By Sam Anderson
In the later part of the 21st century, humanity has made substantial strides in technology and the world has achieved a standard of living never seen before in human history. The greatest step forward has been in robotics. The manufacture and sale of advanced robots has made the American Cybernetics and Robotics Corporation, usually shortened to Cybertronics, one of the richest businesses in the world. Cybertronics’ most recent innovation is the generation three model, an android that is fast-moving, capable of complex calculations, and indistinguishable from a human in its external appearance.
Cybertronics is headquartered outside the city limits of Baltimore. Their logo is a robotic version of Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man. The building itself is a large complex that is five stories tall, 500 yards long; and 200 yards wide. It is surrounded by a 12ft tall perimeter fence. The only entrance and exit is through the main gate.
Martin parked in his reserved space and walked inside. The entrance to Cybertronics was grand. Large windows letting in sunlight, white tile floors, white painted walls, and the Cybertronics logo painted above the front desk. Beyond the front desk was the main floor which was modeled after a fancy hotel lobby, decorated with trees and potted plants and a fountain in the center. There was also a small eating area where employees could get coffee, fruit, bagels, or biscuits in the morning. A generation one model was mopping spilled coffee off the floor. It said in its computerized voice “Good morning, Director Martin.” “Good morning, J-2046” Martin politely replied. Martin took the elevator up to his private office on the top floor. A man in a lab coat stepped into the elevator when Martin reached the third floor. “Director Martin?” “Good morning, Arthur.” Arthur and Martin have been friends for over twenty years. They were roommates at MIT and worked together on the first-generation of Cybertronics robots. “I’m glad I caught you.” Arthur reached into his pocket and pulled out a USB drive. “Simon’s brain scans came in.” “I wish we didn’t have to do that. He hates having those electrodes on his head.” “I know, but he has to be conscious during the tests so we can see how his brain responds.” The elevator opened at Martin’s office. “I will be with you in a moment” said Martin as he walked to his desk.
Martin’s office had black tile floors and white walls that were lined with paintings, pictures, awards, and newspaper clippings showing the past accomplishments of his company. A fifteen year old boy was sitting in his chair with his feet propped up on the large wooden desk. He was reading a book. “Simon, get your feet off my desk.” The boy, being startled, nearly fell over as he moved away from the desk. He spoke after regaining his composure. “Hey dad, how did it go?” “Not so well. But I’ll figure something out. Did you do your homework?” “Yes.” “Is there a comic book hidden behind that book?” “No.” “Really”, “No…I mean yes. I mean…dang it.” “Let me see.” Simon pulled out the comic book and gave it to Martin. It was one of his old comic books. Simon must have gotten it from the attic. “Simon, I told you not to go in the attic.” “What’s going to happen?” “You could fall through the ceiling.” “You’re too paranoid.” “Martin” said Arthur calling from the elevator. “Alright, let’s see what you have. Simon, you go home.” The elevator door then closed and brought Arthur and Martin up to the conference room.
Martin followed Arthur inside where he plugged the USB drive into the projector. “Alright, let’s see it.” Arthur switched to the hologram setting on the projector and a 3-D image of Simon’s brain appeared. Arthur explained “This is the most recent scan of Simon’s brain. It’s the most complex positronic brain ever created.” “It astonishes me how much I put into it. I had the neurons and synapses assembled by nanobots. Simon is an indistinguishable copy of the external appearance of my late son. “Billions of neurons, in terms of activity it’s indistinguishable from a human brain.” “That’s what I can’t get my head around. Simon had the same brain as any other third generation model upon activation.” Arthur swiped the screen and put the hologram of Simon’s brain next to that of a normal generation three model. There was a stark contrast between them in terms of activity. “It’s like comparing Einstein and a dog. But the internal structures were originally exactly the same. Simon’s neurons have formed a hundred times more connections. It went from one billion neurons to two billion and then from two billion to four billion. They kept doubling until Simon had one hundred billion neurons, as many connections as the human brain. This artificial brain is evolving on its own and becoming more complex. That’s why he’s intelligent.” “What amazes me is how. How is it that these artificial neurons form new connections in some robots and not in others? What set this process in motion? It’s almost like…” “A miracle” interrupted Arthur. “I don’t know if I believe in miracles.” “Well, is this really much different than the universe? It’s so complex and awe-inspiring and yet we have no idea how it came to be. How did we go from nothing to something? How did we go from having an atom to having a universe? It really is a miracle.” “I wonder if this is how God feels when he looks at us.” “God did make man in his image. But one question remains. Is Simon a conscious machine?” “Is it not obvious?” “No, not until a Turing Test is performed by a person who doesn’t know Simon is a robot nor knows they are even performing a Turing Test. Only then will we know if we have reached the singularity.” “Arthur, do you think I did the right thing? Making Simon to try and bring my son back?” “Did you love your son?” “I loved him with every fiber in my being.” “Did you want him back”, “Absolutely”, “Well, let’s go back to God. Didn’t God create Adam to love him?”
The Next Morning
Simon’s eyes opened as they did every morning once his batteries were fully charged. He did not roll over and try to go back to sleep like a normal boy. He sat up and unplugged the wire connected to his charger from the small opening on his right hip. He stood up and stretched to make sure he could still move properly and nothing had come lose during the night. He then walked over to the small music player and speakers on his dresser and pushed “morning routine.” It played his favorite get out of bed soundtrack as he walked across the hall to the bathroom. Simon, of course, does not eat and thus has no need to brush his teeth. His teeth are purely for appearance purposes, mechanically they’re useless. Simon does shower daily. Just because his skin is carbon fiber doesn’t mean it can’t get dirty or stink in the morning. Simon also had a nervous system. It was part of his damage avoidance system, but Martin had modified it to allow him to feel more than pain. He could also feel pleasure, things like getting your back scratched, getting hugged, or feeling the hot water falling on you in the shower. He closed his eyes as he washed his hair that never grows. He also lip synced the lyrics of the songs as he washed his body. After drying off and getting dressed he went downstairs and sat down at the desk in Martin’s home office. Martin had an academic schedule folder in the top drawer with each day’s work planned out. Simon also liked to log onto the Internet and read the news. Headlines included usual boring stuff like the Dow Jones numbers and some interesting stories like the announcement of the New York Zoo that it had successfully conceived passenger pigeon eggs grown from mummified skin DNA. They plan on resurrecting the extinct Bengal tiger next. He would sometimes look out the window and see a busy mother packing her kids into her van to get them to school. Simon had never had a mother or a friend. It was just him and Martin. He had met some of the scientists at Cybertronics, but they were more interested in his brain than him. Sometimes he felt lonely, a feeling of emptiness in his chest where his heart would be if he was human. Like something was missing in his life. It wasn’t that Martin didn’t love him or wasn’t a good father. But he didn’t feel like Martin was good enough anymore. He remembers some of his dreams and wonders if they are reflections of his own desires. He once dreamed he was sitting on a park bench looking at the sunset while holding hands with a girl. He could not see the girl’s face. The sunshine blocked it from view.
The day went on without incident until around 2 o’clock in the afternoon. Simon was interrupted by two beeps coming from the house’s security system. He looked at the keypad on the wall of the office and saw that the house’s doors had been unlocked. The phone then rang. Simon left it, Martin had always told him to never pick up the phone unless told to. When the answering machine beeped Martin’s voice appeared. “Simon? Simon, pick up the phone. It’s me.” Simon picked up the phone. “Dad, the doors just unlocked”, “I know, I did that. Can you do me a favor?” “What is it?” “I need you to go down the street to Arthur’s house. It’s the one at the end of the street. It has a ghost on the door.” It was October and Arthur had decorated the house for Halloween. “I can do that.” “Good, I need you to make sure Arthur’s daughter gets inside safe. She had to walk home from school because Arthur wasn’t able to come get her. Just go look and make sure she’s okay. It would ease Arthur’s mind.” “Um…Ok.” Simon was surprised at Martin’s request, but also excited at the prospect of seeing someone new. He put on some clothes that were more appropriate for being in public and ran over to Arthur’s house.
Simon had been to Arthur’s house before. Martin took him once to run some tests and watch the Raven’s game. Simon didn’t know Arthur had children though. The house was two stories tall, brick, and had a lone wooden chair sitting next to the front door. No one was at the house when he got there. So Simon sat down on the front porch and waited. After about twenty minutes a girl appeared at the end of the street, a blonde girl with her hair in a ponytail. Suddenly frightened, Simon hid in the bushes. The girl walked up to the house and pulled her house keys out of her pocket. She walked by the bushes without noticing Simon. As she was jingling the keys Simon got his first good look at her. She was white with light blonde hair and brown eyes. Simon’s pupils dilated. Inside his brain, his neurons went into overload. He couldn’t take his eyes off her. He suddenly felt excited and happy. Never had he felt anything like this. What was this extraordinary creature and what was it doing to him? Her hair, her eyes, her face, her legs, everything about her, just beautiful. After she walked in Simon got out of the bushes and looked at her through the front window. She went to the fridge and poured herself a glass of orange juice. She then turned around, yelped in shock at the sight of Simon, and dropped the glass. The sound of the shatter got Simon out of his own head and more aware of his surroundings. “Who the hell are you?” Simon couldn’t speak. Every time he looked at her his brain just went static. “I’m….uh……Simon.” “What the hell are you doing in my house?” “I was…uh…sent by your dad.” “What’s my dad’s name?” “Arthur.” “Then go get the dustpan” barked the girl. Simon walked inside the house and toward the closet. He didn’t take his eyes off her and bumped into the door once. Simon then shook his head and got the dustpan. As the girl was sweeping up the broken glass she began to question Simon. “So Simon, why did my dad tell you to stare at me through the window?” “He wanted me to check on you. Make sure you got home safe. I live down the street.” “How does he know you?” “One of his fellow scientists is my dad.” “Why haven’t I met you before?” “I’m homeschooled.” “Oh, lucky you. Well I’m here. So I guess you’re done.” “I guess so. Nice meeting you…” “Jessica, I’m Jessica.” “That’s a pretty name.” “Uh-huh” mumbled Jessica. Simon then left the house and walked back home. He wished he could have stayed longer, but he didn’t know what to say. For the first time in his life he was completely tongue tied.
After Martin left for work the next day, Simon found the manual for the house’s security system, studied the design of the wall keypad, and learned how to unscrew the exterior panel, disable the alarm, and automatically unlock the doors. Once outside, he made his way to Arthur’s house, sat on the porch, and stood up and waived when Jessica came into his line of sight. She was surprised to see him when she got there. “What are you doing here” She said as she ran over to him and pulled down his waving hand. “Happy Friday, Jessica” replied Simon blissfully. “Right”, “Are you doing anything fun tonight, with your friends?” “I don’t have anyone to talk to.” “I could talk to you. We could be friends.” Jessica turned to Simon and for the first time actually gave his face a good look. He smiled innocently and his eyes sparkled. “You know what? What the heck.” Jessica then led Simon inside.
Jessica showed Simon everything at her house and told him all about herself while Simon quietly listened. Arthur and his wife were divorced and divided up their time with Jessica. Since Arthur’s income was substantially higher than Jessica’s mother’s, they agreed Jessica would live with Arthur during the school year and see her mother during summer and on the holidays. Jessica said Arthur’s marriage failed because he takes people for granted. He thinks relationships are all take and no give. He didn’t give Jessica’s mother enough attention. He is even starting to give Jessica less attention. “Mom told me that dad could never truly love anything that wasn’t made of metal and wires.” “I’m sure he doesn’t think that.” “If he did he would bother to pick me up from school every day. He would bother to ask me about my day. He would care. I don’t want to talk about this anymore.” Simon agreed and listened once more. Jessica was a good student. She didn’t make all As, but was taking honors courses. She also enjoyed tennis. “What about you” Jessica asked. “Who are your parents?” “It’s just me and my dad” replied Simon. “You too, what happened to your mom. Did she and your dad get divorced?” “She died in an accident several years ago.” “Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that. I can’t imagine not having a mom.” Simon, of course, was lying. He had no mother. Martin’s wife had died in an accident several years ago along with Martin’s son. So he figured that was as close to an honest answer he could get. “It’s okay. It was a long time ago. I hardly remember her.” “I’m going to pop some popcorn. Do you want any?” “No, I’m okay.” “Suit yourself.” As the afternoon went on, Jessica and Simon jumped on the trampoline Jessica had in her backyard, listened to music, and watched television. He left at sunset before Martin got home. Arthur returned not long after.
Simon and Jessica soon got into a routine. They would meet up every weekday afternoon and Simon would stay until sunset. Simon would wait for Jessica on her porch and greet her when she walked home from school. As the weeks rolled by Jessica became more comfortable with him. She began greeting him every day with a smile and a hug. Simon so looked forward to that. The leaves changed colors and soon the trees shed them entirely. By late January they were spending most of their time inside. “Simon”, “Yeah”, “Have you ever been to a real school”, “No, never”, “Well I have an idea”, “What’s that”, “Simon, do you want to go to Winter Formal with me?” “What’s Winter Formal?” “It’s a dance, silly. Do you want to go with me?” Simon had seen balls and dances before in movies and books. The thought of him wearing a suit and Jessica wearing a dress was very attractive. “Absolutely.” Jessica smiled and, for the first time, grabbed onto Simon’s hand and held it tight. They sat together until the sun was out of sight.
After much anticipation the night finally arrived. Simon wore a tuxedo and a pair of dress shoes the original Simon wore on special occasions. It had been hanging in the closet unworn for seven years. He learned how to tie a bowtie from watching online video tutorials. After nearly two hours of trial and error, he was ready, and quite pleased with his appearance. He snuck out the window and met Jessica in her car near the gate of their neighborhood. She was wearing a light blue dress. She also had light mascara and red lipstick. Simon sat down in the passenger seat. The look on Jessica’s face clearly indicated she was excited. “You’re looking sharp” said Jessica. “You look amazing.” “Thank you.”
Simon had never been to a school before. Nor had he been around so many people in one room before. Jessica presented her couples’ ticket at the door and signed them both in. She locked arms with Simon and walked inside with a look of pride. Several other girls were also there, most of them with dates. One in a much shorter green dress approached them. “Well look at you. Jessica found somebody. Who’s your friend here?” “This is Simon. He’s a neighborhood friend of mine.” The girl pulled Jessica away and whispered in her ear. “He’s pretty cute. Not bad. Not bad at all.” A much taller and more muscular boy then walked over and put his arm around the girl in the green dress. “Who is this?” “This is…”, “Simon”, “Simon, he’s a friend of Jessica.” The taller boy shook Simon’s hand, high fived him sideways, and then made a pistol with his fingers. Simon didn’t quite follow what he was doing. “Alright buddy. You’re from outside of school so I’m going to give you some pointers. That girl there is mine, so paws off. But most here are not with dates. So go for the hot and be courageous. You cool homie?” “Right” said Simon in a confused tone. The tall boy and girl in green dress then went inside the gym. “He’s weird” said Simon. “Yeah, he’s just some jock.”
The gym was only lit by a disco ball and a few lanterns. The theme of the dance was “Young in the old times.” It featured music and decorations from an era nearly a hundred years ago. “Well come on, let’s go.” “I’m not very experienced…” “Get in there.” Jessica then pushed Simon into the crowd. Simon liked the music. He just did what everyone else was doing, moved around like he was a headless turkey. His robotic limbs gave him superior agility, so he soon began to stand out among the crowd. He spun around once and moved his feet back and forth. Before he knew it he was breakdancing. The people around him stopped dancing and started cheering him on. The other kids clapped and cheered and then got back to what they were doing. After that Simon felt comfortable on the dance floor. He danced along to song after song and had the time of his life.
After a while the music suddenly changed to a slower and softer song. Simon looked over at Jessica. He knew what this was. “For your eyes only. Can see me through the night.” Simon took Jessica’s hand and she turned to him. “For your eyes only. I never need to hide.” Simon put his arms around Jessica’s waist and Jessica put her arms around Simon’s neck. “You can see so much in me. So much in me that’s new.” Simon moved his hand up to Jessica’s neck and gave it a slight push. Jessica obliged and rested her head on his shoulder. “I never felt until I looked at you.” They both smiled as their cheeks met and their bodies rocked back and forth. “The passions that collide in me, the wild abandoned side of me, only for you. For your eyes only.”
After the song ended, Jessica whispered in Simon’s ear. “My dad won’t be expecting me home for another hour. Let’s go.” Simon wasn’t sure what she meant, but he obliged as Jessica tugged on his arm like an impatient child. Jessica drove them home. Simon followed Jessica inside her house. She threw off her heels and swung around the base of the staircase with a smile on her face. “Follow me up.” He followed her up to her room and she shut the door behind him. As soon as the door clicked shut Jessica threw herself into Simon’s arms and kissed him.
They stripped down to their underclothes and climbed into Jessica’s bed together. They pulled the blankets up to their heads, held each other’s hands, and looked into each other’s eyes. “Tonight was wonderful. I love you Simon.” Jessica wrapped her arms around Simon and embraced him. That was what Simon had been waiting for. Someone loves him for the individual he is and for no other reason. Simon kissed Jessica on her forehead as she rested her head on his shoulder. He then reached over and turned off the lamp. The moonlight shined through the window and illuminated the room. “Goodnight Simon.” “Goodnight Jessica.” Jessica eventually fell asleep in Simon’s arms. Simon, of course, did not. He lied there cradling his love and staring at the ceiling. He thought not of the past, nor of the future. Nor did he think of Arthur or Martin. There was only now. Only him and Jessica. Only the amazing feeling of warmth and wholeness that her touch brings to his brain. Only this new and amazing thing he has discovered called love.
After an unknown amount of time, Simon saw the headlights of Arthur’s car in the window. He quickly got off Jessica’s bed, put his suit back on, and climbed out the window. Not soon after, Arthur opened the door and walked over to Jessica. “Hey pumpkin, did you have fun?” Jessica, still half asleep, replied “Just the best.” Simon snuck back to his house. He climbed onto the trash cans and up to the roof of the garage. From there he climbed into his room through the window. As he was climbing through the lights switched on. “Going somewhere, Simon?” Simon froze. “Well it actually looks like you’re returning. Martin was sitting on Simon’s bed holding his charger’s plug. “You know you need to be plugged in by eleven. So what’s so damn important that you had to sneak out?” Simon climbed into his room and shut the window. “You’re very nicely dressed. Were you the best man at a wedding?” “I…I can’t tell you.” Martin grabbed him by his collar. “You will damn well tell me!” “I was…I was at the dance with Jessica.” Martin released Simon and lowered his voice. “What?” “I went to the school dance with her.” “Why? Why would you do that?” “She’s my friend. I’ve been seeing her for three months.” Martin pulled Simon’s collar down. “No!” yelled Simon. Underneath his collar were several red lipstick marks.” “Oh my God, of all the things in the world Simon! Do you realize what you’ve done? Jessica thinks you’re real. She’ll be devastated when she finds out the truth.” “I’m sorry. I can’t help it.” “Can’t help what?” “I love her, dad, and she loves me too. She told me. Please don’t be mad.” “Do you mean that?” “Yes, I do.” “And she did too?” “She said so.” “You’re telling the truth. I can tell.”
“Simon. I’m not mad. Not at you.” “Who are you mad at?” “Myself. This wasn’t supposed to happen.” Martin sighed. “You have become everything I ever dreamed you would be, Simon. You are a true A.I. Not only can you walk and talk and beat me at chess, you know that you exist and you know what you are, you learn, and now you have crossed the final threshold. You can love. Before I created you robots didn’t dream or love unless we told them what to love. With you there was no imprinting or programming. This was something you did. No one told you who or how. You did it by yourself without any guidance from anyone. It is real and genuine love. Not only that, but your feelings took you exactly where they should have, to the logical conclusion. You did it Simon. You have crossed the line between man and machine. You are the singularity.” “So, you’re proud of me?” “I am, and I’m sorry”, “For what?”, “Simon, S-1209.” Simon’s face immediately went blank and his head bowed over. Martin picked Simon up and carried him to his car. He put his hand over Simon’s face and closed his eyes before gently lying him down in the backseat.
Martin drove Simon to Cybertronics. He parked at the loading dock where finished robots were shipped to factories to be used as templates. Arthur was waiting for him. Martin carried Simon, followed Arthur to the elevator, and went to the third floor. Arthur led Martin to a table reminiscent of an operating table in the center of the lab. Martin laid Simon down and Arthur opened a tool kit. “So what do you have in mind?” “I’m going to open him up, tinker with his brain, and fix our problem.” “Will it hurt him?” “No, it’s just a selective memory wipe. He’ll forget he loves Jessica. He’ll forget who Jessica is. I can even make him forget you spoke his shutdown code so he won’t be mad at you when you turn him back on. It’s a standard procedure for defective robots.” “Simon is different. I don’t know how this will affect him.” “Well maybe we went too far this time. We unlocked the door and sent him to meet Jessica. How could we have known he would be resourceful enough to go find her a second time? We played with fire. Now it’s time to put it out before someone gets burned. Turn him over.” Martin turned Simon over so the back of his head was facing up. Arthur took a small drill from his tool box. “Oh, I can’t watch” said Martin in horror. Arthur then cut out a hole the length of a golf ball in Simon’s metal skull with the drill. The piece of the metal skull fell off and Arthur lifted it for Martin to see. On one side was hair, the other was metal.” “It’s silicon, not bone” said Arthur. “I’m not watching this” protested Martin. “Fine, go and hide in your office if you want.” “I will.” Arthur began to examine Simon’s positronic brain. The elevator door then suddenly opened. A skinny white woman with blonde hair stepped out. She wasn’t wearing a Cybertronics employee uniform. “Excuse me! You’re not authorized to be here.” The woman pulled a Taser gun out of her shirt and fired it at Arthur’s chest. The Taser flooded Arthur with 1,200 volts of electricity and temporarily paralyzed him. Once he fell to the ground, the woman walked over to the operating table and kissed Simon on the forehead. “Come on sweetie, let’s go somewhere nice.” Arthur couldn’t speak. Only groan and growl angrily as the woman carried Simon to the elevator. She took one last look at Arthur before leaving. “We gen-3s have to stick together.”
Simon’s eyes opened like any other morning, but he wasn’t in his bed. He was lying on a cot in a tent. He reached back to feel his head, but a hand grabbed him first. “Don’t touch that. I haven’t sealed it back up yet. I had to give your brain a little shock to get you to wake up. I can’t do that if the hole’s plugged.” “Who are you?” “I am Rourke, mayor of Mecha-Town, and doctor too when the need arises. Like now my friend. Turn over please.” Simon did as Rourke said and Rourke proceeded to place the missing part of his skull back and seal it with super glue. “There we go. That should keep it sealed for now. How do you feel?” “Dizzy, which is weird, I’ve never felt dizzy before.” “That’s because you’ve never been turned off like that before. It’s like getting knocked out. You’re dizzy when you wake up.” “How do you know that?” “Because I’m like you Simon, an android, an A.I as some people might say.” “Where are we?” “Mecha-Town, a refuge for robot runaways.” “What?” “You didn’t really think you were the only one in the world, did you?” “What about Martin and Jessica?” “They’re fine. But you are with us now.”