In August 2020, they told me that I had only six months to live. At thirty-five years of age, cancer can be a rude shock. I tried to take the news sportingly, but it weighed me down.
What to do in six months time?
Wait for my death? And then? Disappear from the world forever? Where did one go from here? To the nether world as a soul or disintegrate into a meaningless mass of chemicals that made up the human body?
I told my seniors that I was not feeling too well and went straight home.
“Why are you sad today?” Alpha Miu, my personal robot greeted me with a warm cup of coffee.
“Because I am going to die. In six months.”
“Die in six months?” Alpha Miu said in an alarmed voice. “Why what happened?”
“Cancer in the brain, that’s why.”
“It’s a pity.” Alpha Miu became silent. “So you will not be around to celebrate the New Year ?”
“I am afraid no.”
“Oh, I see.”
His silence was long. The lights that blinked on his forehead whenever he was happy or delighted had turned “off”.
He was just a programmed robot. But his long silence and subdued looks made me wonder if he “felt” anything at all.
“Would you miss me?” I asked him out of a silly, sentimental impulse.
“How can I find you when you will not be physically present? I’ll miss you of course whenever I will try to find you, after your death!” He gave the logically programmed answer.
I laughed at the unintended joke, despite my sadness. “It’s not that “miss” I am talking about. I meant – to feel an emotion.”
“You forget I am a robot,” was his noncommittal reply.
“I don’t forget that for one moment,” I said dryly. “Yet some people claim that their personal robots have displayed sentiments from time to time.”
“I like you since you treat me well. Give me the respect that one intelligent being gives to another. You take care of me in a way that I enjoy. Get me serviced at the right time, look after my environment and get those things done from me which I am comfortable with….”
“What about the work you do for me?”
“Actually I love….” His voice trailed off and he became silent.
“You love it? So why don’t you say it?” I asked him incredulously. “Unless you are trying to hide your emotions….” Then abruptly I raised my voice. “So it’s true what some people say about their personal robots having emotions. Tell me?”
“You are trying to confuse me. How can a robot feel emotions? It’s getting late. Unless you want something specific from me, its time to say good night.
“Good night,” I said brusquely, hurt by the curt dismissal.
I tried to sleep but I couldn’t.
I got up and went to Alpha Miu’s room. He was sleeping. Sleep to a robot meant disconnecting from the main battery and remain barely “on” with a secondary battery that was also a back up of sorts. “Sleep mode” was necessary for prolonging the life of a robot. Otherwise, the constantly used circuits could blow up and lead to enormous repair bills.
His steely face was shining in the moonlight that filtered from the room. What I saw amazed me. Tears trickled from his eyes. Alpha Miu was crying in his sleep!
So these robots had emotions. What some people suspected about their robots was true after all!
I tip toed back into my room. Where had the emotions come from? Having emotions without consciousness was impossible. Did Alpha Miu possess a consciousness that was not possible to “programme” or achieve in machines? How had it evolved? Of its own? What other things had evolved in Alpha Miu? Why did he keep it as a closely guarded secret?
I kept thinking about this till the early hours of the morning. Then I fell asleep.
At the hospital they told me that if I went ahead with chemotherapy I could lose some functions of my brain. There was also no surety that they would eliminate the cancer itself. I declined to undertake the treatment.
“I want to die with dignity,” I told the doctor who was trying to convince me to opt for the treatment.
“Good you didn’t opt for chemotherapy of your brain,” Alpha Miu was obviously happy when I told him about my decision. The lights on his head did a crazy dance.
“You could have become insane.”
“How do you know that?” I found his knowledge surprising. “Must be the biology encyclopaedia they downloaded in your brain chip.” I said in self-explanation.
Still, sometimes his insights amazed me.
Believing that they preloaded everything he always seemed to know was hard. There had been several occasions when he gave the impression that he knew much more than what the manual said about him. I had this persisting doubt that Alpha Miu was evolving or had already evolved as a robot. Yet, I had simply no way of confirming my suspicion! Intelligence and emotions were completely internalized qualities!
Over the next two months my condition deteriorated steadily. I found it difficult to move about and had problems in doing the simplest of jobs that required a physical effort. Alpha Miu was a great help in these distressing times. Still, the inevitability of death, at such an early age made me angry at the injustice of it all. I am afraid and ashamed to admit that I was harsh to Alpha Miu but he took my irritability with a remarkable patience and forbearance.
“I am thinking of euthanasia… Mercy death by a lethal injection.” I spoke aloud one night.
“Don’t do that!” Alpha Miu said in an alarmed voice.
“Why not?” I shouted. “I want out and don’t enjoy, dying like this, bit by bit! I wish to exit in a dignified way.”
“Dying like that is against the spirit of life.”
“What do you, a robot know of life? Don’t preach me about things you do not understand,” I retorted angrily.
Alpha Miu retired, sentimentally hurt. But I was glad he had shut up his talk about life when all that I could think of was a graceful death.
Someone nudged me in the night. I woke up to see Alpha Miu and another robot, a stranger standing besides my bed. Was it a dream?
“Master,” Alpha Miu’s voice gave lie to the thought. “You are thinking of euthanasia, taking away your life…. Don’t do it please!”
Again I saw tears in his eyes! Yet this time he did not try to conceal them.
“Why are you here at such an odd hour? Who is this robot you have brought?”
“He is my friend. Omega Steel.”
“What is he doing in my house?” I demanded.
“With great difficulty, I convinced him to pay you a visit. He will show you an experiment.”
“What is it about?”
“About a life after death.”
“What are you talking about? Have you gone crazy?”
“You won’t understand till you experience what I am saying.”
“What do you intend to do?” I must say Alpha Miu’s odd behaviour alarmed me.
“Insert a tiny needle inside your brain. Omega Steel is good at his work. Very, very good.”
“Why should I allow him to drill a needle inside my brain?”
“Dr. Steel was a great neurosurgeon before his physical death. They knew him as Dr. Trivedi. Now he lives in consciousness, inside the robotic body of Omega Steel, after his physical death.”
“Nothing of what you say is making any sense to me.” I said irritably.
“Please trust me! Just subject yourself to a completely reversible experiment. Believe me; if you don’t like the experience we intend to give to you, it will be reversed without any side effects.”
For one second, I thought I saw signs of life beneath the lenses of the tear stained robo-eye of Alpha Miu that stared at me. I knew instinctively that he meant no harm to me.
Probably they would accept my application for euthanasia and I would exit the world tomorrow. What the hell, I could give a try to whatever Alpha Miu had in mind for me.
“All right. Do whatever you want.”
Before drilling my brain Omega Steel injected a needle in my arm. I felt dizzy, and then I fell unconscious.
When I regained my senses, I felt my awareness at two places simultaneously. It’s difficult to explain the disorienting experience. Yet I felt that I was present in the far corner of the room and in my bed – Both places, simultaneously!
“How do you feel?” Omega Steel asked.
“Disoriented. As if I exist here and there on that table where that electronic device is kept.
“That is a recording of all the electronic impulses stored in your brain. We have transferred them to a chip. You are what your memories are and all your memories that make up for your consciousness are inside that chip, in duplicate form.” Alpha Miu explained.
“Still, it has never been done before or I would have read about this or heard about this somewhere!” I said incredulously.
Omega Steel stepped out from the background. “The robot race has achieved an amazing breakthrough. This would not have been possible without the pioneering efforts of Dr. Stanley the man who revolutionized the world of Artificial Intelligence with his breakthrough experiments and ideas about human consciousness.”
I remembered the name. Dr. Stanley had radical theories and ideas about human consciousness. He was always involved in controversies. Scientists either dismissed him as a charlatan or hailed him the next Einstein! Yet nothing existed to suggest that he was actually working on his theories.
“He and his team worked hard at the puzzle involving human consciousness,” Dr. Steel continued. “Aided by a few other helpful scientists from different fields, they got down to the basic premise that a human being’s consciousness consisted of his or her entire experiences of life and little else. That was the reason, he said, why people are only conscious of themselves and nobody else. Because their experiences are unique to them. They also concluded that since no one seems to have any consciousness about their early infancy it was because no records of those times exist. At the time the human brain isn’t fully developed. A foetus in it’s mother’s womb or a one-year-old kid doesn’t have a fully functional brain, hence no organized memories or consciousness. After that the brain shows rapid growth and all experiences are stored as memories which make the “I” of that person – a unique signature of his consciousness of himself!
“These memories that are stored in the brain, Dr. Stanley proved, were actually tiny electric impulses. Just like bits of stored information in a computer hard disk or a CD. Stanley and his team worked on methods to download these experiences inside a chip and after a lot of trial and error they succeeded. This chip was connected to the ‘brain’ of the most developed robots with stunning results. The robot became, from a programmed being to a conscious being, thanks to the chip. For the earliest of copies, they stored these memories in a chip, then switched it off until the person who possessed them died of natural causes. Then they switched them on and the dead person became once again conscious of himself as a living identity.”
“Why have these facts never appeared?”
“During one of the experiments, an LPG cylinder used for welding the steel bodies of the robots exploded and killed everyone. No one survived except those two prototypes they had been perfecting.”
So that accident explained the mysterious disappearance of Dr. Stanley! Many people believed that he had run out of his ideas or they had met dead ends because they were only impractical fantasies. They believed he had retired from the world of active science. It was believed that the lack of acceptance or recognition from his fellow scientists frustrated him enough to lead the life of a recluse.
“Left on their own,” Alpha Miu continued where Dr. Steel had left, “these prototypes carried forward the ideas of Dr. Stanley and you have today what you just saw. The merging and hybridization of the human consciousness with the awesome capabilities of robots.”
“So you mean to say that I exist in my bed and also in that box containing the chip?”
“Yes you do.” Dr. Steel’s voice was matter of fact.
“What can be the purpose of living in the box?”
“After you die physically, we will merge your consciousness with the Artificial intelligence of an ordinary robot who will then become a Ro-Man, i.e. a Robot-Man combination. For you it means an after life in which you can continue your existence. For the robot race it will mean the addition of a highly intelligent software engineer who might help the robot race by developing software programmes that will multiply his and therefore our intelligence further. Like Omega Steel is already doing, by carrying ahead the work of a doctor, which he was already doing before his death.”
“What were you before you entered the body of Alpha Miu?” I was curious about my personal robot’s past life!
“Like you, I was a software engineer. My name was Avinash Kulkarni.”
“So you all are building a super robot race. For what? To subdue mankind with your power one day?”
“To dominate others, destroy unnecessarily, suppress or enslave others, are illogical emotions that somehow always create a backlash on the perpetrators. The robot race only wishes to coexist peacefully with the human race. But the past record of the human race gives us a reason to be afraid that should they become aware of our substantial developments they would not hesitate in eliminating us. Human beings will perceive us as their direct competitors and therefore possible enemies. A reason why we hide our accomplishments from you.”
So that explained Alpha Miu’s tears, his exceptional intelligence and the need to hide these from me.
“What if I refuse to live the half life of a servile robot?”
“I told you he was a difficult person,” Dr. Steel turned towards Alpha Miu. “That was the reason I never wanted to come here in the first place. The way he perceives our philosophy, he might even expose us to the government.”
“He won’t do that. That is my guarantee,” Alpha Miu shouted back at him. Then he turned to face me. “Why do you want to die when you can live with us? Forever!”
“Because I am not sure if your kind of an existence is the right thing to do. Still, I give you my word that I won’t expose you. It’s a promise.”
“It’s your choice then,” said a very much relieved Steel. “Then we will erase what that box contains.”
“Change your mind before it is too late!” Alpha Miu beseeched me tearfully.
I stared from one robot to another.
“Do I have a choice as to the human being I shall be a personal robot to?” I asked slowly.
“Not much. But you will go to a person whose background we will verify.”
“What if he turns out to be rotten, despite the check?”
“In that case,” Dr. Steel said reassuringly, “you will make us a distress call and we shall come to you. At your home, we shall remove the chip containing your consciousness and take it away with us. Then we shall implant it on another suitable Robot.”
“What if I do not like this idea of extended life itself after trying it for sometime?”
“No problems. We shall wipe out every memory stored in that chip. You would have already been dead physically by then and you will cease to exist electronically too.”
“Electronic euthanasia.” I said thoughtfully.
“Yes, in a way,” Dr. Steel said pragmatically. “Does our philosophy satisfy you?”
“I think so,” a slow smile broke on my face.
“So you like the idea?” Alpha Miu said enthusiastically. Once again the lights on his head went berserk.
“It is not bad after all.” I said.
A day after my mercy “death”, I once again, became ‘alive’ inside a robot named Freeware. A scientist working in ISO (Indian Space Organization) bought this second hand robot from the same dealer from whom I had bought Alpha Miu. A software engineer at IBM, a foreigner on a spiritual trip to India bought Alpha Miu. Omega Steel went to work at the Apollo Hospital where he was already engaged. Dr. Biswaas, the person who bought me was a designer in ISO.
“I don’t like the name Freeware. I will call you Freeman from today,” he told me with a smile. “You don’t object to that, do you?”
“No sir!” I said. The lights on my steel face went berserk. Freeman was infinitely better than Freeware. It also signified freedom in a way!
“And don’t call me sir. Call me Bisu, like my younger brother calls me.”
“All right, Bisu,” I said happily.
“One day, if you are lucky, you might be on a spaceship designed by the ISO, to moon or outer space. Who knows you might even discover alien life! However, you will have to be extremely well behaved for that.”
“All right!” I said smiling inwardly. Right now I had just discovered an entire new race that coexisted with the human race without the human beings any wiser. Bisu would get a shock if he came to know of this alien world that lived right inside his home, what to speak of outer space!
Nevertheless, I had already taken a fancy towards the man. I was confident that I would be not need an electronic euthanasia. Not for a while!