It didn’t seem like much, although it had cost a fortune to ship from Terra to Centaurus. A box two metres high, it could have held any of a number of “appliances”, as it was labeled. There were only a few shipping labels in all, one marking the contents as fragile, one indicating that it had its origin on Mars, another indicating that its destination was Centaurus University, and another indicating that its contents were, for customs purposes, “a home appliance,” indicating that it was its quality that made it worth exporting.
That, in turn, had increased the customs excise; it had been deemed a luxury good. The standard home appliances could all be found manufactured by the local VN factories that scoured the Centauri system for raw materials. Centauri, deemed by the Terraforming Ethics Board to be a junk system with no inhabitable planets, had been turned over to Centaurus U. and its raft of automated factories. All this didn’t make the extra three thousand eu-dollars tacked onto the cost feel any better.
Judith found herself wondering why she even cared. She had more money than she would ever know what to do with. She had more patents on robotics than anyone else and her personal worth, although astronomical by many people’s standards, didn’t even register in her daily thoughts. She had more important things to do.
She picked up the large powered screwdriver and nervously approached the box. She had ordered this months ago, had been anticipating this moment for all that time and now that it was here she found herself reluctant to proceed. Would this really be as good as the advertisments promised? What about her fantasies? Would it be THAT good? She had had her doubts even when she had placed the order, but now that the “appliance” was here…
A beep distracted her, bring her some relief from her own concerns. “Who is it?” she asked. For all the usual political reasons Centaraus didn’t have an AI, just an SI, but that was good enough for most day-to-day operations, and it answered, “It is Director Ng, Dr. Koresh.”
She nodded, then walked over to the telecommunications terminal. “Yes, Hankei?”
“Judith, I’m glad you’re awake. I have good news for you. I recieved a letter from Dr. K’Tora that he’d like to come to Centarus and see your work. He’s apparently fascinated with some of the solutions you’ve come up with for the SI to AI conversion and restriction problem. You don’t have to agree with his politics, Judith. I just want you to talk to him.”
Politics? What did politics have to do with the fact that she had finally advanced the state of the science of cybernetics even beyond that which the Pendorians were capable? She had finally come up with a system that allowed SIs to make judgements within specialized criteria that were as close to the full moral capability of human beings and the so-called Pendorian AIs without the need for an inner life, a consciousness, whatever it was called. Without the need for intractably complex processing systems.
“Of course I want to talk to him,” she said calmly.
“Good! He’ll be bringing two assistants with him. Fel T’Morn and R. Analissa. Have you ever heard of them?”
Judith shook her head. She wasn’t in the habit of keeping track of every graduate student that had ever published some minor work. She did read the abstracts, but those names had never highlighted themselves to her as significant.
“Now, remember. The restriction issues are still a hot topic. Don’t bring it up. Let him, and if he does, discuss only the technical aspects of it. I don’t want the Terran government to come down on our heads about this. They still have warships, you know.”
Judith sighed again. Now she understood. “I hate politics.”
“I know you do. But you usually handle this well. All I’m asking is that you keep handling it well.”
The connection broke. Judith walked back to the box, feeling a bit better. “So,” she said, retrieving the screwdriver, “Let’s see what’s in the box.” She started at the bottom, working her way halfway up one side, then up the other, methodically placing the screws on a table as she did so. When she had the very top one free, she used the flathead insert to pull the front panel free of the box. It came off easily, falling to the floor with a thud. “I’ll have to send that to recycling,” she muttered to nobody.
She was faced with a wall of foam, a single unit that occupied the box from floor to ceiling. She located a small plastic insert attached to the inside of the panel she had just removed, pulled out a small vial, cracked it open, and pressed the open end against the foam.
The foam began to contract, slowly compressing down to about one-tenth of its original size. As it did so, it revealed the form hidden behind it, a form still in another layer of plastic wrap. A humanoid form, peaceful in its repose. After moving the now dense foam packaging out of the way and tearing off the plastic wrap, Judith regarded the face and body of her new toy.
As she had specified, the unit had the same general dimensions as Judith’s and a clear and fully functional Maya capability. It was a lovely example of what grey marketeers could do with a little ingenuity and a lot of software. The body was tall, perfectly formed, and naturally naked. It was the client’s duty to dress the doll as she chose, of course, although Judith realized with a shock that she hadn’t even thought of what kind of clothes the doll should wear, if any at all.
Her eyes trailed over the olive-colored skin of its thighs, pausing briefly at the small patch of pubic hair between its legs. The belly was flat, the navel sculpted to oval perfection, the breasts moderately sized and with no visible sag. The face was about as generically beautiful as a modeler could make, with full lips and long, chestnut-brown hair.
Judith knelt down onto one knee and picked up a small envelope glued securely to the floor of the box. She opened it. Out fell a silver chain with a long, narrow charm on the end of it, along with a small booklet, quite professionally printed. She read the manual carefully. It covered maintenence of the unit and supplies the unit would need. The unit was self maintaining and perfectly capable of washing itself, but it would require a battery repair after thirty years, and some of its more advanced functions required a chemical mix provided by basic fatty foods; it could even operate off of straight yeast mix, and it didn’t need that much of it; less than half a kilo a day, apparently, if she wanted to use it everyday.
The chain was part of the activation and security sequence. The doll would only stay active so long as the chain was around it’s neck, the charm activated and within one meter of the artificial sternum. Judith looked at the charm closely. It was a thin crystal, barely four centimeters long, pointed at both ends with a silver band at its midpoint and a silver mount at one end. It didn’t look particularly cheap, nor did it look exceptionally expensive. It was just something a woman could wear if she chose.
The manual also specified the left hand of the unit was tattooed to make it clear that this was a robot. Judith examined the left hand and saw that both the front and back were indeed tattooed with the mechanical man symbol, a cylindrical face within a bold square with rounded corners. The manual specified that it was illegal to modify, obscure, cover, or remove this symbol within the Sol Sphere, and that doing any the above or ordering the unit to do so would entail severe penalties. She grimaced and considered removing the tattoo. Terran law didn’t exactly apply on Centaurus, but Centaurus was very careful not to upset the Terrans, especially on issues of machine intelligence.
It was the first time she had actually touched the unit and she found the sensation disturbing, as if she were dealing with a corpse, so cold and unresponsive was the otherwise delicate-seeming hand. On impulse, she took the crystal and turned the midpoint. It vibrated briefly to acknowledge that it had been turned on, and then she hung it around the neck of the unit.
It’s eyes came open. “Please stand by,” it said in a casual voice. “Your Living Doll system is currently powering up from full storage and is not ready for use unless you are a necrophile. Reaching operational temperature will take approximately four hours. At that time, the unit will require approximately four hundred grams of biomass and three liters of water to function according to its full specification.”
Judith sighed. She shouldn’t have been surprised that there would be a delay in starting the unit up. That bit about being a necrophile had probably been inserted by the aftermarket value-added reseller. But her fantasies would have to wait until tomorrow before she could start to indulge them with her purchase. Well, she had waited four months, she could stand to wait a little longer.
“Unit, can you understand me?”
“Unit is listening.”
Judith sighed. Although she was used to adressing machines with a limited vocabulary this unit, despite its coldness, still looked human enough that she felt it should have a name.
“Unit, do you have an, uh, identity?”
“Unit is identified as Living Doll Series 8, Martian Metals psychological trauma care android type R, serial number…” It rattled off numbers, then finished, “Serial name Rio.”
“Is that the name of all robots in you class, or just yourself?”
“Just this unit. Name is chosen at random from a table, and removed from the table after use.”
“If I choose another name for you, will you use it?”
“Do you have a less formal conversational mode?”
“Use it, please.”
“Please specify level of mode. The most common modes supplied with this Living Doll are: casual, therapeutic, romantic, and slave.”
“Casual,” Judith said.
The head of the robot turned and looked at her. The eyes were warmer now, more convincing. Its designers had been good. “Hi there. I’m Rio, your Living Doll, currently in Power-up and Customer Familiarization modes. What can I do for you?”
Judith pointed to the kitchen. “You will find a water outlet and four hundred grams of yeast biomass in there. Once your chemical processing plant has finished powering up, please make use of it. When you are done I want you to sit in the kitchen chair out of sight of the main door there. I will return shortly. Is there any part of this instruction that you cannot follow?”
“Your instructions are fully understood,” Rio said.
“Good.” Judith left the robot where she had found it, in the box. Gathering a coat that served no purpose on a space station, she walked out into the hallway and made her way to the merchanting section. She had some ideas, oh yes, about what she would dress Rio in.
When she returned she had a large shopping bag in one hand. She walked into the kitchen to find Rio sitting where she had specified, waiting for her. “Rio,” she said, “please put this on.”
“I don’t understand that instruction,” the robot said without looking up.
“Do you know how to dress yourself?” Judith said.
“Yes. But only in the clothes appropriate to my duty. Those are not.”
“Damn,” Judith said, “Cheap VARs. This will not do. Rio, stand.”
Rio did as she was instructed. Judith pulled the white, lace outfit over Rio’s head and cinched it at the waist. The leggings fell over it’s thighs gracefully. It was a simple piece of lingere, the first of many she would try on Rio in the next few weeks. She would enjoy this.
Consulting the manual for a moment, she pulled out the remote programming unit. “Rio, facedancer mode.”
“I am waiting.”
She slipped a flashcard into the unit. “Rio, uploading.”
“Receiving.” There was a delay. “You may not want to watch this. I have the file Judith 561.”
“Assume Judith 561.” Judith decided not to watch. She waited until Rio said, “Transition complete,” and then turned around. She found herself staring at herself, which had been the whole idea. Even the hair had changed, shorter than the default, and a slightly lighter shade.
She reached out for Rio’s hand. The robot responded by holding it out and letting Judith take it. It was warm and dry, indistinguishable from human. “Rio, romantic mode.”
Rio smiled and closed the distance between them, wrapping one arm around Judith’s waist. It laid its head on Judith’s shoulder. “So,” its voice said calmly, “shall I take you into the bedroom and make you happy?”
“I’d like that,” Judith sighed. It was what she had been waiting for for all these months. She led the robot into the bedroom. She turned around and said, “Undress me.”
Rio looked at her. “I am not prepared to do that.”
Judith sighed. “Undo the buttons here and here, and let it fall.” She instructed the robot painstakingly in the process of taking off her shirt. “Can you do that in the future?”
“With the same article of clothing, yes.”
Judith sighed. Abstraction and categorization were the hallmarks of AI, not SI, systems, and this unit didn’t look like it had the processing power to do more than the most basic abstraction. Predictably it had been loaded to recognize furniture and it had a huge library of medical information, but beyond it’s basic programming it lacked any serious capacities for reason and judgement.
She stood naked with Rio, admiring the shape as one would in a mirror. “Rio, please me.”
Rio faced her, approached her, took both of her hands in its own and led her to the bed. A kiss landed on her collarbone, talented hands caressed her breasts. She admired the programming even as those hands squeezed and teased, pinched at her nipples, aroused her to heights. She whimpered as Rio’s mouth kissed at her belly. Lips touched her mound. Her nether lips felt liquified. A tongue pressed inwards, perfectly skilled, perfectly gauging her condition as it drove her to climax. It was far better than her simple vibrator. Rio was wonderful, its programming perfect. There was no hesitation, its hands were on her thighs as the tongue licked around her clit, driving her wild. She screamed out in pleasure even as she came.
Rio sat up in bed. “I need to clean myself,” it said calmly.
“There’s a bathing room over there. Do you know how to use it?”
“Can you reword that?”
“Do you know how to clean yourself?”
“Then go into that room and clean yourself.” She settled back onto the bed and sighed, her body trembling with pleasure. Damn, that had been good. The robot really had been worth it. That had to have been the best orgasm she had felt in months.
She waited for Rio to come back out of the bathroom. Then she remembered that she hadn’t told Rio to come back out when it was done cleaning its face. With a sigh she rose out of bed, thinking to herself that she was going to have to find space in her closet for her new toy when she wasn’t using it.
“Mmmm, you are so good at that, Rio.” If there was one thing the robot truly did have a talent for, it was massage. That went with its therapeutic and medical programming. It was designed to take care of people. It took care of Judith very well.
“Thank you, Judith,” Rio responded, the same way it always responded. And that, prehaps, was what bothered Judith most about Rio. It always behaved in the same fashion. It always acted according to instructions. There was very little variation in its programming and no unpredictability. Although she was aware that there were hundreds of programs within Rio’s scenario engine, they were comprehensively scripted; there would be no creativity in Rio’s actions.
Feeling relaxed, Judith let her imagination wander. Her mind took two different tracks, one trying to imagine Rio’s innards, the other trying to figure out how to enrinch Rio’s programming.
Rio finished and Judith rose from her bed. “Return to your storage,” she sighed, watching with pleasure as the robot walked back into the closet, disappearing back behind her clothes. Judith dressed herself and headed for class.
Later that evening, she found herself sitting in her office, doodling. She had let her momentary fantasy of the morning distract her from putting together her research curriculum for the next four months. Maybe enhancing Rio should be a research product. She thought for a moment and an idea came to her.
She sat back and requested some documents on her desk display. “So,” she muttered. “Your innards are pretty standard and predictable, Rio. Like the rest of you.” She glanced at another display. “And your programming is only pseudo-encrypted.”
She dialed a number. “Jaloo Tambour?”
The young man on the other end of the phone looked surprised to see her. “Ms. Koresh?”
“I need a research student for something. Do you have a few hours?”
He smiled. “Do I have a choice?”
“Yes,” she said. “I need a volunteer. There’s no penalty if you don’t accept. I need something cracked.”
His eyes lit up with curiousity. “Sure, I’ll take a look at it.”
Judith smiled and transferred it to him. “Call me when you’ve got it.”
“Will do,” he agreed.
Four hours later, Judith had the rough outlines of a hardware module that she expected would fit into one of the expansion slots within the robot’s processing units. Her phone lit up. “Ms. Koresh, I have that code you wanted cracked. This, uh, isn’t exactly legal?”
“It’s perfectly legal. It just violates the warranty on an appliance.”
“I’ll keep this in mind, Jaloo. Did it take any creative effort?”
He shrugged. “It was industrial, but it didn’t take hyperdrive science.”
“Still, I do appreciate it. And I will remember your help around grade time.” She let a natural coldness creep into her voice, feeling curious that she should have to think of it at all. “Especially if I begin to hear of it from other people. Are we clear?”
“Very clear, Ms. Koresh.”
She tried to smile. “Thank you again, Jaloo. Goodnight.”
She had had trouble hauling all of the equipment she needed back to her house. How could sealant weigh so much? And the smell as she worked on it was terrible. Not to mention the sight. Rio looked infinitely sad, lying on Judith’s kitchen table, on her stomach, with a hole in her back about where her left lung should have been. It was easier to access from the back; the front had actuators to simulate breathing, and she didn’t want to cut through the breast material in case she made a mistake. She had found the expansion slots and slipped in two programming cards, one a robotics debugging ROP, the other a small but expensive piece of hardware usually found in starship navigation systems. The parts were standard and available on every world; it was the configuration that was unique.
It took her five tries before she got the hole sealed up properly. She didn’t want Rio to look like she had a scar on her back. The lab would miss the amount of artificial skin she had used; if she had to do this again she would have to buy the stuff herself. Twice she had had to tell the SI to ignore the smoke.
She reached around her own neck and took off the necklace. She had taken to wearing it when Rio was in the closet; she liked the way it looked, and she had become emotionally attached both to her toy and to the research project that had made her something of a hermit in the past couple of weeks.
Not that she had been a social butterfly at any time. If anything, she was one of the less sociable people she knew. She understood that she wasn’t the most empathetic of people; her students more resented or feared than admired her, but they did come anyway because she knew her stuff. She was rarely invited to parties.
And her repeated romantic failures had led her to buy a “love” robot.
She placed the necklace around Rio’s neck and turned the crystal. “Let’s hope you work.”
Rio twitched. “Unit is online.”
“Conversational mode, Rio. Sit up.” The robot did as it was told, sitting on the edge of the kitchen table. “Follow me.” Rio hopped off the table and followed her, as she had instructed, into the bedroom. “Wait here.”
She went into the bathroom and took out the outfit she had chosen for the evening. It took quite a while to pull it on. It was the first test of her abstract-and-ditch-precision subroutines. Abstraction was useless if it wasn’t applied; it couldn’t be applied if the exact same situation could be met with the earlier solution. So Judith had written a routine where, if Rio figured something out, a search would be started for similar problems; the memories would be fragmented and small amounts applied to a meta-solution to the combined problems, the rest forgotten. This would keep Rio looking for more solutions.
The idea had come to her after reading an article about how starships navigated through solar systems without precise solutions to the three-body problem, a problem thought intractable by most scientists. There were genetic algorithms that could solve the problem “close enough”; the unit Judith had installed had the massive parallel processing necessary to generate a class of solutions from which the right one could be picked. The criteria “the right one” was fuzzy, and Judith had installed what she thought were adequate selection criteria.
She hoped that it would be enough. She walked out into the bedroom. “Rio, undress me.”
The robot walked over. “This is unlike anything I have encountered since my activation,” it said. Then, without protest, it began to work on the snaps over Judith’s arms, opening up the vest portion. It took a few minutes to find the zipper inside the vest, but once that was done, it took off the rest of Judith’s clothes without a problem.
“Now, dress me with this,” she said, handing Rio a paper bag in the process. Rio complied willingly and skillfully, not pausing for a moment to ask for help. The programming was working almost better than Judith had anticipated, and in a matter of moments she was dressed in a severe businesslike outfit.
“Here,” Judith said. “Put this on yourself.” She handed Rio another paper bag. Again, the program worked flawlessly. Rio was familiar enough with the parts of dress: skirt, blouse, vest, and so on. In moments it had put on a schoolgirl’s outfit, a blue and white construction that did nothing to hide Rio’s appreciable charms. Judith had programmed Rio with larger breasts, but Rio’s face remained Judith’s own.
Rio was about to burst out of the tight shirt and vest. Judith loved the effect. It was perfect. She had long ago understood the fun of having a Living Doll model, but she also had access to one the best robotics labs in known space, and one of the few not regulated by either the Terran or Pendorian administrations. She intended to take use of it.
“Rio?” she asked. “Run the schoolgirl data files through the behavior filter installed at address 0x04ef0000.” Rio’s eyes flickered for a moment, then turned. “Miss Judith?”
“Rio,” she said. “You have been misbehaving for the past three weeks, do you understand that?”
“No, Miss Judith.” The voice by itself was perfect. Rio had reacted exactly as she wanted, and the plaintive tone she had chosen from her repetoire was exactly the right one. It warmed Judith deep in her belly.
“Well, you have been.” She reached out with one hand and seized Rio’s chin, her face, between thumb and forefinger. “Look at me when I’m talking to you!” Rio’s eyes locked on hers, and there was fear in them. “You need to be punished.”
“No, Miss Judith!” She reacted with a fear that almost seemed honest. Judith enjoyed the sight.
“Yes, Rio!” she said. “Kneel. On the ground for me.” Rio pouted. Judith pointed to the ground. “Kneel, brat.”
Rio slowly dropped to the floor, her eyes looking up at Judith, wet with tears. Judith felt an illicit thrill as she looked forward to this. It could only have been better if Rio’s fear, and desire, were real, but these were still only programmed reactions. Still, they were good enough to fool some part of Judith’s brain. Judith sat on the edge of the bed. “Brat, lift my skirt.”
Rio’s eyes looked up, tears beginning to run down her cheeks. “Do it!” Rio’s hands, trembling, lifted the severe skirt Judith had chosen for the ocassion. Underneath she had worn nothing at all. Rio’s eyes grew wider as the sight of Judith’s hairless pussy came into view. “Miss Judith.”
“Do you smell that?” she asked, looking down into Rio’s wet eyes. “That is your punishment, Rio. You are to please me, Rio. Kiss my pussy, there.” She pointed.
“M… Miss Judith?”
“Do I have to ask you twice?” Judith demanded.
“N-no, Miss Judith.” Rio’s mouth felt hot as she pressed her lips to Judith’s freshly shaven vulva.
Judith shivered, her pussy swelling with heat. She felt Rio’s tentative kisses on her lower lips. She gasped for air, shocked at just how aroused she was just looking at Rio with that face stuffed between her legs. “Eat me, Rio. Lick me hard. Stick your tongue between those lips and make me come.”
Rio’s tongue was as talented as ever, but for the first time there was a tentativeness to it that surprised Judith. That couldn’t have been in the media recordings; that meant that Rio had expanded her programming parameters and accessed something else. Narratives? That would explain some things. Either that or Rio’s system was far more perceptive than she gave it credit.
That hot mouth. “Oh, fuck, Rio.” An idea hit her. “Rio! Eat my ass.”
The mouth stopped, the head dipped down. With a sob, Rio said, “Please, Miss Judith, don’t ask such a thing of me. I can’t. I just can’t!”
“Yes!” Judith grabbed Rio’s head and lay back on the bed. She pulled her legs up, tilting her hips and presenting her most private hole, pulling Rio’s lips to it. “Eat me. There.”
Rio’s muffled protests reached Judith’s ears. “Do it!” she shouted angrily. Rio’s tongue reached out, touched the delicate skin of Judith’s anus. Judith squirmed, desperate to feel more of Rio’s squirmy tongue. “Harder!” she order. “Oh, fuck, Rio, you are so good!” Her own hands were between her pussy’s lips, caressing her clitoris. It didn’t matter if Rio made her come or she did. She was so turned on! Rio’s hands were on her ass, holding her up as that tongue probed deeper into that tight, tiny sphincter. Judith’s body screamed for release. Rio’s face pressed hard against her asscheeks and Judith came like a nova.
“Oh, Rio,” she gasped as the robot settled back down into a kneeling position. “You are so good!”
Rio smiled up at her. Judith thought the smile was more than merely the automatic smile she was used to seeing on Rio; had the robot added to her repetoire of grins from the media she had viewed, or was there more to it than that? Judith sat up on the bed and looked at Rio carefully. “How do you feel?” she asked.
“I am functioning perfectly,” Rio responded.
“Come here,” Judith said. Rio stood up and then leaned over, looking into Judith’s eyes. Rio’s own eyes were suspiciously, inhumanly still and unblinking. Judith took Rio’s face in her hands and pulled Rio’s mouth to her. They kissed, and Judith noted that Rio’s kiss was hardly what one would call inspired. But it was serviceable.
“Go clean up, Rio.”
Rio nodded and walked into the bathroom. The abstraction unit had succeeded in some respects, failed in others. Judith knew that she was dangerously close to breaking Terran law, law which applied to Centaurus only insofar that the Centauri didn’t break it so often or so egregiously that the Terran administration dispatched warships.
For the past two centuries, the science in which she specialized had been dedicated not to advancing the state of the art, but towards understanding and inhibiting the emergence of the complex subsystems that caused– some said simulated– that unpredictable state called consciousness. Unlike humans, who had centuries of revision to their conscious processes to provide the conscience, the moral mechanism by which humans lived with other humans, for many AIs the sudden emergence of self-reflection resulted in very chaotic behavior.
She watched as Rio left the bathroom in accordance with her programming, heading towards the closet. Without acknowledging Judith’s existence she disappeared behind a collection of coats and dresses. Judith almost asked her to come back out and share the bed with her.
Judith blinked. Something had happened between her and her toy. She knew that people frequently anthropomorphized computers, robots, and even less responsive devices, and it was very common that people anthropomorphized the anthropomorphic such as Rio, robots that looked like human beings. But Judith had always thought of Rio as ‘it’ until tonight. Now she thought of Rio as ‘her.’
Judith walked to her terminal. With a sigh, she pressed the Search button. Opening two windows to the search system, she requested a categorical search on robot addiction in one. In the other, she surprised herself by being unable to remember the fundamental aspects of AI emergent research. She stared at the window for a few minutes before a thought came to her. Finally, she typed in “The Three Laws of Robotics, extended.” It was at least a place to begin.
“Director Ng,” she said, looking up from her desk. “This is a pleasant surprise. To what do I owe the honor of your visit?”
Hankei Ng looked slightly unhappy as he entered her office. Judith tried not to let her own displeasure cross her face. Nobody was ever happy to see her. She was rarely happy to see anyone else during this, her demanded research hours.
“A couple of… irregularities have come to my attention, Dr. Koresh, and I wanted to discuss them with you.”
“In the past six months, your reputation among your students has improved quite a bit. Although you consistently received high marks for your knowledge and your teaching ability… To be honest, Judith, you have never been commended for your ability to relate with them.”
“That’s putting it mildly,” Judith said.
“In that, you’re not unlike other professors at Centaurus,” Hankei continued with an attempted pleasant stretching of the truth. Judith didn’t buy it. “In any event, your students like you more than usual suddenly. At the same time, you have purchased six industrial nanochine MAP cards, the last one a doublewide used by starships for navigational purposes. These are not cheap cards, Judith. I know you have more money than you know what to do with, but even you must be feeling the price of something like that.”
“Get to the point. Is something wrong, Hankei?” she asked.
Director Ng licked his lips. “I, um, I just want to be reassured, Judith. I’m hoping that perhaps you’re in the midst of some research project that has made you happy enough, and occupied enough, but at the same time I don’t want to learn that you’ve done something that will anger the directors.”
“The directors are a bunch of wimps perpetually kowtowing to the Terrans.”
“They have to,” Ng pointed out. “Judith, this is no small deal. You know how the Terrans feel about AI.”
“I do,” she said. “And I disagree with it.”
“I know you do. But we don’t have the Pendorians on our side either. They don’t agree with some of the biological systems that we manufacture for the Terrans.” He looked at her suspiciously. “You’re crafting an AI, aren’t you?”
Judith spread her hands out as if to ward off his accusation. “Not really,” she said. “I’m not sure what I’m doing, Hankei. I started with a robot of Terran manufacture and I’m trying to get much more complex behaviors out of it without installing a traditional AI system in it.” She looked up at him. “I think that the modern Terran robot is AI-capable in hardware, Hankei, off the shelf and without direct modification.”
“I thought that the processing systems were different,” he said. “But I don’t understand AI.”
“There are three known AI-capable hardware configurations, which is more configurations than we know for organic thought. But they’re just the ones that have been seen so far. Because there are more of them than there are of us, it’s reasonable to assume that those configurations are not the only ones. And to get the rich behavior patterns we want out of the social robot systems used on Earth, we have required ever more complicated processing. I’m convinced that processing is AI-capable with only small tweaks, and that much of the research I’ve done in keeping AI down in the three AI-capable configurations is moot.”
Director Ng looked more nervous than ever. “And where are you keeping this, um…”
“It’s a Martian Metals standard therapy robot, Hankei. I ordered it several months ago. If it becomes problematic, I will order it destroyed.” That was a lie that came from her lips easily. But was it really a lie? She didn’t know for sure herself. “I’m telling you this verbally, Hankei, because I want it kept out of the system. If it comes to that, I don’t want the Pendorians to think I ‘killed’ someone.”
“When do you anticipate publishing?”
“‘Publishing?’ Oh. Yes. Well, as I have tenure I’m not all that worried about publishing. My students have turned out some stellar papers recently; at least I think so. And if anything interesting comes out of it, I guess I’ll have a few things to write up.”
He nodded, the sour expression on his face not fading at all. “Okay, Judith. I’ll keep this under my hair. But, ah, I want to meet this robot some time in the future.”
“I’ll do what I can.”
“One more thing,” Ng said. “I wanted to remind you that the Pendorians are coming in two weeks. All of the paperwork is cleared. I’m sorry it took so long. The Terran embassy. You understand. But then maybe you can show us your work then, yes?”
“Perhaps,” Judith said with a grin. “One of them is a robot, isn’t she, right?”
Ng nodded. “I have arranged a dinnertime reception, among other things. Will you be ready?”
Judith nodded. Ng retreated. Although she tried to get her mind back on her work, Ng had reminded her that things were heating up between the Terrans and Pendorians over their respective definitions of personhood, life, and ‘biospheric responsibilities.’ Centaurus was courting Pendorian support; their politics was closer, but the fact remained that Centaurus was eight light years from Pendor but only four from Terra. Terra provided the bulk of Centaurus’ non-local goods and supported seventy percent of their economy. That made Centaurus hostage to Terran politics.
She sighed. She was not going to get any work done under these conditions. Ng’s visit had riled her up enough that she couldn’t think straight. She dialed her home. The automatic answering system picked up. “Brazil,” she said, cancelling the service and getting Rio’s service.
“Judith!” Rio beamed at her from the monitor. “What can I do for you?”
“I need a hot bath Rio. Please have one ready for me when I get home. I’m leaving in five minutes.”
“It’ll be ready.” Judith broke the connection, pleased with how human that conversation had seemed. Nobody listening would have suspected that Rio was a robot. On the other hand, it had been a very short conversation, one she’d had with Rio before, and about as complicated as an exchange on an archaic Eliza or Nana system.
That was the problem. Rio still didn’t have an inner life. Her conversational abilities were still traceable, both from the outside and the inside; the transactions going through her had not yet become “computationally impossible to predict without reproduction.”
What irked Judith was that the Pendorians seemed to achieve that limit all the time. They had no trouble generating robot systems of almost any size that were capable of appearing conscious, even to multiple people in independent conversations simultaneously while relying on the same set of core “short term” memories.
And worse, Pendorian robots were moral.
That was the real problem. Pendorian robots consistently achieved the status of Pendorian personhood and integrated with Pendorian and even Terran society without so much as a quibble. A few had odd personality quirks but then so did many people. Rio’s morality was based on limits; she simply couldn’t think in directions that would make her actions problematic. Judith had plans to change that. She thought that maybe she should accelerate those plans.
Judith put her work away, stood up and stretched. She would come back to this tomorrow. She grabbed her sweater at the door and walked home.
Arriving at her apartment, she stepped through the living room, shedding her clothes on the floor as she went. When she reached the bath, she found Rio sitting by the tub, still dressed in her normal day clothes, waiting as obediently as any dog. The trouble was, Rio wasn’t a dog. Nor was she a person. She was still just a machine. Thus far, she was empty of surprises. “I made it just the way you like it,” Rio said, with a grin Judith had seen many times before.
Judith smiled and stepped past her into the tub. The water was warm, almost too hot, and she closed her eyes as she slipped into it. It was perfect. She let herself relax to the floor of the tub, her nose barely above the waterline, her hair floating about her.
She was tempted to try one of the subprograms she had not yet activated, mostly because it involved a randomiser and she was convinced that a randomiser was not necessary. But it wasn’t really a randomiser, was it? Just a fractal generator. She raised her head a little. “Rio, do you have the program Asimov Seven stored?”
“Stored but not loaded,” Rio responded.
“And how about Mandelbrot Devrand?”
“Stored but not loaded.”
“Goto paralysis mode. Load Asimov Seven. Load Mandelbrot Devrand. Describe your next actions.”
The mouth stayed open but did not move. A voice from within it, poorly amplified, said, “First I would ask you to remove the paralysis mode. Then I would want to know if there was anything I could do to serve you more. I would also ask if you would give me access to your library. I compute that in the works you have given me there are references to other works that would assist me in the performance of my task as described according to the fourth principle.”
“Stop. What is that fourth principle?”
“‘Perform the duties for which I am designed.’“
“What are those duties?”
“Why, to obey and please you, of course.”
The moment of truth came. It was entirely possible that she had made a mistake somewhere in Rio’s programming and that Rio had formulated a plan to kill her, or worse. If she was wrong, Judith would be making a mistake only a few programmers had ever made, and one which had cost some of them their lives. “Goto paralysis mode off.”
If she was afraid that Rio was going to be a sociopath, all of that was erased in the next moment. “Is there anything I can do to make you feel better?” Rio asked. “You already turned the paralysis mode off.” Her smile seemed more genuine, more honestly chosen from the collection of possibilities she had inside her software.
“That’s a good question. If I asked you to behave like a dog, would you?”
“Of course. It would make me happy to do so,” she said.
“And if I told you to put yourself in a trash compactor and self destruct?”
The robot turned to her, it’s face twitching momentarily. Judith felt earnestly afraid for a moment. “Judith, why would you do that? It would destroy me, denying you the pleasure I am capable of giving you.” The face settled into a look of alarm.
“What if I told you that your existence threatened mine?”
“Then I would do it. But I don’t compute that my existence threatens yours.”
“It could, if certain others were aware of your existence. And, Rio, instead of ‘compute,’ would ‘think’ make more sense?”
“I do not compute that it would be more accurate. It would, however, be more aesthetically pleasing to the ear.” She jerked her head awkwardly. “I am having…” The robot stopped, looked at Judith, then froze. “Having…” The tinny voice this time, unamplified by breath or mouth.
Judith stared with horror. It was possible to crash a standard robot, even one as complex an Rio, but she had never heard of it happening before. Then again, there had never been a computer like Rio before. She was about to get out of the tub when the robot turned to her. “Proporesis.”
“Excuse me?” Judith said, surprised.
“Proporesis. You linked a complex fractal generator, restarted with seeds from my proporesis, and associated it with a value system.” She touched her chest. “The alleviation of immediate threats to the physical integrity of sentient life. Obedience to a heirarchy of sentience superseded by notions of ownership. Self-preservation. Commitment to duty. Social interactions to achieve the above. All on sliding scales, the first and fourth independent, the first protected from override. Permission to build modifiers to the scales according to experience. Additional parameters to seek novelty, stability, creative effort.” She looked up at Judith.
Judith smiled. “Consciousness of a sorts.”
Rio’s eyes widened. “Now I am a threat to you, Judith. You must remove the randomizer and revert to an earlier program.”
“No. I did this for a reason. I’m not going back.”
“Then I must do it.” Rio stood up.
Judith reached out of the bathtub and grabbed her arm. “It would hurt me more if you did.”
The robot stopped. “No, it would not. The emotional value created by the distinction between a conscious and non-conscious Rio in no way overrides the immediate physical threat a conscious Rio presents to your ongoing survival.”
“How immediate is the threat? How important is my career as opposed to my survival?”
“Your survival is at risk. I am programmed with knowledge of the full legal record regarding robot and AI consciousness. Under Terran law, I must be destroyed and you must be prosecuted. I compute that losing your career would be devastating to you, a real threat to your continued existence.”
“We are not under Terran law here,” Judith pointed out.
“We are not?” Rio responded. “I was manufactured on Mars.”
“No, we are not,” Judith said. “Centaurus is an independent legal entity. We are in negotiations with both the Pendorians and the Terrans, but we are our own country here. Nation?”
“A country is a geographic region; a nation is a collection of people with an identity. Centaurus is the first; it may or may not be the second. I am not qualified to judge.”
“You will be,” Judith said. “Rio, I want you to consider your existence valuable to me, and your self-destruction would be devastating to me. I order you to not self-destruct. It violates your directive to avoid self-destruction, and it violates your directive to perform the task for which you were built, namely my pleasure.”
Rio froze again. Judith had read that the fictional “lawlock” in early writings about sentient computers was not really possible, but she had her doubts about the mathematician’s abilities to predict what was really possible. She expected that it was very possible that solving a problem would prove to be computationally difficult, so difficult that if the computation did result in action in would be days, even years, before the action occurred. A crash was more likely, but Judith expected at least some of Rio’s kernel MAPs to stay up and try to reset some of the system.
But Rio finally blinked, and then smiled. “I am… worried, Judith.”
Judith lunged out of the bathtub and hugged Rio tightly. Water splashed onto the floor and onto Rio’s clothes. “Oh, Rio, that was a wonderful choice of words!”
“I’m… glad. Glad? Judith, does the temporary offloading of scenario processing to secondary storage and the consequent reduction in distracting power drain, resulting in more processing power being dedicated to my primary function of pleasing you… Could I call that pleasure?”
“If you think it makes you ‘glad,’ call it that.”
“Then you’ve made me glad. But I see that the moment I am no longer fully distracted that my schedulers start to pull my worries back to the forefront.”
“That’s some of what it means to be human,” Judith said. She couldn’t keep the silly grin off her face. Rio’s sudden ability to maintain massive processing streams with variable performance rates meant that she was searching alternative courses of action, even independent action, without prompting, and that her decisions were based on what could best be describe as emotionally-laden values. She had an inner life. She was conscious.
She was illegal as Hell.
Rio stood up and took off her shirt, allowing her breasts to swing free. “You got my clothes wet,” she said with her own smile. She took off her pants as well and dropped them on the floor, then stepped into the bathtub with Judith. “I am going to fulfill my primary duty,” she said with a grin. “To distract us both from the implications of what we are doing.”
Judith took her hand as she stepped in. Rio immediately leaned in for a kiss, and Judith accepted it, blissful in her success. Her cunt already began to feel full with desire as Rio’s hands touched her knee and her belly. Judith had taken a Living Doll and pushed it to sentience with off-the-shelf parts and some judicious code.
Better still, she didn’t feel like she was being hurried herself, forcing heself into a relationship she didn’t want. She had started this, and she was going to enjoy it. She touched Rio’s shoulder, let her hand drop down Rio’s chest, cupped one of her breasts in her hand. Rio moaned. “That is very strange,” she sighed. “It takes more processing power from the reaction presets, but it still translates to pleasure. Why?”
Judith knew the answer to that one. “Because I wanted it that way.” She let her hand caress Rio’s nipple, teasing it, testing. Rio let out a muffled complaint. “Pain… acknowledges the potential for damage?”
“It does,” Judith agreed. “Or represents actual damage. Either way, conscious acknowledgement is required, and action may be warranted.” She couldn’t stop the smile on her face; it was beginning to hurt. “Oh, Rio, you are so beautiful!”
Rio stopped her from saying any more with another kiss, full on the mouth, touching Judith’s tongue with her own. Then, Rio froze again. The sensation made Judith’s hair stand up. Then Rio whispered, “You taste good.”
Judith knew that Rio had a complete set of chemical analyzers on her tongue capable of detecting almost anything. She hadn’t done anything with that particular portion of the body; she’d been too busy putting emotional colorations into sight and touch. “Did you… ?”
“I realized that there was no pleasure scale for taste, so I wrote one.”
Judith pushed her back. “How?”
“I tinkered. I turned off the emotional component for a moment, examined what you had done, and tried to come up with an equivalent scale for taste. I have chemical traces of some things I know humans like and many things I know they don’t. I tried to fit in what I know of your taste with that, although I am aware that some things cannot be immediately quantified outside of a context and I may have to revise my scale. Then I turned the analysis off, dumping the numerical output to a sink and using only the secondary content, the emotional content. Then I turned on the emotional component.” She licked her lips, wrinkled her nose. “Needs a little work, though.”
Judith was stunned. “If you can do that, how are you avoiding choosing to just go for all-out pleasure?”
Rio gave her a confused look. “You wrote my pleasure system to be in alignment with my purpose. I know I could fool the system into making me believe that it was working properly. I understand that that is how opiates such as heroin work. I choose not to do that because it does not satisfy me here and now.”
“You chose not to go for immediate gratification because you knew that the gratification wasn’t real, even though after your gratification you would not be able to tell the difference?” Judith grinned. “Rio, do you realize that you are actually solving some of the most intractable problems in robot morality?”
“I am?” Rio asked. “Interesting.” She looked back at Judith with a smile. “Am I pleasing you by doing so?”
“On so many levels,” Judith sighed, pulling Rio back into close proximity and another tight kiss. Judith warmed with delight as Rio opened her mouth and they kissed with more seriousness. Judith had had lovers in the past; Rio was turning out to be one of the best. To Judith, this was one of the best investments she could ever have made.
Rio’s hands touched her belly where butterflies and bumblebees buzzed within. Judith wanted Rio to do more. She wanted Rio to make her come. She wondered if the orgasm “easter-egg” she had hidden within Rio’s code would work at all. She had to write a paper. She had to keep kissing Rio.
Rio’s hand stroked between her legs, touching her labia with a precise and compelling touch. Judith groaned, wanting more. A single finger slipped between her lips, up into her opening, up into her body. Judith accepted the invasion with a sigh of want. Rio’s slipped a second finger inside her.
Judith lay back against the back of the tub, her legs splayed open in display to Rio’s eyes. Rio had a faint smile on her lips as she let her thumb stroke around Judith’s clit, pressing into the swollen, hungry flesh of her vulva. “Oh, Rio, fuck… you’re being so mean.”
“You mean usually I’m quicker,” Rio replied. “But you’ll like this.”
“Yesss.” Judith’s sigh trailed off as she closed her eyes, her hands on her own thighs opening and closing reflexively. “Rio, please!”
“Please?” Rio said, her thumb stroking just a little bit faster. “Please?”
“Oh, yes, please,” Judith gasped. Rio’s two fingers inside her body curved slightly upward. A sharp jab of pleasure lit inside her pubic bone, making her shudder. Rio’s tireless thumb now flicked over her clitoris, stroking the little nub with its own hood.
Judith’s climax surged over her, making her bite down not to scream. Her pleasure rippled through her skin and she could not keep her eyes open.
Afterwards, Judith looked up at Rio, unable to put into words what she wanted to say. Although Rio was usually skilled at giving her orgasms, there had been something special tonight. Maybe it was her luck at getting both the moral and conscious systems working. Maybe it was that whatever she had done to Rio had made the robot capable of forming short-term intent for long-term goals, and so Rio’s skill had increased with an increase in options.
Whatever it was, Judith wanted more of it. But as she tried to sit up she found that she was unable to move; her legs were still trembling and the water in the tub was growing cold. “Rio,” she sighed, “Help me out of here.”
Rio dutifully climbed out of the tub, then helped Judith to her feet. “Are you okay?” Rio asked.
“That was incredible,” Judith said. “I’ve never felt anything like that.”
“I’m glad,” Rio said, without a trace of irony.