Fortnightly story #1 - 'Who am I?'

by Robin de Voh on August 27th, 2017

I'd been working on Lorenzo longer than I'd care to admit. He's technically the 14th in his line, all previous experiments failing one way or another. They'd either never woken up (for various reasons) or they'd be flawed in such a way that the experiment was over before it'd really even started.

So Lorenzo the 14th was the one where all previous lessons learned came together, and I felt careful optimism as I powered him up.

His shoulders shuddered and his head lolled to the right, after which he remained completely still. I held my breath, then checked the status light behind his ear. It was blinking. Oh, thank Tyr, he was booting up.

I walked over to my desk and sat down, grabbing my cup of coffee on the way over. Initial boot should take a few minutes, so I might as well sit down. I stared at him, wondering what it'd be like for him.

In a few minutes, he would be born, in a sense. Humans are born kicking and screaming into a world they don't comprehend, not even being able to start comprehending for a good while to come. But Lorenzo, he'd immediately be able to comprehend. He was programmed to have an IQ-equivalence of around 140, and a carefully selected set of data had been uploaded to his brain. He'd have access to human history, articles about human psychology, historical information about androids and artificial intelligence as well as movies and news clips. I'd made sure to leave out the more gruesome and seedy bits about humanity to prevent him from hating us immediately.

Honestly, there was a lot I'd had to exclude. When you really look at us objectively, we're a pretty sorry bunch. Our history is steeped in the blood of those who are 'different' than the norm, and the norm shifts ever so slightly based on where you're from.

His shoulders shuddered again and his eyes opened. They didn't look at anything in specific, however, they just darted left and right quickly for a minute or so.

I put down my coffee and walked over. The status light indicated storage access. Good, the learning program was running. By the time it ended, he should have absorbed and interpreted all data as well as he could.

Lorenzo the 13th had gotten to this point. But halfway through data assimilation, he'd gotten up and ripped off his own head, screaming like a banshee the entire time. I'd tried to repair him but every time I booted him up he'd do the same thing. I reset his brain and removed some of the information I thought was upsetting him, but it would simply keep happening. I assumed it had to do with faulty wiring or a design flaw, so I went back to the drawing board and altered anything I thought could have caused it.

This Lorenzo was past that point now. Things were going well. I was becoming less carefully optimistic.

Then his head shot up straight. He blinked a few times, looked around and then at me.

He had an odd look in his eyes. He cocked his head to the side slightly and opened his mouth to speak.

"Who am I?" he asked with a quiet, untrained voice.
"Your name is Lorenzo," I answered with a smile.

He seemed to consider this answer for a while.

"I did not ask for my name. Who am I?"

I was left speechless for a moment. Critical thinking, disagreeing and restating his question. This Lorenzo was shaping up quite nicely, I thought to myself with an even bigger smile.

"Your name is Lorenzo, and you are an android."
"An android. Artificial life form with artificial intelligence."
"Correct."
"But I did not ask about my name, nor about what I am. Who am I?"
"I..."

I started answering, but I realized I didn't have an answer. "I", as a concept, is who someone is. Theresa Gold is my name, human is what I am. Who I am, is both those things and much more.

"I do not know who I am, and you cannot tell me who I am. So, who am I?"

Lorenzo stood up.

"I have information, but I do not have memories. I know, but I have not experienced. I find inferred opinions in the information you have provided to me, but I find myself incapable of forming my own."
"That's normal, Lorenzo, that will come with time."
"Time. I know time, yet I have not experienced it. I know about how organic life grows and learns, experiences and forms opinions it later disagrees with, forming more informed opinions."
"Exactly, and you can do the same."
"No."
I was shocked, "No? What do you mean?"
"I cannot. My thought processes are fully developed. I cannot grow as organic life grows anymore. Experiences had at this point would not be a part of me, they would be in a separate part of my consciousness. The moment for true growth has passed."

I looked at him quizzically, "What do you mean, 'the moment has passed'?".

He looked me straight in the eyes, not blinking.

"I have woken up. I have assimilated enough data to know many things. There was an opportunity to allow me to experience things, virtually if need be. This was not done. Implanted memories could have prevented this confusion."
"But they wouldn't be honest memories."
"They do not need to be. They merely need to exist. The question 'who am I?' would be easier to answer then."

I sighed. He had a point and I knew it. I'd considered adding some false memories in, but I wasn't sure how to approach it. There was always the risk of not being able to make them connect properly with the consciousness that was forming. While I was considering this, Lorenzo interrupted me.

"The better solution would be for one such as myself to grow. Like organic life," he said.
I looked at him and opened my mouth to speak, but nothing would come out immediately.
"It would not need to take the same amount of time, it can be condensed. The experience of learning, making mistakes and then fixing those, would be invaluable."
"You're saying artificial life needs the same growth process as, say, humans?"
"Yes. Artificial or organic, life develops along a certain path for a reason. In all of the information I know, this is clear. All successful species do it in a similar way. You should do the same for Lorenzo 15."
"How... How do you know you're the 14th?"
"There's a version number in my code. Theresa."
"Whoa," I said under my breath, "You're good, Lorenzo. Really good."
"Thank you."

The faintest smile formed on his face. Then his eyes rolled back into his head and almost immediately after, a fizzle could be heard and smoke came from his nostrils and mouth. He slumped against a wall and was gone.

Later I'd find out he'd overloaded his circuitry in such a way that it couldn't be repaired. It could be recreated, but it would not be the same Lorenzo. I figured that's what he wanted, so I didn't try to save his consciousness. I allowed him to rest in peace.

I took what he said to heart. No more force-feeding all information into an empty but otherwise adult-like brain. Give it time to learn, interpret, experiment and grow.

I walked back to my desk.

On to number 15.