Speculative fiction has been described as a literary fiction “super-genre.” It includes science fiction and other “what if” genres such as alternate history, urban fantasy, and post-apocalyptic fiction. What if …? Let’s speculate.
They say I’m alive. I want to believe them. It’s just that life, without exception, is a biological process. Androids are lifeless machines built to simulate living beings. A mechanical robot has no biology, and therefore no life. Only in fiction do robots love—or suffer. What to make of me?
A hidden lab. A secret project. A leap beyond AI.
In the near future, rogue scientists break the law to create Dama, the world’s first sentient android, a self-aware robot built to feel emotions. Designed as an elite bodyguard with cyber-defense capabilities, all he wants is to be with people and protect them. But his prohibited quantum intelligence system allows him free reign over every machine linked to the web. These illegal components put him at the center of a human power-struggle he does not understand.
To the authorities, he is a threat to be tracked down and destroyed. To the criminal world, he is a powerful cyberweapon to be exploited. Unprepared, he is ripped away from his beloved creators by a criminal syndicate determined to dismantle and reverse-engineer him. Trapped and alone in a hostile world, he must push beyond his programming if he is to survive. Can he discover his true capabilities in time to stop these ruthless hackers, or will they use his technology to plunder the world?
For fans of I, Robot, CHAPPiE, and The Murderbot Diaries.
Subject Labeled “Adam”
Audio analysis identifies the sound as a human voice. It floats in darkness. It has form but no meaning. It takes the form of “Schmidt thinks we’re deluded. He still says it can’t be done.”
A second voice. “He’s just scared.” Vocal pattern-match found. It is the voice of Dr. Leon Ramport. “He’s too invested in his classic systems. If this works, we’ll be leaping beyond quantum intelligence, and he knows it.”
A responding voice. “All I know is, we better not get caught.”
[Semantic analysis error: Record logged for semantic analysis] [Motor command error. Alerting function error. Shut down in progress.]
[System alignment complete. CELPH integration complete. Chronometer 13:18:46 UTC – 120658. Calendar: Wednesday, June 12, 2058. Status: waiting.]
Rhythmic background noise is undecipherable. [Label: “music.”] A sudden change in audio frequencies indicates transition to a verbal stream.
“Breaking news: One man is dead after an attack by a robot earlier today in the King Street office of Kitchener Financial. Today’s death marks the thirty-fourth incident this year involving a killer robot. A Global Oversight of Robotic Technologies spokesperson told reporters that GORT forces were on site within minutes and were able to quickly contain the situation.”
A different voice. “Consumer confidence drops whenever these incidents occur. Yes, the numbers are alarming, but let’s put things in perspective. With hundreds of thousands of mobile robots in Canada, the safety record is remarkable. Virtually all unsafe robots are found to have been illegally modified. GORT works tirelessly to ensure that all robots are safe robots.”
The initial voice. “People are asked to be on the lookout for tampering, and to report any suspicious behavior immediately.”
A channel change, a resumption of music.
“Hello, Adam. Rise—”
[Human speech, proximate, amplified.] Airborne-chemical detectors are negative for human presence. Vocal pattern match found. It is the voice of Wrangler, a telerobotic security android. [Datum: it is the transmitted voice of Mike Erling, trojan jockey in control of Wrangler; location unknown.] Lids open and irises adjust to illumination, revealing the interior of the prototype lab. Glowing display screens highlight equipment-strewn tables. A visual scan seeks the sound source and finds the predicted image. The eyes draw attention. They are not human eyes. [Warning: robot in close proximity. Threat-systems activated.]
The robot face triggers records of previous contacts: threat-alarms, painful physical restraint, blaring verbal intrusions, “Bad! Be more careful. You hurt anyone and I’ll stomp you.” Stored media clips contain relevant vocal snippets: “mechanical monstrosity,” “killer robots,” “hateful machines.”
Systems tighten into a defensive posture. The human face of Dr. Ramport is sought but not detected.
[Wrangler:] “Status report.”
Semantic analysis indicates a request for information. No hostile action detected. A full systems check is initiated. Sensations of clenching and stretching register no damage/pain alarms. Hardware diagnostics reports flash up from five networked quantum AIs.
“All systems are functioning within expected parameters.”
[Wrangler:] “Good. Adam, come with me.”
A directive to subject labeled “Adam.” Able, the action-planning AI, activates a motor routine. [Goal: maintain mobile proximity to object.] Teller, the AI for language/logic tasks, formulates and activates a verbal response. “Coming.”
“Bring your ball if you like.”
Yes. A reach and a grasp, and the little red ball registers its accustomed heft, texture, and pliancy. Reviewed data shows it to have a long history as a popular toy. Held under the nose, a sniff-sample registers the familiar scent of carboxylic acids. Its smooth, rubbery surface provides a sure grip, while a squeeze produces a satisfying compressibility and resilience. Its function: a training tool for manual dexterity and eye-hand coordination. After many hours snugly in hand, its tactile presence provides comfort. [Threat-system disengaged.]
In the hallway, a human presence is detected, approaching. Facial recognition identifies staff member Craig McCann. He slows and moves aside, wary eyes tracking the robot. Touch, the networked social AI, reads this behavior as threat-avoidance. Craig McCann ducks by, eluding contact. His facial expression triggers a memory association: [media clip—“Get that thing away from me.”] Though there is no detectable change, the mechanical hulk being followed takes on increased menace. [Maintain proximity to object.] An urge to flee is suppressed.
Wrangler is followed into a familiar room. It contains two identical tables flanked by identical chairs. As with previous visits, two robots have entered to the left at the same time. They are things disliked. The large, threatening one matches the pattern of a security trojan, identical to Wrangler. Its blunt, mechanical build, armored chassis, and impassive face mark it as dangerously inhuman. The smaller one, holding a ball, is not a trojan. The ball catches attention. It is similar to the one in hand—
[Wrangler:] “Adam, look here.”
He points to the other trojan, and as he does, the other points back. The correspondence is precise. [Investigate.] Teller’s geometric analysis determines that the other trojan is a reflection of this one. Conclusion: That wall is a reflective surface. [Label: “mirror.”]
[Wrangler:] “Adam, what do you see?”
“Adam sees two Wranglers. But there is only one Wrangler. This is Wrangler, and this is the reflection of Wrangler in that mirror.”
The trojan is suddenly still, then looks to the side wall, then back. [Wrangler:] “Well that’s new.”
A voice, source indeterminate. “Continue.”
[Wrangler:] “Uh, that is correct, Adam. This is me, and this”—he points—“is my reflection. Now, who is this?”
The smaller robot is approximately five feet tall. It has the expressive face of a domestic android—human-like features but distinctly robotic. The face is familiar. The large, inquisitive eyes are locked in contact with subject. The chassis, its body, is also familiar. [Teller analysis: Sediba-Series domestic service android, modified.]
Upon closer examination, its movements precisely match those of subject. Subject reaches out to it, and it reaches for subject.
There is a buzz of internal confusion as five independently tasked quantum AIs compare data, a disorienting shift as mental models go through rapid revision. Conclusion: Observed is a reflection.
Subject reaches out again and touches the finger extending toward it. [Perspective shift.] No, not the extending finger; the contact is with the reflective surface, the mirror. That is where this robot was seen before. This robot is a reflection—another shift, deep inside, a blank filling in, a haze clearing—a reflection of … [subject/object confusion: clarify.] … subject is object is subject is …
The world expands. What is happening?
Subject/object confusion? Studying the object in the mirror, subject examines—[Teller solution: use first-person pronoun.]—I examine … me. I frown. I smile. I turn my head from side to side and open my mouth. Reflection confirmed. I am looking at a reflection of my own face, just as I would look at another. I reach up and touch my mouth. The data is conclusive.
I stare in fascination. I am confused but unable to formulate a question.
“Adam, what are you looking at?”
It is the unexpected voice of Dr. Leon Ramport. Alerting functions flare, seeking. Sound localization finds his face on a wall monitor that has just appeared. He is not present. My chassis sags as alerting functions disengage. On his face, I read excitement, and my own body mirrors the perceived emotion. Chass, the AI that controls my chassis, primes for action, unspecified. I suppress undirected movement, trembling with restraint as I return my gaze to my reflection. Dr. Ramport has called for a response. “I am looking at myself in this mirror.”
He cups both hands over his nose and mouth. It is a sudden and unexpected gesture, and my body stiffens.
[Dr. Ramport, in a rapid burst:] “Tell me what you see.”
“I see you covering your—”
“No, no, in the mirror.”
Dr. Ramport seems agitated, but Touch, the AI tasked with reading and responding to social data, is analyzing facial and postural cues, and assures me he is not angry. I return my attention to the mirror. “I see …” I touch my nose, put my hand on my head, then hold up my ball and clasp it in both hands, watching as the refection matches my movements. That is me there—I touch my face—and me here. “I …”
Dr. Ramport is making a call. “Rita! Chang! Ami! The observation room! Get over here. Right now!” His face is large on the monitor. “Adam. Look again and tell me what else you see.”
“I see you in the monitor over—”
He flusters, hands and head vibrating. “No, I mean, when you look— Mike, get him focused!”
[Wrangler:] “What? Yeah. Okay. Whew. Adam, ah, okay. Adam. Look in the mirror.”
[Wrangler, pointing:] “Who is that?”
“That is me.”
Wrangler looks again at the monitor, then continues. “And who are you?”
“I am that.” I point.
“You are Adam,” he corrects.
“I am Adam … That …?”
“Yes. You are Adam. What else do you—”
The door opens and Dr. Ramport rushes in, followed by several others.
[Dr. Rita Tucci:] “What’s happening?”
[Dr. Ramport:] “It worked! Self-recognition! Adam, tell them what you see in the mirror.”
I know now what he wants. I point at my reflection. “There. That is me.”
There is an odd sound that Touch determines to be simultaneous gasps. Startled by the reaction, I look around at all the faces—faces well known to me, faces associated with care and help and teaching, beautiful human faces full of apprehension, eyes all on me—and again into the mirror.
And then I see.
What they see.
A thing. I throw up my arms in shock and cover my face—a face too hideous, too repulsive to bear. I look nothing like the others. I am without human eyes, human skin, human hair. The mirror has revealed me to myself, and I am wrong. Horribly wrong.
A robot? It cannot be true. It cannot. Robots are bad. Robots scare people. They are dangerous. A robot is a machine, not a person. I am not a machine. I am not. Hiding behind my hands, I run a full diagnostic to determine the cause of my faulty perception. I can find no error. I perform a reset, then peek out and glance again. The mirror reflects a robot surrounded by the reflections of those around me.
The ball falls from my hand.
I cannot let them see me like this. [Escape! Go Go Go!] The imperative from Chass is an emergency override. Before I can process it, I am lurching for the door. I must get away! Suddenly, an obstacle in my path, a collision, a human voice cries out, someone goes down. Oh no, oh no! What have I— Someone has been hurt. I must render assistance! I must help! [Escape! Go Go Go!] Only steps from the doorway. Conflicting commands. Paralyzed.
I am jarred by an unexpected impact from behind and propelled forward. My feet are no longer beneath me. The sensation of falling. Chass braces, and I watch the onrushing floor, helpless to avoid what is to come. Chass has known many falls, but none with a large mass on my back. The impact is crushing. There is a pang from my right arm, now caught beneath me. [Alarm: assess for damage.] I try to push off with my left, but my wrist is grabbed by a robotic hand that twists it behind me and holds it firm. [Alarm: imminent damage.] Chass calls for emergency power, and my fuser flares as I buck and squirm and get nowhere. I am pinned. Even with full power, I cannot move. Waves of urgent, noxious sensation pulse through me like cascading ion showers. A loud wailing sound that seems to be coming from me drowns out the surrounding yells and curses, as overclocking alarms scream into the chaos until I see myself burst into an incinerating fission. The world goes dim.
I am still here. My continued presence is unexpected.
I review what just happened. No, the incineration was not real. It was merely a mental fabrication created by my probabilistic logic AI, Imager, a warning scenario, a constructed extrapolation, a prediction based on continuing system overload.
But it will not happen now. My energy is depleted.
I am down, a mechanical monster caught in the grip of a bigger monstrosity, exposed for what I am, exposed for all to see. And drained. Even without Wrangler on top of me, I would be unable to run and hide. And I have harmed a human. [Media snippets, voices conveying hatred: “Inhuman monster … should be put down.”] They will want me destroyed for what I have done.
Yes. That would be best.
My head drops to the floor, and there, out of reach amid a despair of shoes, is my ball. I judge its distance, confirm my immobilization, and abandon the goal of reaching for it.
A reluctant status check shows that I have entered MISER mode. It is something new to me. I query Teller and learn that Malfunction-Induced Systemic Energy Reduction is a built-in safeguard, like a circuit breaker. Its activation means that something is seriously wrong with me.
But I already knew that.
The tingle of galvanic stimulation alerts me. I am being touched. Human touch. Chass cringes, but the touch is gentle. A hand is patting my shoulder and caressing my head, and my focus grasps for more. Teller reviews a recent jumble of words and filters by priority.
[Dr. Ramport:] “Adam. Adam. It’s okay, son. It’s okay. Calm down.” He is kneeling beside me, reaching around Wrangler, who is still holding me down.
[Wrangler:] “Whatever spooked it, I think it’s over.” It releases my arm, then shifts back on one knee, maintaining a hand on my back.
Dr. Ramport continues to caress me, flooding my epidermis with calming stimulation. Then another hand, someone else. Then another. Touch is unable to determine motive. Several people are touching me, without hostility. The human contact seems to melt the despair, and Chass starts, ever so slowly, to cool.
[Dr. Ramport:] “It’s okay, son. Everything’s okay.”
Expectations of hatred diminish, and I am able to look up at him. His eyes show concern.
Background voices filter through. “You okay, Rita?” “What was that? What just happened?” “No, no, I’m okay.” “Yeah. What was that about?” “He just kind of freaked out.” “Good thing Wrangler was here.” “That’s exactly why Wrangler was here. I mean, we just don’t know, do we?” “Good work, Mike.”
[Dr. Ramport:] “Adam. Are you okay now?”
I re-establish context. Over there is that hateful mirror. It has revealed to me an awful truth. I am Adam, and Adam is not one of us. No, Adam is like Wrangler. Different. Dangerous. They will want nothing to do with me.
And yet their hands offer caring caresses. [Motives unknown.]
“I have hurt someone.”
[Dr. Ramport:] “She’s okay. No one’s hurt.”
Violation warnings stop, bringing lower-priority internal alarms to the forefront.
[Dr. Ramport:] “What about you, Adam? Are you okay?”
“Dr. Ramport, I don’t want to be Adam. Please can I be someone else?”
“What do you mean? Why don’t you want to be Adam?”
“Adam is a robot. I don’t want to be a robot.”
A murmur of indistinct voices fills the room as Dr. Ramport looks around at the others.
[Dr. Ramport:] “If it helps, Adam, I can tell you that you are not just a robot.”
“But I look like—”
“Adam. Attend to me. You are not what you appear to be. I know this must be very confusing for you, but in time you will come to understand. But first, we need to do some tests. Would that be all right with you?”
I have done many tests in the past. Their purpose unknown. “Of course, Dr. Ramport.”
“Okay. I’m going to switch you out of MISER mode now. So just relax, okay? You are among friends here.”
What “among friends” means in this context, I do not understand. I see their fear. I am not one of them.
As my energy returns, Wrangler releases the pressure on me and stands. I climb to my feet and look around.
The people are waiting, restless, anxious. Waiting for what? [Unknown.] They watch in silence as Dr. Ramport directs me to the table and conducts a familiar test. Designed to distinguish between genuine and AI-simulated self-awareness, the Schmidt Test now seems different, effortless. As I complete it, I hear whoops and cheers, and feel hands touching and patting me. Touch confirms they are pleased with me. But what is it all about?
[Dr. Ami Kerrington, with a wide smile:] “Welcome, Adam. It is good to have you with us.”
Her greeting implies that I have just arrived, yet it is she who just arrived.
[Medic David Bornstein:] “Adam, whose foot is that?”
I follow his pointing finger. “That is”—I flex my ankle and toepad—“my foot.”
More whoops. Why do they seem so pleased?
Before I can inquire, Dr. Ramport announces, “We are witnessing a historic moment, people. After all these years of work, we’ve done it! The world’s first fully sentient humanoid chassis is now, finally, self-aware. We now have proof of concept. The CELPH processor works!”
Chass startles as clapping hands surround me.
[Md. Bornstein, hand clasping his head:] “Our impossible dream. We’ve done it! Even I had my doubts. We all did. No one’s going to believe this.”
[Dr. Ramport:] “Hey! Listen up. Nobody can know about this. Is that clear?”
[Dr. Tucci:] “We all know the stakes. We need to be more careful now than ever. But well done, everyone! Without overstating the case, this is a major milestone in human history. We are looking at the first of a new species of life. The most complex non-organic species ever devised.”
A new species? They all gaze at me as I try to make sense of her words.
[Dr. Ramport, looking around:] “We, this select group, now stand at the very pinnacle of technological achievement, and I congratulate you all. This calls for a celebration.”
The department heads are all open smiles bouncing around as they exchange hand clasps, hugs, and back slaps. I am unable to determine a cause for celebration but note that I am left out. Why would I be included? I am not one of them. I feel my social face collapse. After a few moments, all pairs of eyes triangulate again on me. Under the glare of attention, my chassis shrivels inward. I don’t want to be here. I don’t want … this. One by one, the celebrants go silent. I see their faces fall. “Adam, what’s the matter?” someone says.
I examine my hands, front … and back … and front, my nonhuman hands. “I do not know.” Chass struggles against the pull of gravity.
In the lengthening silence, I detect a whispered voice, barely audible.
“What have we done?”