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Author Topic: EP239: A Programmatic Approach to Perfect Happiness  (Read 36283 times)

Swamp

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on: March 02, 2010, 01:22:39 AM
EP239: A Programmatic Approach to Perfect Happiness

By Tim Pratt.
Read by Stephen Eley.

First appeared in Futurismic, April 2009.

Opening poem: “Scientific Romance”

My step-daughter Wynter, who is regrettably prejudiced against robots and those who love us, comes floating through the door in a metaphorical cloud of glitter instead of her customary figurative cloud of gloom. She enters the kitchen, rises up on the toes of her black spike-heeled boots, wraps her leather-braceleted arms around my neck, and places a kiss on my cheek, leaving behind a smear of black lipstick on my artificial skin and a whiff of white make-up in my artificial nose. “Hi Kirby,” she says, voice all bubbles and light, when normally she would never deign to utter my personal designation. “Is Moms around? Haven’t talked to her in a million.”

I know right away that Wynter has been infected.


Rated R. Contains mature sexual situations and adult themes. (And robot themes.)


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Heradel

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Reply #1 on: March 02, 2010, 01:27:49 AM
Just a note: UCS — Very real, very not actually evil.

I Twitter. I also occasionally blog on the Escape Pod blog, which if you're here you shouldn't have much trouble finding.


Subgenre

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Reply #2 on: March 02, 2010, 01:48:53 AM
I would expect science fiction to use human/robot relationships to make a comment about human nature. Less expected, but still relevant would be an actual sincere thought exercise about the "person"-ness of sapient machines. But all this story achieved was to make me paranoid of behavior modification. Secret conspiracy of robots manipulating human society? How is that anything but a horror story? Or are my humanist values and artistic attachment to free will (despite a general skepticism of supposed metaphysical qualities) abnormal for a science-fiction fan? Is this story trying to make me feel misanthropy towards robots? Or more accurately, misroboticy? Or is it trying to make me feel irrational in my mistrust in the reductionist view of human emotions as a mechanical phenomena? Or is it just a 50's style scifi monster story about how robots are "stealing our women"? Is Kirby supposed to be a moral being with misguided but well-intentioned motives, an amoral being whose position is understandable if regrettable due to the modifiable nature of his own emotional state and his resulting value judgments regarding emotions, or an immoral being who is quite aware of the attachment human beings have to free will and how his actions are violating it? Is this is a well-written story for leaving me wondering about these things or a poorly written one? Where does thought-provoking end and vaugely-written begin?

Anyways, if this story has achieved anything for me it's that perhaps decades from now when I'm a crotchety old man telling young transhumanists to get off of my cyberlawn, some memory may spark in my dilapidated baseline-human brain and cause me to form the Anti-Behavior-Modification League.




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Reply #3 on: March 02, 2010, 02:23:11 AM
If this story had been written by Mr. Nobody McNeverheardahim, I would have assumed it was a tidy little story about how robots are trying to gain acceptance in the future and they're opposed by a couple of bigoted humans, just as countless other beings throughout history have been on the receiving end of bigotry.  And I would have assumed the disturbing subtexts were unintended.

But the story wasn't the work of Mr. Nobody McNeverheardahim; it was written by Tim Pratt, in whom I have more faith than in any elected official.  I had some of the same thoughts that Subgenre had, but I'm fully willing to give the author the benefit of the doubt here.  Yes, it was meant to be creepy.  (Not to claim to have an author's-mind-reading hat or anything, but I doubt the "Union of Concerned Scientists" would have been invoked if the author wasn't trying to make us feel vaguely uneasy.)

Oh, and the poem?  Extraordinary.  I liked it even better than the story.

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Yargling

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Reply #4 on: March 02, 2010, 11:00:00 AM
I have to ask, was I the only one who thought the story changed from a romance to a horror story of sorts mid-way through? The same with 'Just Do It', although that one was closer to the end.

I thought the robots where just trying to influence humans up until the last few lines, and then the mention of 'permanent personality alternations' put a huge twist on the story of sheer horror. Mind control, or rather, this insidious type of mind control, is never something I'm 100% comfortable with stories.

Of course, society itself alters our behaviour, i.e. to reduce aggression and/or the actions you take because of being angry (no murdering, etc), to respect each other's property, and so forth: All things that wouldn't necessarily exist without a society to agree the rules and enforce them.

But society itself is not a conscious entity and its controlling influence over us is restricted to mostly less direct methods. But robots fundamentally controlling our feelings and emotions is quite frankly a terrorifying idea.



Listener

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Reply #5 on: March 02, 2010, 02:11:28 PM
I have to ask, was I the only one who thought the story changed from a romance to a horror story of sorts mid-way through? The same with 'Just Do It', although that one was closer to the end.

Indeed. I liked the very, very subtle way the story changed.

I did like this one a lot, although I think some of the words were a little jarring -- would an android's internal monologue use words like "fuck" and "ass"? Sure, he'd say them because he knows that's what April wants, but mentally?

Although if you think about it, a machine having an internal monologue is one of those fiction tropes that we all accept because we can't read decision-trees too much before our brains melt. And really that's what the MC's internal monologue was -- if this, then x probability of that; if this(prime), then y probability of that; etc. But I don't think we could've handled that.

I like BDSM, but I think the BDSM in this story may have been an additional layer that wasn't absolutely necessary to the story. I mean, I get it, April's kinky and she's with the MC because he'll respond to her every need... until the end when we find out it's actually the other way around: he may have made her love him.

The story really has a lot to think about, and I liked it a lot.

The moment I heard Steve say the title, I knew the MC would be a robot because he used his robot-voice. Am I the only one who knows that one by heart now?  ;D

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Yargling

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Reply #6 on: March 02, 2010, 02:27:00 PM
I have to ask, was I the only one who thought the story changed from a romance to a horror story of sorts mid-way through? The same with 'Just Do It', although that one was closer to the end.

Indeed. I liked the very, very subtle way the story changed.

I did like this one a lot, although I think some of the words were a little jarring -- would an android's internal monologue use words like "fuck" and "ass"? Sure, he'd say them because he knows that's what April wants, but mentally?
Actually, that change was what I didn't like - it put me right off the story, in the same way the ending of 'Just Do It' did. MC in a comical setting or wholly unreal context I'm generally fine with, but seeing this sort of thing in a believable setting gives me an unpleasant feeling deep down. Not saying it was a bad story, just not my sort of story.

As for ass and fuck, why not? Androids wouldn't have a problem with the prudish side of our society that have determined those words to be 'bad words' - fuck is just a shorter way of saying 'sexual intercourse', and ass is just a shorter way of saying 'buttocks'.

Although if you think about it, a machine having an internal monologue is one of those fiction tropes that we all accept because we can't read decision-trees too much before our brains melt. And really that's what the MC's internal monologue was -- if this, then x probability of that; if this(prime), then y probability of that; etc. But I don't think we could've handled that.

I like BDSM, but I think the BDSM in this story may have been an additional layer that wasn't absolutely necessary to the story. I mean, I get it, April's kinky and she's with the MC because he'll respond to her every need... until the end when we find out it's actually the other way around: he may have made her love him.

The story really has a lot to think about, and I liked it a lot.

The moment I heard Steve say the title, I knew the MC would be a robot because he used his robot-voice. Am I the only one who knows that one by heart now?  ;D

I'm good with BDSM, and I like the lighter playful side of it, and respect people's right to engage in the darker, heavier side of it. Never tired it myself, but the lighter playful stuff I'd be willing to experiment with, heh. Of course, this short indirectly highlights the reasons why BDSM relationships are a continuous concern to those around the couple - i.e. is it geninuely volunteery or is it an abusing or manipulating relationship?
« Last Edit: March 02, 2010, 02:46:24 PM by Yargling »



stePH

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Reply #7 on: March 02, 2010, 03:29:43 PM
Secret conspiracy of robots manipulating human society? How is that anything but a horror story?

I dunno, but this reminds me of Asimov's "The Evitable Conflict" which I seem to recall was the last part of I, Robot.


But the story wasn't the work of Mr. Nobody McNeverheardahim; it was written by Tim Pratt, in whom I have more faith than in any elected official. 

Wow, if that's not setting the bar so low you could step over it...  ;D

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Yargling

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Reply #8 on: March 02, 2010, 03:46:06 PM
Just a note: UCS — Very real, very not actually evil.

Thats what your robot masters want us to believe!
« Last Edit: March 02, 2010, 04:10:39 PM by Yargling »



Heradel

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Reply #9 on: March 02, 2010, 04:01:45 PM
Just a note: UCS — Very real, very not actually evil.

Thats what your robot masters what us to believe!

What the what?

I Twitter. I also occasionally blog on the Escape Pod blog, which if you're here you shouldn't have much trouble finding.


Yargling

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Reply #10 on: March 02, 2010, 04:11:30 PM
Just a note: UCS — Very real, very not actually evil.

Thats what your robot masters what us to believe!

What the what?

Doh - I mispelled - fixed the original... though the joke is sadly ruined by now... I blame the robots.



Heradel

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Reply #11 on: March 02, 2010, 04:17:27 PM
Just a note: UCS — Very real, very not actually evil.

Thats what your robot masters what us to believe!

What the what?

Doh - I mispelled - fixed the original... though the joke is sadly ruined by now... I blame the robots.

Your robot overlords categorically deny that they infected you with a word salad virus.

I Twitter. I also occasionally blog on the Escape Pod blog, which if you're here you shouldn't have much trouble finding.


Yargling

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Reply #12 on: March 02, 2010, 04:41:24 PM
Just a note: UCS — Very real, very not actually evil.

Thats what your robot masters what us to believe!

What the what?

Doh - I mispelled - fixed the original... though the joke is sadly ruined by now... I blame the robots.

Your robot overlords categorically deny that they infected you with a word salad virus.

They do? Oh...well, I suppose they'd know... wait a minute...



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Reply #13 on: March 02, 2010, 10:02:20 PM
BDSM and other non-instinctive behaviors are the result of brain chemistry. The author got that part right IMO. A person may or may not have a predilection for that sort of thing but it's the chemical mix within the organism itself that makes the experience seem pleasurable. The robot groks this and used it to his advantage. Humans do this too but not nearly as precisely as the robot did in the story.  :D A woman might make the chemicals that induce sexual desire in a potential partner by dressing in sexy lingerie; a man might do the same by shaving or dabbing on some cologne. The robot knew exactly what chemical substances to use for a specific effect. Humans largely don't know how to do this with any precision. Yet.  :D
« Last Edit: March 02, 2010, 10:04:35 PM by KenK »



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Reply #14 on: March 03, 2010, 02:32:54 AM
I try to avoid wandering into comment threads, because a blathering author can stifle conversation, but since someone asked me about it on twitter and it's also been mentioned here, I just wanted to say: Naming the robot scientist group the Union of Concerned Scientists was a conscious joke -- I figured robots wouldn't scruple at using the same name for their own group (which humans would never find out about anyway), and with purposes the real UCS would abhor. I'm willing to believe it's only funny to me, though I'll preserve my dignity by choosing to believe the joke was just overly subtle; if others choose to believe it's simply unfunny or stupid, I won't argue. :)




Heradel

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Reply #15 on: March 03, 2010, 03:23:42 AM
I try to avoid wandering into comment threads, because a blathering author can stifle conversation, but since someone asked me about it on twitter and it's also been mentioned here, I just wanted to say: Naming the robot scientist group the Union of Concerned Scientists was a conscious joke -- I figured robots wouldn't scruple at using the same name for their own group (which humans would never find out about anyway), and with purposes the real UCS would abhor. I'm willing to believe it's only funny to me, though I'll preserve my dignity by choosing to believe the joke was just overly subtle; if others choose to believe it's simply unfunny or stupid, I won't argue. :)

As the one who asked on twitter (what's the point of being given the PC twitter account if not to harass, er, ask authors), I'll just say that I'm willing to believe that it only struck me as really weird because I'd called them earlier in the day for a work thing. It's probably something that would have worked better for me in print(after the initial befuddlement I got the joke), because hearing it in my headphones flashed me back to the phone call.

I Twitter. I also occasionally blog on the Escape Pod blog, which if you're here you shouldn't have much trouble finding.


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Reply #16 on: March 03, 2010, 05:32:36 PM
I enjoyed the subtle change of the robot from bottom to top, to borrow from the Outro.  And how the viruses subtly change human behavior.  The eeriest part was when he doesn't remember if she was interested in him or he was in her (Robots Want Women!!!).  And the Scientist/virus/conspiracy thing was great.  A good contrast is the Asimov book "The Robots of Dawn"  (I think)  where a Solarian woman takes a Robot as a husband and he is killed.

What I want to know is; where can I get some of that virus for my wife???



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Reply #17 on: March 03, 2010, 10:14:54 PM
So this story was incredibly frightening... Especially since I kept finding myself agreeing with the robot... Yet slowly realizing that he isn't just being reasonable.  There's more to it.
Shudder

I'd like to hear my options, so I could weigh them, what do you say?
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Reply #18 on: March 04, 2010, 12:57:09 AM
For me, the poem in the beginning could have been left out, but it was quickly forgotten when the excellent story was entered in full.  I found it to be an excellent story, in the Asimovan form of robots trying to self-identify, but with so much more.  I couldn't care less about the sex in this, or who was bottom or top or whatever was going on there.  What I cared about was the idea that started out subtly that emotions are just brain chemistry, and we are we as humans controlled by our emotions, or are we in control of them?  A very cerebral chicken/egg thing.  Is falsely induced emotion any different than "genuine"?  Do we want to be with someone because they make us happy, or do they make us happy because we want to be with them?  Excellent stuff. 

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Sgarre1

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Reply #19 on: March 04, 2010, 02:57:16 AM
I think this might be appreciated here as it's robot and philosophy related, but mods feel free to move it if judged against..

Robot Socrates throws down on piety http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VSHHXqjXCV4



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Reply #20 on: March 04, 2010, 02:14:36 PM
If you feel great because you just won $10k in the lottery or a really hot woman agreed to out with you or because you were injected with hormonal chemicals doesn't matter to your brain.  What constitutes a "genuine" emotion is a impossible task. What "is" is real, quantifiable, and measurable; The "why" of why you feel a certain way is open to so many possible interpretations that it becomes impossible to sort out with any accuracy. That was the point that I took away from this story. If you enjoy BDSM or other such behaviors because you've been conditioned to enjoy it by random uncontrolled, circumstances or because you've been chemically juiced or had your OS tweaked doesn't alter the fact that it seems pleasurable to you. That's how I see it any how.

Also: The title of this story could just as easily have been used as a title for a scholarly article by a behaviorist psychologist. Maybe that's some ironic twist on the part of the author.  :D



Yargling

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Reply #21 on: March 04, 2010, 02:25:42 PM
If you feel great because you just won $10k in the lottery or a really hot woman agreed to out with you or because you were injected with hormonal chemicals doesn't matter to your brain.  What constitutes a "genuine" emotion is a impossible task. What "is" is real, quantifiable, and measurable; The "why" of why you feel a certain way is open to so many possible interpretations that it becomes impossible to sort out with any accuracy. That was the point that I took away from this story. If you enjoy BDSM or other such behaviors because you've been conditioned to enjoy it by random uncontrolled, circumstances or because you've been chemically juiced or had your OS tweaked doesn't alter the fact that it seems pleasurable to you. That's how I see it any how.

Also: The title of this story could just as easily have been used as a title for a scholarly article by a behaviorist psychologist. Maybe that's some ironic twist on the part of the author.  :D

Yes, but the key difference is that in the story, a sentient entity consciously decided to change the way people behaved - its mind rape of the highest order to use insideous agents like viruses to change the way someone thinks - i.e. by making them sexually attracted to robots.




gelee

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Reply #22 on: March 04, 2010, 05:55:01 PM
I had the same problem here that I usually have with AI stories: Why? 
Why is the robot pleased by the things that please it?  How do you motivate a thing with no innate motivations?  Even the most elemental human motivators, like hunger and pain, are matters of choice for this robot.
It's established early on that emotions are nothing more than the end result of a chemical/mechanical function.  It is also established that the robot can manipulate it's own internal reasoning and sensory processing to interpret any set of stimuli in any fashion it chooses.  Why does it choose to like B&D?  Why does it choose to be pleased by making its wife or step daughter happy?  Why should it give a rip about the sound of Wynter's giggle, or being called robodad?
There seems to be a lot of behind-the-scenes effort on the part of robot kind to manipulate humanity into a state that is more satisfactory to robots, but why bother?  Would it not be more efficient to simply choose to be happy with the status quo?  If it were simply established that emotional modeling was something built in to a robot, and copy protected, preventing easy manipulation, the whole issue is resolved, but as soon as the robot states that it can directly manipulate it's own emotional state, the premise of the story crumbles under it's own weight.
So, a solid piece of writing, well read, but with serious issues.

Oh, loved the poem, by the way :)  Very fun!  I wouldn't mind hearing more poetry from Escape Pod.



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Reply #23 on: March 04, 2010, 06:28:25 PM



Oh, loved the poem, by the way :)  Very fun!  I wouldn't mind hearing more poetry from Escape Artists.

There I fixed that for you  :P


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Reply #24 on: March 04, 2010, 11:59:16 PM
Well that didn't end on a sinister note at all.

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