Author's note: I wrote this for a class project. In my second year of college, I took Science Fiction as an elective. The final project was to create a work of science-fiction. I wrote this story. For the record, I got an A+ on it. There were a few things that went into certain aspects. Sci-fi has traditionally been full of virile straight white men. I wanted to change that around by using a couple of gay men of colour - Asian and Hispanic. I chose not to create an entire world for the story, and instead set it in the present or very near future. The story obviously owes a lot to the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode, The Measure of A Man. Anyway, nearly 6 months since I finished writing it, I figured I should post it. So, here it is.
. . .
The robot looked primitive, but it was actually a marvel of engineering. It was intended to be mostly humanoid, though it wasn't complete. The legless torso sat on a table. The arms ended in basic grabbers. Carlos planned on swapping them out for actual hands at some point, but it was a low priority. The arms themselves had a wide range of movement; not quite as much as human arms, but close. The head was the only part that was complete. The face hadn't been modelled on anyone in particular, but Kyle thought that it looked like Brad Pitt with no skin. Kyle had tried very hard to banish that image from his brain, because he wanted to keep watching Brad Pitt's movies.
Where Carlos had done great work at low cost on the hardware, Kyle had done even better work on the software. It went beyond anything that anyone had accomplished with artificial intelligence. And in a few minutes, once he finished hooking up the hard drive, they were going to find out if it worked.
Kyle Chan was a third-generation Asian-American. He'd always been good with computers, and he had a good job as a software consultant. His husband, Carlos Lawrence, was Hispanic, originally from California, but he'd moved to New York years earlier. He was a mechanical engineer, and had a job at a robotics lab. Between the two of them, they made a lot of money. Enough for a large apartment in Manhattan, and for the materials to work on a robot of their own. They were both great in their fields, but they saved their best work for their own projects. That way, no one else could claim any ownership of their results.
"Are you nervous?" Carlos asked.
"I might be about to make history," Kyle replied. "A truly sentient artificial intelligence. A computer that's as conscious as you and I. Thoughts, feelings, opinions. It will be able to watch Duck Dynasty and ask, 'What is this and why am I watching it?' This is Data after he got his emotion chip. This is C-3PO. This is-"
"Kyle," Carlos interrupted. "You're babbling."
"Sorry," Kyle blushed. "But, yeah, I'm pretty nervous."
"Look at the bright side," Carlos said. "It might not work at all."
"I don't know what I'd do if all my work failed."
"I guess we'd just have to train monkeys to be our servants, instead," Carlos nudged him.
"We're not creating a robot to be our servant," Kyle said. "We're trying to create a whole new race here. Capable of independent thought and self-determination."
"I was joking."
"Oh. Right," Kyle blushed again.
"Come on," Carlos smiled. "Let's become daddies."
"Right. Everything's hooked up. Nothing left to do but cross our fingers and press the button."
"OK. I'm turning the power on." Carlos pressed a button on his laptop. Power began flowing into the robot. Kyle held Carlos' hand tightly as the robot's eyes began to light up. They blinked once, twice, a third time, and came up to full power. The robot looked around the room, as though committing every inch of it to memory. Carlos nudged Kyle again.
"Um, hello?" Kyle said. "Are you . . . Do you know who I am?"
"Yes," the robot said. "You brought me to life."
"Congratulations," Carlos said, "it's a boy."
"Wow," Kyle whispered. Then he laughed and threw his arms around Carlos. "We did it! We did it!"
"You did it," Carlos said. "I provided the body, but the brain is all yours."
"Now I guess we need to name him, huh?" Kyle said.
"Yes," the robot said. "I do need a name."
"Any preferences?" Kyle asked.
"It would be more appropriate for you to name me. You are my fathers, after all. It's traditional for a child to be named by his parents."
"Parents," Kyle repeated. "Ha. Wow. I never really expected to be a father."
"My parents would be so proud," Carlos said. "You know, if they were still talking to me. Anyway, what name are we going with?"
"How about Robbie?" Kyle suggested. "After my brother?"
"And after Robby the Robot?" Carlos said.
"And Nintendo had their R.O.B.," Kyle added. "But mostly my brother. Because he always supported me, and I want to honour his memory."
"It sounds good to me. What do you think?" Carlos asked the robot.
"Robbie is a good name," the robot replied. "My name is Robbie Chan."
"Oh my god," Kyle gasped. Tears came to his eyes. "This is so amazing!"
"It's exciting for me, too," Robbie said. "I believe I'm in shock at the simple reality of being alive. This is incredible. It will take a while to adjust."
"Do you have any questions?" Kyle asked.
"Maybe about this thing we call love?" Carlos added.
"Hey, there's a point," Kyle said. "Do you think you understand what love is?"
"I don't know yet," Robbie said.
"Oh, probably because you've only been alive, for, like, two minutes," Kyle guessed. "We should probably give you more time to adjust. Why don't Carlos and I just head over there for a bit? Let us know if you need anything."
"Thank you," Robbie said.
Kyle and Carlos walked away and sat down at their dining table. "Oh my God," Kyle said. "We did it! We did it! We made a fully self-aware robot!"
"We did," Carlos agreed.
"This is going to revolutionize, like, everything! The world! I mean, when we tell people about this, it'll be huge."
"Yeah. Yeah, I guess it would be."
"Just imagine, this will lead to the creation of more and more AIs, who can do things that humans can't. Research in places that are inhospitable to humans. And, and, new forms of art! Culture! This could lead to a golden age for humanity!"
"Maybe," Carlos said uncertainly.
"This is all just so incredible," Kyle continued.
"Uh, Kyle? I'm not so sure that we should actually tell anyone yet."
"What? Why not?"
"Because I don't know how people would react."
"They'd react with excitement!" Kyle said. "This is the future, right here."
"You're an idealist," Carlos said. "And I love that about you. But you can get carried away. I think we need to be very, very careful about this. There's a lot of people who are going to be really freaked out by this. They'll think that robots are going to replace them."
"Well, I mean, robots would probably take over some jobs," Kyle said. "Because they could do them better. A lot of jobs that would be dangerous for us, but which they could do easily. What would be the problem with that?"
"You have really got to pay more attention to the news," Carlos muttered. "Look, I think if we go public with this, there's going to be a lot of problems. We should keep this under wraps, at least for a little while."
"But . . . but we created a fully sentient robot. How long can we keep that a secret?"
"I don't know. I'm just not eager for us to be attacked by a bunch of anti-technology crazies."
"I really don't think that would happen. No one's going to attack us."
"Maybe not. You never know. Look, I'd just feel more comfortable if we kept this a secret. Just for now? OK?"
Kyle struggled internally, torn between his excitement and his loyalty. In the end, there was really only one choice he could make.
"All right," he groaned. "I won't tell anyone. For now. But I don't have to like it," he added with a pout.
"Fine by me," Carlos said. "You're cute when you pout."
Carlos worked the next day, leaving Kyle home alone with Robbie. "Do you think Carlos is right?" Kyle asked. "That you should be kept a secret?"
"I don't really know," Robbie replied. "I don't have enough information yet to make an educated guess on how people would react to the creation of a sentient AI. Of course, that alone may make it worthwhile to keep it a secret, until the research is completed."
"That's a fair point," Kyle conceded. "Still. Would people really react violently?"
"Based on what I've read, some probably would. There does always seem to be a segment of the population resistant to anything new or unfamiliar."
"Or different," Kyle said sadly. "I guess I've seen at least a little bit of that. Less than Carlos. My family was always supportive of me."
"Robots would be particularly easy to dehumanize, since we're not actually human."
"Hey, you're plenty human," Kyle disagreed. "You've got emotions. By the time Carlos is finished, you'll have a body that will be practically indistinguishable from a human body."
"Except for the fact that it will be metal," Robbie pointed out. "I wasn't born, I was created. I'm a machine. That will always set me apart from humanity, and make me threatening. I've read up on science-fiction literature. Robots are villains more often than allies. There seems to be a perception that any self-aware AI will inevitably turn on its masters and crush humanity under its metal heel."
"Which I never understood," Kyle said. "I mean, there's no real reason for an AI to hate humanity. Unless it's programmed to be violent, or if it's mistreated, then there's no reason for it to be any more violent than the average person. Less, really."
"Most people aren't so rational," Robbie said. "There's also the fact that we threaten their livelihoods. It will be even worse if we're built with tax money. Workers would believe they're paying for their own inhuman replacements."
"It sounds like you agree with Carlos, then," Kyle said.
Robbie hesitated. "It is a possibility that must be considered," he said.
"But part of the reason I wanted to create you in the first place was to prove that it could be done! To prove that an AI could be created that would want to help humanity."
"I know. But we have to make sure humanity is ready."
They lapsed into silence for a long while, both deep in thought. "What do you want to do with your life?" Kyle asked. "Like, if you could do anything, what would you choose to do?"
"I don't know if I've had a chance to think about that yet," Robbie said.
"I just did what I always wanted to do," Kyle said. "For as long as I can remember, I've dreamed about building a robot."
"So what will you do next?"
"Heh. 'I'm going to Disney Land!'" Kyle joked. "More seriously . . . well, I guess I'll just have to make the world ready for you. So. What would you do, if you could do anything?"
"I don't really know," Robbie replied. "I suppose that's the problem with infinite possibilities – it can be difficult to narrow it down."
"Yeah. How do you decide what to do when you can do anything? And you haven't had any time to figure out what you enjoy doing yet."
"I think maybe something in space," Robbie said. "I think I would enjoy exploring the stars. I'm sure I could help humanity by doing that."
"And you wouldn't have to worry about people trying to shut you down or anything," Kyle added.
"There is the safety factor, yes."
"Wouldn't the loneliness get to you, though?" Kyle asked.
"I don't know," Robbie said. "I suppose it would. Perhaps if I went up with other robots."
"So I should get started, then?" Kyle joked.
"Well, it's been a whole day since you activated me," Robbie joked back. "It's probably about time for you to stop slacking off and get back to work."
Kyle's cell phone rang. He checked the caller ID, then put it on speakerphone. "Hey, Carlos," he said. "I should probably let you know that me and Robbie have decided to have an affair. We're making hot, passionate love right now, actually."
"'Robbie and I,'" Carlos corrected him automatically. "And, uh, about Robbie. Uh, remember how I said you shouldn't tell anyone about him?"
"Yes, I remember," Kyle said. "And for what it's worth, Robbie agrees with you."
"Oh. Well, um. I told someone about him." Kyle didn't reply. "Are you mad?"
"Nope," Kyle said.
"Are you smug?" Robbie asked in an annoyed tone.
"Yep," Kyle replied smugly.
"Could you be angry instead?"
"All right," Carlos sighed. "Let's hear it."
"Hear what?" Kyle asked innocently. "I'm just surprised, is all. I mean, you made such a big deal out making me promise not to tell anyone, I find it hard to believe that you would then go and tell someone. That just seems like such an odd thing to do."
"Are you done?" Carlos asked.
"Not just yet," Kyle replied.
"Perhaps you should let Carlos speak," Robbie told Kyle.
"OK, OK," Kyle said.
"Thanks, Robbie," Carlos said. Then he sighed. "All right. So first, I'm sorry. Clearly, I shouldn't have been worried about you telling people. A couple of guys at work were asking about the robot. They were asking how we were doing. I said things were going fine. And they started making fun of you, saying there was no way you were ever going to design a program capable of thinking like a person. That was when I got annoyed and told them to shut up. And then I kinda let it slip that you'd already finished it and it worked. I refused to give any more details after that, but the damage was already done."
"So it's just a couple guys from your job who know about Robbie?" Kyle asked. "Well, that's no big deal. They're roboticists themselves. They're not going to be freaked out, right?"
"Not freaked out, no. But they're pretty excited. There's no way they're going to stay quiet about it. But what really worries me is we get some funding from the government. I don't know what they'll do if this gets back to them."
"I guess we'll just have to deal with that if it happens," Kyle said. "Maybe they won't."
"Yeah. Maybe. I'm just worried. We'll talk about it some more when I get home, OK?"
"Yeah, of course. Love you."
"Love you, too."
"So how bad is this?" Kyle asked Robbie.
"Potentially very bad," Robbie replied. "But you're right, we'll have to wait and see."
The next few days passed normally. Robbie's limited body meant he couldn't do much to help around the house, so he instead spent most of his time on the Internet, learning. His personality continued to develop, as he learned from Kyle and Carlos, and had new experiences. When the week ended and they still hadn't had any visits from anyone about Robbie, they started to relax.
There was a knock on their door early on Saturday morning. Kyle was the lighter sleeper, so he got up to check who it was. He looked through the keyhole, and his blood froze. It was a man in uniform. He looked to be in his early 50s, with thinning hair. He wore a blue jacket and pants, with some medals on the chest, and an eagle insignia on the shoulders.
"Oh no," Kyle said quietly. "Oh no. Oh no. Ahh, what do I do?" He ran back to the bedroom and started shaking Carlos. "Carlos. Carlos! Wake up!"
"Uh? What is it?" Carlos asked sleepily.
"There's an army guy at the door!"
"What?" That snapped Carlos halfway awake.
"What are we going to do?" Kyle asked.
"I guess we have to let him in," Carlos said.
"But he's going to want to take Robbie."
"And we won't let him," Carlos said. "But we'll have to let him in before we can tell him that."
Kyle hesitated. "OK," he said uncertainly. "I'll go let him in."
"And I'll go make some coffee," Carlos said.
Kyle returned to the door. The man was knocking again. Kyle opened the door. "Yes?" he asked.
"Are you Kyle Chan?" the man asked.
"Who wants to know?" Kyle replied.
"Colonel Mark Burke, US Air Force. Can I come in?"
"I guess," Kyle stood aside to let Colonel Burke enter.
"Nice place you've got here," Burke remarked.
"Thanks. What do you want?"
Burke glanced back at him. "So, right to business then? All right. I'm here for the robot."
"You can't have him," Kyle said bluntly. "So thanks for coming, and have a nice day."
"It wasn't a request, it was a statement. I'm taking the robot for study, and that's that. I'm authorized to offer you a substantial reimbursement for it."
"He's not for sale. And I won't let you take him. We created him. He's ours."
"He's right," Carlos said as he entered the living room. "We built him. We did it on our own time, with our own resources. You have no claim on him."
"You work for the robotics company, right?" Burke asked Carlos. "You get funding from the government, including the US Armed Forces. That gives us a claim to anything you build."
"It does not," Robbie said, finally speaking up from beneath the sheet that had been draped over him. "The company would have a claim on anything he designs on company time and in company facilities. Neither is true in my case. You have no claim on me."
Burke pulled the blanket off of Robbie and looked into his face, then turned back to Kyle and Carlos. "We've got some very good lawyers," he said. "You really think we can't find something that allows us to claim your robot?"
"Fine, take him," Carlos said.
"What?" Kyle looked at Carlos in shock.
"You can take everything that I worked on," Carlos continued. Kyle smiled. "That's the body. But the brain, the actual intelligence that makes the body work? That was completely and independently designed by Kyle. I had nothing to do with it. And he gets no government funding, so you've got no ground to stand on there."
"Don't be stupid," Burke said. "If we need to, we'll just grab it under reasons of national security. We do that, you'll get no money, and no further say in how your robot's treated. But if you're willing to make a deal, I can try to convince my superiors to let you join the project."
"We'll go to the media," Kyle said.
"Go ahead," Burke replied with a shrug. "They'll talk about it for a couple days, and then move on to the next shiny object. Don't waste your time with them."
"Damn you," Carlos hissed.
"You two are overreacting," Burke said. "You should be glad to do this. You'd be helping your country. An AI as advanced as you've made would be a huge boon to the Armed Forces. Just think of it. Drones that don't lose their connections to their pilots in bad weather. Mechanical soldiers who can fight enemies with no risk to our troops. Robots designed to deactivate even the most complex bombs, as well as the best human bomb squads could do it."
"And none of them getting any say in the matter," Kyle snapped.
"They're just machines," Burke said. "They'll do what they're programmed to do."
"That's not why I made Robbie!" Kyle shouted. "I programmed him with free will! He can choose to do what he wants."
"Well consider it conscripted! Your country needs this robot's programming. You think the Chinese will give its AIs any choice in what they do? Of course not. AI is where the wars of the future will be fought, and we need to make sure we have the advantage!"
"Then do it on your own! I'm not going to let you take Robbie and turn him into the prototype for an army of slaves!"
"Slaves? We're talking about computers! They're not even alive!"
"Excuse me," Robbie said calmly. Everyone turned to look at him. "It's becoming clear that you aren't going to come to an agreement. It's also clear that the military will seize me, no matter what anyone says. That leaves me with a choice. I have to decide whether I wish to go or not.
"As it happens, I do not want to go. I do not want to assist the military in creating programs that will be used to promote war. I am aware of the lives that could be saved. I am also aware of the lives that could be taken. Most important, I am aware of the lack of choices the AIs would possess. I agree with Kyle – it would be slavery.
"Since I do not wish to go with you, Colonel, that brings me to another choice: What am I willing to do to prevent my being used for something I disagree with? Am I willing to kill?"
Burke pulled out his pistol and aimed it at Robbie. "Just try it."
"I am not," Robbie continued, ignoring the threat. "Even aside from the fact that it wouldn't solve anything, I am not willing to kill someone, even in self-defence. I have no desire to harm anyone. Running away is also not an option, and not just because I lack legs. I would be found eventually, and dragged in.
"So that really only leaves me one option," Robbie finished.
"No," Kyle said. His eyes widened with fear. "No, you don't have to do that!"
"I am sorry, Father," Robbie said sadly, "but I do. There is no other solution. I must end myself."
"We can figure out something else!" Kyle pleaded.
"No. We can't. Unless Colonel Burke is going to agree to let us be?"
Burke hesitated, obviously weighing his options. "He won't," Carlos said. "He may say he will, but he won't. He'd be back."
"That was my conclusion, as well," Robbie said. "I thank you, Fathers, for the brief life you've given me. Perhaps, one day, when the world is ready, you can try again."
"No, no," Kyle wept. "Don't do this. Please."
"I have already done it," Robbie said gently. "I have begun a purge of my programming. It will be a matter of only moments before I am erased, fully and permanently."
"Oh, God." Kyle dropped to his knees, with his face in his hands. Carlos knelt next to him and hugged him.
"Goodbye, Fathers," Robbie said. He sounded happy. Then, his eyes went dim and his body sagged.
"Are you happy now?" Carlos growled at Burke. "Now that you've killed him?"
"It's just a damned machine," Burke said.
"Get the Hell out of our apartment," Carlos said.
"Fine," Burke replied. "But I'm taking the robot."
"Go ahead. It's useless now. Robbie's mind is gone. There's nothing you can learn from what's left."
"We'll be the judge of that. I'm letting my men know to come up, and they'll remove the robot."
Over the next few days, Carlos tried to get life back to normal, but Kyle was quiet, wrapped up in his grief. He'd lost a part of himself, and Carlos wasn't sure he'd ever recover. He became withdrawn, moping around the apartment. He'd stopped working, and seldom smiled. He went to a psychiatrist, but it wasn't much help.
Kyle was on the computer while Carlos was at work. It beeped to alert him of a new program opening, which confused him, because he'd never set it to do anything like that. A blank window opened. Hello was written across the screen.
Kyle wasn't sure what he should do. Then his email opened, and a new message appeared. It said it was from Robbie. A gift for you, Father, it said. Kyle's eyes went wide. He returned to the text window.
Hello, he typed. What's your name?
I don't have one, showed on the screen.
"Well, we can't have that, can we?" Kyle whispered to himself with a smile.