Day 206: Beauty and the Robot

“I’m telling you, this robot has a soul,” said Elwin. They road their bicycles home from Beetle Park.

“Impossible,” said Scott. “No matter how much a robot emulates a person, they’re just responding to instructions.”

Elwin grimaced. Scott always rationalized. “It’s more than that. He knows things.”

“You don’t get it,” said Scott. “Me and Randal figured this out when we tried to simulate a personality. For a robot to gain awareness, it would have to create something from nothing. There’s no awareness in wires or electricity or silicon, so it would take magic to give it awareness.”

They turned into Scott’s driveway.

“You’ve got to see it, then,” said Elwin. They lay their bikes down in the grass. “Let’s go to the fair and check him out.”

Scott’s older brother, Charlie, drove them to the county fair and treated them to cotton candy and funnel cake.

“Let’s just go on the rides,” said Scott.

“What else would we do?” asked Charlie as he munched on a churro.

“We’ve got to go to the exhibits,” said Elwin.

“Instead of the roller coaster?” asked Charlie. “The skydiver?”

“It won’t take long,” said Elwin. “It’s just to see the robot.”

“Oh, yeah,” said Charlie. “I heard about them. From Japan, right?”

They walked by the pavilion out to the expo tents and wove their way to the cyber section.

“Here it is,” said Elwin.

A robot with a lifelike face of a Japanese woman stood in front of a canopy and greeted them. “Please come in and visit our robots.”

“That’s just creepy,” said Charlie.

“It is not.” Elwin ducked under the canopy and went to the far corner where a robot with a more western face and a full head of blond hair conversed with a man and a woman.

“May I see your ring?” asked the robot.

“Sure, Johnny,” said the woman.

“Johnny is the robot’s name,” whispered Elwin.

The woman held up her hand, and the robot lightly grasped it with its three fingers. A turquoise stone set in the ring’s silver filigree.

“It’s beautiful,” said Johnny.

“See!” Elwin poked his finger towards Johnny. “He has a sense of beauty. You can’t possibly have a sense of beauty without a soul.”

Charlie smiled. “That’s insane.”

Scott wrinkled his nose. “That’s impressive.”

When the man and woman moved on, they stepped up.

“Hi, Johnny,” said Elwin.

“How are you, Elwin? Nice to see you again.”

“I brought my friends, Scott and Charlie.”

“Nice to meet you,” said the robot. It extended its grippers, and they shook.

“Johnny robot,” said Scott. “What made you say that lady’s ring was beautiful?”

“It was beautiful, and it is customary to compliment jewelry to the bearers.”

“But if you compliment all jewelry, you really didn’t evaluate its beauty,” said Scott. “Did you?”

“I evaluated its beauty,” said Johnny. “For example, I informed a lady this morning that her green baubles were gaudy.”

“Oh, how gauche.” Charlie exaggerated a haughty voice.

“Told ya,” said Elwin.

“Right,” said Scott. “Johnny, how do you know it’s beautiful?”

“I have an extensive database of characteristics and combinations that are considered beautiful.”

“Hah!” said Scott. “There it is. He’s just looking up the attributes in a ‘beauty’ chart. No true sense of beauty there.”

Charlie patted Elwin on the back. “He’s got a point, kid.”

“But he really does show self-awareness,” said Elwin.

“You’re so freaking gullible,” said Scott. “I’m going on the roller coaster.” He and Charlie left the canopy and waved Elwin to follow. “Come on.”

“Wow. What a jerk,” said the robot.

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