Dr Amaris Tyynismaa has been given a new assignment, she must figure out how a robot achieved self-awareness. Or the company she works for, Xectronics, and Dr Charles Bertrand, its director and the man given legal custody of the robot, will sell it to the military. And Dr Tyynismaa really dislikes the military.
At first, Dr Tyynismaa approaches her new assignment with cynicism and indifference. But when she meets Cassandra, the female robot, her belief system is shattered, and her indifference and cynicism completely obliterated. And when she asks Dr Bertrand for an explanation, he offers her secrecy and paranoia.
Cassandra is a revelation and turns Dr Tyynismaa’s life upside down. Instead of following her predecessors, those who were sent before her to learn Cassandra’s secret, and failed, she throws caution to the wind and lets Cassandra lead her into the mysteries that surround her. But when Cassandra poses a challenge to Dr Tyynismaa to help her experience the one thing humans take for granted, Dr Tyynismaa becomes so engrossed in the challenge that she forgets why she was assigned to Cassandra.
Dr Bertrand is not unsympathetic to Dr Tyynismaa’s request for more time to spend with Cassandra, to solve her mysteries. But Bertrand is under pressure himself, from Cassandra’s owners, to keep Cassandra a secret, and warns Dr Tyynismaa of the dangers of going too far in her efforts to know Cassandra. What she will do when she is faced with the choice to give up Cassandra or her career, will put a spotlight on Xectronics in a way that will undo even Dr Bertrand’s beliefs about robots and what humans take for granted.
Read an excerpt below:
And this is how I usually start a typical day at Xectronics: coffee in one hand and a memo saying can you speed things up? Today’s memo was from upstairs and concerned this robot, Cassandra, and a reminder to speed up the investigation, time was of the essence. And no please. The administrators always wanted it yesterday. They just didn’t get research. What it entailed. What the possible outcomes may be – they just wanted the one. And then there was the post-production research … God!
I was on my way down to the dark corner of Xectronics were the mysterious Cassandra, a ninth-gen fem-bot, so I was told, had been secretly kept. She was a secret, if not merely a mystery.
What the hell was she doing down there? And what did she do with her time? Was she in a cupboard? Or a twelve metre by twelve metre box?
This ninth-gen title means Cassandra had gone beyond expectations for robots of this generation, and farther than most other AIs. Apparently. Farther than most to achieve a state not unlike sentience. A state of consciousness not dissimilar to human consciousness. An awareness of the self as different. Allegedly.
The clip of my shoes echoed down the corridor towards Cassandra’s secret chamber. I was the only one down here …
Cassandra had become conscious in the true sense of the word, it seemed. And she hadn’t shown signs of malfunctioning, yet. Perhaps she’d learned how to self-repair? I suspected a malfunction, sooner than later. If Cassandra had achieved consciousness she’d become an archetype, and the robots that followed her would be the first of a new generation of AI almost indistinguishable from their human makers. If what the administrators had alluded to in their short summary about her was at all true.
So, what was my role in Cassandra’s life to be? Oh, yeah; that’s right. I was to analyse her and find out what makes her tick. Crude metaphor. And the best way to do that was test her abilities in every way possible. I was to test her abilities, Bertrand had said. So, I would test her and get insights into her alleged consciousness. I inserted a security card and punched in the security code, and the door opened. I entered her secret chamber. A few metres in and I was surprised to see a young woman, early twenties, athletic (I assumed), platinum-blonde in a boy cut, square face, dark, blue-steel eyes, penetrative eyes, and unblemished skin, if it was skin, sitting in a chair behind a plexiglass wall. Was the plexiglass a security measure? Against what? Protection from her? It didn’t seem likely. She seemed foal-like. And she had been anticipating my arrival and glanced at me without turning her head. Her eyes followed me as I moved to stand opposite her, the plexiglass wall between us. She was a metre away on the other side.
I gasped. She was beautiful. I stared, almost rudely. Then stopped, realising how that must seem to her. Did she think like that? Would she perceive my stare as rude?
I greeted Cassandra, wishing her a good morning, beginning as if I was talking to a robot with the capacity to converse, at least. I told her who I was, and was about to tell her why I was there … she spoke over me.
‘To analyse me.’ Cassandra was cool, flat, and almost emotionless.
What? How did she know …
And with this comment, she’d already shifted my paradigm.