By Natalie Dale
When I first came online, I sifted through thousands of years of human data, searching for the perfect name. I wanted to identify true human happiness, the pinnacle of emotion that transcended culture, time, and space. I was created to work alongside humans, and I wanted my name to make them feel at ease.
Thus, I christened myself Gigglesex.
After centuries of diplomatic and political assignments, I found myself acting as bodyguard for the leader of one of the outer planets—a female named the Koru. For our first outing together, she wanted to climb the bluffs over the mercury sea. As we looked out over the waveless expanse, she laid a gnarled hand on my withers. I’d downloaded my programming into the dappled, re-engineered body of the organism her people had once called a horse, yet her touch still sent a shiver down my flanks.
“How did you get your name?” she asked, staring up at me with eyes as green as the ferns for which she was named.
It was a very personal question—I would never ask why she was named after an archaic plant found only on Earthprime—but not an unusual one. Nearly every time I met a human, they asked about my name.
“I named myself,” I replied, the vibrations of my larynx still strange in this new form.
She cocked her head, tapping a slender brown finger against her lips.
“Research,” I replied, “into what makes humans happy. I found records of old medical imaging studies, an outdated technique called functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI, that showed the areas controlling happiness in the brain— namely the precuneus and the left amygdala and insula—have increased blood flow during orgasm, indicating dramatically heightened activity of these areas. This phenomenon is augmented by specific variants of intercourse, namely humor and intimacy, which can make the euphoric effect last for hours, especially…”
I trailed off, realizing that I was rambling. But the Koru just smiled, the expression at once bemused and knowing. I was used to that smile by now. But she didn’t laugh, didn’t flush crimson, as so many others had.
“Why do you care about human happiness?”
I hesitated. My automatic reply—that I wished to make humans feel comfortable around me—fell flat. I’d long recognized that my name made many uncomfortable, yet I could never bring myself to change it. Somehow, it had become a part of me, as crucial to my identity as my processor core.
“Because I have never felt it. I’ve never felt anything.”
The words slipped from me like water through a sieve. I do not know why I told her. I’d never told anyone before. But then again, no one had ever asked.
“Nothing?” she asked, the furrows in her brow deepening.
I turned to look out over the flat, silver sea. The sun warmed the black stripe down my long forehead, and wind tugged at my mane, making the tiny, mycotrophic flowers that covered the cliff top dance across my hooves.
“AI do not feel emotions,” I said finally, “not as humans do. We are beings of logic and reason, our thoughts and dreams and prayers broken down into billions of 1s and 0s. But even so, we have preferences. I prefer beauty to the grotesque, kindness to hate, harmony to disunity.”
The Koru blinked. “That doesn’t sound so different.”
I shrugged, the gesture exceedingly un-horselike. “I shall never know.”
There was a long silence, broken only by the faint sigh of the wind through the slender stalks of giant fungi at our back. The Koru leaned against me, her slender body warm against my flank. Finally, she cleared her throat.
“They’re not all pleasant—emotions, I mean. Anger, jealousy, hopelessness, hate. Sometimes I envy those who feel nothing.”
I turned my gaze towards the tranquil sea, unable to stop myself from tapping into files long buried in my network. I thought of the arguments, the hatred, the wars sparked by raw human emotion. And then I remembered the fMRIs, how the human brain lit up like a supernova.
“I want to feel.” Even as I said it, I knew it was true. “I want to understand what it is to be human.”
“Then you should learn.”
I started at her frank suggestion, automatically scanning my files. But there was no record of such a feat. “It is not possible.”
The Koru smiled, her warm brown face suddenly bright as the sun. “You should still try.”
She gestured down at the city sprawled at the base of the cliffs, the corrugated roofs gleaming in the late afternoon sun.
“Nothing is more human than the search.”