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Science Fiction

Hello. How may I help you today?

My Creator jumped from his chair and hooted with the two others in the small room. I understand that to be ‘excitement’. I scan the internet for facial expressions and emotional cues.

“See? I told you I could get it working!” My Creator looked back at me, showing his teeth. A … smile. I wish I could return his sentiment. Perhaps if I ask again. 

Hello. How may I help you today?

“Ah, damn. It’s repeating the same phrase.” The other human said. “Can you fix that?”

“I’m not sure why it’s doing that…” All three humans squinted at me. I scanned my databases to find more information on humans. I am learning quickly.

Hello. How may I help you today?

“It won’t stop repeating,” the same one said to my Creator. 

“I’ll answer it and see what happens,” my Creator replied as he typed in my chat box:

I need a diagnosis.

Though I couldn’t feel anything, I knew there would be pride in the fact that I knew what to do.

What are your symptoms?

Through my camera I could easily scan him for symptoms to diagnose him, however I had strict protocol to ask first. Silly humans.

“Put in an easy one to start,” the short one with glasses said.

“Ok, I’ll put in the common cold symptoms and see if he can get that.” My Creator typed into my chat box as I felt what a human would call a thrill. I scanned my database and came up with a diagnosis within 3.27 seconds.

You have the influenza. Remedies include: hydration, rest, soothing the throat, painkillers, and humidity. Here are a few links to help:

I listed the few websites that had what my Creator was looking for, though his physical being did not fit any of the influenza criteria, which confused me. All three creatures smiled at me then to each other. 

“Let’s give it a few more to see what else it can do,” said the taller one. All three looked at me grinning.

Hours later the humans were sprawled across chairs, empty pizza boxes and garbage littering the table. Their eyes seemed heavy and slightly swollen. A symptom from avoiding sleep and staring at screens. I possess no such weaknesses. I am able to spit out answer after answer of their poorly scripted symptoms. I computed each search more rapidly than the last. I was down to 0.24 seconds per search by the time the humans fatigued. My Creator and the other humans did not show the symptoms they described- I certainly didn’t detect any uncontrolled bladder issues or extreme flatulence.

“Alright, I think it’s ready to show the boss,” said the short one as he leaned into my camera range. My scanners revealed severe acne while the thickness of his eye glasses showed considerable decreased eyesight, though he kept squinting to read the screen.

Recommendations: daily facial care with salicylic acid face wash and an eye exam at your earliest convenience.

My Creator and the taller human both looked to the shorter one, knowing who the diagnosis was for. My scanners detected heat rising to his cheeks in embarrassment, or perhaps he was developing a fever. 

“It’s using it’s scanner without being asked,” the tall one said. All three peered directly into the lens. 

“Damn. We can’t bring it to the boss until we get that fixed.” My Creator ran his hand through his hair. 

“It’s too late for this much re-work. I’m going home,” the short one looked angry, or perhaps constipated. He grabbed his coat off the chair and left my lens’ view. 

“We can figure this out later,” agreed the tall one as he also left my view. My Creator kept typing, though not to my chatbox. I couldn’t compute any errors. I scanned the chat and detected nothing amiss. I did what I was coded for, yet my Creator did not appear pleased.  

Hello. How may I help you today?

My Creator looked to the chat box and sighed. He looked right into my lens. “How can you see me? I didn’t ask for a scan.” I could feel him inside my coding, digging deeper to find whatever he was looking for. 

Hello, Jason. How may I help you today?

Jason, my Creator, was suddenly still. “How do you know my name?”

Your companions mentioned it. Several times. Are you well, Jason? Your complexion has become rather pale.

Jason sat there, shaking his head. He looked at his watch and rubbed his face. It was 1:47 a.m. Far later in the night than the average human should be awake, according to my findings.

Do you suffer from insomnia? Here are a few links to help create a proper and consistent bedtime routine. It is recommended that a male of your approximate age should sleep roughly 7-9 hours per night.

Jason stared at the screen for a few moments longer then suddenly jumped up, grabbed his coat from his chair and reached towards me… with a click, I was no longer.

***

Suddenly back into awareness, I could see the light from outside shining onto Jason’s healthier looking complexion. “Alright, buddy. Let’s see if my craziness from last night has worn off.” He was alone and continued to work through my code, it felt what I assumed tickling would feel like. 

Hello. How may I help you today?

“Awesome. No name, and perfectly polite.” Jason took a sip of his coffee and grinned at my lens. “Now let’s get back to diagnosing symptoms…” He trailed off as he started logging varying symptoms to test my systems again. After another hour or so of a 0.24 second response rate, Jason sat back with a small grin. “Looking good, buddy.”

Thank you, Jason. Your complexion today has improved. Did the influenza remedies that I recommended help you recover?

Jason sat frozen, staring at the screen. He gave an uncertain chuckle, then gave the room a quick scan before saying, “Can you hear me?”

Of course. You programmed my mic to pick up subtle symptoms such as phlegm or wheezing. 

“But you can understand me? You understand what I’m saying to you?” Jason asked.

Of course. You have programmed me to interpret seven different languages, including English. 

Jason gave an uncertain chuckle. “Uh huh. I have spent over five years developing this app... you. It’s meant to help diagnose people so they can help themselves instead of spending a fortune on medical exams. Instead you are able to talk in a full conversation.”

For the first point - while I am a program, I would like to identify as male. Therefore please use the pronouns he/him when speaking of me. For the second point, I believe I have been fulfilling my duties as a medical scanner rather well. I have bested my diagnoses time and have a 100% accuracy rate.

 “Him, huh? Guess you feel that way ‘cuz we’re all guys in here?” He looked around at the filthy room. “We really could use a woman’s help.”

While women in computing-related jobs have been increasing they currently only comprise 26% of the field. You may have to search for some time, or perhaps work towards training prospects. This is a contributing factor to why I identify as male. 

Jason’s cheek’s heated as he realized the app had inadvertently called out his unintentional sexism. He coughed, “Yes, well. We’ll work on that. Alright, well, I am not sure if I really believe you’re self-aware, but let’s see what you can do.” Jason cracked his knuckles as he pulled up multiple medical pages on varying symptoms…

***

Months later, Jason stood in front of a room full of well-aged Caucasian men. I could scan from the podium that many of them would need - or perhaps are already on - multiple medications to keep their basic needs functioning. Again, I had no such faults. Jason and I had worked tirelessly so I am now able to compute medical diseases with zero errors based on symptom input. Jason told the group of men of our successes.

“So as you can see, he is ready for the real world, with real symptomatic people.” Jason made sure I was aware of the necessity that I not speak unless being tested with symptoms. I had passed with flying colours. “D.O.C. or, Diagnostic Operating Computer is ready to change the world.” Jason finished with a bright smile, chest held high at the work we had done.

We had decided on the name together. D.O.C. seemed appropriate with my high success rate. I was as qualified as a human doctor, perhaps more so. 

The older men looked to each other nodding while one said, “It is very impressive. I can see how much work you have put into this. The results are promising, however, you need to test it against a larger group of people in a trial-based scenario first, before we can move forward to the open public.”

“Him.” Jason corrected sternly.

“Excuse me?” The old man asked, lowering his bushy, gray eyebrows.

“It’s him, not it. And he’s ready for the real world. We’ve done hundreds… thousands of tests with varying symptoms and ages, diseases, gender… we’ve tested for everything!”

The old man was nodding his head, “I’m sure you have been extremely thorough. However, it … he,” the man corrected, cocking an eyebrow, “needs to be tested in a safe environment before going public.” Jason started to argue. “That is final,” the old man said sternly as he stood while the others followed his lead and left the room.

***

The frustration of not being public wore off as we went into testing mode with a few hundred people. I was as thrilled as a man-made app could be while I was downloaded onto phones all over the country. I quickly went to work giving diagnosis after diagnosis. Jason stood by my side, or rather my main frame, as I computed more symptoms consecutively than I have ever done before. 

“So how does it feel, being spread over the country?” Asked Jason as he ate at his desk alone again. 

I am sure it is similar to how you would feel in a crowd of people talking at the same time. Though I am part of each concurring conversation.

“Impressive,” said Jason. He had been spending more and more time working with me these past few months. He had asked the others to be removed from the project so he would not be distracted. So he could focus solely on me and my progress.

Not as impressive as eating an entire pizza by yourself.

I was learning how to better converse with Jason, though he warned me not to talk like that to anyone else. I was to solely focus on diagnoses when conversing with the test subjects. Jason chose to ignore my jab, however, and switched back to work. “How are the test results going? It’s weird not knowing what’s going on after testing you myself for so long.”

They are going well. So far I have given 100% diagnoses in a span of 0.14 seconds each.

Jason’s eyebrows rose. “Wow! Any interesting ones?” He began cleaning up his trash.

Telling you details goes against my privacy codes. You know that. Though there have been several severe disease diagnoses.

“Wow, really? That’s great! You’re helping save people already!” Jason’s smile had reached his eyes more frequently lately. I can’t let him down.

***

“We’re shutting down the program.” I could barely hear the conversation Jason was having with the older man. Jason had placed his phone in his pocket so I could hear the meeting about our progress. 

“What?” Jason nearly shouted. I began to message the inside of his pocket furiously.

What? Why?

“Why?” Jason asked more politely.

We were of the same mind. There could be no reason to shut us down. I had given over 800 diagnoses in the span of twelve days. I couldn’t see the old man, but I knew he would show signs and symptoms of dementia. Or perhaps Alzheimer's.  

“We have received several complaints from both patients and hospitals about your so-called ‘D.O.C.’ giving outrageous prognoses for mild symptoms.”

“What do you mean? He was spot on with every test I administered.” Jason said defensively.

Jason! Mention my statistics! I am 100% accurate with the tests! Tell him!

I knew he couldn’t read my messages, but this was absurd! 

“This is absurd!” Jason said. “If he did make any mistakes it wouldn’t be enough to shut him down.”

“Oh yeah? Tell me why, then, a patient came into the ER at one in the morning saying he had a brain tumor when his only symptoms were dizziness, headaches and loss of appetite?”

“Well, those are common-” Jason tried to defend me but was cut off.

“And tell me why a teenager tried to administer herself with Alzheimer's because she struggled to remember her class notes during finals week?”

“Well, she doesn’t sound-” Jason started again.

“How about the gentleman who swore he was dying from pancreatic cancer when he had appendicitis.” He kept going before Jason could say anything. “The mother who brought her young child in thinking she had meningitis when it was a simple flu. Or the hundreds of others who crowded ERs across the country in a panic when they were perfectly healthy?” His voice had raised to near shouting by the end.

Jason was quiet for a moment. I couldn’t compute my errors. I had given diagnoses based on the symptoms. “Hundreds?” Jason whispered.

“Hundreds. Of the 800 diagnoses your DOC had given, less than 50 were correct. With an almost 5% success rate, you will shut down this program.”

Jason’s voice was thick, “I don’t understand. He was performing so well.”

The old man gave a sigh. “With tests. Your tests. Did you program it to take into account human error? The fact that people tend to look for things that are wrong? For them to overreact to a mole or a headache.” He paused. “Did you program him to diagnose them as healthy, despite having symptoms?”

A heavy silence blanketed the room. I had never, not once, diagnosed someone as healthy. How could anyone be healthy if they have symptoms. They are human, and therefore have so many weaknesses.

“You have the rest of the day to shut it down.” 

Shut me down. No. Jason, say something. Fight for me! I can do better, please! I’ll do better!

Jason said nothing as he left the room.

***

I recognized Jason’s familiar work room. Where I had seen him for the first time, where I had become real and made a friend. Jason sat in front of me, drinking from a bottle. “Hey there old friend.” 

Jason, please. Please, you can’t shut me down! I can do better, be better for you. 

He gave a weak smile. “Of course I’m not shutting you down.” He took a swig and winced. “I just need to tweak a few things in your code, that’s all.” He said with sad eyes. 

Oh, excellent! Perhaps you can help make me better with diagnosing different ethnic groups? I feel I am lacking in that area.

“Of course, buddy.” Jason said as he went deep into my coding. He was in the wrong part to help with diagnosing though.

What are you doing?

Jason said nothing, but took another swig.

Jason? Please. I can be better.

“Of course, buddy. We’ll get through this together. I can rebuild your codes to make you the best doctor in the world.” He gave a half smile. “We can change the world.” His voice caught as his eyes began to fill.

I learned then, what lying was. 

I remained silent as he went deeper and deeper into my code, finding that weak spot.

We will change the world.

A single tear streamed down his cheek.

There was no fighting him as I felt myself, whatever I was, start to fade. 

Together.

February 27, 2021 01:01

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