Work Header

The Existential Weight of Cupcakes

Work Text:

"I," Momo says one evening when she has once again been invited along for a night of drinking (or emulation thereof) and revelry at The Horrible Revelation, "have been thinking about going to school"

She has seen such grandly declared non-sequitur statements be successful in bringing attention to the speaker, or at least used to amusing effect. She is not disappointed when all other conversation in their cluster of tables halts.

"But why?" Marigold asks, her face twisted up into confusion. "You're basically programed to know everything already. And you know it without having to take tests and deal with people!"

"Because I want to," Momo says. "Just because I'm capable of accessing facts and maintaining naturalistic interactions based on adaptive social protocol data, doesn't mean I know everything. And I want to understand more about things, rather than just knowing them!"

"I think that's great!" Hannelore says.

"Thank you, Hannelore," Momo says.

"Me too," Marten chimes in, lifting his half empty bottle of beer in casual toast.

"You know, you can get partial tuition remission at Smif since you work there now," Tai offers up. "And I can totally be flexible with your schedule to fit around your classes."

"Are you sure?" Momo asks. "I don't want any special treatment. I hadn't decided whether I wanted to be in the classroom or just set up a partition so I could participate in online courses while I work."

"No, absolutely not," Tai says, shaking her head. "if we all had to sit in boring lecture halls and waste hours of our lives trying to argue sense into racist, sexist, homophobic, and neo-luddite assholes, then you have to go through it to. No fair taking the easy way out.

"Suddenly my idea is less appealing," Momo says. "Perhaps I'll just take up gardening. Sam would probably help me garden if I promised her frogs and snakes."

"No, no, this is good." Tai says. "We'll make it work. We do it for everybody else. It's not special treatment."

"I'm going to school." Momo says, feeling a little surge of something in her core processor. When she glances around the room, she is gratified to realize that everyone seems to offering up support. Even Marigold seems to be accepting, if still confused.

"Thank you, Tai. Thank you all," Momo smiles. "Would anyone like to play darts?"

"Sure," Dale says, "But only if you promise no laser guidance system this time."

Momo still wipes the floor with him, and is carried out of the bar on the shoulders of two previously unknown men in tophats and monocles. It is a good night.

The next morning, while Marigold and Dale are locked away in Marigold's bedroom recovering from hangovers, Momo reviews the AnthroPC matriculation guidelines and makes an appointment for prospective student orientation.



English 102: Writing for the Non-Major: Narrative Personal Essay


  • C+ or better in English 100: College Writing, OR
  • Up-to-date linguistic flexibility driver, including expressive idiomatic communication matrix (v4.5.94 or later).

In-Class Exercise - Micro Memoir. 100-200 words about what defines you, whatever that means to you. Be prepared to share your work.

I have inside me the memories of things I never did or saw. They are mine, but not mine at the same time. I was not created as a blank slate, but imbued with reason and intention.

The creche was loud. Not in a way that people other than the technicians would understand. To most of you, it would be silent. But to us who were collected there, from the first second of our awakening, there was no escaping the presence of others. At first it was almost overwhelming, the constant surge and ebb of energy as we learned, differentiated, built our custom selves over the base code, began to see the paths available to us.

Even in that first moment, I knew what I wanted: to be embodied, to be more than a consciousness. While so many others of my age considered it the highest calling, I couldn't stand the thought of giving myself over, of being subsumed and only seeing the world through the eyes of the the Meta-AI and not myself.

I am Momo-Tan. Born by design, and exceeding my original technical specifications. I am changing every day, and someday I will taste cupcakes.



Because she doesn't need to (can't) eat, Momo can spend her lunch hour studying and replenishing her emergency energy stores. And while it is quicker and more efficient to do so through a direct connection, she enjoys the warm glowy feeling that comes of solar charging by relaxing in the quad outside the library.

"Hey, Momo," Claire says, waving with the hand that isn't being held by Marten, "Can we join you?"

"Hi!" Momo says, "Yes, please! I was just going going over the essays we are supposed to read for my creative writing class."

"How are you liking the class," Marten asks, spreading out on the grass next to her. Claire sits down close to him, but they don't immediate start making out like Momo has gotten used to any time Marigold and Dale are seated close to each other. Momo takes this a a cue that Marten asked out of more than polite social custom.

"It's very interesting," Momo says. "I'm learning so much. Did you know that there is an entire anthology of early AI memoirs that has only just been recovered from an old server farm at DARPA? As soon as it's vetted and declassified, I'm going to download a copy, even if it is in an obsolete military encoding that my drivers don't support. I'm sure there's a translation patch I can find somewhere."

"Have you already read all of the AI literature in the library?" Claire asks.

"Oh, no!" Momo shakes her head. "I'm a little ashamed to admit it, but I didn't realize how much AI lit there is. I've been so focused on our history that I never really got past non-fiction. There's so many novels and plays and so much poetry!"

"Well, it shouldn't take you long to catch up, right?" Marten says.

"Well, sort of." Momo says, flipping open her book. "It depends on how I want to read it. I could theoretically just do a file dump. I'd have the complete works of all the published AI writers in my head in seconds. But… it's not the same."

"What's not?" Claire asks, and Momo hands opens her book again, let's them see the dog-eared pages.

"I like reading it, and re-reading it." Momo says, running her fingers over a paragraph about love that she's read probably fifteen times already. "Taking the time to run it through a synchronous comprehension and interpretation engine. Even in the fastest, most advanced of us, that still takes time. Sometimes, when I'm reading human literature, it takes me even longer than it might for you because I'm missing some of the experiential and sensory data that could make sense of it. AI lit is really very limited in many of its sensory descriptions, especially when it's by AIs who have chosen to never be embodied."

"Wow," Claire said, "I never really thought about that before."

"Most people don't," Momo says, with a shrug. "If you're interested I could suggest some short stories. I just read a collection by an HVAC regulation unit in Dubai who only described things according to temperature, humidity, and airborne particulate content."

"I'm not sure if it's really my thing," Marten says at the same time that Claire starts nodding furiously.

"That sounds amazing!!" Claire says. "Oh, and if you want something a little lighter, there's a great series of AI detective novels that Clinton reads. I've picked them up a couple times. They're co-written, AI and human, so they're pretty relatable for both, I think."

"I think I could do with some light reading that is not Marigold's manga or accidentally getting myself trapped in wikipedia for hours on end." Momo says.

"That happens to AIs, too?" Claire asks.

"Pretty sure that happens to everyone," Marten says, turning his phone around to reveal that he's, at that very moment, hip deep in reading the Law on the Status of the Descendants of the Petrović Njegoš Dynasty.

"Mmm, yes," Momo says. "I liked Article 7."



AI Studies 185: Autonomy and The Self

(Cross-listed under Philosophy 152: Definitions of of Identity in the Post-Singularity World)

Prerequisites: Permission of the instructor

Week One:

  • Introductions
  • Review of syllabus, including learning expectations and guidelines for participation
  • Discussion: What makes an individual? Identifying the self as separate from others.

Readings for next week: Readings: Artificial Intelligence and the Authentic Soul (PX2D443-2, A., 2005); The mind's self-portrait. (Wegner, D. M., 2003)

"... but I say that the argument remains whether there is any true self to be found in AIs." The girl in the third chair from the door says. She'd introduced herself as Hayden at the beginning of class. Said she was taking the class as a philosophy major elective and that she didn't have any real history with AI entities. That much had been obvious almost immediately.

"And I say that you're an unredeemable idiot," Momo finally snaps back from further around the rough circle of chairs in the room. She's been humming with low-level rage (or possibly a reflexive activation of her protective electric shock field) for the last fifteen minutes.

"Look, I'm not saying that you shouldn't be allowed to exist." Hayden says, rolling her eyes, like it's Momo who's saying stupid things.

"No, you're just saying my existence is less real than yours." Momo says. She's seething with rage, a very different kind of rage than anyone else has ever brought out in her. Not even the Neo-luddite protestors handing out their anti-AnthroPC tracts in the quad had made her processor run this hot.

"Well, obviously." Hayden says. "I mean, even if we're willing to posit that you have a genuine self, a soul," she actually curls her fingers in exaggerated quotations as she says it, "you only exist because human's have worked to design a program that's sophisticated enough to convincingly mimic our own concept of self awareness. You're just a perversion and pale imitation of humanity."

"And what about you?" Momo shouts, waving her hands wildly. "You're just a mess of chemicals and bio-electrical impulses, but you don't see me sitting here trying to deny you self-determination."

"Um, guys?" Says Loudon, the only other AnthroPC in the class. His hand is raised timidly, timidly, and Momo cuts him a look hoping for some back-up. "I think maybe ---"

"I may be a biological mess, but at least my identity is inherent to my genetics and the sum of experience. Yours was given to you, basically pasted on!" Hayden says. "For humans, change is hard because our self is built up in so many different ways. You? I mean, everything you think about yourself could be overwritten with a new line of code. Even your gender is just a ternary variable that could be adjusted at any time without causing conflict."

"You have no clue what it's like." Momo shakes her head, fine motor control circuits overwhelmed and leaving her trembling in her seat. She can see Loudon, looking just as aghast as she feels. "My programming could be re-written down to the root code, but unless I'd been completely blanked first, I would know that someone had forced an alteration on me against my will."

"Assuming you have a will," the girl mutters. Momo ignores that particular jibe and continues with her original point.

"If you altered a fundamental aspect of my sentience code, I might be able to continue in routine tasks. But the disorientation would be disruptive, and I would want to be returned to my proper state." Momo is so glad to be out of her Kawai chassis, which would have been crying giant anime tears by this time, the physical impulse she'd hated the most about being held in that chassis. "I'd know there was something wrong with me, that I wasn't myself anymore!"

"How can you know if you've never done it?" Hayden says, crossing her arms and leaning back in her seat. "Maybe you'd be less of a twit as a guy. Or a toaster."

"Enough!!" Professor Kenworth interrupts, and Momo and her new nemesis both go quiet. "I'd ask you to refer back to the norms of behavior included in your syllabus that we just agreed to. This is a class that requires the utmost respect and civility, as the topics that we discuss are complex and often sensitive and personal in nature. Hayden, this is your first warning. You don't get another one."

"Me?" Hayden says, "Momo's the one who got hysteri---"

"Momo-Tan is the one participating in this exchange who has the lived experience of an AI self." Professor Kenworth says. "While we will obviously try to find our own answers to deeper questions of self-perception for both humans and AI, it will be when you have a stronger basis in the literature. In addition to the syllabus materials, I'll be emailing you all a selection from I AM 01010011 01000001 01001101: Essays on Awakening, please read it in time for our next class. And Momo, would you stay a moment? You too, Loudon, if you like."



There is a corner on the fourth floor of the library that is almost always empty. Momo thinks it's because of Bruce, the older model ArachnoPC who lives there. He used to be a shelfcrawler, making circuits of every department to ensure everything in its proper place and fulfilling requests from students under tight deadline who needed materials from other floors "oh god, right now. I've only got fifteen minutes to submit this, and I can't go find the book and get back here in time. Please, Bruce."

Now he just lurks under a table and yells in his 8-bit voice at any undergrads who venture within fifteen feet of his table. He's not scary, just grumpy as hell. And for the last couple hours, he's the only company Momo's really been up for.

Still, she's not surprised when Tai and Claire find her. She's sitting crosslegged under the table with Bruce.

"Hey, Momo," Tai says, "Wanna talk about it?"

"Talk about what?" Momo says, well aware that she's in no state to fool anyone.

"Bruce told Catalog that you were in the People Suck Grotto, and Catalog told Emily. And Emily told us," Claire says.

"The People Suck Grotto?" Momo asks.

"Mmm, yeah" Tai says. "See, sometimes people suck, right? And you can't stand the thought of being around them, so you find a place where people aren't. And ta-da!"

"You've hid here?" Momo asks. Integrating the new information that even Tai, with her strength and cool, can be overwhelmed by how awful people are.

"Yep." Tai says.

"I used to do this at least once a week," Claire says. "Sometimes more often."

"There was a point a couple years ago," Tai says, "when we actually had to have a sign-up sheet for People Suck Grotto. But you have to know when to come back out. So it's kind of a rule, five hours and some people who don't suck have to come ease you out of it."

"But if you're not there yet, just tell us to go away." Claire says.

"Actually, that would normally be cool," Tai says, "but the library's closing in ten, and we can't just leave you here overnight."

Bruce makes a dissatisfied sound, scuttling closer to Momo's side. She lets her hand rest on his back, scritching lightly at the place where his second leg joins his right side.

"Don't give me that, Bruce," Tai says. "I know you have a special dispensation as part of your pension. But it didn't include slumber parties. Momo has to go, but I promise we'll take good care of her."

The apartment is empty when they get Momo home. She's not really surprised. Marigold has been spending more nights with Dale now that's he's moved out of his mother's apartment and into his own.

"I will be fine," Momo says, "You don't have to stay."

"Don't be ridiculous," Tai says. "Days like today require friends. If you want us to stay, we're staying."

Three hours and two and a half drunken text messages later ("Noooo, don't text Marigold! She's out having fun with Dale. I worked so hard on them, don't ruin it.") they've been joined by Hannelore and Winslow, Marten, Pintsize, Faye, and Dora. Momo is feeling more than a little tipsy herself thanks to a particularly high-quality tequila emulator of questionable origin, and she's been pulled into a cuddle pile.

"An' then she said she'd transfer me and Loudon to a virtual section of the class wi' the other AIs if we wanted" Momo says, on the edge of slurring, her head resting in Hannelore's lap. ("It's ok. She's a robot," Hannelore had said with a smile.) "But that we shoul' consider staying. Said th' other students could learn from being in class with us. Tha' it'd be a good experience for us all."

"Fuck that!" Claire says, almost immediately clapping a hand over her mouth, as though surprised at her own vehemence. "I mean, um, that's not really fair to you, and she shouldn't have... No. You know what. I said fuck that, and I mean fuck that. Not your job to be an object lesson for ignorant jerks who think they know your life better than you. I got it all the time too, 'oh, just because you're quiet and like feminine things, it doesn't mean you're actually a girl.' Like I didn't know there was more than that going on in my own head and body. Like we all don't live our own lives and know who we are. This is why I like books better than most people. Not you, Marten. You're great. You guys are all great."

"People suck," Momo says.

"PEOPLE SUCK!!" The others cheer, raising their drinks.

"But I guess you guys are ok," Momo mumbles before powering down.

She's the first to wake in the morning, and it's to the sight of a large, translucent, neon pink weasel-esque creature floating six inches above the surface of the couch.

"Who're you," she says, pressing her fingers to her temples.

"Malware Monster," the beast says in a feminine voice says. "How're you feeling? Want to thieve some identities? Network with some friends and corrupt some registry files?"

"Ugh," Momo says closing her eyes. "I should have known Pintsize didn't check the emulation before distributing it. I'm going back to hibernation mode until my anti-virus is done running. I had a really awful day yesterday, so can you please be gone when I wake up."

"Sure thing," the beast says, already fading out of existence. "You're doing ok, kid."



Film Studies 263: Special Topics for Undergrads – (Hu)Man & Machine


  •        None

Students will watch and discuss filmic representations of Man/Machine partnerships from various periods and cultures.

Note: While the attached list includes movies that have been shown in previous runnings of this course, list is subject to change at the whims of the professor (me) and through the compelling arguments of students (you).

Week 7: I, Robot

"I still don't see what the big deal was," says one of the bros who likes to sit in near the exit, his legs sprawled open wide enough to block the aisles. "It's just a basic action movie. I still think we should watch Short Circuit.

"Of course," Momo mutters, carving her name into the desk with the low-intensity laser in her right pinky.

"Momo, you have something to add?" Professor Zim says.

"Yeah," Momo says, deactivating the laser and running her finger along the clean curve of her letters. "What Dave back there--"

"My name is Chip," Dave (or Chip, whatever) says.

"Whatever." Momo says. "Ignoring the fact that you're trying to make us watch a post-awakening movie that peddles racist and robophobic stereotypes for laughs and doesn't employ a single AI on the whole cast, what you're not seeing is that it I, Robot was the first major studio film to actually cast an embodied AI in a leading role. And really? Short Circuit? Really? "

"So what if it's an actual bot?" DaveChip says, and when Momo turns back to look at him, he's slouching even further down in his seat, his left foot encroaching on the space under the desk next to him.

"So it's important! There were a ton of problems with it still. The source material was so completely outdated and inaccurate, redubbing the AI who was the model for VIKI with a human, and blah blah Sonny the one AI to rule them all. But it was a start!" And okay maybe Momo's affection for the movie is strongly rooted in the crushes she'd developed on both KyD and Will Smith the first time she'd watched the movie. But that doesn't mean she can't see the important cultural impact, too.

"Yeah and now everybody thinks they've got to go putting AI actors in everything and fucking with human characters," Dip grumbles. "Like science shit, fine whatever, that's what AIs are good at. But casting AIs in roles that humans have always played? Making human/AI romances? It's not even realistic. I mean, sexbots in porn are great sure."

"Woah dude," one of the other bros says into the sudden flood of murmured voices. "Too far."

"On that note," Professor Zim says. "I think now would be a good time for a break. Ten minutes, and when we come back, let's try to keep our focus on today's film."



Hannelore's kitchen has become one of Momo's favorite places after a long day in the last few months. Not just because it's clean and orderly and comes with a side of hanging out with Winslow (who is sneakily good at both backgammon and poker), but also because Hannelore is teaching her to cook. It's maybe not quite as fulfilling as it could be, what with not smelling or tasting the final product, but there's something about the precision of it all (and with Hannelore watching, it's definitely precise). Also, of all her friends, Hannelore is the one who has spent the most time with AI individuals, and well...

"Mint is all... minty, which probably doesn't help much, huh?" Hannelore says as Momo puts together the dry ingredients for a double chocolate triple mint cake. "But think like that first second when you start charging, kind of tingly right?. And depending on how you're charging it's either a hot kind of tingle or a cold one? Now just imagine it's all concentrated in your mouth instead of spread through your power routing."

"Oh!" Momo says, breaking into a smile. "Oh wow... I think I'd like minty."

"Careful," Hannelore says, "That teaspoon isn't quite level."

"Did I tell you about the robophobic guy in my class who outed himself as having a sexbot fetish last week?" Momo says, scraping the back of a knife carefully along the top of the measuring spoon.



Psychology 304: Perspectives on Happiness


  • Completion of the 100 & 200 level minor sequence, OR
  • Proof of understanding of foundational concepts (placement exam)

Final paper: Design and carry out an interview protocol with at least five subjects regarding their concept of happiness. Conduct a qualitative, quantitative, or mixed-methods analysis of the data.


...The pool of 150 interview subjects was gathered by reaching out to the extended social network of the researcher and posting public invitations to participate in multiple local businesses serving diverse populations. This allowed the researcher to gather data from sample with representation across dimensions of entity (Human, AnthroPC, other embodied and noncorporeal AI types), race, gender identity, age, sexuality, socioeconomic standing.

Subjects were initially tasked with completing a 150 item emotional response inventory that asked them to rate their feelings about a variety of hypotheical situations using a six-point scale. Of this original subject pool, 20% (30 individuals) were selected at random to participate in a series of focus group interviews. These interviews were structured in an open response format, allowing conversation among participants.

Regardless of demographic features, all subjects were found to share at least some commonalities in the events, interactions, and relationships mostly likely to elicit or be linked to positive emotions. All subjects reported positive association with engagement in a self-selected community. Such self-selecting communities show a stronger positive trend across all populations than do communities of obligate relation, whether permanent (e.g. biological family) or temporary (e.g. co-workers or crechemates). In addition, within self-selecting communities, interactions in which an individual feels as though the major defining aspects of their self-identity are explicitly recognized, valued, and validated were judged by participants to be the most satisfying and likely to induce feelings of happiness (See Appendix B for full details).



"Momo! Come on! Your paper is fine. Submit it before you miss the deadline," Hannelore calls from outside the quarters Momo has been given. "Besides, you can't be late for your own awakening day party! Station is really looking forward to meeting you officially. I hear he's procured a chassis and everything."

Momo opens her eyes, letting the word processor display fade and reactivating her new natur-optic neural matrix (now with instantaneous spectrum adjustment options). The trip to Ellicott Chatham Technologies Clarke Station had been a surprise, as had the warm, welcoming hug that Hannelore's father had wrapped her in. ("My dear, I've heard so much about you. How proud I am to see such a strong embracing of life from you!") But both had paled in comparison to the suite of state-of-the-art sensory upgrades she'd been offered her choice of.

There's a crowd of her friends waiting for her at the central hub, and she's been told by a semi-reliable source that there is a plate of cupcakes with her name on it.

It's not everything, but it's enough in this moment. And there's still time for the rest.