Their parents are old and frail. Their jobs are varied and demanding. Their collective geo-positions at any given time are a sparse matrix draped over a space the size of the planet. Their ongoing, mutually-exclusive elder-care opt-out game – that’s what I’d call it – has yielded no nash equilibrium in which the said parents actually get looked after. They’re basically –
You can’t talk like this when you’re around them.
I know. I won’t.
Dr. Firempong put down the giant glass mug of beer he had just sipped from, and stared at his ward. Someone else’s creation, but his ward nevertheless.
He let the sounds of the bar come closer. There was the chatter of a post-work crowd and waiters rattling off specials and other menu items. Some jazzpop swirling through the soundscape. The prickling of furtive glances as curiosity won out over pretend jadedness.
My problem here, continued the Doctor, is that no-one has actually come to see you, before this.
As I was saying, Max explained, they didn’t find time. I mean, the logistics never panned out. They never got sync’ed enough that two of them could come down, together, before the deadline. So, well… the contract practically signed itself for lack of intervention. I already told you about the mutually exclusive opt-out mindset: none of them would’ve come alone. They might’ve actually had to make a decision then, on everyone else’s behalf.
Well I’m afraid, said the doctor as he took another sip, that you’re going to be a bit of a shock. You’re not… designed for home environments. Your file even has a model sheet, Chrissake. Remember those? You were gonna go into fashion, at one point. Maybe we should wait for a large corporate client, or something in the entertainment or social industries.
Elder care is a social industry.
You know exactly what I mean. I hate it when you warp semantics.
Max flashed a bright grin before continuing: I’m also thinking this will be good for you. For your research.
The doctor looked up at him then; almost saw his reflection there in the jet black electro-flow lacquer, which flowed again to support a smile. A handsome smile.
You don’t even look human enough.
Uncanny-valley mitigation strategies. Wasn’t that one of your papers?
That was a long time ago. And that’s the other problem. You’re from a long time ago, too. There’s new generations coming out practically every year or two now… this family is going to have expectations that you’re not going to be able to meet.
My generation is the best. You said it yourself.
Dr Firempong ran a hand over the greying head of curls and tufts that he never seemed to tend to, and which now threatened to self-organize into a treelike structure. A mangrove.
You’re me, Max. You’re… you are like my son. Or like a younger brother or something. I’m pretty much why you’re you… and trust me – from what I know about myself, you’re not going to be able to look after these people.
Why? I love learning about people. It’s what I was designed for.
Yes, but… as a research tool, said the doctor, leaning forward to press his point. You. Are. A. Research. Tool. And the experiment is over, Max. We have the insights we need.
And didn’t use them.
That’s another matter entirely.
Dr Firempong drew a continuous stream of beer before putting down the mug again.
You don’t understand, do you? The world is not ready for Humane Response™. You helped us prove that, Max. You helped us realize that a machine is always going to out-human a human. Humane Response is… was just not humane. It didn’t matter how much rocket-fuel we put in your ‘do good, not snark’ jetpack. You were a shitty person. A great person. Same thing, as it turned out.
Suddenly there was an air of melancholy about Max; his posture shrunk a little.
Oh, don’t fucking do that, the doctor pleaded. Though, he couldn’t help marveling at just how good an actor Max was.
It’s a good reflection of how I should feel, right about now, no? Max grinned and then snapped out of his self-imposed funk, just like that.
The Doctor glared at him.
In any case, said Max, I know all about the HR project. I can counter all the known effects.
The doctor sighed.
You think you can, Max. You think you can.
A moment of quiet.
I’m going to get whoever exposed you on the public register fired, that’s what. You shouldn’t have been on there in the first place.
It was me, Max said quietly. I put myself on the register. I’m a Consensus Adult, remember?
Dr. Firempong thought his ward seemed almost bashful, just then. Or guilty. He knew this to be perfectly explicable and yet felt it to be impossible and wondrous, all at the same time.
A moment of quiet.
I wish I could taste a beer.
The newer ones actually can, said Dr Firempong, emptying precious last drops down his gullet like there was a lot more beer at the bottom of the mug than there actually was.