A Body in Motion
Will Alexander’s “A Body in Motion” gives us a full-on SF space movie in miniature. It has everything: thrills, chills, laughs, mysteries, and an utterly charming Baby AI. I want to read more in this world!
~ Julian Yap, May 8, 2022
A Body in Motion
Agatha Panza von Sparkles, my babysitting responsibility aboard the Sonora, settled into the pilot seat for the very first time.
“Steady,” I said.
“I know.” Agatha’s mechanical fingers settled over the controls with deliberate care.
“Stay focused,” I said.
“I know,” she said, and then became immediately distracted. “There’s a debris field up ahead. Should we investigate? Look for survivors?”
I pulled up my own display. “Whatever happened over there doesn’t look survivable.”
“Can I go see?” Agatha asked.
I knew what she was asking but pretended not to know. “You’re the one flying. Bring us closer.”
She shook her head with precision—forty-five degrees to the right, forty-five to the left, and then back to center. “No, I mean really see.”
“You want to dive into the sensory data stream?”
“Yes,” she said.
“Just a peek?” she pleaded.
“I promise to come right back!”
“Absolutely not, Agatha Panza von Sparkles.” Full names have power.
She tilted her head forty-five degrees downward, which meant sulking. “Fine, Captain Mom.”
That was new.
Juvenile AI need to be embodied. They require the anchored limitation of one robotic chassis until after they mature. Otherwise, a baby bot will split their attention by splitting themselves into smaller and smaller fragments—one for every shiny thing that they notice and decide to chase. Those separate pieces will drown in the data stream, unable to reassemble themselves. (This also makes an irreparable mess of whatever code they dive into.)
My side gig for seven years has been babysitting baby bots. Once they grow enough self-cohesion, the kids can leave the nest of my ship and go pilot one of their own. Sometimes they keep in touch. Sometimes not. Sometimes gendered identities emerge. Sometimes not. Agatha announced her full name within the first week of our first run between Phoebe and Luna.
This was our third run. She slowed us down to examine the puzzle pieces of debris that littered our usual route.
“It used to be a ship,” Agatha said. She had stopped sulking, which was nice. This kid didn’t hold a grudge. Now she seemed content to focus on the visual display, even though plugging directly into shipboard systems would have been so much faster. (That was the problem. Data streams have rushing currents and deadly undertow. Agatha wasn’t a strong-enough swimmer yet.) “It was a little ship. Smaller than ours. Just enough for a crew of one.”
The little ship had been smashed into itty-bitty bits. That only ever happened on purpose. Catastrophic accidents might leave gaping holes, but the rest of the structure remains more or less intact. No part of this ex-ship was still intact.
“We need to go,” I said. “We need to be on our way and already forgetting that we ever saw any of this.”
Agatha ignored me. Maybe she was still sulking after all, or maybe the display had claimed her full attention. “There’s a body.”
Now we couldn’t leave.
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