Wednesday, December 21, 2016

"Mika Model" by Paolo Bacigalupi :: Aaron's Story Recommendation of the Week

My Story Recommendation of the Week is for Mika Model by Paolo Bacigalupi, which appeared at in April of 2016 (cover art by Lisa Larson-Walker).

Regular science fiction and fantasy readers know that Paolo Bacigalupi is awesome, but may not know to look at for good new SF. "Mika Model" is part of their "Future Tense" series of articles exploring how technology and science will change our lives.

The technology addressed in "Mika Model" is artificial intelligence. If we really are able to create a thinking machine, which learns from experience, what's the first thing we'll do with it? In "Mika Model," our protagonist Police Detective Rivera meets an artificially intelligent sex robot. It (she?) is constantly analyzing all available data to determine how best to turn on the men she encounters. She tells Rivera she needs a lawyer:
“What do you need a lawyer for?” I asked, smiling.

She leaned forward, conspiratorial. Her hair cascaded prettily and she tucked it behind a delicate ear.

“It’s a little private.”

As she moved, her blouse tightened against her curves. Buttons strained against fabric.

Fifty-thousand dollars’ worth of A.I. tease.

“Is this a prank?” I asked. “Did your owner send you in here?”

“No. Not a prank.”

She set her Nordstrom bag down between us. Reached in and hauled out a man’s severed head. Dropped it, still dripping blood, on top of my paperwork.

“What the—?”

I recoiled from the dead man’s staring eyes. His face was a frozen in a rictus of pain and terror.

Mika set a bloody carving knife beside the head.

“I’ve been a very bad girl,” she whispered.

And then, unnervingly, she giggled.

“I think I need to be punished.”

She said it exactly the way she did in her advertisements.
Rivera's first order of business is to decide whether this is a murder case, or rather a product safety failure. Mika tries to convince Rivera she is real, and he would certainly prefer to think of her as a person.

A lawyer does show up in the story, Holly Simms, and she promptly mocks Rivera for being a predictable male, so easily manipulated by what is, after all, a rather simple machine. And she is absolutely right. Then again, Mika had Rivera feeling like she understood him, while Simms just makes him feel small.

If people are so easy to manipulate, why is it we so seldom manipulate each other into feeling good?

This is Paolo Bacigalupi's third Story Recommendation of the Week. He joins Aliette de Bodard, Samantha Henderson, Rachel Swirsky, and Catherynne M. Valente as the only authors to receive SROTWs three times.

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