by J R Hampton
“Bonobos are said to share approximately 99% of their DNA with humans.” began his latest lecture. He really didn’t mind speaking into the gaping pit of my yawning mouth, in fact, he’d become quite used to it.
“Let’s suppose for one moment that a Bonobo could talk. Suppose it could engage in deep and meaningful discussions on the works of William Shakespeare or describe in detail the theory of evolution.” By now, an obvious strategically timed yawn did not discourage him. During these late night visits to his study it was now an invitation to delve deeper into his postulations.
“Imagine this Bonobo feeling ashamed when unclothed in public, taking offense to name calling or insults. Envision it telling jokes and laughing at old Laurel and Hardy shows.” The only thing to do was give a consenting nod. The professor continued, more to himself than me.
“Would this Bonobo be entitled to a fair wage? Would it desire to improve its state of living? Would it pass its driving test, learn sign language or enroll onto a university course? Perhaps it would it fall in love? Would it be possible for you to fall in love with this Bonobo?” For a brief moment, I actually considered attempting to answer this question before he dismissed me with a frown.
“Surely it is it the mind, the personality of the individual that we fall for, not merely the body that contains it?” he surmised. It was obvious he was referring, in some odd way, to Galatea.
Galatea was motionless, fixed to the hard wooden floor. She was entranced by the radiant glow of the television screen, its rhythmic flashes of colour tracing the contours of her milky white flesh, sketching out her slender shape. Laurel and Hardy danced in her eyes, however, her gaze remained steady, unflinching. The professor sighed. He was losing his own argument. “Is artificial intelligence any less significant? Who’s to say that if an android is programmed to feel, the feelings experienced are any less real? Who’s to say you cannot fall in love with a machine?”
“Why don’t you take a night off?” I tested. I may as well not. He was transfixed on Galatea, involved in some far off fantasy. I’d learnt long ago that it was better to let the professor pursue his peculiar experiments to the end rather than persuade him from his futility.
◊ ◊ ◊
Later that evening I found that I couldn’t sleep for thinking about Galatea. Could the professor be right? He didn’t think like others, his mind worked on a different level.
The first time I saw Galatea was two years ago. The professor was ecstatic. He had been working on her speech and had made some significant progress. The professor had enlisted me to assist him, I was overjoyed. The professor’s reputation was great. He wanted her to have another person to communicate with; he chose me as his own grasp of humour and social skills was lacking.
It was during one of those early evenings when I first noticed something strange about Galatea. I was teaching her to read. I’d selected an old children’s book and was helping her to form the sounds. Her face became distorted, slightly awkward. Before I could analyse what was happening, she returned to normal. Why would a picture of a butterfly cause such an irrational reaction? Had she learnt to imitate expressions from the characters on the television shows, and if so, how had she accomplished this without any programming? It was then that I too became fascinated by her.
The professor would be sitting at his desk whilst I became frustrated by Galatea’s refusal to participate in our little social engagements. Books lay scattered across the floor, stacks of data cards were left to tumble and the physical co-ordination apparatus was untouched. I could see his eyes busily studying us and the smirk that appeared at the corner of his mouth as my endeavours to diagnose her unusual behaviour patterns repeatedly failed.
Over time, it became apparent to me that it was the unexpected and random glitches that Galatea would sometimes display when in my presence, which were what the professor was really interested in. He was searching for something that could not be measured.
The professor was as much as an enigma to me as Galatea was. It was not uncommon for me to witness his irregular examinations of her when arriving early. His probing eyes would inspect every pore of her milky white body as she stood naked before him. He would pinch, scratch and twist her fragile skin to evoke more and more responses from her. The greater the response, the greater the professor applied his method. It was only upon seeing me that he would stop and throw her clothes back to Galatea.
Whilst dressing Galatea and repairing the slight ruptures to her skin, I was perplexed by how the professor could equally demonstrate the same affliction upon this creature as he did affection. The words and pictures from his cluttered desk had taught me as much about his obsession for Galatea as his late night lectures. The schematics and designs fluttered under his breath as he described to me how he formulated and sketched out Galatea in his mind, his search for a companion and his quest to find true love.
“Until Galatea,” He would boast, “It had been over one thousand years since a human being had walked upon this planet.”
He would often repeat to me “Is artificial intelligence any less significant?” as he kissed Galatea’s forehead whilst he watched her sleep. “Who’s to say that if an android is programmed to feel, the feelings experienced are any less real?”
To resurrect a human was forbidden. Our artificial race had lived without war, without poverty, without inequality, without death. The professor suspected that we had also lived without true love.
The professor gazed upon her, watching her breathe.
“Who’s to say you cannot fall in love with a machine?”
J.R. Hampton is a wordmonger based in Coventry, United Kingdom. During the day, he can be found teaching English and Maths at a further education college. During the evening, he can be found attempting to write his biography at a computer. His first short story ‘The Extraordinary Diary of a 23rd Century Teenager’ was published in Christopher Fielden’s inaugural anthology To Hull and Back, in October 2014. His short stories have appeared at 81words, 101 words, Hoot and Paragraph Planet. His stories range from Sci-fi, horror and fantasy to comedy.