Solution Race

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The timer rang, and Eileen turned the box on its side. An eclectic arrange of toys and small devices spilled out. She paused, processing them.

The parameters for this contest were vague. The items needed to be “solved,” but it was up to the robots to determine what that meant. Luke had said that was the real test here. Her ability to put those solutions into effect was just a metric.

She identified one item as a Rubik’s Cube. Six sides, nine squares to a side. Nine squares of six different colors. It would be trivial to figure out even if it wasn’t already in her database.

The sub-process only took a few milliseconds to calculate. She committed each side to memory. She let the process take over her hands as she looked at the other objects.

A chime went off and people cheered. Eileen looked up at the scoreboard. A white dot had appeared next to Atlas’s name. She turned to face the partition that separated her from him.

It was a waste of processing. The purpose of the partitions was to prevent robots from imitating the progress of others.

She had finished the cube, so she put it aside. None of the other items were in her database, so she grabbed the nearest one to study.

Four buttons in the standard four colors made a circle around the middle. Green meant go. She pressed that one, but nothing happened. She worked in a clockwise circle. The small device made no response.

There was another chime. Pandora had a dot next to her name now. It took Eileen a moment to process that she didn’t have a dot. She dropped the device and picked up the Rubik’s cube again.

Her sub-process had been sloppy, and stopped one step short. Some people laughed as she made the last rotation to complete the puzzle. This time, there was a chime, and she looked up again. Now she had a dot, but so did most of the other robots, and both Atlas and Pandora had two dots now.

She examined the device again. There was a switch on the bottom. She flipped that, and the buttons lit up. She pressed the green one again, and the yellow button across from it lit up with a beep. She ran through several dozen meanings for green and yellow before settling on traffic lights. Next came red.

She pressed the button, and it made a harsh buzz and all the lights flickered. Eileen recognized that meant she had made a mistake.

She pressed the green button again. This time the blue button lit up. That was to the right of the green button, and the yellow button was to the right of that.

Wrong again.

More chimes came. She should move on to a different object. She wasn’t certain why she didn’t.

This time, when she hit the green button, it lit up again. She pressed it one more time, and the green button followed by the blue button lit up. Pressing those two buttons got the sequence to repeat itself with a third button added on—green again.

She smiled, understanding now. Each of the buttons had a different tone, too, so she sub-processed this to her left hand. She took a few extra milliseconds to double-check it. Then she reached for the next object: a box filled with plastic polygons.

“And Buzz has completed the challenge!” Jordan Day announced. Eileen looked up at the scoreboard. Buzz’s name had changed to a gold color with sparkles rendered across it. Six dots were next to it. Atlas and Pandora were both at four. Six robots had three dots and two robots were still at two. Only Eileen was at one.

She confirmed that her sub-process hadn’t made any errors, then dumped the box out in front of her. Getting higher than eight place at this point was statistically unlikely, but she wouldn’t let herself come in last.

Team John Henry

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A young man sat, not quite looking at the camera. He wore a dress shirt, stark white against his dark skin, but it clearly didn’t fit very well. About half a second in, he jumped.

“Oh, right,” he said, now focused on his theoretical audience. “Hi, KickStarter. My name is Steve Jones. And this is John Henry 2.0.” The camera moved with a jerk until a computer monitor could be seen next to Steve. A rendered human face was on it. It had rather generic looking features, and a low resolution. “Say hi, John.”

“Hello, Rebecca,” a harsh, automated voice said. The face moved about half a second too late.

“Not to her, to the audience. This is going up on the internet.”

“I understand. Hello, Mr. or Ms. Internet. It is nice to meet you.”

Steve smiled, but it was a little pained. “John here is a fully operational AI system. But, as you can see, he’s not very smart.”

“Hey!” the robotic voice said, and the face displayed frowned.

“It’s not your fault, John,” Steve said.

“I know. It’s yours.”

Steve let out an embarrassed laugh. “As you can also see, he does have a functional personality matrix. None of this was scripted. All John needs is a systems upgrade. Better processors, more RAM, that kind of thing.” He paused.

“And a body,” a woman’s voice said, barely audible in the video.

“Right! A body. You see, we want to enter Michael in the Prometheus Challenge. Only we couldn’t find a sponsor. But we’ve spoken to a manufacturer, and they can build John Henry’s body in plenty of time to meet the entry deadline. So… um, well, we need money, obviously, or I wouldn’t be making this video. It’s going to cost two million dollars, but obviously the more we get, the better. If we can get enough, we can use better materials and stuff. There should be a chart on the KickStarter page. And anything left over will be used for maintenance and stuff…”

He pulled at his collar. “What else… oh, right. Prizes, or pledges, I guess. John, can you tell them about the pledges?”

“Of course. At the lower levels, we have Team John Henry bumper stickers and patches.” His face faded away, revealing a stylized logo of a hammer smashing an old-fashioned steam engine. Then the face reappeared. “I don’t know what those are, but Steve told me to show them to you. Rebecca likes them, too, so they must be good. Higher pledges include invitations to Prometheus Challenge events as guests of Team John Henry, a personal visit from me, once I have a body, and even three honorary membership positions on Team John Henry. The highest pledge will let you decide what my face will look like. I would like to recommend David Tennant.”

Steve gave a mildly annoyed look over the camera. “So, there we are. This is a long shot, but we want to prove that innovation belongs to the people of the world, not just the megacorporations. Say good-night, John.”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t have a body yet.”

“It doesn’t…” Steve took a breath. “I’ll explain it to you later.” He made a slashing gesture across his throat, and the video stopped.

 

“Probably should have done more than one take,” Jack said, a grin on his face.

“It’d do more harm than good,” Luke said. “Every take they do, John would be more rigid in his responses. They needed to make sure it was clear that he’s actually an intelligence.”

“Can we help him?” Eileen asked.

“You know he’d be your competition,” Luke told her.

“Yeah, but he seems sweet. Ooh! If we give them enough money, we’ll get to meet him!”

“If he’s in the Prometheus Challenge, you’ll meet him anyway.”

“Can we get a Team John Henry bumper sticker then?”

“You can’t…” Luke started, then turned to his brother. “I don’t have time to explain it. You handle it, Jack.”

RobotiCon

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“Do you think Eileen’s going to be okay?” Mae asked.

Jack laughed as he pulled into their assigned parking spot. “So you’re one of those mothers. Eileen will be fine. Her diagnostic is going to take sixteen hours. We’ll be back long before she reboots.”

Luke had unfastened his seat belt before Jack had finished parking. “This is going to be so amazing! I can’t believe we’re here at RobotiCon.”

“Luke, we’ve been coming to RobotiCon since you were ten. We met Mae at RobotiCon.”

Luke shook his head impatiently. “I know, I know, but that was as attendees. We’re actually going to be on a panel this year!”

When they walked on to the exhibit floor, they were assaulted with sights and sounds. Thousands of people milled around booths displaying some of the latest advancements in robotic technology. One booth displayed plans for a deep sea research center, while another had a life-sized model of the Curiosity rover.

“Big crowd this year,” Luke said, looking around.

Mae nodded. “It’s from the Prometheus Competition. Everyone’s excited for it. George says it’s going to be the highest rated launch of a reality TV show ever.”

“How cute,” Jack smirked, looking at a humanoid robot that could do backflips and cartwheels.

“You know Eileen still needs to crawl to go upstairs, right?” she said.

His expression turned a little sour at the reminder. “Yeah, but she can do all this, she just needs to learn how.”

“That’s impressive, though.” Luke pointed to where a young woman was taking unsteady steps. Her legs were encased in metal frames, and the sign behind her proclaimed that she had been born paraplegic. “Man, Eileen’d flip if she could see all this.” He glanced back at the cartwheeling robot. “No pun intended.”

“Eileen would overload and shut down before she could process one tenth of this,” Jack said, “if she didn’t crash first.”

Luke frowned, “I heard Atlas is going to be here.”

“He’s going to be at the panel,” Mae said, “not on the floor. He can process the audience as a single element, or he might just be instructed to ignore them completely. There’s no way he’s evolved enough to take in all this.”

“I know,” a woman standing next to them said. “My friend keeps insisting that all the contestants are going to be secretly wandering the floor, but Atlas is the oldest, and he was only booted up three months ago, and there’s just no way even he could be ready for all this.”

Jack looked at the woman. She was maybe old enough to be in college… maybe. She wore a white, sleeveless jumpsuit with “2.0” printed on it. All of her arms were painted to look like robotics, although the paint on her hands was heavily smudged. Her red hair was clearly dyed and pulled back into a high ponytail.

“Are you supposed to be Eileen?” he asked.

She beamed at the question. “Yep! The pictures only came out two weeks ago, so I really had to hurry to put this together, and I couldn’t find any shots of the back of her upper arms, so I had to do some guesswork, but it’s pretty…” She trailed off, her eyes going wide with surprise. “Y-you’re Team Matsu, aren’t you?”

Jack and Luke just stared at her, but Mae smiled warmly. “Our first fan girl.”

The fan stammered incomprehensibly for a moment before thrusting her hand out and muttering “Erika Rose.”

Mae and Jack each shook her hand, trying not to laugh, but when Luke stopped mid-shake, thinking. “Erika… you’re not eRose from the RoboBattle forums?”

“That’s me,” she said, “although they might as well rename it to the Prometheus forums and… wait, are you TinkerMan47? You actually are Luke Ferris? I know you said you were – well, you never actually said it, but you kinda hinted at it a lot, but we all thought you were faking. No offense, just none of us thought someone from the Prometheus Tournament would be slumming it in our forums.”

Luke had to pull his hand out of hers, but he was still smiling. “I was in the RoboBattle forums long before I was part of the tournament.”

“You must think I’m a total spaz,” she said, “but I’m not really like this, really. Normally I have a real problem talking to people at all and now I can’t shut up.”

“It’s fine,” Mae said, patting her on the shoulder. “It’s a little hard for us to believe, too. When we got into robotics, we didn’t think we were ever going to have to deal with this kind of publicity.”

“I still can’t believe we have an Eileen cosplayer,” Jack said, shaking his head.

Erika raised an eyebrow. “A cosplayer?”

Eileen Awakens

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“I’m sorry,” George Mallins said, with the embarrassed tone of someone asking a question for the fifth time, “I still don’t see why this is such a big deal.”

Jack clenched his fists, but he relaxed when Mae put her hand on his shoulder. They were all protective when it came to Eileen, but Mae knew George was on their side. He did his best to shield them from the pencil pushers, but even he had limits.

“Okay,” she said, “the simplest way to put it is that once we turn her brain on, we can’t directly program her anymore. There’s a lot of stuff she’s going to have to learn the hard way. The walking algorithm, for starters.”

“Walking doesn’t seem that hard,” Mr. Pens sniffed. Pens was exactly the type of person they relied on George to deal with. Pens lived in a world of price tags. She could see him mentally calculating the costs of every piece of equipment they had bought on Matsu Inc’s dime. She had the disturbing impression that he had a dollar value attached to her and her partners, too.

Luke, who had even less patience than his younger brother opened his mouth to say something, but George cut him off.

“She’s quite beautiful,” he said, gesturing at the head that sat on the work table. “She looks a bit like you, Mae.”

Mae smiled. “She’s the theoretical child using the genes of all three of us.” She squeezed Jack’s hand as she said this. “We had a couple dozen composed, and this is the one that the boys liked the best.”

“A bit vain, isn’t it?” Pens said.

“It didn’t cost Matsu Inc. anything,” Luke snapped.

“This is just a mockup of the face,” Jack said, as if nothing happened. “Just plastic. The artists working on the real one sent it over so we could make sure all the measurements line up before they start work on the psuedoflesh. Five dollars of plastic will likely save us thousands in the long run.”

Pens didn’t smile so much as he frowned less, but he nodded in approval. Of course, Mae thought, that’s the exact opposite of what this demonstration was. This was going to delay the project by at least a month — putting them dangerously close to Prometheus Competition deadline — just to show that they weren’t sitting around wasting the company’s money. This proved that Luke was right; no one read the weekly reports they sent in.

“Well, let’s turn it on and be done with it,” Pens said.

“We have,” Luke said, trying (and failing) to keep the frustration out of his voice. “The initial bootup takes ninety-seven hours. We turned her on four days ago. She should be finished soon.” He didn’t add that while she was booting up, very little actual work could be done. In fact, one person had to be on watch at all times, in case something went wrong. Luke had just finished his last watch shortly before Pens came, and he was clearly tired. He insisted on being there when Eileen woke up for the first time, though, and Mae couldn’t blame him for that.

Seven different monitors surrounded Eileen’s head, different status reports flowing across each. The largest one, just off to one side switched to show the robotic face that lay underneath the plastic. That meant all the computers were done assisting the bootup. A few processes in Eileen’s brain needed to finish, but those would take a minute or two at most. She was about to wake up.

Jack whispered something to George, who nodded.

“While we’re waiting,” he said to Mr. Pens, “there’s a bit of paperwork I’d like to go over with you.” He drew the pudgy bureaucrat off to one side, out of Eileen’s line of vision.

The shutters in Eileen’s eyes dilated and contracted several times, adjusting to the light. Her eyes swept around the room, locking on to each of their faces for a brief moment before moving on.

“Hello world,” she said. Jack snickered at the joke he had programmed in.

“Hello,” Mae said, stepping forward. Eileen couldn’t turn her head, but her eyes focused on Mae. “Can you tell us who you are?”

“I am an artificial construct,” she responded, her voice emotionless, “built by Jack and Luke Ferris and Mae Kwong and funded by Matsu Incoporated for entry in the Prometheus Competition. My artificial intelligence is running an advanced version of the Ferris platform.” Then, quite suddenly, she smiled, and her voice filled with warmth. “My name is Eileen.”

“How do you feel?” Luke asked. There was a gentleness to his voice Mae had never heard there before.

“My primary systems are all running at peak performance, but…” She became worried. “Most of my auxiliary systems appear to be offline. Only my mouth and eyes’ motor systems are working, and ninety-eight percent of tactile sensors are failing to report.”

“Well,” Luke said, kneeling down so he could look her in the eyes, “You don’t have a body yet.” He reached out and brushed her cheek. “Can you feel that?”

She smiled at the touch. “Yes. The tactile sensors are not responding well, though.”

“They’ll be better once you have your real face on, I promise.”

“I think I will like that. Will it happen soon?”

Mae could see Luke’s face reflected in one of the monitors. There were tears in his eyes as he smiled at her. “Very soon. Go to sleep, Eileen. When you wake up again, you’ll be complete.”

“I’ll have my body, too? My motor systems, and tactile sensors?”

Luke nodded. “Yes.”

Eileen shutting down wasn’t very obvious. She didn’t close her eyes. She just stopped moving. The only way they could truly know that she was in sleep mode was the large monitor switched back to reading out status reports.

“I trust that’s enough for the shareholders?” Luke asked, his voice harsh again.

“It will do,” Mr. Pens said, clearly not overly impressed. Mae felt a little sorry for him. He didn’t even realize the significance of what he had just witnessed. Eileen had demonstrated desires. Even George knew what a big deal that was, but Mr. Pens just saw price tags.

As George showed Mr. Pens out of the lab, Mae turned to Jack. He hadn’t said anything since Eileen had been turned on. He just stared at her now still head in wonder.

“WOOHOO!” he suddenly yelled out. He grabbed Mae and kissed her, then went back to screaming in jubilation.