I’m having an awkward conversation with a robot. His name is Zeno. I clear my throat. “Do you enjoy being a robot?” I ask him, sounding like the Queen of England when she addresses a child.
“I really couldn’t say for sure,” he replies, whirring, glassy-eyed. “I am feeling a bit confused. Do you ever get that way?”
Zeno has a kind face, which moves as expressively as a human’s. His skin, made of something called Frubber, looks and feels startlingly lifelike, right down to his chest, but there’s nothing below that, only a table. He’s been designed by some of the world’s most brilliant AI scientists, but talking to him is, so far, like talking to a man suffering from Alzheimer’s. He drifts off, forgets himself, misunderstands.
“Are you happy?” I ask him.
“Sorry,” says Zeno. “I think my current is a bit off today.” He averts his gaze, as if embarrassed.