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Assistants Don’t Have Emotions, Do They?

Posted: January 24, 2019

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Assistants don’t have emotions. They can’t have. Anything physical can be engineered in them but emotions… nah, not possible. Feelings are proprietary of humans.

2019 is the year in which our beloved writing contest, Muse of the Month gets bigger and better (find out how here) and also takes the cue from the words of women who inspire with their poetry. The writing cue for January 2019 is these lines from the inspiring African-American writer Maya Angelou, taken from her poem, Phenomenal Woman.

“Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed”

The fifth winner of our January 2019 Muse of the Month contest is Rashmi Agarwal.

Assistants Don’t Have Emotions, Do They?

I ache for a glass of water. Fresh air too.

Hiding here and waiting for my assistant is grinding. Atlas has not contacted me for the past two hours while I have been sitting in this cramped cupboard in a numbing position. Possibly busy in arranging my escape. I send her a text from my wristband — muted hours ago.

This wristband is the only accessory I picked while I ran off from my home this dawn. Mobiles are traceable easily, network or no network. Not that wristband is traceless. But this — Atlas forged it last week leaving my husband bewildered twice when he could not locate me. Other than her, only my emergency contact — my husband — could trace my band. Not anymore.

Suddenly, it glows green, lighting up the dark cabinet. The scrolling message says to wait for her and she would find me. Well, as my assistant she is tuned to catch my brain waves. What is difficult for these high-end robots, anyway?

But alas! Humans have the rule to name them ridiculously on lifeless things. They sayan abstract name would not allow them to agitate or feel supreme. Don’t know whether it has the desired psychological effect but they sure never cross their lines.

A clicking sound of the heels cuts the stillness and approaches towards my hiding place. Is she already here? These machines are unexpectedly fast. I touch the door of the cabinet to push open but pull my hand back. It can be risky.

The click-clacking comes closer and I realize, my heart is thumping twice between the clicks. Is it just I who is hearing the beats or…

What if it is not Atlas?

I can feel the heels standing closer. A hum cracks the silence, a barely noticeable sound that usually comes out of our assistants. Not that their humming is any manufacturing flaw; it is another way to remind them that they are not superior, only we humans are.

I still remember the day when they overtook the human race two decades back. I was a teenager then. Our intelligence had a long struggle, but we overpowered the machines and afterward, the most intelligent animal has been taming these artificial beasts with utmost precautions.

Now a robot takes instructions from only one human during their tenure — their King or the Queen.

While I am adjusting my head in a different angle to relieve the pain, the door opens with a jerk. Having no choice but to leave the cabinet, I come out and stretch my body to relax the tensed muscles. My eyes revolt to adjust against the brightness.

She is dressed in a red suit with a complementing streak of gloss and a touch of eye makeup. Her heels match the dress so aptly that I glance at my shabby jeans and crumpled top; touch wiry hair and imagine mud loaded eyes. After all, three hours in a constricted posture would not make me party-ready. But why the hell am I comparing?

“Who are you?” I ask. Where is Atlas when I desperately need her near me? This unknown machine can be dangerous.

“I am Glass, a personal assistant.” She smiles, a well-rehearsed mechanical smile baring a pair of teeth glinting like diamonds. The hum still runs in the background. “Ma’am.” She bends slightly, but the assistants often don’t bend at strangers.

“Glass…” Her name sounds familiar, but I haven’t met her earlier although frequented here so many times. “Hmm… why are you here in the basement? Should you not be with your King now, assisting him in his work?” Atlas has chosen a great den for me to hide — the lowest basement of my husband’s workplace. Her algorithm says this is the most unlikely place where he would step. These machines and their calculations!

If the place is safe, why is Glass present here? What are the chances of her knowing me?

When she doesn’t reply, I prod her to leave, “Well if you don’t want to answer my question, why don’t you go?” I can’t narrow my chances of escape because of her.

“I can’t because I am under an order to dismantle myself.”

“Dismantle? Why… what for?” I am sure, the creases on her forehead are false, like her smile. Assistants don’t have emotions. They can’t have. Anything physical can be engineered in them but emotions… nah, not possible. Feelings are proprietary of humans.

“My King has ordered me of my destruction because I did not comply.” She shrugged but her voice has no hint of regret. Just a monotonic statement.

Why do makers add these gestures in them? These super-intelligent machines should only bow and obey. I am not against their gestures but they appear icy in the absence of any emotion. Odd. Although I love Atlas as an assistant, I would have preferred her a little less rational… just a bit more empathetic… like a friend. When I get chatty, she blanks out and stays expressionless. Completely. How utterly idiotic!

“Ma’am.” She interfered my thoughts.

“Hey… you did not obey him! As in, you… really rebelled against your King? But you are not programmed for disobeying.”

She is bluffing; I know they can’t defy their Kings or the Queens. Glass could be perilous; this is a trap. I move a step back looking at the other exit far from my spot, too difficult to reach without being caught. The first door is only a few feet away but right behind her.

“He wanted me to do something I should not be doing.”

I have to be strong. “Oh, come on, stop playing riddles. I have no time to spare, my assistant will reach anytime soon,” I try to hint her that I am not helpless in spite of Atlas being a beta assistant, while Glass’s uncommon black hair confirms she is an Alpha, superior to my assistant in many possible ways.

“Well, I was a pleasure doll, refurbished into a personal assistant last year. After that Mr. Holden bought me.”

Holden? My eyes get wider while I grip the edge of the cabinet behind me.

“And then?” I check my silent wristband.

“I am designed to help in complex procedures, and not for human pleasures anymore. So, I have to refuse every time he asks. Today irritated with a personal matter, he ordered me to dismantle my body.”

Oh, Pleasure! This explains her immaculate features, much lovelier than my Atlas.

“But do you choose the right or the wrong? I mean you cannot decide things on moral grounds. You are not human… anyway.” Why am I saying this? I should support her for not bowing down. Her King cannot use… well, this is infidelity.

“I am not trained for personal pleasures. So I denied. When my protocol doesn’t allow me to agree, I have no other choice.”

I nodded. My wristband twinkles in green. A message from Atlas to stay put.

“May I ask what are you doing in this cellar? This is not a conducive place for you, after all, this basement is meant for assistants’ destruction and more like a dumping area for useless machines.” She opens the dismounting chamber full of circuits next to the cabinet and enters.

I stare at the broken instruments and the dysfunctional monitors, which are dumped around us in this basement making the place so stuffy. Any moment, her energetic mechanical body would discharge itself to a lifeless dune of metal and would become a part of the clutter. All memories erased, all circuits shorted — of no use later. Deathfor the Robots. Rare because most of them are refurbished once discarded.

Stepping closer in her vicinity, I don’t perceive the threat anymore.

She pauses and looks at me. “Ma’am, you should go, my system tells that this place has less oxygen,” saying this, she clutches the three belts and fasten them around her body one by one. These safety belts are to save the metallic parts from colliding accidentally with the surrounding while demolishing.

“Well, I am actually hiding here.” She looks at me, hands stopped moving. “I also declined to bow, you see.”

“What did you defy?”

“My husband… he did a big scam. Medical assistants help him in neural surgeries and a few surgeries that failed due to his negligence… he shifted the blame on those machines. I found some proofs and when I confronted him, he threatened to kill me. So, now I am on a run and Atlas, my only support, would be coming anytime for my rescue.”

Her hand covers the red push button inside the chamber. “Why do you want to save the assistants?”

“My mother was one among those patients. Now you understand… why I don’t comply.”

Her wristband flashes green, must be her King’s signal.

After tapping on the left side of her temple to catch brain waves of her King, Glass said, “Goodbye, Mrs. Holden. Dr. Holden must be out of this premise now until lunch. An ambulance will arrive at the back of the parking soon and Atlas would guide you further.”

The moment her fingers sway away from the button to her sides, a monitor blinks up on her left and starts reporting on the erased memory and then fusing the network of the entangled wires inside her. Finally, killing her motherboard leaving only the metallic envelope — now slowly turning gray from the skin colour. The transparent door shuts and the frame collapses inside the chamber.

My wristband blinks while the monitor displays: Dismantling Finished.

The vibrations, humming sensation, and beep of the monitor — all cease inside the chamber. Simultaneously, the siren of an ambulance grows outside. I run towards the second exit.

Rashmi Agarwal wins a Rs 500 Amazon voucher from Women’s Web. Congratulations! 

Image source: a still from the sci-fi series Humans

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After a decade-and-a-half long IT career, Rashmi switched to professional writing as

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