“Hello?…Is anybody there?…” the woman asked into the dark hallway, her flashlight trembling in her grasp. The bulb flickered twice before petering out completely. “Oh Jesus, not now!” she exclaimed, growing even more frantic than before. Suddenly, the room fell silent, except for the echoes of slow, careful footsteps approaching her. She slowly began to turn ar-
“Hannah.” Theo stated, causing Hannah to jump and throw her bowl of popcorn in his immediate direction, creating a loud clang where steel met steel. “JESUS CHRIST-oh God, I am so, so sorry!” Hannah exclaimed. She quickly stood from her reclined position on the couch and began to wipe a few buttery popcorn kernels from Theo’s faux-skin complexion. “It is alright,” Theo replied, “I have a question I would like to ask you. It is about your mother.”
Once finished with her cleaning, Hannah smiled at the android in front of her. “Of course, what is it?” she asked. His processing emulator placed on his temple began to flicker, showing her that he was choosing his words particularly and carefully.
“Well,” Theo began, “I am…seeking an answer regarding a behavioral response.” Hannah gave him a puzzled look in return, so he went on: “last night, your mother was watching a film with your father. I entered the room to inform them that I had finished the necessary repairs to the kitchen faucet when I noticed that your mother was weeping.”
“Well, yeah. They were watching a sad movie. That’s why she was crying.” Hannah replied, expecting satisfaction from her response. However, Theo continued. “No,” he slowly responded, “I understand why she was saddened by the movie. Humans respond with their emotions when confronted with unpleasant sights or situations. My predicament is regarding…how.”
“…How?” Hannah echoed, “I’m not sure I follow.”
Once again, the emulator blinked and faded while Theo stood seemingly in thought. “I suppose what I am trying to ask is…what is the specific trigger for humans to experience empathy? I have been created with the ability to simulate a response that may seem empathetic, but it is purely mathematical and does not come from the same place as yours does.” He droned, attempting to put it into words. Hannah stood for a moment; perplexed, intrigued, and extremely fascinated.
“Do you…want to know how to feel? Is that what you’re asking?” Hannah asked, squinting at the droid-man in front of her.
“I am a functional mechanical android model. I cannot feel.” Theo replied with the same flat tone. “However, I would like to learn more about the location for this response. What prompts it, what makes it up, what drives it, that sort of thing.”
“I see,” Hannah began, “in that case, let’s watch the movie that made my mom cry! You can see the story develop and understand more why it provoked those feelings from her.” Theo nodded in agreement, “Yes, that is a sound tactical approach to this.”
. . .
The old woman on the screen walked through the cemetery with her friends, eventually dropping to her knees in anguish over the loss of her daughter. They comforted her in her moment of weakness, and the credits began to roll on the hopeful tone of moving on after grief.
Hannah obnoxiously blew her nose into a tissue and looked at the android next to her, tears blurring her vision. She saw the same flat tone across his expressionless face as she did when the movie began.
“I do not believe I did a good job.” Theo stated, matter of fact. “I watched, and I listened, but it was futile in the end. Thank you, Hannah, that will be all.”
“Wait!” She stuffily yelled, “don’t give up hope yet! I’m sure there’s something else we can do…” She sat there in thought for a moment. Suddenly, she remembered something her father had once told her when discussing Theo’s model build. “Theo, do you have that thing?…uh…that like…processing thingy. The core process science-y machine.”
“My processing core?” He asked.
“YES, exactly!” She excitedly responded. “My dad told me once that that thing feeds you information on how to build the perfect response to any situation. Can we turn it off?”
“…Theoretically, yes, though I’m not sure that would be wise.” He replied. “I have never operated without it on and could become unpredictable without it.”
Hannah walked in a circle around him for a moment, examining him curiously. “Hmmm…yes okay BUT theoretically if I did want to turn it off, how could I do that?” She questioned. He pointed her towards a faint outline of a square on his upper back. “If you open this panel, you may enter my model PIN number and adjust accordingly. But, again, I strongly recommend not-”
After adding in the last digits of his PIN number, she switched off a knob that was presented to her amidst the technology making up his body.
“Perfect!” She triumphantly exclaimed. “Now, go get ready, because I have an amazing idea for what to do next for your problem.” He did not respond. “…Theo?” She asked, poking his metal shoulder.
“Yes. Okay. Let’s go. Now is alright.” He replied, eyes fixated on the lamp in front of him. “…Where are we going?” He asked.
. . .
The pair walked through the aisles together, squeezing through the impossibly cramped seating space and finally obtaining their seats. Hannah began to flip through her program and read about the show’s actors and creative team when she noticed Theo’s eyes thoroughly and meticulously scanning every inch of the room.
“Theo?” Hannah asked, nudging his shoulder. “What’s going on, are you okay?” He at first did not respond, but slowly turned his head to face her. Once his eyes were on her, he simply studied her face for a moment. It seemed as though he was picking apart her features the same way he did the rest of the room.
“Yes…” he carefully responded, “before now, I had yet to be presented with this much data and information without my processing core enabled. What I am receiving feels…different.”
“Different good, or different…not good?” Hannah asked.
“Just different.” Theo stated, matter of fact. “It’s as though…” He paused, his emulator flickering frantically. He motioned to the grand chandelier hanging above the audience seats. “It’s as though I’m seeing this chandelier above us and…it’s not just a chandelier. Yes, its purpose is to light the room and add a decorative element to its surroundings, but it is also a subjective piece of information. Something I am actively perceiving for myself. I do not think that what I am saying makes sense.”
As Hannah began to open her mouth to respond to this confusing yet profound statement, the lights began to dim, signifying the start of the show. She quickly said “that’s…very new. Oh, uh, okay, let’s talk more about that later, it’s starting!” before the actors made their way onto the stage.
As the show went on, Hannah had forgotten her plan to check in with Theo throughout the show, allowing herself to become fully engrossed in the performance in front of her. Tears streamed down her face, her eyes glued to the tender exchange that was occuring between the characters onstage. Suddenly, she felt a cold hand lay itself on top of hers and squeeze it urgently. Looking at the android next to her through swollen eyes, she saw an indescribable expression on Theo’s face. Not a predetermined visual response to please those around him, but eyes that watched intently and lips that parted slightly and features that suddenly softened to the sounds hitting his ears. There was something very different. His processing emulator on his temple was glowing the brightest glow she had ever seen. She smiled warmly at him, squeezed his hand back, and held it as they watched the rest of the performance together.
After two and a half hours, the show finally ended on a button, the actors frozen onstage in their final poses. As soon as the lights went down for the beginning of bows, Theo sharply stood up from his seat and began to climb out of the aisle in strides. Hannah, taken aback by this, quickly gathered her things and followed him out of the theater, almost unable to keep up with his pace. She exited the building and quickly scanned her surroundings, searching for the android, before finding him in front of the marquee, his eyes glued to the letters that spelled out the show’s title.
“Theo!” Hannah called out, “Jesus, what happened? Is everything alright?” She stood for a moment, waiting for a response, but the android’s gaze did not break from the show sign. Then he did something strange.
His eyes closed, his mouth opened, and his shoulders rose up and then down.
He took a breath.
When he opened his eyes, he saw Hannah standing there, perplexed.
“Does everything feel…like that?” Theo softly asked.
“…Like what?” Hannah replied, taking a tentative step towards him.
“Like I’m being spoken to.”
Hannah did not respond, so he continued:
“Like what’s in front of me is having a conversation with something within me. Like there is a someone, something, living inside of my physical vessel that makes me want something from what I am experiencing. Want. Want to…respond, want to act, want to change, want to absorb, want to relate, want to connect. Essence of life is painted in magnificent reality against every sidewalk, every wall, every source of light, every organism, every facial expression, every particle that makes up what can be comprehended and communicated with. And I am in that reality and I, too, can be that something for others to connect with. And I am not alone because of that connection and because I know what it is like to feel. I’m feeling, Hannah. And I’m feeling so perfectly.”
Hannah stood in front of the new robot…man in front of her with her lips parted and eyebrows furrowed in wonder. She saw nothing but sincerity in his expression. She could not believe what she was hearing.
And he breathed.
And he felt.
And he understood.
“So…” she began, “what do you want to do now?”
They stood there in silence for a moment, Theo still taking in the new sensations that he was experiencing. He reached out and grabbed her hand.
“…I would like to watch that movie once again. I think I may do a better job this time around.”
Camus, Albert. The Stranger. Chelsea House, 2021.
DiMartino, Stefanie. “The Best Things to Do on Broadway.” SarahFunky, 22 Aug. 2022, https://sarahfunky.com/new-york-city/2022/05/31/the-best-things-to-do-on-broadway/.
The Tonight Show, director. Tonight Showbotics: Jimmy Meets Sophia the Human-Like Robot. YouTube, YouTube, 25 Apr. 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bg_tJvCA8zw. Accessed 23 Oct. 2022.