Sarah woke up with her heart racing. She had the flying / falling dream, again. Ever since she was little she had had dreams about flying – not like her husband, who flew in a ship. Though she had flown with him, a couple times, after she'd told him about her dreams. Flying in her dreams was completely effortless. Floating through the clouds was no different from passing through walls. But lately, whenever she'd look up to the moon during the night, she would lose buoyancy and plummet to the ground, waking only just before reaching the ground.
Sarah looked at the clock. 2AM. If she went back to sleep now, she might still manage a good night's sleep. But her grumbling stomach requested otherwise. Considering she'd skipped dinner, she decided it would be best to agree to its demands.
The kitchen was spotless. Not because she cleaned it regularly, but because she hardly used it. Her husband had done most of the cooking before he'd gotten shipped off to war. And though she was by no means a poor cook, she hated only cooking for one. She laughed as she opened the fridge. She was a terrible war bride, wasn't she? Wasn't she supposed to be cooking a humble but delicious meal every night, in case her man walked through the door a hero? But her fridge looked more like a college student's than a married woman's. Leftover pizza, Indian takeout, and condiments that outnumbered actual food 3:1.
She decided on the pizza, on the rationale that it was the oldest thing in the fridge that was still edible. This was the sort of logic her husband would've used, which only made her miss him more.
She heard a tinny meow and a little clatter as her robotic cat jumped up on the counter.
"Aww, Fluffy, you know you're not supposed to be up here! Get down! You hungry, too?"
In answer it jumped down and padded over to its "feeding disc". Sighing, Sarah walked over and flipped it over from blue (which signified it was empty) to red (which was "full"). Fluffy purred in thanks and Sarah stroked its smooth plastic back.
Still hungry herself, she grabbed another piece of the sausage pizza. Her husband always gave her grief about eating the stuff when she wouldn't eat the real thing. He'd never go near the vat-grown stuff, so while he was home they'd have to order separate pizzas or just get veggies.
A third slice of pizza later, finishing off the pie, it was time to try to get back to bed or she'd never wake up for work tomorrow. She did fall asleep without much difficulty; the cat curled up on the unused side of her pillow (her husband would never let it sleep with theml his only reason was "it's not soft!"). And she did dream again, but they were pleasant dreams of summer in her parents' old house.
The next morning she was bored out of bed by a radio newscaster reporting on the stocks. She always woke up to the news, hoping one day she'd hear that the war had ended and she'd call in to work and go out and celebrate. But the war had gone on so long that some days there wasn't even any bad news [about the war].
For a second as she locked the door behind her, she wished she was sick or the war had ended so she could call in today. She was just a teacher's assistant, so they could do one day without her. And she was dreading the task of grading the stack of essays her teacher had delegated to her.
It's not that she didn't want to be a teacher – she did. But she didn't think she was going to make a very good one. At least not in her chosen subject, language. She truly enjoyed helping the students, and was honestly interested in their opinions & contributions. It's just that the mistakes – the bad grammar, the spelling errors – they pained her. Sometimes physically. She'd developed a headache that had lasted the whole day after reading one creative writing assignment by a student where every instance of "their", "they're", or "there" was written simply as "they're".
The office receptionist, Sheila, greeted her when she arrived.
"Well, look at you! A bit of color – are you finally deciding to listen to my advice?" she said, pointing at Sarah's scarf.
"Nice try, Sheila," she replied. "But like I tell you every time, I'm married. I don't have anyone to impress – certainly none of the men at this school – so I'll wear what's comfortable. As long as it's presentable."
"Sure, sure, honey. But there's no harm in looking good, is there?"
God, she hated it when she called people "honey". It was bad enough that her name was Sheila, but she didn't have to talk like a receptionist, too. It was like she was born into a strict caste system, and in her past life she was a waitress. This was her reward for good behavior. Or maybe punishment for bad; Sarah couldn't tell.
"No, of course not, sweety, but I wouldn't want to take attention away from you," she called back on her way out, trying to do her best surly waitress impression.
"So, tired of Shakespeare yet, Mr. Smith?" Sarah joked as he entered her teacher's office.
Mister Smith looked up at her and shook his head. "You know, I should kick you out of here right now for that. It shouldn't be too hard to get a new assistant on short notice. If you're done blaspheming a great master, how are you today? Are you ready for your punishment?"
"Ahh, well, aside from being a little tired, I'm well. And yes, I'm ready for my punishment."
"Still having trouble sleeping? Well, as long as it doesn't affect your performance, I suppose it's none of my business. Anyways, your tests are over there." He gestured to an intimidatingly high stack of papers.
"Alright, I'll get started, then."
"Oh, and if you have any questions, we're mostly just doing reading today, so feel free to ask."
Lots of stuff distracting me. I was offline for the past few days, and two days ago I took home an abandoned kitten. I've decided to call him Jackie Chan. So it's been really hard to write because he's very little and needs attention. And very cute.
I'm going to keep trying, but who knows if I'll be able to make the 50K-word mark, now.
It turned to face me as I stopped, and I was able to get a better look at it in the light. Its skin was a transluscent, glistening gray, only partly obscuring an array of countless sensors and wires beneath the surface. Its face was covered in a similar film, but thinner, allowing more of the inner workings to show. Bare strands of metal lined the face in place of muscles, and its eyes were glass globes fitted with camera-like apertures in place of pupils.
It looked at me, almost sadly, and asked, "am I no different from these creatures?"
"No, you're nothing like them. They're beautiful works of art, but you're alive. You can think."
"Well, yes. You're self-sufficient. You can move around and act of your own accord, and respond to external stimuli."
"But I can't reproduce. Isn't that the most basic requirement of life?"
"Certainly not. There exist a plenitude of sterile creatures in the world, either by accident or by design, that are definitely alive. Hybrids like donkeys will never reproduce, but they're alive. Worker ants can't reproduce, either, but they are alive as well."
"But they descended from other living things. I was created."
"Isn't the fact that you're asking me these questions proof enough? You're not clockwork. You're a completely self-contained, complex autonomous system no different from me. And you're intelligent enough to question your own meaning."
"Is that enough?"
"I don't know. I think it is. But I think this is a conclusion you're going to have to come to on your own. I can help, but it's ultimately up to you."
When I awoke that day, I was almost disappointed with myself. I mean, seriously. What does it mean to be alive? What does it mean to be human? These were some of the most basic questions of sci-fi. They were clichÃ©. Why'd I have to go and waste my sleep time on such trivialities? Because it was important to me, obviously. These were important issues; just because they've been covered before in countless pulp stories doesn't mean they're not. And though I've pretty much made up my own mind about it, I am trying to create something that can think for itself. And if I do somehow succeed in creating a human-level intelligence, these questions are surely going to be important to it. And no amount of telling it, "oh, that's been done before" is going to make it any less real.
That said, I didn't have any solution. It would have to be a problem I faced when I came to it. I had no idea what form the question might take, and no sense of... the personality of the robot to take into account in dealing with it.
I had the sense that the librarian at the library was getting sick of me, so I decided to head to the coffee shop after work instead. And, to be honest, it had been almost a week since I'd gone and I was curious what Joseph was up to. He wasn't there when I arrived, so I sat down and started jotting down pseudo-code for a brain. When my first cup of coffee was starting to get cold, he showed up.
Looking a bit more haggard than usual, he said, "Hi, Cadmilus."
"Hey, Joe. Have you been getting enough sleep?"
He laughed nervously, "Hardly any. Is it really that obvious?"
"Yeah, it is. What's up?"
"I think I've hit on something. These guys, you know how their whole raison d'Ãªtre is to achieve enlightenment or whatever by blotting out the conscious mind and allowing the dreaming mind to interact with the physical world, right? Sorta like sleepwalking."
"Well, based on what I've read, I think that the inverse might be possible, too."
"I think it's possible for the physical body to enter the dream realm."
"Okay, yeah. You're insane. You know I'm a staunch materialist. This is nonsense."
"No, no. That's fine. You don't have to think of it as literally entering another world. Think of it as... how can I put it? It's like lucid dreaming, except on steroids. That's just your conscious mind controlling your dreams. This, you'd retain full control of your physical body and all your senses."
"That sounds a little more sensible. But I'm still a bit confused. What exactly does that mean?"
"Well, it's similar to what they're doing. Their perception of reality is altered by their subconscious, dreaming mind, and that's what dictates their behavior. So they still go about their daily business, but like they're in a dream. Because they /are/ dreaming. This would be the same, but you don't have to submit to your subconscious. You'd be in complete control."
"Alright, maybe you're not insane, but I still think you're crazy. And this is still worrying. It sounds like it could be dangerous."
"I know, I know. I haven't tried anything yet; don't worry. If I do, I want to make sure I believe it's safe before I attempt it. I want to make sure I can 'turn it off,' as it were. But anyways, enough about me. How're you coming along?"
"I don't know... I'm still a little worried. You don't look well. But alright. It's coming along well. The design's solid enough that I think I can start building prototypes soon. The main hurdle is still the central nervous system â especially the brain."
"And I had another dream about it, last night."
"I'm not surprised. Tell me about it."
So I told him about the garden, and the automatons that populated it. "And I saw the robot there, too. And I got a better look at it this time; I even got some ideas for the design from it. And it asked me if it was any different from the other creatures in the garden, and it asked me if it was alive."
"Ah, interesting. I don't suppose there was a single large tree in the center of the garden, was there?"
I couldn't remember if I saw one or not. I replied, "I don't know. There could have been. Why?"
"The garden sounded like the garden of Eden. Which makes sense; the rulers you mentioned that had these sorts of gardens built often had them patterned after the garden of Eden. So what did you tell it?"
"I said it was. Heh, I said that it should be enough that it was like me."
"In your own image, as it were."
"Not in so many words, but yeah."
"What's the robot going to look like?"
"Well, the design so far is purely functional, not aesthetic. Although I did think about what we were talking about before, and decided that it should be roughly human adult-sized. The skin is going to be slightly transparent, not opaque. That will make it a little easier to locate & rectify any subcutaneous problems that emerge."
"Male or female?"
"Since it's not going to need or have any reproductive organs, I'm going to stay away from any sex-specific anatomy. So pretty much androgynous."
"Makes sense. But sex (or perceived sex) is another thing that you shouldn't write off so quickly. Whether people perceive it as being 'male' or 'female' will affect how they interact with it. It may well be that you don't want to bias people's interactions one way or the other, but an undefined gender introduces its own set of problems."
"Come on, as if I don't have enough to worry about. But it is something I'll think about. I doubt I'll end up assigning it a sex, in the end, though it's not something I should blindly ignore."
"Right. Especially because you have, not only other people's perception of it to consider, but the fact that it will develop a self-image based partly on how people interact with it. Speaking of which, do you have any ideas on the design of the brain?"
"Not a whole lot yet, to be honest. The literature on the subject is really dense, and still there's a lot even the experts in the field don't understand. Which makes my task of understanding what's written on it all the more difficult. But I have decided I am most likely going to do most of the work in software."
"Probably a good idea. Do you think that'll affect the performance at all?"
"Maybe a little bit, but not enough to be a factor in the decision. The programming's going to be done on embedded, special-purpose chips, so it amounts to as if I was doing it in hardware."
"Ahh, good. Well, it's getting sorta late. ... Okay, maybe not so late but I haven't slept much and I'm exhausted. Keep me updated on how things are going."
"Sure thing. And hey, be careful with what you're doing, okay?"
Modeling an adult human brain was far too much for me. I began, then, looking into embryology for guidance. If I could somehow grow the brain from simpler parts, my task would be easier. And I didn't want to replicate the anatomy of the brain itself, I wanted to replicate behavior. The closer I got to doing so, the closer the resultant anatomy should resemble human biology. Maybe. There was always the chance that I'd hit on something structurally very different, but similar in function.
total 9092 words
that's 1575 words for the day. Not bad for a full work-day.
Of course, I should be at 13328.
I should probably go back & "fix" the day #s. Since it's actually the 8th, now.
Or I could actually have an open circulatory system. The interstitial fluid could be mainly water with salts dissolved in it to increase the conductivity. This would help maintain a more stable body temperature, but oxidization of the contacts that would line the water-sac's walls would be a serious problem. I could try and find a different conductive liquid, or use a conductive metal that resists oxidization for the contacts. Tin-coated copper wire seemed ideal for this. I'd probably also want something to actually, y'know, circulate the water.
The integumentary system was next. The skin would need to be a porous material, to allow the robot to sweat & thus regulate its temperature. There are plenty of manufacturing processes that produce porous latex, which would be ideal for "skin," but latex deteriorates over time so that pretty much ruled out latex. And though rubber is generally considered to be waterproof, it seemed there were some methods of making rubber porous, so I might be able to use that. But I wasn't finding much here, so I decided to leave that decision for later & ask around about what I might be able to use.
Optimally, I would be able to find a material that was both porous, but also one with pores that could be opened and closed via some mechanism. Failing that (which I probably would) I would need to craft centrally-located sweat glands that released water from the circulatory system, and then provide a means for the liquid to disperse underneath the skin. And underneath (or embedded in) the skin would need to be an elaborate system of sensors â€“ touch and temperature.
So if I was going this route, the "digestive" system would in fact need to be extended. In addition to energy (certainly batteries, preferably rechargeable), the robot would also need to take in water. Still, though, it would be pretty simple. The battery issue would be something I'd have to return to later down the road, when I would have an idea of the robot's normal power consumption levels. That could be tricky.
Since I was on the subject of fluids, I figured I'd move on to the urinary system. It would be useful in getting rid of excess water when sweating wasn't desired, but also to clear the system of excess minerals from whatever. Trace minerals in the water it drank, or anything else that might, somehow, get into the system.
If necessary, I decided I could break the fluid-sac "circulatory system" into separate compartments and adjust the concentration of water and salts throughout the body with a series of valves that I suppose wouldn't be too dissimilar to the lymphatic system. But that was stretching it, and I couldn't yet see any use for that.
The next important system was the respiratory system. Not because my organism needed to breath, per se, but because it would need to talk. (11/07/06) Much like human lungs, the lungs of my creation would function like bellows, using muscles to expand them & thus draw in air from the outside, then expel air naturally while at rest. Since oxygen would not be necessary for biological functions, I could safely use simple air sacs instead of a spongy material like mammalian lungs. I sketched out structures corresponding to the wind pipe, the larynx and glottis (the space between the vocal cords), the epiglottis (the part that covers the wind pipe during swallowing) and all the other parts. The nose was also a really important part of this system, both for its function in the sense of smell and for the part it plays in speech.
I needed to start thinking about how to control these systems, so I got to work on designing the nervous system. I started with the autonomous NS because it was more important to have the creature's base systems working and "alive" before I worried about central processing and consciousness.
The ENS (enteric) was first, since it was for the most part independent of the rest. It would be in charge of monitoring the system that would draw energy from the batter & maintain the proper level of charge in the circulatory system. For the most part, it would be possible to grossly simplify this part of the nervous system in relation to a biological human's.
The next two, the sympathetic and parasympathetic NSs, would be far more complex. They would control control the two base automatic states of the robot: active or danger, and rest or relaxed. But what would trigger these states? Regardless of the answer to that question, I could still continue on & make diagrams of these closely tied networks. I knew what they would control; the question remaining was what the inputs would be.
The somatic NS's design, on the other hand, was fairly straightforward, albeit quite extensive. Its base is in the central nervous system, specifically the precentral gyrus or primary motor cortex of the brain (I couldn't tell if they were the same thing or one was part of the other, but it didn't really matter as long as I understood what was going on in a general way). That root connects to every single skeletal muscle in the body. In addition, the somatic NS includes all the nerves that connect the sensory organs to the CNS.
And in-between all these afferent (sensory) neurons and efferent (motor) neurons, a network of interneurons (relay or association neurons) connecting the two. All the neurons in the central nervous system would be of this type.
And so the central nervous system. The spinal cord is more or less the "trunk" of the nervous system, the main pathway that information travels on between the brain and the peripheral nervous system. It is encased by and protected by the spine. The very large number of wires I would need both entering and exiting the spinal column would prove quite tricky. In theory I wouldn't need to encase this in the spine itself, but for the meantime I would use that model. Best not to second-guess evolution. Damage to any part of the neurons that constitute the spinal column is very debilitating, and would probably be far more common if it wasn't protected thusly.
To reduce the number of wires I would need, I decided that I could probably encode the information sent across the spinal column and place a small chip inside each vertebra that I would program to parse the data, encoding the signals from the sensory nerves and decoding the signals from the brain.
Exhausted, it was time to take a break. I'd been doing nothing but designing and researching for several days, now. I needed to rest and gather my strength before I tackled the brain. Even so, I figured I was on a roll so I started looking around for materials. I might change my mind on certain things still, but I could always use what I acquired for something else down the road.
The metal for the skeleton was the first thing I bought. It took the form of a couple old bike frames. I knew I could use the smithy down the street from where I lived to melt them down & fashion what I needed. Then I went to the electronics / hobby store where I got most of my components, and went on a shopping spree. I picked up anything I thought I might need, and then some. I asked around and even found a place that could manufacture the rubber balloons lined with diodes I was planning on using for the circulatory system. No luck on the skin, though. Still unsure of what I was going to use as a power source, I bought a couple types of batteries I could use for testing purposes.
I stopped by the smithy on my way home from the electronics store to see if anyone was still there (it was getting late), and let the owner know that I'd be wanting to use the facilities in the near future. The owner, Cassius, was a cheery fellow, with a small frame and long bushy beard. He looked more like an ancient philosopher than a blacksmith. But I'd seen his work and there was no questioning his skill. He knew me pretty well, and was always kind and helpful. And I was in luck; I caught him as he was finishing up for the night doing paperwork.
"Well hello, Cadmilus. Here's a face I haven't seen in a while. What can I do for you this evening?"
I bowed slightly as I entered the room, and replied, "I'd like to use the forge again. I have a new project I'm working on."
"Come, come. Please sit. It's been a long time. Or do you have to get going?"
"No, it's alright," I said, and took a seat opposite his desk.
"So tell me, what are you working on, now?"
"I'm designing a robot. Humanoid, so I guess that'd make it an android."
Cassius leaned back and laughed. "Oh ho, so taking after the father of your namesake, I see?"
"Of course. Cadmilus was the son of Hephaestos, who built a man out of bronze."
"Hah. I know the story, but I never knew He had any children."
"So when will you be starting?"
"It's still pretty early. I haven't started building anything yet. I was just passing by, so I figured I'd stop in. So I probably won't need anything for a while, yet."
"Well it's always good to see you. It's been pretty quiet here the last couple months. You still have a key, right? So you're free to start whenever you wish. No one's working on anything big, so you won't be getting in anybody's way."
"Alright, thanks. It'll probably be sometime next week, but I might want to stop by a little earlier to try some things out. I should let you get back to your work, though. I'll be seeing you soon."
So I went home, and again I dreamed. This time I found myself in a mechanical menagerie. I'd heard of places like these; ancient kings had them built to showcase their wealth. Tin tree-trunks with oxidized copper leaves to lend them a greenish color, and clockwork birds chirping and whirring on their branches. Delicately wrought golden flowers complete with bees, buzzing in perpetuity. Every species of flora imaginable, populated with automatons that gave the illusion of life, but felt... dead.
I walked through the garden, marveling at its beauty and craftsmanship, but I was filled with an immense sadness. As I walked by a brass and aluminum doe, it turned its head to and fro and pretended to nibble at the grass in front of it, but it did not respond at all to my presence. It was never programmed for that. It wasn't programmed at all, in fact. It was purely mechanical. It had no information-processing facilities, no soul. It couldn't react to the world around it.
All these animals were wind-up, though, which led me to wonder who had set them in motion. Before I had even finished asking myself the question, I knew who it must be. Sure enough, walking several meters ahead of me I saw the same robot from my previous dream.
7517 words and counting
something like 1709 or 1435 words for the day, depending on how you're counting