The Cyborgs’ Union Hall (part 2)
Over a period of one year, the robotics developers were compelled to attend four such meetings altogether. The directors of marketing were fundamentally both shrewd and cautious people, as it was their duty, their job to instruct the company just how it could most profitably invest the vast wealth at its disposal. But each new product constituted an inherent risk, for they had no fool-proof way of knowing just how the paying public—typically quite whimsical in its purchasing behavior and susceptible to most influence up to a point—would react to this labor-saving new machine.
Previous labor-saving devices had been welcomed with open arms and open pocket books throughout the 20th Century such as washing machines and electric ovens and vacuum cleaners. One of that period’s last innovations, the personal computer, had become as universally accepted in daily life as had the telephone some eight or nine decades earlier With the advent of the telephone, no longer did anyone need to write letters. With the advent of the computer, no longer did anyone need to step out of their home to buy groceries or Christmas gifts—and nor did they have to use a pen, the keyboard being a far more favored tool since a mistake was instantly correctable (or the machine itself would perform the correction, depending on one’s preference), and in fact its user could abandon the keyboard altogether and merely speak into a microphone allowing the computer itself to take dictation and type the result all in a single process.
And yet, they intuitively feared that the population sector of women in their mid- to late-twenties, recently endowed with motherhood upon the birth of their first child, might not readily wish to give up that role even in its minutest part to a surrogate being, itself possessing no life whatsoever, a being which merely followed instructions to the letter, a Turing machine in the fullest sense of the word capable of learning how to perform virtually any task of human mental or physical labor conceivable.
After much discussion among themselves, the directors of marketing reached a decision and then promptly informed the team of developers to proceed with Model Number 21—but only as a single prototype, they insisted, and further went on to add tersely that they were still far from the production phase. On the scale of one to twenty-four, Model 21 came rather close to looking like someone you might see on the street. Yet there had been impressed on this female face an intentional vagueness, one could almost say a lackluster quality, and this so that it’s owner(s) and the owner(s)’ children could with little difficulty distinguish it from an actual human being.
Model Number 21 did not seek it’s eventual christened name, of course, it had no will of its own. But the developers perhaps inevitably gave this . . . this human-like figure a name, Beverly. Oddly, the team had selected a name which possessed a vague echo of the name of a doll quite popular among young girls in the 20th Century. Perhaps no more than a coincidence, or purely intentional, nonetheless Beverly she had become.
She became the innocent-looking star of an intense marketing campaign which culminated with a nationally-televised gala coming-out party, a marketing campaign far more prolonged and inventive than any car had ever received. Upon the utterance of her name Beverly would step out of her little room, its door-panel studded with stars, and then stand placidly at attention while waiting for the next instruction. Both Beverly and the tasteful and stylish dress that she was wearing were then gazed upon by a nation-wide audience of television viewers. Prior to this event only photographs of this new sensation had ever been publicized. The public had no idea of what she even sounded like, and a great amount of talk had arisen in homes, at the workplace, and in cafés and bars as to what her voice might be like. Would she have an accent or sound like a mid-westerner? Would she be a soprano or a contralto? Would she speak quickly or slowly? No one could say; no one knew.
The public’s reaction to Beverly’s first live appearance turned out to be rather complex. The directors of marketing had hired a thousand graduate students in sociology from across the country to record documentary evidence of public reaction based on talk they overheard in grocery stores, shopping malls, movie theatres, taverns, and cafés. These findings were compiled and then analyzed.
As anticipated, men were primarily both amused or astonished in turns, and typically made a variety of crude jokes pertaining to the usefulness of Beverly as they perceived her usefulness to be. The reaction of women was far more complex and difficult to interpret. Past the age of sixty-five, this dazzling new innovation was seen as nothing less than an obscenity, demonstrating only the company’s Faustian pact with the devil to produce a hideous affront against God. And we should here recall the fact that Beverly moved about and spoke with almost complete normality, apart from what psychologists might describe as a subtle absence of affect. One could not imagine Beverly doing anything with enthusiasm, with her face always a bland look of steady purpose.
Beverly often garnered more favorable opinions from the rest of the female population, however. These women fell into two principle classes: those who had children, and those who did not. Women without children tended to be more delighted over the prospect of owning a Beverly; middle-age women who happened to have several children, a youngster or two among them, appeared ambivalent; and young mother’s in their twenties were further subdivided by the sociologists into economic classes. Those in the middle-class expressed their disfavor, while the working-class women tended to ask when a Beverly would be available for purchase.
These mixed results placed the directors of marketing in a quandary. But in the end a bottom-line of sorts was given by a mathematician who specialized in probability and game theory, and his forecast was that the product known as Beverly would enjoy a .67 chance of success within the marketplace.