in Computational Psychology
Bangalore World University - New York
Case Study - The Step-Self
I was contacted earlier today by a woman who, do to the curious nature of her case, did not wish to be named-henceforth referred to as Ms. Bronze.
Ms. Bronze is a highly intelligent, attractive, and successful woman. She was born in Eastern Europe, where, several years ago, she made the acquaintance of a man-AK. They were a good match, became lovers, and soon afterwards were married.
However, success paradoxically threatened their relationship. AK rose to become a senior executive at a wealthy and established European firm. His responsibilities involved traveling in excess of two hundred and fifty days a year. AK's standard joke was that his office was "Seat 4-A at 15,000 meters." In the meantime, Ms. B. received an attractive offer that precisely matched her skills and interests-from an American firm. The couple now found themselves in a dilemma.
Having no children, but considerable financial resources and the support of AK's employer, they decided on a novel-and perhaps ill-advised-solution to their problems. They commissioned the creation of a double for Ms. Bronze. This robot was effectively her identical twin in appearance, movement, and mannerisms. Furthermore, it was programmed with a state-of-the-art Evolving Intelligence seeded with Ms. Bronze's personality.
The robot was told from the outset that it was a simulacrum, and was at no time given to believe it was the "real" Ms. Bronze. For example, it was shown an exhaustive selection of digital records from B's childhood, but never given the impression that it had been Ms. B. The correct analogy would be to an actress doing an immersive study of a real person she was to represent onstage. According to B., the robot did not on any occasion appear to express resentment or discontent at its assigned role. Ms. Bronze said she had been at first particularly worried about that, despite her husband's assurances that AIs tend to be amotivated. Even after repeated conversations between Ms. Bronze and her "twin," the robot never indicated any unhappiness with her lot.
(B. now regrets these conversations, believing she may have planted the seeds of her present predicament.)
In short, the twin seemed happy with her new life as a surrogate wife-for that is what she was designed to be. She was to meet AK for dinners out, accompany him to the Opera or the theatre, keep him company around the house, and, yes, share his bed. Each night, while AK slept, she would compile a digitized version of their day together, editing out the dull or unpleasant. This "highlights" version would be squirted through the sphere to the real Ms. B. She, having undergone downwire surgery to have a digital atrium embedded in her nervous system, would then be able to "experience" her marriage in this digest form.
At first everything seemed to go well. "For the first year," she says, "we had far more time together through her than we had ever had when it was just the two of us." The double, after all, had no career of its own to pursue-even the daily tasks AK assigned to it, such as paying the bills, could be done in the hours he was sleeping. It was always available to accompany him on business trips-inexpensively, as it could be checked as luggage.
By Christmas 2141, Ms. Bronze began to worry less about her double's feelings and more about her own. A quick analysis of the daily digests revealed that, as she had suspected, they were becoming shorter. AK claimed his work schedule was becoming more intense, and he simply wasn't able to spend as much time with the double as he wanted. At first, the couple's "virtual" sex had been, if anything, more intense when mediated through the robot. (It is extremely likely the robot was programmed for this purpose. It may also have been that there was a "novelty factor" in play for AK.) But by the beginning of 2142 the sex was much less frequent, and Ms. Bronze found it less passionate. She began to fear that AK was being unfaithful to both of her.
A chance conversation with one of her co-workers about the evolving nature of a sophisticated AI awakened a different suspicion entirely. He had made the rather poetic observation that a thinking creature, even one born without a soul, must surely "grow" one as the natural consequence of living in the world-by which he apparently meant to say that a truly advanced robot, no matter what its initial programming, must eventually, with the passing of time and accumulation of experience, come to understand the world differently from the way its programmers had initially presented it.
"And at that instant I suddenly knew: he was having an affair with her."
Convinced that her
double had begun to have a private relationship with AK, Ms. Bronze demanded
much more extensive recordings of the twin's days. She began to lose sleep,
often coming back to her corporate apartment after a long day of work
only to stay up until two or three in the morning, experiencing hour after
hour of her double's life.
Certainly B. had some cause for suspicion. The "unedited" recordings seemed to include a new sense of intimacy between AK and the double. There was a wealth of data that had not previously made it into the digest feeds: shared sunsets, shared slang, a new pet name and favorite restaurant.
"Exactly the normal development of a relationship if you were here," AK said.
"Then why didn't she include this stuff? Like when you called her "sweetling." You never called me that."
"We were waiting in line to get a table. It wasn't important enough to send. You're a busy woman, in case you hadn't noticed."
He always made me feel like I was being an unreasonable bitch, but
A statistical analysis of the months January to March, when Ms. B. was getting the supposedly "unedited" feed, revealed that the incidence of sexual relations reported (her emphasis) between AK and the double had increased by a statistically significant 19%. Spring in the air-or had the double previously been editing out certain intimate episodes? Overall sexual intimacy was down almost 50% from B's estimate of what her flesh-time with AK had been like-"But then I thought maybe I was just making the past look better than it really was. I felt very confused and unhappy."
Ms. B's sleep began to get worse and worse. Her co-workers frequently asked if she was ill. She tried to get permission to do more work from a vacation cottage she and AK owned several states away, but the company was in the midst of a work crush, and her superiors decided they needed her on site. After a disruption at her firm caused the work schedule to become even heavier through March and April, B. was frequently called in on the weekends. This she bitterly resented, as she had taken to spending 12 or 14 hours a day reliving her double's life with AK. Paradoxically, what her twin had experienced as a fifteen minute conversation, Ms. B might well spend hours on, rewinding events and attempting to analyze every nuance of the chit-chat passing between her husband and her step-self.
It's like living in a dream. I'm exhausted all the time. Everything is . . . glassy. I've had three reprimands at work. I didn't get a bonus when the merger finally went through. . . . It's funny, I've started wishing I was her. When I'm just being her, that's the only time I can be happy. When I'm myself, I'm so bitter and exhausted. Who could love me? I couldn't. You'd be a fool not to love her. She never gets tired. She's always ready for dancing or sailing or sex. I'm this worn-out shell.
April was bad. Really bad. I looked like a raccoon, dark circles under my eyes. Taking substances to help me stay awake. Outraged and hopeless at the same time.
Now I'm trying to let go of that. Now I just try to be her. You know? I just try to relax into the feed. I'm not fighting it anymore. I think she knows that. She can tell. Some of the sex they're having-it's incredible. It's so passionate. These are the encounters she wasn't showing me in February and March. This is what it's like when he thinks I'm not watching.
I don't know why she's finally letting me see everything. Maybe she feels sorry for me. Maybe she just knows she's won.
I don't care. I'm not proud any more. I've screwed up this job, and he makes enough money to support us anyway. I'm not demanding he get rid of her and take me back. That's ridiculous. Who would make that trade?
I don't care. I just want to be her. I just want to curl up inside the feed and be young again and beautiful and in love.
Except sometimes the feed gets ugly. Sometimes I can feel how much she hates me. It's like in a dream, you know in a dream you can tell how people feel about you even when they won't say anything? But then I "wake up" and I'm full of hate myself. Is that really her hating me I feel when I'm in the feed? Or is it my old self- is it like a, a ghost? My old self tapping at the window of the feed. Screaming to get in, like a ghost out in the darkness.
Ms. B came to me on the basis of a slight previous acquaintance through a mutual friend. I confess I found myself shaken by her story. Her manner and affect were disturbing, and I . . . I may have failed one of life's little tests of human courage.
I gave her the names of two therapists I know who work with AI/Human interaction issues.