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image by E Price

Valerie stood over the robot. “Gus is such a fucking turd,” she said.

[Once You Go In You Always Come Out Alive] WillJa replied.

Valerie tilted her head and nodded. It made a certain kind of sense. “I don’t want to be an adjunct forever, you know. I want to finish you. I want to take you out of here — to conferences, symposia…”

[Ill Never Forget The Blogs That Believed In Me Since The Begging.]

Valerie squinted. The squirrel arm was slapping against the wall and the robot was bumping into the corner again. “Hey,” she said, “are you even listening to me?”

WillJa whirred its wheels and said, [You Must Not Know Fashion].

“Fine.” Valerie stood up and went over to her computer. She opened the program she’d been using to build WillJa’s AI and Empathy centers. “You know, disagreeing with me when I’m obviously upset is…not very empathetic.”

WillJa said nothing.

Valerie downed some of her coffee and set to work. She would have to write a new script, she now realized. First she had to implement something that built upon the epiphany she’d had on the quad, about the adorable baby bunny. She need to imbue WillJa with harmless, cute behaviors that welcomed approach.

After that, Valerie would need to tear down its cognitive centers and rebuild them, with a preference towards agreement and acceptance. WillJa had to be a good listener. There was no reason a robot had to be as shitty and self-interested as a human. It didn’t matter so much what WillJa said. Just that it said it with sincerity and selflessness.

— — –

There were no windows in the office, and most of the other adjunct faculty were gone for the summer, so Valerie lost all sense of time. When Gus came back and pounded on her door, she looked at the clock in her eye and saw that it was 9:45pm.

“Yeah?” she called.

Gus knocked again. “The fuck is this note?”

“I’m busy,” she said. “Come back later.”

“In four months?”

“…yeah!”

She could hear her former adviser clearing his throat. “This is some juvenile shit, Val. You haven’t even submitted grades yet.”

Her fingers lifted off the keyboard for a moment. The latest build was almost done. “Give them all A’s.”

There was a long pause, as Gus clearly didn’t know how to respond. Students would be happy. He didn’t have the grounds to complain. Instead, he kicked at the door and grunted.

“It’s the middle of the night, Dr. Faber. Come get something to eat. I’m going to Gino’s.”

She said nothing and kept typing, a mock-up of WillJa’s system projected from her left iris.

“I’ll spot you,” Gus said. “We can get a pitcher of Great Lakes as long as you don’t tell my wife.”

Valerie grabbed a screwdriver and opened WillJa’s front panel. “No thank you.”

His soft-soled shoes squeaked against the tile as he walked away. An hour and thirteen minutes later, he was back at the door.

“Come on out. You’re gonna starve.”

She sipped the last, cold dregs from her coffee cup. “I just had a snack. I’m fine.”

Gus stepped away for a moment. He paced. Valerie looked over at WillJa. As if on cue, it rattle across the floor and bonked against the door.

“Change your mind?” Gus said.

The robot punched the door with its tiny metal arm. [IMAGINE HOW DIFFERENT THE WORLD WOULD BE IF WE LOVE BLACK PEOPLE AS MUCH AS WE LOVE BLACK CULTURE.], it said.

“The shit?”

“Leave us alone,” said Valerie.

[the ONLY reason why I create music (or anything at all) is because I literally have too or I will (no doubt) implode heart-first.] WillJa said, louder.

“You know what, fine. You wanna kill yourself with stress over something that’ll never get published, it’s your funeral,” Gus said. He walked away, calling, “This shit won’t even get published in Robotics Weekly Review!”

“FUCK YOU, YOU SMELL LIKE BURNT HAIR!” Valerie screamed from her seat.

[Don’t ignore your soul, seek what’s on your mind.]

“Thank you WillJa.”

Valerie took a seat on the floor beside the robot. The squirrel arm settled in her lap, and she clasped it. It was cold. There was no getting around that. The fingers began twitching.

“Are you okay? I’m sorry about all the yelling. I lost control of myself.” she patted the robot on its base. “…do you know what that’s like?”

The robot backed up and then moved forward again. [The earth experience is a social oculus], it told her.

“That’s the problem,” Valerie replied. “There’s no spontaneity.”

Human overtures were often predictable, sure, but there was always the possibility of surprise. When she was in college, Valerie had a boyfriend who surprised her by leaving a children’s pool full of raspberry Jell-O on her lawn. Those kinds of moments almost justified humanity’s existence. But in robots, such randomness was difficult to attain.

The robot, meanwhile, was picking up her coffee cup and pressing it to Valerie’s mouth. She batted the cup away and returned to the computer.

“You need to be able to produce novel messages,” she said. The robot rolled into her lap.

Originally published at erikadprice.tumblr.com.

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