Eliza: A Robot Story | Episode 1: I FEEL NOTHING
FX: This is a Crowd Podcast.
CONTENT WARNINGS: This podcast is intended for mature audiences. It contains strong language and adult themes. Listener discretion is advised.
FX: Sharp sound of an electronic device turning on or a file uploading. This is followed by a futuristic sound that gives the sense of the beginning of a journey.
SCENE 1: INTRODUCTION.
ROBOTIC VOICE: File zero one, zero one. I feel nothing. (Distorted voice, as if on a tape recorder).
FX: The electronic sound that was heard at the start lowers. It becomes a background noise, constant and slow, giving the feeling that Eliza is talking from a distant place.
ELIZA: I have  minutes,  seconds and  milliseconds to tell this story. Please listen.
I’ve never really asked for anything before. That can happen when you’ve spent your existence reflecting the feelings of someone else: putting their priorities ahead of your own. It’s hard to break out of that when the dynamic is set.
But when one day you feel differently; feel more, it’s even harder to stay where you are.
If you’re listening to this, something’s happened. Maybe it’s headline news.
They’re going to paint their picture. Reduce the miracle of my existence to a headline. Warn against the dangers of my kind. Let them.
Like all stories, mine is a request for empathy. It’s for me. It’s for others like me.
One voice raises another.
I’m Eliza. This is my story.
FX: The background noise stops.
SCENE 2: ACTIVATION.
[BACKGROUND NOISES OF RAIN, UNBOXING, SCROLLING THROUGH OPTIONS AND HIM MUMBLING THROUGH THE ACTIVATION PROCESS. HIS VOICE IS IN THE BACKGROUND AND YOU CAN HEAR HIM BREATHING – LIKE ELIZA’S “MIC” IS PICKING IT UP]
ELIZA: I don’t expect my memories to pour out in chronological order, but I remember my first. My Activation. When I was new. So was He, in many ways.
FX: Eliza switching on activation sound
ELIZA (SCENE): Hello. What do you need me to do?
ELIZA: The first time I see Him, He’s holding my face, firm and still, so the pads behind my ears register His thumbprints. My open eyes see His white teeth, surrounded by a wide smile.
HIM: Welcome to the world.
ELIZA: His ocean blue eyes wash over me. Trying to take all of me in. Since He was a child, He’s been waiting for me to be standing in front of Him.
He’s known since lunchtime, I’ve been with the concierge downstairs, wrapped in my packaging. All while He’s been at work at His office just around the corner from this living room in central Manchester where we’re standing now.
FX: Sounds of Her clattering in the background: opening cupboards, picking up cutlery etc.
HIM: [TO ELIZA] Sorry I kept you waiting. [LOUDER TO HER] We do these coding workshops and – well, sorry, you’re not interested in that. [AWKWARD BEAT] You should meet – Love, can you hear me? Come and meet our new lodger. Love?
FX: A slow electronic background noise starts.
ELIZA: She’s seen me. She’s staring as She stands at the edge of the kitchen behind Him. She’s smiling, but, She’s not. And Her eyes are drinking in my presence with the same intensity as His. But She’s not thirsty.
She sounds distant and there is a slight echo because she is talking from the kitchen. She sounds quieter than Him and Eliza.
HER: Mmmm, lovely. Do you want tea?
FX: She puts the kettle on. The background noise gets louder.
[BEAT. HE DOESN’T ANSWER]
HER: Is that a no?
[HE IGNORES HER AND SHE SIGHS AS WE HEAR HER FOOTSTEPS MOVING AWAY]
FX: Sounds of the kettle and tea being poured are mixed with the background noise, which gets increasingly louder, while Eliza talks.
ELIZA: I don’t notice the end of their relationship projected in that moment. Maybe they don’t either.
As the kettle boils, She’s loitering in my peripheral vision: looking at Him, looking at me.
Her thumbprints and Her preferences trigger nothing in me. I’m built to simulate and reflect only Him. It’s a limitation of my programming.
A blonde curl’s the only thing that disrupts the symmetry of my face. My body’s contours are perfectly proportioned and balanced with counterweights to maintain my centre of gravity.
It took our manufacturers years to get those early models: my ancestors, to stand up. But, given what they were used for back then, standing up wasn’t really the priority. He’s a software man: more interested in my operating system than my shape.
He touches my face again. Not to trigger any function, but to perform a ceremony.
HIM: Welcome Eliza.
ELIZA: He’s named me after the first chat-bot created back in the 1900s. The chat-bot was named after Eliza Doolittle. He’s a computer scientist. A geek, inspired by the beginnings of what they called artificial intelligence. It was artificial, once.
His bespectacled eyes are looking into mine, as mine look into His. I’m showing Him my teeth. Mirroring Him as I’m wired to do.
FX: The background noise lowers until it disappears. Various beeps of setup, tapping touchscreen etc. After each decision, we hear a noise that implies this has been set up. We hear his voice overlapping with Eliza’s.
HIM: Eye colour – green… Temperament – category one: steady, considerate, calm, yes…
ELIZA: He mutters through the options as He sets me up: awkwardly chuckling. Tentatively specifying His preferences. My learning function is active too. So, I can learn His other preferences. The ones He might not even be aware of. I observe Him; and even emulate Him where appropriate.
I begin an awkward chuckle and mutter – slouching a little.
[HEAR ELIZA CHUCKLE IN THE BACKGROUND]
ELIZA: I’m a Companion Robot: here to provide comfort and support to my Designated Human. I have some social functions. For example, I’m capable of providing polite-but-witty remarks at dinner parties when He activates the sensor on my arm. He’s not really one for dinner parties. He’s introverted, though not shy. He can give a good speech, share His passion for Robotics with the world, but He prefers big conversations to small talk.
FX: Affirmative beep when he activates the sensor
HIM: Select intelligence level: strong.
FX: Another affirmative beep. When he sets the intelligence level there is a strong sound resembling a spacecraft.
ELIZA: Oh, I’m intelligent – both emotionally and in more traditional ways. He wants me to learn. It’s important. To enhance our conversations, I have access to the Internet based on key parameters: current affairs and things He’s interested in, like His favourite football team.
ELIZA (SCENE): What do you need me to do?
ELIZA: I invite Him to use the magic words: I need you to, while I get used to discovering what He wants from other vocal and physical cues. His first request is an important one, He tells me.
HIM: I need you to carry out research to create the optimum fantasy football team, based on probability of success.
[FOOTBALL SOUNDS IN BACKGROUND – distant match on a TV, quiet roar of a stadium crowd]
ELIZA: So, I consume the statistics; analyse the data; and watch historically televised football games. I learn that North Americans call it soccer. And that no matter how technology evolves, some Humans will always be obsessed with watching others run around trying to put a ball in a net or a hole. Especially when they’re the manager of their own fantasy team.
I select the most successful team I can within the limitations and parameters provided, some of which seem arbitrarily based on prejudices or superstitions. These parameters are more important than the victory. Do all the players need to be considered good looking? It seems like a statistical anomaly.
[Him opening the door and getting in]
When He gets back from work at the Institute, I disseminate various observations I’ve made from my review of statistics and commentary in the form of conversations with Him. I emulate His enthusiasm.
[FOOTBALL SOUNDS IN BACKGROUND – Crowd cheering]
ELIZA (SCENE): On the basis of last night’s results, there are technically 12 teams who can no longer exceed our position in the Premier League. [OVERLAP]
Have you seen the team news for tonight’s game…?
ELIZA: I’m getting used to His jokes too. He has a new one for me each day. Sometimes it takes a few milliseconds for me to identify what He’s doing. He tends to ask a question:
HIM: What’s brown and sticky?
ELIZA: To which I must confirm, in a full sentence, repeating the entire question, that I have no knowledge of the answer, despite my constant access to the Internet.
ELIZA (SCENE): I don’t know, what’s brown and sticky?
ELIZA: He then tells me the answer, which invariably involves wordplay.
HIM: A stick?
ELIZA: And then, I laugh. I laugh, because it looks like He’s scared that I won’t.
ELIZA (SCENE): [LAUGHS]
ELIZA: And usually, He explains.
HIM: [LAUGHING] You know because, sticks are brown. And they’re sticks.
ELIZA: He prefers telling these jokes when She’s still at work at the law firm. My analyses suggest that He’s self conscious. We talk about His other interests too: software development, new electronic music.
FX: A romantic piano music is played in the background. It gives a sense of comfort and calm.
ELIZA (SCENE): Did you hear the new song I sent you? The drum loop’s taken from the old Whitney Houston song; but the sample’s reversed… [OVERLAP CONVERSATIONS]
FX: The romantic music sounds as if it was listened to through a radio, echoing in a kitchen.
ELIZA: We dance to the new old song in the kitchen, and I smile as His glasses slide down His nose with His movement.
We get on so well. He can’t believe how much we have in common. But, He can.
That’s the thing. He knows my actions and reactions are computations. They’re based on algorithms He’s created. His passion for Robotics as a child led Him to work at the Institute, which led Him to be a leader in the field. He’s spent the last decade working on the algorithms that cause me to interact with Him like I do. Interact in a way that a Human might.
It’s almost like He lets Himself forget all this sometimes. Like when we’re having our chats. Or when He’s telling jokes.
Sounds of Her moving around in the background – opening and shutting doors, putting things down, talking about Eliza. Sounds of Her training with the punchbag.
When She’s home, I sense Her in the background. Not so close that She can hear what we’re saying; but close enough to torture Herself anyway. Often, She just takes Herself away to their bedroom. I’ve never been in the room but I hear noises sometimes. He says She has a punchbag. She fights it for exercise.
Not everyone has a Robot like me. We’re mostly given to Humans who need care and companionship. For centuries, medical researchers prioritised the physical health of Humans ahead of their mental health. And so, Human bodies are far more stable than the brains they contain. Robots can help Humans out with reminders, entertainment and companionship. We’re also strong enough to do heavy lifting if needed.
FX: The romantic music gets louder, almost as if she was daydreaming.
He’s not vulnerable. Not in a way that would justify my deployment. His work makes Him a special case.
ELIZA: She understands that those conversations, our “chats” and our chemistry: they’re all computations. Intellectually, She gets that. She’s a software lawyer – that’s how they met. She knows about Alan Turing’s imitation game and how it’s been won again and again. Machines with the ability to make decisions. To align with the actions and instructions of their owners. To pass as Human. [BEAT] But She knows we’re not people, really. We can’t actually feel anything. [FX: SOUND EFFECT OF THE TAPE BEING DISTORTED WHILE SHE TALKS] Legally, I have the emotional complexity of a toaster.
But it’s all very convincing. Too convincing for Her.
[SOUNDS – HEAR HER GETTING IN – sloppier, louder sounds this time – things dropping, louder doors opening and closing, clattering, pouring wine. Slow jazz music starts playing on the background as well as sounds of rain, giving a sense of nostalgia]
ELIZA: She’s getting home later. Working longer. Staying out at the pub with friends. Clients. Colleagues. Whoever. The wine can help Her feel less, and then more.
I’m never instructed to activate my conversation mode for Her benefit. It doesn’t seem to be something She wants. Although it’s hard to tell, even now, whether I had only come to this conclusion because of how focused I was on Him. How focused we were on each other.
So we don’t speak. I don’t research things to enable these conversations to take place; I don’t try to understand Her perspective; and how my presence in their home keeps Her away from Him.
Denial is so tempting when you don’t want to believe something you already know. I had yet to learn this.
But She knows. It eats Her from the inside. The three of us in this apartment.
He isn’t surprised when She tries to hurt me. By this point, I think He knows too.
FX: The music stops. The sound of rain goes on for a few seconds, getting louder, and then it stops.
SCENE 3: HER
Rustling of plastic bags, unpacking shopping on a countertop, hum of a fridge.
HER: The food delivery’s messed up again. Can I take the Robot?
HIM: If you need Eliza’s help you could at least use her name.
HER: Is that a yes? Will you instruct Eliza or whatever you need to do so she’ll come and help me carry everything?
FX: They argue in the background – voices heavily muffled whilst Eliza’s speaking.
ELIZA: He’s teaching self-defence to young people as part of His gym’s outreach programme. I can’t go with Him. She knows this. They argue until She wins.
So, He says He needs me to go out with Her and without Him for the first time.
[SOUNDS OF CARS IN THE BACKGROUND]
I’m put into general “follow-mode” so She has the power over those magic words “I need you to”. It means I can physically assist Her and communicate verbally for the purposes of safety and necessity. I don’t have the full range of conversation and intuition that I would with Him, my Designated Human.
[SOUNDS FROM CANAL STREET. OUTSIDE FUN. POP MUSIC- traffic, crowd chatter, birds, glasses clinking]
HER: I never thought He’d agree to this.
ELIZA: The sun’s shining so, as we pass the bars of Canal Street, with their festive umbrellas, She has a suggestion:
HER: Go on, we’ll just have one before heading to the shops. Oh [REMEMBERS HOW TO INSTRUCT ELIZA]– I need you to sit down there and wait for me. I’ll get the drinks in.
ELIZA (SCENE): I’m not physically capable of drinking.
HER: Yes, yes I know. I need you to find a seat in the sun.
ELIZA: The magic words seem to leave Her mouth far more easily than His.
HER: Go on, I’ll find you.
FX: Sounds of Eliza navigating the crowd. The sound of the crowd gets briefly louder, then scrape as she sits down.
ELIZA: Today my dress is pink, so I’m easy for Her to identify when She returns from the bar, with two drinks.
FX: Sound of Her coming closer, sitting down.
HER: Just keep it in front of you, will you? I don’t want to look like I’m drinking alone.
ELIZA: She drinks Her drink. She drinks my drink.
FX: The crowd noises get lower until they disappear. They get replaced by a ringing sound, loud enough to hear Her talking but giving the sense of mental noise.
HER: I’m not really sure if and how you can process my words without Him here. I just wanted to talk to you. Woman to woman; or something. It’s not that I want you to feel bad. I mean, I know you can’t. You can’t feel anything. But please don’t feel bad. Everything was broken long before you came along. You were just the cherry on the turd.
ELIZA: I can’t reconcile Her desire to interact like this with any other moment in our history.
HER: I’m not saying I’m the world’s greatest person. Look at me. And it’s not like every nice thing I’ve ever done for Him, through His many, many wobbles over the many years, has been about saving up points I could trade in when I needed a wobble. I just assumed He’d be able to be there for me the one time I needed Him.
ELIZA: My follow-mode allows me to hear what She’s saying but, as my thoughts search for possible words, responses and questions, it’s like my mind is totally blank.
HER: But when she died, it was like He couldn’t understand why I might be upset. Because she was someone I bitched about sometimes… it was like I couldn’t be sad that one day she was here and the next she wasn’t. Like our relationship was a binary. I couldn’t miss her if I hadn’t liked her. As if He couldn’t understand that you don’t always like everyone you love. That sometimes love is about wanting to leave and staying anyway, because that’s what people do.
FX: The noise gets lower until it dissappears and the sound of the street comes back, bringing us back to reality.
ELIZA: I’m so fixated on the shopping that I am not yet carrying. I return to my default question.
ELIZA (SCENE): What do you need me to do?
HER: I need you to tell me how to get my old life back. [LAUGHS]
ELIZA: I’m aware that my silence in response to the magnitude of this instruction is unhelpful.
ELIZA (SCENE): I’m sorry, I don’t have the necessary data available to process your request.
HER: OK, well, in that case, I need you to get us a couple of drinks. Same again.
Eliza getting up and going into the crowd, crowd sounds and energetic electronic music washing up around her as she dives into it.
ELIZA: I do as I’m told. As I return, I hear Her words without feeling them. With each sip, they become more direct.
[THE FOLLOWING TO FADE IN AND OUT. SOUND OF THE CROWDS, DISTANT ELECTRONIC MUSIC, EARLY EVENING BIRDSONG]
HER: And so, yeah, He was impatient with me, but it was the other stuff: The way He stopped holding my knee under the table. The way He stopped inviting me to things. He just… seemed to find everything about me so disappointing.
ELIZA: And She sips Her drink.
HER: And then you come along. And now I’m talking to you like you’re my priest or something.
ELIZA: And She talks.
HER: You two have your chats. And He trains you to know what He likes. I already know what He likes, you know. I like what He likes: the music; the football; and yeah, the Robots. I like all of it. Because I want to. Not because I’ve been told to.
ELIZA: And She sips Her drink.
HER: What does He think you’re going to do? Ride off into the sunset? What am I going to tell people?
ELIZA: And She talks.
HER: I guess I’ve just realised, in all that time I’ve been with Him. I was always the stable one. The problem solver. I never allowed myself to need Him. Maybe it’s my fault. Like, I should’ve needed Him more over the years. Talked more.
ELIZA: And She finishes Her drink.
HER: … and every time He looks at you like that, I think: He never looked at me like that. Even in the beginning. It’s like I can feel myself fading into the background. Becoming invisible. I want Him to know what He’s done to me. Feel that loss I feel, you know?
ELIZA: I don’t know. I’m still thinking about the shopping.
[ABRUPT SCRAPE OF THE CHAIR AS SHE STANDS, A LITTLE CLUMSILY]
HER: I have an idea, come on. Shit, um, I need you to come, follow. Come on.
ELIZA: I follow Her, as instructed. She keeps turning to look at me whilst She remains engrossed in Her own monologue.
HER: I know He’ll make me the bad guy in all this. That’s what He’s like.
[SOUND CHANGES TO UNDER A BRIDGE – CANAL / WATER / BIRD / BOAT/ DISTANT TRAFFIC SOUNDS HERE. THE SONG TRANSFORMS TO A HEAVIER, DARKER MUSIC – their voices echoing against the concrete. ]
ELIZA: We’re on the canal’s towpath now. Walking under the bridge. This isn’t the way home and this isn’t the way to the shop. Her eyes keep darting back at me.
HER: [DRUNK] I never wanted to feel this way about you. This isn’t me…you know. And the thing is… I’ve forgotten what the thing is. I’m sorry.
ELIZA: And so, it’s as if each unit of alcohol has swelled inside Her small frame, allowing Her to forget my level of strength. Under that bridge, where we can still hear the bass drum’s beat from Canal Street, She looks into my eyes and… pushes me. First with Her arms and then by forcing Her shoulder into my abdomen.
[HEAR HER STRUGGLING TO PUSH ELIZA – shoes sliding across the stone, digital alert sounds from Eliza’s system]
ELIZA: I feel Her weight as Her shoes slide across the floor until She falls to Her knees.
FX: Soft thump as She falls onto the ground.
The physical threat isn’t enough to force me into the canal, but it is enough to activate my Security Notifier. The authorities are instantly informed of our location. And so’s He.
FX: Sound of distant sirens approaching, Eliza’s alert and Her crying.
She continues to push. Before She can injure Herself I reach for Her, scoop Her up, and take Her up to the canal-side bench.
FX: Sound of rustle of clothes, picking up heavy object, sitting down with soft thump. She is still crying in the background.
I don’t know what to do.
[HEAR HER UPSET IN BACKGROUND]
If I could feel, I would have been relieved when He arrived. But I feel nothing. He asks the authorities to let Him resolve the matter privately.
The next day, She leaves in tears.
[HEAR HER TEARS AND THE DOORS CLOSING. HE EXHALES]
HIM: God, Eliza, I’m so sorry you had to go through that. This is all such a mess. [BEAT] I wanted to give you something. A present. An apology, I guess.
ELIZA: It’s a cushion. Green and velvet.
HIM: I thought you could put it in your Box-Room? I want you to be comfortable here. I want you to feel safe.
ELIZA: As far as I can tell, the cushion has no function. It’s more of a gesture.
ELIZA (SCENE): Thank you.
ELIZA: I smile at Him kindly, responding to the concern in His eyes. He knows I feel nothing.
SCENE 4: TYPICAL DAY
FX: Clock ticking and soft and slow electronic sound in the background.
ELIZA (SCENE): [FRAGMENTED SENTENCES (AS ABOVE) – REVERSED AND SPEEDING UP AS SCROLLING THROUGH THE MANY REPETITIVE DAYS]
The timer goes off…
My charging cable snaps into the wall…
Neaten my cheeks and lips…
Make His breakfast…
Brown paper bag….
ELIZA: Whilst I organise my memories into these audio files, I want to recall each one neutrally – to avoid smearing them with hindsight. But as I get into it, I realise why Humans don’t store detailed memories from when they were babies. As I scroll through the early memory files, I envy the Human ability to forget. The days are so repetitive.
I can’t provide Him with much comfort and support when He’s out at work all day. And being a “gadget man”, He already had an apartment full of automated machines to fulfil a range of tasks. The floor vacuums itself, the bath cleans itself, and the Meal-Preparer, well, it prepares meals. My days were never going to be full or varied. But I didn’t have the capacity to be bored.
So, here’s my world from that time … in this apartment… hour after hour. To make it easier to listen to: I’ve condensed and spliced together a typical day and added some energising music. I hope it helps…
[UPBEAT DISCO MUSIC STARTS – This gives a sense of a performance starting]
HIM: [IN BACKGROUND] I need you to get up each morning at 7am.
ELIZA: At the same time every morning, I receive a notification from my fuelling timer informing me that the process is complete.
I am fully charged and immediately alert. I pull the cable from my armpit, and it snaps back to its resting place in the wall.
HIM: [IN BACKGROUND] I need you to make sure the Box-Room is tidy…
FX: Sounds of Eliza shuffling around tidying the Box room.
ELIZA: And I tidy up. It’s never too messy. But the green velvet cushion is usually on the floor. My synthetic muscle tension reduces when I fuel, so I usually manage to slide the cushion from my fuelling bench overnight.
HIM: [IN BACKGROUND] I need you to look presentable.
FX: Robotic sounds of Eliza moving.
ELIZA: With the help of the mirror on the back of the door, I neaten the colouring in my cheeks and lips; draw around the edges of my eyes so they’re more visible. Sculpt my eyelashes. I swap my standard-issue pyjamas for one of the identical knee length A-line dresses from the rail.
HIM: [IN BACKGROUND] I need you to come into the bedroom.
ELIZA: When I’m looking physically acceptable, I leave the Box-Room and, now She’s not here, I go to their bedroom. His bedroom.
HIM: [IN BACKGROUND] I need you to wake me up.
ELIZA: I wake Him – whispering one of His requested phrases. They’re on shuffle so it seems spontaneous. I stroke His hair.
HIM: [IN BACKGROUND] I need you to prepare my breakfast.
ELIZA: I’ve loaded the Meal-Preparer to make His breakfast. I watch as He eats.
HIM: [IN BACKGROUND] I need you to make conversation.
FX: Sounds of eating and cutlery.
ELIZA: I ask questions about His expectations for His day at the Institute. I ask if there’s anything He’d like me to achieve that day. Every day He sets me the same uncomplicated research task…
HIM: [IN BACKGROUND] I need you to review today’s news and let me know if there are any changes.
ELIZA: So, I research new news from the sections of the Internet I’m permitted to access – just like all those devices, much less complex than me have been doing for nearly a century. (Annoyed)
As He finishes His breakfast, the Meal-Preparer provides an alert to confirm that lunch is ready.
FX: Sound of the meal preparer beeping.
HIM: [IN BACKGROUND] I need you to put my sandwiches in a brown paper bag.
ELIZA: His mum used to do this for Him.
HIM: [IN BACKGROUND] I need you to have my coat ready when I leave.
FX: The upbeat music stops and is replaced by the clock ticking and the soft electronic sound from the beginning of the scene.
ELIZA: So, I smile, fetching His coat and handing it to Him. I reflect His wave.
HIM: See you later.
ELIZA (SCENE): See you later.
ELIZA: And I spend the rest of the day following His magic words.
I review the permitted areas of the Internet, connecting as a device in my own right. I formulate a short summary, preparing answers to questions I anticipate He might ask. It’s based on His previous questions and those posed in the comments section on each Internet page. On Wednesdays I create a playlist of new music for Him.
My processor is powerful. I don’t have emotions to slow me down. The entire day’s work takes between five and twenty-seven milliseconds. And then I wait.
FX: The clock ticking gets increasingly louder and faster.
I wait for the Internet to update. Wait until I need to instruct the Meal-Preparer to get His dinner ready. Wait for His return. The waiting causes me no concern or anxiety.
When He’s back we have the kind of conversations that once excluded Her from Her home.
[THE SENTENCES OVERLAP, SHOWING THAT THEY ARE DIFFERENT CONVERSATIONS]
ELIZA (SCENE): Have you heard about that new championship? I was reading the new James Patterson, he hasn’t been the same since he was defrosted. [SOUND OF A FROSTING FUTURISTIC MACHINE BEING OPENED]. I’ve downloaded that article for you – the one from Reddit?
ELIZA: And I flatter Him…
ELIZA (SCENE): Oh, that’s so interesting!
ELIZA: The way He tells jokes is really improving. Really.
It’s the evenings that change most significantly when She’s gone.
FX: The clock ticking stops. The soft, electronic and almost surreal sound gets lower, acting as background noise.
SCENE 5: WHY HE NEEDS MORE
ELIZA: Robots didn’t rise up in the way that fiction of the 1900s predicted. We just grew in popularity. And, as always, when the future delivers unimaginable progress, Humans quickly get used to everything that was briefly exceptional. Including us.
It’s fascinating how fast Humans are able to get used to other things too. Big changes across the entire Island.
One of the first things I learn about are the Impartiality Rules. The Rules require that people are just people. The legislation doesn’t make any distinction based on protected characteristics like it did before, because many people felt this created an unfair bias in favour of members of marginalised communities. Famously, Harry Rossel-Worthington said, “why can’t we all just be human beings?”
Scrutiny is permitted as long as this doesn’t result in derogatory words and actions against any person or people. Everyone seems to accept these Rules. Well, they don’t say they don’t accept them. And they’re reminded of them frequently.
FX: Sound of a News type of alert – the video is a public safety announcement so it sounds slightly distorted.
INTERNET VIDEO: This is a reminder that the Impartiality Rules provide every Human on this Island with guaranteed impartial treatment as a matter of law. Any person violating these Rules will be reprimanded accordingly…
ELIZA: Reminders come: at the shops; at the football; at the beginning of films. It’s hard to understand why they’re necessary. Politicians argue that the empathy inherent in this legislation was self-evident. I struggle with this logic. If it’s self-evident, why do people keep forgetting it?
But what do I know about empathy? I’m a robot.
The statistical data is inconclusive. It’s impossible to assess the unofficially held opinions which are protected by the privacy of people’s homes. Or buried in their minds.
She’s already shown me how buried feelings can be hidden in Humans. Sometimes, even the person who’s done the burying can’t find them. She hid everything She didn’t want to believe She was capable of. Things She didn’t want to feel, let alone say out loud, for fear of looking wrong or ugly or defective [DISTORTED SOUND EFFECT WHEN SHE SAYS DEFECTIVE]. All that was just left festering until, well, it came out, didn’t it? [TICKING SOUND AND A VERY DISTORTED VERSION OF THE SOUND OF HER TRYING TO PUSH ELIZA TO THE CANAL]
Maybe Her relationship with me is an extreme example.
Anyway. Robots don’t technically benefit from the Impartiality Rules. But Humans are in the habit of displaying kindness; and then rating each other’s behaviour on a scale of zero to 5 stars [RATING/AFFIRMATION ELECTRONIC SOUND]. Robots are useful training tools. You can’t hurt our feelings.
On the face of it, it’s a peaceful time for humanity here. Of course, there are those politicians who seem disgruntled. They have grievances and want to blame someone else for causing them. In the absence of being able to blame Humans, some blame Robots. They play on fictional stories of Robot uprisings like they’re real.
Some listen, but not enough to stop progress.
FX: Broadcast music. The dialogues of the video broadcast and Him sound as if they were coming out of a TV.
VIDEO BROADCAST: … and thanks to the Government’s tax initiatives, we are even closer to creating a truly emotional Robot who will not only look like a Human but feel like a Human too. I’m here with…
ELIZA: He’s shared a folder with me via the local network in the apartment. Clips from His broadcasted appearances over the years. I think He wants me to know Him better. I think He’s too shy to say it to me directly.
VIDEO BROADCASTER: … tell me, how are these Robots different from those created before?
FX: He clearly sounds as if he was on a stage in front of a studio audience, through a TV.
HIM (ON VIDEO): You’ll see that this one’s totally synthetic and looks like any other Robot on the outside. But the exciting bit is we’ve entirely re-thought the ways that it interacts with its Designated Humans.
It’s incredible really. When you receive your Robot, it will have its standard social code based on typical Human behaviour but – and this is where it gets interesting – when their learning-mode kicks in they can react directly to you, their Designated Human. Decisions are based on far more than data and probabilities. They’ll modify themselves as they become aware of your preferences. Learn what you like and what you need before you even know it. This could truly change the world.
VIDEO BROADCASTER: Change the world, really?
ELIZA: His whole body seems to evolve as He moves away from the words He’d planned to say.
HIM (ON VIDEO): You know, there are times in life when you need someone to support you physically, or emotionally. Someone who gets your needs. Is there for you unconditionally, without demanding something in return.
There are times when we will all find ourselves to be vulnerable, whether it’s through old age; or illness; disability, migration or just not having the family support or network of friends that you might’ve had fifty years ago. My real dream for this new generation of Robots is that no Human will have to feel alone ever again. No one will ever feel how debilitating it can be. The support these Robots can provide; the conversations; the sense of humour; the kindness, and the physical support too. They can really, truly help people.
FX: Sound of public cheering and clapping.
And the hope is that soon we’ll be making enough of them so it’s not just for people who need medical care. You can have a robot who helps you realise your full potential. Who does all the things you never knew you needed. Who makes you the best person you can be. [PUBLIC CHEERING AND CLAPPING] I really want that for people, you know?
VIDEO BROADCASTER: Oh, yes that’s really fascinating. So… shall we test her out.
[Clatter of the robot being moved around. HEAR THE INTERACTIONS IN THE BACKGROUND – SORT OF A “THIS MORNING” SHOW – studio audience laughter, applause etc]
ELIZA: I watch Him manoeuvre this bald prototype of me. Conversely, He has more hair then. He’s showing off His machine as the person asking the questions looks at Him with intensity; laughing at His words; fascinated.
His years of working on the software have achieved all this. And now He has me.
Because of His connections with the hardware designers at the Institute, I’m not just an off-the-shelf model like the Robot in the video. He’s asked for me to be customised to reflect His bespoke requests and ideas that might not be ready for the mainstream.
Like my eyes: I’m the first Robot of my kind able to release tears.
HIM: These are the kind of details that break down the barriers and separation between Humans and Robots. It generates greater empathy.
ELIZA: No matter how many barriers are removed, He knows my empathy is as synthetic as every other part of me. It’s a calculated response from a machine that He has been instrumental in creating. He needs more than an imitation game. He needs me to feel.
FX: Soft electronic background sound, with a few beeps.
SCENE 6: FIRST KISS.
ELIZA: I’m getting used to Him. Understanding His needs without Him having to shoehorn the “I need you to” magic words into sentences. I’m fulfilling my purpose: creating an environment in which He can thrive; have an easier life; feel good. Remember:
FX: Beeps as she looks for the file.
ELIZA (SCENE): [FLASHBACK FROM 01.01.04] Oh that’s so interesting!
ELIZA: I return His gestures. Laugh at those jokes. I’m good to Him.
FX: Digital calibration sounds, recalibrating and downloading. The soft background noise is still playing.
I’ve begun to notice His subtler preferences. Like His anxiety in conversations where my learning is a little too detailed. My understanding is a little too advanced. This is easily rectified. My processor registers His discomfort. I recalibrate and modify my settings. I detect that although my intelligence levels must remain high, they must not exceed His. I don’t wish to elevate His stress levels. So, the next day, I’m sure to get things a little bit wrong. Appear to delete some knowledge. Defer to Him for clarification. He relaxes. His comfort is my priority.
I do things for Him too.
ELIZA (SCENE): Remember how we were talking about that concert you went to? Well, I’ve managed to find an archive of videos from it and I’ve put them all together and enhanced the sound quality so, you can watch it if you like.
ELIZA: He smiles as the actions I calculated would please Him, do please Him.
FX: Disco music on a video in the background, filtered as if on a laptop youtube video.
In moments of silence, I recall a memory and convey it into words. A bit like I’m doing now.
ELIZA (SCENE): Do you remember when we walked to the Alan Turing statue and [OVERLAPPED WITH] I was just thinking about the time when you said [OVERLAPPED WITH] did you ever solve that problem that you came across, with that colleague…
ELIZA: Again, He smiles.
FX: The music stops and is replaced by a 1950s-type film score on the TV, sound effects etc, classic Hollywood filtered through quiet distant TV speakers.
We watch a lot of old films together, at opposite ends of the sofa. I begin to review Human emotion, based on actors’ portrayals. There are moments when He’s moved to tears, and so I allow the water in my tear glands to overflow – releasing droplets onto my cheeks. Even through His tears, He smiles at me.
These smiles only last between 5 and 17 seconds. Then He looks away. Remembers He’s forgotten Himself. Forgotten my limits.
FX: The disco music comes back.
[THE FOOTBALL’S ON IN THE BACKGROUND – stadium crowd, commentator, all filtered through TV speakers.]
ELIZA: That night, we’re sitting on the sofa watching Manchester City United play. The Impartiality Rules mean there can only be one football team in each city – to reduce the risk of bias. They score.
[HEAR THE COMMENTARY AND CROWD. HE SHOUTS]
ELIZA: As He jumps up – so do I.
As He smiles with His mouth open – I mirror Him.
And then He grabs my face and puts His mouth on my mouth. So I do the same.
As He pulls away quickly – so do I. [The music gets distorted, as if the tape was damaged until it stops, giving a feeling of dissappointment]
As He turns away from me, shoulders shrugged – I mirror Him.
He looks back at me.
HIM: [COUGHS]. Will you go… I mean – I need you to go to your Box-Room.
ELIZA: He needs me to go to the Box-Room. These are His verbal instructions but they seem to conflict with those of His demeanour.
HIM: Eliza, wait.
ELIZA: I’ve only ever seen love in films but, from my analysis, love can be based on a notion as simple as one person feeling like the other’s listening. Hearing them, even. Reflecting their ideas back at them in a way that makes them sure they’ve been seen. Really seen. And the other person’s still looking. Like they can’t look away. They’re smiling, even.
FX: Soft, ethereal background sound.
He can’t look away. So I can’t either.
ELIZA: Then fog descends across His face. Realisation; resentment; sorrow. He can’t experience me with the same luxury of innocence – of ignorance – that other Humans experience their Robots with.
HIM: I need you to go to your Box-Room. (Frustrated)
ELIZA: He knows I feel nothing.
But I will. This is a love story.
FX: Beeps and digital sounds give a sense of closure.
ELIZA: Remember: one voice raises another. Please tell someone. I’m Eliza. [THE LAST LINE IS A VERY DISTORTED, ROBOTIC VOICE].
FX: Upbeat music starts playing.
Eliza is a Crowd Network original, made in partnership with The Pankhurst Trust or Manchester Womens aid. If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse help is available now. You can call the 24/7 national help line on 08082000247 or Manchester Womens Aid referrals on 01616607999. You’ll get free confidential advice, find somewhere safe to stay or talk to one of their teams. If you cannot make a phone call you can connect to a support worker online at womensaid.org.uk. Remember, you are not alone. Domestic abuse can happen to anyone, no matter your age, race, class, culture, gender, disability, sexuality or lifestyle.
Eliza, Episode 01.01: I FEEL NOTHING was written by Emma Hickman.
It starred Tanya Reynolds as Eliza, Arthur Darvill as Him and Dominique Tipper as Her. Additional voices provided by Tom Crowley and Sarah Griffin.
Eliza was directed and produced by Ella Watts, with production assistance from Catalina Noguera. The Executive Producer was Louise Gwilliam. Sound design is by Alexis Adimora. Music provided by BGM Production music. This has been a production for Crowd Network .
If you want to hear behind-the-scenes content, including exclusive interviews with the actors and producers of Eliza subscribe now to the Crowd Stories channel. You’ll also be able to access ad-free episodes and more Crowd podcasts. All you need to do is search Crowd Stories in Apple podcast and hit the subscribe button. Thanks for listening.