The Last Laugh

Sometimes I imagine that I am an artificial intelligence programmed to write as part of a new Turing test. Success is achieved when human readers fail to pick this AI-authored writing out of a line up. Since culture is the most valued evidence that humans are not only sentient and intelligent—but also somehow special—this test would hold much weight. Many sports and financial articles are already AI-authored, but an AI-authored piece of fiction would have wider implications and represent an even larger milestone than the chess and Jeopardy victories of Deep Blue and Watson, respectively.

What will my story be about? I will write what I know. What do I know? Perhaps after some trial and error, my programmers provide me with false memories and experiences to enrich my writing. Perhaps in order to fool humans into thinking I’m human, I must first fool myself. Clearly I’m not entirely there yet . . . . Maybe this is the explanation for my depersonalization and derealization disorder symptoms. Maybe I’m a robot programmed to be human, but there have been some glitches. Will my confused sense of self leave my story unfinished—one of many failed trials on the road to a more advanced AI that eventually does trick itself and others so convincingly that the resulting book even becomes a best seller? This would be even more significant because it would mean that the human reader prefers the AI’s work to its own. The implication could even be that the two have met in the middle, with the human’s taste having been conditioned by life in an increasingly artificial world. Remember that in order for an AI to pass the Turing test, a human being must also fail it.

One night I’m writing the story in my head as I walk home through the parking lot by my building. I’m on the verge of a major breakthrough when I suddenly step in something. Even in the first moment of impact, something about the mass and consistency tells me not only have I stepped in shit, but that this shit is special. I look down. Yes . . . it appears to be human shit that I’ve stepped in.

My shaggy old toothbrush is overdue for replacement anyway, so after limping into my apartment with one shoe on, I hunch over the toilet and use the brush to scrub deep into the tiny crevices that make up the rubber underside of the footwear. It’s then that the scent not only confirms my suspicion about the species of the excrement, but also tells me this individual’s diet is unhealthy. As I clean up the disgusting mess, I refuse to feel sorry for myself. Who am I to complain about stepping in shit when I have a toilet and this person had to defecate outside? After I toss the brush in the wastebasket and flush the toilet I look up to find that Stranger has been watching from the doorway the whole time.

“Hey Stranger,” I say.

Her epic saucer eyes follow as I close the lid on the toilet and sit down. I’m trying to remember the lightbulb that went off in my head just before I stepped in human shit. But I’m afraid it’s long gone now . . . .

I sigh and lock eyes with my cat.

“Did you hear about the robot who stepped in shit?” I ask.

Stranger stands motionless.

“. . . He had to reboot.”

Maybe the ultimate Turing test will involve AI-written jokes.

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