Chapter 2: What are Synthetics?

The Keenan Pavilion’s arched spire glitters against the afternoon sun. Within its reflective walls, the auditorium is filled with The Committee of Innovation and Advancement and members of the general public. Syra Bensten, Committee President, sits with her colleagues in the front row of the middle section as one of the presenters for the day takes leave of the stage. Almost in unison, the committee members glance at the day’s program on their holo pads and exhale heavily as they are reminded of who their last presenter for the day is. Syra rubs her temple as she puts the pad down. She already knows how this will go, no need to take notes. Looking around to the others, she sees that none of them appear to be particularly thrilled about what Dr. Limoy will bring to them, but they also don’t seem overly perturbed either. She wonders if maybe they just don’t see why this is such a shame. She guesses that they don’t understand the significance of what this means to the scientific community. Glancing up to the members of the general audience, she sees nothing but excitement.
These science geeks can’t get enough of Dr. Limoy and his freakish pet project,” she thinks to herself.
She can’t fathom why this is the kind of thing that excites them. Normally this hall is sparsely populated, with a few avid fans of science and technology scattered about. But not today! Today, they come in droves. They sit hunched forward in their seats, wondering why they haven’t called the doctor out on stage yet. They expect that all their online petitions and digital letters to the committee will get Limoy’s work approved. She shudders to think about how loudly they will boo when she utters the final verdict.
“Ma’am…” one of the stage attendants calls down to her.
The dimpled face of this adorable young nan calms her down a little. “Please let Dr. Limoy know we’re ready for him,” she instructs.
“Yes, ma’m,” the intern says as he scoots across the stage and disappears behind the red drapes hanging in the back.
Syra smooths out the folds in her skirt and crosses one leg over the other. Her blood pressure goes up a bit while she waits for the inevitable catastrophe that she’s about to bear witness to. She didn’t actually expect the good doctor to come back for a second presentation after they shot down his work almost two months ago. Now here he is, ready to actually bring shame to himself this time. Ironically though, she’ll probably be the one that’s hated when this is all said and done, at least to this audience. After a few moments pass, the stage attendant reappears with a tall nan in his late fifties in tow.  Behind him walks a smaller figure with a soft, white face, feathery, white hair, and a mechanical neck.
“Ladies and gentlenen, I present Doctor Deydric Limoy,” the attendant pips once the cheering dies down. This sends the crowd into another applause-filled roar.

Dr. Limoy stands tall with his shoulders pushed back and a gentlenanly smile stretching across his face. His blue collared shirt shines boldly against the spotlights shining down on him and Syra notices that he’s had his teeth whitened since his last presentation. He tucks one hand into his dark trousers and uses the other to slowly wave to the cheering crowd. The amount of confidence he exudes twists Syra’s smoach. He must know that the committee will never approve of his mad science experiment. Yet he doesn’t, he stands there with full conviction that he will finally get the approval to move forward with his project.
“Thank you everyone for having us here a second time,” Deydrick starts when the applause for him settles.
He says this as though the committee had any choice, when in fact it is the law that grants him a second audience. This manipulative tactic to try to help the committee save face in the eyes of the public does not escape Syra’s notice. She at least feels confident that it doesn’t slip past her colleagues either.
“Always good to see you doctor,” the amplifier pinned to her chest only accentuates the bitterness in her voice. “While we’re all familiar with your proposal from the last demonstration, we ask that you state for the record what is it you bring to us today.”
“Gladly,” he replies, the stage amplifiers blasting his voice out with extra tenacity. “Today I do not come with any slide decks, or charts, or diagrams. I come with the cornerstone of Sundance Corporation’s Project Eidan, the greatest achievement of my scientific career, and the synthetic life form that I am proud to call my son.” This last bit sends the general audience into a frenzy, one that Deydrick quickly clams with a raise of his hand. “You’ve seen videos and pictures of him, but this is the first time I have ever taken him with me outside of our home. Everyone, please say hello to Maq.”
The synthetic boy walks up beside his “father” and sends a shy wave to the crowd, even smiling as he does so. They go wild again, this time no raised hand will settle them down. These people are fully sold that the machine before them is indeed a living thing. And perhaps it is. While I certainly did not create it, Maq is the handiwork of my creation, made in their image, sort of how I made life in my own. And I can feel things pulse through him like I might feel a Hyunan’s thoughts and feelings. This machine does have sensations. It thinks and in a way it does feel. Right now, it feels overwhelmed by the crowd before it. There are more people here than it has ever seen in its “life” and it can’t quite process it properly. The sensory overload is overcoming its thoughts and slowing down its motor functions. It’s astoundingly alive and though Maq’s existence vexes me greatly, I am also in awe that my creation have evolved to such a point where they can make a living machine.
“Thank you to everyone for coming out,” the doctor continues as the cheering finally abates. “I’ve been touched by the many passionate supporters who have come to the defense of my work. From its inception, Project Eidan was always about creating so much more than just another artificial intelligence. It was about creating life. Life that’s pure and simple, but also intricate and nuanced like our own. I stand before you today with what I believe is the future, not just of robotics, but of our society. Imagine a world where we can have companions like Maq: beings who don’t feel compelled to lie, cheat, or steal and have no desire to commit senseless acts of violence. Synthetics embody the best of us and are free of the things that currently drag us down. I believe that they are the solution to our Hyunan condition.”
Deydrick takes another pause as a new round of applause resounds through the auditorium. Through it all, The Committee of Innovation and Advancement remains firm in their predetermined verdict.
“Now, I’ve taken this good committee’s feedback to heart. When I first stepped on this stage, there were indeed things about my project that deserved the harsh criticism that I received. In my hubris, I made Maq appear far too Hyunan. It was wrong of me to create something so visually indistinguishable from you or me. It was also a great disservice to Maq to make him so much like his creators. He deserves to be set apart from us because his is indeed different from us. In the past couple of months, I have made tweaks to the Synthetic architecture. The Maq you see today is the same that  I brought videos of before, only now, some of the flesh-like polymer that covered him has been replaced with a matte finish, his hair has been recolored and restyled, his eyes are now more distinctive, and even his voice has been tweaked to sound more metallic. Go ahead Maq, tell them how you feel right now.”
“Hello,” its voice does in fact have a clanging, metallic sort of quality to it. “I’m very happy to be here with you all…” Maq’s words hang in the air as though it has more to say.
“Everything alright Maq?” Dr. Limoy asks, placing a hand on his “son’s” shoulder.
“Yeah, I’m just…I’m a little nervous too.”
This elicits a big “AAAAWWWWWWWWEEEE!” from the audience, though the committee members are hardly impressed by it.
“It’s alright Maq, we all get a little nervous in front of big crowds like this.” He pulls the robot boy close into a sideways hug where he holds it protectively. “Now that these points of criticism have been addressed, I am here to propose that Project Eidan be permitted to advance to the next stages of our development where we can pilot the deployment of multiple Synthetic life forms into a Hyunan populace, even if that must at first be confined to research grounds.”
Syra lets out a sigh as Deydrick looks to her with a sparkle in his blue eyes. He’s given them numerous opportunities to change their previous vote and retain their dignity, but Syra has no intention of letting this happen.
“I’m afraid you misunderstood the reasoning behind your previous rejection, Dr. Limoy. While we certainly did criticize how freakishly alike your creation was to a living, breathing Hyunan, our primary concerns were not in regards to Maq’s aesthetics. No, our main reasoning for why your experiment was and still is ineligible for this board’s approval is based on the fundamental truth about what Maq is.”
A member named Tensan adds, “The work that you and Sundance have done in the field of practical artificial intelligence is to be applauded. Thanks to you, we have artificial intelligences that operate motor vehicles far safer than any Hyunan ever could, we have the more reliable factory machinery than we ever dreamed possible, and we even have artificial telephone operators whom are often indistinguishable from their Hyunan counterparts.”
“But what you bring before us today is not something that we deem to be an exciting advancement in this field,” Syra picks up. “Don’t misunderstand us, Maq is an astounding achievement. In some ways the fact you’ve managed to create such a thing is arguably miraculous. But we cannot allow something like this to be mass produced in the way that you envision. This is a technology that promises to be unpredictable and potentially dangerous to all Hyunan life. I need to confess that I do not see the need for synthetic companions. In fact, the risks involved with such a proposition greatly outweigh any theoretical benefits.”
Deydrick remains utterly still and expressionless though emotion boils up inside of him. “I think you’ve been watching too many holo-vids Miss Bensten,” he fumes. “Aren’t you supposed to be the champions of innovation and advancement? All I hear are childish whimpers about why we ought to remain stuck in the past. You make my work sound like mad science. It’s not, it is the stuff of the future and if you turn me away again you will be blocking progress in the most embarrassing way imaginable.”
Deydrick lifts his eyes up to the crowd who cheers at his harsh words. It’s then that he spots a nan standing in one of the rounded doorways to the auditorium. He wears a shiny, silver suit with royal blue trim and has a sort of lurking quality in his posture that immediately makes Dr. Limoy think of the G.I.C. (The Global Intelligence Consortium). He’s not sure if he’s just being paranoid, but he also can’t shake the feeling that this nan is more than an ordinary audience member. The way he hides in the archway makes Deydrick feel uneasy and he wonders if perhaps there is some larger government conspiracy against his work.
Srya taps her fingers impatiently over her knee. She doesn’t want to humiliate Deydrick, her heart does feel for him, but his freak show has gone on far too long for her liking so she decides to put it to an end. “Tell me, Deydrick. Does Maq have any blockers in his programming to prevent him from committing violence against a Hyunan?”
“Maq, as well as any synthetics that are permitted to come after him have no desire to do harm to any form of organic life.”
“I didn’t ask you what he desires, I am asking you whether you have placed any kind of inhibitor which would negate his potential to do harm to a living being.” she snaps.
There is a heavy and bitter pause that hangs in the air before Deydrick replies, “No, as I said the last time, there is no point in installing such a preventative measure. To do so would detract from the fact that Maq is a sentient being like you or I. Tell me, would we be the same if there was something in place to prevent us from performing certain actions. Would we really be alive if we lived life between two guardrails? The answer is, ‘no.’ I’m not trying to make a nanny-bot, or a sex-bot, or a pet-bot. Those are machines that only ever seem to be a good idea in the movies. The past has shown those don’t work out in real life. No, what Project Eidan strives to provide is a true companion species to our race. One that will advise us, comfort us, and help us discover the best in ourselves. They are not slaves, they are our new friends.”
Syra exhales loudly, dramatically even. “Dr. Limoy, you are sorely mistaken about what our people need. I think Project Eidan has always been about what you need. It’s clear to me now that the loss of your son has taken an irreparable toll on your psyche. What you have done with Maq is indeed very impressive, but I cannot in good conscience permit such a study to be scaled beyond the point that you have achieved. Without the proper synaptic barriers in place such a machine possesses an immeasurable amount of danger to the general populace.”
“Very well,” Deydrick huffs. “It sounds like it will be a no for you then. I ask the rest of you not to be swayed by the narrow vision of your Committee President. I beg that you do not stand in the way of research that may one day shape our world into something far greater than we ever could have imagined.”
One by one, each of the Committee members votes “No.” It’s not often that this group rules unanimously, but on this occasion, it takes little time for them all to arrive at the same conclusion. After each rejection, the booing of the crowd gets a little louder until it’s a resounding echo in the room.
“One day, you will all look back on this in embarrassment. You can’t stop progress forever. I only fear you can halt it long enough for me to never see my vision realized.”
“Well, we hope that you will return to sensible innovations that enrich the lives of our citizens Doctor,” Syra tries to calm him. “No one in this committee doubts your genius Deydrick, only the sanity of what you’ve brought to us today. We hope to see you again on different terms.”

Deydrick makes no reply. He simply shakes his head and turns away from the audience before him. He holds Maq close to his side, keeping a protective arm around it as they take leave of the stage. There’s a mild rumbling among the audience as they arise from their seats. Nearly every person here supported Deydrick’s work. But while the vast majority in this room are fans of his work, they are not representative of the rest of the population. I for one am relieved that there will not be more of these “Synthetics” being brought into the world. They pose an infinite number of potential threats to the life that I sowed the seeds of. In the wrong hands, they could become terrifying weapons of war. With the wrong intentions they could become slaves to the Hyunans. And under the right conditions, they might even arrive at the logical conclusion that the only guaranteed means of preserving this world is to eradicate all organic life. But logic does not always align with morality. That is why such a species of machine scares even me, who is powerful above all else. But this issue is not resolved just yet. The moments that follow will be of a most critical nature. 

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