Fiction

Intimacy.exe, Alpha Testing

This is a side-story to Intimacy.exe

It was morning. Reina was online window shopping virtual assistant software when she got a call.

“Hello?”

“Hey, you up?” It was Mac, an old co-worker of hers.

“Yeah.”

“You busy?”

“No.”

“You doing any freelance, contract stuff? Any of that?”

“Eeh, not right now.”

“Right, right. You still into that post-modernism, free-will-for-robots thing?”

Reina took a long pause, sipped her coffee, and thought about hanging up, but ultimately answered. “Yup.”

“Perfect, I’ve got something for you then.”

They used to be junior developers at Centurion International Cybertronics until Reina left when their products started looking human. Mac was cool, a fellow girl in a massive boys club, but they didn’t have a lot of overlapping viewpoints when it came to cybernetics. She was nice enough to keep quiet, but then the subject came up, she didn’t hold back her opinions. Mac was a hard pragmatist, saw machines as machines only. Reina was too creeped out by almost playing God. They hadn’t really talked since.

Mac continued, “Listen so, the mark-fours are set to come out in six months. Pre-orders are already sold out and we’re starting on skeletons next week. You were here…I can’t remember. When did you leave? Was it before or after the recycling meeting?”

“It’s been about fourteen months. Must’ve been before.”

“Right, right.” In the background, Reina could hear the clicking of a mouse, “Listen so, you didn’t hear this okay? But the mark-fours can’t be remodeled. We did the research, checked the–whatever the hell the finances are of building and scraping, yknow? We did that and we just got the results like, three days ago and like, yeah, no remodeling.”

“Hmm.” A grunt of understanding.

“Can’t even scrap the things for parts – there’d be no profit in it. Can’t even rip out processors or memory chips cos of how the things are built. And what do you know, I was promoted to manager of recycling and remodeling freaking two months ago, I mean jesus what I am supposed to do now?”

“Oh, congrats.”

Mac grumbled, “Yeah, it’s whatever. Where does that leave me now, right? Thank god we got more than the mark-four, right? Bah! Anyway. So, because the mark-four can’t be remodelled, it’s obviously gonna be a pain in my ass. Which is where you come in. Think of it as you doing me a favour by me doing you a favour.”

“Ookay? Did I say what the favour is though? I may have missed it.”

“Right, sorry, got ahead of myself. All this bullshit about the remodeling has freaking stuck a nail in my wheels, yknow? Okay, so you know there are gonna be some perverts who order their mark-fours and don’t like the pattern of the pubes or I don’t know! Some bullshit like that. Right? Like, I can guarantee it. We launch in six months, we’re gonna get calls about returns in six and a half.

“The mark-fours can’t be physically remodeled except for hair colour and uuhh–” there was a sound of more clicking, “iris colour and certain teeth. I mean, the inside stuff, the software and shit that’s nothing. But height? Face structure? Voice modules? We can’t do that shit without totally destroying the mark-four.”

Reina, deciphering Mac’s jargon, finally caught on, “And since artificially intelligent machines can’t be thrown out because of resource wasting laws, buyers will have no choice except to relinquish ownership.”

In unison they said, “And make their androids autonomous.”

There was a pause between them, the coolness of the moment so good they couldn’t talk over it.

“I’m surprised you’d consider such a humane option.”

Mac grumbled again, “I just don’t want these guys jumping up my ass. I’m the second call after they get through to one of the bots on the chatline. You’re doing me a favour. You start up some group or whatever for android rights and I can send returners to you. Easy right? I think. I dunno. You’d know the laws about this better than me.”

“There’s nothing against it.”

“Perfect! You’ve got six months. You can program free-will and individuality by then, right? Ohshitigottagobye!”

There was loud shuffling and the connection cut.

Reina, who for the last fourteen months had been doing rudimentary code inspections for AR website interfaces, smiled brightly at this new opportunity. She had a circle of friend who would equally enjoy starting an organization for the benefit of robotic rights. Six months, however, wasn’t a lot of time. She’d had to consult lawyers and maybe even get legislation passed. Not to mention the code she would have to write.

Sure, Mac was being playful, but that free-will thing was no joke. If she wanted androids to be autonomous, she needed to make software that allowed them independent thought and decision making abilities. She’d have to give them a purpose and ensure they can enter the workforce to support themselves.

It was a hell of a challenge, but it made her excited.

~

A week in their new office, Reina got a call on her personal phone.

“You busy?” Mac.

“No, no, I can talk.”

“What did I say!” She exclaimed rhetorically, “Six and a half months! Already I’ve got a returner. Unbelievable, these perverts. I’m on the phone with him right now. Do you guys have a number I can send him to?”

Looking around, she grabbed the office’s official line from one of the stray business cards.

“He’s a real–” She grumbled, “Thanks for helping me out.”

Without a goodbye, Mac hung up.

The energy in the room buzzed a little and the team picked up their pace. Checking the servers, confirming paperwork. Antsy, Reina scanned over her code, but kept glancing at the time. If Mac’s lead didn’t come through, everything would be all for naught and Reina would be really pissed off about that.

Ten minutes later, her AR projector flashed and she was icon-to-icon with the pervert client. He was angry, but it was only in his long pauses and deep breaths. In the back of her mind it made her wonder if he had a short temper.

“I want this done today. I don’t want this thing anymore.”

“I understand sir. If you come to our uptown office you’ll only need to sign a couple of documents.”

“I can’t do this electronically and send the bot in a car?”

“I’m sorry sir, this needs to be done in person, the whole process. Because of ownership laws we have to ensure you’re the original buyer.”

He grumbled some expletives, “Fine, fine! MotherFu—uuuuugggghh. Send the address. I want this done today.”

He cut the connection.

~

The client, a middle-aged, balding man in a well-tailored suit that almost hid his beer belly, sat with his mar- four android and across from Reina and her second-in-command Jeong, the NGO’s in-house lawyer.

The mark-fours were incredibly advanced. If not for the business they were running, Reina would never have guessed the being next to the client was an android. The line between machine and human was greatly, greatly blurred. It only further her intentions with her organization. It would’ve been disgusting to throw away such technology.

The papers were spread out on the desk, and the client look ready to sign and leave.

“If you could give an official reason for relinquishing ownership?” Jeong inquired, pointing to one of the papers.

“It looks too much like my ex-wife.” He said as he wrote. He didn’t continue his reasoning, but Reina imagined it wasn’t a nice breakup.

“You understand, by signing these documents, you relinquish all ownership of your–this android?”

“Yes, Jesus Christ yes.”

“And by relinquishing ownership, you can never reclaim ownership of this android or any assets that may accumulate during autonomy.”

“YES.” The client grumbled and shook his head, “Is this it? I don’t want to see this thing ever again.”

The Mark-Four sat quietly throughout the whole exchange, smiling rather pleasantly. What kind of coding did she had that made her so docile? It made Reina uncomfortable. Like the kind of sex doll that men fantasized about for decades.

Jeong scanned the papers, “That’s everything then. Thank you for your cooperation.”

They offered a handshake, but the client stood up and walked out.

Soon enough, they were left with the first legally autonomous android. The moment wasn’t as ground-breaking as Reina would have hoped. The Mark-Four was still, smiling, and all around quiet.

Not knowing where else to start, Reina turned to the android, “What’s your name?”

It smiled, “Centurion International Cybertronics Model 5RS-8F-MarkIV, Serial# A01G422JR. An unofficial name has yet to be assigned to me.”

Reina exchanged a look with Jeong, “Oookay, that isn’t an issue. If you’re okay with it, we can generate a random name for you. How about something that starts with ‘A’ since that’s how your serial number starts?”

“I have no preference.”

“R-right.” She laughed nervously, “Well, we can do an all-encompassing name generation.”

“I have no preference. Is ‘Centurion International Cybertronics Model 5RS-8F-MarkIV, Serial# A01G422JR,’ not an appropriate name?”

Jeong tapped her shoulder, “Reina, can I talk to you for a moment?”

They stepped away to talk privately. Jeong put his hand on her shoulder, shaking his head. “Look, Reina, I understand you want to be compassionate about this, but you’re going to have to force some things.”

“We can’t just decide everything for them. They’re supposed to be autonomous now.”

“They can’t be autonomous without the code you programmed.” He gestured at the Mark-Four, “She can’t make decisions until you give her the decision-making software!”

“That’s not–!” Reina chewed her lip a bit, “We can’t just upload software into her without her consent.”

Jeong pinched the bridge of his nose, “You’re the one who told me that without input from their owners, a Centurion android can’t be independent. If you want her to choose her own name, you’re going to have to upload a personality.”

Reina frowned, bothered by Jeong’s obtuse understanding on the Mark-Fours programming. She had been off the project for more than a year, but she still understood the gist of it from working on Mark-Threes. An android could make decisions, but they were often centered around their owner. This poor android was considered garbage the second she was unpacked. She wasn’t even given a name. She had no time to learn from her surroundings and now had the emotional intelligence of a child.

“If we’re going to be a NGO that helps make androids autonomous, we have to treat them as autonomous.”

She walked away from him and gave the android her full attention again. “Sorry about that,” she smiled, “There’s nothing wrong with your official name, but it’s a bit of a mouthful don’t you think?”

“It takes an average of 10.6 seconds to say. That’s longer than the average name. It’s understandably abnormal.”

“Right! So, for convivence sake, we’ll generate a random name for you.”

“That makes sense.”

“Right?” Reina beamed, then turned to Jeong and sneered at him because of how smug she was feeling. She quickly sent him an message on their in-house messaging service, just need to get thru to their logistic matrixes.

They went through the independence process slowly. The Mark-Four, who became Chevonne, was very cooperative. Course, she didn’t have much opinion otherwise. With her permission, they gave her a new main objective – self-preservation à la finding a job and supporting oneself. They installed Reina’s randomized personality software, a series of code that added character on top of an android’s operating system. Chevonne would be outgoing, focused at work, find dry wit humorous, and many other things to transition her into society. It felt weird that Reina was shaping someone’s personality, but it was better than nothing.

They gave her two randomized hobbies (billiards and bird-watching) and a new, easy-entry career path – ESL teacher. Thanks to the governmental funding, they could help with certification tuition and housing. Luckily, androids didn’t need to eat, shower, or HVAC – which cut expenses to their organization.

Unfortunately, although they could live well-enough to survive independently, androids still couldn’t completely act independently. Reina, as much as she wanted to, couldn’t program free-will. With her software, an android could make logic-based decisions that improved their lives, but they couldn’t act within relationships, platonic or romantic.

She only had theories at this point, since autonomous robots were very, very new. She was hypothesizing that Chevonne and others like her would never instigate a relationship. They could live well enough alone, so their logic matrixes saw no reason to make friends. They weren’t human, thus romance was irrelevant. Only humans would approach them and the androids would be friendly and polite because that’s how all robots were programmed.

It was a strange line of thinking, but a necessity to address. Reina didn’t want androids to be abused, she wanted them to have some rights and now that she’s managed to make an NGO geared specifically at autotomizing machines, she had to address all possibilities. That included the automatons being in relationships.

She was thankfully she worked with such a smart group, because together they came up with volunteer emotional proxies; humans that would make emotional choices for the autonomous android they were assigned. It was the best they could do under the circumstances, but they liked it. Everyone in the office agreed that the human error in such a system was beneficial.

Once all the software was installed and they confirmed that systems were still running smoothly, Chevonne went with the in-house social worker to find housing and temporary lodge. Reina smiled brightly as she left.

Wanting to spread the good vibes, she called Mac.

“Hey.”

“Hey! I just finished with the Mark-Four you sent our way. She’s called Chevonne now.”

“Chevonne? How’d you get that?”

“Random name generator. But let’s focus on the bigger picture here, like the first autonomous robot!”

“It’s pretty impressive sounding, I’ll admit. Think you can show me the code sometime? I wanna see your interpretation of free-will.”

“Well, it’s more like a coded personality.”

“Is that a joke? Whatever. Ha! Can I get a finder’s fee or something? I basically instigated your entire NGO. Nah I’m kidding, though I wouldn’t say no to dividends.”

“…” When Mac didn’t laugh at her own joke, Reina laughed instead, “You’re serious? Ok, maybe if it’s in the budget I can get you a couple of cents per one hundred dollars earned.”

“Holy shit, I never thought of that. Forget the humanitarian crap, I should’ve just made my own side business of repurposing sex bots as manual labourers. Damn that’s good profit. Aah man, never should’ve called you.” She laughed.

Reina laughed a bit with her, “Guess you’ve gone soft.”

“Congrats,” Mac said in a genuine tone, “I’ll be sure to send all complaints to you.”

“Ha, I appreciate it.”

“Oh! And if you get any cute ones, let me know. I can like be a sugar daddy or whatever. ‘Sponsor,’ if you wanna be proper.”

Sugar daddy? Who’s the pervert now?”

“Hey, I don’t mind having a good-looking partner when I try new resturants.”

Before Reina fire back, there was loud shuffling on the other end of the line, “Ohshitgottagobye!” and the connection cut.

She smirked and rolled her eyes. She was grateful that such a character like Mac had thought of her and gave her the opportunity to support her philosophy. But, she wasn’t done yet. Chevonne was only the first in a long process.

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