Cath

Cath had promised Marty that she would think about going into work, and she kept that promise: she thought about going into work, briefly, over the morning’s first cup of coffee. She decided against it.

Marty called at 11am. His face was bright red for some reason.

“Hey Marty,” Cath said cheerily to her laptop screen. She was wearing a bathrobe, and held her third coffee of the morning cradled in both hands.

“Hi Cath,” Marty greeted her uneasily, “so uh, you’re not coming in today, huh?”

“Nope.” Cath took a long slurp.

“Hokay. We-elll, Anna’s annoyed you didn’t come in, she’ll probably call you later.”

“Thanks for the heads-up. Any word so far about the new results?”

“Yea-eah.” Marty seemed to turn even redder. “The report came back and well, you can read it yourself, it’s quite detailed, but the main result was that, ah, well… apparently Elijah isn’t very good in bed. The test subjects didn’t find him unattractive, although the uncanny issue did crop up as well. But mainly they, uh, didn’t think he was that great. Not terrible, but basically ‘meh’ instead of ‘wow’. And Anna says we need to be at ‘wow’.”

“We’re building the most advanced humanoid artificial intelligence ever created”, Cath said impatiently, “obviously we have to be at ‘wow’.” She was mildly perturbed to find herself agreeing with Anna the Evil Boss for once.

She thanked Marty for the info, and her co-worker bid her goodbye with obvious relief.

Cath glanced at the sofa, where the android sat, inanimate, its head lolling to one side. Elijah was good-looking, but no-one would mistake him for a real person, unless they were very short-sighted. The texture and colour of his skin were too even, and his eyes didn’t have red veins in the corners as most people’s did. There were faint wrinkles across his forehead and at the corners of his mouth to show his age – Elijah was modelled on a man in his thirties – but the smile-lines were just a bit too symmetrical. He looked like a very good wax carving.

Nevertheless he was the state of the art, the most convincingly human-like robot ever made. It was when he was awake and moving that the difference really showed. Elijah produced realistic facial expressions, and his speech was a wonder: not only did he produce sentences that sounded plausibly human, but he delivered them with context-appropriate intonation. Intonation was the hardest part: changing the pitch and pronunciation of a word based on its meaning and position within a sentence. The ‘you’ in ‘Where are you going?’ sounds different from the ‘you’ in ‘Who are you?’

This latest issue would be something like that, Cath was sure: a problem that would be solved with lots of randomized iterations, feedback, and lots of patience. Anna’s little herd of social science consultants would no doubt bleat about the difficulty of replicating authentically ‘human’ behaviours and the need for more psychological research, but Cath already knew how the problem would be resolved: she would set up a few dozen Elijahs, each with a different quasi-random perturbation, run the learning algorithms, and sooner or later one of them would end up being good at sex. Just like enough moneys chained to typewriters would eventually reproduce Shakespeare.

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