Robot Memories



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Robot Memories

Her father’s recorded memory of her childhood tears her world apart

Image public domain, modified from original.

JJezmin put her two-year-old down for a nap and let out a heavy sigh. Time was moving too fast. Her son was already walking and talking, and she now hardly remembered his early days as a newborn. And, of course, her son wouldn’t remember any of this at all.

She was shaken from her melancholy by an overdue realization. Her eyes opened wide and her mouth dropped. “Of course!” she called out loud.

After rummaging in her basement for ten minutes she uncovered a forgotten box. It was heavy, lined with matte steel, and had the words “Memory Aggregation, Retention, and Generation Organism Technology.”

“Hello, Margot,” Jezmin said rhetorically, remembering the acronym her father had used to name the robot.

In 2047, Okobo Technologies invented and marketed a robot with the sole purpose of recording memories. The advertisements noted that children are self-absorbed and have little desire to learn about the lives and skills of their parents or heed their advice. The instructions noted that parents should talk to the robot as if it were their child and include it in activities that their children had rejected.

Jezmin’s father purchased one immediately after seeing the first advertisement. Based on the instructions, he tried to call it “Jezmin,” but quickly opted for “Margot” instead. It felt better.

The robot was almost immediately discontinued since most users were looking for robots with different functionality, such as driving, teaching, cooking, or household repairs and maintenance. But Jezmin’s father was loyal to his purchase.

When Jezmin was 10 years old, her family was driving to visit her aunt in Minneapolis when their hydrogen cell regulator malfunctioned. Her father hopped out of the car and called Jezmin to come to watch so she could learn how to troubleshoot and repair it. She scarcely heard him because she was playing laser wars with her friends in the Virtual Universe.

Her father called, “Hey, Margot! Come help me out.”

“Sure, Dad!” the robot called out spritely and jumped from the car.

Okobo had done a marvelous job creating a lifelike robot. Although their human-like movements and voice modulation were well above industry standard, it was the Artificial Intelligence algorithm that made the units so impressive. Clean Slate™ technology meant the units were not preloaded with encyclopedic knowledge, which was a feature most users desired. However, combining this with Insatiable Knowledge Acquisition™ software created an AI that was inquisitive, respectful, and able to quickly access and organize memories to draw parallels and ask provocative questions. The purpose, of course, was to create a user experience that facilitated sharing.

It was situations such as this that made Jezmin appreciate having Margot around. Working on the car was one of her father’s boring hobbies, and it was over 110 degrees outside, so she was happy to defer the lesson to Margot’s memory. She would experience the recording sometime later on.

The problem was that Jezmin hardly ever participated in activities with her father and never listened to the recordings. Not the one from that car ride, the ones from the weekend carpentry lessons, the late evening talks while fishing on the pier. Not even the conversations on the front porch that lasted for hours after grandma died. Margot was there.

Jezmin frowned. She picked up the menu interface and scrolled through the meticulously referenced recording titles. The word “Estrangement” caught her eye. She sighed heavily.

Three years before her father died, Jezmin and he had a falling out. She was studying regenerative mycology and her fieldwork had taken her to Zambia to be a team lead on the miombo forest restoration initiative. She remembered attributing the estrangement to the communication difficulties due to the time difference, but she knew it was more than that. She had nothing in common with her father, nothing to talk about. So she slowly detached until their communications were nothing more than perfunctory quips on group chats.

When he died she hadn’t seen him for fourteen months and hadn’t exchanged a word with him for nearly a year. She received word of his death at the onset of the rainy season when the termites take flight in the cool evenings. Her project needed her, she had justified to herself and so she attended the funeral in the Virtual Universe.

Jezmin found the final entry in the database, entitled “Last Words.” She selected the title and put Margot’s temple node interface on her head and over her eyes.

After a bright splash of light, there was darkness and the sour smell of antibacterial cleaning products. Her father came into focus. He was lying on a hospital bed. His gray hair was matted on one side with sweat and he had a nostril tube that hissed slightly. The screen on his wrist cuff contained multiple numbers, most of which were red.

“Come closer, Margot,” he murmured weekly.

“Yes, father,” Margot must have said, but Jezmin felt that her own lips moved when she heard the robot’s voice.

“Jezmin,” her father began. “I hope you do well with your life. It sounds like you are successful and happy, and that is good. Maybe you’ll remember me someday and smile.”

Jezmin started breathing heavily and felt herself start to cry. She wasn’t sure if it was part of the recording or her own emotions that had suddenly been overwhelmed.

“This is for you, Margot,” her father began, but the image immediately faded into black and the words “Secure Content” appeared. The animation on the side indicated that it required a fingerprint on the right temple reader. Jezmin placed her thumb there and heard a chime.

The recording continued.

“Margot, you are my shining star. You have been with me through it all. You listened, and you understood, but most of all you cared. Your presence has been the joy of my life which I will take with me. Always.”

AI/ML

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