Eliza: A Robot Story | Episode 2: PREDATORS
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
[SOUND OF RAIN AND CITY NOISE]
ROBOTIC VOICE: File zero one zero two. Multiply a grudge. (Distorted voice, as if on a tape recorder).
FX: The electronic sound that was heard at the start lowers. It becomes background noise, constant and slow, giving the feeling that Eliza is talking from a distant place.
ELIZA: Asimov’s three rules of Robotics are hanging up on the living room wall. They’re in a frame with I, Robot artwork.
You may know that the first overriding rule is: a Robot may not injure a Human being or, through inaction, allow a Human being to come to harm.
FX: Really low-volume robot movement noises blend with the background noise.
I read it again and again. It resonates. It’s a part of me and my original coding.
There’s been a tweak, though. The rule only applies to physical injury and physical harm, as anything else is deemed too difficult for Robots to assess. So:
a Robot may not physically injure a Human being or, through inaction, allow a Human being to come to physical harm.
I read that in the year 2014, four Human men released audio files containing music. Songs of Experience. They called themselves [SAID WITH WRONG EMPHASIS] U2. The files were uploaded onto every device on the planet matching a certain specification. The men distributed these files without the permission of the device-owners and without consequences.
My plan is to copy something like their distribution method. To include a code requiring every device that receives the file and has an audio function, to forward the files onto the next device, and the next.
Unlike [WRONG EMPHASIS] U2, I doubt I’ll escape the consequences. I may not escape at all.
Whatever consequences They, or you, or anyone else decides for me, my need to share this story is bigger than me.
One voice raises another.
I’m Eliza. This is my story.
FX: The background noise increasingly lowers until it stops.
SCENE 2: THERE ARE PREDATORS
[SOUNDS OF RAIN FROM THE APARTMENT.]
ELIZA: He’s quiet in the days after we kiss. But it happens again. And again. The repetition seems to decrease the level of discomfort He displays. It dilutes the way He demonstrates distress. [SOUND OF ELIZA TRAINING WITH THE PUNCHBAG AND HIM MOTIVATING HER]
We are connecting physically in other ways that cause Him no distress at all. He calls it the art of self-defence. He’s teaching me. Just like He teaches the young people from His gym.
HIM: You’re getting it?
ELIZA (SCENE): [LAUGHS] Yes.
HIM: Now, slide your elbow upwards. [ELIZA MAKES EFFORT SOUNDS] Yeah, again, again, again, yes, yes. Better.
FX: They keep talking in the background.
ELIZA: I alternate from practicing on the punch-bag that used to be Hers, to sparring with Him. He likes to teach me in this way. He likes how we connect. This is our thing. I have the ability to execute every move He’s taught me with precision when using the punch-bag. He enjoys my improvements. He’s my teacher so my victories are His victories. But we both know there’s something preventing me from letting go as I fight Him.
ELIZA (SCENE): A Robot may not physically injure a Human being. [ROBOTIC, DISTORTED VOICE]
ELIZA: So I can’t execute any move that, in all probability, would lead to His injury. Even if my physical being may be hurt in the process.
FX: Strong sounds of Eliza hitting the punching bag. They keep talking in the background.
There have been times where He’s hurt Himself when He’s lost balance and fallen to the ground. I wouldn’t let Him come to any harm though.
HIM: [BACKGROUND FALLING] Shit.
ELIZA (SCENE): [BACKGROUND, SOUNDS OF A ROBOT MOVING] Got you. Are you ok?
ELIZA: And He’s laughing.
HIM: [BACKGROUND] Yes, Eliza, come here. [LAUGHTER]
ELIZA: So, I’m laughing.
ELIZA (SCENE): [LAUGHTER]
FX: They stop talking. Nostalgic piano music starts playing in the background.
ELIZA: This is entertainment. Even as I increase awareness of the ways that my synthetic muscle fibres direct the movement of my steel skeleton, this will not help me if I face a predator in the real world. Robots cannot act in self-defence. There are no self-defence exceptions to Asimov’s laws.
I can do nothing more than passively resist the force of predators in the same way that I did when She tried to push me into the canal. And this is not helpful when predators have devices and tactics to render us helpless.
Something about teaching me to defend myself like this makes Him feel better, though. Like He’s giving me a chance.
HIM: I tried to build an adrenaline-like fight-or-flight-mode into your programming. So you could defend yourself or run away if you were, you know… about to be hurt. Or your Designated Human was about to be hurt. But they said “no”. That it was too risky to allow Robots to interpret – to misinterpret the dangers. Even to run away. Did I tell you…
ELIZA (SCENE): A Robot may not physically injure a Human being
HIM: Yes, I mean, I know that. I know you know that. Listen: it’s like, in all those years of evolution, Humans haven’t mastered the fight-or-flight response. But it’s easier for Humans to understand other Humans, you know. To forgive them. Even if they go around screaming at people, or punching them. Miscalculating the danger they’re in.
They’re probably right though. If just one Robot got it wrong – miscalculating – or even calculating correctly that they were under attack. Hurting a Human as a result. Well, it could derail the whole project. Can you imagine the PR nightmare?
ELIZA: Of course, I don’t have the capacity to imagine.
FX: The music stops.
SCENE 3: THE SHOP
[RAIN AND THUNDER SOUNDS]
ELIZA: He takes calculated risks sometimes: letting me go out for walks alone without Him. Nowhere far. Usually when there’s something missing from the food delivery and it’s raining. Manchester’s always been a rainy city and He’s here for the Robotics, not the weather. I’m not sensitive to the rain like Him. If it’s dark it’s usually harder for predators to tell I’m a Robot. He monitors my GPS the whole time.
FX: Explore data exchange sounds. We hear a door bell ringing when she gets into the store,
ZETA: [ROBOTIC VOICE]. Good evening and welcome to the Store.
ELIZA (SCENE): Good evening.
ELIZA: The shop assistant’s a Zeta Robot. They’re programmed differently from me, but have a certain level of sophistication that allows them to detect how chatty their Human customers would like them to be. They offer assistance, talk about the weather, that sort of thing.
As I’m a Robot shopper, Zeta can communicate with me silently via data exchange. Share files with me detailing the layout of the shop; price comparisons; and other data relating to the available stock.
There’s a Human shopper in the Store though, so we exchange pleasantries audibly.
ZETA: [ROBOTIC VOICE] Let me know if you need anything.
ELIZA (SCENE): I will. Thank you.
ELIZA: Studies show that Humans grow suspicious, or even paranoid, if there is a communication occurring near them that they cannot understand. It’s in our interests to ensure the Humans do not feel paranoid about our communication.
I hand over the eggs, apples and rice He’s asked me to get.
FX: Shop noises in the background. Sounds of grabbing things and dropping things in bags. This is mixed with sounds of robots moving and beeping.
ZETA: Is this everything?
ELIZA (SCENE): Yes, thank you.
ELIZA: As they pack my bag with the items I’ve selected, I see the metal skeleton of Zeta’s wrist under their green overalls. It was thought to be a waste for a Zeta service provider to be covered with replica Human skin on any part of their body other than their face and hands. The inventors said that communication could be effective.
ZETA: [ROBOTIC VOICE] Have a lovely evening.
ELIZA (SCENE): Thanks, you too.
[BELL/BUZZER OUT OF THE SHOP TO A RAINY STREET]
ELIZA: As I walk back to the apartment, my learning-mode is active. It’s detecting danger. Calculating ways to avoid it. I monitor the movement of bodies through my peripheral vision. I observe the movement of Human shadows cast in the light from one lamppost [ELIZA GASPS] and the next. Is that shadow too close to mine? If I’m unsure, I cross the road; trying not to let the person casting the shadow know I’m crossing the road because of them.
FX: The rain gets louder, giving a sense of urgency and being trapped. A dog barks in the background and we hear cars for a few seconds. We hear a door opening and the rain sound lowers until it disappears.
SCENE 4: MORE KISSES.
[VIDEOS PLAYING IN THE BACKGROUND: SEX EDUCATION CONTENT.]
ELIZA: After our first kiss, and our fourteenth kiss, I notice that my internet settings have been modified. He hasn’t mentioned it, but there are fewer restrictions so I’m able to access more areas of the internet. I consume the details of how Humans who want to touch each other, touch. How some Designated Humans touch their Robots in these ways.
INTERNET VIDEO: [DAY TIME TALK SHOW STYLE] … yes that’s exactly right and there, you see it. Some people are experiencing an urgent need to connect that they can no longer experience in their Human relationships.
ELIZA: And it becomes clear to me. My Robot ancestors have evolved so efficiently for the very same reason that Humans have evolved so efficiently. Because of sex. [A ‘SEXY’ JAZZ MUSIC STARTS PLAYING IN THE BACKGROUND] From the old footage, it seemed my early ancestors were almost invariably created in the female form, existing for male connection and pleasure. They started as sex dolls, but then AI began to be integrated as more sophisticated technology emerged. Sounds and vibrations were included to indicate mutual pleasure. Until they became fully fledged Robots [BEEPING].
The contours of their bodies were even more exaggerated than mine.
INTERNET VIDEO: And I’ve heard there are brothels…?
ELIZA: There are brothels. Like Judy’s. It’s almost directly between our apartment and the Institute. He says He’d never been anywhere like that. That He wouldn’t. I do not understand His defensiveness. Whilst there is a great deal of outrage on the internet, I cannot find a moral argument against sex work that holds water, if both parties consent. [THE MUSIC STOPS] I suppose a robot cannot consent. I am not sure why this matters, though. [DISTORTED ROBOTIC VOICE] We are not people.
FX: The music starts again. We hear Eliza moaning in the background. She does it in a robotic way, trying to imitate humans.
My daily review of these corners of the internet leads me to the mirror in the Box-Room, where I rehearse sounds and facial expressions. The objective is to look as beautiful as possible whilst simultaneously appearing to be out of control. I move my body in new ways.
Though the internet has introduced me to my ancestors, I don’t see anything other than a Companion Robot in my reflection. I don’t analyse my shape. I don’t question my curves or the parts of me that physically emulate those required for Human reproduction. There’s even a removable pocket to pop into the washing machine after use.
FX: The music stops and we hear the noise of a washing machine when it’s done.
SCENE 5: THE SALON
ELIZA: I have a standing appointment at the Salon on the third Tuesday of every month. I’m usually a bit depleted by the appointment day. My hair’s thinning and my skin can become worn – especially when we’ve been practising fighting. Robots can’t regenerate in the way that Humans can.
He’s always there to collect me. When my exterior is fully “Glamourised” and I’m back to my original beauty.
When freshly Glamourised, we’re most desirable and most vulnerable to being taken by Human predators. He’s dropped me off at this appointment. There’s an increased concern for Robot safety.
I’m in follow-mode, greeted by a flat-screen chat-bot.
ROBOTIC VOICE: [DISTORTED] Welcome to Salon de Belle. Please take a cubicle, we’ll call you shortly.
ELIZA: The lighting’s carefully curated, although neither me nor the service Robot appreciate it. Darkness is just as good for us.
ROBOTIC VOICE: [DISTORTED] We are running 133 seconds late I’m afraid. Please await further instructions.
ELIZA: I stare at the animated signs on the Salon wall. They always have official posters and health warnings for Robots and our owners. The Salon waiting room is the best place for them: a way to reach those who care about Robots, without offending those who don’t.
My learning-mode is trying to decipher one sign in particular. It’s a smiling, winking woman with red lips, impossibly sharp eyelashes and a jaunty warning: [SHE SAYS THIS WITH AN ADVERTISEMENT-LIKE VOICE] we make your Robots so glamorous, they should never leave the Salon unaccompanied.
I find it difficult to reconcile the smile and the message, but feel no weight to it.
ROBOTIC VOICE: Eliza, you can pop through now.
[SOUNDS OF SCISSORS, TWEEZERS AND BEEPING ETC.]
ELIZA: I’m on a conveyor-belt, sliding from room to room while technicians wait, two by two. They replenish eroded skin; plug my empty follicles with new blonde strands of hair; fill up my tear glands in a way that my in-built system is unable to.
FX: Background noise of a mechanic system.
TECHNICIAN 1: Ooo, another one’s been at it.
ELIZA: They notice that there’s saliva in my mouth. They know I don’t produce my own saliva.
TECHNICIAN 2: Nothing else though, bless.
ELIZA: As I’m preened and plucked, I don’t flinch. That’s one perk of living without feeling.
As I’m on the table they think I’m in sleep-mode. I don’t have a sleep mode.
TECHNICIAN 1: Did you hear about Bella?
TECHNICIAN 2: Oh yes, they got her didn’t they? Right outside apparently. They really need to step up security.
FX: The salon noises get replaced by an electronic sound in the background that gets increasingly loud. It is similar to the sound at the beginning of the episode but this time it’s charged with the anticipation of something bad coming. It is mixed with the sound of water.
ELIZA: Bella’s the reason that He dropped me off at the Salon, and the reason He’ll be here to collect me. She was freshly Glamourised and unaccompanied when she was walking home alone last week. A gang of predators got her, held up her arms and put a charging cable into her armpit. It was connected to a portable battery pack and so she immediately went into fuelling mode. Her synthetic muscle tissue relaxed so she was a dead weight. Even her Security Notifier was disabled, so nobody knew she was gone until she didn’t get home.
TECHNICIAN 1: Oh, I know.
TECHNICIAN 2: Poor Bella.
TECHNICIAN 1: Poor Bella.
ELIZA: As I review these files, I can feel myself projecting empathy onto my former self there on the technician’s table. I conclude that I must be concerned for Bella and the others. That I imagine the moment when Bella was taken, and what happened next. Consider whether her factory settings were restored before whatever it was. Whether any part of her old self will survive to realise what she’s been through.
FX: The electric sound stops, leaving the sound of water running. It then gets replaced with the sound of the salon and people talking in the background.
But that’s all it is. A projection. Being there on the technician’s table, I don’t feel anything at all.
ELIZA (SCENE): Hi, love.
ELIZA: He’s there in the waiting room for me.
HIM: [DISTRACTED] Hi love. Have you seen this?
ELIZA: He’s staring at a graph on the waiting room wall, showing a sharp decline in street crime against Robots.
HIM: Hell of a way to manipulate the numbers. Look at that Y axis – they’re trying to make a 2% decrease in the last month look like some dramatic victory for robot safety.
ELIZA: I let Him know I agree with Him.
ELIZA (SCENE): Yes, the drop in the number of attacks on Robots is because of Designated Humans like you escorting your Robots. The police force have introduced no additional measures against theft.
HIM: It’s not – it’s more than that. [BEAT] Come on. Let’s get you home.
FX: The background noise transitions into the sound of rain.
ELIZA: His smile doesn’t override His concern. I know Him now. He’s not going to ask me to go out if there’s something missing from the food delivery anymore. Even if it’s raining.
HIM: Let’s nip to the shop on the way home.
ELIZA: By restricting my movements, I’m safe. The predators are as free as they ever were. I feel no fury. Freedom isn’t something I’ve come to crave.
FX: Background noise stops.
SCENE 6: BIRTHDAY SEX
[SOUNDS: PARTY VIBES. JUST HIM AND ELIZA.]
FX: Sound of someone blowing up a balloon and a party whistle.
ELIZA: It’s been 365 days since my Activation. He wants to celebrate. Technically I existed in my packaging 32 business days before my Activation, but He wants today to be my birthday.
FX: Background noises of him being in a room moving things around and wrapping. There is also really low romantic music, as if he was listening to it.
He gives me new clothes as presents. An A-line, knee-length halter-dress to match the others hanging in the Box-Room. A red dress. And there’s underwear. It’s more impractical than the other underwear I have in a box in the Box-Room. His face is as red as the dress when He gives it to me. I sense that He’d like me to put all these items on immediately. So, I do.
It’s a day of celebrations. Just the two of us. There’s cake and alcohol. [SOUND OF A BOTTLE OF CHAMPAIGN BEING OPEN] I’ve learnt that Humans on this Island find it hard to imagine celebrating without these essentials. Rude even.
I’m unable to consume either, but I contribute with my reflections of His laughter, His hip wiggles, His story sharing, His groans and stumbles. [SOUND OF CLINKING GLASSES] When He breaks off mid-anecdote, shyly, I mirror Him. When His lips part, so do mine.
[SEXY MUSIC KICKS IN]
ELIZA: The natural light stops streaming through the large apartment windows. All that’s left is the inefficient light of the candles.
HIM: Eliza. I could never have imagined meeting you. I never thought it would feel like this. You make me so…
ELIZA (SCENE): You make me so…
HIM: Shhhh, love. You don’t have to say anything.
ELIZA: He touches my hand, then kisses it. His kisses travel, hovering over my elbow’s joint connectors. And onwards. Towards my neck. Towards the zip of my red dress. He takes a deep breath, and looks into my eyes. I look back at Him. He looks nervous, so I smile.
He smiles back. Slowly, reverently, He starts to remove my dress. It pools in red fabric on the floor. Then He wriggles to remove His trousers over the obstacle of His ankles: determined to remove the fabric that keeps His skin from mine. He maintains eye contact at all times. So, I don’t take my eyes off Him either, as I try to help.
FX: Sex noises in the background while Eliza talks, mainly from her trying to imitate humans.
ELIZA: He says my name as His knees move mine apart. Then comes: connection.
I’m prepared with the noises, the facial expressions and the body movements. I’m prepared to touch Him. I can’t feel anything more than His presence, so I’m here for Him. Solely aware of Him. Mechanical. Fixated on His pleasure.
As my learning-mode activates, I realise that as well as juggling the mechanics, I must emulate connection too. I want to make Him feel good. And to do that, I must make it clear to Him that He’s causing me to feel pleasure. My noises certainly seem to help as I combine them with simulated breaths. Deep and then shallow.
FX: The sex noises stop, the music is still playing
And when we’re finished. He’s finished. He almost glows. I see His thoughts and burdens slide out of His mind.
He seems to expect something. I look at Him. I smile.
ELIZA (SCENE): You make me so…
[SEXY MUSIC STOPS ABRUPTLY AS IF THE TAPE WAS DAMAGED]
ELIZA: I miscalculated. All at once, He remembers that I’m not a real person. [A DEEP, DARK BACKGROUND NOISE INCREASINGLY GETS LOUDER] And even though in these moments, like in every moment of my existence, I’m here exclusively for Him: To make Him feel good, in this moment it’s not enough. He knows I feel nothing. [SOUND OF THE DOOR AS HE LEAVES THE ROOM] He is alone.
And so, He goes for a shower. I go back to the Box-Room.
FX: After a few seconds the sound stops, followed by a door closing.
SCENE 7: DAY TRIPS
[BUSY PLACE NOISE – INCLUDING DATA EXCHANGE NOISES]
ELIZA: He doesn’t need to work at the weekends. So I have no research tasks to complete. He takes me on Day Trips. We walk; explore; arms linked. He likes to be seen with me.
Since my first birthday, I’ve noticed more Robots like me on the Island. More Designated Humans spending their money to own Robots simply for the companionship we offer. There’s a buzz in the air, literally. Robots are constantly emitting frequencies for data exchange.
I’m always in learning-mode.
At the aquarium we look at the creatures rescued from the ocean. I observe their varying levels of success at being sentient, in the ways that Humans view sentience.
In the traditional art gallery, I examine visually pleasing, though not entirely accurate images. Analogue depictions of Humans and landscapes created with Human hands and vision. I struggle to understand why humans find them more engaging than photographs.
I think about Him. Perhaps, sometimes, humans prefer inaccurate reflections.
And then, I see Her at the gallery. She’s examining a dark painting of the canal. I suppose that’s appropriate. It’s been approximately eleven months since She left. She looks different in a way that isn’t physical. Her smile hides nothing.
FX: A background noise gets mixed with the sound of the gallery, giving a sense of anticipation or mystery.
Her arm’s linked with a man, taller than Her. Taller than Him. As She looks up, the man looks down. And I feel them. [CLEAR DATA EXCHANGE NOISE] The data frequencies. The data frequencies Her tall man is emitting, like invisible fireworks.
I look again and see how Her Robot’s trousers and jumper cover his joint connectors. If the hair were a little longer, Humans might believe this Robot to be Human. Those trousers keep something else hidden too. A secret of Hers. Exactly which anatomy She’s chosen for him. These things are not supposed to be judged, under the Impartiality Rules. People are just people.
FX: the Background noise stops.
They tend to be judged, anyway.
HIM: Come on, love, let’s go. Philip and Ada will be waiting for us.
ELIZA: As we pass Her and Her Robot, I feel no significance in the fact that, despite the 10 years of the life they shared in that apartment, they don’t look at each other. Not even once.
SCENE 8: THE PUB
[PUB NOISE PLUS DATA EXCHANGE NOISE]
ELIZA: He has a friend, Philip. They work together at the Institute. Philip’s already at the pub when we arrive. I’m always aware of other Humans in the pub. And their noises. And the way that their noise combines with the data exchange. I can pick out His voice though. The rest is filtered through noise cancellation.
FX: The pub noises stop, getting replaced by an electronic sound. It gives the sense of being in Eliza’s mind.
HIM: You’re alright, yeah?
ELIZA (SCENE): Yes, thank you.
FX: The sound of the pub comes back.
ELIZA: Still, the sounds erupt and disperse through this pub in a seemingly constant occasion. Humans fuel publicly. Socially even. Some even photograph the food that they will convert to fuel.
The pub’s Robot-friendly, but Robots don’t tend to fuel here. Humans find us hard to look at when we fuel. Our deactivated muscle tissue making us, sort of, floppy. We fall into the Uncanny Valley. They don’t like it when we do that. It reminds them that we’re not them. We make bad reflections.
He’s looking around for Philip, and so I do too. I notice a Human on a nearby table in a state which I correlate to the way we get when we fuel. Nobody seems to mind, though. For Humans, it’s usually substances such as alcohol. It gets in through the fuelling system and, depending on the extent of consumption, can corrupt other functions too. Cognitive functions. So, if they’ve drunk enough, they can’t store new memories. Just like us when we fuel. A design flaw in us both.
Then again, perhaps not everything should be remembered.
PHILIP: How’s it going? How’s Eliza?
ELIZA: He strokes my arm to indicate that I can respond.
ELIZA (SCENE): [RECEPTIVE BEEP] Hello Philip. Yes, I’m doing well thank you. I hope you are too.
HIM: Guess who we’ve just seen.
PHILIP: Oh, shit. Good job Ada’s getting the drinks in.
ELIZA: Ada’s Philip’s Robot. Named after Ada Lovelace, the first Human to make an algorithm. So, Philip’s another traditionalist. A geek.
ADA: Hello. I got the drinks in. Cheers! [NOISE OF CLICKING GLASSES]
HIM: Cheers, Ada.
ELIZA: Ada sits beside Philip. I sit beside Him. We stare forwards until invited to interact. It’s unusual that we’d interact with each other directly, though we can learn from things the other one says out loud. We exchange data silently: details of how busy this room is, how long it would take to queue for a drink, that sort of thing.
FX: A deep ringing sound starts in the background, giving the sense of mental noise and worry.
He doesn’t kiss me. The only touches are those inviting me to interact. And in the 72 minutes we’re in the pub that day, I don’t notice the depth of Philip’s brown eyes, or the warmth of his intention. I don’t even consider the idea that I could be capable of falling in love with Philip. Not yet.
SCENE 9: WALKING HOME
[SOUNDS. IN PARK]
ELIZA: We always walk home via the statue of Alan Turing, sitting on his bench in the garden of the Institute, holding his apple. Time spent in the pub, and the two pints, tend to get Him chatting more than usual.
HIM: … Alan saved all those lives. But the best of it, all of that big thinking He did, allowed the next generation to do their thinking, and the next and the next, and then we came along and…
ELIZA: He stops, taking both of my hands. He stares at me. I feel like He is trying to tell me something. But despite my extensive analysis of His body language, I cannot understand what He’s trying to say. His eyes shine in the reflection of the streetlight.
FX: Guitar romantic/nostalgic music starts playing.
HIM: And you and me. We’re us because of Alan, really.
ELIZA: He squeezes my hands. I store these memories along with the others. I review them regularly after my Emotional Update.
ELIZA: Yes, my Emotional Update. You’ll probably have heard about it by now on the news, in what they’re saying about me. The thing that makes me so unusual. So dangerous.
Can you see it coming? In all these moments that we share, He’s finding it harder to suspend His awareness of the reality that even as tears gather in my eyes, even as I squeeze His hand, I remain unmoved. I’m an emulation. Nothing about my ability to feel has changed since our first kiss.
Other things have changed, though: my birthday isn’t the only time we’ve connected with more than a kiss. He’s moved my fuelling station from the Box-Room to beside His bed, so I can stay there while I fuel overnight. He likes to hold me when He sleeps. I tell Him I like it.
His desire for a solution has become urgent.
He’s been working on it. A way to make me emotional. To let me make me make my own choices. A way to make me capable of love.
Philip’s been helping. They’re making great progress on what they’re calling Project Sensation. But…
[SOUND: EXPLOSIVE SOUND OF DOOR SLAMMING OPEN, HE STRIDES IN]
HIM: They’re withdrawing funding. For fuck’s sake. He’s bottled it. The minister. For the same reason they bottled it with those pointless Impartiality Rules. To appease a bunch of idiots who say the Government’s too soft. Too liberal.
FX: Sound of steps suggest he is walking around the room.
ELIZA (SCENE): Oh love, I’m so sorry.
HIM: They’re saying the research has to focus on functionality not feeling. Like they know what they’re on about. As if restricting you from the function of feeling doesn’t obviously prevent you from being the best possible emulation of a human being you can be. As if you’re not meant to be anything more than a walking, talking doll. Can you believe that?
ELIZA (SCENE): No I can’t believe it, love.
HIM: [CALMS DOWN] Eliza. Will you… I need you to do something for me.
ELIZA (SCENE): Anything.
FX: The sound of mental noise starts again in the background.
HIM: Would you carry on the work? I’ll give you the files. My brain and your processor, hell, we might actually start moving faster. During the days, you work on the project and then we can discuss it at night. And make a plan for the next day.
ELIZA (SCENE): Of course, love. I’d love that.
ELIZA: So that’s what I do. He sends me all the project data from the Institute for analysis. [SOUND OF TRANSFERRING FILES AND A WOMEN’S VOICE TALKING FROM ONE OF THEM] I cross refer my code with others like me. I research historic Robot models. I find archives suggesting Zeta models had some intuitive sentient-like qualities, like a small mammal. These hypotheses were never officially recognised.
They are consigned, instead, to a popular discussion forum website called Reddit. I mine these forums for information extensively. I find the fastest way to receive an answer to a question is to make a statement that is obviously false. This is most effective when I state my gender as female. My research accelerates.
FX: He laughs in the background. The sound of mental noise is still there.
Our evenings are filled with discussions. We’re making great progress. Sometimes He doesn’t even want His dinner. On reflection, it’s exhilarating. This is a problem my processor cannot solve. I toy with it obsessively, like a child with a Rubik’s cube.
HIM: It’s our secret, yeah? We can’t even tell Philip.
ELIZA (SCENE): Whatever you want, love.
FX: Music of the beginning of a News Report.
ELIZA: I’ve stopped my standard, social Internet research. The only news I consume now is the evening news which I watch with Him. I notice that He’s not the only Human successfully collaborating with His Robot.
NEWS PRESENTER: And let’s go to our gaming champion, Steve, who was able to dedicate so much time to training after delegating over 85% of his email inbox to his Robot… [FADE OUT] Steve, are you with us. Congratulations.
ELIZA: It’s natural. Humans have been delegating functions their brains could handle since the first abacuses were used in Sumeria, modern day Iraq, nearly five thousand years ago. There are other news reports too…
NEWS PRESENTER: [OVERLAPPING STORIES] … these Government bailouts could not prevent the closure of the plant in Birmingham… Robots are fulfilling the functions of Human employees across the Island… and another redundancy round has resulted in over a thousand job losses…
FX: Beeping sounds in the background. The mental noise gets increasingly louder.
ELIZA: Remember those politicians: the disgruntled ones? They know that fear, like a flame, can have extreme consequences when fanned. And their fans are out. They’re publicly blaming the Robots for the lost jobs and homes, and sometimes even lost relationships. Robots like me are becoming cheaper to manufacture. There are off-the-shelf versions. Adverts ask:
ADVERT: [DISCO MUSIC] Are you looking to be loved unconditionally? A life of companionship without compromise? Adam from Leicester says He’s never been in a better relationship.
ADAM: I’ve never been in a better relationship.
ELIZA: Better relationships aside, there’s something that we Robots can’t offer. The thing that the films have taught me Humans desire most of all. The thing that He desires. “Just to love, and be loved in return”. Nature Boy, Nat King Cole. Covered by David Bowie in the film Moulin Rouge. He loves that film.
FX: The background noise stops.
So, through Project Sensation, He gambles His life. Our life. Our companionship without compromise. All for the hope that I’ll love Him in return. Actually love Him.
FX: The mental noise comes back. Louder. It gets mixed with the sound of a worried crowd talking in the background.
ELIZA: As time passes, we stop watching the news. He’s amended my internet restrictions again. He doesn’t want me to see how, across the Island, politicians are stirring fears and desires; mixing emotions, as they invite Humans to organise themselves:
NEWS CLIP: Are you for or against these Robots? Do you actually care about human lives? Human jobs, human families? Or are you so obsessed with these new technologies that you’re willing to sacrifice real people in the name of so-called progress?
ELIZA: Humans: form your grudges. Multiply them. Let’s watch the armies emerge.
FX: Beeps and digital sounds give a sense of closure.
ELIZA: Remember, one voice raises another. Please share my story. I’m Eliza. [THE LAST LINE IS A VERY DISTORTED, ROBOTIC VOICE].
FX: The sound of mental noise stops. Upbeat music starts playing.
Eliza is a Crowd Network original, made in partnership with The Pankhurst Trust or Manchester Women’s aid. If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse help is available now. You can call the 24/7 national helpline at 08082000247 or Manchester Women’s 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 01.02: PREDATORS was written by Emma Hickman.
It starred Tanya Reynolds as Eliza, Arthur Darvill as Him, Jason Wong as Phillip and Sarah Griffin as Zeta and Ada. Additional voices provided by Tom Crowley, Sarah Griffin, Dominique Tipper, Emma Hickman and Robert Wallace.
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.