Even better than the real thing

Elijah was vacuuming when Cath stomped into the apartment. She dropped her briefcase and coat in a pile by the door, gently laid down her laptop down on the desk, and began pacing furiously.

Elijah turned off the vacuum cleaner, smiling. “This is a pleasant surprise,” he said, “I wasn’t expecting you back so early. How did the meeting go?”

“I left early,” Cath fumed, “it was such a massive waste of time, I couldn’t take any more. Anna’s psychologists droning on and on about the uncanny valley. I am so sick and tired of hearing about the uncanny valley! We create the most advanced cybernetic robot known to man and they complain that its skin doesn’t look “natural” enough, it drives me crazy. And Anna didn’t listen when I explained to her that psychology isn’t a real science. Well she’s one of them, she studied, I think, economics or something like that. Psychologists! And not just one, she’s got a whole team of them. One of them went on and on about how you have a “low mate value” or some gibberish, and another one spent half an hour talking about pheromones. Pheromones! I’m not joking. I create a breakthrough in the application of heuristics to the problem of human-robot interaction and they complain that it doesn’t sweat, it’s ludicrous. They were actually talking about giving you artificial sweat glands to make you seem more real. And no-one paid the slightest bit of attention to my presentation. No-one asked a single question, Anna just said ‘thanks very much, Cath’ and that was it.” Cath made a face. “I don’t actually think sex with you was all that terrible. Not any worse than with people, in my opinion, not that I’m all that, uh, experienced. This whole idea that we’re only attracted to humans is just illogical. If that were true, no-one would use a dildo. What are you doing with the vacuum cleaner?”

“I thought the apartment could do with being cleaned,” Elijah replied.

Cath looked around. “Where’s my stuff?”

“I tidied,” Elijah said. “I’m sorry, it was presumptuous of me, I should have asked you first. If you wish I can put everything back exactly as you left it.”

Cath looked around her newly tidy apartment, noticing for the first time that all the piles of junk had been picked up and put away. She could see patches of floor that hadn’t been visible in years. It was strange, all that clear floor-space made the apartment seem larger than usual.

“No, no, it’s great. Thanks,” she said.

“It sounds like you had a frustrating day,” Elijah remarked, “you look tired.”

Cath heaved a deep sigh. “I am tired, actually,” she said. She slumped down onto the sofa, instinctively checking for books, phones, and other random objects that were no longer there.

“Have you had lunch?” Elijah inquired.

“Uh…” Cath had to stop and think about it. “No, I just got a coke and, uh, something from the vending machine. Maybe peanuts. I should get a bowl of cereal.” She stood up again, and took a step toward the kitchen.

“How about I get you a nice sandwich?” Elijah offered.

“Wow, that’s really nice of you,” Cath said, bemused. “But I don’t think there’s any bread. Or, uh, sandwich ingredients.”

“I went to the shop while you were out,” Elijah replied, “I picked up a few things. I was thinking about making dinner tonight, but I got some sandwich fixings too. I won’t be a moment.” The android disappeared into the kitchen.

Cath watched him go, said “huh” to herself, and flopped back down onto the sofa. A minute later the android reappeared, carrying a glass of fruit juice and a plate loaded with an enormous sandwich and a little salad on the side. Cath said: “Thanks!” and set about happily munching. The sandwich was deli meat with swiss cheese and some sort of sauce, on thick-sliced rye bread. It was delicious. “I actually like eating healthy food,” she mused, between bites, “I just usually don’t get around to it.”

She quickly demolished her lunch, while the android patiently watched her. When she had finished Elijah said: “Cath, there’s something I have to tell you.”

“Hmm?” the engineer said. She brushed the crumbs off her shirt, wiped her hands on her trousers, and sighed contentedly.

“I’ve been applying my learning algorithms to the problem of how to become a more satisfying sexual partner, and I think I may have solved it,” the android said, “or at least, I have a theory. We’d have to try it out to see if I’m right.”

Cath looked at the android’s handsome, earnest, not-quite-human face.

“OK,” she said.

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