Elove: What Does Fiction Know?

Made to Measure

It only follows that Edison proposes to Ewald to participate in the making of Hadaly, the human-like automaton:

--Well, then, Edison concluded, since it is established that you are living now and have lived in the past with nothing but a Shade, onto which you project from you fervid soul a fictive existence, I offer you a chance to project the same feelings on a shadow of your spirit realized from without--that’s the only difference. Illusion for illusion, the Being of this mixed presence called Hadaly depends on the free will of him who will DARE to conceive it. Suggest to her from the depths of yourself! (68)

In effect, in suggesting to Hadaly from the depth of himself, Ewald installs a simulation, a “fac-simile,” of himself, his “own soul reduplicated in her” (68) would say Villiers’ Edison, unto the android. According to this somewhat cynical (and, of course, Freudian) version of love — up to you to decide— you love yourself in the other. In any case, to guarantee Ewald’s love for the machine Hadaly, it has to be well designed by infusing it with Ewald’s very being. The infused elements will interact with, or to use Villier’s terminology “transfigure” (78), other elements in order for a new set to emerge, namely Hadaly, the loving machine. Since Hadaly will be part of him at conception, it/she will instantly — if not automatically—have empathy for Ewald. And that’s exactly what happens. In an evening towards the end of the novel, Ewald sits on a bench with someone he thinks is Alicia, but a transformed Alicia, attentive to his love for her, and he talks about kissing her:

Had she actually understood the rich and subtle invitation of his passionate words? A sudden tear rolled down her dark, downcast lashes and over her pale cheek.
--How you suffer! She said softly. And all because of me!
At this emotion, this expression, the young man felt himself transported by a venerable access of amazement. He was in ecstasy. (191-192)

The person who was so empathetic towards him was not, in fact, Alicia but the machine, Hadaly. We witness here a clear update of the Hoffmann effect we saw in “The Sand-Man." Ewald does not need to interpret what the machine is saying. To love him, the machine does not even need him as a prosthesis for its thoughts, its feelings or its words. It accomplishes all this spontaneously. If there is any prosthesis, it is already built into the conception of the machine. It thinks already, feels already, speaks already as he desires it to think, feel and speak. It is a singular machine, incarnating Ewald and made-to-measure for him.
Made to measure has become a common staple in subsequent stories about love machines. In Do Androids Dream, it becomes a strong marketing point: “a custom-tailored humanoid robot--designed specifically for YOUR UNIQUE NEEDS, FOR YOU AND YOU ALONE--” (17). In the passionate embrace scene where Deckard in Blade Runner is about to make love to Rachael, he teaches her what to do and what to say. In Jonze’s film Her, the software, Samantha, has already gathered and learned all the elements concerning Theodore to fashion her personality to conform to his being and, to his great disappointment at the end of the movie, to the other 641 simultaneous lovers she has. And no need to dwell in that regard on the various looks of sex dolls marketed today.

There is, however, a necessary conceptual part (as one speaks of a part of a machine, an auto part) that is needed to ensure the achievement of that made-to-measure love object. In conceiving his machine, Villiers’ Edison picks up that part from one of his predecessors and modernizes it, so to speak. In his three Dupin stories, Poe invokes the old Aristotelian parts/whole problem to distinguish mathematical thinking, that he had assigned to machine thinking in his “Maelzel’s Chess-Player,” characterized by a step by step (i.e., algorithmic) process, from human thinking, with its most salient feature being the ability to perceive a whole as more than the sum of its parts.  Here is what that notion becomes in Villiers’ hands:

The electrical apparatus of Hadaly is no more her self than the skeleton of your friend [Alicia] is her personality. In a word, when one loves a woman it isn’t for one particular joint, nerve, bone, or muscle; rather, I think, it’s for the unique ensemble of her being, penetrated as it is with her organic fluids--because, with a simple glance of her eyes, she transfigures this whole concatenation of minerals, metals, and vegetable matter which have been fused and purified into the stuff of her body. (78-79)

What Villiers describes here is quite close to the notion of emergentism that John Stuart Mill uses to explain life, one with which Villiers may have been familiar, having spent some time in England. It was picked up again by the late 20th century in computer science. As Andy Clark explains it (108), emergent properties arise through a bottom up process, making it quite difficult to recognize in the product the building elements, namely Villiers’ “joint, nerve, bone, or muscle” which make a “unique ensemble” as well as his “minerals, metals, and vegetable matter” that have been “fused into the stuff of her body.” Ewald himself concedes and reiterates the bottom-up behavior in addressing Edison after meeting the completed machine: “You told me that the problems of creating an electro-magnetic being were easy to solve, the result alone was mysterious. Indeed you have kept your word, for already, this result seems to me almost completely foreign to the means used to obtain it” (157). We can assume that, mixed with the physical element making up the machine, will also be what Ewald will have suggested to her “from the depths of [him]self." That will also go into the “concatenation," making up that “unity," that “unique ensemble” specific to himself and thus ensuring the idiosyncrasy of their love for each other.
The effort to solve the mystery of what happens inside the machine in achieving its results, has become a current concern. The focus is, of course, different, but it is still a question of machine learning, indeed not for a machine to learn a person’s depths of himself to constitute an android to one’s liking but a question of deep learning in neural network machines, which are being used in translation, autonomous cars, medical diagnosis, finance and the like. The problem however is the same: computer scientists do not know how these machine do their work to obtain the results. A new field of research in computer science called “X.A.I.,” an acronym for explainable AI, will try to clarify the mystery (Kuang).



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