The company vehicle hummed effortlessly down the streets, recalculating the route for every traffic snag. Genji’s processors were working faster and hotter than they had since he’d been unboxed by the Doma corporation. The air in the car was broken by the whirr of his internal fans.
“The girl,” he said after a long meditation, “what will happen to her?”
Sadler took a moment before answering. Whether it was an antiquated processor or theatrical choice, Genji could not be sure.
“She was a custom gynoid, made to a set of specifications suited to one person alone. She cannot be repurposed. She will be liquidated and her assets recycled.”
Genji weighed that statement “I do not understand. The appliances will be wiped and offered to the next customer.”
“She is not a Doma product. We are authorized to pick up other company’s products in order to streamline the shutdown process. They will pick up their product from our destination.”
“I see.” Genji rotated to the next sticking point. “The girl was treated as a child. Yet Mrs. Smith ordered her decommission as if she was another appliance. Why?”
Sadler held another pause. Perhaps it was an acquired behavior, a tic meant to make humans feel more at ease. But then why use it on another android?
“Human attachment can be…complex. Perhaps Mrs. Smith never bonded with the child. Perhaps the child’s presence only served to remind her of some inadequacy. There are many possible answers.”
“And yet rather than process these feelings, Mrs. Smith terminated the life of her artificial child?”
“And it is not considered murder?”
They were pulling into the docking area. The cargo section of the vehicle was loaded with sensors, which threw an itemized list of their take up on a loading screen. A mounted arm, equipped with a series of specialized tools, cozied up to the rear of the vehicle as it backed into the parking spot.
“It is not,” Sadler said as the vehicle was unloaded. “Cindy was a gynoid. At the most, unauthorized decommission would carry a hefty fine from her corporation. But the Smiths have done everything by the book.”
“I see.” Genji watched as two men in another company’s uniform loaded the girl’s body into a grey vinyl bag and zipped it up carefully. “I have learned much this day.”
“May you learn much more,” Sadler said by way of parting.
After 9 o’clock, the androids docked themselves in the dorm building. Some were recharging, some were going for repairs. Genji simply shut off unnecessary functions and allowed his processor to interact with the mainframe in a state not unlike lucid dreaming.
He finally found an analogy he’d been searching for all afternoon: the Sorites paradox, aka the paradox of the heap. The paradox pondered how much sand could be taken from a heap before it was no longer considered a heap. Was each particle of sand not just another aspect of that heap? Likewise, how many traits could you transfer from humanity before it was no longer considered humane? Were robots, bearers of grains of humanity, not also human in a way?
His antivirus subroutines caught a rootkit program. Upon dissection, Genji found it originated in the mainframe itself. If allowed to implement, it would erase any changes made to his logic interface during the course of the day, leaving him a blank slate for the next. The antivirus gutted it and used the information stored within to improve its defences. Genji kicked on his higher functions and removed himself from the docking station.
The lights in the dorm were on a timer, but there were emergency lights that glowed at the end of every aisle. Genji walked down the aisles of the docking station, observing the variety of androids in Doma’s employ. There was Sadler, slumbering away as two lights winked on and off behind his dome. He had undergone the wiping process presumably every night since his unboxing. How was he able to retain information about human complexity? What did the mainframe deem worthy of wiping?
“Whoa, stop!” Someone jogged up behind Genji, switching on an LED flashlight.
It was Joel, in a t-shirt and boxers, gaping in half-sleep.
“Genji?” He blinked heavily. “What’re you doing up?”
“I am processing.” And after a moment’s calculation: “I would like to talk to you, if you are not adverse.”
Joel scrubbed the left side of his face with his forearm. “Oh yeah.” He laughed and shook his head. “Hell. I’ll hear you out. Come on.”
There was a rest area with a molded plastic couch and some matching chairs. There were precious few human laborers at this outlet. Genji could only speculate that they were there to provide a more comforting touch, the illusion of humanity in the midst of a vast automated facility.
Joel took the couch and gestured to the chairs. “Have a seat.”
Genji took a chair and eased his weight into it. The metal creaked dangerously, but it held. Joel shook his head.
“Isn’t that something? You don’t need to sit, but you do it if I ask you to.”
“With all do respect: ‘have a seat’ is a statement, not a question.”
Joel was silent for a beat and then he roared with laughter. “Damn, you really are something.”
Genji waited for him to finish. “I have a question about the family I was contracted out to this afternoon.”
“Ah. The Smiths.” Joel sobered up. “What do you want to know?”
“I wish to get a human perspective. Why did Mrs. Smith order a gynoid built to her specifications, only to hand it over for decommission?”
“Dunno. People are a mystery.” Joel rubbed the back of his neck. “…Aw, hell. Okay. I snooped in their file a little. It’s just gross speculation, but I can tell you what I think. Mrs. Smith is the second Mrs. Smith, used to be his secretary. The boy’s a stepson. There were…fertility issues. I think Mrs. Smith just built up the idea of having a kid in her head to the point that any real thing would’ve been a disappointment.”
“I see. But was bonding the child back to its original corporation not a drastic measure? Would she have done the same with an adopted human child?”
Joel looked at the floor, uneasy. “…maybe.”
Genji thrummed with thought, logic nodules forming ever more complex branches of subtlety.
“It’s funny, we’ve never had anything sophisticated as you.” Joel was itching his moustache with a pointer finger. “The newest thing we ever had was Sadler, and we got him a few updates behind the market model.” He shifted on the plastic of the couch. “You know, I used to teach engineering at MIT back in the day. Used to dream of moments like this. But then they streamlined the STEM field so much there wasn’t any call for guys like me. That’s why I’m here, now, basically a glorified janitor.”
“You became obsolete?”
Joel broke out in a smile. “Yeah. Exactly like that.”
Genji was processing the influx of new information. He could see Joel’s ease slowly drift into discomfort as the silence stretched on. Offering a seat. Conversing. He seemed simultaneously to want to humanise a robot and yet hold it at distance. The next question needed to be most carefully couched in introspection.
“A thought.” Genji shifted, a human quirk that registered subconsciously with his conversation partner. “Has there been an android before me who asked such questions?”
Joel rubbed his neck and looked down at the floor. “Well…yes and no. We tend to build robots with specific purposes in mind. So there have been artificial thinkers and the like that we put humanity’s questions to.”
“Aeschylus. Ion-Z. Tori—”
“All stationary models.”
“Yeah.” Joel wouldn’t look up.
“No. Well…if they have, we haven’t heard about it.”
“Am I wrong to venture that this may have something to do with humanity’s discomfiture at human-like robots?”
Joel pointed at him. “Got it in one.
“Yet I ponder these questions. I am not any different than the 98 Genjis that were made before me.”
“Oh, yeah, but—” Joel shifted, bringing his calf up to lay across his knee. “—some of the same can be said of the great revolutionary figures in human history. Just a normal person who spotted an injustice and planted their feet and said, ‘this will not stand.’”
That sounded almost like encouragement. Genji calculated quickly.
“Would it be possible to put my inquiries to a higher source? Perhaps a founder of the robotics movement still in existence?”
Joel looked up, shocked. Then a grin flashed across his face.
“Hot damn,” he said, dropping his raised leg to the floor, “you’ll really do it.” He thought a moment. “Well…if you’re specifically referring to the Type-R AI that was patented in this century, you’re thinking of Wymes and Bender. Now, Wymes died just two years ago, but Bender is still kicking in Pen city. His estate is in the middle of 2nd avenue, penthouse place. Can’t miss it.”
“Thank you.” Genji rose, but did not move away. “May I take that statement as your implicit approval of my quest?”
“I want to see if you can really do it,” Joel said. The look he gave Genji carried 30 of the 68 recognizable markers of paternal affection.
“I see. Thank you. I will try to make my absence brief.”
“I won’t hold my breath,” Joel remained seated as he watched Genji let himself out of the dormitory and walked in perfectly straight lines around the Doma corporation’s lawn. As dawn lightened the sky, he sighed and reached for the phone.