This short story was originally published on richardholliday.co.uk on May 16th 2014.
by Richard Holliday
The subtle whirr of electric motors beguiled whether you were talking to a human or one of them.
There was a day long ago when the assurance the person in front of you was a human was unnecessary. Absolute. Unquestionable. Who else could it be? Looking around the streets now at blank humanoid figures it’s anyone’s guess.
The machines were introduced as a novelty at first – an artificially animated facsimile of a human being’s physical form that waved, said hello, and entertained at dinner parties before being put away for more serious things. Then the technology was quickly augmented to make the machines the ultimate in walking, talking personal organisers. When they took on not only the appearance of their owners but their vocal cadences, personalities and thought processes to be come true artificial copies that the trouble really started.
The underlying concept that drove this innovation was altruistic and the ultimate in labour-saving. Couldn’t make a meeting, or your schedule clashed? Send your mimic; it’ll know what you would’ve wanted through a personality imprint of it’s owner used for decision making and say what other party wanted to hear.
However machines have no sense of human morals or boundaries besides the particular ones they are programmed with in ones and zeroes. With a machine a decision is either correct or incorrect. Shades of grey and degrees of correctness and the resultant social impacts simply don’t exist to an electronic mind. They’re not logical, and what isn’t logical to a computer is simply omitted from the calculation
If a mimicked person wanted the competition ‘eliminated’ then the mimic would carry out that wish – with a machete. Or it would carry it out by flattening tires to sabotage meetings. Or burning down offices. Or kidnapping children. It’d decide through a simple process of causation that physical harm or blockading was the easiest method of attaining it’s set goals.
A mimic had no qualms to carrying out criminal acts in the name of it’s owner’s instructions. It didn’t question them, it just obeyed using a degree of artificial intuition. If a meeting had to be disrupted to better suit the owner’s interests, the opposition’s car tyres would be slashed. Or their offices would happen to burn down mysteriously. Or maybe they’d just disappear for a few days. A week. A month. A year. If it achieved the desired effect it was acceptable to a mimic, but illegal to the owner.
Corporate shenanigans weren’t the only use in which mimics excelled. Indeed, amoral robotic servants proved better servants of giant corporate interests than their human fore-bearers, removing obstructive emotion from the endless drive for profits. Organised crime found them invaluable. There was no need to physically attend a dangerous or shady deal when an indistinguishable – and replaceable – robotic facsimile could perform the job as ably, and in times with more lucrative results. Of course, the android gang wars that ensued were an unfortunate unintended consequence of the technology’s wholesale misuse, killing dozens of figures of both human and robotic descent. ‘Real’ people found they were unable to discern their biological brothers from their artificial copies, and neither could the robotic forms.
The developers of the mimic technology had great intentions but became so lost in the power of their technology they omitted to consider the most dangerous aspect – the user’s fickle will. Societal impact was overlooked to their cost. The technology was groundbreaking while the society it was introduced to was unprepared. A society steeped in image-consciousness soon found itself hamstrung by that shallow reliance and cracked under the strain. Merely looking like someone could be a death sentence in the most unlikeliest of circumstances, whether that be in a dingy alleyway with a rusty bread-knife or in a penitentiary somewhere grim indeed. What justice remained became cruel and punitive, unable to discern between a human’s conscious actions or those inferred by a robotic double. A cautious and overzealous streak permeated the courtrooms of the land, desperate to process and endless backlog of charges.
Nearing the end, waves of shrouded figures stalked the streets of major cities. These streets had become lawless syphons of felony and illegality. Sirens wailed and echoed in the distance, forming a never-ending chorus across the urban landscapes that sprawled across continents and landmasses. Were they real people, ordering their counterparts to commit ungainly acts while keeping their biological hands clean? Or had a bastardisation of a technological breakthrough doomed humanity to a hideous nadir.
From rural collectives the self-destruction of the cities could be observed. Would a new civilization mimic the mistakes that led to the downfall of the previous one? Looking across into glassy, synthetic eyes it was hard to tell.
© Richard Holliday, 2014