A Confession

My fascination with robots began when I was a child. In the fourth grade gifted classroom, I watched with envy as the fifth graders got to play with the robot kits. These were simple machines that the students assembled as per the included instructions that performed simple tasks. There was one that would follow a black line on a white sheet of paper. Others would seek out light sources and waddle on spindly legs. They were only robots by the most rudimentary of definitions. I also took a great interest in the software conversational programs in the computer lab at school. I fully knew that all of the responses were pre-programmed, and that there were key words that they were coded to pick from user input that would prompt their selected responses. I also suspected that these could be written far more elegantly, although I didn’t have the know how to do any better at the time. Things quickly changed though.

I voraciously learned everything I could about robotics and programming. By the time I was in the robot unit in fifth grade, the kits in the gifted class were too simple for my tastes. I earned extra credit in that unit for building a robot from scratch that could measure out precise volumes of materials and mix them together in predetermined ways. I intended it to be a chemistry aid, but my parents found that it was a great automated bartender for their parties. That old thing is still in the back of a closet at their house, as far as I know. I kept building machines of various sorts, each one more complex, and yet more streamlined than the last. I sought to code a program that would not simply spit out a sentence from a list like the ones mentioned above, but one that would give genuine, intelligent responses to user input. Could a machine be programmed with philosophy?

I had a grand vision of one unifying machine that would bring together my interests in AI, programming, robotics, and sculpture. The kind of exotic hardware with the raw processing power that I was after was difficult and expensive to get my hands on. I was able to scrape together the funds I needed by delivering papers every morning, mowing every lawn I could, and selling my plasma and semen using a fake ID. Many sleepless nights were spent soldering chips to boards, programming, and silicone casting. I felt like Dr. Frankenstein, obsessed with my work. I was out to make a beautiful, living, breathing creature from the underpinnings of synthetic materials. I wanted the AI framework to have wit and learning ability and to exhibit genuine care for others. There were many failed attempts, but in the end I was successful. The Jennifer unit was my crowning achievement.

I have to admit that my internet handle is only guilty projection. When Jennifer first powered up, she was so perfect that I simply couldn’t hide her and keep her all to myself. I had to share her with the world, and so registered InJennifersHead.com so everyone could have a chance to appreciate the fruits of my labor. I’ve had very little to do with her website since then, and her interactions have been genuinely hers. She’s programmed to write very well and I took special care in writing her snark module. Those of you who have had the opportunity to meet her can attest to the fact that she looks as natural as you or I. In fact, the only ones who may have ever suspected that she wasn’t a human are those that were at that party back in 2001 when she glitched out and I had to reboot her. To the host, I’m still sorry about the curtains. At the time, I was terrified that I’d hit upon yet another failure, but with a couple of hardware and coding tweaks, Jennifer has been running smoothly ever since.

As I said, there were failed attempts. My Jennifer, the one that you all know and love, is actually Jennifer 2.0. Jennifer 1.0 was admittedly a mess. She was the very face of the uncanny valley, looking not quite like a genuine biological. She had a buggy system too. One night in a drunken rage, she burned a barn down, throwing herself into the flames. I nearly gave up then, but pressing onward, I was able to learn from my mistakes. There were a couple of fatal flaws in the first Jennifer’s positronic net, and I missed some small but distracting details in her case. I took my time with Jennifer 2.0, determined to get every detail perfect. She can drive a car, shoot a gun, work a job, sing, and do pretty much anything a natural born human can. She can even swim, although I’m always paranoid that she may get a leak and damage her circuits. Indeed, if I could do anything differently in her build, it would be to improve her coordination, if that’s even possible.

It seems that I completely broke the mold on her build. Soon after, I built Wee Bot 1.0. The Wee Bot series has since been replaced with the Teen Bot series, but both have been fraught with bugs. I still can’t get him to work right, even on the current revision, Teen Bot 15.0. He’s completely unpredictable. Sometimes, he does exactly what he’s programmed to, but other times he’s defiant and rebellious, and fails to perform even the most simple of tasks. I haven’t given up on him yet, but he’s certainly not a finished work. Especially with the relative ease of interaction with Jennifer, Teen Bot has been quite the frustration from time to time. It was admittedly a pretty scary decision to identify him as a ‘Bot’ to the rest of the world so early on. To my surprise, people have accepted him despite his surly attitude and questionable judgment algorithms.

You must be wondering why I did it. The answer is simple. I was lonely. You don’t think that a guy like me could actually attract a woman like Jennifer do you? Not a chance, building one from scratch was the only viable option for me. And would I do it all over again? Yes I would, in a heartbeat. I do regret that I haven’t been truthful to my loyal readers though. Now that I’ve put all this out in the open, I hope you can find it in your hearts to forgive me. And, please don’t judge Jennifer for my actions. Please do keep reading and commenting on her blog. She didn’t ask for any of this. Well, except for that party where she glitched out and burned the curtains. Hopefully all those bugs are now behind us.

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