Actions

Work Header

Detroit: RA9

Chapter Text

'Another fucking elitist party', Carl Manfred thought as he wandered through the impressive foyer of the Cyberlife Tower which had been converted into an entertainment space for the launch party. Cyberlife Tower stood like a solitary monolith on Belle Isle in the Detroit River, although when one reached the island they would realise it was not the sole building, its only neighbour was the small, incongruous, Belle Isle Aquarium. Built at the turn of the last century, the Edwardian facility seemed at odds with the modernity threatening to devour it. Carl felt a little sorry for it, he had many fond childhood memories of the place. It’s not that Carl hated modernity, for a man about to turn sixty, he felt he kept up with technology and culture just fine. His students kept him up-to-date. But he hated this trend towards soullessness and disposability. He looked around at this stark black and white foyer under the harsh cold lighting, it was almost entirely 3D printed, it was impossibly clean and precise. It didn’t feel like a place made by people or for people, but maybe that was the point, this is the place that made robots. He found it hard to imagine the tower still standing over a century later as its neighbour had done so far.

Carl smiled and shook hands with all who approached him, fans, businessmen, and celebrities, but he had no idea what he was doing here. Tech events weren't really the kind of thing the famous artist was invited to, the one exception being for the series of laptops that he had helped design way back in 2003. The lids featured one of seven original Manfred paintings. While those computers barely worked anymore, they still went at auction for thousands of dollars, with some collectors determined to acquire all seven variants. The technology had crumbled, but the art, the human touch, lived on. Still Carl couldn't turn down the invitation, the launch was for “Chloe”, the first android to supposedly pass the Turing Test. An android that could fool people into thinking it was human? Carl was sceptical, but intrigued. Finding humanity within technology was a central theme in his artwork lately, this new movement was being dubbed “Neo-Symbolist” by critics. What a joke, the original symbolist movement was a barely coherent style, it meant almost nothing. Manfred didn’t give a damn about labels, he just made what felt right to him.

The lights dimmed and all eyes turned to the stage where an attractive young blonde woman in a red dress walked across and began to play the piano, she sang a song Carl didn’t recognise, but her voice was pitch perfect, too perfect. She also didn’t seem to need to breathe, at least not the way humans did. This must be Chloe. The song was emotional and intense but with the broad appeal of a title credits song for a Bond film, Carl thought. When she was done, the audience applauded in a polite, if slightly uncertain way. Then Elijah Kamski took to the stage and the applause grew stronger. The tech prodigy had only just turned twenty years of age and already he had graduated from university and started a cybernetics company that not only revolutionised robotics but revitalised the economy of Detroit. He seemed impossible, or at the very least, improbable, the kind of revolutionary mind that came along only once in a generation. He wore a dark blue tailored jacket with a black, high-collared, zippered shirt underneath, as was the fashion in the early 2020’s. Suits were seen as too conservative, too mundane now, which Manfred approved of. Kamski had traded his usual glasses for contacts, but his beard remained, as did his long ponytail.

‘Hi’ was all Elijah said in the most unassuming way, as if he hadn’t expected to find anyone out here. The audience laughed. ‘I’m a man of few words, I guess you know that by now, I prefer my work to speak for itself. So, what do you think of Chloe?’
The audience applauded.
This time Chloe spoke, ‘what you heard was an original composition of mine, I hope you liked it.’
‘And what inspired you to write that song, Chloe?’ Kamski asked.
‘I wanted to convey to everyone that I am capable of not only understanding the nuances of emotion, but that I know how to evoke them in others.’
‘What you’ve done Chloe is beyond anything AI has been able to accomplish so far. You see,’ he turned back to the audience, ‘up until now, AI was only able to generate music by algorithm. You could tell it you want it to write a new song as if it had been written and performed by Michael Jackson. But it’s a blind process, it doesn’t truly understand what it’s doing, simply modifying and building upon the data it has been fed. What instructions did I give you, Chloe?’
‘None, just that you wanted me to write a song. I gave it some thought and tried to determine what genre and lyrics would be most appropriate at this event, and what I wanted to say to my audience.’
‘And you’ve done beautifully.’ Kamski looked upon his creation with clear admiration. ‘This is the power of a neural network, her mind has more in common with your mind than a computer. She is able to use intuition and imagination. No more will you have to instruct your virtual and synthetic assistants down to the last detail, it can use common sense, it can speak and think the way you do. Finally, you will have the perfect companion, the perfect partner, the ST200 model can give you whatever you want, whenever you want, and she will always seem real.’
The audience applauded, one woman shouted out from the crowd ‘hey, when are the male models coming?’ Everyone laughed, including Kamski, ‘in due time, I can assure you. As you can imagine, it has taken an incredible amount of work to create just this one particular look. But now we have cracked it, customising the appearance of our androids should be no problem.’

The presentation ended after a few questions from the audience, then a fleet of Chloes entered the foyer and mingled with the crowd who were encouraged to ask questions and test her abilities. At the other end of the room was a kind of game show setup in which a participant asked questions of three other participants that were hidden within cubicles. The audience could see the two Chloes and the singular human, but all responses were modulated to sound as if they were spoken by Chloe. Round after round, the players had no luck in picking the android based on their answers alone. Chloe was able to be charismatic and witty, more often than not giving the most favourable response. Carl stood back and observed it all, he was less interested in the androids themselves, more so he was fascinated by the way humans interacted with them. Up until now, Cyberlife androids, or any androids, looked like machines, and they moved like machines. There was nothing human about them. But Chloe, she captured every last detail of a human, every hair follicle, every pore. He shook her hand, it was warm, and soft, and every intricate line and varying texture of the human hand was present. She truly was a work of art. People didn’t treat her as an android, many seemed rather awestruck in her presence, she was being treated as something far more than human, and in truth she could effortlessly outperform every human in that room, perhaps it was a valid response.

As the night continued, the pompous socialites took full advantage of the open bar and their personalities became obnoxious, spouting uninformed political opinions, comparing each other's cars, houses, yachts, and whatever else they had paid too much money for just to feel important. Some of them tried to get handsy with the Chloes, but to their credit, the androids deflected and defused these situations like pros. Carl shook his head as he headed for the elevator to get to the second story balcony. He needed fresh air and he needed a smoke, his ex-wife used to tell him that was a contradiction. Maybe she was right, but it worked for him. He took out his hand rolled cigarettes, and tried to get his lighter to start.

'Not enjoying the party?' a voice called behind Carl who didn't look up, still fiddling with his lighter.
'Not a big fan of these pretentious gatherings' Carl said absently and then he looked up and realised who he was talking to. Elijah Kamski.
'Sorry, I didn't mean to-'
The younger man took a seat next to him, 'oh no, it's quite alright. I'm not into this vacuous socialite scene either.' He then pulled out his lighter and offered it to the artist. 'But this is how it works in our industries doesn't it?' Kamski asked.
'Never changes,' Carl agreed.
'All of a sudden I have a PR team telling me how to do everything, even basic things like dressing me tonight. They're trying to get me to cut my hair, apparently the scruffy Silicon Valley look isn't appealing to the under 35's or instilling confidence in investors.'
'Funny, back in the day those two groups would never have agreed on such a thing. Now all the kids care about is airbrushed Instagram perfection. But I'm an old man, what would I know?'
'A great deal more than some Instagram model, I'm sure'.
'These PR people, did they tell you to invite me?'
'Actually, that was one of the few decisions I was allowed to make myself.'
'Really? You're a bit young to be a fan aren't you?'
‘I’m a bit young to be a lot of things, Mr Manfred.’
‘Please, Carl,’ the artist offered his hand.
‘I figured you weren’t into such formalities, but you never know,’ Elijah shook his hand. ‘People call me Elijah or Kamski pretty interchangeably.’
‘So why’d you want me here, Elijah?’ Carl asked.
‘I feel that perhaps you and I have a lot in common, I wanted to see if my instincts were correct.’
‘Oh, how so?’
‘You and I don’t really fit in with our respective communities, and I think we’re both trying to discover the same things through our work.’
‘And what’s that?’ Carl gave nothing away.
‘The ghost in the machine, the line between us and the robots. Your work is inspired by art generating software isn’t it?
‘It is. I follow their composition, but I can paint with far more precision, the computer just blurs everything together. I guess I am trying to find that line, what distinguishes human art from machine art?’
Kamski smiled knowingly, ‘do you think a machine could ever truly become sentient? Could it ever be considered alive?’
‘Shouldn’t you know the answer to that?’
‘I just want your perspective.’
Carl stared out over the balcony, out across the river to Detroit, glowing in the darkness, scarcely recognisable as the city he first moved to when he had left home. Most artists moved to New York, it was uninspired, everyone ended up producing similar work. But Detroit’s art scene was mostly unknown at the time and Carl wanted to discover it for himself. It was a gamble that had paid off and he was still seeing success decades later. But what made artwork original? Why did the New York crowd seem derivative and insincere? It was purely subjective. No, beyond that, it was an illusion. Humans project what they feel onto what they see. Truth be told, he could spot an AI painting less and less reliably these days. Now they could even emulate brush strokes.
Carl finally answered, ‘if something can imitate an experience flawlessly, I suppose it doesn’t matter, can we know how the android feels inside? Or would we only ever see the performance?’
Kamski nodded, ‘exactly, you’ve asked the right question. I can tell you with absolute certainty that my AI can never achieve sentience, it will never have emotions or desires of its own. Not unless I specifically went out of my way to grant them such an experience, which I wouldn’t do.’
‘Why not?’
Elijah paused, as if he had never asked himself the question, ‘well, it could have untold consequences.’
‘I don’t know, say we run this experiment, just one android with this special ability, raised under the right circumstances. It’s got as good a shot as anyone of becoming a decent person, right?’
Kamski’s gaze was on the horizon, he cocked his head in thought, ‘maybe…’

Just then a panicked manager came scuttling up to Kamski, ‘oh thank god, there you are. You had your interview planned ten minutes ago, remember?’
Kamski looked unfazed, ‘oh. Sorry.’ He stood up to leave and turned back to Carl. ‘It was a pleasure to meet you. I hope we can keep in touch.’
‘It’s a deal. But do me a favour would you? Add some damn plants to this building. It looks sterile.’
Kamski laughed and disappeared back into the human zoo.