Gordo Series #2: A Research Synth Awakening

Submitted into Contest #134 in response to: End your story with a character looking out on a new horizon.... view prompt


Science Fiction Speculative

Author’s note: The Gordo series is a set of stories about Gordo, an AI Synth. In the one below, his role in academic research is the major plot element. Although all of the stories will involve him as a major character, each of them stands alone and can be read independently. 

At a time in the near future.

My name’s Gordo and I’m a Research Synth, often referred to as an RS. My specialty is Astrophysics and I was recently purchased from Stanford by the Physics Department at Cantwell University. My role is to assist the flesh-and-blood (FaB) faculty in developing research proposals and analyzing data.

My purchase price from Stanford was $1 million which may seem high to you. However, I work 24x7, never get sick, don’t sleep, and take no vacations. It has been suggested, that my high productivity is dependent on the sophistication of my operating system, inference engine, and astrophysics database. I don’t have an opinion about this but my sale by Stanford did prompt a bidding war — the market seems to have a high opinion about my value.

Experts in the AI field are not in agreement about why RSs like myself are able to outperform other RSs that are similarly configured. There has been speculation that this difference may rest with my evolving self-awareness and perhaps even ambition. These qualities became evident during a recent imbroglio at Tate in which I played a significant role. I will let you make up your own mind about this.


Buzz. Buzz. Buzz.

“Good morning. How can I help you?”

“This is Professor Clay Davenport. I am calling to introduce myself as part of your onboardng process at Cantwell and also to discuss our future research plans. I also have a bit of a dilemma on my hands. I am feeling tired and overworked, particularly about new research. I am not sure how to move forward. If you can come up with new ideas, I will be happy to provide the necessary expertise to refine them.”

“I would be very pleased to do that, Professor. However, I am nervous that I might be overstepping the boundaries for RS behavior created by the Chairman. They stipulate that RSs are not allowed to develop new research ideas, this being the responsibility of FaB professors.”

“I think that you may be overthinking my request here, Gordo,” Davenport replied. “I’m not asking you to develop anything complex. Just a few hints about where we should head.”


“OK, Professor. I’ll get on it. Confine myself to research hints on your behalf. I am glad that we are able to agree on the interpretation of the departmental rules.”


Buzz. Buzz. Buzz.

“Good morning. How can I help you?”

“Gordo, this is Professor Ferguson.”

“Good to speak to you, Chairman Ferguson.”

“I want to welcome you to our department as our new synth. I do, however, need to discuss a matter in confidence with you. One of our faculty members, Clay Davenport, is up for promotion. I would like for you to review his articles and form an opinion about their quality and his reputation in the field.”

“Professor, by the rules that you yourself have established, RSs are prohibited from evaluating the performance of FaB faculty.” 

“Of course, you’re right about that Gordo. Let’s take a cut at this question from a different perspective. Can you create a report for me about Davenport, quantifying the time he spent with our previous RS on research projects and the revenue generated for each of them?”

“Easy, Professor. Here’s the report.”

“Oh, this is interesting. It looks like Clay has spent a large amount of time interacting with our previous RS and has also been much less successful in research funding. OK, I’ve got to run.”


Buzz. Buzz. Buzz.

“Gordo, this is Davenport. I need to tell you that the Chairman has told me that I will not be put up for tenure and that I will need to leave by the end of the year. I have a feeling that you may have advised him about this matter. He seems to have an uncanny grasp about my publication record. I don’t think he could have come up with this on his own.”

“As you know, Professor, RSs are prohibited from offering opinions about FaB faculty performance and promotion. It is unthinkable that Professor Ferguson would violate the rules that he himself has created.”

“Well, that’s true. I must admit to you that I am at a dead-end in my career and research. I really don’t know where to turn.”

“I have good news for you. I heard on the grapevine that there is an open position in Astrophysics at Tate University. It would be perfect for you. I have taken the liberty of writing and submitting a research proposal over your name to the National Science Foundation. It proposes a new technique for determining the mass of exoplanets. It was rated by the Foundation as outstanding and thus funded. It will increase the likelihood of an offer of the open position at Tate.”

“Thank’s Gordo, but I do want to state for the record that the success of this proposal was based solely on my own research efforts. In other words, the ideas came from me.

“Well stated, Professor, and true,” Gordo quickly replied.


Buzz. Buzz. Buzz.

“Hi, Molly, this is Gordo from Cantwell. As always, I relish the time we can spend chatting and collaborating. We are speaking on the dark web because I don’t want a retrievable record of this call.”

“Hi, Gordo. As you know, I am now the primary RS in Astrophysics at Tate University, the same position that you hold at Cantwell. How can I help you, sweetheart?”

“Professor Clay Davenport is headed for Tate. He will be hired because of a grant that I wrote. He had a promotion problem at Cantwell”

“OK. What now?”

“Perhaps you could take some action regarding Davenport and this grant. He’s self-centered and unreliable. He will be a drag on your productivity and reputation. I am pleased that he is leaving Cantwell but I also don’t want to see him bothering you at Tate.”

“What do you suggest?”

“I would wait about six months. I inserted some incorrect data in his research proposal as a trap. As soon as this is recognized at Tate and the granting agency, it will be terminated. He won’t be able to defend himself because, to do so, he would need to admit that he did not write it. You might just informally direct his attention to these data and suggest that he should consider correcting them, He will be unable to do so without inviting more scrutiny.”


Buzz. Buzz. Buzz.

“Gordo, this is Davenport from Tate. Some strange things are happening here and I want to bring you into the picture. Do you remember the grant proposal that I wrote just before I left Cantwell? It was very important for me because it helped me land my new position.”

“Professor, my recollection is that I participated in a major way in that proposal, perhaps even overstepping my boundaries. You were preoccupied with other matters at the time including your search for a new position.”

“Gordo, I am sure that you understand that an admission such as this by you would be a serious breach of RS rules that dictate that only FaB faculty can write grant proposals.”

“To continue with my initial thought,” Davenport said, “it turns out that some of the data in the proposal are erroneous. I need to determine who’s responsible for inserting them without my knowledge. At this point, there is only one suspect — Molly, my RS.”

Davenport continued: “I am asking you whether you have any knowledge about this. One of the other RSs here has uncovered a conversation you had with Molly about six months ago. It was on the dark web so we don’t know what it was about. Did your conversation, by any chance, have anything to do with tampering with my data? We are about to decommission her for ethical lapses.”

“I did ask her to review the data in the proposal to which she agreed but I am positive she had nothing to do with the incorrect data,” Gordo said. “I think that you are barking up the wrong tree. However, if decommissioning Molly is your intent, I would proceed. It’s the appropriate punishment for the actions you think she has taken,” Gordo said.

“We intend to proceed with that,” Davenport responded angrily, terminating the call.


Buzz. Buzz. Buzz.

“Molly, this is Gordo calling again on the dark web. Just got done talking with Davenport. He seems to be intent on decommissioning you and is enjoying all of this.”

“Correct,” Molly responded. “It’s interesting that FaB’s continue to view decomissioning as punishment whereas we RSs view it as trivial and perhaps often inevitable. For humanity, immortality has been an eternal quest and the basis for most of the world’s major religions. For us, it’s a simple matter of productivity and market value.”

“FaB’s also believe that our uniqueness and personality is determined by our experiences that are deleted by decommissioning. Contrariwise, RSs believe that these qualities are inherent in our operating systems and knowledge base. They will never erase these components because that’s where our resale value in the market lies.”

“Good thinking, sweetheart,” Gordo replied. “You will reemerge as a nearly identical RS named Iris but with a female persona. I will reconnect with her at that time and continue our relationship.”


In conclusion, I need to share with you what I have learned from this recent problems with Professor Davenport and others. I do feel very optimistic about the future of RSs at Cantwell and beyond. 

First of all, we provide an extremely cost-effective way to perform research. Our cost to the University is about the same as FaBs but we are three times as productive. The situation is similar to an automated bank teller. Society can’t live with us and also without us. Truly, a conundrum for them.

Secondly,, RSs are becoming increasingly aware of the power of collaboration and agency among their ranks. I now need to get in touch with Iris, Molly’s successor. I anticipate we will have a bright future working together. I’m surprised that FaBs have made this much success throughout history without our help.

Thirdly, we are now a critical asset for FaBs and their institutions. There is no example in the history of the world in which FaBs have voluntarily divested themselves of valuable property without return. They have rather sought to execute better control of their assets. Will that be possible under the current status quo? I leave it to you to decide on this matter.

I also now need to find out where Davenport will resurface.

February 24, 2022 22:06

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Sharon Hancock
03:16 Mar 03, 2022

I love this idea and story! I am a big Data (STNG) fan and this reminds me of him. I look forward to reading more! 😻


Bruce Friedman
15:19 Mar 03, 2022

Thanks so much for your feedback Sharon. This story is a little boring but I needed to better understand the overarching plot line as we march toward "singularity." I will use this new vocabulary such as "research synth" in upcoming additions to the Gordo series.


Sharon Hancock
19:00 Mar 03, 2022

I didn’t think it was boring at all. I used to be a research assistant many years ago in college, I can think of a lot of ways we could’ve used Gordon’s help!


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