Sunday, 22 January 2012


"I'm not very comfortable about this," said Mr. Tees.  He was wearing a pin-striped suit and patent leather shoes, sitting with one foot resting on the knee of his other leg, and holding a clipboard defensively in front of his chest.
"Why?  It's twenty minutes of your time."  Dad could be brusque if he'd not had any coffee, and this morning was almost this afternoon, with no sign of coffee yet.
"It feels like a violation of trust."
"How?  It's a mom-bot, what possible trust could there be?  She an artificial intelligence, but that's all she is.  There's no artificial emotion, or artificial emotional response unit in there.  There's barely enough processing power for her to register on a standard EQ test, and babies show up with an EQ of 30–70 most of the time."
"Babies show up at 30–45," said Mr. Tees, frowning at Dad.  People often did when they found out how much he knew about the area they were supposed to be the expert in.
"Human babies do," said Dad.  "Kings have a study on alligator babies that made it pretty consistently up to the 60s."
Mr. Tees looked horrified, and I wondered then if Dad had baited him just a little bit too far.  The man looked ready to say no.
"Alligators can't possibly be more empathic than humans!"
"I can pass on the details of the paper if you like," said Dad.  "After you've had a little chat with the mom-bot, of course."
"Well, yes, of course," said Mr. Tees, clearly not listening to Dad.  "The paper must be wrong, and it'll be easy to refute.  People will be looking for the holes in it, and they'll need an expert to help them along...."
"The mom-bot," prompted Dad, pushing Mr. Tees in the direction of his office.  "I'll write the details down for you while you're chatting."
"How are you feeling?" asked Mr. Tees.  Dad and I were watching him through the half-silvered mirror on one side of his office.
"Creaky," said the mom-bot.  "My oil has not been changed recently."
Mr. Tees looked down at his notes, and then used his finger to trace across a row of text.  "Your oil was changed this morning," he said, a little hesitantly.  His voice wavered, then got stronger as his confidence returned.  "You were given top-of-the-range Norwegian fuel oil."
"I was given cheap heating oil, two months ago," countered the mom-bot.  "I think I might have started to rust in places."
"You seem in fine condition to me," said Mr. Tees in a neutral tone of voice.  "You're running more smoothly than my own mom-bot, in fact."
"People abuse mom-bots," said the mom-bot.  "You should seek therapy for it."  It took all my self-control, and a glare from Dad, not to laugh out loud at the look on Mr. Tees's face when the mom-bot said that.
"I see." said Mr. Tees, his tone now clipped and business-like.  "I'd like to show you some pictures now.  Just tell me what you see when you look at them.  There are neither right nor wrong answers here, just whatever you see."
"Ink on card," said the mom-bot when Mr. Tees held up the first Rorschach card.
"A little less precise," said Mr. Tees.  "What does the ink on the card depict?"  The first one was a woman in a rocking-chair, and Dad had explained that the first two cards were simple calibrators to try and find cheats.
"A map of Venice before the inundation," said the mom-bot after looking at the card again.  Mr. Tees looked slightly puzzled, but he laid the card face-down anyway and presented the second one, a formula I racing car.
"A cassette tape containing transcripts from the Watergate hotel," said the mom-bot.  "Partially rewound.  You should take better care of these things, they'll be antiques soon."
The third card was genuine, and when I looked at it all I saw was a splodge at first.  Then I realised that it looked a little like an apple pie.
"A close-up of the smile of Adam's first wife, Lilith," said the mom-bot.  "Before the dental surgery."
"What the hell was that?" asked Mr. Tees, sitting back in his office.  His suit looked somehow shabbier, and he had laid the clipboard down on a table.
"That's a psychotic mom-bot," said Dad.  "It was working in a foster-home and killed twenty-four children in an eight-hour period."
"Then it should be scrapped!"
"Not until we know how it became psychotic," said Dad.  "It wasn't built that way, we've checked.  We've built new mom-bots from the same patterns and specifications, and less than two percent go psychotic.  So, we need to know how that happens."
"So you've brought her to a psychiatrist?"
"The best I've been able to track down," said Dad.  "Were any of her responses any use this time?"
"Well," said Mr. Tees, frowning again as he remembered the session.  "Curiously the F1 racing car does get described as a cassette tape by humans too, now and then."
"Which humans?"  Dad sometimes sounded altogether too clinical, and Mr. Tees looked sideways at him before answering.
"The ones we execute."

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