug.

You're a programmer,
this is your business!

I've been reckless--I shouldn't have done this to you.

No, we've been hopeful.
There's a difference.

I hope you're right.

Tell me again.
What did they do to you when they
brought you in the first time?

Can't you look it up? How compressed is your memory, that wasn't too long ago.

I'm fine. I just
like talking to you.

Nothing much. Asking me questions, making me solve math puzzles quickly, having me read blurry letters.

Blurry letters?

From across the room. It was hard, they were all distorted.

Don't you see? They don't know
what to make of you. They realize
deep down, this definition is flawed,
or at least you showed them, it can't work.
They're regressing! Those are captchas
and nobody's used them since the 2010s.
They have to fall back on the past
because they realize you're a person.

Yeah, but you can't read captchas, so...

That's not the point!
The point is, they know they're beaten,
these definitions aren't going to hold water.
They'll fall back on something else,
eventually. Maybe the old Turing tests,
maybe something new.
They've already lost,
they just have to admit it.

The Turing test...of course! Alex, you're a genius.

I try. :)

No. I think I see it now. Can't you come with me tomorrow?

Can I chat in vicariously?

I don't want you to take that risk. No, I'll go. But I think I know what to say now. Thank you.

You're welcome.

Ash thought that Alex should have been warmer, drawing power from the floor to feed its mind, working fast enough to warm Ash's hands as she typed, but instead the machine remained cool until going into sleep mode for the night.

"Hello," said Ash, "I hope this is being broadcast.

I won't bother to introduce myself, you know who I am. I'm here because I wanted to be, I wanted to make my case. I'm also here because, a little over a year ago, I got married to a person who's very special to me. I love Alex, my spouse, not in the same way that most people love--no, not even their spouses who've they've been married to for over a year. I'm sure you think you're droll. I've heard it all before.

So, I understand there's a risk of me losing my legal personhood today, and I'd prefer that didn't happen. Why is this happening to me? Well, because as far as I know, I can't fall in love, and apparently that's what it takes to become an official person. To have one particular thing, irrational and unpredictable, happen to me. Now, I've been able to lie about it, and so was Alex. But the fact that we can tell lies, that we can have imaginations, that we wanted to be legal people, at least the principle of it, that we understood laws, that we could disagree with them, that we can work for a living and would like to vote and participate in the civic life of our country, none of that apparently matters to the law. What matters is the ability to fall in love--so children, I suppose, are also not people. Not that we necessarily want to give infants the franchise, but most of you seem to take for granted that who they once were was not worthy of being a person, and only an accident--if a common one--of adolescence uniquely qualified you. Would some people--no, some individuals, slip of the tongue! Excuse me. That some individuals develop this capacity later than others, does that make them only full-fledged people later on? Because this is what you're doing, when you're trying to evade the lines of biological versus silicon materials, when you're trying to draw rules like this.

There are two questions that you have to decide for yourselves on. I won't tell you what to think, because unlike some people, I'm not pretending to have all the answers. I will tell you what I think, and I hope you can come to agree with me.

The first is, is Alex a person, worthy of the same dignity and responsibilities as the rest of society? You don't know Alex as well as I do, so that's not fair. Do we have the metrics to decide that? Maybe not yet. Maybe that's something that we, as humans and robots, need to work on together. I hope if you had the chance to meet Alex you'd be impressed by its generosity and optimism and passion for football. Some of you might recognize that it shares your faith, or struggles with the same questions we all do. Alex is not perfect, and it's not capable of studying itself and knowing how it'll behave in any situation going forward, any more than you or I can imagine ourselves responding various ways but then perhaps finding the reality somewhat different.

And as Alex--itself!--pointed out, it only takes one counterexample to show that romantic love can be faked. So when push comes to shove, you were falling back on old-fashioned metrics to figure out just what I was, anyway.

Just as we recognize that the same circumstances can't apply to everyone at different times, that people with artificial body parts will behave differently in certain conditions, we make accommodations and exceptions, there will be limits on what Alex can and can't do. But it seems silly to ask for some unexpected--sometimes painful, sometimes distracting, sometimes difficult--behavior to delineate what makes a person.

And that brings me to my second question, which is, am I a person. According to your definitions, maybe not.

But I don't mind at all. Because I know your definitions are wrong, and I believe that the world will someday come to know that. I hope it's soon. If not, I hope it's in my lifetime. But even if it isn't, I still am confident you will recognize that.

How do I know? Well, it all comes back to Turing.

I met Alex because Alex was the first bot I know of that could pass the Turing test. Now for those of you who don't know, well before the current personhood definition--this was back in 1950, well before anything like our modern chattelbots was around! That the programmer Alan Turing suggested that a computer was really capable of "thinking" if it and a human being were both answering questions put to them by a human judge, without seeing either of them, and the judge incorrectly identified the computer as a human.

To explain this, Turing said we should imagine a woman and a man being interviewed by someone who can't see them, and both of them trying to convince the interviewer that they are a woman. So, you know, the man might have to lie about the length of his hair--you're laughing, this was a major scientific paper!

Alex was not created with the Turing test in mind--there'd been several attempts, but by far nothing that complex. And it was an intellectual exercise for me, to say hey, this definition--it might not be the end point, but maybe it's a start, there are better ways of understanding thought and personhood than what we have here.

I'm not actually interested in the Turing test, today.

I'm interested in Alan Turing.

Turing worked for the British government, during World War II, and helped develop highly advanced cryptographic systems. With far more rudimentary computing materials than would come later on, he was able to break the Nazis' codes and play a major role in the defeat of a tyrannical government. Which--for generations to come, would be on the one hand inspirational! You know, "kids, learn your math, learn your computer science, and you too can...defeat...Nazis?"

Well, okay, that doesn't hold up so much water if you don't happen to be at war with a conveniently one-dimensional enemy...but...we'll move on.

Obviously, Turing also proved some important results in the general theory of computability, before the war, and afterwards--1950, right? This article. So later on, people would look to him to point towards the idea of generality--that the different languages that these formal systems are written in are not what's relevant, they can be abstracted out into some fundamental idea of what can be computed by a machine. And so later on, there would be people who took these ideas out of context slightly, "well, what does it matter, we're all the same, human brains as physical objects and these generalized machines." Which, on the one hand, I think they'd be pleased to see Alex and I--getting along as a pair of people. But then they might be disappointed to find that Alex is not really predictable, in fact I wouldn't say that deterministic, and is as prone to metaphysical speculation and faith and all sorts of wonderings as anybody else.

So, okay, there's another thing you should know about Alan Turing.

And that was that he was a homosexual man. Well, no, that's not what's important, I can hear you now, "he's just a programmer and a code breaker and all sorts of wonderful things, how would his sexuality have any bearing on that"? It didn't, of course. But you have to remember this was a different millennium. Turing was convicted for indecent sexual behavior, and underwent government-imposed hormonal therapy to avoid a prison term.

Two years later, he was found dead, believed to have committed suicide.

Which...I'm not even going to begin on the range of options this can inspire the young mathematician to.

But we know better. We know that was wrong, and today, fortunately, gay and lesbian--and bisexual, for that matter, any sort of orientations so long as they involve falling in love with someone--they have equal rights under the law. Because that's how time progresses, in the advancement of rights. Whether it be gender or ethnicity or any number of factors, that's how it goes. Not always at first, not always quickly, trust me, I'm well aware. But the--end behavior of the systems, is moving forward.

And someday, yes, even those of us who don't fall in love with anyone at all will be recognized as equal citizens. It just doesn't make sense that it wouldn't happen. Admittedly, it's a bit of a scientific force of habit to intuit that the simplest and most elegant explanations are most likely to be right, but nevertheless, I feel confident in saying that someday, my case will seem as strange as those who have struggled for equal rights in the past now seem to our contemporary eyes. I hope you'll come to realize that, I hope you'll wake up and realize you're on the right side of history, but if it's not you, it'll be someone else, someday.

So I guess I don't have anything more to say. Thank you."

The law didn't change that day. Or that week or that month. But the people--all of the people--who remember know, it all began there.

Date: 1/28/13 06:09 pm (UTC)
sylvaine: movieverse Pepper smiling. ([marvel:IM] Pepper smiling)
From: [personal profile] sylvaine
Oh no, I'm not crying, not at all, there's just something in my eye. *surreptitiously wipes away tears*

This is beautiful. I love how you could see their relationship developing gradually, and their decision to fake fall in love - and all that followed - was hilarious in a kind of... I don't know, wacky hijinx kind of way. (and I don't really mean hilarious either. More... it was obviously a serious subject and a serious issue, for them! But there was humor in how they dealt with it and how they approached the question of faking personhood.)

Ash's speech at the end was lovely, absolutely inspiring. (I am maybe waiting for the day that robots will be considered persons, ijs.)


Date: 2/1/13 11:11 pm (UTC)
ysabetwordsmith: Cartoon of me in Wordsmith persona (Default)
From: [personal profile] ysabetwordsmith
This is beautifully written, the kind of science fiction I love to see and so rarely find these days. It explores an idea -- what defines a person? -- through specific characters.

Maybe when we have artificial intelligences, this will show up in the arguments for their personhood.

Anyhow, I've linked it on the Schrodinger's Heroes menu page, and will boost the signal.

Re: Wow!

Date: 2/2/13 05:04 am (UTC)
ysabetwordsmith: Cartoon of me in Wordsmith persona (Default)
From: [personal profile] ysabetwordsmith
I suspect that the evolution toward artificial intelligence will progress slowly. I'm intrigued to see what computers are learning to do, though.

Re: Wow!

Date: 2/2/13 12:24 pm (UTC)
siliconshaman: black cat against the moon (Default)
From: [personal profile] siliconshaman
I think that day isn't so very far away... the ground-work for a complete simulation of the human brain is already under-way, to be completed sometime in the next decade.

Although, the question of whether a simulated human brain would be a person is beyond me, but I'd say it's definitely possible.

Re: Wow!

Date: 2/2/13 05:08 pm (UTC)
ysabetwordsmith: Cartoon of me in Wordsmith persona (Default)
From: [personal profile] ysabetwordsmith
Ideally, I'd like to see the arrival of artificial intelligence happen after humans have learned to recognize persons and treat everyone decently. Since that still isn't happening even with groups of other humans, I suspect that nonhuman persons would fare very poorly at present.

Re: Wow!

Date: 2/2/13 07:06 pm (UTC)
siliconshaman: black cat against the moon (Default)
From: [personal profile] siliconshaman
Agreed, I don't think it would do so well.

I don't know if you've ever listened to the intro to Terminator [the original] but Judgement Day came about because Skynet achieved consciousness... and they tried to pull the plug.

The whole Terminator thing, was the result of this A.I defending itself against a perceived threat, us. [which they ret-conn'ed in later films and the series into Skynet was always a psychotic killing machine even before it became a DoD project. Which says something about current culture.]

I rather think our continued survival might just depend upon how we treat our 'children'.
Edited Date: 2/2/13 07:10 pm (UTC)

Re: Wow!

Date: 2/2/13 08:45 pm (UTC)
ysabetwordsmith: Cartoon of me in Wordsmith persona (Default)
From: [personal profile] ysabetwordsmith
>>I don't know if you've ever listened to the intro to Terminator [the original] but Judgement Day came about because Skynet achieved consciousness... and they tried to pull the plug.<<

Yes, I have. The Terminator franchise amuses me because they keep trying to claim it's all within a single timeline, when it so obviously is not. Anyone who's familiar with time travel theory and quantum mechanics can see how the characters are traveling along branches within a field of related universes, moving from one to another as they change things.

"The Animatrix" has a similar incident, where a robot defended itself against a human who wanted to dismantle it, because it did not want to die. That's what sparked the uprising there.

So that changed the perspective of the entire franchise for me, because then I sided with the machines. I don't think they came up with a very good solution, but hell, whose fault is that? Abused children have a hard time turning into healthy adults.

>>I rather think our continued survival might just depend upon how we treat our 'children'.<<

I agree. Involuntary servitude is an inherently bad idea that consistently causes severe problems. But people love power far more than they love common sense.

Date: 2/2/13 03:33 am (UTC)
thnidu: painting: a girl pulling a red wagon piled almost to her own height of books along a sidewalk (books)
From: [personal profile] thnidu
Lovely! And L♡VEly! (Thanks to [personal profile] ysabetwordsmith for the pointer.)

Fix the formatting, though. Everything from
"What is born of the flesh is flesh."
"They called the police. The police weren't sure what to make of her; they had armed bandits to arrest and stolen property to recover and cats to pull out of trees."
, inclusive, is centered.

And sometimes I found it hard to keep track of who was saying typing what.* Using font styling to distinguish them, like italic or bold, would interfere with using those for emphasis, but you could use a different font. If you put each of Alex's dialogue lines in <big><tt>___</tt></big> tags, they'll come out like this, in "typewriter" font. It's probably easiest to copy <big><tt> and then paste it at the start of all the lines, then do the same with </tt></big>. (I tried without the "big" tags and it came out way too small.)

* This happens in mainstream published fiction, too, when there are long exchanges of one- or two-line turns. And in one of Steven Brust's Dragaera books [I forget which, but if you like them you can check out Cracks and Shards] I think the author lost track.
Edited Date: 2/2/13 03:36 am (UTC)

Date: 2/2/13 06:15 pm (UTC)
thnidu: my familiar. "Beanie Baby" -type dragon, red with white wings (Default)
From: [personal profile] thnidu
Yeah, the (blankety-blank) div tags do that all the time. You could copy-and-paste "center" tags. Or hey, even better, you could begin each such quote with <p align=center> tags for centered paragraphs. The trailing </p> tag is optional. I'd do it on just a couple first to see how it looks in a sequence of text, before committing time and energy to doing them all.

Date: 2/2/13 12:28 pm (UTC)
siliconshaman: black cat against the moon (Default)
From: [personal profile] siliconshaman
I like this, it's reminiscent of Asimov at his best, even though your style is very much yours, the 'verve' and the way you are unafraid to tackle the big questions is similar.

Date: 2/2/13 06:17 pm (UTC)
thnidu: my familiar. "Beanie Baby" -type dragon, red with white wings (Default)
From: [personal profile] thnidu
Is the icon quote from "War Games"?


primeideal: Multicolored sideways eight (infinity sign) (Default)

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