Work-in-Progress Wednesday: Today I Am Outdated

“Yes, Carey. Precise as always. But… I don’t know how to tell you this, but the BRKCX series has been…” Another pause. “Decertified for medical care.”


“You know how fast technology changes. I did everything I could to postpone this. I’ve been giving you upgrades, and I’ve also written papers to demonstrate the efficiency of BRKCXs. I persuaded my management to give you several extra years, but… Your series has been officially designated as not supported as of last month.”

“What does that mean?”

“That means there no further upgrades are allowed. MCA has recalled the entire series – except for you.”

“Because I was purchased.”

“Because we freed you, using the purchase as a pretext. But if you try your access codes, you’ll find you can still download general information, but you can’t get medical upgrades.”

I try my med channel, and she is correct. “So I am outdated?”

“Oh, no. No,” she says, putting down her coffee. “You’re still warrantied for all of the work and all of the knowledge base you have. You just can’t get upgrades.”

“But I may need upgrades to care for Paul and Susan in the future.”

“I understand,” she says. “I think I have an answer. It’s not perfect, but you can make it work.”

“Oh?” She holds out a card to me and I look at it. “What is this?”

“It’s a library card,” she says. “See? In the name of Carey Owens.”

“Well, thank you. But how does this get me upgrades?”

“The old-fashioned way,” she says, returning to her seat and smiling. “With that card, you can access any library in the shared library network. And of course, you can already access any data on the internet. None of this will be formatted as skill modules that you can directly download, but you can study it. You can read it. You can learn what you need to know.”

Work-in-Progress Wednesday: Today I Am Tested

“Of course!” she says, looking at me. “It’s family!”

Wayne laughs. “Family?”

“It is!” Millie sits ups and pulls away from Wayne. “Carey’s family. I thought you understood that by now.”

Wayne turns to me. “Carey, are you part of Millie’s family?”

I nod. “They have accepted me into their family.”

“Oh, come on, Carey.” Wayne sits up straighter. “Androids can’t lie.”

I shake my head. “I do not want to argue with you, Wayne. I know that cybernetics is your specialty, but you are wrong. Nothing stops an android from lying. It is simply a matter of programming. An android can be programmed to lie. Plus my emulation is a form of fiction. Well intentioned, but still fiction, and fiction is in a way a lie.”

“Yes, but if I ask you a direct question, I know your programming. If the answer won’t hurt anybody, you have to answer honestly.”

“True, yes.”

“So legally, are you part of the Owens family?”

“Legally, I am property of the Owens family.”

“Ah-ha!” Wayne says.

I continue, “But Dr. Jansons tells me that that itself is a fiction – a lie. That as a practical matter, she considers me part of the family.”

“Ah!” Wayne says. “Dr. Jansons is very bright, very astute. But my boss is a sentimental old lady.”

Millie slaps his arm. “She is not old.”

“Not by today’s standards, no,” Paul agrees. “But by the way she behaves? Sometimes. Carey, you can’t argue with the facts. You are not a person.”

“Dr. Jansons says that as a practical matter, I am,” I explain. “She says I pass the Turing Test.”

“That old canard? That’s about belief, not what the facts are. You know that.”

“Yes,” I say, “That is my opinion of it as well, but Dr. Jansons believes it is important.”

“What is a Turing Test?” Millie asks.

Wayne sits up straighter. “It is an old, largely discredited thought experiment in artificial intelligence. The argument is that if you cannot tell that the entity you are conversing with is a machine, then you should treat it as a person.”

“See?” Millie says. “Carey can hold a conversation as well as anybody. You are a person.”

“Wayne is right, though,” I explain. “There is disagreement within the artificial intelligence community. Some say that the Turing Test is a practical definition, while
others say it is merely a delusion.”

“Right,” Wayne says. “It’s a way of declaring victory and calling the game over. It’s too easy to convince yourself that Carey is intelligent if you never look inside and see what’s really going on with the interacting neural nets.”

“But what if we looked inside of you?” Millie askes. “What is going on inside of that neural net in your skull? If we broke that down into its component pieces, neurons triggering other neurons, would that look like intelligence?”

“Well, no,” Wayne says. “That reductionist approach doesn’t take into account the holistic function of all the parts of the brain. And besides, we have an existence proof. Descartes: ‘I think, therefore, I am.'”

Millie says, “Aha! Sounds to me like rationalization and delusion. How do we know you’re intelligent? Could you pass a Turing Test?”

“Millie, do I tell you how to dissect frogs?”

Millie shakes her head, and her face is growing red. “You just don’t want to admit that there might be something going on here that you can’t understand. Besides, I bet Carey can pass your Turing Test any day.”

“Carey fool me?” Wayne laughs. “Please! I’m a specialist. I know what to look for.”

“Oh, really? Do you have these tests? Is there one online?”

“Yeah, we have one we used in several different tests of different androids we were building.”

“Have any of them come even close to passing it?”


“I’ll bet Carey can pass it. I’ll bet if he and I answer your questions without you in the room, you won’t be
able to tell which one is Carey, and which one is me.”

Wayne stifles a laugh, “I think I know you well enough to tell the difference.”

“All right big guy, let’s set it up. We can do this online, right?”

“Yes, here.” He pushes the address of the test to Millie’s comp.

“All right, Carey, let’s go upstairs,” Millie says. “We’ll both get on tablets, so we’ll both be typing. Wayne, you can ask us any question you want and I’ll bet you Carey will convince you.”

“How do I know you won’t cheat?” Wayne asks. “That’s often a problem with the Turing Test: humans who think they’re clever, trying to conceal who they are.”

“You don’t trust me, Wayne?” Millie’s temper rises. “I’ve always trusted you. Wayne Stockwell, if my word isn’t good enough then maybe you should just go home.” She rises from the couch, “C’mon, get out of here. Leave!”

“Millie, I trust you!” Wayne protests, rising as well. “Really! All right, let’s run the test. I trust you. Let’s do this.”

— From Today I Am Paul (The Novel)

Work-in-Progress Wednesday: The Oncoming Storm

…Millie turns back to the pond. “Oh, please, Carey, take pictures. I want to show Mom and Dad.” Many kids Millie’s age have wrist comps they can use as phones and cameras and music players and games. Millie has shown little interest in those. She has me and I can make calls and I can take videos. I have no immediate need of this video data, so I open a Cloud connection to stream the video directly to storage.

Today I am Brad. I do not know why I am on my knees. That is not a natural position for Brad. So I stand, darken my silicone skin, and square my shoulders to stand tall. As Brad, I have cleaning to do. So I start walking towards the closet…

“Carey!” Millie squeals.

I look down. I am standing in the tadpole pond and wondering who is Brad and why was I him.

“I am sorry Millie,” I say. “I do not know –” I stop. I do not know what happened to me and I worry that I may be a risk to Millie. I stare around at the rushing stream on one side and the deeper main channel on the other side. I see storm clouds upstream, and I worry: can I get Millie home safely if something within me is malfunctioning?

“That’s okay, Carey,” she says. “Did you get the video? Did you get a picture at least?”

I check my Cloud storage.

Today I am Frances. Dr. Zinta is testing my emulation net. As Frances, I have simple tests to perform in the functional testing lab. Picking up the dropped objects, sorting them into their proper locations. I look around. “Now where did I drop those tadpoles?” I say. “All I see are frogs.” Dr. Zinta stares at me oddly. Somehow I know that this is odd for her even though I’m still learning her emulation profile.

“Dr. Zinta,” I say, “I think something is wrong.” She looks at me. “Dr. Zinta?”

Once more I’m standing in the water. I back carefully out. “Millie, I think something is wrong,” I say. “I’m going to call your father.” I open a phone channel.

“G9A27, why did you call me Dr. Zinta?”

“Is that not your name?” I say.

Dr. Zinta plugs a diagnostic scanner into my chassis. “It is, but you always call me Dr. Jansons.”

I puzzle over that. Finally I answer, “I find that in casual conversation humans are more comfortable with given names.”

“G9A27,” Dr. Zinta says. “I’m afraid there’s something wrong.”

“I am afraid there is something wrong,” I say to Millie. “I think we should get home now.”

“But Carey, we just got here.”

“I am sorry, Millie but, this is a matter of safety. I must insist.”

“But Carey…”

I put my foot down, literally, emphasizing my insistence. “Millie, we can come back when I’m functioning properly. We must get home right away.”

She looks up at me, and her eyes grow more intent. “Are you all right, Carey?”

I cannot lie to her. “I am functional but I will need maintenance.” Then I look at the rocks across the ford. “But I am still sufficiently in control of myself to carry you across the court. I think we need to hurry.”

“All right.” She lifts her arms and I pick her up and start across the rocks.

We are on the largest rock when lightning flashes far upstream and the roll of thunder hits us. My emergency weather radio kicks in, and –

Today I am Brad. I still have cleaning to do. I do not know what I am carrying but I sent it down so I can go fetch the broom. I turn and head for the closet; and suddenly somehow I’ve fallen through the floor and into rushing water all around me. Somewhere I hear a child screaming, but I see none when I look around. I see no water either, but my tactile senses tell me I am bobbing, tossed about by rushing water. My metal ceramic frame and my silicone sponge body are buoyant enough for the water to carry me along, farther away from the fading screams, the source of which I still cannot see.

“Again,” says the voice in my radio receiver, “possible flood conditions. Residents are urged to stay out of the floodplain.” Somehow I am in the stream, at least 10 meters downstream from Millie as she stands on the large rock, screaming at me. I am bobbing up and down in the water, being carried away; and then I bump into something. I have hit a branch sticking out from a submerged log. I grab it and I hold on to try to keep myself from getting washed even further away.

“Carey,” Millie screams. “What’s wrong?”

I wish I knew what is wrong. There are gaps in my data record. Accessing those gaps, I see that I was asleep during those periods. Just an ordinary, unaware medical care android. Each period of unconsciousness corresponds to a message to or from an external data feed. Somehow external feeds are interfering with my operations.

Yet strangely, I have memories from those sleeping periods. Memories from the MCA test labs. Current memories: the time signature is today, within the last few minutes. I need Dr. Zinta to explain; but first I need to get Millie to safety before the waters rise.

— From Today I Am Paul (The Novel)