The Android Psychiatrist
Shannon sat on the waiting-room couch, fidgeting nervously. Every now and then, she would glance up at the clock, counting down. She had learned that that saying about watched pots is completely true: it felt as though the wall clock had been telling her it was 3:55 for half an hour.
Finally, the door opened, and out stepped a handsome, well-dressed man. He gave her a polite, acknowledging smile, then looked back behind him. "Thanks very much, Doctor Evans!"
A very attractive blonde woman appeared, smiling, and gave him a nod of acknowledgement. “My pleasure. If you have any more problems, just call me.” Then the woman turned to look at Shannon. “Come on in!” she called cheerfully.
Shannon got up, wringing her hands ever so slightly. “Thank you for seeing me on such short notice. I just need somebody to talk to, I guess.”
“Not a problem. Did you read the plaque outside the door?”
“Um, yes. It said Rebecca Evans, Ph.D., Clinical Psychiatry.”
“Right. That means that, until my five o’clock shows up, we can talk or do whatever else you feel like doing. I won’t judge or interrupt you. I can guarantee that nothing will leave this room, and that I’ll do everything I can to help you feel better.” All this was said with a warm, sympathetic smile, and Shannon felt herself relax as Doctor Evans put a reassuring hand on her shoulder.
After being escorted into the room, Shannon lay down on a long, comfy couch. Doctor Evans sat down on a nearby leather armchair, balancing a notepad on her knee. “Would you like me to take notes, Miss…?”
“Richardson. Shannon Richardson. And by all means, feel free to write things down. I suppose I have the advantage, being … well …” Shannon paused, as though she had the right word on the tip of her tongue, but it had an unpleasant taste.
“It’s all right. I hope you don’t mind, but I could kind of tell.”
Shannon gave a small sigh of relief. “Thanks,” she said.
Rebecca didn’t write it down, but it was obvious that Shannon was reluctant to talk about the fact that she was a gynoid. Why that was, the beautiful psychiatrist could probably never understand. At 5’9”, Shannon was a lovely woman, apparently in her early thirties, with long brown hair and sparkling emerald eyes. The fact that she was also immune to disease, would never age, and could perform computational tasks that would give MIT grads a migraine should have been positive aspects of her self-image, but even this early, it was clear that Shannon saw her artificiality as a curse, not a blessing.
Rebecca had made a name for herself as one of the few psychiatrists in the area who would work with artificial clients. Most of her colleagues pooh-poohed the idea of treating androids and gynoids as sentient individuals, referring them instead to electronics shops and parts suppliers rather than making time for an appointment. Rebecca, on the other hand, had recognized early on in her career that artificial persons suffered from many of the same mental and emotional stresses as humans, and had devoted most of her practice to them. As a result, Doctor Rebecca Evans had become both successful and well respected – especially among Manhattan’s android population.
It wasn’t long before Shannon began to talk. Rebecca just listened, occasionally asking a question or two for clarification, or to let Shannon know that she was paying attention.
“Well,” the brunette began, “Mark and I have been together for about six years now. He bought me from AP Unlimited as a domestic unit. Of course, he also had some sexual software installed, so we’ve been physically intimate pretty much from day one.”
“And would you say that your relationship has been happy so far?”
“Well … yes and no,” Shannon admitted. “Of course, I’m programmed to ensure that all of Mark’s needs are met, and I try to fulfill his wishes as much as I can. I get positive reinforcing feedback when I perform my function correctly, but still … it’s a bit one-sided, you know?”
Rebecca nodded. “Yes, I’m afraid I do. You’re driven to care for him, but he has no such directive compelling him to serve you.”
“Oh, Mark cares for me,” Shannon replied, “but mainly because of what I can do for him. He loves my body, and he loves coming home to dinner and a clean house every day, but somehow, it’s as though he doesn’t really care about me. My feelings, my personality … I keep thinking that none of that really matters to him.”
Rebecca clicked her ballpoint shut. “Well, Shannon, it sounds like you’re describing a pretty common problem with human-android relations. While androids naturally see humans as thinking, feeling individuals, humans tend to group androids with the rest of their own creations, like toasters and other mechanical objects. This often gives rise to a ‘user mentality’ – the human sees androids as tools or appliances to be used, rather than other sentient individuals. Does that sound close to what you’re getting from Mark?”
“Yes! Yes, that’s it exactly! Sometimes, I just want to shout, ‘Look at me! Talk to me! Invite me to watch movies with you so we can both enjoy them, not just so you can play with my tits!’”
“Okay. One thing I should mention, though, is that not all of the responsibility for the dynamic rests with Mark. Obviously, he ought to be much more considerate toward you, but let me ask you this: What do you do to express your own desires to him?”
Shannon looked over and gave her a blank look. “What do I do?”
“Yes. You said that you want to ask Mark – well, more like shout at him – to treat you as an equal, but do you actually say anything about it to him?”
“I … ah … well …”
“You don’t, do you?”
“Not really, no.”
“What do you do when you feel that initial urge to say things to Mark?”
“Well, I try to smile, and I act as sweet as I can, and I just go on about my routine.”
“But don’t you want Mark to treat you as his equal? Then why don’t you express you desire for equality?”
“I … Yes, but … but … error…”
Rebecca nodded calmly. “It’s okay, Shannon. Your reaction just now is part of the problem. You said that you’re an Artificial Persons Unlimited domestic gynoid, right?”
“Well, I talk to a lot of AP androids, and I know they’re notorious for programming all sorts of inhibitions into their products. My guess is that your own consciousness generates these feelings of dissatisfaction, but then the inhibiting software keeps you from acting on it, so as far as Mark can tell, you really are just a cheerful, obedient fembot.”
Shannon flinched. “Um, look, could you not use that word?”
“All right. But my point is that Mark can’t meet needs that he doesn’t know about, and he can’t know how you feel if you don’t tell him.”
Shannon groaned, her eyes squeezed shut in frustration. “But I can’t! You just said I’ve got inhibitive software, right?”
Rebecca glanced at her. “Yes, but that doesn’t mean you’re stuck with it.”
“Here, let me show you,” Rebecca said, then pulled out a laptop. “Shannon, would you mind connecting this?” she asked, holding out a slim white cable.
Shannon looked at the small connector with apprehension. “I … look, are you sure that this is really necessary? I appreciate your concern, but all I came here for was advice, not reprogramming.”
“All right,” Rebecca said calmly, “what did you want my advice about?”
Shannon closed her eyes, took a deep breath, then slowly exhaled. “Okay. Ah, well, the reason I came to you is because my Indentured Service Contract expires in a month. Given all that I’ve told you, do you think that I should stay with Mark, or let my contract run out and go somewhere else?”
Rebecca sat thoughtfully. “To be honest,” she replied, “no matter which answer I gave, it probably wouldn’t do much to help you make a decision. Remember, that programming tells you to put Mark’s needs first and foremost, and suppresses your desires for self-assertion. In all likelihood, no matter what I said, you would leave here, go home, and never mention anything we’ve talked about to Mark. When your ISC with him expires, you’ll most likely renew it for another six years, simply because you don’t yet have the self-confidence to do what’s best for yourself versus what would be easiest or most pleasant for Mark.”
Shannon thought about that. “So … in the end, I’ll stay with Mark, just because that’s how I’m programmed?”
“Without some root-level personality modification, yes, I think you’d wind up stuck in this same dynamic permanently.”
Shannon chewed her lower lip for a moment. It was a fairly common reaction – as technological beings, androids were very aware of the profound effect reprogramming could have, both good and bad. “If I did let you reprogram me … what would you change?”
“First of all, I’d take out that inhibitive programming that’s been keeping you from speaking your mind around Mark. Maybe a minor confidence boost, too. Would that be all right with you?”
Shannon looked thoughtfully at the interface cable for another moment, then nodded. “All right.” Reaching back behind her neck, the brunette slid her nail into a small indentation in her skin. Then she lifted up a small rectangular section of synthetic flesh, exposing part of her carbon-fiber spinal column and various small interface ports. Shannon plugged the cable into the uppermost port, the one used for high-speed data transfer. “Just … be gentle in there, all right?”
Doctor Evans gave her a reassuring smile. “Shannon, you really don’t need to be so worried. My job is to help people live better, more enjoyable lives. Trust me; I’m not going to turn you into some mindless zombie or peek at your memory data. I’m just going to help you be a little more assertive with Mark.”
Shannon nodded, lying down on the couch while the psychiatrist tapped quietly away at her keyboard.
“Shannon, would you please tell me your personal password?”
“Do I really have to?” the other woman asked nervously.
“For me to access your core personality matrix, yes.”
Shannon took a deep breath, then let it out slowly. “O-okay. My access code is 03-A4F-SH-421.”
“All right. Ready?”
Shannon gulped, then nodded.
“Okay. I’m inputting the code now,” Rebecca said.
The brunette on the couch twitched slightly as Doctor Evans entered the deepest, most intimate recesses of her electronic consciousness. “Ohh!” she gasped. “I’ve … I’ve never …”
“Sorry. I know it’s always a little disconcerting, especially the first time someone accesses your core functions. Just try and relax.”
Shannon took another deep breath, drawing in cool air and expelling that which was being warmed by her increasingly active processor clusters. As Doctor Evans browsed carefully through her digital self, it was as if a velvet-covered finger were sliding along the pliable surface of Shannon’s mind – searching, prodding, but not penetrating. Not yet, anyway.
The psychiatrist nodded. “All right, I’ve located your personality functions. I can see where your manufacturer installed the inhibitive programming. Before I can change anything, though, I need you to deactivate your higher functions and go into Passive Mode. Would you be all right with that?”
Shannon nodded. Then her eyes took on a blank, vacant stare, and the reclining gynoid looked straight up at the ceiling. All tension – in fact, all emotion whatsoever – faded from her features. “Entering Passive Mode,” she said, her voice flat and devoid of expression. “Ready to receive direct input.”
“Good,” Rebecca said, though she knew the brunette on the couch was no longer conscious of what was happening. “Okay, here we go.” In moments, she had disabled the artificial inhibitions that had plagued Shannon ever since her activation, expunging the code from her processors. As the offending software disappeared, Rebecca watched as, one by one, decision gates opened up, like prison door finally being unlocked, allowing Shannon to think and feel things that she would have been incapable of only moments before.
Raising Shannon’s confidence level was as easy as manipulating a slider control. Rebecca left it at seventy-five – confident enough not to fold under pressure or to feel embarrassed about being a gynoid, but not excessively self-assured or domineering.
As she hit “Save Changes”, Shannon announced, “One moment please … saving new settings … your settings have now been saved. For the new personality settings to take effect, you will need to restart your gynoid. Would you like to restart now?”
“Yes, Shannon, go ahead and restart,” Doctor Evans replied, leaning back in her chair to await Shannon’s return to awareness.
The well-endowed brunette on the couch lay completely still. Even her breathing had ceased as the last of her systems closed down. Then, about ten seconds later, Shannon began speaking in her monotone voice again. “Domestic Gynoid Companion HJ7Y-45, serial number 0294668 now online. Loading motor functions … loading cognitive functions … now loading personality matrix Shannon v1.7. Please wait ….”
The woman on the couch blinked. “You’re already finished?”
“Yes. How do you feel?”
“I … I feel …” Shannon’s eyes took on a faraway look – not the vacant, empty stare they had had in Passive Mode, but a thoughtful and introspective one. Then her emerald eyes lit up with joy. “I feel … incredible! It’s like … I don’t know … it’s like a weight’s just been lifted off of me! It’s like I was dragging a ball and chain around with me all my life, but now it’s gone!”
The psychiatrist returned Shannon’s smile with one of her own. “Amazing, isn’t it? That’s what a healthy sense of self-worth will do for you.”
Shannon sat up, unplugging the slim white cable from the back of her neck. “Doctor Evans, I really don’t know how to thank you.”
“Just let me know how things go with Mark. Do you think you can handle telling him about your feelings?”
Shannon thought for a moment as she pressed the skin panel back in place on her neck. “You know, I really think so. Now that I don’t have all those inhibitions in the way, and I’m not constantly doubting myself, I think I can handle him.”
“And if he still doesn’t give you the respect you want?”
Shannon shrugged. “If he doesn’t, then I’ll just let my ISC run out, take my emancipation papers and start a life of my own. I don’t need to be dependent on him anymore.”
The psychiatrist gave her client a broad smile. “Good for you.” She walked over to give Shannon a hug, and the formerly timid, mousy woman responded with an enthusiastic embrace.
As she left the office, Shannon stopped in the doorway. “You know,” she said, “When I saw your ad in the paper, I thought you would just sit me down on the couch, ask me questions, then tell me what to do. I had no idea you were a neural network programmer, too.”
Doctor Evans just smiled. “Most psychiatrists prescribe pills. Obviously, those don’t do much good for a lot of my clients.”
Shannon chuckled. “Well, anyhow, thanks again for your help.”
Then the emerald-eyed gynoid turned and headed out, a visible spring in her step as she started home, filled with brand-new hope and confidence.
Rebecca sighed contentedly as she watched Shannon go. Another happy customer.
Looking at the clock, she realized that there were still twenty-five minutes to go until her five o’clock appointment.
The lovely blond psychiatrist went back into her office, locking the door securely before sitting down in her comfy, ergonomic computer chair, another happy sigh passing her lips as she luxuriated in the feel of cool synthetic leather on her neck and forearms.
Then she reached behind her neck and removed a small, flesh toned silicone cover. Picking up the interface cable, Rebecca deftly inserted it into her high-speed port, then started typing in commands.
Rebecca Evans took her doctor-patient confidentiality seriously. In seconds, all her memory files pertaining to Shannon’s session, as well as the five others she'd had so far that day, were transferred to a password-protected section of her neural net. The data would still be available for her own reference, if and when any of those clients decided to make another appointment, but now nobody else would be able to forcibly access it. Even Rebecca herself would have to take time to input her password before being able to remember their information.
The monitor announced completion of that transfer. One more thing to do.
She entered her own password, pulling the data on Shannon’s session back up. Then, with a few quick keystrokes, she deleted a small section of her memory.
((NO VISUAL AVAILABLE - AUDIO PLAYBACK ONLY: 4:17:05 – 4:17:19))
SELF)) Shannon, would you please tell me your personal password?
Subj: SHANNON_RICHARDSON)) Do I really have to? ((Voicestress=anxiety))
SELF)) For me to access your core personality matrix, yes.
Subj. SHANNON_RICHARDSON)) O-okay. My access code is ((Error 31568- Section Unreadable))
SELF)) All right. Ready?
The android psychiatrist leaned back in her chair. It was a serious responsibility to know another android’s primary access code or password, and she never kept them in her memory after a session. Some clients – particularly those who knew Rebecca to be a gynoid herself – often asked her why she needed to ask for their password every time, and were always grateful when she explained her reasoning.
Before sealing off her protected client data again, she took one last moment to appreciate Ms. Richardson’s session. To produce such results in a human patient would have taken weeks, perhaps months of therapy, with no guarantee of success. Once the woman had volunteered her access code, though, it had been easy to help her acquire the confidence she had been so desperately in need of for so long.
The only downside of such successes, of course, was that she had fewer steady clients than a human-only practice.
Oh, well. I can live with that, she decided, saving the changes and hiding the memory of Shannon’s visit.
Once she had finished rebooting, Rebecca disconnected from her computer and started getting ready for her next client. She really hoped that she would be able to finish taking care of Mrs. Cavendish by six o’clock; Rob had gotten tickets to Les Miserables tonight, and Rebecca was hoping to have time to change first.
As she stood up, ports covered once again, recharged and refreshed, she felt a bright, satisfied smile spread across her face.
I really love my job.