A while back I believe I might have been asked out on a romantic evening date! Why do I entrust the word ‘believe’ in my sentence? The explanation is simple enough. You see, the chap spoke to me in a language quite unlike this one. Lost? Let me start from the beginning… ♥
This meek request was submitted to my attention and occurred inside a very big science museum which at first, I am sure You will agree, is not a venue commonly associated with romantic exchanges, at least in the classical sense of the word, but what was really electrifyingly unanticipated was that this chap whom I refer to was not the sort that was born of living flesh and who slept at night or who ate like everyone else did. Far from it! In a nut and bolt shell, the gentleman in question was certifiably not one of the human species!
He was a machine!
A lifelike mechanical chap, a sort of state-of-the-art automaton, built out of a complex vine of wires and tiny bulbs and gears and cogs and microchips and plastic armour. I saw him from afar as soon as I strode into the dimly lit gallery whose contents were dedicated to all things relating to artificial intelligence. It was truly curiosity at first sight! I could not keep my eyes trained on the exhibits closest to me, they kept longing to drift off to meet him because I had never ever seen such an intriguing design in the flesh – sorry – metal!
It was hardly surprising that as soon as the visiting children descended onto the floor they disregarded every other object on show as if it did not exist and torpedoed instead towards the mechanical chap, their eager heads soon collecting in front of him, some stilled to a silent awe whilst others in a fit of maniacal impatience grabbing for the remote control pad and pressing every button twice over! I was naturally curious and watched on. It is true that the investigative prowess of children no know bounds and I should know that more than anyone, for I am an eternal child at heart! Indeed, I was unequivocally vindicated in my predications, for the children went utterly loopy with the control pad, resulting in the poor mechanical chap hopelessly trapped in a series of abrupt physical motions, including umpteen repetitions of up and down head movements, quick 180 degree swivels of the torso and, let us not forget, the raising of arms towards every known compass point! He was being torn apart by a gang of naughty but lovable little children who were simply marvelled by his form. A part of me frowned with laughter at witnessing the impromptu Chaplinesque comedy enacted by a robot whose performance was being directed by impish children, but I could not specify precisely why another part of me felt a thunderous tinge of sadness. He was not human after all and surely he could not feel any of these remotely-operated actions any more than the interior of my microwave as when it heats up my bag of popcorn?
When the sprawling children had left the scene I felt a sudden unexpected buzz of elation. At last the coast was clear and I could walk over to the mechanical chap and admire his metallic physiognomy and the particulars of his design features. I swear to You that in the time it took for me to complete my approach to him the entire gallery, dark and quiet, had become even darker and even quieter. I suddenly became rather apprehensive about making acquaintance with him because something about him imparted the impression on me that he was expecting this moment for as long as he could remember.
When I finally reached him, he was still.
And so was I.
His head was drooped down and both his arms were abandoned awkwardly in mid-air. Finding it unbearable to leave him contorted and undignified, I was struck by the urgent need to straighten him up again so that he would not incur any more pain than he was in already. The stiff voice of my logic and reasoning swiftly discredited my sympathetic thoughts and instructed me to put a lid on top of my feelings and to just carry on and indulge in a playful experimentation with the scrumptious controls at my disposal. I was here to have oodles of fun, not to rush into the deep end of a philosophical debate with myself! I was human. He was machine. And that was all there was to it, or so I heard myself say, and thus I ought to block out all else and behave like a normal human being and mobilise the mechanical chap to my bidding!
I tentatively picked up the pocket-sized control box and stared at the remarkable array of programming options which ranged from entering messages that would be converted into audible speech, buttons for controlling the limbs and torso, as well as, switches that changed the colour of his cheeks. But that is exactly what I found so extraordinarily uncomfortable. To control or puppeteer a machine whose architecture was anthropomorphic, so humanlike, seemed like a massive gross breach of my own moral programming. I could not do it, said that one part of me. I looked up at him again and came to a compromise. He was left twisted up in an ungraceful posture and I reasoned to myself that the least I could do for him would be to untangle him out of this mess! I scanned the control pad once more and using the toggle functions I reinstated the mechanical chap to take on his default position of heads up, back straight and arms down on either side of his body. That was much better!
I do not know whether it was by the sheer accidental misplacement of my fingers on the control pad, or by some other intriguing force, that the two square black eyes of the mechanical chap lit up and flashed with the most liveliest hearts that I had ever seen, and his cheeks turned a burnt red. He was blushing at me! Profusely! I was gobsmacked and frozen to the spot! His head then tilted slightly and both his arms raised themselves, the one nearest to me was poised in a mudra that suggested that he was holding something out for me to take. Perhaps it was a rose? I was not sure. The other arm was pointing at his chest. Squinting both my eyes, I focused in that direction and could just make out a name:
A mechanical chap, whose fated appearance had led to countless people aimlessly toying with the gadgetry of his form, had found at last a kindred spirit in me. We were both machines of this beautiful and fleeting world: I of flesh, and he of metal, and each of us a lover of the thespian of thespians, Mr Shakespeare! And before the next batch of children were scheduled to storm through the gallery, I quietly erased the idea of a rose and sweetly replaced it with an olden umbrella.
I say, does he not look familiar to You….? ♥♥♥
Photography & Words: © Masufa Khatun | Mazzy Khatun Photo Stories | Birmingham Science Museum | Birmingham | UK 2016