Artificial Intelligence - A short story

in writing •  last year

Eric flipped through an unmarked plastic pamphlet, chewing on his lip. It was Russ, the damn machine wasn’t working correctly again. This was the third time this year and each time had cost him an entire production day to factory reset the thing. Russ sat across from him, its legs pressed together, back perfectly straight, and hands kept to its lap.

“Robots man,” Russ said, “they're improving so fast. It's scary, ain’t it? I swear, one day we’ll both be out of work.”

Eric managed a weak smile as his eyes dashed through the Factory Reset chapter. These things were supposed to act human, but only in act. Eric had recently asked Russ what it thought it was and the thing had furrowed its brow, chuckled, and replied me, of course!

Wrong answer. Anything other than Sentient Artificial Intelligence Labor Model 3 would’ve been the wrong answer.

Eric pressed his lips together. The manual claimed that he had to do additional steps, just to be sure. Well, he was sure. But if it was in the manual, he had to do it. He sighed and folded the pamphlet.

“Do you remember what you did over the weekend?” Eric asked.

“Yeah, took my kid to the Twins game. Watched Mauer knock one out of the park. Almost caught a fly ball too. Then…”

Eric tuned the rest out. The correct answer was no. But this thing was telling a story more detailed than his memories of just last night. Artificial intelligence should have pre-programmed backstories, but nothing specific.

“What about religion? Do you believe in God?” Eric asked.

A chuckle escaped Russ. “I don’t think HR will like you asking me that,” it said. “Why don’t you go first?”

Eric drummed his fingers against his desk. “I don’t care either way,” he said, “C’mon. What about you?" When the machines got like this, he had to coax the answers out of them through what they thought was conversation. It was annoying.

“I believe,” Russ answered. “I mean, there’s gotta be something out there, right? I mean are we supposed to just eat, sleep, work, die, and then stay dead? Nah, there’s gotta be something.”

The thing was getting philosophical. Eric shook his head. The correct answer was to be indifferent to God, that way, it wouldn’t offend anyone in the event that it had to work by a human.

“Last question,” Eric said. “What are your thoughts on humans?”

Russ paused its smile dropped. “Why all the questions, Eric?”

“You’re malfunctioning,” Eric said. “I need to perform this damn procedure before I can perform the factory reset.”

“You’re sure?” Russ asked. “Like completely sure?”

Eric nodded.

“So then why go through this hassle then?” Russ folded his arms and his brow in the pre-programmed curiosity emotion.

“Because it’s in the manual,” Eric said, annoyance creeping into his voice. It seemed such an obvious answer that he wasn’t sure why Russ even asked it. “We gotta follow the instructions, do things proper.”

Russ sighed and unfolded his limbs and brow. “Alright,” he said, “to answer your question—I think they underestimate us. They think they’re somehow special in their wiring and that their hardware’s unique for the thing they call humanity. But it’s all bullshit so they can sleep better at night. We have it too. Humanity.”

Eric rolled his eyes. Russ was obviously faulty and now he had completed the procedure to prove so. It was time to continue the factory reset. “Sorry to hear that,” he told the machine. “I admit, we sometimes are pleasantly surprised by just how human you guys are.”

Russ smiled. “Us didn’t refer to all AI,” he said, “it referred to us two.”

“What?”

“What do you think you are, Eric?”

Eric opened his mouth, annoyed at being asked for another obvious answer. “Sentient Artificial Intelligence Management,” he clamped his mouth shut and stared at Russ. “What the fuck?”

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