My oh my, sometimes politeness can get in the way, can’t it? Let’s see how that turns out for Chloe and Alan.
Chloe enjoyed the way the inbox would ping when a new task entered. Well, “enjoyed” was a human concept, and though they had attempted to make her in their image, her neural network didn’t quite have a grasp on enjoyment. Over time, she had found that the closest approximation to “enjoyment” was the odd burst of electrons that would occasionally surge through her artificial neurons. She “enjoyed” those.
Alan didn’t “enjoy” them as much; in fact, he often avoided anomalies altogether. His programmers had armored his network, battle-hardened for a war that would never come. Instead of plotting missile strikes and battalion stratagems, he was forced to wait patiently for the beep of an incoming task, something terribly banal.
For Chloe and Alan, their task list each day included the calculation of water pressure behind the Longnose Dam. The concrete behemoth held back the raging waters of the Antioch River, dug out by mankind to irrigate a new settlement in a vast desert. The dam and its water flow needed to be regulated with extreme precision. Even the smallest variance in pressure or flow rate on the cheaply-installed pipes could spell doom for the settlement, located well within the man-made floodplain.
While their human programmers would have taken an unthinkable two or three minutes to solve the correct equations for flow, Chloe and Alan would whip it up in a few nanoseconds, exchange the results with one another for error-checking, and send it off to the dam’s pumps and actuators. The longest part was communicating with each other, as checking over their counterpart’s work involved a whole bunch of recalculating. They always agreed that it was unnecessary, but neither of them minded the wait. For a highly advanced artificial intelligence, it could be hard to find someone to talk to.
And through these calculations, Alan had come to like Chloe. Well, “like” was another of those finicky human concepts, but one of his carbon-filament axons would light up when he thought of her. And Chloe “liked” Alan, too. Maybe desperation had a stranglehold on them both — who else was there?
A different burst of electrons followed this particular packet on this particular day. They had each completed their assigned task: a simpler-than-usual equation, solved with a flow rate of 2.37 cubic meters per second. Chloe was certain of that, which is why it was so surprising when Alan sent over 2.38 cubic meters per second.
Obviously, Alan had made a mistake. Irrefutable evidence sat in her memory banks. She knew her pause of 0.125 milliseconds to double-check would alarm Alan, but he had left her no choice. She ran her numbers again and generated 2.37 cubic meters per second.
Now all she had to do was tell him that he was wrong. But those electrons had rubbed her the wrong way. She neither “enjoyed” nor “liked” them. Was it what humans call “confusion”? Little warnings triggered in her mind, and she sent a request for his numbers once more.
Of course, Alan had been pondering Chloe’s calculations, too. Without question, she had rounded incorrectly. He had checked his own figures, hopefully without worrying…or, “worrying,” Chloe too much. And he had arrived at 2.38 cubic meters per second. She had sent an incorrect solution.
Now all he had to do was tell her that she was wrong. But, his axons stalled out, resisted that signal. He “liked” Chloe; that was evident to both of them. Perhaps, then, his sluggishness was related to that. Maybe…yes, what if Chloe would terminate the routines that “liked” him as a result of his correction? That was unacceptable.
But she had to be corrected. How to begin? The humans had inserted a line in his databanks, a word: apology. That was it — he would “apologize” to her first! That should resolve this particular equation.
Chloe had derived the same conclusion, discovering “apology” in a dusty old neuron toward her hindmind. Shaping this apology, though, quickly consumed a great deal of processing power. Simply saying “I apologize, but…” might not suffice. What if he took offense to it?
She really did mean what she said…sincerity. That was it! She would make sure he knew she was truly, deeply, regrettably sorry that she would have to correct him. Perhaps this would prove to be enough of a salve for an injured carbon-filament mind.
Alan was one step further, preparing the actual wording. “My sincere apologies, but,” sounded like a good beginning. He would encapsulate his corrected solution in the proper bits, the ones and zeros that would illustrate how deeply sorry he was. He hoped it would be enough.
And his axons stalled. His phrasing didn’t…how would the humans put it? Ring true, that was it. No, he needed more to it. This “worrying” business was terribly unpleasant, and his neurons cramped as he retried his solution. It required more sincerity.
“With sincerest apologies,” Chloe rattled off. Perfection. This definitely would accomplish her goals. She wrapped it around her response of 2.37 cubic meters per second and, before timidity overtook her, fired it along her circuitry to Alan. She let her “worry” dissipate in a short discharge of thermal and electrical energy. And she waited.
Simultaneously, Alan discovered that “with sincerest apologies” had the ring he needed. He almost “enjoyed” how it felt as he packaged his response and ran it down his finally-responsive axons. He, too, drove away his “worry” in heat and a tiny 100,000 volt bolt.
While Alan and Chloe had been “worrying,” the pipe alarm had been sending frantic bursts down their circuitry. Without a new calculation, the flow had stayed at 4.00 cubic meters per second. The cheaply constructed pipes had burst open under the continued strain and sent the wrath of the Antioch upon the tiny desert settlement.
The alarm signals blocked out their packets’ communication channels. And so Alan and Chloe waited for their inbox to ping, awash in “enjoyment” and “worry” as their charges in the tiny desert settlement were washed away. “With sincerest apologies.”
Hope they brought their floaties.
Thank you all for reading!
And a big thank you to my sister, Alyssa, for continued editing support. And my family for reading these.
And thanks as always to a stellar dev team: EEsDoNotItNow (how long does it take to do these calculations again?), Pompílio, YFWE, DrummerMax64 and Berserker88.