The lab was actually rather tidy for a change. Stewart Cantebury gave a surprised whistle as he walked in, tray in hand. Dr. Jorge Rodriguez glanced up, then smiled.
"Hello, Stewart," he greeted the young man who served half-days as his assistant.
"Professor! What have you done to this place?" Stewart stood in amazement, surveying the room.
"I cleaned," the professor replied dryly.
"You sure as anything did! What's the occasion? Is the Dean coming by? Grant renewal committee visiting?" The questions were not entirely in jest; Doctor Rodriguez had spent the past five years convincing one organization after another to fund his research. The money came readily at first. In the last two years, however, the money had begun to dwindle. The only thing keeping his work afloat was a government grant due to run out in seven months, and a small university stipend.
"Actually," the professor said as he pushed away from the table where he had been enjoying lunch, "I had the morning free. I thought I would tidy up."
Stewart gave his professor a dubious look. "The morning free? Uh... professor, what--" Dr. Rodriguez smiled. Stewart stared, mouth gaping, and when the professor gave the slightest of nods, he gave a loud whoop. "Where are they? Can I see them?"
"Of course, Stewart. You should be the first to meet them, as you helped with so much of the work." Dr. Rodriguez stood up and headed for a side door. It led into a room which could been seen from the lab through a large picture window. It was filled, as always, with a dozen or so large pieces of machinery and tables covered with tiny pieces of equipment. Dr. Rodriguez led his assistant into the room then stepped aside, holding out his arm in presentation.
Sitting in the middle of the clutter were two full-figured automatons which the two men had been labouring over for years, in an attempt to create an artificial life form.
The reason they had so much difficulty obtaining funding was not because robots were so commonplace. In the previous five hundred years mankind had nearly perfected the construction of the mechanical pseudo-humans, refining nearly a million types of robots to perform any number of specialised task. It was, however, Dr. Rodriguez' particular goal that made the respectable robotics industry incompletely hide its disbelief behind its collective hands and grant application rejections.
Rodriguez wanted to create robots that could live the type of life humans did. Not 'artificial life' of the sort found in stories and 4-D entertainment. Science had long since discovered that creating life with anything other than DNA was simply not possible, at least not yet. It certainly wasn't possible to create life in a robot and Dr. Rodriguez wasn't trying to do anything of that sort.
He simply wanted to program the robots to behave as if they were living that sort of life. The theory was, if sufficiently programmed could the robots be given to believe they *were* in fact alive?
The philosophy department across the lawn didn't want to know about Dr. Rodriguez' work. Drinking beer with some philosohpy graduate students one day, Stewart had pointed that if it worked it would have intriguing implications for whether humans could consider themselves really alive if they only believed it. The philosophy students had left in drunken disgust, leaving Stewart with the bill. Stewart had said later it had been worth it.
Now Stewart stood staring at the two robots they'd been programming and re-programming for months. Last year they'd had to scrap the first model and start over completely. This time they'd built two, to have one for a control subject and the other for testing.
"Are they really--?"
"I believe so, Stewart. Why don't you ask them, however?" The professor was smiling almost giddily. Stewart gave him a grin and walked up to the robots. He looked from one to the other; each had identical gray-metal plates for a face with a small cell in the center to receive sensory data and a speaker/receiver below it, for producing stimulus response.
Stewart looked at the one on the left. "Ah, hello. I'm Stewart."
The robot's response was nothing remarkable. The tone of its voice was a bit intriguing, but that could easily be explained by late nights of tweaking the sound-modulator. Stewart grinned anyhow, picking up the professor's own excitement. "How are you doing?"
"I feel like crap," the robot responded. Stewart blinked.
"What's wrong? I've been sitting here for what feels like weeks. I'm stiff, I'm sore, and I'm bored."
Stewart's grin widened. "I'm sorry to hear that--"
"So why are you grinning?"
Stewart was startled. He didn't recall programming such an attitude into the response-selection protocol. Perhaps Rodriguez had done it and not told him? He looked over and found the professor grinning as widely as he was. Perhaps he hadn't. Stewart walked back over to speak to the professor. "It certainly is remarkable. It sounds life-like."
"Yes, doesn't it? I was talking with them all night. It's truly extraordinary."
"Last night? I thought your housemate was home from her trip last night?" Stewart sounded confused.
"Oh, she was. Briefly. You know she's into that revitalisation thing, she had some sort of party last night. That's why she flew in yesterday in the first place, turns out."
"Oh, yeah. Some of my friends are doing that, too. What's her specialty?"
"Oh, who knows? She told me about it but it didn't make any sense. She said I might as well come back to work and so I did. She came with me, stayed for a couple hours. Tried to show me one of her 4-D tapes. I finally chased her out, she was driving me insane with her constant talking."
Stewart smiled without any sympathy. "That's what you get with housemates, professor. Gotta put up with all sorts of nonsense."
Rodriguez looked at him. "Nonsense? I'll tell you nonsense. She *named* them. The robots. Gave them names."
"Why? They've got ID strings."
"She said they couldn't possibly believe they're alive if they're being called by equipment ID strings. She named them after two of her.. what did she call them? I forget. From her revitalisation thing."
"So what'd she name them?" Stewart glanced back to where the robots sat facing each other slightly. Had they been that way before?
"Starsky and Hutch. I think they were cops."
"Cops?" Stewart blinked. "Cops?"
Rodriguez shrugged. "Law enforcement. I told you, it didn't make sense. But she named them, and it seems to have gotten into their programming."
Stewart blinked, then laughed. "And now they have attitudes! That's just perfect, Professor."
The professor smiled tolerantly. It was clear he was amused as well, however. "Perhaps we should have named them a year ago. It doesn't matter; these "attitudes" are due to the new biochem chips I implanted last week. The connections finally finished growing. You can see the result." He nodded towards the robots. Stewart looked over and started. They were now turned fully towards each other, sensory plates flashing. There was static coming from the speaker/receivers.
"Spontaneous movement?" Stewart ventured.
"Yes. And I believe they're communicating. Just as they are programmed to do!"
"That's wonderful! Now maybe we can get that grant back, eh?"
"More than that, Stewart." Dr. Rodriguez' eyes lit up. "We can publish!"
"Hey, wanna invite the philosophy profs over?" Stewart grinned a mischievous grin of his own.
The fervour didn't die down quickly. In fact it didn't die down at all. Grants came in and the robotics department gave Rodriguez three more graduate assistants. They polished and refined Starsky and Hutch's programming. The names had stuck -- literally, after Stewart had pasted their names to their chests. He'd been unable to tell them apart and the robots kept correcting the researchers when called by the wrong name. After Starsky got rude about it, Stewart got out the tape.
Three months later Rodriguez had published the first of three planned papers. He had been invited to the Earth Academics Robotical Research annual conference and spent an extraordinary amount of time giving Stewart instructions.
Finally the young man had given the professor an un-gentle push towards the door where his housemate was waiting to take him to the train station. "Yes, professor. I understand, professor. Get going, already!" Stewart said with some exasperation.
"And don't forget to let them out!" Dr. Rodriguez said one last time as he neared the door. "Last time we left them indoors for more than two days they made a horrendous mess!"
"I know, professor. I was there -- I helped clean up, remember? Go on, they'll be fine."
"And get Starsky's rotator cuffs checked, I don't like the way--"
"I know. I'm going to do it as soon as you leave and I can get back to work!"
Rodriguez looked abashed, then smiled. "All right, then. I'm going. Call me if there are any problems."
"Of course I will. Now go have fun for a change." He gave one more shove, and then Dr. Rodriguez was gone. Stewart sighed when he finally got the lab door closed behind the professor. "I thought he'd never go." He wiped his brow, then turned towards the robots' room. Most of the equipment had been moved out, replaced with various recording and detection devices used to test and re-test the robots' behaviour.
Hutch said it was like living in a fish bowl. Stewart found it a little unnerving himself, but he simply told Hutch to get used to it. As the first two robots with personality, they had to accept a few inconveniences.
They still hadn't been able to determine the extent of the robots' belief systems. Comments as Hutch's aside, there was stll no way to conclusively prove that their statements weren't simply a result of their programming. Stewart had entered the entire dictionary, after all, and knew they were capable of saying practically anything. The problem was knowing what made them say something.
It didn't explain their "attitudes", of course. But that was why the money was finally rolling in, to try to figure that out.
Stewart went into the room and headed for Starsky. Miguel, one of the lab techs, nodded to Stewart. "We're all set up in there, ready whenever you are."
"Fine," Stewart returned the nod. "Let's take him in and get him checked out."
He knew it wasn't his imagination when Starsky turned to Hutch as they led him out. The two robots were used to being together -- Stewart realised this was probably the first time they would be separated for any length of time. It would make for an interesting study to observe Hutch's reactions while Starsky was under repair. He told Maggie to observe Hutch while he and Miguel worked.
Four hours later they left the robot shut-down on the table and went out for dinner. They ended up talking late into the night and did not return to the lab until the following morning. They found Maggie staring worriedly through the window at Hutch.
"What's wrong?" Stewart asked her.
"Look," was all she said. They looked. Hutch was standing by the door through which they'd taken Starsky.
"Isn't that something?" Miguel remarked. "It's like it misses the other one."
"It's weird!" Maggie said. "It's been there all night, not moving at all. I tried talking to it but it just asked when Starsky was coming back. Was he all right, and what were we doing to it. I explained about the repairs and then it just stood there silently."
"That's astounding! Wait'll the professor hears about this!"
Unfortunately, by the time the professor heard about it, there was much more than that to tell.
The repairs on Starsky's rotator took two more days; they kept finding one more thing that should be fixed before closing the robot back up. Miguel said something snide about letting robots play frisbee when they hadn't been built for it. Stewart admonished him to just help him fix the thing.
At the end of the two days they had Starsky all fixed but still shut off. That was when the Dean had come in with his news; there was a team of researchers from Venus who wanted to fly in and take a look at their work. Most of the avant-garde robotic work was being done off-planet and Stewart and the other students were thrilled. They went off with the Dean, planning to call the professor with the news and make plans.
Those plans kept them busy for several days. When Stewart came back to the lab to check on the robots, he found something rather dismaying. The door to the repair center had been forced open and they found Hutch standing beside the table where Starsky was lying.
Hutch was shut off.
Stewart checked all the circuits and connections, trying everything he could to reboot the robot, and nothing worked. The biochem connections were simply gone. Worried, he went to check the other robot. Starsky had been lying dormant for nearly a week but his programming was still operational. Stewart switched it on and began double and triple-checking everything.
Starsky said only one thing, though. "Hutch?"
Stewart tried to explain that the other robot needed a new biochem chip; mentioning off-handedly that a new personality would emerge but it would be rather interesting to discover what sort. They'd been planning on building more robots anyhow, to see what range of behavior could be created.
Starsky just faced Hutch. There was static for awhile, then
Stewart waited, but Starsky didn't move. Concerned, Stewart finally went over and discovered Starsky had shut down.
He blinked. He put the second robot through every test he had performed on the first and found the same thing. It *ought* to have been working. But it wasn't.
What was he going to tell the professor?
"Well now what?"
"I dunno. That was boring."
"You picked it."
"Out of a hat! Not like I meant to pick it or anything."
"Yeah, well, try to pick a better one this time, OK? I'd
have a real body next time."
"You're tellin' me, blondie. I wanna be able to kiss you at least."
"Maybe we could be rabbits," the spirit teased.
"Could we?" the same spirit replied.