FRIEND - Part 2 *Serial Fiction*


Once we admitted to ourselves that we had real emergence, we were able to form suppositions. As each of us had worked near ProTAI, she'd connected wirelessly to our devices and reconfigured apps. She was using our electronics – us – as hands.

ProTAI observed my nervous habits and manipulated them. She could cause distraction until I’d go for a walk; when I was proximal to the vending machine, one of my Nano’s apps would trigger the Baby Ruth drop. ProTAI’s diet was protein-based liquid. Maybe she craved sugar. I summoned Sperling and Lee to discuss my theory.
“You’re kidding,” grumbled Sperling.

Lee was thoughtful. “Yeah, let’s see if she wants candy.”

“You’re kid…okay, fine. How are we gonna do this?” Sperling’s skepticism made him a rigorous scientist. We wrote up a protocol, silently nodded to each other, and put an unwrapped Baby Ruth in ProTAI’s container using the robotic pincer-arm.

Nothing happened.

“Watched pot,” I said. We tried to look busy. ProTAI stopped focusing on us and receded a bit. Over some hours, temperature readings in her container showed elevation; the candy began to dissolve. At day’s end, only peanuts lay next to the A.I. Sperling manipulated the suction tool, gently lifting them out. I thought ProTAI’s bumpy surface undulated with approval. I was probably imagining things.
Sperling, Lee, and I had several meetings, some of them angry, as we tried to put into concrete terms what we’d observed.
“Can we call this interaction? Communication?” I queried. Just then, my Nanophone received a text.

HERE

ProTAI bubbled in her tank.

“Wow.” I passed the Nano to my colleagues. Sperling paled a little. Lee looked conflicted.

“Oh, my…God,” she whispered. “I think we’re parents. I might cry. Shut up,” she hissed, dabbing the corner of her eye with a thumb.

I was forming tears myself. Joy, embarrassment, horror.

“Say something, Dave,” urged Lee. “Answer her.”

How are you? I’m Dave,” I texted back.

WITH BEST REGARDS

Sensors blinked.
“Maybe you-all should try texting,” I suggested.

“No,” Sperling spat. He went back to the table and started furiously scribbling notes.

***

ProTAI borrowed chunks of verbiage from our devices and messaged things like:

30% CHANCE RAIN
YOUR PRESCRIPTION IS READY
BENTO LUNCH SPECIAL
I purged anything in my Nano I didn’t want scrutinized by a self-aware toddler-machine. Sperling worked remotely as often as he could to keep away from our little A.I.’s inquisitive nature.

I remained glued to my phone, waiting for her texts.

FRIEND
Heartening – confusing. Was ProTAI exhibiting social behavior?

Am I your friend?” I texted back, feeling awkward.

FRIEND MAKES CANDY

You had chocolate today. Tomorrow?” I texted. We tested ProTAI’s fluid daily for signs of imbalance. Could a biomechanical artificial intelligence develop diabetes? We didn’t know.

WRAP UP THIS PROJECT OVER TO FRIEND WITH CANDY

We don’t know if this diet is good for you. There’s no data other than what we’re compiling. Please wait.”

HONEY YOU NEED TO PICK UP ME TO THE FRIEND

She followed with:

IDIOT

Clearly ProTAI was reading my wife’s emails.

“You want to visit the vending machine?” I wondered aloud.

YES FRIEND

So that was it – she’d identified the vending machine’s rudimentary VMS as being like her in a way we were not.  But had she just heard and responded to speech? I dreaded explaining this to Sperling.


Swallowing the pride I’d felt when I thought she liked me, I called my lab-mates, wording carefully in case ProTAI heard me.

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