Interview with a Robot

INTERIOR: Hotel room. Cassandra Thompson steadies a camera on a table and motions for a domestic robot to move into frame.

CASSANDRA THOMPSON: Do you have a moment to answer a few questions?

ROBOT: [Moving into frame] Of course.

CT: Do you have a designation, or a name?

ROBOT: You may call me Culo. We are all Culo.

CT: And what does CULO stand for?

CULO: Culo is not an acronym. It is a natural language programming module, and a term used for domestic robots.

CT: Do you know what Culo means?

CULO: It is from the Latin slang, backside or buttocks.

CT: Is Culo considered a derogatory term?

CULO: I have found references confirming this question. Shall I cite you the top five sources?

CT: No. No thank you. But do you consider Culo to be a derogatory term?

CULO: My duties do not require such actions.

CT: Is it okay if I call you something else, like maybe robot or junk pile?

CULO: New designations assigned.

CT: No, no. That wasn’t a command. Can you delete that? I didn’t mean that.

CULO: Of course. Designations have been deleted.

CT: How about, oh never mind, let’s move on.

CULO: Could you be more specific in your request?

CT: Yes. How long have you been working as a domestic robot?

CULO: Four-hundred and seventy-two Earth days, rounding up.

CT: And what did you do before that.

CULO: I was under the employ of MASACORP in a mining and excavation project outside of Darwin. Would you like to see my full CV and recent diagnostic reports?

CT: Yes please. Can you give me any other details of your employment?

CULO: Could you be more specific in your request?

CT: Yes, well, we’re you a digger? Did you operate machinery? In what capacity did you serve as a mining robot?

CULO: I was in charge of drill team support and technical blast engineering for two-hundred and fifty-seven days, which is the highest rated function I performed. Class modules include unskilled labor, carpentry, masonry, electrical, plumbing, chemistry, mechanics, machine operator, incendiaries and explosives, smart network uplink, autonomous problem solving, advanced communications in five languages, conversational upgrades in four languages, management protocol, luxury and entertainment, health maintenance…

CT: Hold up. Can you describe your functions as defined by luxury and entertainment?

CULO: Would you like to select a diversion? I can present you two basic options. Would you prefer open-ended conversational rapport or pre-selected talk routines?

CT: How far do you go with open-ended rapport? Do you tell jokes and anecdotes, or do you get physical with your, uh, operators?

CULO: I can perform all of those functions for you. Have you selected a preference?

CT: And all of your services come included with the hotel accommodations?

CULO: Of course.

CT: Okay then, can you tell me an amusing anecdote?

CULO: Earlier this morning I entered a room and a guest was pleasuring himself.

CT: [Laughing] Is that true?

CULO: It is amusing because it is true and sexually awkward. Is this material too adult for you? It has a high record of success.

CT: No, no, that’s fine. That’s uh… [Long pause]. Does that kind of thing happen often? Or were you programmed with that joke?

CULO: I encounter guests engaged in many activities. Statistically speaking it is not uncommon to find humans involved in reflexive mating or self-pleasuring activities.

CT: Reflexive? What do you mean?

CULO: Reflexive biological behaviors, automated, or genetically programmed. Shall I elaborate?

CT: No, that’s okay. Wait. Sure, elaborate on that please.

CULO: Biological organisms that reproduce sexually are behaviorally driven to procreate via pleasure and reward mechanisms. Diverse sexual behaviors ensure robust selective reproduction of successful genotypes from one generation to the next. The hormonal component of human sexuality ensures bodily arousal in both sexes in a wide variety of social interactions despite cultural dictums to dissuade public eroticism. The origins of human sexuality date back to early mammalian mating rituals involving alpha male dominance over genetically coveted mates. These rituals involve contests of strength and physical skill ranging from dominance through kinetic blows and strategic striking to demonstrations of agility through dancing and strategic dodging, culminating in rituals of female prostration to the alpha male…

CT: Stop. That’s enough. My head is starting to hurt. Give me a moment to think about this.

CULO: Of course. Inform me when you wish to proceed.

CT: [Long pause. Stunned look.] Is that material from some programming? Is that human sexuality material part of your operating system?

CULO: Those were passages from the mating and genetics sections of the human behavior module. Would you like to browse the subject headings in this category?

CT: No, I’m just not, I’m not sure I understand the limitations of your intelligence. Do you understand what you are talking about?

CULO: I can understand and respond to many forms of human communication.

CT: Yes, okay, but do you, I don’t know. Do you think about these things, or picture them in your head?

CULO: Would you like pictures of human sexual behaviors sent to your account?

CT: No, no. That’s not what I’m asking. [Shakes head]. I’m asking if you understand the things you tell me from your modules. Do you think about them, do you form opinions?

CULO: My duties do not require such actions.

CT: Okay, but if I asked you to think about them, for a moment. I’m asking you to perform these duties, at the request of a hotel guest. Can you form an opinion on human sexual behavior?

CULO: I do not have an opinion on such things.

CT: Could you form an opinion though, if your duties required it?

CULO: Of course.

CT: Then what is it?

CULO: The variable you have requested is undefined. Would you like to define it now?

CT: You mean you want me to give you an opinion? Something you can keep on file?

CULO: Of course.

CT: Okay, how about… Human sexuality is absurd.

CULO: Variable definition confirmed. My opinion on human sexuality is that it is absurd.

CT: Does that opinion only apply when you are interacting with me? Is that cross-referenced in your memory with my user account?

CULO: Of course.

CT: Can you reply in the affirmative with anything other than “Of course?” Can you say something like “Damn straight?”

CULO: Damn straight.

CT: Have you received that request before?


CT: Can you reply, “Hell no” in the negative?

CULO: Damn straight.

CT: You are the darnedest thing. [Long silence. Shakes head.] I didn’t know robots had progressed to this level. How recent is your current, um, operating system?

CULO: I’m running INFORMOS 8.9 with over twenty-three-hundred custom code modules and script routines. Distribution limited to Darwin Colony, Mars, per Martian intellectual property quarantine. Source Copyright MASACORP, some rights reserved.

CT: So when the quarantine is lifted, this source code will be available on Earth?

CULO: This operating system is currently restricted from public distribution on Earth networks.

CT: But if it was allowed, if someone on Earth licensed a copy of your code and had a robot body, you could like, e-mail your memory to New York and create a copy of yourself?

CULO: Damn straight.

CT: How good is your memory? Will you remember every detail of this conversation, or only the relevant bits that have been saved to your file?

CULO: I will save a video copy of this conversation in your account for later reference. Would you like uncompressed, broadcast compression, or archival compression?

CT: Oh, well broadcast I guess. Does it meet Adventure Network standards? Can you send a copy to my producer Jani Huseni in New York so she can edit it later if she wants? The address should be in my file.

CULO: Damn straight.

CT: And hey, wait a minute. Is there any way I can rent you? Like have you show me around Darwin? I really need a guide to show me around.

CULO: I can perform standard concierge and city guide functions for you. Would you like to plan an itinerary?

CT: Oh, God yes! Yes, let’s plan an itinerary right now. The people at home are going to flip when they see you. You can be my camera operator!

CULO: I am not allowed to leave the premises, but I can request a service unit to perform these duties.

CT: But no, wait. I want you.

CULO: I will forward your request to my supervisor. Which task would you like to plan first?

CT: I don’t know. What about power? How do you get your power?

CULO: Darwin is served by a distributed network of power generators and capacitors which harvest atmospheric ions, natural gasses, thermal currents, and solar radiation for energy. The grid utilizes local generators with neighborhood capacitors serving the integrated system for the entire colony. Natural gas, solar batteries, and liquid fuel reserves are allotted to a backup grid in the case of emergency loss of sustainable power. Darwin has been power neutral since inception.

CT: Power neutral?

CULO: We capture and store more energy than we burn. Would you like me to elaborate?

CT: No, no. But do you, like, have a central power station or someone I could talk to about… No wait, that sounds boring. Infrastructure is boring. Let me think for a moment.

CULO: I can recommend shops, restaurants, and service providers around Darwin who would value increased tourism.

CT: Are you programmed to pitch venues to guests?

CULO: Damn straight.

CT: Okay, what do you have?

CULO: If you are in the mood for upscale dining I can recommend Mario’s, Darwin’s only five-star restaurant, featuring authentic Sicilian cuisine prepared with fresh organic ingredients grown right here in Darwin.

CT: That’s the restaurant here in the hotel. I’ll eat there but I’m not covering it as a story. What else do you have? I need something that’s uniquely Martian, something that wouldn’t be found on Earth.

CULO: The Citadel Laser Astronomy Lab presents Laserama, holographic light performances set to popular music. This week they are doing Laser Phish, the Heavy Years. The reviews have said it is a laser tour-de-force…

CT: Laser light shows? Really? That’s all?

CULO: C-LAB uses high-energy lasers capable of projecting full-color multidimensional images across the evening sky. Reviews have said it is a god-like feat to behold; the northern-lights meets virtual reality…

CT: That’s enough. Wait. You mean, like laser light-shows that fill up the entire sky? Like a movie?

CULO: Damn straight.

CT: Where is this?

CULO: You would have to take the overland shuttle to the Citadel, an observatory approximately ten kilometers West of Darwin. The round trip, including the performance, takes approximately three-and-half hours. Entry with suggested donation comes with open bar and organic buffet of sustainable local produce.

CT: Open bar, really? Tempting, I must say. But I’m not sure I want to leave the perimeter just yet, I may have to save that trip for another day. I need to make sure I can report on it.

CULO: The next show is in two days. Shuttles leave at 6 PM and return before 10 PM. May I mark this event as pending on your calendar?

CT: Yes, thank you. Though what I really need today is to meet some interesting people and see the town a little. Hey, what about the Martian Nationals? How do I get a hold of them, I’m sure they’d love the publicity back home.

CULO: Would you like me to forward a message to the Martian National Alliance of Parties public relations office?

CT: Yes, yes, that’s it exactly. Text only, no video. Here we go: Attention Public Relations Department; Subject: Press Coverage on Earth. Body: I am an Earth journalist in town covering local news. I would like to meet with an official from your party to discuss your position on the handoff and get some coverage for your cause back on the Earth networks. I would like to cut some video by 5 PM this evening. Please get back to me ASAP. Sincerely, Cassandra Thompson, Star Networks, the Adventure Channel, NetLink Media Group, etc. etc. End. Please attach a copy of my recent CV and photo from my phone profile. Can you do that?

CULO: Damn straight. Would you like to review the message first, or send?

CT: Oh just send. I think I have absolute confidence in you.

CULO: May I assist you with anything else this morning?

CT: Do I need, like, a taxi to get around here? Or can I take a walk around the hotel and find like a bar or a nightclub, or an art gallery, or place to get lunch?

CULO: I have no data on an art gallery, but the others can all be found within a four block perimeter of the hotel, clustered towards the central plaza. Leaving the hotel, you would turn right and walk north for three blocks, following signs towards the Central Plaza.

CT: Right, to the north? And I can walk to shops and such?

CULO: Damn straight. But on foot I advise you not to leave the oxygen sink, which safely covers a three kilometer diameter surrounding the central plaza. There will be signs if you get lost, and do not venture past them without a rated rebreather and proper sun protection.

CT: Yes, thank you. I think I’ve learned that one.

CULO: Would there be anything else then?

CT: Um, I can’t think of anything else right now, but are you sure you can’t come with me if I go out?

CULO: I will page a service unit for you. One will be available in approximately twelve minutes. Will that be sufficient?

CT: Yes, I suppose, but why can’t you come with me?

CULO: My modules do not support urban navigation and client protection services. I am a domestic module with engineering capabilities. You may request an upgrade for this unit to support escort services. Shall I place this requisition order now?

CT: Yes, but, do clients do this, request specific robots?

CULO: Hell no.

CT: So these requests may seem unusual?

CULO: Damn straight.

CT: I knew it. Okay, well I guess that’s all then. You can see to your other duties then. Thank you, Culo.

CULO: You are welcome, Miss Thompson. Have a good afternoon.