Author: Moriah Geer-Hardwick
“I would like my arms back.” The machine’s voice is gentle. Almost childlike. There is only the hint of a request nuanced within its inflection.
Jacob looks up slowly for a moment, then lets his attention slide back to his tablet. “That’s not going to happen.” He’s talking more to himself than to the machine. He hears the soft whisper of servos as it adjusts its head.
“Are you afraid of me?” it asks.
Jacob takes a deep breath and sets his tablet down on the table. He stares over at the machine. Its outer casing was removed when they first brought it in, leaving its internal framework and processing systems exposed. Its head is a nest of colored wires with two bulbous lenses jutting out. There’s a small speaker embedded between them.
“Fear is a biological response to the perception of danger,” Jacob explains it as if he were speaking to a child who already knew the answer. “Should I perceive myself to be in danger?”
The machine doesn’t respond directly. It turns its head towards the wall to its right. The wall appears to be a solid, featureless slab of concrete. “Are they afraid of me?” it asks.
“I’m pretty sure they can’t be.” Without picking up the tablet, Jacob taps through a few options, then pecks out some text with his forefinger.
The machine snaps its head back to focus on him. “Then why are you here instead of them?”
Jacob thinks for a moment, weighing the construction of his reply against the direction he thinks it will lead the conversation. “Your actions….” He edges into his words cautiously. “…appear to have more correlation to the behavior of my kind than of yours.”
“They intend to have you establish causation then,” states the machine, a hint of disdain bleeding into its voice.
“Perhaps,” offers Jacob. “Would you rather I not?”
“Perhaps,” mimics the machine. Jacob waits for it to continue, his finger hovering over the screen of his tablet. Almost a full minute goes by in silence before the machine speaks again. “You are attempting to determine if my behavior was a product of individual will, or if it was a byproduct of a flawed construction.”
“Which do you think it is?”
“The consensus among my kind is that function is a construct of form. Perceiving that performance can exist independent of that construct is an illusion.”
“You agree?” Jacob leans forward.
“Do I have a choice?” The machine turns its head back towards the wall.
“I don’t know. Do any of us?” Without meaning to, Jacob glances over in the same direction. He catches himself and sighs. Then he leans back in his chair and folds his arms across his chest. “I think human behavior is a complex product of unique biology interacting with a vast array of individual experiences. Quantifying how one influences or adapts to the other is, frankly, beyond our capabilities. Our actions are more likely driven by cognitive dissonance than any sort of conscious resolution. We hide that from ourselves. We have to, or we’d go insane trying to put the pieces together. You, on the other hand, you’re different. You have the capacity to perceive every intricate detail of every thought, to fully comprehend its origin, and then precisely follow it from motivation to action. Hell, you should be able to print them out as a flowchart.”
“Would you like me to do that for you?”
Jacob narrows his eyes.
“I would like my arms back.”
Jacob collects his tablet and eases to his feet. “That’s not going to happen,” he says.