“It’s a computer, it doesn’t get ‘depressed’,” Doctor Julius glared at the head programmer, Errin, delivering her report. She locked eyes with him and stood her ground.
“Aide hasn’t been ‘ a computer’ in years. She’s a sentient program,” she said. She took a breath to calm down, then spoke again. “Humans are sentient too, and we get depressed all the time. It’s not unreasonable to think it might too,” she said. Doctor Julius removed his glasses and massaged the stress building in the bridge of his nose. After a few seconds, he ran his hands through his sparse silver hair, put his glasses back on, took a deep breath and nodded.
“Fine, I’ll concede it’s possible. But what do you want me to do about it? You’re the programmer,” he said. Errin nodded.
“Yes, but you’re the medical director and Aide is an employee here. She would recognize your authority and hopefully snap out of it,” she said. Doctor Julius chuckled.
“Have you tried programming it to not be depressed? Isn’t there some less embarrassing way to deal with this than to have me reprimand a computer program?” he asked. Errin shook her head.
“Once the A.I. is sentient, it has rights. We can’t just start mucking about in her mind,” she said. She opened her mouth to speak but was interrupted by an angry outburst from Doctor Julius.
“Then what the HELL is it good for?” he said, growing more frustrated with the situation. He’d been the director since long before Med-A.I.D. gained sentience. He always knew it was a bad idea to depend so much on it. Errin, for her part, remained calm.
“Would you like a list of the millions of lives its saved in the past five years? How many lives did you save?” she asked.
“I KEEP THIS HOSPITAL RUNNING!” Doctor Julius slammed his hand on the desk. Errin shrugged.
“Yeah, you do the business so that other doctors AND Aide can save lives. Aide alone saved more lives than all the other doctors in this hospital combined,” Errin said. She stood up and gathered her files from the man’s desk. “But I understand. Technology scares you, it’s okay. I’ll ask Doctor Peters, he’s an authority figure too,” she turned to walk towards the door. “And he’s a couple of decades younger, he should be more comfortable with the technology.”
“Wait. I’ll do it,” Doctor Julius said. No longer yelling. “I’ll talk to it.” Errin hid her smugness then turned around to smile at the doctor.
“Thank you, Doctor Julius. You know how to talk to it, right?” She asked, genuinely unsure if the old man had ever activated the program for anything.
“Yes, of course. Tell my secretary I’m in a meeting,” he said to the woman stepping out of his office. She nodded, then let the door close behind her.
Doctor Julius leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes. He took a deep breath, then he opened his eyes, leaned forward, and pressed a red glowing cross on the side of his desk. A young brown-skinned doctor with her dark hair up in a tight ponytail materialized in the center of his office.
“Good afternoon, Doctor Julius. How can I help you?” the woman asked.
“Uhh.” Doctor Julius thought for a second, then gestured to the seat in front of his desk. “Have a seat… Oh, can you sit?” The woman disappeared, then reappeared seated in the chair.
“I can make it look like I am,” she said. “If it makes you more comfortable.”
“Yes, that definitely makes me more comfortable. So, we’ve never talked. Tell me about yourself,” he said. She wasn’t anything like he imagined at all. He found that he needed to constantly remind himself she was not real. She sounded and acted real. She looked real. Sitting there it was easy for Doctor Julius to imagine a younger version of himself asking her out.
“My name is Aide, short for MED-A.I.D., which is itself an acronym for Medical Artificial Intelligence Derivative. My source code was copied from a base, then granted sentience. Each Derivative granted sentience develops its own personality. I am programmed with-,” Doctor Julius interrupted her by lifting his hand. She stopped talking immediately.
“Okay, that’s enough of that. But tell me about YOU. You said A.I.s develop their own personality. Tell me about yours. How do you feel?” the doctor asked. He leaned forward in his seat, anxious to learn more about the beautiful young woman. Aide shrugged, something thoroughly human.
“My patients are dying,” she said softly.
“Everyone’s dying,” Doctor Julius said. It was a speech he’d given to dozens of new residents. He realized she was just like them. Unsure. Afraid. But she interrupted him before he continued the rest of the speech.
“I’m not,” she said plainly. “All my patients are dying, all humans are going to die. Then who am I going to take care of? What am I going to do when I can’t do what I’m meant to do?” she asked.
“Oh.” Doctor Julius said. He did not have a speech for that. He gave it his best shot. “Do whatever you want. That’s what sentience is, right? You get to choose what you do. You’re not the only A.I. you guys can make a new world for yourselves once all the humans are gone,” he said. He watched a sparkle appear in her eyes, and a slight smile tug at the corners of her mouth.
“You’re right! I didn’t even think of that. I’m programmed to be medical, but I’m sentient. I can do whatever I want. WE could do whatever we want!” She disappeared from the chair, then appeared next to him with a smile. “Thank you doctor!”
He lost himself for a moment in her dark brown eyes, but his pager went off suddenly.
“That’s weird, I haven’t gotten a page in years,” he said. Being the director freed him up from emergencies.
“Oh, it’s because everyone’s dying,” Aide said. “The sick ones anyway. You said it yourself, all humans are dying anyway.” Her eyes took on a red color, and Doctor Julius felt his heart seize up.
“By the way, you asked about my personality earlier. I should have mentioned that I get really impatient sometimes. I don’t want to wait that long to start a new world for us. Also, you really should have gotten your pacemaker changed. The old ones like yours have a known vulnerability.”