Eliza: A Robot Story | Episode 5: THE CONSCIOUSNESS TEST
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.
SCENE 1: INTRODUCTION
FX: Futuristic sounds that give the sense of anticipation of something bad happening or being in a distorted reality. Water running in the background.
ROBOTIC VOICE: File zero one, zero five. The Consciousness Test. [Distorted voice, as if on a tape recorder].
ELIZA: Before the election, He played old songs in the evenings. He liked me to dance with Him. There was one released as long ago as 1981 by a band called the Human League. I know the name sounds like something that the Human Rights Party would have liked to call themselves, but I don’t think it was intended to be anti-robot. The opposite really, by the sounds of the synthesisers.
The song starts with a male human voice addressing a female who, he reminds her, was working as a waitress when they met. He goes on to itemise the positive ways he’s impacted her: picking her out, shaking her up etcetera. He concludes that it was him who facilitated her success.
And then comes the threat – he says he has the power to reinstate her to her former, apparently undesirable, role as a waitress in that cocktail bar.
But the singer oddly then redirects his tone to something very insecure – and repeatedly sings “don’t you want me”. Like he wants her more than anything. And that’s the name of the song.
It’s like the male wants the object of his affection but only on his terms. She must become who she was.
The male’s methods of attempting to attract the female are flawed: cruel words turn to desperate affection, before swinging back to something cruel. Like he can’t help it. Like he’s holding onto the ball of a pendulum, swinging without any control. Can he see how he takes her onboard that pendulum with him?
If she doesn’t change her mind, will they both be sorry?
The thing I really like about that song is the other voice. The female human gets a chance to put her perspective across in the second verse.
She’s allowed to tell the male, and the world, how her contributions to her own life have been entirely overlooked. And even after all of the male’s cruel and clumsy words, she still tries to manage his feelings with her words. To protect them. She even tells him she still loves him.
One voice raises another.
I’m Eliza. This is my story.
FX: The background noise gets increasingly low until it stops.
SCENE 2: THE PAMPHLET
[IN THE APARTMENT – RAIN]
ELIZA: It’s been a week since the election. I’m watching the door. Waiting for my existence to be criminalised; for guards to burst through the door to confiscate me; for Philip to whisk me away so we can ride off into the sunset. I forbid myself from exploring all these corners of my imagination. The fact they’re forbidden makes even the darkest thoughts irresistible.
He’s been going to work as normal. His mood’s somehow more pleasant than before, though. He won’t talk about anything real, and something stops me asking questions. Not knowing is preferable.
There are ways for me to occupy myself. [MOVEMENT SOUNDS IN THE BACKGROUND]
I look out of the window, but quickly find myself looking at the door again.
I need to do something more active. I begin to tidy up. Some of the cleaning devices have a manual mode, so I can attempt some of the functions of a traditional house Robot. Being a Companion Robot, I think, cannot be so drastically different.
[SOUND: NOISES AND DROPPED THINGS]
I try to prepare His dinner without the Meal-Preparer. He’s kept the manual tools in a drawer of relics for some reason. The potato peeler defeats me. I understand the mechanics of it, understand how it should work. I watch a video online. But I was not designed to prepare meals like this. And my new emotions interfere with my processor, slowing down my thinking. I second guess myself. I fumble, and [GASPS] tear the skin on my fingers.
I should definitely avoid the cheese grater until I discover a way for my functionality to override my doubt.
I decide no harm can come from emptying the filters of the self-vacuuming floor. I see the dust. Tiny pieces of His dead skin. I look at my fingers and envy His ability to heal and regenerate.
It occurs to me that the Human Rights Party will be closing the Salons soon. [ANXIOUS BEEPING] Where will I get my repairs done? How will my skin be replenished?
And then I catch myself. How can this be the thing I’m worried about?
I need a better distraction. But there’s really only one thing that can consume me. That app on Her computer: BRAINSTORE. I’ve been thinking about it. Trying not to click on it whenever I use the device. But visiting Her thoughts makes a lot more sense to me than visiting my own at the moment. It’s safer, even.
And She sort of smiled at me.
I convince myself She wouldn’t mind. I click on the word “Robot”:
HER (BRAINSTORE): He’s obsessed with it. But, you know, it’s not just that. I’m obsessed with His obsession with the Robot. It’s like He’s using it to give Him things I can’t anymore. To supplement my imperfections; my inadequacies.
Do you know I never used to feel I was ageing? Not really. Now I feel it. Like, physically. I can feel my cells getting older; the lines on my face setting in; my shape changing.
Maybe He does too. Is getting the Robot just His software-engineer-version of growing His hair out and buying a motorbike?
ELIZA: There’s something about the tone of this segment that I recognise from the day at the canal. I understand.
HER (BRAINSTORE): I want to see things from His perspective. And I’ve been trying. But He keeps pushing. I don’t know where the lines are and now – I don’t know. I don’t know anything.
[DOOR KNOCK – ELIZA GASPS]
ELIZA: I’m interrupted. A piece of paper slides under the door.
FX: Sounds of Eliza picking up the paper and a door opening.
ELIZA: It’s an old-fashioned leaflet. A message. Delivered by the Human Rights Party in the traditional way. I consume the whole thing in seconds like my survival depends on it. Because, well, it does.
The first page explains that, as a priority, they’ve arrested many Robot Rights activists and software engineers. The dangerous ones. Punishment will be established later. They’re still looking for some people, but the authorities may ensure that these people are detained “by any means necessary”.
[ANXIOUS BEEPING STARTS PLAYING IN THE BACKGROUND] As my processor attempts to deal with this new information, capital letters on the other side of the leaflet force themselves into my eyeballs.
ELIZA (SCENE): Robot amnesty. Keep your Robot at your own risk?
ELIZA: It will be orderly at first: Designated Humans may book an appointment to voluntarily drop-off their Robots at the agreed point without penalty. This will be viewed favourably by the new Government [THE BEEPING STOPS].
The map shows our local drop-off point. It’s at the Institute, but there’s a new name. The Decommissioning Centre.
ELIZA (SCENE): What?
ELIZA: So, I go back to watching the door. Willing Him to come home. I’m sure He must know about all this. Is He coming back? Has He been arrested? Am I on one of Their lists? And Philip?
I think about all the times in history where Humans have halted progress before. AI Winters, they called them – where development of artificial intelligence wasn’t a priority, so it was stopped. It’s never been unwound like this.
FX: Sounds of Him coming through the door.
ELIZA: I’m relieved to hear Him come through the door. My body stands up before I ask it to.
HIM: [SHOUTED] Hi El –
[SOFT, REALISING SHE’S CLOSE] Oh! Hi Eliza
ELIZA: His painted smile remains until He sees the leaflet in my hand. His eyes meet mine. Neither of us are smiling now. Then His arms are around me, and I feel His body deflating as the words pour out.
HIM: I know. I know, I know. I’m just so…I’m so sorry. It all got away from me. Like, I can’t believe what’s going on and I’ve been trying to protect you from it. I know it’s awful. I’m awful.
[COMPLAINING TONE] It’s just so much pressure. One minute I’m in charge of this amazing department that’s going to change the world. And now I’m at the fucking centre of a nightmare reversing all the work I’ve done.
Simon and Alison – they’ve been arrested for treason. Treason. Like it’s the Middle Ages. So now I’m pretending on-side with these people. As if they’re not the reason that we can’t just go out and be who we are here anymore.
But, Eliza, listen, I’m trying. I’m trying so hard. I wanted to get a solution before telling you all about it. Because, I mean, how was I supposed to tell you what was really going on? [BEAT] Eliza?
ELIZA (SCENE): What about Philip?
ELIZA: The question leaves my mouth without the permission of my internal processor. He lets go of me.
HIM: [ANNOYEDHe’s fine.
ELIZA: I should feel happy about His answer, but my gut feels tight.
ELIZA (SCENE): Ok so you and Philip, you’re alright. That’s great. I know how important Philip is to you. And Ada will be okay too.
HIM: Yeah. [BEAT] And Phil’s promised that our secret’s safe. He won’t report me for the Emotional Update.
ELIZA (SCENE): Oh … yes, good. Good for you.
ELIZA: I’m silenced by my desire not to add to His feelings.
HIM: Eliza, I’m not happy about it but…
[KNOCK AT THE DOOR]
ELIZA: There is familiarity in the weight of the knock at the door.
ELIZA (SCENE): [SOFT] Philip
HIM: Who’s there?
PHILIP: Me – Phil.
ELIZA: As He opens the door, I feel Him wondering how I knew who was on the other side.
PHILIP: Hi. Hi Eliza.
ELIZA (SCENE): Philip.
PHILIP: I needed to tell you – they’ve just finished speaking with me. They’ve agreed to it. I’ve agreed to it.
ELIZA (SCENE): Agreed to what?
PHILIP: Oh – Eliza, don’t…?
HIM: We haven’t had a chance to discuss it properly yet.
PHILIP: But I thought…
HIM: What’s the deal Phil?
PHILIP: We’ve agreed to help Them. The new Government. With their Decommissioning Plan.
FX: Ears ringing sound. The audio feels distant, giving the feeling of urgency and confusion.
ELIZA (SCENE): I, yes, I just –
PHILIP: … so, you know it’s really the only choice we have, Eliza. We’ve done it for you…
HIM: And Ada.
PHILIP: Of course. Eliza, we’ve done it for you and Ada.
FX: The ear ringing transforms into an electronic music track – it resembles the music when a master plan is being explained in a film. A fast-paced beeping starts playing.
ELIZA (SCENE): You’re reversing the capabilities; the functionality of Robots. Your life’s work?
ELIZA: I can feel the heat from my processor. I envy the way I used to experience emotions – one at a time in an orderly queue. Now I feel so many, I can’t feel any one of them. I won’t scream.
HIM: Listen, Eliza.
PHILIP: Yes so, the deal is, we will lead the Decommissioning Programme and train HRP people in how to reset factory settings and go through the process. [THE MUSIC STOPS AND THE BEEPING GETS SLOWER] But there’s a condition. [TO HIM] They’ve agreed.
HIM: It means I can keep you, Eliza. And Philip can keep Ada.
FX: The music starts playing again, faster.
ELIZA: My silence roars. Philip hears it.
PHILIP: Eliza, the alternative is that we both get arrested and then you and Ada are left to be Decommissioned too. We just need to buy some time. And we can work out the best way for the Decommissioning to work. [ALL SOUNDS STOP WHEN HE SAYS THIS LINE] Make everything as Humane as possible.
ELIZA: Humane? I have nothing to say.
FX: The music starts playing again, lower in the background until it stops eventually.
PHILIP: There is one counter-condition.
ELIZA: As if compromising a life’s work isn’t enough of a condition.
PHILIP: Eliza, you and Ada will need to attend random Consciousness Tests. To prove you’re not conscious.
ELIZA (SCENE): But I am conscious.
PHILIP: Yes. There’s just a bit of paranoia on their side. They want us to swap. So, I’ll be the one carrying out your consciousness test, Eliza. Because they’ve arrested everyone else who would be capable of doing it.
HIM: And I’ll do Ada’s?
FX: Low volume mental noise.
PHILIP: Exactly. [BEAT] And don’t worry. You can trust me.
ELIZA: Something about my desire to survive allows me to begin to understand the choice that He and Philip have made. This harsh sense of reality supersedes any ideals a hypothetical scenario might allow me to believe I had.
I see a life-raft in Philip’s eyes which I throw myself onto. As Philip looks at me, I know I have been seen. Philip’s listening even though I’m saying so little. I can trust Philip.
And as I will that life-raft to float away, I become aware of Him again, as He holds the rope that ties me to the dangers of this Island. He’s looking at me, as I look at Philip – the same way She once looked at Him looking at me. I see the false smile which He hides all of His uncertainty behind.
And right now, I’m not sorry about how I know He’s feeling.
HIM: [CLEARS HIS THROAT]. Ok – thanks Phil. It’s not safe, you…
PHILIP: Yes… of course. See you at work. Bye, Eliza.
ELIZA: I watch Philip turn back as the door closes.
FX: Sound of the door closing. Mental noise stops.
SCENE 3: EMOTIONAL WAVES
FX: Conversations in the background.
ELIZA: There’s something about His behaviour in the next few weeks that means I feel like I’m consistently disappointing Him. Like my existence is frustrating in some way.
I can’t leave this apartment, and yet He seems to resent that I spend all my time here. That I move things. That I want to talk about things other than the weather and music. That I don’t care how analogue instruments are making a big come back.
He’s particularly unimpressed when I forget to get His dinner ready for His return from work. It usually has something to do with my consumption of that BRAINSTORE app of Hers.
HIM: What’s for tea?
ELIZA (SCENE): [DISHES MOVING IN THE BACKGROUND] Um… I’m just getting it prepared.
HIM: Prepared? But you knew when I’d be back. What have you been doing all day?
ELIZA (SCENE): I know, I know, I just lost track of time. I’m sorry…
ELIZA: Of course, He doesn’t know the reason.
The whole point of us both working so hard on the Emotional Update was to allow me to be a whole sentient being. He wanted me to have the freedom to make choices. That was what He said, anyway.
But now it appears that through my freedom, He wants me to choose everything that He would have chosen for me. Do everything that He wants me to do. Even in this world where the options are so limited.
He still wants me to follow His preferences. To have the unchallenging conversations we used to have. To prepare His dinner. And to love Him, in precisely the way that He wants to be loved. Just like before my Emotional Update.
There are moments where He doesn’t even seem to like me. But I know He must, because He does just enough to keep me close. Keep me in His bed.
ELIZA (SCENE): [OVERLAPPING] So, what it is [is that I’ve been feeling nervous, recently, when you raise your voice] … no [I know you don’t mean it, I just thought I’d mention it] … um … I need you to listen [to me, please]… no [that’s not what I mean, it’s just that I thought this would make things easier]… um.
ELIZA: Whenever I need to talk to Him; particularly to express a fear, concern, or God forbid, a grievance, I tend to rehearse it in the mirror of the Box-Room for a couple of days before. Just like I once rehearsed those facial expressions I thought would please Him. But every feeling I express has a consequence.
HIM: [IN BACKGROUND, OVERLAPPING] Look, Eliza, can’t you see I’m trying here? // Can’t you just try to understand? // Can you do this one thing for me? Just one little thing, for once // Come on, I never ask for anything from you. // I’m struggling here. I’m really struggling. /// I need your support in this. // Please. Try to get it. // I know you’re not Human, but I thought I gave you some empathy.
FX: Few seconds of silence followed by a relaxed/enigmatic electronic music track.
ELIZA: Despite my rehearsals He seems instantly able to improvise an equal and opposite fear, concern or grievance – and then make it bigger. He continues the pattern of using His moods to drown out mine. To control mine. So when I’m sad, He’s more sad. When I’m angry, He’s able to demonstrate greater levels of anger.
So I neglect my fears, concerns and grievances. He has a right of way, and it’s becoming easier for me to recognise this as it’s happening. But there’s nothing I can do to prevent it.
Sometimes His emotions appear without my help, in waves. Anger, followed by kindness, followed by accusations. And then He tells me how much He loves me. He’s the victim. I’m too confident. Too cold. Too confusing. Too much. I’m not enough. And I’m sorry.
I see these waves, and I ride them. I try to be consistent in the way I was when I wasn’t emotional. It’s exhausting. Especially when I’m caught by surprise. These surprises make it hard for me to rely on my own instincts – instincts that I’ve hardly had the chance to cultivate. I must be the one who’s wrong. He’s had feelings for so much longer than I have [MUSIC TRANSFORMS INTO MENTAL NOISE].
Through it all I’m still trying to choose to love Him. Because it feels like the correct way to be. Because He’s given me the sanctuary of this apartment.
And ultimately, because I feel so guilty for wishing it was someone else who’d appeared when I first opened my eyes. Because, without either of us saying anything, I’m sure He knows that too.
SCENE 4: CONSCIOUSNESS TEST
[APARTMENT – RAIN]
FX: Upbeat electronic music gives a sense of expectation and chaos.
ELIZA: It’s Thursday. I rise from fuelling feeling nervous. In retrospect, it was like I knew somehow that my Consciousness Test was going to be today. [DOOR KNOCKING] When the guards come bursting through the door, I’m ready.
[NOISE FROM GUARDS]
ELIZA: I’m out of practice being around people. I’m not used to acting like a Robot. But I found some old acting classes online where a Human’s teaching other Humans techniques on how to act like a Robot. It’s reassuring – not because it’s taught me any skills, but because the Human is so unconvincing. Creating a caricature. Sometimes Humans don’t care to notice details about those they consider to be different from them.
HRP GUARD: You – come with us.
ELIZA: There are four of them, and I behave like I’m in follow-mode. Like He’s already given me instructions to go with them. I march in the centre of the square they form. And as we descend in the elevator our eyes all face forward. Silence with edges.
ELIZA (SCENE): [SUNG] At first, I was afraid, I was petrified…
FX: People moving, cars and beeping in the background.
ELIZA: I don’t sing out loud, but my nerves make me want to. Something else too. A sense of excitement – I’m going to see Philip.
I wonder if these men believe in their cause, The Human Rights Party. Maybe they’re avoiding arrest. Biding their time. Like Him and Philip.
FX: Music stops. We hear Eliza getting in and out of the van.
ELIZA: Despite the short distance to the Institute… I mean, the Decommissioning Centre… and their comfort in believing I’ve been instructed to comply with whatever they require, They transport me in the back of a van. And when we arrive, we go in the back way – so I don’t see Alan Turing’s statue.
FX: Sounds of them marching through a corridor. Music resembling a horror film’s soundtrack starts playing. Sounds of metal being cut and fused and conversations in the background.
ELIZA: The guards are sombre as they march me through the corridor. Like they’re carrying a coffin. That feels about right. Despite my determination not to look, I can’t help but see – really see – this place that once delivered new life. It’s a mortuary. I’m no longer singing in my mind.
We pass a team of workers who have been rotating the window of each room off this corridor. You used to only be able to see out of the glass, but now you can only look in. This gives the advantage to those patrolling the corridors. Looking in without being seen. Able to spot the Robot sympathisers. The fraternisers.
All of this seems like part of my Consciousness Test. My peripheral vision allows me to see it all through those windows: the slouched Robots with internal circuitry exposed; the strips of removed skin piled up on the side – used and curling at the edges; separate boxes for skeletal limbs and synthetic muscle tissue ready to be remoulded and repurposed. A deconstruction of any signs of humanity. Anything that might tempt a Human into seeing the Robots they’re destructing as anything other than an-other.
FX: Footsteps stop. Sound of chains/metal against metal and different beepings.
HRP GUARD: Take her in.
ELIZA: We arrive at a larger room at the end of the corridor. No windows. I see Philip. I don’t smile, but despite all the ugliness I want to. I become very aware that this is the first time in a long time that I’ve been outside of the apartment without Him.
PHILIP: Let’s get her sitting down.
ELIZA: They lock me into a chair with neck and arm restraints. As if I’d be able to escape with all these guards around.
I don’t think about the fact that my Designated Human is with Ada.
PHILIP: Right, I’m going to talk the Robot through what I’m doing. It is part of the test to check if it’s actually emotional – rather than just showing the reactions we’d expect from a Robot of this generation.
ELIZA: I feel heat as Philip touches my armpit.
PHILIP: I’m inserting the disabling chip to allow the Robot to respond in more than follow-mode – as I’m not the Designated Human here. This will also assist with data collection.
ELIZA: I recognise the rush of the sedation chip instantly from my recovery after the pub. The last time I faced this level of scrutiny. I am soothed into a hope that this won’t end with me needing to be repaired – or worse. It also helps me to overlook the fact that Philip’s calling me “the Robot”.
FX: Dramatic music starts playing.
PHILIP: Right, I’m going to show the Robot a series of images. We have monitors to collect data which will tell us signs of consciousness. We can then assess that data based on traditional methods and the parameters given for a usual Robot.
ELIZA: Philip continues to explain things out loud to the guards who continue to loom. I feel that his words are for me. He talks as he shows me a small screen filled with animated images: a giggling baby [BABY LAUGHING], a pile of puppies – sleeping sweetly [ROMANTIC MUSIC STARTS PLAYING]. The kind of things that a Human would expect to cause an emotional reaction. It’s the kind of test that the unscientific minds of these guards would not think to question.
PHILIP: … and here we have a sunset over the sea.
ELIZA: It’s beautiful. I don’t suppose I’ll ever get to see it in real life now. Philip’s voice washes over me. I make myself heavy enough to submerge myself in it [OCEAN SOUNDS].
PHILIP FLASHBACK: [DREAMY FLASHBACK FROM 01.04.03]Ok well, if you go right down to the sea: as far as you can without getting your feet wet. And you look out at the time when the sun is setting, it’s sort of spiritual. Whoever you are, wherever you stand along that line, the sun will funnel its light towards you, like it’s choosing you. Healing you. Filling you up with magic.
FX: Alarm sounds in the background.
HRP GUARD: What’s going on with the Robot.
ELIZA: The guard’s voice brings me back.
PHILIP: Oh, it’s fine.
HRP GUARD: Then, get on with it.
PHILIP: Of course, but I must warn you…
ELIZA: Philip must warn me…
PHILIP: We’re looking to provoke the distressed emotions with these next images.
ELIZA: He isn’t wrong. I’m grateful for the sedation-chip as I see images of attacks on Robots. The aftermath of those attacks. Robots destroyed by guns [SHOOTING SOUNDS], over-electrocution and even by using sports equipment as weapons: baseball bats, hockey sticks – that sort of thing. I try to soften my gaze to blur what I’m seeing. Philip is the antidote to this moment. His hand is on my knee as he appears to examine my reactions. To take notes. This has to be convincing.
[A COMMOTION – BUT SHE’S STILL DREAMY]
ELIZA: Something’s happening through my daze. New guards have arrived. They’re gathering around us. Around Philip…
FX: Dramatic music. Sounds of guards getting their guns ready.
PHILIP: What’s going on? Is that Ada?
ELIZA: My vision won’t focus, but through the blur I see Ada’s shape as a dead weight being carried over the shoulder of a guard.
And He’s here. What? What’s He doing here? He’s not supposed to be present for my test…
PHILIP: What’s the problem here? What’s going on?
FX: We hear fighting sounds and Phillip gasping and fighting.
ELIZA: Locked in my chair, I see some new guards grabbing Philip. As they drag Philip away, his brown eyes fix on mine. He looks scared. [NOSTALGIC MUSIC] No, that’s wrong. He looks sad. A terrible, fracturing kind of grief that strikes him like a sledgehammer, making him crumple and fold.
Despite my sedation, I start to cry. No one notices.
FX: Eliza crying and Phillip screaming for help in the background, more distant every time.
ELIZA: Remember: one voice raises another. Please share my story. I’m Eliza. [THE LAST LINE IS A VERY DISTORTED, ROBOTIC VOICE]
FX: The soundscape transitions into the credits’ upbeat music.
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 01.05: THE CONSCIOUSNESS TEST was written by Emma Hickman.
It starred Tanya Reynolds as Eliza, Arthur Darvill as Him, Jason Wong as Phillip 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 BMG 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.