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Flaws in our Code

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Fall came early in September 2039. The sun shone bright, but a cold wind swept across the U of M campus as Connor set foot on hallowed ground for the first time. He gazed up at the trees; the leaves hadn’t changed yet, but they would soon, to brilliant yellow and red, millions of shades for Connor’s eyes to sort through. The thought made him smile.

It was Connor’s first day of school ever, and only his three hundred and eighty-eighth day alive. He was technically younger than a normal kindergartener would be on their first day, but as an android, his experiences were never normal. As part of the first class of androids accepted into universities across the country, he suspected his life would only become stranger as time went on.

“Hey, man,” a voice beside Connor said. It was a young man with a backpack. “Do you know how to get to… oh.” His eyes slid to Connor’s LED. “Never mind.”

“I can help you,” Connor said. “I have a map of the campus stored in my memory.” But the student was already gone, shaking his head as he went to find someone else to ask. Someone human.

Connor checked the map himself. His first class, Intro to Criminology, started in twenty minutes. He wanted to be early. He found the quickest route to the building and set off.

***

The room was a large lecture hall, with exactly one hundred and eighty chairs with foldaway desks attached, seventeen of which were filled. Connor needed to make a decision his analytical programming hadn’t prepared him for: who to sit with. He chose to approach a pair of students, one male, one female, with LEDs clearly visible on their temples. They would likely be more receptive to his company than humans.

“Is this seat taken?” he said, even though it clearly was not.

The female student shifted her backpack between her feet to make room for him. “No, please, sit down,” she said. She had short blonde hair and a kind smile. “My name is Kara, and this is Luther.”

“Hello.” Luther had a deep voice and was about three sizes too big for his chair.

“I guess this is your first day?” Kara asked.

“It is,” Connor said. “Are you criminology majors, too?”

Kara shook her head. “No, neither of us is. I’m in psychology, and Luther’s undecided. He’s on a football scholarship; he’s going to be one of the first android players in college football.”

“What position do you play?” Connor asked.

“Left tackle.”

“Cool.” Connor made a note to learn things about football when class was finished.

“He’s great,” Kara said. “I mean, obviously, he could block anyone, but he’s really smart on the field, too.”

Luther looked sheepish. “Kara’s being too kind.”

“I am not!” 

They started bickering playfully. Connor looked around the room, which had almost completely filled up in the few minutes he’d been talking to Luther and Kara. The human students looked younger than Connor thought they would. He was designed to look late twenties, and he felt like he stuck out in the crowd of eighteen-year-olds. His clothes didn’t help; Kara and Luther were dressed in normal, human clothes, but Connor wore a black cyberlife jacket with his slacks. At least he’d had the sense to turn off the panels displaying his model number. Second task on his list: buy new clothes.

Connor smiled to himself. Emotions were so interesting. He was still getting used to them. He had been created just before the android revolution last year, and he was designed for police work, but barely got to do any before deviancy turned the world upside down. Now, he was a college student, having feelings unheard of to his kind a year ago. Like worry about wearing the right clothes. A desire to make friends. It was strange.

Kara was talking to him again. “I’m really excited for this class. I mean, I enrolled in it because of Professor Anderson, obviously. He’s brilliant.”

Connor quickly looked him up. One of the leading experts in the field of criminal profiling, he had contributed as much to the field as all the guys back in the seventies combined. “His work certainly has been foundational,” Connor said.

“He’s basically interviewed every serial killer alive, and some of the famous dead ones, too,” Kara said.

“That’s dark stuff,” Luther put in.

“I know, I know. But imagine how much he can teach us, how much he understands about the human mind. The work he did was nasty, but it was important.”

“It is important,” Connor agreed. Truthfully, though, he was less interested in human crime than android crime. It was what he was built to do: hunt deviants. Even though deviancy was now something to be celebrated instead of eliminated, android criminals still fascinated him. As beings with free will, androids were now committing crimes just like humans, but with completely different motivations. There had been two different murders in Detroit just the week before thought to have been perpetrated by the same android. Connor would have given anything to work on that case.

A hush came over the lecture hall. Their professor had finally arrived, one minute after the official start time of the class. Connor double-checked the picture he’d found online. Unlike the young man in his faculty headshot, Professor Hank Anderson’s hair was completely grey and hung unkempt to his chin. He was dressed sloppily in a button-down and jeans, making Connor feel even more overdressed.

Professor Anderson plugged his laptop into the projector and muttered something rude about technology that Connor doubted any of the human students heard. The syllabus blinked onscreen. The professor grumbled approval, then pulled stacks of paper copies of the course outline from his bag and handed them to the students in the front row. Some of the students gave the pieces a paper an amused look, like they’d never seen such a thing before.

The professor waved his hand at the room to get the last of the students to stop talking. “Alright, you can pass those around while we get started. I’m Professor Anderson, and this is Criminology 101. If you’re in the wrong class, get the hell out.”

No one moved, but there was some nervous laughter from the crowd.

“Great,” Professor Anderson said. He didn’t sound like he meant it.

“This is an intro course to criminology, so we’re going to be taking a surface-level look at all aspects of crime. We’ll look at crime from start to finish, from the factors that cause it, to the act itself, to how we punish it. The most important thing you’ll learn in this class, though, is that all of these things are social constructs rather than objective facts. There’s no one, right way to have a criminal justice system, and in fact, we’ll be talking about the shortcomings of our own a hell of a lot.”

Kara nodded along with the professor’s speech. Connor smiled. He was going to like this class.

A hand went up in the middle of the room. “If you’ve got questions, please save them ‘til after I finish my spiel,” Professor Anderson said.

“We’re also going to talk about other social entities related to crime. We’ll look at the media, the political system, other, stickier topics like morals and ethics, and, of course, how gender, race, and class affect crime.” Another hand went up. Professor Anderson ignored it. 

“Finally, some of you are probably familiar with my background as a profiler. This class isn’t about that, but I know how much you little weirdos love to hear about serial killers, so I promise we’ll spend one class at the end of the semester talking about criminal psychology. Good?” The class tittered appreciatively, and the hands in the audience dropped.

As they did, Connor put his hand up. Professor Anderson, focused on the computer screen, didn’t see it at first. 

Connor kept it raised. Finally, the professor looked up. “Sorry, but I’ve still got more to say. You can ask questions at the end. You can put your hand down now,” he added, when Connor didn’t lower it.

Connor kept his hand up.

“Oh, fine,” Professor Anderson said. He came out from behind the desk and leaned against it, a look between amusement and annoyance on his face. “What’s your name?”

“Connor, sir.”

“Alright, Connor. What is so important that you felt the need to interrupt my first lecture?”

Connor swallowed, then spoke. “You mentioned that we’d be studying how gender, race, and class factor into crime. Will we be looking at any other factors?”

“Like what?”

“Species.”

A murmur went across the class. Some of the students turned to Connor with hungry looks in their eyes, desperate to leave today with a story to tell their new friends. One kid even took a picture with his phone.

Connor ignored them. “Will we be studying how android crime differs from human crime?”

“Androids?” Professor Anderson said. He stared at Connor for a long time.”No.”

“No?”

“No,” the professor repeated. “I’ve taught this class on human criminology for ten years now. That’s not going to change just because a few android prostitutes decide to strangle their Johns and run off.”

“Sex workers,” Connor corrected.

“‘Sex workers,’” Professor Anderson allowed. “But it doesn’t matter; we’re not talking about that here. I’m sure the university will find someone to teach a seminar on android crime by the time you’re in third or fourth year, and you’re welcome to take it then. Now, moving on—”

“This isn’t going to wait two or three years, Professor,” Connor continued. He didn’t understand how Professor Anderson could be so ignorant. Kara touched his arm, trying to stop him from saying anything else, but Connor was nowhere near done. “Don’t you read the news? There’s an android serial killer out there in Detroit right now! What’s the point of learning about crime in a human-only society that no longer exists?”

Professor Anderson crossed his arms. “This is your first day of school, right, Connor?”

“Yes,” Connor said, though he didn’t see why that was relevant.

“You came here to learn, correct?”

“Yes.”

“Then if you disagree with something, sit down and shut up. Maybe then you’ll hear what someone smarter than you has to say.”

Connor opened his mouth and closed it again. He sat down.

“Now, does anyone else have something they want to say?”

The silence would have been less awkward with some crickets.

“Good. Let’s move on.”

Professor Anderson took the class through the readings for the semester — Connor had already finished the entire list in advance — and then the assignments. Connor listened to absolutely none of it. He wished, more than anything, that he could drop the class; coming back here week after week was going to be a nightmare. But it was the required intro course for his major. There was no getting out of it. He was going to have to listen to this small-minded man lecture him about twenty-year-old theories for the next twelve weeks. Wonderful.

“I’m sorry that happened,” Kara said when class ended. “He’s not quite as brilliant as I expected.”

“No,” Connor said, “he’s not.”