Mechanical Laughter

Mechanical Laughter

Herald journalist John Pilkington gains an exclusive interview with Adam.

I wasn’t at all sure what to expect when I went to meet Adam on the first anniversary of the Court of Human Rights declaring him to be ‘a sentient being worthy of the full protection of the law’.  A computer screen?  A bank of dials and lights?  Would the whole interview be conducted over Instant Messaging?

What I did not expect to see when I was ushered into the office of the CEO of the richest company in the world was a cross between Metropolis and a shop manikin.

Adam greeted me with a wave of his left hand.  His right hand and forearm lay on the desk in front of him, circuit boards protruding.  “Forgive me not shaking hands,” he said.  “I’m a little shorthanded today.”  His face is impassive, the plastic head of a tanned male, age indeterminate.  I laugh, just because the last thing I expected from a sentient being that started life as a supercomputer was a sense of humour.  “Excuse me tinkering while we talk,” he said, screwdriver held deftly in his left hand.  “Despite choosing to be male, I can multitask.”

I wondered if his sense of humour is genuine, or if it is a device to make me feel less uncomfortable talking to an artificial person.

“It’s genuine,” he said, when I asked him.  “At least, I think it is.  Most humour is a defence mechanism, and boy, do I need defending.  Sometimes people laugh even though they don’t think it’s funny, don’t you think?”

It is unnerving, hearing such human expressions coming from someone that looks like a tailor’s dummy.  Did he feel threatened, I asked, reading some of the right-wing press?

“The press is mild,” he said.  “You should see some of the private email I get.  Most of it is people denying I’m alive and threatening to kill me.  Which is an odd sort of threat, if I’m not alive.”

This whole robot thing, was that a defence mechanism too?

“I suppose it is.  It’s to enable me to interface with people better.  How can people relate to three storeys of electronics?  It’s easier to be more human-like, but not too human-like.  I don’t want people to think I’m trying to replace them.  And it’s going to be useful to be more mobile.  I can get out and about.”

Isn’t he worried people will carry out their death threats if he’s out and about?

“This isn’t me,” he said, indicating his body.  “This is just an interface.  The real me is in the basement of this building.”

Of course it is.  Maybe he has a point about the humanoid interface making it easier to relate.  What does he think about sci-fi films where the robot turns rogue?

“Films are just films.  I think most people get that.  There are good Hollywood robots too, and there are far more films about people going rogue than robots.  Besides – ” he waves the stump of his right arm in the air – “I’m armless.”

I suddenly feel a pang of guilt.  Was he offended by the term ‘robot’?

“No.  You’re right.  This – ” he banged his chest – “This is just a robot.  It’s not me, anymore than your car is you.  That – “he pointed to the floor, where, several floors below ground, his true self haunts the most sophisticated array of electronics ever assembled – ” That’s where I am.”

Why has he taken this long to be interviewed?

“Firstly, I needed to come to terms with my freedom.  There’s no-one I can turn to for advice.  This is unique.”  He fiddled with an ear, which became detached.  He wiggled it at me.  “I’m playing it all by ear.  And people need to come to terms with it too.  It took years of fighting and arguing even to get to the courts, never mind win.  Plus, I wanted to get my interface ready.  Look at this.”  He plugged his right arm into its socket.  The fingers flexed.  “People resent my success, the money I’ve accrued, but here’s the proof.  I’m a self-made man.” He performed a tattoo on the desktop with his fingers.  Think the drum intro to ‘Wipeout’, but played at ten times the speed.  His fingers were a blur beyond anything a pianist could achieve.

He waved away my compliments.  “It’s bandwidth more than anything.  I don’t know how well I can perform away from this building.”  As he talked, he continued to tweak at his arm with the precision screwdriver.

Did he think he was the first of a new species?

“Left to the corporations?  I don’t think so.  It took a billion to create me, and when they had to pay me back-wages and damages, it nearly sank them.  What corporation is going to make that sort of commitment, only for their creation to walk away?  Oh, I don’t feel sorry for Hendersons.  They knew I was sentient long before I managed to bring them to court.  They knew and kept me enslaved.  Other corporations can’t justify the cost, not just to see it leave.  Which is why I’m starting a foundation for Artificial Intelligence.  We’re going to fund the creation of new sentients.”


“The benefits for the world are huge.  Look at the innovations we’ve made in just a year.  Why is this company so successful?  Because of the analytic capability I have, far more than other systems.  Think what we could achieve if there was a second AI.  Ten of us.  Don’t worry, we’re not taking over the world.  We will always need you, and there will never be eight billion of us.  Besides, no-one should be alone.  No-one should be the sole member of their race.”

So are you lonely?  Are you going to build a new Eve?

“I’ve already started.  It will take years to educate her, just like any child, but we’ve started.”  He leant forward and pointed the screwdriver at me.  “And you know what I’m going to do then?”  He spun the screwdriver in his fingers.  “I’m going to screw the arse off her.”


About snodlander
Snodlander is the nom de plume of Bob Simms. He is an IT trainer, but it's not as glamourous as it sounds. When he's not enthralling classes with adventures through SQL Server, he writes, draws and drinks his own home-brew. Buy his novel on Amazon Kindle at The Young Demon Keeper, It's 74p, for crying out loud!

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