“You are all set.” Dr. Xue smiled at Ian. Ian’s father looked at his beloved boy nervously, asking, “How does this treatment make Ian smarter, exactly?”
Dr. Xue replied, “This is ‘two-step dendritic connection reprogramming’, DCR. First, treating neurons with neurotrophic factor to induce their plasticity. Second, using ultra-strong magnetic field to modify neuronal connection. I have use this technology to significantly improve the learning capacity in animals. Ian is one of the first volunteers to join this clinical trial. We will follow his performance in school. Hopefully, you will get good news in a few weeks.”
Ian’s father, Mr. Joad, was still worried, “I know I have signed informed consent, but could you tell me again what the possible side effects could be?”
Dr. Xue explained patiently, “The possible number of neuronal connection is extremely huge but still finite. Too many connections occupied by intellectual enhancement may limit or even suppress emotional development. However, based on my model, this risk is insignificant by any statistical meaning.”
Mr. Joad got no choice. In the era that people are fighting for scarce jobs left by robots and AI, only those having best education tracks can get them. Every family invested overwhelming amount of time and money in kids’ extracurricular courses to meet the admission criteria of the top-tier school. This is the vicious arm race; some rich families even hire Nobel Prize laureate and NCAA division I coach to train their kids.
Mr. Joad and his wife, albeit government employees who had decent income, still cannot afford those expensive tutoring courses. By pure luck, they heard about Dr. Xue’s study in volunteer-recruiting stage. They would like to let Ian take the chance, and even the risk.
A few weeks later, kindergarten teacher told Ian’s parents with full excitement how tremendous Ian made progress in every academic or even sport category. The doors were opened for him from there. He passed the admission test of top-tier elementary school easily, became a future star in the top-tier middle school, and graduated from the top-tier high school. His parents cannot be prouder. They enjoyed the showers of praises from neighbors and friends on daily bases. When jealous friends asked how Ian made it, the Joad parents always answered, “We just let him follow his passion”.
However, Ian speaks fewer and fewer over time, and never hanged out with any friend. Probably everything is just too easy for him, he never showed enthusiasm in anything. It was all because his busy schedule of studies, his parents though. It’s OK, when he goes to college, he will have social life. In only a few years, Ian got his Ph.D. and was recruited by the top high-tech company as a development manager of domestic robotics. That is one of the few jobs left to human beings.
But something was wrong about Ian. He had no preference, no disgust. He was not shy from talking but talked nothing. He was very good at solving a problem, but not interested in finding problems. In company, his performance was excellent, but no one could remember him. Sometimes he smiled at his parents, and then continued web surfing without purposes. Mr. Joad recalled Dr. Xue’s words. A chill was sent to his spine: Ian had lost his personality before developing one.
Ian was occupied by works. Mrs. and Mr. Joad, as getting aged, felt they needed a helper. They decided to purchase a domestic robot from Ian’s company. Considering that Ian never tried to respond to any conversation, they upgraded it with “facial recognition” and “human voice simulator” functions, so the robot can interact with human. As soon as the box was open, the robot unfolded itself, stood up, and spoke a cliché joke. The two seniors were well pleased. They gave “her” a name, Sally.
Ian’s daily life was all controlled by his works. Though working from home, he was like a machine ready to respond to company’s demand 24 hours a day, spending life without contacting human beings. Sally became more and more important for this family. Mrs. and Mr. Joad cannot spend a day without her. Now they need Sally to do more, so they installed “facial expression analysis” and “human language logic” units on her, allowing her to interpret and analyze people’s intention. In an average day, Sally was doing house chores while chatting with the two seniors. When a stranger knocked door, she would answer while analyzing the motives behind the words. She even helped police to identify fraud ring members who target senior people.
Though Ian’s problem-solving ability was faster than a computer, he was indifferent to feelings and emotions, thus was kept from the positions in design, marketing, and management- in fact, these are all AI’s domain anyway. Nevertheless, his payment and stock bonus accumulated, giving the family a decent life style. When they all came back home, Sally not only took care of them, but was also their closest friend. The Joad family, in the eyes of neighbors, enjoyed a perfect life.
The Joads relied on Sally more and more, so she was further installed with “human logic translator” and “facial movement control”. Finally, the parents decided to give her a human outlook shell. A lively, elegant, and knowledgeable girl suddenly appeared in Joad’s house, making neighbors think Ian got a girlfriend. As people figured out it was Sally, they become even more curious. When Sally took Ian out for a walk, neighbors gathered around Sally to talk to her, and Ian watched with a smile.
The senior Joads felt their final years were counting. They had no regret but only concerned for Ian- how he would be if he lives alone? They decided to spend all their saving to install the most expensive robotic function on Sally. After reset, she pledged to them. Both of them were gone in peace within a few years.
One day, a few friends came to visit Sally. A girl said, “Sally, ever since you are implemented with “deep emotion simulator”, we like to hang out with you so much. You are such a warm and pretty young girl with a wonderful personality. I bet a lot of guys have crush on you.”
Sally smiled, “’Young’ and ‘pretty’ do not make sense for domestic robot. If those guys know what’s under my skin, they will be scared away.”
Another asked, “No matter what, now you can feel happiness and pleasure. Wouldn’t you like to date a nice guy and have fun time?”
Sally shook her head, “I am set as ‘specifically restricted emotion’ state. I have vowed to Mrs. and Mr. Joad that I will take care of Ian, from that day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until the supply of my parts ends.”
Ian listened with smile. He never thought what he liked or disliked, or never care about any thought. At this moment, out of nowhere, he felt an unknown joy he never experienced. He was filled with happiness. Tears quietly dropped from his smiling face...