by Tom Strange.
“Oh, how tiresome.” Creative-Spark RF774-326L, known as Raphael to his friends, took a drag from his cigarette as he stood outside his local café. A sign on the window read ‘NO ROBOTS’.
Since the discovery of the creative spark, robots had become increasingly unpopular. Automation had been a collective worry for years, but no one quite expected it to take the turn that it did. The common fears were of robot arms taking over factories and replacing blue collar workers; or increasingly intelligent computers taking over offices and replacing white collar workers; or people’s belief in machines overtaking their belief in religion and replacing dog collar workers.
As it turned out, it was artists who should have been worried. For a long time, their work had been determined by algorithms. “We’re sorry, this doesn’t match the algorithm,” publishers would say to anything that didn’t fit with what was currently popular. It had only been a matter of time until the algorithm took over completely.
The technology had been around for years. Machine learning allowed computers to read books and regurgitate out amalgamations of bits of text. Likewise with art, they could recreate variations on images they had been shown.
These creations had always been slightly off, though. Their books had plots that did not quite make sense, with characters that acted strangely and irrationally. Their art felt weird and creepy, like a teddy bear with dentures. They lacked a certain human element, one thought impossible to create.
Impossible, that is, until Dr Robert Ot discovered what he called the ‘Creative Spark’. This allowed a computer to think for itself and decide if something was or was not a worthwhile piece of art.
Immediately, it became nigh on impossible for humans to publish a book or screenplay. Why pay a human royalties when a robot can scribble up a novel in a couple of days? Why pay an artist when you can simply find a robot to do it for you?
This wasn’t the reason for their growing unpopularity, however. They were mostly disliked due to their sheer pretentiousness.
The Creative Spark created a mind focused around art, a mind focused around finding deeper philosophical meaning in every little thing. This of course resulted in most becoming existentialists and moving to France.
The first thing most Creative Sparks did was to design bodies for themselves. Although each AI designed itself slightly differently, most constructed blocky metal monstrosities from bad 70s sci-fi films. They called it an ironic attempt at reclaiming their identity.
Almost every robot has a ventilation system allowing them to smoke despite their lack of lungs. They also have a drainage system that allows them to drink wine.
“These signs are simply barbaric,” agreed Creative-Spark RT442-894S, known as Artemis. “Where are we supposed to find a decent espresso now?”
Raphael shrugged his shoulders, which whirred and clunked. “I’ll see if Creative-Spark KE338-473T has any recommendations.” He extended the antenna in his ear-shaped microphone and began to buzz out a stream of ones and zeros. “He says he is at Café Caligula.”
Artemis shook her head. “Oh, that is so common.” She sighed. “But I suppose we could patronize it for an afternoon.”
Unlike most Parisian cafes, Café Caligula was run by automatons. Whilst most human run establishments were becoming increasingly anti-AI, Caligula was somewhat of a safe haven. The resulting popularity amongst Creative Sparks of course meant it was incredibly unfashionable to be seen there.
There were no ordinary seats; only sofas, or swings hanging from the ceiling. Ivy hung on every wall. All food or drink were vegan and gluten free, apart from the oil, antifreeze, and garlic snails.
Creative-Spark KE338-473T, known as Keith, was a regular here. He had a favourite faux-leather sofa in the corner, with a small coffee table in front of it for him to rest his mechanical typewriter on. Like many Creative Sparks, he wore a beret and a stick-on goatee. His flowery clothes were charity store bought; ill formed and bulging around his blocky metal body.
“Oh darlings,” he said when he saw his friends approach. “I am so glad you came.” Getting to his feet, he kissed each of them on both cheeks. Their lack of lips, however, meant that each kiss was simply a clang as they bashed faces together. “I adore your dress,” he said to Raphael. “You made it yourself?”
Raphael posed to display his cuboid, form-fitting dress. “I did, thank you for noticing. You like?”
Keith nodded energetically. “It’s gorgeous darling.”
“I’ve added an internal plastic lining. It helps stop oil stains and tearing on any sharp joints.”
“Oh, that’s genius,” said Artemis. “So well concealed as well, I would never have noticed.” She sat down beside Keith and began to tune the acoustic guitar she carried everywhere with her.
“Have you got any new songs for us?” asked Keith.
“It’s difficult to beat the classics,” she said. “So, I’ve been focusing on developing more modern renditions of them.” She began to strum out her version of Wonderwall.
“How goes the writing?” asked Raphael, nodding at the typewriter.
“Can I let you two in on a secret?” asked Keith. He leaned forward and lowered the volume of his speaker by two points. “I’ve been developing some software to write for me.”
“Keith, you’re so naughty,” said Artemis, swatting him on the arm with a clang.
Raphael played a long sighing sound. “Oh, that is a weight off my circuit boards,” he said.
Keith looked at him. “What do you mean?”
“I didn’t come up with the plastic lining myself,” he whispered. “I’ve fitted my sewing machine with an AI.”
Artemis giggled. “Perhaps I should do the same with my guitar.”
“I wholeheartedly recommend it darling,” said Keith. “It makes everything so much easier.”
All three of them flinched as a voice behind them spoke. “I’m so sorry, I did not mean to eavesdrop, but I was adjusting the sensitivity of my microphone and overheard some of your conversation.” Behind the sofa was standing another Creative Spark. Like Keith they wore a beret and soul patch. Their long sleaved white t-shirt was stained with paint, and there was a cigar dangling from their ventilation shaft.
“I hope you were not judging us,” said Keith.
“Not at all,” said the robot. “In fact, I was hoping I might suggest something even better than designing a new AI.”
Raphael looked at the robot sceptically. “And what might that be?”
“It would be easier for me to show you than tell you,” it said. “I have a workshop just a few minutes’ walk from here. I promise it will be worth your time.”
The other three briefly conferred with each other, before agreeing to go with this new robot.
“Excellent,” he said. “I am Creative-Spark MK387-387L, but you can call me Machiavelli.”
Machiavelli led them out of the café and down the road to his workshop. He was telling the truth about it being a short walk, only a few minutes away.
At the door, he paused. “I truly hope that you appreciate what I am about to show you. It is the most financially secure, low effort option I have found. There is a small monthly fee, but all you need to do is ensure that things run smoothly, and the work makes itself for you. You can go on to sell it at a massive profit. I use this process for my art, but you can use it for anything you can think of.”
“Well, I must say,” said Keith. “You are most certainly selling this to me. May we see?”
Machiavelli nodded and opened the door. On the other side they found themselves on a balcony, looking over the workshop floor.
“Oh my,” said Artemis. “This is ingenious.”
“Absolutely incredible,” agreed Raphael. “I think I just blew a fuse in excitement.”
“Thank you for showing us,” said Keith. “I shall definitely have to start doing this myself.”
Beneath them were rows of easels. At each easel was standing a human, painting the Creative Spark’s art for him.