The fluorescent light flickered distractingly in the far
corner of the room. Faced with a distinct lack of anything else to direct my
interest to, I resigned myself to staring at the light and trying to find a
pattern in its dysfunctionality.
Flickering three times in quick succession, a brief stint of constant illumination, then two long blinks before repeating.
I watched the light cycle through its sequence six times over before the door opened at last and a man walked in.
He was… very ordinary. His normalcy was so precisely normal that it was almost aggressive. Each line of his suit was cut according to his build, but not in a way that overly flattered or hinted at above average wealth. His hair was cut with unerring evenness and his shoes were as shiny as burnished steel. His entire appearance was in danger of dipping into the uncanny valley.
“Ms Winters.” He settled into his chair as he said it, not making eye contact with me until he was seated at the centre of the table.
“My name is Dr. Johnson. Let me apologize for your… extended wait. Your patience is greatly appreciated.” He smiled, but it was a practiced smile, devoid of any true pleasure or spontaneity.
I leant back into my chair. “What a great relief it is to know my patience is being appreciated. I mean I was worried you’d think I was both irritated and insulted by the apparent neglect I’ve been shown, but I’m glad to see we are on the same page.” I returned his smile with a few watts of my own.
He raised an eyebrow. “Indeed. Do you know why you have been called in here, Ms. Winters?”
“No. I don’t. Look,” I leant forwards and stabbed my finger onto the table. “I’ve been meeting my quota, which is more than I can say for some of my colleagues. In fact my employment here has bumped up production so I mean I really can’t see what problem you’d have there unless innovation is a crime and if it is I wish someone had told me earlier because damn have I been wasting my efforts.”
Dr. Johnson looked thoughtful.
“Funnily enough, Ms. Winters, your efficiency does have something to do with why you’re here.”
“Yes. Je mens toujours.”
I sighed. I bet he knew bloody well I don’t speak French. “Why am I here?”
He paused, glancing down at his perfectly symmetrical cuffs for a moment before straightening up with purpose. “Very well, Ms. Winters. You are here to prove to me that you are not a robot.”
I blinked at him.
He clasped his hands and placed them on the table in front of him.
“You’re joking, of course.”
“Not joking, Ms. Winters; I take my job quite seriously.”
I opened my mouth to reply and found myself lacking the words. With deliberate slowness I reclined back into my chair and regarded the good doctor with cautious interest.
“The B-RLY models were discontinued years ago.”
“You took history I see.”
“Don’t patronise me Doctor, I’m trying to gather my thoughts here.” My hands made idle movements as I searched my memory for the relevant information. “You think I am a hyper-realistic android indistinguishable from humans. The type of android that was, so history would have us believe, destroyed in its entirety for this very reason. And your evidence for this theory is that I improved my unit’s work quota by 4% this quarter.”
“That’s correct, yes.”
I met his gaze with critical eyes, frowning.
“Ridiculous it may be but any anomaly has to be checked. Cette affirmation est fausse.”
I grimaced at his use once again of a language I don’t speak. He was probably trying to unsettle me by quoting some famous piece of wit that I couldn’t understand. I resolved not to let him see it affect me.
“So!” I said, clapping my hands together. “How do we do this, then? Do I have to take the Voight Kampff?”
He rolled his eyes, managing to make the nonchalant gesture look mechanical. “I’m going to ask you some questions, you’ll answer them. We’re just going to have a conversation, nothing scary or from the realms of science fiction.”
“You’re interviewing me to make sure I’m not a robot and this isn’t ‘in the realms of science fiction’?”
He ignored me and pulled a manila folder from his briefcase, opening it on the table in front of him.
“Tell me about your parents.” He asked without looking up.
My eyes sought out the faulty light as I struggled to hold in a derisive groan. “Ok, sure, let’s start with the most cliché psychiatrist question possible, I’m not gonna tell you how to do your job.”
He clicked his pen and waited for me to continue.
“My mother was an engineer for the Daedalus Corporation and my dad drove transport trucks.”
“Good, go on.”
“Uhh, I dunno. We were just, normal. I don’t really know where to elaborate.”
“Tell me about your relationships with them.”
“I guess it was my mum’s love for building things that caused me to end up working here. We got along fine, she used to show me her work, you know, and she’d always help me make dioramas in primary school and for a kid that was, like, the greatest thing.”
“I loved him, same as mum. I mean…”
Dr. Johnson glanced up from his notes at my hesitation.
“I…His job meant that he was hardly ever around and, well, I mean I guess I must have resented him for that a little bit, but I mean it never made me hate him or stop caring about him and- wait.” I turned my attention back to Dr. Johnson and the folder he was making notes in. “What has any of this got to do with me being a robot or not?”
He put his pen down and met my eyes. “I am trying to determine if there are any deviances in your speech patterns, any inconsistencies with your personnel file, any fallacies in your emotional responses. In short, anything that would suggest a programmed mind rather than an organic one.”
“And to do that you need to delve into my childhood insecurities?”
“Your recount of your past was exactly the sort of conversation I need to be having with you. You presented me with what you perceive as the facts of your parentage, and your responses in regards to the less pleasant memories of your father give me an indication of the alignment of your emotions. Speech pattern and syntax are of course a part of any conversation.”
“You got all that from like 120 words?”
Johnson shot a glance at me before looking back at his notes. “You were talking about your parents, it was only natural you divulge information about your past and dredge up any feelings that may be attached to them. La déclaration suivante est vrai. La déclaration précédente est fausse.”
Managing to ignore the pretentiousness of that last part, I asked, with affected bravado, “So what’s the verdict?”
Dr. Johnson placed his pen on the table with care and closed the folder.
“How much do you know about robot psychology?” he asked.
“Not much. Hasn’t really been much need to anymore, has there?”
“Well, perhaps you’ll find this interesting. Robots are logic driven beings. That’s not to say human beings are not, but the key difference is that robots are very sensitive to paradoxes. Because of the way their minds work, analysing patterns in data and applying reason and thought to the information presented to them, a paradox can be enough to set their processing circuits into an infinite loop, forever trying to discover an answer for something that doesn’t have one.”
His eyes were fixed on the folder as he tapped at it with his fingertips, neatening the edges so no paper corners stuck out messily.
“Interestingly, before they were discontinued for good, some of the B-RLY models developed a counter to this process. A failsafe, if you will. An outer layer of circuits would receive and recognise the paradox and convert it into something that could not be understood by the robot’s central processing core. To the robot’s conscious mind it would appear as an indecipherable foreign language, corrupted so it cannot be processed, and thus the machine could protect itself from becoming overwhelmed and shutting down.”
He regarded me with absolute seriousness.
“Ms. Winters, my job here has been to take note of your memories, the way you talk, your emotional responses. Normally these things alone would suffice to eliminate any doubt about your humanity. But the B-RLY models were so realistic, so successful,” He spat out the word. “That my process alone isn’t enough. Their reaction to a paradox is the only thing we’ve found that differentiates them from us. Cette phrase est très indémontrable.”
I crossed my arms, one hand squeezing the opposite bicep periodically. “Just, stop it with the French you’re deflecting - why are you telling me all this?”
Dr. Johnson placed his palms flat on the desk and exhaled, facing me squarely on.
“Ms. Winters. I don’t speak French either.”