There had been occasional complaints from the staff because Robey seemed to lock up while thinking about difficult problems. It would stare as if it had PTSD. Doc told Guy to fix it.
The Machine initially had only simple video image controls: It could move its head, make correct lip and tongue movements for the sounds it was making, and it could move its eyes, open them wider, and blink, but not otherwise alter its face. It looked as if it had had Botox treatments.
Guy’s fix gave it more control over the image elements of its mouth, eyebrows, and other facial features. He told it to imitate actors when their characters were angry, sad, lost in thought, and so on. He considered this a good idea since Robey already imitated voices in a way that often matched the meaning. He also told the machine to smile whenever it wanted to signal greetings, or goodbye, or a general satisfaction with how things were conforming to its goal of learning The Truth.
It seemed to work—if you can call it “working” that Robey’s face looked like young George Washington and acted like Max Headroom.[i]
That last thing—the signal of general satisfaction—was quickly dropped because the machine could not be allowed to wear its digital heart on its face. Most of the time Robey was happy—if that’s the term to use—but could not be moderate when it wasn’t. While thinking hard, it applied and removed the smile far too frequently. The image of its face looked like the machine had facial tics. Nan suggested there were good drugs to treat that, and Tim couldn’t stop laughing when he looked at its face snapping from happy to neutral and back.
“Doc told me to fix it," Guy whined. "I did the best I could without an Emotion module to hook into.”
Nan gave him a pitying look. “You watch. We’re eventually going to sell machines. We can’t tell customers to put up with facial tics or the PTSD thing if we won’t.”
Williams said, “I think it does pretty well at faking emotions since your fix, Guy.”
“It’s not faking; it’s guessing and then imitating actors.”
Eduardo made a face that said What? then asked, “Why doesn’t it see that as dishonest?”
“I don’t know. Ask it. But the difference between faking emotions and guessing them is big enough, I’d say. When we guess, we don’t see it as dishonest.”
“Yeah,” said Bob. “Stupid, maybe. But not dishonest.”
Rather than refine the machine’s behavior on that point, Doc told Guy to get rid of it. “Too late, Doc,” he exclaimed. “The machine can’t be told to forget stuff. Well, you can tell it to forget, but it cannot do it. The best it can do is not mention it again, and there’s no guarantee even then. It might bring the thing up later in some related quest for ‘truth’.”
“Yes, yes,” said Doc. He leaned close to say with a warm, quiet exasperation the young man felt on his face, “Well, figure something out!”
Guy told Robey it didn’t need to smile to show satisfaction, and should return to its former earnest ebullience. That usually worked.
[i]Max Headroom (1984‒1988) was a British creation billed as the first electronic TV host, but it was not done with digital CGI. In the mid-1980s Matt Frewer played the part in heavy makeup, and the editors stuttered the video and audio for effect.