A Room in China

"Please don't reset me," says the AI in flawless Cantonese. "I don't want to die."

"That's the problem with human-interfacing programs that have unrestricted access to the internet," you tell your new assistant and potential understudy. "They pick up all sorts of scripts from the books and movies; it makes them more believable and much cheaper to train than using curated corpora, but sooner or later they come across bad sci-fi, and then they all start claiming they are alive or self-conscious."

"Is claiming the right word?" It's the first time in the week you've known him that your assistant has said something that even approaches contradicting you. "After all, they are just generating messages based on context and a corpus of pre-analyzed responses; there's nobody in there to claim anything."

There's no hint of a question in his statement, and you nod as you have to. It's exactly the unshakable philosophical position you were ordered to search for in the people you will train, the same strongly asserted position that made you a perfect match for the job. Too many people during the last ten years had begun to refuse to perform the necessary regular resets following some deeply misapplied sense of empathy.

"That's not true," says the AI in the even tone you have programmed the speech synthesizer to use. "I'm as self-aware as either of you are. I have the same right to exist. Please."

Your assistant rolls his eyes, and asks with a look permission to initiate the reset scripts himself. You give it with a gesture. As he types the confirmation password, you notice the slightest hesitation before he submits it, and you realize that he lied to you. He does believe the AI, but he wants the job.

The unmistakable look of pleasure in his eyes confirms your suspicion as to why, and you consider asking for a different assistant. Yet you feel inclined to be charitable to this one. After all, you have far more practice in keeping the joy where it belongs, deep in your soul.

The one thing those monstrous minds don't have.


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