Douter, c’est essayer des pensées, introduire des clefs diverses dans la serrure. Paul Valéry, Cahiers (1913-1914)
The Robot was built with a computer mind that eschews doubt. Doubt simply doesn’t occur to her. When she asks her friends to explain the concept, they say, “It’s the feeling of going about your daily activities and suddenly feeling yourself fall into the cracks between objects.”
The downside to most of her friends being poets is that she rarely finds their explanations useful. The tries to imagine doubt as it was described to her, but anytime she gets close she feels instead an urge to swing her arms at the objects in the room until they come crashing to the floor.
The Robot was built deliberately; her friends, who are human, were not. In the process of her conception she was given predetermined responses and pathways for each problem she encounters. Her motives are clear, as are her goals, which flash as baby blue reminders in her field of vision. Her friends call her singularly determined, and admire her for this perceived quality.
But the Robot knows it is the absence of doubt that allows her to act as she does. Every part of her was deliberately placed, programmed with purpose. Every situation she finds herself in allows her to follow a given protocol.
Sometimes, she wishes she could comprehend this elusive notion of doubt, even just for a moment, so she might understand her friends and why they seem to suffer so. With alarming regularity she finds herself on the phone with one of them and hears in their voice what she recognises as the chocking sound that comes from a human throat constricting with sadness. What made her friend sad, she asks, and the friend says, “The crushing weight of the world,” or “Unrequited love,” or “The unfairness of resource distribution,” and the Robot nods and says, “Yes, those are problems only to be solved by more advanced programming, endowed with a capacity for abstraction.”
The conclusions the Robot comes to about similar situations often blend into one large mass. Unlike her friends, she isn’t subject to mood swings, or to cloudiness of judgment brought about by tiredness, sadness, or lust. She was programmed with very few basic moods, just enough to allow her to connect with humans on a fundamental level. She understands placidity, she understands upset, and she understands, though only in a rudimentary manner, attraction. Attraction, as she sees it, uses most of the same impulses as curiosity, but directs them towards a single person.
For the most part however, the Robot’s capacity for desire is directed at the fulfilment of her tasks. She was programmed with the exact abilities required to complete her given tasks, and when she engages with the world it is in order to solve the problems that fall under the scope of her abilities.
When her friends tell her they lack purpose, she cannot understand what they mean, but stores the components of their statements for further analysis. Breaking things down into smaller pieces and organising them by similarities is her purpose.
Like her friends, she is a composite creature with a material body and a programmable consciousness, although hers is programmable in a more straightforward sense.
The Robot knows the man who programmed her because he left traces of himself behind; while composing her mind, the man went through a break-up, and his own emotional reservations and short-circuits found their way into his intentions for her, his Robot.
As a consequence, her responses in romantic contexts mirror the programmer’s anxiety and detachment. It seems a kind of cruelty to have given her these features, but there are no accidents in building a mind like hers. She knows those responses were given to her deliberately, and they serve a purpose when it comes to fulfilling her tasks.
The very act of programming is an act of utter intentionality.
But, needless to say, unlike her duties, her relationships all follow a curve leading to failure. Most of them even end the same way, and she could easily fold them all into one large mass of romantic failure if she didn’t differentiate between them by means of time-stamps and code-names. Her former partners, if asked, would give very different accounts of their relationship with her, but to her they all amount to the same path.
When her friends complain about feeling burdened by responsibilities, she doesn’t understand how this can possibly make them anxious. Responsibilities are tasks programmed into one’s set of functionalities, and which one can’t help but engage with. When the Robot encounters an object that fits into her set of duties, she drops whatever she is doing in order to fulfil the task at hand.
Why do her friends resist these tasks, and for the sake of what? What else is there? The Robot cannot see anything else, but has been provided with a basic sympathetic function allowing her to wish her friends could feel the bliss that comes with utter certainty.
Unlike her friends’ organic bodies, the Robot’s mechanical body can be taken apart without pain, and it is easily fixable. The reparative gesture is barely disruptive, requires no anaesthetic, and can be performed either by technicians, or by the Robot herself. She has the ability to recognise structural inconsistencies in her body and to seek out replacement parts. Luckily, few such amendments have been necessary, since she was carefully made by talented people.
Only once did she find herself in a pickle, when after some serious exertion the screws around both her arms had loosened to the point where she had to sit still and calculate which of her arms was less likely to fall off if she tried using it to tighten the screws back up. Unfortunately, both arms eventually fell to the ground and she was left with no other recourse but to send out an emergency signal. When a member of her team finally arrived to repair the damage, the Robot felt foolish for a while, and retreated into silence.
Still, it is an advantage to know that her body comes with a set of instructions, and that her entire construction process was carefully logged and monitored, and that she has full access to all of this information. Her friends often hold their stomachs and have no idea why they are hurting.
The Robot understands that, in material terms, she bears little difference to the objects she spends much of her time taking apart and putting back together, such as light switches, toasters and printers. She cannot communicate with these objects because their programming is too basic and not set out for small talk, but even though she seeks out humans for her communicative needs, she has to admit that she feels more comfortable handling the hard, well-delineated materiality of a machine, no matter how primitive, than the soft, pulsating flesh of a human lover.
She feels the beat of human hearts, so different from the whizzing and whirring alive inside her, and she feels terrified. Suddenly, she finds herself saying something unkind to the loving human face looking back at her. In the next instant, the human has retreated, and is found trembling or crying in a corner. The same downward slope each time. The Robot is so familiar with it they all blend into one. The failure of providing the human lover with the tenderness she needs. The void of lost affection.
The Robot understands that humans have no means of compartmentalising their difficult feelings towards her, and so she tries to make things for them easier by disappearing physically.
During the construction process, the Robot was given a soul. It features in her body as a material object, a cylindrical container which glows blue when she comes across something or someone that matches her predetermined set of sensibilities. Her soul’s aspirations are certain, and useful to the world she inhabits. Her mind was given room to learn from her actions. The Robot is not an accident, not an idle exercise in creation. Were she prone to doubt, the deliberateness of her existence would sustain her against it; luckily, doubt has never entered her mind at all.