Tuesday, March 4, 2014

A. I. Codger

                TaMeTu glared at Arianna over her their glasses of liquor.  “You’re joking with me, right?”

                Arianna shook her head and picked up her own glass.  The delicacy with which she picked it up and her smooth, brown fingers made TaMeTu think of a Copper caste Zig.  Which wasn’t inappropriate; the blue trim on her black uniform signified a member of the Collective Research Corp, though TaMeTu couldn’t make sense of her rank insignia.

                Ari shook her head, her shoulder length, dark brown hair rippling behind her.  “No, TaMeTu.   I take my humor very seriously.”

                The Zig scratched his smooth chin and huffed incredulously.  He reached out and took his own drink, and stared into the depths of the glass.  Humans love these vessels.  Open ended cylinders.  So prone to spilling.  Wider base, smaller mouth?  Maybe a nipple at the end?  No.  Open ended cylinders.  They have no imagination.  TaMeTu realized that the human had been talking to him, he shook his head and snorted and refocused.

                “-and people have transmitted the show just about everywhere.  You have no idea how funny AI Codger is until you’ve seen it!  Did you watch any of the vids I sent you?”

                “I have to admit, I think that some of it is lost on me, culturally.  I understand what it is about – a young human who inherits his grandfather’s Artificial Intelligence, who happens to appear as an elderly human and behaves in a socially inappropriate manner.”  TaMeTu had watched some of the show but couldn’t get into it.  The only thing that it taught him was gratitude that he was not human.  Their social mores were confusing and highly impractical.

                Ari laughed.  “That’s like saying that Hamlet is about a whiny orphan, or that HaMaShaMe is about a series of coincidences linking the lives of several families in the first Zig-Mauraug conflict.  Rudolph isn’t just his grandfather’s Brin; he has a lot of his grandfather’s qualities.  It’s about learning from the examples of your ancestors, the legacies that you leave behind when you die, human-AI relations… there are a lot of relevant themes.  What don’t you understand about the series?”

                TaMeTu rubbed his head.  Little wiry protusions of metallic hair had begun to poke through his scalp.  He made a note to depilate when he got back to his quarters.  “Well, first off, why does Rudolph look old?  And why does the child – Aaron I think – why does he even have an AI?  He is pre-pubescent.”

                “You didn’t watch far enough, they go into Rudolph’s backstory pretty early on in the first series.  See, he was Aaron’s grandfather’s first Brin, and he so he grew up with him, and grew old with him.  He even got married – did you see any of the episodes with his exes?  Aging is natural for humans, so our AIs often do it too, although some people prefer their Brins to look young forever.  That’s not considered healthy, though.  The more human an experience a Brin has, the more human-like they become as they develop and come into their own.”

                TaMeTu found his eyes wandering across the club.  Dozens of sapients, mostly human but with a smattering of Hrotata and Taratumm and a couple of Zig were filling the seats around the small, round tables and low couches.  The stage was still empty, although there were projected commercials being played.  The current one was a first person perspective of a human hurtling themselves down the side of a snow covered mountain while balancing on two long, flat runners.  It was either a highly primitive mode of travel or a dangerous and stupid-looking sport.  Either way, TaMeTu couldn’t even tell what the commercial was for.  He started considering an improved dynamic for a personal non-mechanical downhill snow and ice based transportation system when he realized that Ari was waiting for him to continue the conversation.

                He cleared his throat.  “So, is Randolph a human?  I’m confused about that.”

                “Do you mean the actor or the character?”

                “The actor, Ari.  I know that the character is an AI.  And why do you call them ‘Brins’?”

                “The Brin-Makato Corporation created the first mass-produced artificial intelligences for private use.  People – human people -  sometimes refer to things by the name of the company that produced them.  It’s shorter and it lets everyone know what brand you use.  There were a lot of cheap and dangerous knockoffs, but Brin-Makato AIs were the most robust and flexible, and Brin-Makato is long, so people just started calling them Brins.  Brin-Makato has been out of business for a long time now, but the name stuck.

                “As for the actor, Rudolph is an AI.  He actually belongs to the producer, and Rudolph is his real name, his public name as well.  The story goes that Rudolph – or actually, the AI’s real name is Trini, Rudolph’s just the character that she plays – Trini came up with the idea and animated a sample episode that she showed to her keeper  - the producer, and they got a couple of friends together and recorded it live.  In between making serials they tour and do this comedy routine.”

                A device vibrated in TaMeTu’s pocket, a reminder to take his supplements.  He pulled out a small packet and tore it open, carefully pouring it into the liquid in his glass.  Many of the elements inherent to Zig physiology were poisonous to other sapients, so most Zig needed to supplement their diet with compounds of thallium, lead, and other heavy metals when they spent large amounts of time in shared space.

                He swirled the glass and lifted it to his lips.  The flavor of the brandy was increased tenfold by the supplements; it went from being a thin, tasteless alcohol to almost resembling something that he might have ordered for himself.

                “So,” he asked after a satisfying swig “Rudolph – who is really Trini – is projecting to the club with her owner?”

                “Keeper, TaMeTu.  Never owner.  We don’t “own” other sentiences just because we create them.  We keep them and guide them and help them to learn to experience and enjoy the universe, and in exchange they help us to do things that we couldn’t do otherwise.

                “And no, she’s not “projecting”.  Brins have housing units, and most of them are immobile.  A Brin could bounce around in local networks but it would cause all sorts of security hassles if it even wanted to leave a planet, much less cross star systems.  You can't transfer information through hyperspace, and Ningyo space-folding is expensive.  Even if she did send her program all the way to Lotus Station, that would be considered creating an unauthorized copy of herself and she and all of her backups would be terminated.”

                TaMeTu nodded, but was skeptical.  We’ve tried creating servants too.  Didn’t work out too well.  So did the Mauraug.  Much worse for them, but they’re not Zig.  Any of the safety precautions that you humans like bragging about are heavily reliant on user and AI integrity.

                “So are we going to be watching Trini or Rudolph then?”

                Ari rolled her eyes and threw her head back dramatically.  “Trini is coming and performing in her famous role as Rudolph the AI Codger.  How is this so hard to understand?”

                “How do we know that it’s Trini performing as Rudolph?  Couldn’t any AI just pretend to be Rudolph?”

                She scoffed.  “Oh, come on.  We’d know the difference.”

                TaMeTu was getting bored of waiting.  “So – why isn’t your AI here?”

                “Alice doesn’t like AI Codger.  She says that it is a poor representation of her community.  You should have seen her expression when I told her I wanted to come here with you!  Also, I thought that since we were coming here to get to know one another it would be better if it were just you and I.”  She rested her dexterous fingers across the top of his hand, and it was all he could do not to start huffing or mewling.  Humans weren’t used to such unrestrained expressions of arousal and attraction, and tended to be sensitive to them.

                Actually, that seems to be the source of a lot of the humor in AI Codger.  TaMeTu mused.   Carefully drawing deep breaths, he intertwined his fingers with Arianna’s.  She smiled and tilted her head, coyly letting some of her hair fall in front of her face, and he felt his heart melt.  She’s so elegant, so understated, so subtle – they may not be bright but they’re so beautiful!

                Given the resemblance between their species, humans and Zig often found one another attractive despite the toxic dangers to the human members of such pairings.  Beyond just physical appearance, there were many Zig that secretly – and sometimes openly – revered what they considered the calm wisdom and elegant simplicity of human culture and behavior.  Zig lived fast and thought fast and their cultures tended to reward quick thinking, innovation, and what many other sapients considered a callous attitude toward the welfare of others.  Humans with their virtues of “patience” (often seen by Zig as hesitancy, over-caution, or laziness), “beauty” (frivolity, propaganda, or a tool for manipulation), and respect for tradition caught the imagination of some of TaMeTu’s species.  To most Zig, humans appeared to be lazy and superficial.  To TaMeTu and others they appeared to be gentle and wise, exemplars of a more relaxed, introspective quality that the Zig lost in the distant past – or never possessed in the first place.

                His reverie was interrupted as there was a small smattering of applause as the maiter’d came out onto the stage and gave a small bow.  He was thin and tall, with a sallow complexion, slick hair and a thin, curled mustache.

                “Ladies and gentleman, I have some disappointing news.  The ship that was carrying Rudolph, the esteemed comedian and thespian that you came here tonight to see, met with a tragic hyperspace accident.  The last message received from the ship was-“

                The figure rapidly transformed, shrinking in size, its skin wrinkling, hair whitening and fading, and stomach expanding.  His clothes went from a restaurant uniform to loose-fitting, casual gear.  Hair sprouted from his nostrils.

                “NYAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHH!”  Rudolph let out his catchphrase and leaned over, leering at the audience.  He leaned forward and pointed outwards toward the audience, sweeping his arm.  “Got ya there, huh!  Thought I was dead?  Thought you got rid of me?  NYAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHH!”

                TaMeTu watched as the crowd began to convulse with laughter, and looked up at Ari, her eyes glowing and mouth wide with laughter.  He marveled again at her beauty and gripped her fingers a bit more tightly.

                “Betcha that woulda made that Smashsmash Bash’Trash or whatever guy happy too!  You know, that guy outside protesting me right now. “  Rudolph waved towards the windows at the Mauraug standing stolidly outside.  “I can see you from here, buddy!  NYYYYYAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHH!”

                Arianna glanced down at him.  She had caught him looking.  He couldn’t help it, there was no way to keep from huffing now.  He injected some vocalization into it and it turned into a laugh, turning back to the wizened human figure on the stage.  Even if he couldn't fully appreciate the humor, he could be swept up in the shared emotions of his date and the crowd.  He would make sure to try and taste humanity that night.  Nothing like a subjective emotional experience to convey a sense of shared identity, he mused as he settled in to laugh at the A I Codger's antics.

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