[ExI] turing test again

Damien Broderick thespike at satx.rr.com
Thu Dec 13 03:54:15 UTC 2007

At 06:53 PM 12/12/2007 -0800, Spike quoth from 1979:

>So I waited with high hopes
>And she walked in the place
>I knew her smile in an instant
>I knew the curve of her face
>It was my own lovely lady
>And she said, "Oh it's you."

Long before that, I wrote a story called "Sweet, 
Savage Robot" along the same lines. Let's see... 
here it is, as slightly buffed up for its 
piecemeal inclusion in the novel STRIPED HOLES 
(available for a token pittance, as you'll wish 
to learn, at http://www.fictionwise.com/ebooks/eBook9079.htm ):


Across the width and breadth of the Milky Way 
galaxy, through tens of thousands of parsecs and 
hundreds of millions of stars burning at rates 
governed by their position on the 
Hertzsprung-Russell diagram, except in the case 
of those stars that had been turned down by 
lunatic energy conservationists, beings large and 
small wept and wailed, beat their dorsal 
membranes against their cilia, wept salty methane 
tears, twisted and tore their soaked lace 
hankies, broke their hearts, plighted their 
troth, smurged and made up, loodled one another 
under cover of the Great Whistling Moon's 
descent, and in general got on with the business 
of providing material for the writers of Harlequin or Mills & Boon novelettes.

All happy families are alike, you see, but an 
unhappy family is unhappy after its own fashion.

Oddly enough, this was even true on Alpha 
Grommett, the sole known world in nearby space 
inhabited principally by machine intelligences.

Of a Christmas Eve, and indeed of every other 
eve, nothing animate stirred there, not even a 
mouse. Mice had actually been the first to go, on 
Alpha Grommett, which was infested quite a long 
while back by the descendants of a single 
autonomic better mousetrap left on the innocent, 
fecund surface of the planet by a careless interstellar visitor.

Any self-reproducing machine, no matter how 
simple (and it's tricky finding one simpler than 
an alert mousetrap) will mutate, given time.

Nothing mysterious here. No call to postulate a 
beneficent deity that has created living machines 
in Its own image. The principles of neo-Darwinism 
as upgraded by second thoughts on Punctuated 
Equilibrium and Self-Organizing Criticality are 
quite sufficient to account for the flowering of 
one paltry line of hungry mousetraps into the 
ornate, ticking, humming, bright-cogged and 
copper-bushed mechanical ecology that today 
thrives on the denuded landscape of Alpha Grommett.

It is not strictly true that nothing organic 
lives there. Since 1937, a stocky green lizard 
with bifocals from the moist neighboring planet 
Gamma Globulin has held a quite important post 
with the principal newspaper in the capital city, Rock-Breaks-Scissors.

No reader knows her true name, of course. Fewer 
still realize that their favorite daily columnist 
is organic, and as you can imagine this is a 
secret guarded very closely by those few in the know.

By one of those droll turns of fate which play so 
regularly into the cynical hands of racists and 
bootboys, it has proved to be the case that 
nobody but an organic intelligence can pen a 
solid, moving Miss Lonely-Hearts column.

Machines bleed, it's true. It may be lubricant 
rather than a thin watery suspension of 
platelets, erythrocytes, white cells, albumen, 
fibrinogen, floating nitrogenous wastes, and 
neurotransmitters on their way to and from work, 
but cut one with a welding torch and see if he 
doesn't bleed. Their pumps, no less than the 
human kind, can break with unrequited love; 
passion as well as Boolean logic seethes within 
their anodized chests; murders and deeds of wild 
romantic heroism are done at lust's behest.

Yet somehow they just can't rise to the empathy 
required by an advice columnist.

On Alpha Grommett, therefore, a retired 
upper-middleclass brontomegasaur named Mrs. 
Emilia Aardwimble reigns as the Heart-Balm queen 
for a whole world of tortured, lovesick, worried, 
faithful robot parents, children, sweethearts, and suspected wirehead junkies.

On the morning I mean to tell you about, a robot 
named Bruce Diode sat at breakfast with his wife Sally.

They were not a happy couple. "I may well be, as 
you allege, an old fool," observed Mr. Diode. 
"You, by contrast, are a frowdy old fool."

He continued spooning graphite into his 
supplementary minerals orifice with one extensor, 
simultaneously holding his novel open with a 
second elbow and slurping light lubricating fluid 
from an oil can held in a third. Between 
spoonfuls of graphite he expertly ground, 
polished, and inserted a fresh lens in his hind 
optic without putting down his utensil or raising 
his forward optics from the book.

"Well!" Repeated usage had long since worn the 
edge from Mrs. Diode's indignation. "Sometimes I wonder why I ever married--"

"--a half-witted buffoon like you, " Bruce Diode 
intoned along with her, like a record. Their 
rituals were, as robot conversational gambits 
tend of course to be, a trifle mechanical.

Scooping up the last of the serviceable if hardly 
delicious thick gray dust, he slurped it down, 
keeping his attention fixed on his book, 
nine-tenths lost in a glamorous if dangerous 
world of sharp crimes, tough PIs and incisive mouthpieces.

Sally Diode, on her side of the breakfast 
workbench, folded the morning paper from the 
funnies to her favorite column. Early in their 
marriage, she had laid down her custom of reading 
the newspaper at breakfast. She had seen too many 
sitcoms of husbands blithely hidden behind 
newspapers to let Bruce get away with that.

While this gambit still didn't allow her to see 
her husband, she didn't particularly want to, not 
anymore. And the news was far more interesting 
than a running blow-by-blow account of the events 
in his latest sadistic cheap edition thriller.

The truth was, their connubial conversation had 
quickly become reduced to a pattern. Each felt 
rather uneasy and more than a little miffed if 
the algorithm was abandoned. By running the same 
subroutines each day, they acknowledged each 
other's presence while avoiding the need of brute existential challenge.

Bruce rotated his upper optic the precise number 
of degrees inside the top of his cabinet to see 
the liquid crystal clock displayed there. 
Seventeen minutes to get into the city. He made 
an automatic computation. Eleven and half minutes 
to reach the traction, drive to the office, park 
in the underground lot, ride the riser to the 
fourth floor, Bundy in, and lock on to his desk. 
That left precisely the apt interval to finish 
reading this next chapter and evacuate his discharge.

"You should be glad anyone married you," he said 
absently, varying the formula of their dialogue.

His hand touched the discharge tube, guided it to 
the ventral valve, clicked it in, waited for the 
negative pressure to build and activate the red light.

Flooding through the dome above them, the 
brilliant X-ray-rich sun of Alpha Grommett kissed 
his cabinet without his noticing. His optics were riveted to the page.

Bruce Diode rather resembled one of the early 
treadle driven Singer sewing machines, with 
random additions from tasteless Japanese war 
toys. He perambulated with some difficulty on 
four fat little worn wheels, preferring whenever 
feasible to transfer to the public traction hookup.

His wife Sally looked more like an Art Deco radio 
set, the kind that glow like burnished wood and 
smell like hot Bakelite as they warm up, their 
dial yellow and soothing as the purr of a tabby 
cat, station call-designations lettered 
beautifully on the illuminated half-circle of the 
dial and big chunky knobs to control sound and tone.

"Bruce! What you said--that's what Meg Kindheart 
says here to `Fed Up,' " Sally exclaimed with surprise.

The tabloid, open at "For the Love-Lorn," dropped 
from before her dial with the snapping sound of 
abruptly folded paper. She studied her rusting 
husband intently, amazed by his agreement with the advice columnist.

"Let's have no more about that damned interfering 
pest," Bruce said sharply. He lifted all optics 
from his thriller. Though his vexation derived 
principally from Sally's disregard of breakfast 
tradition, it remained valid that if he loathed 
one thing in all of Alpha Grommett more than any 
other thing, it was its sticky-beaking Lonely Hearts columnist.

"Pop psychology," he sneered. "Self-taught 
drivel. She should be deactivated for practicing witchcraft without a license."

"Really!" Sally was secretly glad of a break in 
the monotony of their normative programming, and 
anxious to defend her heroine. "Meg Kindheart is 
the most sensible machine in the world."

"Ha! You'd know about `sense'."

Mrs. Diode crackled a circuit breaker in a marked 
manner. "It's a pity there aren't more machines 
that show an interest in others." She cast Bruce 
a withering and significant glare.

He sneered back, ratcheting raspingly. "I 
wouldn't be surprised if the office cleaning Bug 
writes her rubbish." That stung, and he pressed 
his advantage. "And if it's not the Bug, it's 
some rusted-out old derrick that missed her chance fifty years ago."

He snapped his novel shut and clapped his hat on. 
"There's no one like a nonreplicating artifact to make free with advice."

Sally's dial went white. The numbers bleached. 
Her manipulators opened and closed convulsively.

"You-- you old bucket!" she screamed and rushed from the room.

Bruce Diode sighed angrily as the door slammed, 
and spun his optic back to the clock. With a 
curse he found he was late. He scraped paint from 
his blower as he coupled to the traction. By the 
time he reached the office he was in a ripe mood. 
The hot humidity didn't help any. Bruce's 
routines had been disturbed for the first time in 
years, and his entire flow system was now out of whack.

Sally, for her part, winced at the crash of the 
traction's gears. Bruce was in a particularly 
unpleasant mood. Sighing, she returned to the 
lube bench and gathered the nozzles together. She 
consulted her own internal clock. He would be 
late for work. Sally flung the nozzles into the cleaning unit.

At the bench, she picked up the paper and finished Meg Kindheart.

Why did he have to go on like that? It hadn't 
been this way when they were first married. 
Self-pity dopplered through her and she wondered, 
not for the first time, whether they should have 
replicated while they were still new enough for 
mutations to be held within nominal limits.

The nozzles popped up shining and clean, and the 
emptiness of her life assailed her with crushing force.

Every day, the same recursive routine. She had 
become a drudge. Angrily, she damped her 
overload. What right did Bruce have to destroy 
her dreams? He didn't love her anymore, that was 
certain. All he ever thought about was his stupid 
trashy novels, his policemen and secret agents and steely PIs.

An awful possibility jumped up into her temporary 
cache memory. Could Bruce be having an affair 
with some letter-quality job in the office? Some 
fast, two-directional dot-matrix operator?

It didn't bear thinking about. A gigabyte of 
ghastly, lurid bit-mapped images cascaded through her high core.

Sally bent over the bench and gave herself up to her misery and shame.

Soon enough, her outburst ran its course. She 
re-booted herself, rolled to a mirror, regarded 
her artful if dated cabinet, the warm vacuum-tube 
glow at the back of her yellow dial.

"I'm not that old," she muttered. "Nowhere near 
the scrap heap, damn it." A fierce determination 
glowed in her deepest circuits. "I'll put a spoke 
in his wheel," she told her image. "He's not the 
only one able to play at that game. My days as 
his patient house drudge are finished for good!"

Sally turned and as her optics swung past the 
side panels of the mirror a cruel ray of the 
Alpha Grommett sun caught her worn knobs and 
tatty grille. Courage waned. She needed support; 
moral support for her new stand.

There was no question, of course, where she would seek at it.

"Meg Kindheart! I shall write at once!"

Without further ado, Sally Diode found the modem 
keyboard and began pouring out her poor 
mechanical soul, all unknowing, to a lizard from steamy Gamma Globulin.
By midday, the office temperature was in the high 
hundreds. Bruce Diode, despite his insulation and 
autonomic regulation blowers, felt frazzled and 
short of temper. Outside, he knew, in the mercury 
pools and mineral tailings, young machines 
cavorted under the roasting sun and thought of 
nothing but love, fun, and self-replication.

For Bruce, sockets running with oil, the day was the pit of hell.

All morning long, from its inauspicious 
beginning, he'd felt utterly miserable. He and 
Sally were well and truly stuck in a rut. He'd 
been denying this truth for years. Now it was unavoidable.

"Blast!" he muttered on the short-wave local 
band. "Damn and blast!" Several juniors raised 
their optics, shrank back to their terminals when 
he caught them at it. In a pet, he threw his 
files back into storage and seethed.

That bitch Meg Kindheart, he thought. What an 
inane name! She'd know what was amiss in his 
marriage, he thought bitterly. She'd give him a 
five-line solution, couched in such vacuous and 
elusive terms that it could mean anything or nothing.

Not that he'd ever read anything the fool had 
penned. Discharges, no. He leaned back wearily, 
letting his springs take the weight for a change.

Moiré static spun inside his CPU for a 
frightening moment. Inspiration struck like a glitch from heaven.


The kid at the next work station shunted his 
optics cautiously. "Yes, Mr. Diode?"

"William, old knurl, can you lend me your copy of 
the lntelligencer for half a mo'?"

"Sure." The young mechanism looked relieved; he 
was not going to be shouted at. He fished inside his leg. "Here, sir."

Bruce nodded curtly, turned away so nobody could 
see over his shoulder, found For the Love-Lorn.

The office clock beamed out the midday break. 
Everyone but Bruce rose and left the room.

Mr. Diode drew a keyboard toward him and began a 
biting letter to the meddling machine he loathed so much.

The finest Heart-Balm columnist in the universe 
was examining her modem-linked terminal's bulletin board.

The day's dreadful temperatures had dropped only 
a little, but inside her steamy, climate-set 
module on Alpha Grommett the stout green lizard 
known to millions of Intelligencer readers as Meg 
Kindheart fanned herself with her claw more for 
metaphoric narrative purposes than because she 
was genuinely overheated, and crossed the room 
from her escritoire to draw the mica curtains.

Halfway through her first millennium, Mrs. Emilia 
Aardwimble had retired from her position as 
Matron of Eggs after a massive 
cholesterol-induced heart attack--a leading cause 
of fatalities in brontomegasaurs because of the 
tremendous strain any big dino species has just 
got to suffer living out of water--followed by 
intermittent but troubling cardiac troubles.

Casting about for an interest, she chanced during 
a long recuperative galactic tour upon the 
unusual machine city of Rock-Breaks-Scissors, 
with which for reasons not even she could explain she fell instantly in love.

Perhaps it was the boom and clack, the humming industry.

Perhaps it was the strange beauty of an entire 
planet unrestricted by the ecological niceties of 
organic life, so that poisonous but lovely fumes 
gusted ceaselessly across a sky like beaten 
egg-yolk (though this was scarcely an image Mrs. 
Aardwimble would have permitted to linger within 
her conscious awareness) and delirious young 
mechanisms sported merrily in mineral tailings so 
carcinogenic they'd instantly bring cancers 
boiling through the lung and digestive tract of 
any unprotected creature based on the carbon molecule.

Now, for a moment, Mrs. Aardwimble stood at her 
triple-sealed window, gazing at the flaring 
yellow sky and the viridescent angular shapes of the city.

A breezy tornado came off the liquid mercury sea, 
raising a purple haze, carrying to her ears 
through the sturdy walls of her life-support 
module the happy bleats and pitterings of machines at play.

Emilia smiled to see their happiness, but her 
smile grew wistful as she remembered the thousands who did not share it.

Slowly, she turned her great green mass, pivoting 
solemnly on her tail, and made her way back to 
her screen index of tragic letters.

Most of these communications were too intimate 
and shocking to answer through the newspaper. Meg 
Kindheart always sent personal replies to these 
letters, direct, via the Net. It was her most 
appealing and pump-priming feature, yet most of 
her readers were quite unaware of it.

She sat down in the huge hydraulic chair with the 
slot cut for her tail, glancing, as she always 
did, at the umber hologram of her four hatchlings 
and the more recent deep image holos of the 
grandchildren. As reptiles, her species on Gamma 
Globulin bred slowly, but they bred surely.

Fervently, Mrs. Emilia Aardwimble thanked the 
Great Whistling Moon that the kids had grown up 
healthy, strong and happy. If only--

Young Brian Aardwimble's face smiled poignantly 
from one of the earliest of the holograms, breaking her heart.

Brian, the brilliant saurian musician, the master 
of contrapuntal warbling, the prodigy who had died so tragically young.

Only Mrs. Aardwimble and her inseminator knew 
that Brian had farned himself in an arkle.

Only they knew the anguish of their mistakes, of 
forcing him in the egg, of demands imposed in the 
long dreaming years within its leathery shell, 
years that ought to have been a period of 
prebirth meditation and tranquility but which 
they had made a nightmare of competitive pressure and premature peer rivalry.

Yet out of suffering, she knew, gazing at his 
young likeness, comes a measure of wisdom.

Sighing, Mrs. Aardwimble called up the first pleading cry for help.

The letter was from a young mechanism, already in 
the throes of replication after a thoughtless 
bout of solitary self-loodling, driven to 
distraction by its predicament. It was thinking of erasing its ROM chip.

With a wrench, Mrs. Aardwimble looked again at 
Brian's portrait, and away. Carefully, choosing 
her words with precision, she wrote a message of 
solace to the pregnant machine.

It would not appear in the Intelligencer. This 
was a personal lifeline, a work of organic love.

No machine would have dreamed of doing such a 
thing. Because no machine would dream of doing 
such a thing was precisely why the world of Alpha 
Grommett needed Mrs. Emilia Aardwimble, or some living creature like her.

The next letter was from an ageing housebot, a 
rather silly, selfish mech who wanted all the 
answers without any of the effort. She at least 
had a dream, one she wished Meg Kindheart to 
endorse, but it was a heedless, feckless  dream.

She sought approval to leave her spouse and 
escape with some shining hero of fantasy.

Her name, as you will have guessed, was Sally 
Diode. The big lizard eased her buttocks and put 
her snout into her cupped claws. Her compassion 
was tinged with disgust. Uncertain of how best to 
reply, she returned the letter to its holding register.

Thirteen letters down the stack she came on 
another, which might have been the mirror image of Mrs. Diode's.

It began sarcastically, even rudely. Mrs. 
Aardwimble was tempted to delete it, but 
hesitated because of an element of loss, of frustration behind the bitterness.

The machine that had input these words was 
disappointed with marriage, with his career, with 
everything. The final challenge was ironic, but 
Mrs. Aardwimble responded to the unhappy aspiration beneath it:

"Do you suggest, Miss Heal-All Kindfart, that I 
should leave my little brood and seek a True Love in the great wide world?"

The letter, yes, was from Bruce Diode. Mrs. 
Emilia Aardwimble was not without a deeply 
compassionate sense of humor. Smiling broadly, 
she called the earlier letter into an adjacent 
window and sat considering her replies.

The sky over Rock-Breaks-Scissors was deep 
violet, tinged with a gray deep enough to be edible.

Bruce Diode leaned back against the leaf-spring 
shock absorbers of his traction line, zipping 
home. The volcanoes had brought dreadful weather 
the past few weeks. High above the carbon dioxide 
atmosphere, clouds of sulphuric acid swept across 
the countryside, pouring down as dreary corrosive 
rain each night and ruining the children's outdoor games.

Still, despite the humidity, the weather did seem to be clearing up.

Bruce was, frankly, more relaxed and at ease with 
himself than he'd been for years, though his 
cabinet tingled and surged with excited 
expectation. He hadn't felt this way since his 
courtship, and even that had been a rigid, controlled business.

Eagerly, Mr. Diode anticipated the joys of getting home from work.

The snaking line of robots clipping on and off 
the traction, almost alive in the gloom, came to 
a ragged halt at an earthquake fracture. While 
the autonomics spurted out their quick-setting 
crystal bridgework, Bruce jounced impatiently against his springs.

At length, unable to wait until he got home to 
the privacy of his study, he rolled his eyes 
inside his cabinet and called up the latest email from his secret sweetheart.

"My darling," ran the words across his inward 
screen, "I cannot imagine how I lived before we 
met. But that's silly, isn't it?--because we have 
not met. Or perhaps we have, perhaps our chips 
were etched by the same Xaser, doped from the 
same source, and perhaps in these bytes we take 
from each other, a link has been forged between two wild spirits."'

Something strange was happening to his sensors, 
or to the interpretative matrix that took in the data from his sensors.

The copper greens of the buildings nearby 
shimmered with light even though the sun was setting.

Bruce Diode shivered, too, with besotted love.

"I like to believe that we are the only two of 
our model, stamped out as a pair, the mold 
broken. O my love, my yet-nameless love, can we 
not go together into that world of our dreams 
where I see you now only during off-peak 
inactivation? Impossible? I cannot believe it..."

Tenderly, Bruce sent the magic bits back to enciphered safekeeping.

A splatter of drops fell, and the traction system 
raised its perfunctory shields. Bruce felt like 
crying aloud with bittersweet rejoicing.

"Rain," his lover had written, "how like the pain 
which falls in cruel droplets when love is lost. 
If only my spouse could understand--"

Well, Bruce growled to himself, damn the big dumb insensitive brute.

And so on.

"You'll understand," Meg Kindheart had written to 
him, "why I cannot publish this letter. But I see 
a way to help you find yourself. Are you married 
to the wrong kind of mechanism? Why, then, let me 
introduce you to a 'bot suffering the same 
agonies, a sensitive dreamer, someone you might 
love if only I can bring you together."

Bless her, he thought.

The traction released him. The rain had stopped, 
but there were no activity signals coming from his home.

All the better.

He rolled in, plittered up and down the inquiry 
band. Nobody answered. Sally was out visiting one 
of her vapid friends and he'd have to make do 
with the leavings from the morning sump.

One light burned in his study, on the bulletin 
board. He rolled forward on his fat little 
wheels, extensors quivering, and jacked in.

It was not from his lover. Disappointment crushed 
him briefly, to be replaced by new excitement. It 
was a note from Meg Kindheart.

An invitation to Scissors Heights! For dinner! This very evening!

Bruce felt his intelletron whir. The intimation 
was clear. His beloved would be there.

Zealously, he scrubbed down his cabinet and 
polished his lenses. Scampering like a young 
mech, he dashed for the outbound traction and plugged in.

Bald wheels spinning free, he plunged toward his destiny.

There's no point in laboring this, I trust?

Yes, the big elegantly dressed lizard met Bruce at the door.

Yes, he was led in to the steamy, somewhat uncomfortable living room.

Yes, he found himself staring at a large worn Art 
Deco radio, whom he saved from pitching on its 
dial with a deft sweep of his extensor.

Yes, he tweetered like a fool and radiated all 
over the place while Mrs. Emilia Aardwimble lumbered graciously from the room.

"Poor Sally," Bruce Diode thought, when he was 
capable of thinking the next thing. "She looks as 
if she will die of mortification."

Then he saw himself clearly, abandoning 
embarrassment, forgetting pettiness, seeing as 
well, before him, the mechanism that had written 
those glorious, those gorgeous letters.

The 'bot he had never known!

And somehow he knew deep within his most 
hard-wired circuits that Sally was seeing him in 
the same perspective, as the shining servomech of 
his letters to her, the passionate machine that 
until now had always been afraid to cry out its 
wonder and joy--and, he thought, all aglow with 
joy and wonder, his love, his love.

With tremendous dignity, utterly sure of himself 
at last, Bruce Diode rolled across the floor and 
placed his wife's trembling lateral extensor 
against the side of his ingestion orifice.

And Sally looked back at him and she saw a little 
funny machine like a Singer Sewer with bits added 
on by Gyro Gearloose, and she forgave him the 
endless irritations, the selfishness, the private 
detective paperbacks, the humorless pedestrian 
dreariness of him, and saw too that he was her great and shining hero at last.

Machines don't laugh, though, which is a terrible shame.

For if these two had been human people and by 
some miracle they hadn't already slaughtered each 
other with any heavy instrument that happened to 
be lying conveniently to hand or run fuming from 
the room in the very first enraged moment, why, 
then they'd have leaned on each other's necks and 
laughed together, laughed and roared and guffawed 
and groaned with the outrage of it until tears ran down their cheeks.

But robots never laugh, so instead Bruce and 
Sally Diode bowed in a dignified fashion to each 
other and, extensors linked, rolled together in 
pursuit of Mrs. Emilia Aardwimble and their promised dinner.

was her great and shining hero at last.

Machines don't laugh, though, which is a terrible shame.

For if these two had been human people and by 
some miracle they hadn't already slaughtered each 
other with any heavy instrument that happened to 
be lying conveniently to hand or run fuming from 
the room in the very first enraged moment, why, 
then they'd have leaned on each other's necks and 
laughed together, laughed and roared and guffawed 
and groaned with the outrage of it until tears ran down their cheeks.

But robots never laugh, so instead Bruce and 
Sally Diode bowed in a dignified fashion to each 
other and, extensors linked, rolled together in 
pursuit of Mrs. Emilia Aardwimble and their promised dinner.

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