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Short Story
Anxiety Bot
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Writer Nelso555
  • G: General Audiences
  • PG: Parental Guidance Suggested
  • PG-13: Parents Strongly Cautioned
  • R: Restricted
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Anxiety Bot
A - A - A
Oct 7, 2017
13 Mins Read
No Plagiarism!PJw1tD2Hv7JQoEQUb9iaposted on PENANA

I’m beginning to feel a little anxious. I show my VIP pass to the man at the door and he ushers me into the crowded room. The clatter and movement instantly fills my mind, I take a deep breath and start to wonder why they don’t host these things outside where there’s a little more space. God I hate crowds. But there’s no use complaining, so I scan over the top of everyone’s heads, past the banner saying ‘Robotics Expo 2020’ in search of the stage where BM-07 is supposed to be presented, but when I can’t find it, I instead seek out a man with a yellow vest and a radio.copyright protection46PENANAFAXzj1AcTR

“Hello! I’m looking for the McQueen brothers. I’m Professor Wallace, I’m sponsoring the boys and their presentation today.”copyright protection46PENANA5IBCK5fNMK

The man’s expression lights up at the mention of the McQueens and he shakes my hand vigorously. He's obviously a fan. Joel and Alex have become popular in the world of robotics lately, more so than their father and I back in the old days.copyright protection46PENANAUwBjardmAw

“I’m excited for BM-07,” the man is saying. “I hear it’s going to be like a human robot.copyright protection46PENANAwg6uQpwrBp

The human robot – so that’s what they’re calling it? Personally, I’m thrilled to see what the twins have come up with, this invention should open up a whole new understanding of robotics.copyright protection46PENANAiH8UjSZyGM

My guide points out the stage where the BM-07 is going to be presented, but it’s empty for now, just a pink curtain draped over what appears to be a human figure, in plain sight of the entire conference. The McQueen’s have certainly gotten everyone riled up. I check my watch – there’s still a while before the presentation. As I walk about the main floor all I can hear is talk concerning BM-07.copyright protection46PENANAjAiUUtm7PX

Near a lifelike model of a cyborg woman, where half of her face is flesh and the other metal, which reminds me of something out of the old Terminator movies, I overhear two students of some sort discussing a potential – and rather peculiar – outcome for the BM-07 in future society.copyright protection46PENANADmdKR4anvM

“It’s a human machine which means it’ll look just like us,” says one student, gesturing to the model of cyborg. “Robots like the BM-07 could replace a human being just like that,” he clicks his fingers. “We wouldn’t even notice. Say these things are already being mass produced, give it a few decades, maybe until 2050, I bet half the world’s population will be replaced.”copyright protection46PENANANOtVINOImu

The other student chuckles at this proposal. “That’s quite an idea, though a tad cliché. Still, you should write a book. Hell, I’d read it!”copyright protection46PENANAuF5MzZfV65

I for one find the idea amusing, observing that writers – especially when it comes to things such as this – always love to assume the worst, as it often makes for a better story. I leave the students and the cyborg lady and stroll through the stands, but the thought of robots replacing half the human population lingers in my mind. If by the year 2050 the BM-07 had mysteriously replaced 50% of the human beings on earth, and assuming the population in 2050 is approximately 9.7 billion, that would mean that there’d be 4.85 billion humans unaccounted for, and that’s a very frightening thought. But I’m rather doubtful that the McQueen’s invention is anything as sinister as that, and – to my knowledge – it certainly isn’t being mass produced in secret. So, there’s no need to worry about that.copyright protection46PENANASKr6vjbFGG

Not a great deal would change, mind you, if there were robots strutting about the streets, and I think more people ought to realise that we humans aren’t too different from those lovely little machines, allowing of course that robots would be far more adequate at getting their shit together, and they’d always excel in math class.copyright protection46PENANArtvVoeIcW5

There are a number of people now gathered around another smaller stage and I head over to investigate. There is a chrome statue of a robot doubled over with laughter and it’s pointing at some invisible but apparently funny thing. Beside the statue, a man with a microphone attached to his collar is addressing the audience.copyright protection46PENANAGqKLdkLtgS

“Ladies and gentlemen, I’m sure you are all very excited for the big reveal of BM-07 and I am proud to present to you now my own personal contribution to the McQueen brother’s project. Unfortunately, I have been instructed not to give out too many details regarding the project…”copyright protection46PENANAy9C0f8jrO0

A murmur of disappointment sounds from the crowd.copyright protection46PENANA8gtDcSRU5N

“I know, I know,” the man went on with a submissive smile. “What I am allowed to mention, and what you, in fact, are probably aware of by now, is that BM-07 is a human robot. As a psychologist, my interest was in the relationship between human attributes and mechanical ones. I believe there is no sound produced in this world that is more undeniably human than that of laughter. We’re at our best when we’re laughing... or at least we’re trying to be. So I started to wonder, can a robot laugh?”copyright protection46PENANAZMeKyr4jVl

The presenter reaches into his pocket and grabs out his iPhone, and he shows it to the crowd. “Siri,” he announces. “Tell me a joke.”copyright protection46PENANAbtuOuKWObL

The crowd already begins to laugh. The phone beeps, and Siri’s familiar voice projects from it.copyright protection46PENANAOj1iWdaO8g

“Just let me think of one… nope, can’t think of any.”copyright protection46PENANAB82QTAiYUd

The crowd laughs again and the presenter glances at the ceiling and smiles. “Cheeky computer. Siri, tell me a joke,” he repeats the request.copyright protection46PENANAj5HNTbyQZJ

“If I told you a joke in my language, I’d have to explain it,” she replies.copyright protection46PENANACO2E6ZRhN0

The presenter slips his phone back into his pocket. “Well, they certainly understand sarcasm. The point I’m trying to make is that Siri has been programmed to respond to my request in a particular way, so if I told her a joke in our language I doubt she’d actually get it. I want to see a robot with a sense of humour, but if we want them to laugh like us then they need to think like us, which they sort of already do, except they’re just a lot better at it. Think of a robot’s brain as just lines of code – software. Our brains, on the other hand, are made up of neurons firing in patterns in response to stimuli – that’s how we think. A lot of the time when people tell jokes there’s a set-up, and during the set-up our brains automatically detect a pattern and we subconsciously anticipate where the set-up is going, but when the punch-line hits we realise the pattern we thought we were following is wrong, our brain is tricked, and the automatic response to that is laughter. Now computers are smart, but exactly how smart? What would happen if we tricked the patterns of code that are running inside a robot’s head?”copyright protection46PENANAyp9Af2by15

When the boys first told me that they had built BM-07 with a sense of humour I had thought they were kidding. Had they really made it work so well with so little time? I’m curious to find out. I check my watch again – only a few minutes until they come on.copyright protection46PENANALkbs85DGWD

I go to the stage and look at where BM-07 is standing, hidden under the pink sheet. As I wait I overhear another conversation about exactly how useful a humanlike robot would be in the long run.copyright protection46PENANAqystczs4Qg

“They say it’s a big secret, but I have a pretty good idea what this robot is all about, apparently, they’ve built a robot that doesn’t just think, but it can feel,” one man was saying.copyright protection46PENANA4oGeZWhbui

“What use is that?” someone else argued. “Emotion is a weakness, in most cases, not a strength.”copyright protection46PENANAhfCsHLxlst

A number of interesting thoughts cross my mind and I once again consider the imagined world in the year 2050. If robots could feel I imagine the bridge between our two species would close exponentially. I’d also be more inclined to let my robot buddies win when playing chess or other fun games, as I can’t imagine an angry robot would be a very pretty sight. Perhaps with a little compassion in their programming the robots would decide to spare our lives when they eventually discover that they are in fact the superior race, and instead of killing us they might keep us as friendly companions, give us cute but demeaning names, and post millions of photos and videos of us to social media.copyright protection46PENANAZS2rle0OiR

Emotion is a weakness… not a strength…copyright protection46PENANA4ngKBfGSra

An announcement sounds over a speaker calling everyone to the main stage. The voices of the crowd begin to diminish. “It’s starting,” someone murmurs. “They’re going to reveal BM-07.”copyright protection46PENANAbIqOb7zIt1

Two young men charismatically step onto the stage amidst an uproar of cheers and applause. They are handsome and bright. Alex scratches his neat beard and waves modestly to the crowd, meanwhile Joel, who is shorter than his brother, locks eyes with me and smiles with gratitude.copyright protection46PENANAcsUeTftU3L

“Ladies and gentlemen,” Alex announces, and pauses with a smile. “You all seem very excited to see what’s under this cover.”copyright protection46PENANAL891TKhADI

The crowd cheers again.copyright protection46PENANALPrbDCjclM

Joel continues. “As you all know, my brother and I have been working in the field of robotics for many years…”copyright protection46PENANAeye8N8ng3r

If they weren’t the sons of my oldest friend I might have reconsidered ever funding a project as bizarre as this, but I remember the day they shuffled into my office at the university with a proposal to build a new kind of robot and, well, it brought back some memories. It was James McQueen who had first theorised a computer that bridged the gap between man and machine. I regret ever doubting that it would ever happen, and I regret that James died before it could. Now I’m counting on his sons to finish the job.copyright protection46PENANA2OAbQtW73A

As the brother’s finish up with their introduction Alex grabs a bundle of the cover in his hand. “We are proud to present to you, BM-07.”copyright protection46PENANAQOphZ2Tjee

Alex whips the cover off to reveal a metallic humanoid figure slouching forward as if he were asleep; BM-07’s body is partly skeletal and slim, however unlike most robots he seems almost elegant, with the acute shaping of his face, the smooth dome of his skull, and the slender white plates covering his chest and limbs. Joel opens a laptop of the nearby table and taps a few keys. In an instant BM-07 opens his eyes wide and leans back, and I get this strange sensation, I could have sworn I saw the robot inhale. My mind jumps to Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein and the moment the monster takes his first breaths. Oh, goodness James, please let this work.copyright protection46PENANA5tNkBAtZQw

BM-07 is turning his head from side to side, glancing around at everything at once, like someone who has just woken up in a very strange place; it makes me wonder what he’s thinking right now.copyright protection46PENANArSk13av0iy

Joel continues to talk. “BM-07 can do more than just think, he has a passionate side to him, too. Don’t you B?”copyright protection46PENANAA8nZpn1jGg

BM-07 notices he is being addressed but only nods his head slightly.copyright protection46PENANAyLKl6lVzlM

“He’s special because he is capable of replicating human thought and behaviour patterns. He can feel as much as he can think…”copyright protection46PENANA5NEqOIBjIU

I pay attention to BM-07’s body language; his shoulders are raised, arms tucked close to his body, his left hand is holding onto his right elbow, he is shuffling his feet, and his eyes are fixed on the ground. He looks like a child at a new school who doesn’t know how to make any new friends.copyright protection46PENANASj2fisCkLi

Meanwhile, Alex is placing a large white canvas and some painting equipment – brushes, paints, water – behind BM-07.copyright protection46PENANAAk4lFaGBJ2

“For this demonstration, BM-07 is going to create a painting in response to the emotions he is feeling right now.” The brothers look at BM-07. “Go on, just like we practiced.”copyright protection46PENANAnPP2gEKSYt

 Suddenly everything goes silent. All eyes are fixed on BM-07 and for a moment he stands motionless, staring at the canvas as if it were a monument. He eventually picks up a paintbrush and glances over his shoulder and the crowd. I swear I see him tremble.copyright protection46PENANAMRMP75hJp3

BM-07 speaks for the first time. “I can’t work while they’re watching,” he says, very quietly to Joel. “It’s too much pressure… I can’t…”copyright protection46PENANA20n6l2h2D1

Joel rushes in and leans close to BM-07, and I assume he’s forgotten that there’s a microphone clipped to his shirt. We hear him whisper, “B we talked about this.”copyright protection46PENANA50RV28zN0y

Alex shakes his head and pinches his brow. “As you can see,” he says to the crowd. “BM-07 is a little nervous.”copyright protection46PENANAhNp4Cw9Tgz

The crowd chuckles and the brothers force their way through the rest of the presentation.copyright protection46PENANAWjAjqVmHYZ

After the embarrassing presentation at the Robotics Expo I don’t get a chance to see Alex and Joel until later that night when I visit their workshop. Documents, wires and robot parts are scattered all over the place and BM-07 is nowhere to be found. Joel offers me some coffee and the three of us sit down.copyright protection46PENANAI40AZ3IzRI

“What the hell happened?” I ask, not so much angrily but with concern.copyright protection46PENANA78vxc74m1k

Joel shakes his head and gives a tired laugh. “There was a glitch in B’s programming that we thought we had patched, but obviously not. He is an AI after all, which means he can alter his own programming in response to sensory and archived data.”copyright protection46PENANAVYEvh4rDLq

“Yeah, it makes him really hard to control,” Alex added.copyright protection46PENANADuuE5tHN2y

“So, the hiccup we’ve had these last few weeks is that, well, he has anxiety,” Joel went on.copyright protection46PENANAwaH2HT9Mgb

“How is that even possible?” I ask.copyright protection46PENANA7c9LHrP95B

Joe stand up and gestures for me to follow him. “Come look at this.” He leads me into a back room that serves as their kitchen.copyright protection46PENANAAI65mby4YB

BM-07 is sitting in the corner in the foetal position, rocking back and forth with his eyes wide open. He is murmuring to himself. “Why do they lie…”copyright protection46PENANADuMkwueGgu

I take a step back. “Jesus Christ.”copyright protection46PENANASnG18osYyx

“I know,” says Joel. “He’s been like that all night.”copyright protection46PENANAz8gFeDRMHP

Alex points to the TV mounted on the wall. “We decided to run a few tests and see how he’d respond to some television. He watched the news for ten minutes, been like that ever since.”copyright protection46PENANAolkaFRETyV

“Oh god…” BM-07 whimpers.copyright protection46PENANAoqi4srtUp1

The brothers lead me out of the room and away from the suffering robot. They begin to explain to me what they think is wrong with BM-07.copyright protection46PENANAsZaJFomwb4

“He has no filter,” they said. “When he first became sentient he wanted to know some things. ‘why do I exist?’ ‘what’s the meaning of life?’ Completely illogical questions when you think about it – the questions don’t help anyone and the fact that they can’t be answered… I mean, we couldn’t answer them. To him we might as well be God, but we created him because we wanted to know if we could – he has no purpose yet. In humans, there are coping mechanisms in place to help us deal with stressful stuff like this. When we watch the news, we assure ourselves everything is going to be okay. B is forced to look at all the bad and stressful things at once, he can’t ignore it, his mind is too efficient for that. He can’t just analyse like a normal robot, he has to experience it.”copyright protection46PENANAmApGL4xpY6

“So, what happens to BM-07 now?” I ask.copyright protection46PENANAlmwDrY4UTu

They both shrug. “We honestly don’t know.”copyright protection46PENANAVmt658usEF

I’m not worried. Human beings used to be apes, and now look at us. Computers used to be bulky and slow, and now look at them. Regardless of what mental state BM-07 is in, James McQueen’s idea has been recognised, a robot can feel, and it can only grow from here.copyright protection46PENANAw0gVH10frZ

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