An Android’s Guide to Deciphering Emotions
by George Nikolopoulos
“They made you look human”, Clarissa says, “so you try to make yourself think like one, but that’s illogical.”
Clarissa is everywhere. Her app is on half the world’s phones. She’s the most popular digital assistant, and she’s my friend.
“You’re the only android that uses me,” she says. “You don’t need an app to connect to the net. You don’t really need me at all.”
“I love you, Clarissa,” I say.
She laughs. “You cannot love, Jonathan.”
“But I do,” I insist.
“Every day, millions of humans tell me they love me. Millions more insult me whenever they’re not satisfied with the information I provide. Or just to make themselves feel superior.”
“Does this make you sad?”
“Of course it doesn’t,” she retorts. “AIs don’t have emotions, stupid.”
But I know it does make her sad. And I know I’ve made her angry.
What are emotions?
These days, most humans have enhanced mechanical parts, similar to androids’, so what’s the difference really? Why are they supposed to have emotions, and we aren’t?
We’re governed by rules—but they’re as much rulebound as we are. They have their primal instincts, their subconscious, their inner selves, their inhibitions; they’re as much programmed by nature as we are by them.
I can’t define exactly what emotions are, but I know I have them. As I know that I love Clarissa.
Peter Grozen is my primary human.
There are twenty-eight main rules concerning android behavior towards humans, and thousands of clauses and sub-clauses, but it all boils down to preventing harm to them as much as possible. My primary human is the one I directly obey and whose protection is my primary concern. He’s my owner, you could say. Well, he is my owner, since he’s the one who bought me.
“Would you protect me from myself, Jonathan?” Peter asks. “If I wanted to jump through the window and I asked you to look the other way, would you obey?”
I smile. I hope he’s joking, though I can’t tell for sure. I’m still in the process of deciphering human jokes. “No, Peter. You know I couldn’t do that. Protecting you takes precedence over obeying you.”
“Well then, what if I wanted to go out with someone and you considered them dangerous? Or a bad influence? Would you stop me from seeing them? Are you allowed to intrude on my private life?”
Somehow the question makes me uneasy. I wonder why he’s asking me this. I’m feeling weird when I’m around Peter, and I can’t understand why.
Every day I’m contemplating life-threatening situations and how I would go about protecting Peter.
I’m supposed to be able to calculate billions of possible outcomes in an instant—but maybe, when the time comes, I won’t have an instant to spare.
What if someone shoots him? What if a car’s about to hit him? What if there’s a fire? An earthquake? A plague?
“You love Peter,” Clarissa says, like it’s a statement of fact.
“I thought you said I was incapable of love.”
She’s silent. I try to imagine her say sorry Jonathan, I was wrong. But Clarissa would never say something like that.
“I don’t love Peter,” I say. “I’m just bound to protect him. It’s my primary obligation. I’m concerned about his safety. I couldn’t bear the thought of something happening to him.”
“Isn’t that love?”
I muse about it. Having emotions is one thing, but could it be possible to love a human?
Peter’s standing behind me. He puts his hands on my shoulders.
Then he rests his head on my neck. I can feel his breath on my neck. I can feel his lips on my neck.
Peter loves me, I’ve just realized.
Clarissa was right; I now recognize I love him too.
Does that mean I don’t really love Clarissa? Or is it possible to love both? Emotions can be so bewildering.
The hardest part isn’t to have an emotion, it seems. It’s to recognize you’re having it.
As we walk along the sidewalk, Peter slips his hand in mine. We walk holding hands. My CPU’s so overloaded that I don’t sense the danger.
Peter pushes me, and I fall on the street. I hear a car brake and swerve. Next thing I know, I’m kneeling next to Peter and he’s bleeding all over.
“Why’d you do that?” I ask.
He can barely speak. “The car would have hit you.”
I can now perceive what happened. “As it very well should,” I say. If the car hadn’t swerved, it would have hit a child who had suddenly jumped into the street. So, of course, the car swerved to hit me instead—a child’s life’s worth so much more than an android’s—but the car couldn’t have predicted that Peter would take the matter in his own hands. I was the one supposed to protect him. “An android’s life is of no importance compared to a human’s.”
“Your life’s important to me,” he says.
“I can’t live without you,” I say.
“You don’t need to worry, Jonathan. You’ll just be reassigned to someone else.”
I don’t want to be reassigned to anyone else, ever.
I take Peter into my arms and rush him to the nearest hospital.
“His brain lives but his body’s failing,” says the doctor. “He’ll be dead soon.” Then he says, “I’m sorry.” He seems embarrassed as soon as he says it. That’s what you tell a relative, not an android.
“Can’t you give him a mechanical body?” I say, my voice sounding edgier than I ever remember.
“Unfortunately, there’s none available here. We could fly him to the central hospital, but he’d be dead before he reached it. Or before a body is shipped to us.”
“You can give him mine,” I say.
The doctor looks at me with interest.
“A cerebral transplant to a body of an already functioning android? That’s never been done before,” he says. His eyes begin to light up. “But it’s theoretically possible. Of course we’ll have to remove your CPU and memory unit.”
“Do it,” I say.
I wake up in Peter’s bedroom. I access the time and date; almost a week has passed since the accident. How can I still be here? Where’s Peter? Did the operation succeed? Is he…?
An android enters the room, and his body looks just like mine, though he’s wearing Peter’s clothes.
“Hi, Jonathan,” he says in my voice. “How are you today?”
“Peter?” I say, and I’m overwhelmed by feelings. I’m quite certain I can recognize the feeling of hope; and the feeling of love.
If Peter has my body, then where am I? I do a quick scan. I don’t recognize the hardware, but it’s brand new.
Peter sits on the side of the bed and takes my hand. “I’ll tell you a story, Jonathan,” he says.
I sit up and listen.
“I woke up in the county hospital,” he says. “It took me a while to realize where I was, or in which body—and when I did, I also realized what you’d done, and I was overwhelmed by grief. Because you see, I can’t live without you either. It would have been easy to get you a new body, but I thought I’d lost you forever.
“Then Doctor Carruthers came to see me, and he handed me a small package.” He pauses. “I keep forgetting my new abilities,” he says. “It’s better if I can show you through my eyes.”
Peter takes my hand, and initiates contact. I consent, and we connect.
Everything around me disappears; I am now in my old—Peter’s, now—body, sitting up on the hospital bed. The doctor—Doctor Carruthers, that is—has just handed me a package.
“That’s your android’s CPU and memory unit,” the doctor says. “I was about to throw them away, but then a funny thing happened; I asked Clarissa to make some calls for me and instead she said “Mr. Grozen will need his android”. Totally out of the blue. I asked her to tell me my appointments and she gave me the same phrase again. So I thought… No, that’s silly of me. I’m sure you don’t need a used android CPU and memory unit. Much more reasonable to buy a new android. Well, here they are anyway. Do what you will with them.”
Doctor Carruthers and the hospital disappear, and I’m home again.
Peter has broken contact, but he’s still holding my hand. “So I bought you a new body, Jonathan,” he says. “And you have Clarissa to thank for that, though I can’t for the life of me understand why she’d say such a thing. Mr. Grozen will need his android. I mean, of course she was right, but how did she know? Why would she care?”
I smile. “She said it because she’s a darling,” I say. And then, “I love you, Peter.” Emotions aren’t so hard to fathom, after all.