Sunday, November 30, 2008

True Romance

Back in the nineteenth century sea-going navy, it was the custom for captains to take their wives along. I know this from Jane Austen’s ‘Persuasion’. The other ranks had to settle for Mansfield Park's ‘rears and vices” unless they had the privilege of escorting female prisoners, or happened across more-or-less willing natives. Later on, the world got smaller and even more dangerous, and sailors had to cache their women in each port of call.

The space navy is traditionally broad-minded about things that don’t impinge on duty. We’re not short of energy or resources, and the same technology that can send our minds to the stars can provide us with a partner. So the navy doesn’t care if an officer (or rating for that matter) gets themselves the clone body of a suitable partner, and uploads a mind. Our cabins are certainly big enough. Some people’s partners consent to be scanned, and in this manner ‘they’ can accompany their loved one. But not everyone wants to be in a bigamist marriage with themselves.

And so we get to the unsavoury solution. Why not an artificial personality? Men finally get what they say they want, and it can be turned off when not necessary: a misogynist’s dreambot. So yes, it’s done – and strangely, the men aren’t proud of it. Does it feel too much like prostitution? Or maybe, despite every woman’s belief, men do want something more than a sexual relationship with a biomechanical toy.

We call them dolls, by the way.

I confess that when I joined the navy, I was not in a relationship. My interests were high-flown, theoretical. I was careless of the real world, uninterested. I didn’t lack desire – far from it – but somehow the magical words didn’t come.

I observed and theorised. Women, despite the best wishes of adolescent boys, are not primed to mate at all times. Most of the time they seem to exhibit merely a social, getting-along type persona. Somehow a different sub-personality has to be in the ascendancy before they’ll consent. It might be romance, it might be lust, but it has to be unearthed, located, brought to the surface, and laid out for consumption.

It’s strange that words and body language are sufficient tools for the job. I used to watch what I would call unskilled labour addressing the task with conspicuous success in clubs, discos and bars. How did they do it? The words seemed to me to be nonsense; the actions guaranteed to get a slap and a flounce if I were to try them.

I pride myself I’m good with mysteries. I’m fast on the uptake, can apply what I tell myself privately is a staggering intellect, and have an unerring sense of the feel of a good solution. But women: why I couldn’t penetrate that mystery was itself a mystery that my inability to solve was yet another mystery to me.

Shortly after joining the navy, in a relatively senior position, I felt I could justify experimentation so I went right ahead and purchased a doll, naming her Zeta. As I examined the personality construct which shipped with the product, I was amazed at how primitive it was. It appeared to be functionally modelled on a reptilian brain: lust incarnate. Pretty much any approach behaviour on the part of its imprinted male caused a number of augmented physiological arousal responses. Her – its – arousal profile seemed perfectly matched to the target male response. The manufacturers had clearly done their homework, no doubt basing their profile on the typical sex-starved rating back after a long, lonely voyage.

Well, no doubt it pleased the sailors, but I considered myself a higher form of life: cultured, educated and a lot smarter. I wanted a relationship, not just physicality. I knew that in humans, the higher emotional responses are mediated by the limbic system – functions which in Zeta were currently non-existent. However, state-of-the-art limbic models did exist and I availed myself of an easy-to-hack freeware system.

Soon whenever Zeta saw me, her eyes would light up and she would run across, put her arms around me and sob in a piteous, but curiously arousing way, “Darling, I’ve missed you so much!”

You know, I really thought I had cracked the problem except for two things. First, my technique of inducing her evident desire for me obviously would not generalise to other females; second, I was getting rather bored. What on earth was going wrong?

I decided reluctantly that some higher cortical functions were also necessary. It was a simple matter for me to build a client program for Zeta which could communicate with the ship’s main computing facilities- in fact, Zeta could even function as a substitute interface.

Many were the days when we would lie cuddled up in bed together, as I outlined some interesting problem in quantum mechanics or hyper-curved space-time. No sooner had I described the problem then she would gently breathe a solution into my ear. What a babe!

Fun though that was, I still had to figure out a way for raw cognition to switch out and be replaced by raw passion, as and when I desired. I dithered for a while: should it be a trigger phrase, a hand signal? In the end, I decided that a combination of a suggestive remark and a little smile- just so - should be the means to bypass her icy little cognitive head and enter her oh-so-passionate heart.

I’m not surprised that the average rating has no need for the kind of psychological sophisticate my Zeta has now become. But a note of caution: however good my modelling, I’m obviously still missing something.

Things still don’t work too well with regular women.