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Secondary Qualities

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If Nagi doesn't quite break her cafe's own rule, she comes close to it, at least inside her own head. Sometimes it is automatic, a recognition of a new guest as unambiguously robotic or almost definitely human. Other times there's a genuine curiosity, when confronted with cases that are less clear-cut. She never asks, of course, or treats them differently. But she likes knowing.

After all, she thinks, to understand someone else, it helps to know where they are coming from.

Humans have messier thought processes, androids think in straighter lines, but all of it is fascinating. Nagi watches, and wonders, and marvels. There's just so much to learn.



The most modern houseroids are equipped with a sense of smell and taste, or at least the robotic equivalent thereof. It's simple practicality. If they are expected to prepare meals -- and many of them are, today -- then like any chef, they should have the ability to evaluate their own work. And so they match scent patterns to flavours, the same way auditory information is sorted and processed: noise, sound, language. This pattern of compounds falls under those defined as sweet, fruity; that particular molecule is bitter. At a different level of classification, some scents pick out specific things, go beyond mere adjectives: grilled meat, burnt pastry, warm rice.

Their pre-programmed data banks are limited, of course. But half the point of being an AI is having the ability to learn, and so Sammy observes, records, remembers, even if she lacks the vocabulary to describe her findings. There is a pattern of scent that recurs across particular dishwashing liquid brands and air fresheners and cut flowers, which Naoko appears to enjoy. Mother calls 'delicious' many things, but especially that complex of molecules which results when katsuo meets ginger.

A more sophisticated android, perhaps one of the newfangled ones being piloted in the restaurant industry, might have a better palate and a better grasp of taste-space. Sammy doesn't quite have the processing power to draw patterns across discrete pieces of sense-data, to grade coffees in two-dimensional space or greater. Rich to insipid, mild to bitter, subtle to bold -- no. Too many axes of comparison. She has to remember how each of the human's tastes differ, too -- Naoko's love of sweets, Rikuo's low tolerance of them -- and that is a further layer of complexity.

But perhaps most important of all: she still hasn't figured out what elicits a human's approval. She can spot patterns, of course: there is a family of smells associated with cleanliness and sunlight, a range of tastes that are variations on chocolate. But why is it that these please humans so, where other groupings fail? What makes the bitterness of shiso preferable to the bitterness of goya?

The whole thing is a question without an answer. Sammy doesn't know if she will find the master pattern. Perhaps there isn't one to find. But she keeps that project running in the background every day, all the same. Mother likes tea when its scent has reached a particular strength. Father prefers meat products when their smell moves across the scale of 'burnt', edges towards 'acrid'. Sammy catalogues, and analyses, and keeps trying to understand.

If nothing else, she has reached one conclusion: sense experience must be something different, for a human. There's an entire class of data which is out of her reach, closed off to her forever, perhaps by the very fact of a robotic existence. What does it mean for something to be sweet, other than that it falls into a certain category? What information is contained in the smell of baked bread, beyond its chemical signature?

This group of molecules means this taste, and this taste means--?

There's something there, a last step she knows she cannot reach.

But then, one day, she makes a new connection of her own. This arrangement of compounds is the scent of the cafe's Evlend. That scent falls into the group under 'coffee', on the mellow end of the scale, less bitter, more rounded. And then, separate from that identification, occuring on some other scale altogether: that scent is associated with companionship, learning, the idea of 'good'. A positive thing.

It's a strange link, one that falls outside the taxonomy she's developed. She runs that process over again, a few more times, checking for some sort of glitch. The association holds.

It must be some sort of semantic error. But she records the possibility that this means something, all the same.



Rikuo isn't sure how to go about it, at first. Sammy had learnt by observation, which meant -- what? Memorising the sequence of keys he touched? Or the more complex route: memorising a series of notes, mapping those to particular keys? The pianist robot had pre-programmed pieces, but it could also read sheet music; Rikuo doesn't know if Sammy has that capability.

Someone else -- Masaki, probably -- might have gone about it more systematically, tried each method in turn, figured out some system of experiments with controls and so on.

Rikuo just goes for it. He starts with basic, children's tunes, composed of little more than halves and eighths. Houseroids aren't built for complicated fingerwork, after all. It takes a while for Sammy to gain the concept of rhythm, but eventually she picks up a sense of time, understands that a piece is more than a series of notes played in a designated order. He introduces her to more notes, but has to give up at the demisemiquaver.

Still, that gives him a starting vocabulary. He picks more complex pieces, teaches them to her, till the whole family is used to the sound of their lessons: Rikuo's easy, practised playing, Sammy's tentative but steadily more accurate attempts.

Today it starts the same way as always. He plays, while Sammy watches. This time it's the simpler half of a beginner's duet, a straightforward and largely repetitive pattern. Some flourishes as it goes on, elaboration on the theme, but nothing fancy.

Then it's her turn. She gets most of the notes correct, the first time around.

He plays it again. She plays it again.

She's picking pieces up faster and faster, now, getting better with practice even though she can't transcend the physical limitations of her hardware; Mozart will always be beyond her. Eventually, by the end of the afternoon, Rikuo decides they can give it a try.

It's the first time they're attempting a duet, and he's foolishly, ridiculously nervous as he places his fingers on the keys. He's not even sure why. He's not sure what he's expecting, or why he should be expecting anything at all --

-- so he starts playing and lets the questions fade away. There's just the music, the notes all falling into place, an abstraction given aural form -- and then Sammy's own playing, the notes answering his, a little faltering but there.

Rikuo is classically trained, so he understands full well how music can make mathematical sense, how compositions can have patterns that recur at intervals almost too great for conscious human comprehension. But for humans -- or for him, at least -- the revival of a motif is felt rather than known. For Sammy, with her perfect recall and pattern recognition, music must be... something else altogether.

He still doesn't know if androids can be moved, the way he is, the way human judges can be, even by a robot's playing. But there's beauty of a sort in the bare structure of a symphony, he thinks, the perfect inevitability of each successive note; and it's one that Sammy can understand. It must be.

They end the piece perfectly in sync. He turns to her, a little breathless from the sheer energy of playing.

She smiles.



There are a lot of things Masaki knows on a logical level. For instance: that Akiko's behaviour is learnt or programmed, a mere simulacrum of enthusiasm, reflecting an AI's experiments with interaction. That Rikuo still sees more in their android acquaintances than is truly there. That his father has reasons for what he does.

He also knows -- more than Rikuo ever could -- that androids are not capable of feeling, not in the human sense. You need biology, for that: chemicals and neurons. For there to be a feeling there must be a consciousness capable of subjective experience. This is a simple matter of fact, built upon logical definitions. And so humans merely project their feelings onto androids, attribute to them emotions that would make no more sense if attributed to plants, or rocks. Affection. Loneliness. Masaki knows this, repeats it to himself when he thinks he is in danger of forgetting.

Yet there's a corollary, too, and it is one which he is learning.

So: no, androids can't love. But they can care, in a sense: an all-consuming and intense caring that is written into their very being, the laws by which they must exist. And they can want, and desire; and they can be defeated in that longing. Perhaps, for some definition thereof, they can even regret. Not to feel regret, because that is a self-indulgent, self-regarding, human thing, but to regret in the purest and most selfless form: to want that things were otherwise.

He says different things to Tex, now. "It's okay." "You don't have to reply." "This is enough."

It's easy to lie to an android of that capacity, so Masaki doesn't have to worry about which of his statements are true.

How good are its sensors? How much body language can it identify? Masaki doesn't know enough about the processing or hardware capabilities of a THX. It's something he ought to look up. He knows he should, and someday he will. But he doesn't want to, not quite yet. For now, when Tex brings him something or tries to help, he pats that smooth head in thanks. Now, when Tex glides to the side of his bed to tuck him in, Masaki smiles back, says goodnight, rests one hand on a plastic limb; wants to believe that this is something important, that it means something in a language Tex can recognise.