“I have got great news, Kizito!” Tatiana screamed.
“Really? Are you coming home now?’ Kizito responded with some renewed excitement. He had not seen Tatiana for two months but the holodeck provided him an opportunity to be in a room with her, even though it was virtual. He liked the holodeck but was not keen on the headgear strapped to his head. Even more, he wanted Tatiana to return home.
“Hehe! No!” Tatiana quickly replied.
“Then what is it?” He said with a fading gusto.
The only good news he could receive from Tatiana was that she was coming home. They had been married for only two days when she travelled to lead a tech project in Ibadan. Before then, they had lived together for two years in Kigali. She had gone for two months and he had begun to count the days.
“We are making progress at the lab, Kizi. We have successfully received electric signals from the biological brain we are culturing using multi electrode arrays. Now we are closer to closing the robot-brain culture loop.”
Kizito waited for her to break it into words that he understood. For him, science was not a strong suit- but he had a congratulatory smile. The way she broke the news, he knew it was a breakthrough that was really important to her.
“Yes, really. Very soon Kizi, we will have robots with human brains. And you know what, I will be the first to do this. Your darling Tat will lead the world to creating the first set of robots who can think”
“Thinking robots?!” Kizito was confused.
“Yes,” Tatiana does the robot dance to an imaginary music. She could not control her excitement. “Thi-n-k-ing R-o-b-o-t-s,” she repeated.
Kizito’s face was a mixture of excitement and fear. All he could mutter was “Wow!”.
“You don’t know for how long I have hoped it worked. We could send signals to the brain but found it difficult to do the converse. You needed to see how I danced when it finally worked. Incredible! Kizi! It is an amazing feeling. Imagine me, with my colourful gele at TechCrunch speaking about our new breakthrough. Time Magazine would read; `Dr Tatiana Mbokazi from University of Ibadan leads the world in creating the world’s first thinking robots.”
She flashed a smile and flipped her hair backward, like a model on a red carpet, to the greeting microphones and camera flashes of imaginary pressmen and photographers.
Kizito rested his chin on his palm and seemed unable to catch in the excitement. He was worried for the whole of mankind and what the breakthrough could mean for humans.
“I do not know what to think, Tatiana. I am happy you are moving forward, but what would thinking robots do to us? Do we call them humans or superior humans?”
“Of course they would be better at doing things. That is why we need them to solve some of the world’s most difficult challenges. They might finally cure cancer, dive into the deepest crannies and you never know, eradicate all diseases. Maybe help us live forever. We could be limitless. Imagine, Kizi, we could love without the fear of death.”
Kizito watched as she spoke and felt her positivity light the room except his mind. He thought Tatiana was crazy. It was the same zeal that led Oppenheimer to create atomic bombs for which Hiroshima would never forgive America. Unlike Tatiana who was obsessed with charting a new course for man’s future, Kizito was passionate about history and was more conservative in thought. He thought thinking-robots would eventually be better than men and may not have similar limitations. What would the robots call themselves? Superior humans? Like humans, they will refer to themselves as superior animals and rule the world. We could be their pets eventually or a reminder of when men had limitations- when men died. What if robots rise someday and demand for similar rights as humans. They do have a brain so they can be considered as humans too- a new kind of human. They could demand to vote and be voted for. A robot could become President- the thought of it was frightening. Or if men resisted, they could organize a coup. No! A coup is barbaric and if man has evolved from organizing those, then superior humans won’t take power by force. But how would we stand against them? Is it also okay to stand against the evolution of man because of the fear to be lost in history?
His mind travelled far but all he could mutter to his zealous wife was,
“So you think humans will not be at danger from these new humans you are creating. Unlike the present robots, they would not work based on some set of codes. They would not be bonded by some robotic law created by humans. That’s like humans subservient to animal laws. Tat, even men have not explored the full power of their brains. It would be easier for robots. They would be light years ahead in a few months”
“It doesn’t always have to be us versus them. What kind of danger? That they could harm us or take our jobs. Why do we always think machines would take our jobs. That was the public outcry half a decade ago. And see us, we are still here. Everything is better and easier but we still have things to do. And these are robots, not humans, or better still droids.”
“Well, I wouldn’t be surprised if they are called humans or better still superhumans.See how marriage evolved in its meaning. It used to be a union of a man and a woman. But that has changed. Last week, my former classmate John married Michael in Bulawayo. Everything keeps changing, Tatiana.”
Tatiana saw where the conversation was leading. She had an intense passion for science and technology but her husband could not not live up to it. She wanted to lead the world into a new future. She also imagined what it would look like if droids occupied the government and other daily processes instead. They would think and act better and would not be as corrupt as humans. But she also thought, what if it was the nature of the brain to be selfish and robots are just selfless because they are bonded by algorithms. With human brains, they might obtain such distasteful traits but would even be more powerful. But she discards that thought. Robots would only do good things. They would save human lives, protect humans from destruction, and build economies that can finally benefit all humans and not a set of cartels. Thinking robots would change the world and make it a better place. It would be a delight to be the woman that birth the world into this new civilization. Maybe robots can even have their own kids.
She sighs and quickly tries to change the subject
‘I miss you, Kizito, and all your wahala’.
“You always say that. Tat. You have gone for a long while now. And I’m home here all alone. I cannot make love to your hologram. Tatiana we need to have our own children. When will you come home.”
Tatiana’s face lit up. She wanted to tell him the image he was seeing was not a hologram. But the situation was serious and she knew Kizito would not be amused. It had even taken her a while to make him use the holodeck. Kizito struggled to match the pace of technology while she, his wife were at the forefront dictating it.
She wondered how she fell in love with him- this laggard. People say love is blind, but she did not think her love for Kizito was. She thought that art shared more with science and technology and are not parallel alleys as people portrayed. Scientists sometimes had this romance with art and artists. It is, sometimes, their only touch with reality. A reality that leads them into more fantasies. Art was reality’s fantasy, fantasy’s reality. Love itself is an art that defies scientific laws.
Kizito was an oil paint artist. They met at the University of Ibadan and lived together in Kigali after graduating. She loved to see him throw oil on the canvas and let the bristles of his brushes gently caress the oil into a new masterpiece. The result of this sensual accord always left her bewildered and would throw them into their own romantic fits. The epilogue of each new painting was a celebration that wound into nights and days of wine, sex and intricate fantasies.
The talk of children was abrupt, although she had always thought about it.
“Kizi, we can have children. But for now, I need to focus on this project. It would change the course of history forever. Carrying a baby for nine months would throw me out of the international community. I would be hindered from doing my project in the labs. Other labs would deny me entry. And you know what they would say- we cannot allow you, you are carrying a baby… you can endanger its life…. Bla bla bla!”
“At the rate at which the tech industry is moving, by the time I come back, my work would be irrelevant. There’s Dr Perry in the University of Cape Town.. she is working on the same project. At the robotics conference, the attention was on Dr Burowski… and she is from Caltech. There are a number of us working on similar projects and I would be thrown into irrelevance if I take any moment off…
Kizito watches his wife in amazement.
“Kizi, you should leave Rwanda and come to Ibadan. There’s a doctor here I would like you to meet. Dr Femi, he is a good friend.”
“What would the doctor do, make me carry the baby?”
“No, of course not. When you don’t read the news. All you do with your tablet is design your food and print it. I like your food anyway. They look good and taste just as well. If only Mirinda can learn from you.”
“What would Femi do?!” an impatient, unamused Kizito retorts.
“He has now successfully conceived three babies using ectogenesis. I wouldn’t have to carry the baby. Right from fertilization, Dr Femi’s machine would nurture the baby till conception. Then, we would take over after birth. I wouldn’t need to abandon my work. And we would have a baby. You would have a child.”
“What?! Do you hear yourself at all?”
“Kizi! What do you want? A baby, or I, heavy with one?”
Kizito was taken aback. He could not imagine that his wife had made such a suggestion. She was neither incapable nor deformed from giving birth. What woman talks like that!
“What makes this different from a surrogate mother? How would you develop that bond that a woman should develop with her child”
“She is my child, I would love her as much. Are you saying men don’t love their kids because they don’t conceive them? And I wouldn’t have to battle some obscure woman in future about who actually owns the baby. You know what conversations can develop. I don’t want a third woman in our family. I am quite jealous. I could kill her.”
Kizito watched her in annoyance. He wished he could disengage his headgear and disconnect from an experience that had fast become irritable for him.
“Wow! Just wow! You do not cease to amaze me, Tat! You say it with so much confidence that you cannot carry our baby. I doubt you even love me. Maybe you could delegate that to a machine!”
He mimics a female voice, “You should say- hey robot! Love my husband. Delight him, make him happy. I am really busy, things like love can delay my progress”.
Tatiana glowered at him. She was not amused.
“Kizi, I love you and you shouldn’t ever doubt that. All these, I do for us. If you were in the same shoes, I would gladly support you. You remember travelling to Monte Carlo for a full year and I waited all along for you. I understood. You should understand too. Just like you, I want to make awesome things that wow the world”
She was right, Kizito thought. But this was different. When he left, he did not suggest something as ludicrous as conceiving their children in unnatural wombs. What would the child think? My parents are too busy to even birth me properly? Feminists would have new things to chew on with their biological role gone.
“Why do we build machines if they cannot take off our burdens. If you like life so natural, maybe you should try a camel on your next trip to Gisenyi. Or you could grow your food organically instead of printing it”
“You know what?! Good luck with getting brains into those robots. Maybe when you are done, you can make female ones, and you can give them biological ovaries. Make them beautiful. And maybe you could send one to me or I could buy one on Konga. If a machine would deliver my baby, I should as well marry one.”
This work first appeared in public as an unedited post on Facebook.
Cover image by: Photoholgic on Unsplash
Writer & Designer