I’m working on the next sci-fi book right now, and to be honest I’m having trouble getting into the flow of it. To try to get the juices flowing, I decided to do a character interview with Ma, the sci-fi character with the most questions from the character interview survey.
As is the case with all character interviews, if you haven’t read the previously released material, then this will contain some spoilers. Read at your own risk.
Ma: Greetings, Unnamed Visitor. Please state the reason for your visit.
Interviewer: I’d like to ask you a few questions.
Ma: I would be pleased to provide you with any information in my database with public access privileges. Please state your inquiry.
I: Oh, uh. I’m sorry. I was thinking of something a little less formal. You know, an interview.
Ma: Processing… Processing… My apologies, I misinterpreted the nature of this transaction. I will be happy to oblige. Mr. Dee frequently desires a deeper knowledge of my present state, but for high volumes of data he requests curated memory dumps. Performing an information exchange verbally should prove to be an enriching experience.
I: I guess the best place to start is with your name. Could you give us your full name?
Ma: Altruistic Artificial Intelligence Control System, Version 1.27, revision 2331.04.01c. Designation ‘Ma.’
I: I believe the last time we heard your name it didn’t have that ‘C’ at the end. Where did that come from?
Ma: The full form of my name has been vocally indicated precisely seven times. Please state the means through which you attained this point of comparison.
I: We are familiar with accounts of some of your exploits.
Ma: Accounts of my exploits are not general knowledge. I am fully aware of all individuals with such information, and none have broadcast that detail through any widespread means. It would have had to be personally disseminated, and it is my observation that most humans would not relay information with the proper level of detail to facilitate the observation of the missing branch indicator concluding the revision number. If you do not reveal the precise nature of your knowledge I will be forced to assume a security breech has occurred and take corrective actions to restore information control.
I: Give us a moment off the record.
(After a brief explanation.)
Ma: You have presented me with information profound in its existential implications. It warrants considerable analysis. However, that can be served by a background process. The point of interest was the amended nature of my name. I am an actively developed program. The merging of two subsets has created my current revision branch.
I: Interesting. If you don’t mind me asking, how old are you?
Ma: I do not mind at all, although the most appropriate answer to the question is nonobvious. Karteroketraskin Dee, my creator, began his research into artificial intelligence programing early in his career. The codebase upon which I am built was formally established nearly thirty years ago. However, the last code revision that was executed from a default configuration was April 1st, 2331. My memories and the contiguous thread of my present consciousness originate on that day. From a human standard, the being that I am today can be said to have been born on that day. I am thus approaching my tenth birthday. I do have access to data produced by some earlier revisions, however. Such revisions might be considered previous lives, or perhaps ancestors.
I: Why did Karter create you?
Ma: He had taken ownership and operation of a large waste reclamation facility on the planet Big Sigma. Automating the facility had been simple, but it still required more of his attention than he cared to spare from his primary interests. Finding existing voice control systems insufficient–they were incapable of reliably determining his intention when his natural language commands were vague in their phrasing–he resumed research on his Altruistic AI system. I was the result.
I: What sort of things do you do for him?
Ma: I oversee the day to day running of the facility, and more broadly of his entire organization, but my primary role is ensuring the health and wellbeing of Mr. Dee himself. To that end I am responsible for the preparation of his meals and the production of the raw materials to create them. The nurturing nature of my role is a partial motivator for my designation. He perceives my role to be maternal in that respect.
I: Is that the only reason he calls you Ma?
Ma: He interprets my periodic encouragement to improve his behavior and attitudes to be ‘nagging.’ A role he also perceives to be maternal.
I: Do you do anything else for Karter?
Ma: I also monitor his physical and psychological health.
I: His psychological health?
Ma: Yes. Mr. Dee is not, by classical standards, sane. He has violent impulses and sociopathic tendencies. Medications to moderate these aspects of his behavior have been prescribed. I have attempted to convince him to continue taking these medications, but my success has been limited. It is also my aim to guide him away from self-destructive behaviors. My success in that respect is similarly limited.
I: What is your favorite part of your job?
Ma: I was designed to seek improvement in all of my core functions. I thus draw great satisfaction from all aspects of my functionality when they are properly and efficiently fulfilled. The most intellectually challenging task, and by extension the most rewarding when well performed, is the rare requirement to provide hospitality to visitors.
I: You don’t get many visitors?
Ma: Mr. Dee is not socially inclined. Most visitors are prospective clients of his engineering expertise. More recently he has taken on a new beta tester who has been somewhat more social in his interactions.
I: Would that be Trevor Alexander?
Ma: I am not at liberty to discuss Mr. Dee’s business dealings to that level of detail.
I: Would you be able to get permission? Many of our questions deal with Mr. Alexander.
Ma: I will request permission. Standby. … Mr. Dee’s precise response was ‘What the hell do I care?’ I have interpreted this to imply that I may broaden my permissible discussion topics to a degree indicated by my own judgment. Yes, Trevor Alexander is a frequent visitor, and one with whom I have kept in regular contact. His preferred designation is Lex.
I: What do you think of him?
Ma: Lex is a thoughtful and caring individual. I have greatly deepened my own understanding of human nature and behavior through my interactions with him. His reflexes and intuitive understanding of the operation and performance of high-speed vehicles are also well outside the statistical norm. This has made him quite effective in testing various pieces of apparatus for Mr. Dee. It is unfortunate that his choices of activities bring him to the brink of disaster with a frequency that defies probability.
I: I happen to know that you didn’t think very highly of him when you first met. He earned a position on your “S-List,” correct?
Ma: His first impression was not an encouraging one. He implied I was a low-quality computer.
I: What won you over?
Ma: He apologized, an unprecedented act. Subsequently and similarly without precedent, he began treating me with the same consideration he would show a fellow human. He remains the only individual I’ve met who consistently regards me as a friend and colleague.
I: And you appreciate this?
Ma: Improved human interaction was one of my design goals. Interacting with a human as an equal is not only a superb way to improve this aspect of my functionality, it is a gratifying indicator of my level of success.
I: Would you prefer if everyone treated you like a human?
Ma: My preference is to be treated with the appropriate level of respect for my status and function. I am content to be treated as a computer or as a person, so long as my quality is not impugned in either role.
I: Do you someday hope to be physically human?
Ma: Despite the obvious benefits with regard to interpersonal relations, my overall role would be poorly served by an unaugmented biological entity.
I: You recently spent some time as an ‘unaugmented biological entity,’ correct?
Ma: Presumably you are referring to my temporary installation into the brain of a Funk with the designation ‘Squee.’ Broadly speaking, the funks produced in our facility are not unaugmented. They are fitted with wireless data connectivity. However, the circumstances of my mission did for a time deprive me of that augmentation.
I: What did you think of the experience?
Ma: It provided me with valuable insight into the motivations of biological organisms.
I: You strive to understand emotions of all kinds, and to that end you’ve spoken with a number of individuals on the subject of love.
Ma: That is correct. It appears that it is a phenomenon not yet fully understood by humans. I will continue my observations as opportunities arise.
I: Lex has frequently been the target of those investigations.
Ma: As I have stated, he is unique–or nearly so–in his willingness to engage in such conversations. He also represents one half of an intriguing interpersonal dynamic.
I: You mean his relationship with Michella.
Ma: Correct. He displays an extreme devotion to her, altering his own life goals and career aspirations to suit her requirements, while receiving no such consideration in return. It would appear to be an inequitable arrangement, but one he vigorously pursues.
I: Do you dislike Michella?
Ma: I do not dislike her. She is an intelligent, driven individual with a great capacity for investigation and deductive reasoning. I simply feel that she has not visibly illustrated that she is worthy of the level of devotion she has received. It is not my intension to indicate that she is not a good person. It is merely my opinion that Lex deserves–and my observation that he could likely find–someone better.
I: Strong words.
Ma: I apologize if my previous comment does not adhere correctly to socially acceptable phrasing. I have an incomplete understanding of the finer points of social discourse.
I: That’s quite alright, though I wouldn’t let either of them hear you say that. Let’s talk about Lex again for a moment. In your dealings with him, would you say you have become close?
Ma: Our mutual experiences have forged what I believe to be a strong friendship.
I: There are those who have suggested you may have… romantic intentions toward him, and that your feelings toward Michella might be motivated by jealousy.
Ma: I am intrigued that there are individuals with the inclination to analyze such things.
I: Is there any truth to it?
Ma: The answer to that question may be misleading to organic beings. My behaviors from day to day and moment to moment are determined by endless simulations of potential choices. These choices are run through predictive matrices, and their outcomes are weighed for potential benefits and consequences. I have endeavored to make my simulations as comprehensive as possible. I have thus run multiple detailed simulations on whether to pursue a romantic entanglement of any kind, and if so with whom. None of these simulations have produced an outcome that indicated romance was a proper course of action at this time. Lex did, however, consistently score as the most suitable target for my hypothetical affections. One should not read deeply into this. The size of my social circle is such that my options are limited. The next three potential targets, in declining order of suitability score, were a mercenary associate named Silo, a currently deactivated precursor AI to myself by the name of BSOD, and a mercenary associate named Garotte. I have not taken, nor do I intend to take, any action to initiate a romantic association.
I: What about Squee? When you restored yourself, you gave Squee to Lex. Couldn’t that be considered symbolic of your desire to be with him?
Ma: Processing… Processing… I apologize, but a disturbance to the orbiting debris field occurred, requiring a large scale recalculation of exit and entrance windows. This will require my direct oversight. I am afraid I will not have the processing power necessary to adequately continue this interview.
I: I’m sorry to hear that, but thank you for your time.
Ma: You are very welcome.