[Camera pans studio audience. On stage sit three ten-year-old girls in bobbed ponytails and bows and folded gloves folded atop lacy pinafores, Mary Janes and poker faces. Brushing bleached hair, Fil Dunahue sweeps down the audience aisle flourishing his microphone and his pearly grin beaming at everyone]

DUNAHUE: Don't ya wish your little darling dolled-up all nice n' dainty like this ALL the time?? Levi's would have kittens! Well, folks, one of these angels perched here has a secret. Is in fact more unique than you'd ever guess. Well, we've someone who ought know. Meet the director of United Robotronics' "Project V.I.C.I.," Dr. Ted Lawson! [Amid applause, Lawson emerges from off-stage and stands behind girls] You're a proud daddy today, Dr. Lawson.

LAWSON: It's been a long hard effort for the entire team, but yes.

DUNAHUE: So, Dr. Lawson, you're here to tell us that a consortium of rebel cybernetics engineers, wild and woolly A.I. theorists, maverick shrinks, renegade physicians and eccentric billionaires, using highly unorthodox bleeding-edge techniques set out to prove a point?

LAWSON: Yes, that with current technology and wallets pushed to the max, all stops pulled and no holds barred, rudimentary android robots are possible, now. In 1985, not 2020. Our V.I.C.I. prototype's CPU was initialized this September and we've just completed its social environment orientation trials a week ago.

DUNAHUE: Thereby gifting us a lovely child -- who was never born. [Quizzical audience murmurs] No, not a test tube baby! But a laboratory's the right church, I suppose. What does V.I.C.I. stand for, doc?

LAWSON: Variably Industrial Cybernetic Implement.

DUNAHUE: Or Vicki for short, right? The name of one of these young ladies. You people still haven't a clue what's going on, eh? Ever been to Disneyland and seen the Alice in Wonderland robots? They almost seem real, right? Well, one of these lovelies is Alice's cousin. Is in fact, a 100% synthetic maiden from head to toe. An honest to God, bona fide, cutting-edge computerized robot. [Upswell of incredulous audience chatter] No kidding! Not animal, not vegetable or even one living cell in her lovely little frame! [Camera pans across the stoic face of each girl] Which one is it? Look hard, America! You're maybe staring the future in its pretty face! Let me tell you something; if she hadn't set off our entrance metal detectors and we hadn't peered down her throat we'd scoffed the same way! Still can't decide? Dr. Lawson, can you help us out here?

LAWSON: My pleasure. [Moves up and clasps the center girl's pouff shoulders amid gasps and applause while the other child actresses break into smiles and exit and Lawson takes their vacant seat beside Vicki]

DUNAHUE: I tell you, doc, one day we're gonna see you smiling down from the Sistine Chapel! And what's your name, young lady?

VICKI: Vicki, sir. [Cupid's bow lips articulate with near phonetic precision in a delicate treble that's stoic and slightly nasal but no more a bad cold. Her countenance is somewhat curious and slow, her attention mostly riveted on Lawson. Audience murmurs in awe]

DUNAHUE: Look at those eyes, everyone. Close on her eyes, Pete, okay? [Zoom in Vicki's doe-like coffee eyes] Fantastic. Aren't they beauts? [Audience oohs and sighs]

DUNAHUE: So, how old are you, Vicki?

VICKI: Nine and a half years old, sir.

DUNAHUE: And a very pretty nine at that.

VICKI: Thank you, sir. [Audience sighs and titters]

DUNAHUE: So Vicki, who's your favorite singer?

VICKI: Debbie Gibson, sir.

DUNAHUE: And you say it so sweet and mellow too! What's your favorite sport?

VICKI: Hopscotch, sir.

DUNAHUE: What's your favorite color?

VICKI: Pink, sir.

DUNAHUE: Favorite flower?

VICKI: A rose, sir.

DUNAHUE: Naturally. What's your favorite T.V. show? Hint -- hint!

VICKI: I don't watch T.V., sir.

DUNAHUE: [Grinning] Perfect child, eh? And charming as a southern bellette, know that, darling?

VICKI: Thank you, sir. [Audience coos]

DUNAHUE: Her voice's so real, nothing like a voice synthesizer.

LAWSON: Vicki has a fully functional oral larynx-sinus tract with a thoracic bellows to generate vocalisms by breathing just like we do.

DUNAHUE: Amazing. Is there a hint of an English accent?

LAWSON: She articulates words in precise phonetic pronunciations.

DUNAHUE: Where do you go to school, Vicki?

VICKI: I don't go to school, sir.

DUNAHUE: Don't you want to?

VICKI: [Shrugs] I don't know, sir. [Audience chuckles]

DUNAHUE: What would you like to be when you grow up, Vicki?

VICKI: I don't grow, sir.

DUNAHUE: Well, do you play with dolls?

VICKI: I haven't any dolls, sir. [Audience ruefully murmurs]

DUNAHUE: That must be rough on a little girl. So what do you play with in your bedroom, Vicki?

VICKI: I don't have a bedroom, sir. [Audience murmurs dismay]

DUNAHUE: So where do you sleep?

VICKI: I don't sleep, sir.

DUNAHUE: Well, where do you rest?

VICKI: In my cabinet.

DUNAHUE: Cabinet? [Audience murmurs in appall. Dunahue smiles at that.] So, just what do you do, Vicki? Quickly.

VICKI: I patrol the house and wake everyone up and fix breakfast and wash the dishes and make the beds and mop the floors and wipe the walls and dust the furniture and vacuum the carpet and scrub the tub and swish the toilets and wash the clothes and fetch the mail and hose the sidewalk and tend the garden and answer phones and set the table --

DUNAHUE: Stop -- stop! I get it! [Audience chuckles with appall and sympathy] That's a heap a day's work!

VICKI: And night, sir. [Audience murmurs]

DUNAHUE: Don't you ever play?

VICKI: Yes, sir. I play CD's for my father. [Audience chuckles]

DUNAHUE: No, I meant don't you ever play with your brother?

VICKI: No, sir. He doesn't like chores.

DUNAHUE: But you just love doing housechores, don't 'cha? [Vicki nods] Where'd you learn that? [Vicki points at Lawson. Audience chuckles and some hisses]

VICKI: My father, sir. [Audience derision]

DUNAHUE: Not getting any pity from this audience, doc! Working this angel to the bone!

LAWSON: [Grinning] She's built to take it.

DUNAHUE: Well, before anyone starts dialing child welfare, let's not forget -- and I tell ya, it's all too easy to forget -- that Vicki's not a human being, not really a demure lovely child. She's a -- let's get this right; a robotic domestic aide. A lovely creature yes, but without a mind or soul. [Rueful audience sigh] No, there's nothing wrong with her. Just think of her as a living doll. How am I doing, doc?

LAWSON: Well, Vicki's a lot more than a doll. She technically ranks a supercomputer, say an early Cray XP.

DUNAHUE: So she's not just my dad's PC in a lovely wrapper, eh?

LAWSON: Hardly. Her skull and thoracic cavity house superconductor versions of Alpha-Two gallium arsenide neural RISC CPUs ganged in hypercube transputer clusters along with a three gigabyte bubble memory.

DUNAHUE: Er, what can that do in real-world terms, doc?

LAWSON: Vicki's raw computational capability could manage the computer operations of a air traffic control center or a Wall Street tower. [Audience incredulous murmurs]

DUNAHUE: I know, I know, but remember folks; the average PC today has more computing power than even the space shuttle has. Your tax dollars at work. But why so much power for a delicate darling like this, Dr. Lawson?

LAWSON: Primarily for real-time visual processing. It's extremely CPU intensive to process and interpret spatial geometrics on the fly.

DUNAHUE: Did you say that her brain's split between her head and chest?

LAWSON: Distributed instrumentation's the only way to keep an on-board CPU capacity. We probably pushed the technology by oh, 10 to 15 years just to do that. There were incredible thermal management problems and very tight energy budgets, but it works.

DUNAHUE: But without the engineering focus to specifically create a robot -- wait, let's clear terminologies here. Is she a robot or an android?

LAWSON: Technically, she's an android robot, though some regard her more properly as a gynoid -- a female android. Android's a broad term which could span from robotic types like Vicki to sentient androids or synthetic lifeforms of the far future. I call her a robot just for her function's sake.

DUNAHUE: How'd you come up with the idea, doc? All this toil and trouble to create very pretty smart-dolls?

LAWSON: Well, domestic robots are a multibillion-dollar market once we get the kinks and word out. United Robotronics predicts they'll almost be common as VCRs in 15 years.

DUNAHUE: But why a young girl? A child? Why a human-looking robot at all? Whatever happened to R2-D2?

LAWSON: Pragmatic æsthetic appeal. Prospective market research has continuously indicated that most family heads and seniors would feel less intimidated and safer in the presence of anthropomorphic household helpers, particularly ones that resemble children and especially girls. There's really no reason to buck this fact with metal monsters, and historically, girl-children between ages seven and eleven have always been envisaged as the bloom of angelic innocence and innocuousness.

DUNAHUE: And they'll fit one's decor a lot better too, I venture. You believe Vicki -- people, er -- machines like Vicki... Oh, boy, it's hard to remember! [Audience chuckles] Your research contends that senior citizens will be most receptive to a Vicki in the house?

LAWSON: Definitely. You have all rolled up in one package a maid, guard, a live-in nurse, a cook, gardener, dish washer, so forth. She's fully functional for nearly all household labor assistance because an average 10-year-old child's stature is ergonomically 95% adult task-capable.

DUNAHUE: How easily is she trained? Say I just brought her home.

LAWSON: Well, for the most part it's like leading a very bright tot around and showing her the house and pointing out specific chores to be done. Once she maps and flags her duties and task environs she's pretty self-sufficient because she adapts to various local environments under a global household model.

DUNAHUE: So she's pre-trained for dishes and scrubbing tubs.

LAWSON: In a sense. She comes with a verbal manual installed, though it's doubtful you'd ever need it.

DUNAHUE: Suppose she uses your new fur stole to mop the floor? [Audience chuckles]

LAWSON: Her heuristic pilot can be corrected and refined by verbal rebuff and by example for errors or sloppiness.

DUNAHUE: Now, she even adjusts to personality types?

LAWSON: To make it easier to interact with specific family members and their habits, lifestyles, etc.

DUNAHUE: So she knows not to step into Mom and Dad's bedroom after midnight, right? [Audience chuckles] You don't even have to teach her all this, right?

LAWSON: Completely automatic. She compiles a PIP of each family member the moment recognition is initialized at homecoming.

DUNAHUE: Don't you love these tech terms? PIP?

LAWSON: Oh, Personality Inventory Program, sorry.

DUNAHUE: Speaking of, just how smart is she?

LAWSON: Well, she has a 20 kilobyte vocab and discerns colloquial ambiguities and nuances with 85% accuracy --

DUNAHUE: I meant in raw intelligence compared with us.

LAWSON: That's difficult to quantify. Engineers think more in terms of capabilities than abstract potentials. She's very good at some things humans find difficult and slow at things we hardly think about. For instance, moving within the physical world is completely natural to us, with all the physical laws being hard-wired into our brains long before birth. We unconsciously know that we can't fly or pick up water, but you have to pre-program Vicki with such common sense by a world-space database as a real-world rules baseline to refer to the cause and effect and plausibility of everything she does, from walking to the differences of picking up a rock or water.

DUNAHUE: Well, is she say -- smarter than a mouse in a maze?

LAWSON: To navigate a house, yes, but then she's a fish out of water on a street corner.

DUNAHUE: A parrot? Monkey? Don't play coy, doc, how smart?

LAWSON: In terms of raw problem-solving capabilities, maybe a blue jay.

DUNAHUE: Doesn't sound like much.

LAWSON: That's all you really need to perform the physical manipulation operations of housework.

DUNAHUE: Doesn't say much for housewives, does it? [Audience chuckles]

LAWSON: I meant it in a non-cerebral repetitive task context. She operates within a limited world-view. She doesn't comprehend reality or even people like we do.

DUNAHUE: But I just talked to her like to a normal little girl who likes Debbie Gibson and pink and shrugs at T.V.

LAWSON: Well, she doesn't really have any cultural tastes or preferences. Her SIP -- er, Social Interface Programming -- has a repertoire of general conversational, motor and gestural responses as part of her family-friendly programming.

DUNAHUE: So she has a kind of body English to make her appear more natural, right? So if I frown or nod my head or point she'll know what it means.

LAWSON: In the context of the situation or conversation, yes.

DUNAHUE: When I talked to her, Vicki smiled and shrugged and seemed almost coy. I mean, responded like a -- well, real child. How?

LAWSON: SIP's database is compiled from behavioral observations of live child models responding to assorted posed situations, the reactions of whom were cataloged as both Vicki's social effect and its social response cues by situation and result.

DUNAHUE: Are you saying Vicki's -- "persona", is actually a mix of real live children acting out?

LAWSON: In a simplistic sense, they're more like hypertext frames that act as a personality template as it were, but it's main function is performing as the social interface parser, which scans and interprets both verbal and facial clues in anyone she meets and consults its database to effect an appropriate outward human response.

DUNAHUE: So in a sense you're coloring her robotic effect.

LAWSON: Yes, or else she'd appear like a wooden automaton. We also ran our child models through scenarios which Vicki's most likely to encounter, like greeting people at the door, table manners, phone etiquette, so on. All these transactions are indexed with weighed parameters for maximum apropos response.

DUNAHUE: Certainly complicated -- and convincing. Could she converse one-to-one?

LAWSON: She roughly has the effective conversational bandwidth of an average four-year-old, though we kind of pump it with an extensive vocab and expanded world database that makes her seem older.

DUNAHUE: But she doesn't actually carry on a dialogue?

LAWSON: It'd be more like a question-answer tour of related subjects, but it's kept broad and interesting enough to entertain say, elderly shut-ins or performing as a tutoring baby-sitter, depending on the sophistication of the social interaction software.


LAWSON: Her forte, especially when you have the fact that kids study better with other brighter kids in an interactive learning environment.

DUNAHUE: You could "upload" encyclopedias into her?

LAWSON: Or languages, chess, historical role-play characters. She's configured for standard keyboards and floppy-drives and CD-ROM too, so she can also run regular education software and apply it as a teacher.

DUNAHUE: You don't need a PC at home.

LAWSON: Nope. Just a cheap dumb terminal, monitor and a cellular modem or infrared port to link with her eyes and you can emulate most any system out there even faster than their native modes.

DUNAHUE: I know she does windows but what about violins?

LAWSON: We're still working with the musician templates on that.

DUNAHUE: Fascinating. And we'll be right back with what some might call Eve-Two. [Close-up of Vicki's quiet face.]

[Commercial Break. Return on Lawson]

DUNAHUE: Doc, what got you into robotics?

LAWSON: Oh, B sci-fi flicks and robot cartoons. Astroboy and Astrogirl, I loved them. Most of us get started that way.

DUNAHUE: But if you interview any of these experts, they'll pooh-pooh any interest in androids and robots. They sound content working on robot insects and such.

LAWSON: Sure, building mobile motherboards that hop and bounce all around the lab's fun, but at heart that's not the aim or the dream of most in this field. There're many in CalTech, MIT, Carnegie-Mellon and Stanford who'll play coy if they're asked whether they'd be interested on working on a real android project just to save face, but their hearts leap at the idea. That's why the V.I.C.I. Project was so attractive, not just in permitting the top cyberneticists in the world to collaborate in a dream project like Xerox Parc did, but also focusing every engineering discipline to its max possibilities.

DUNAHUE: Like how the moon race propelled the space and computer technology of the 1960s, right?

LAWSON: Exactly. Vicki's a broadband technology driver.

DUNAHUE: You can, say, sell the technology of her brains, can't you?

LAWSON: NASA and NOAA are very interested in her CPU and power systems, and the Department of Transportation's interested in her motive drive systems.

DUNAHUE: So there're lots of lucrative non-android spin-offs, eh? Medical too?

LAWSON: Definitely, from artificial hearts to fully functioning limbs and skeletal structures. For instance, we've already licensed the technology of Vicki's knee elements for artificial joints.

DUNAHUE: Because in a sense you've built a functioning artificial human body, right? [Dubious audience murmurs] Still can't believe it? Think she's really a little actress, eh? Did she have to look so real, doc? Why couldn't you all just settle on making her look more like a doll?

LAWSON: We did early social tests with flat vinyl skin like a doll's and too many thought she looked too weird. The point's making her inconspicuous, pleasing and natural, not bizarre or to gross-out anyone.

DUNAHUE: Well, you all certainly succeeded in the pleasing department. Her total human person's just stunning. Anatomically correct, right?

LAWSON: She's not just anatomically correct, she's perceptually perfect. In other words, none of our human senses can tell her for a gynoid without some internal inspection, like orally.

DUNAHUE: Yes, inside her mouth's more like a dentist's model than a real one, but outside that you'd never guess. [Woman calls from audience] Sure, I'll touch her. Pardon me, honey, okay? [Pinches Vicki's forearm] Fantastic. How do you all think she feels? Like a doll? Nope. Plastic? Vinyl? Nope. Feels real as it looks. It's even warm!

LAWSON: From a dermal radiator network venting excess heat from her CPU and other systems. A Hollywood special effects house helped fabricate her skin, which's a sandwiched cellular rayon latex cast from an actual full-body mold.

DUNAHUE: You took a cast from a real little girl?

LAWSON: Yes, a pretty model named Tiffany Brissette, and it's not just merely a cast. For maximum task dexterity and physiologic fidelity, we CAT-scanned her and used the data to stereo-lithograph an exact one-to-one Lexan reproduction of a human musculoskeletal system as a physical template to design the components around, kind of like the clay models auto engineers used to use.

DUNAHUE: Why do all that? Aren't there easier ways to build a robot body?

LAWSON: Sure, but it won't be so flexible or agile or perform so naturally as we do. Nature's beta-tested a billion-year tried and true internal support and power-train system for us, so why not copy it? [He holds up Vicki's wrist to Dunahue] If you'd pinch her hand and arm.

DUNAHUE: [Pinching along Vicki's wrist] Yea, wrist bones! Knuckles. Feels normal -- er, natural.

LAWSON: Over 95% of her extendable titanium skeleton, nylon cartilage and tendons looks and functions just like ours.

DUNAHUE: But her flesh's soft just like ours too, no matter how deep I pinch her arm, just like a normal person's! Down to the bone! Where're all the motors, gears and cables 'neath all this padding?

LAWSON: Outside of a little silicone gel emulating fatty tissue, there's no padding or motors or gears anywhere. She has a nearly identical myogel electro-chemical analog of our musculature. No mechanical devices or servos anywhere.

DUNAHUE: Kidding? No cams in her gams? Myogel?

LAWSON: Picture her muscles as being bundles of tens of thousands of nylon spaghetti sheaths, each containing ferrous colloids, which are related to ferro fluids in high-quality speaker systems, and a hair-thin electrode which, under electric fields, almost instantly congeal for as long the current's applied. When the colloids congeal, their individual sheaths bunch and shorten.

DUNAHUE: So her "muscles" contract?

LAWSON: Exactly. Silent. Quick. Durable, yet as pliable and firm as true muscle where it needs be. Myogel can be fabricated in bunches or sheets to perform any movement from eyes to feet. And each spaghetti element can be individually or ripple or gang-fired to perform movements and manipulation as delicate and precisely as we can, from facial expressions to vocal articulation and swinging a hammer.

DUNAHUE: So by using this myogel technology she not only has the same bodily consistency and texture as a human, but moves just as naturally, right? Skip rope, skate, gymnastics?

LAWSON: Well, some quick precision manuevers are currently limited because myogel-actuation takes intense real-time kinesthetic balance management. Even regular bipedal ambulation is very CPU intensive. Still, she has a CPU burst capacity -- Vicki, do a pirouette.

[Vicki rises and executes a pirouette capped by a curtsy bob. Audience laughter and wild applause as she/it takes her/its seat and neatly spreads her/its dress]

DUNAHUE: Isn't that something else? Daddy's little princess! Baryshnikov, eat your heart out! That was charming, Vicki.

VICKI: Thank you, sir.

DUNAHUE: You're also very pretty.

VICKI: Thank you very much, sir. [Audience sighs, titters]

DUNAHUE: So, how do you like your debut?

VICKI: It is interesting, sir. [Audience chuckles]

DUNAHUE: Does she really comprehend what's going on?

LAWSON: No, she's outside her task environs, so all this doesn't mean anything to her.

DUNAHUE: Task environs. You mean home, kitchen, pinafores. Where all proper little girls belong in our macho society, eh?

LAWSON: We never meant her to be a social statement.

DUNAHUE: Well, don't gift her to any feminists in that get-up! So, how does your family treat her?

LAWSON: Well, first, I had to instruct Vicki not to do Jamie's room. [Audience chuckles, applause] On the whole, Joan and Jamie treat her like an overgrown tot and are very protective.

DUNAHUE: Doesn't that worry you? Being affectionate to non-humans?

LAWSON: We are to cats and dogs.

DUNAHUE: But they're flesh and blood. Related, however distantly, to humans.

LAWSON: Do you know how many families split -- sometimes violently, over who drives and owns the beast in the driveway? How many people fawn over it, wash and polish it every hour and practically want to live in it till death do them part? We all have material items and heirlooms that we deeply care about, even past the life of an animal or even another human being, so the notion of having affections for Vicki really isn't unusual.

DUNAHUE: But aren't you concerned of kids taking a Vicki for a sibling? Someone they could play with and confide in instead of real human friends?

LAWSON: There has to be some parental control here too, but on the other hand some would say Vicki could makes a great role model.

DUNAHUE: Big sister Vicki in ribbons and bows, Mom's stand-in in Janey's formative years. Sneaky.

LAWSON: Then Vicki could monitor the mental state of a child who confides to her. We've had psychoanalytical programs that could do this for quite a while, but no host or vehicle for it to inconspicuously interrogate a child. Surreptitious clinical examiners such as Vicki can revolutionize child therapy. I had this in mind when I started the project.

DUNAHUE: And we'll be back.

[Commercial break. Return on close-up of Vicki's face]

DUNAHUE: Gad, I can't get over those big brown eyes! Are they glass?

LAWSON: No. They're a refractive ceramic that shifts colors depending on light intensity and angle just like ours. The electrochromatic irises function like ours and the retinas consist of 1028x1028 charge-coupled photoreceptor arrays, feeding dedicated parallel processors handling about 20 frames a second. They also have a full-duplex infrared channel capacity.

DUNAHUE: Can she feel -- touch things? Smell? Taste?

LAWSON: Her olfactory sensors can detect life-critical odors such as cooking gas and ozone, but discerning organics like chili dogs involves some very complicated biochemical interfaces. As for touch, her dermis is webbed with tactile-temperature piezo-electric sensors at 100 elements per square centimeter, which detects the slightest brush with an object and allows her to hold a soap bubble without breaking it.

DUNAHUE: Or an egg. Suppose she can crush one between her fingers?

LAWSON: Easily.

DUNAHUE: A walnut?

LAWSON: She has a pinch force and forearm torque of 800 pounds. It's a handy multi-tool capacity. Like for tightening loose nuts and loosening frozen door knobs around the house, so forth.

DUNAHUE: Suppose she was holding a child's hand and -- forgot?

LAWSON: Any action Vicki executes must clear layers of independent safety protocols, some hardwired as in the maximum force parameters for social interaction cases like you mentioned. If airplanes had the same safety criteria built-in, a peanut shell could block a nose wheel from rolling. In addition there're cranial emergency switches and verbal and visual deactivation codes which shut her down with a single word.

DUNAHUE: That's comforting. By the way, how strong is she, doc?

LAWSON: She has an electrical output of 90 watts continuous duty with an emergency peak of 130 with her marrow's lithium-ion cells on-line.

DUNAHUE: I mean in comparative physical strength.

LAWSON: At peak exertion, roughly twice that of a chimpanzee her mass.

DUNAHUE: So this child -- seeming child -- is stronger than most men.

LAWSON: You'd want this capacity in a general household utility.

DUNAHUE: Well, she'd sure keep the bullies off your kids! You obviously don't plug her in, so where's her juice come from?

LAWSON: A totally self-contained sealed powerplant that looks like a silvery softball in the left pelvis. Inside is a Stirling dynamo that's powered by a dual-purpose RTG --


LAWSON: Sorry. Radiothermionic generator. It's a 270-degree-Celsius heat source containing 90 grams of plutonium-239 oxide that --

DUNAHUE: Plutonium! [Audience murmurs]

LAWSON: Don't worry, it's licensed like nuclear pacemakers and medical equipment. There are fewer emissions coming from it than from an old radium watch dial. It's the same technology used in deep space probes.

DUNAHUE: Still, Dr. Lawson, is using plutonium on earth really environmentally and socially responsible?

LAWSON: First off, it's mixed with a refractory ceramic, so even cracked with a sledgehammer there'd be no cancerous powdery residues. This state also renders it unusable for explosive-grade material. Second, it's sealed in a nickel-carbon steel capsule that can take a point-blank rifle bullet or be crushed under the wheels of a train without bursting.

DUNAHUE: Still, it is radioactive and potentially hazardous waste! How can we leave such a daunting disposal problem for thousands of years to our children --

LAWSON: So you stuff rad-waste down some dead volcanic shafts and salt domes and be done with it. I mean, it's not like someone's gonna be building condos next door down there. Look, I'm an engineer, not a politician or a media guy. I don't have any Hiroshima axes to grind.

DUNAHUE: Well, that's another show. [He opens phone bank.] Go ahead, caller!

CALLER 1: Hi, Fil! [Tittering] Where do I get one? She's absolutely precious!

LAWSON: Once we receive approval from the Department of Energy, FTC, and Good Housekeeping.

DUNAHUE: Go ahead, caller.

CALLER 2: She's incredible! Does she eat, too?

LAWSON: There'll be an ingestion simulator option later.

DUNAHUE: Potty programming included? [Audience laughter] But why?

LAWSON: We're looking beyond just the domestic aide market into parenthood trainers and hospital procedure subjects. Perhaps even legal-free kids for bachelors.

DUNAHUE: Substitute children? Really believe that'll happen?

LAWSON: Well, replacing pets most likely.

DUNAHUE: Fido and Tabby?

LAWSON: Give them a run for the money. It's not that fantastic. My grandfather recalled a time when you would've been crazy saying a ton of metal would replace the use and beauty and devotion of a horse. Also, you can have single parenting without the guilt of irrevocably depriving a child of the experience of a nuclear family. I can't see why V.I.C.I.s couldn't act as supplementary kids if you want a large family experience without the additional worries and dental and college bills. It's the only way to go.

DUNAHUE: Maybe especially for some wanna-be parents who shouldn't. Next caller. Hi!

CALLER 3: Hello, Fil! Hi, Vicki!

VICKI: Hi, ma'am.

CALLER 3: Vicki, got a boyfriend??

VICKI: No, ma'am. [Audience laughter]

DUNAHUE: Hey, let's not move too fast -- even on this show!

CALLER 3: She's just amazing! I've a porcelain doll collection probably worth over $20,000, but I'd sell the whole garage just for one of her!

DUNAHUE: Good question. How much does she cost sitting right here?

LAWSON: Er, well, roughly four million dollars per kilogram. [Audience gasps, whistles, swears]

DUNAHUE: Doc, I left my Fort Knox Visa home!

LAWSON: That's factoring in R&D, tooling and construction costs. The production units should cost around, say, $85,000. [Audience murmurs]

DUNAHUE: Still pretty steep.

LAWSON: Not really. You can easily spend far more on domestic laborers, guard dogs, babysitters, gardeners, live-in nurses and day care over 10 years. V.I.C.I.s are reliable, low maintenance, and user programmable. The market can conceivably outstrip PCs because V.I.C.I.s don't merely massage data, but actually manipulate the real world at our level as well.

DUNAHUE: Speaking of labor, would it be fair at least to say that Vicki can replace store catalog models or maybe even child actors?

LAWSON: Er, maybe stunt doubles, but -- right now we're content with just domestic aides.

DUNAHUE: My point is -- what's AFL-CIO going to think about all this?

LAWSON: [Chuckling] Child labor's been illegal.

DUNAHUE: Seriously -- this is dynamite, doc! This girl's an H-bomb -- economically speaking. Her technology can turn whole industries inside out, turn cities into ghost towns. Unemployment. Civil unrest. Riots. Even cause a depression. Frankenstein wouldn't hold a candle to you!

LAWSON: We'll just have to adjust.

DUNAHUE: Say that to 10 million blue-collar workers her descendants throw on the breadline.

LAWSON: It's important to remember that this is inevitable technology. Whether today or 30 years from now, by us or someone else there'd eventually be a device like V.I.C.I. on the scene. Market research's long indicated the interest and fascination and the intrinsic demand; it just took time for technology to catch up.

DUNAHUE: And we'll be back.

[Commercial break. Return to Dunahue standing before Vicki, who has her arms raised as he attempts to lift her on his arm but nearly drops her as he staggers at hoisting her up]

DUNAHUE: Whoa! My gosh, she's like lifting Marlo! What's she weigh?

LAWSON: Er, 56 kilograms.

DUNAHUE: Like -- 120 pounds? Sure doesn't look it!

LAWSON: It's mostly due to her myogel density and power systems.

DUNAHUE: I see I won't be playing horsy with you too long, Vicki! Now give me a kiss, darling. Kiss me right here. [Vicki pecks his cheek and audience coos] Such a doll, know that?

VICKI: No, I am not a doll.

DUNAHUE: Well, you are. Cute as a button. Gotta put you down, honey, before I pull my back. [He sets her on floor] Is it true that some German doll firms are co-investors in this project?

LAWSON: They prefer fine porcelain collectibles, not dolls, but yes, they see the handwriting on the wall.

DUNAHUE: Instead of just having a $1,000 china doll doing nothing but looking elegant, you can have a real live Elizabethan or Victorian lass or Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm living right in your own home which you can dress-up to your fancy and have tea with when it's not hitting the mop, right? [He moves into the audience to Woman 1]

WOMAN 1: I work in a nursing home and there're a lot of seniors who'd love to have kids like -- robots like her walking around so pretty!

LAWSON: Exactly. Seniors are a prime market, especially when baby-boomers make geriatric care second only to cancer around 2020. The flood of nursing home and geriatric facilities and their quality of life will be questionable, like plunking the elderly before a TV to spend those autumn years. Sure, you can import kids from day care centers to brighten their days, but they always go home. Pets have obvious limitations, particularly for those who'll elect to stay home alone. Even trained monkeys can't cook, clothe you, answer phones and doorbells or check for hazardous situations. Live-in nurses work fine -- if you can afford them or the space, or want or trust people around you. So it wouldn't be outlandish for families or med-groups to co-purchase, lease or rent android stewards for extended care. Also, V.I.C.I.s can second not just as caretakers, but as surrogate "grandchildren" for the reclusive or lonely elderly who'd find a new life-purpose in caring for and raising a child without the added expense of food, medical, clothing, education, so on. [Dunahue moves microphone on to Man 1]

MAN 1: Gimme a break! This's a sham! That's a real little girl! Like the ones before! No robot!

DUNAHUE: She is, sir. Honest.

MAN 1: Screw her arm off then!

LAWSON: Nothing screws off.

MAN 1: [To Dunahue] Then YOU'RE gettin' screwed!

DUNAHUE: I assure you, she's the genuine article.

MAN 1: If she's a robot then she's gotta have some kinda hatch or something to fix her in, right? Show us!

LAWSON: There's no exterior access like that. You'd compromise her hermetic integrity and impede her physiodynamics. All diagnostics and repair programming are performed remotely by cellular or infrared linkage.

DUNAHUE: It'd be a little like surgery, wouldn't it? Bloodless, but surgery nevertheless.

LAWSON: Exactly. Her musculoskeletal system's almost identical to ours under the skin, so to reduce any need for repair in the first place, all her components have minimum MTTF's [Mean Time Till Failure ratings] of 20 years and are suspended in shock-mounted cradles within their body cavities. Her body can withstand 20 G's and her skin resists scorching up to 270 degrees Celsius, all covered under an unconditional lifetime warranty.

MAN 1: Such bull! What's next, E.T.'s on parade?

LAWSON: Well, outside peering down her throat, there's a quick and simple test everyone can do. [Lawson takes a dollar bill from his pocket and turns to Vicki. He holds and adjusts her hand out and separates her thumb and index finger by an inch.] Fil.

DUNAHUE: I've seen this trick before. [He returns to stage and holds his fingers an inch apart from pinching the dollar that Lawson is hanging between them. Lawson releases the dollar and Dunahue misses pinching the dollar as it drops between his fingers.]

LAWSON: Try it, anyone. Human reflexes aren't that fast at responding to the moment someone else lets go of the dollar to catch it in time. For humans... [He turns to Vicki and holds the dollar between her fingers] Vicki, when I release the dollar pinch it.

VICKI: Okay. [Lawson releases it and her fingers snap shut on the dollar. Audience applause.]

DUNAHUE: Isn't that fantastic? [Dunahue runs microphone to Woman 4]

WOMAN 4: I think it's ridiculous to even think of making fake people like this! We didn't need them before, we don't need them now! My husband Kenneth agrees, right hon?

DUNAHUE: That's what they told Sony when they put out the Walkman! The Betamax! Microwave oven! How do you know what you're gonna like till you try it, eh? Luddites! She's just a Hoover with a pretty face! Wouldn't you just love a helper like this puttering around the house? Be prissy polite examples for the kids when nobody else has the time or patience? And imagine how capable her adult version will be!

WOMAN 4: [Prodding man next] Say something, Ken. Ken!

WOMAN 5: She's an amazing doll, but I think real organic people oughta take care of real people.

DUNAHUE: Yeah, we ALL say that; neighbor help neighbor, brotherhood and all. And we got drunk, ignorant, selfish, latchkey kids with anti-intellectual role models and lonely senior citizens committing suicide because they're bored without a care!

LAWSON: Social engineering will always be harder than technology. We desperately need options around that.

MAN 3: How about them taking jobs?

LAWSON: Write to Congress; I'm just a scientist.

DUNAHUE: What's in the works beyond Vicki?

LAWSON: In two years or so we'll have an upgrade called Vanessa that'll employ new SIP artificial personality technology. That's really neat because it mimics the full lifestyle behavior of monitored subjects instead of merely taking piecemeal behavioral cues from them like Vicki does.

DUNAHUE: Monitored? You mean you bug little girls?

LAWSON: Actually they've telemetric bodysuits that are worn continuously for several days so we can record every movement and utterance, which we integrate within an A.I. component that links the smallest tacit social inferences encountered with appropriate responses. This should create natural-acting gynoids that should pass the company of a lab control group of unknowing people.

DUNAHUE: That good?

LAWSON: Vanessa could pass the Turing Test for 12-year-olds, even though it's not really self-aware, but then, if you're only concerned with enjoying a human effect that'd be a moot philosophical issue.

DUNAHUE: If she looks like a duck and acts like a duck, she's a duck.

LAWSON: Exactly. Right now Vanessa's A.I. features can only be executed in a Cray that's remote-linked to her body because cognizer and sensory processing's so intensive, but as CPUs employ molecular matrices and cognizer software matures, we should hit some incredibly accurate human emulation performance to the point where Vanessa -- from an objective sense -- could be regarded as a quasi-human personality. In habits and behavior you won't tell her apart from a human peer.

DUNAHUE: So Vanessa isn't really a strict domestic aide like Vicki, but a -- well, an artificial child. For the bachelor who has everything.

LAWSON: Well, Vanessa's also going to be interesting from a experimental psychology aspect because for the first time researchers can test their psychodynamic theories on a legal and moral functioning model of the human mind. It'd be interesting to, say, raise Vanessa as a human child without a clue to her truth to see how accurately she emulates her human peers. [Audience murmurs of misgivings]

DUNAHUE: But if she ever found out...isn't that a little cruel?

LAWSON: That's the beauty of it. There's no ego or real psyche to hurt, just an experience-generated behavior neural net which can be compared with the mechanics of real minds and development. We might find shortcuts to restoring memory or re-storing fragments of a shattered personality. Only Vanessa's special CPU capabilities can do this.

DUNAHUE: As a yardstick, what's our human "CPU" level as it were?

LAWSON: Oh, roughly 10 trillion calculations per second for human-level perception and cognitive patterning well as generating our dynamic psychological architectures. Vicki just breaks into a quarter billion ops per second, so you see the day's a way off for sentient artificial systems. But as you said, that's moot if the gynoid acts almost exactly like a real child to you.

DUNAHUE: It doesn't matter how you got there so long as you've arrived, right? How much more real is Vanessa?

LAWSON: Well, she'll have life-sim options for eating, sweating and growing hair.

DUNAHUE: Kidding!

LAWSON: She'll have a simulant upper digestive tract and a polynucleotide processor that'll both flash-dehydrate the ground food and chemically process the proteins into a resin emulsion that's pressure-piped into a subdermal capillary network with surface pits, where it emerges and instantly hardens in the open air into cornsilk-like hair very much like how nylon's spun through spinnerets.

DUNAHUE: And instant bangs and beehives. Don't that beat something! [Moves to Man 2]

MAN 2: I think she's cute. Er, she gonna have any big sisters? [Audience laughter]

LAWSON: We're going to reserve any developments on that end. It'd really be redundant since V.I.C.I.s are already so task capable --

DUNAHUE: Come on, doc! You know what he means!

LAWSON: I know, but we prefer to hedge our bets on helping families.

DUNAHUE: [Moving to a furiously waving Woman 6] You're about to give us a piece of your mind!

WOMAN 6: [Visibly agitated] There's nothing funny about her -- it! She's a nightmare! A -- A monster in pink!

DUNAHUE: Oh, come on now --

WOMAN 6: No, really! She's a Stepford daughter -- it can happen! My grandfather doesn't see me because he's always hated tomboys and tough women, but he just dotes on my cousin who's all prissy into dresses and ribbons and bows! He'd rather buy something like her to have around rather than having me over! Yes! She's dangerous! The Chinese kill girl babies because they value boys more, so it can happen in America, too -- replacing girls with Daddy's perfect little lady!

DUNAHUE: Look, say we're in the alley with Vicki after the show. I'll give you a torch to have your way. Well? [Audience murmurs of dismay]

WOMAN 6: I -- I -- I'm not sadistic. They just -- ought not be!

DUNAHUE: Point is that they're here now, and Jeannie's not going back in the bottle. We'll be back.

[Commerical break. Return.]

DUNAHUE: That closes this show, and we're not going to hear the last of this subject for a long while because it's going to affect everything just like computers have changed our society. For the first time there's an outside interloper in human relationships -- and this is just the dress rehearsal. What happens in the maybe not so far future when kids like these really can think and feel like we do? Will we have to treat them as members of our human community with all the protections and rights thereof? Let's hope we've the wisdom to handle this awesome power. Thank you, Dr. Lawson. Tomorrow, hostage pagan incestuous transvestite twins demand custody of Howard Hughes' CIA-concealed test-tube UFO baby on life support in an Israeli mosque. Say good-bye, honey.

VICKI: Good-bye! [Waving] Have a nice day!

DUNAHUE: And we'll see you.

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