Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Nagging Questions

This flash fiction was inspired by Ian McEwan’s Machines Like Me.

       I’m not sure what possessed me to speak to him. I am not typically the type to start conversations with strangers. I suppose what really caught my eye was the cover of the magazine he held as he lounged on the park bench. It depicted the latest buzz in the artificial intelligence world—the “Adam and Eve” line of robots that was supposedly incredibly similar to flesh-and-blood humans. I was anxious about them, yet fascinated, and I suddenly found myself speaking.
He was a handsome
young man, admittedly.
Extra points for the suit
he wore, even though it
was unusual for the park.
       “Are you interested in artificial intelligence?”
      His attention caught by my voice, the dark-haired man smiled and lowered the magazine. “Very much so.”
       “Know anything about the new model?”
       “Yes. My friend Charlie bought one.”
       “What does he think of living with this new technological being?”
    The man huffed a quiet laugh. “He considers it an experiment; his main motivation was ‘curiosity.’16 Living with a humanoid machine took some getting used to, but it’s almost normal now.” His focus returned to me. “What do you think of them?”
       I again wondered about having a full conversation with a stranger, but I had been the one to start it. “Honestly, this whole topic frightens me.”
       “Why?” He gestured for me to join him.
      Easing onto the bench, I explained, “There are so many things that could go wrong. Are we trying to replace ourselves? Because that seems to be the probable outcome.”
A strange poem...
somewhat concerning
        “Are you concerned that they will surpass humans? Charlie’s Adam believes it inevitable. He wrote a poem about it, though he hasn’t shared it with Charlie yet:
‘Our leaves are falling.
Come spring we will renew,
But you, alas, fall once.’” 345
       “Sounds ominous.”
    “Would it be so bad, though, to have beings of greater intelligence?” He spoke eagerly. “They’ve found that AI are often better at identifying cancer than doctors. Think of all the ways AI could help humanity. And with all the developments in machine learning, neural networks, and natural language processing, AI could be the next level of humans, integrated into society.”
       “But we haven’t finished understanding our own minds. How can we program theirs to the fullest extent necessary to survive human life? With all the nuances we haven’t even found yet? There could be some rather nasty outcomes.”
        He shrugged off my concerns. “Scientists are constantly refining that.”
     “And what about rights?” I asked. “If they’re to be the next level of human—autonomous, sentient, living things—wouldn’t they deserve rights? What about those who consider AI property?”
       “What about those who considered slaves property?”
      He continued: “If someone were to destroy an AI they bought, would it merely be destruction of their own property, or would it be the murder of an existence?” 376
       I was going to have more nagging questions than I had started with. “This could cause another civil rights movement.”
       “I think it would be as valuable as the first.” As I internalized all the revelations that had come in only a few minutes, he seemed to remember something and looked at his watch. “I’m afraid I must be going.”
      I stood as he did. “You’ve given me much to think about. Thank you.” I was completely sincere. “What’s your name?” I asked, wondering if I might see him again.
       “You have a surname?”
       The corner of his mouth quirked up. “Just Adam.”
They were the most unusual eyes
I'd ever seen...beautiful but strange.
       In that moment, the sun shone on his eyes, and I caught a glimpse of small, black rods scattered through the pale blue 21 —surreal . . . unnatural. My own eyes widened and flicked down and up, surveying him once more. “Wait . . . are you . . .?”
        Adam’s mouth curved lightly again, but he said nothing as he turned and strolled away.
      I felt like a slow computer myself, trying to comprehend. What I had learned . . . what I had experienced . . . Adam had passed the Turing Test, and I had failed it. It rankled my pride a bit, but I had bigger concerns. If they could truly pass as human, and without our knowledge, what would that mean for us?

Author’s Notes:
*Since this story was inspired by Machines Like Me, by Ian McEwan, I’ve pulled some information from the book. The superscripts scattered throughout are the page references.
*Not all of this stuff is fiction; some of it is happening now. Click the hyperlinks in the story to learn more!
*Image Links:


  1. Hi Victoria! First, I just want to say that your writing style is amazing! Adam's dialogue was totally in character for him! I also love the picture you chose to represent Adam, it bothered me that the one on the book cover looked so machine-like when the book itself stressed how human the androids looked.

    Now I'm curious, since you advocated for AI and spoke against it while writing both parts, which side do you actually support? I definitely agree that it could be troublesome for AI to pass so completely as humans, since they're designed to surpass us in every other capacity and could be dangerous to us if they chose to be. Which makes me wholly in favor of giving them rights so we remain in their good graces...

    I do tend to agree mostly with Adam though, machines like the Adams and Eves could do a lot to help our society. I hope we develop something like them in the future, though preferably with more regulations and precautions to avoid a species war.

    1. Oh it's Danielle by the way, sorry I forgot to include my name :)

  2. Hi Victoria,

    This is Michelle M. I loved that you included some prose in the dialogue, it felt like reading an extension of the book! The idea of having the narrator meet Adam and not know he was an AI was a very interesting idea. I particularly liked the line "Adam had passed the Turing Test, and I had failed it" because in not recognizing an AI it feels like you are failing your fellow humans. I also found it interesting that you described Adam as handsome, I know that he is supposed to be fit and handsome in the book, but I always imagined him as…of not quite handsome because there was something off about him. Perhaps that was just wishful thinking as Miranda’s father and the shopkeeper both thought that Adam was human. I also liked how you included the poem that Adam made to explain to Charlie the inevitability of AI surpassing humans. However, I want to disagree with the poem, it is so certain, and I know that AI can easily surpass humans but we have fallen multiple times, yet we have also renewed. I also like how you called back to previous topics that we have discussed in class like the good things that AI could do for humanity.

  3. Kunwar Ishan SharmaApril 9, 2020 at 10:11 PM

    Hey, Victoria! This was absolutely incredible, especially the twist at the end. I wonder how this same conversation would occur at a different point during Adam's "life-span." In other words, towards the end of the novel, Adam changes profoundly and even speaks using different logic with Charlie and Miranda. Thus, I think it would've been super interesting to compare this conversation with one later on in his life. Would he have the same views about A.I. surpassing human intelligence? Would he have the same observations about killing an A.I.? It's definitely interesting to consider, and I can only thank your well-written and thoughtful blog post for that.