Glass Puppet

The worst part of being an actor is that all work is temporary. That’s what Alia told herself. In actuality, Alia’s “acting” career amounted to two spots as an extra in commercials for enterprise software.

To make ends meet, Alia worked as a social engineer. That’s what Alia told herself. In actuality, Alia’s “social engineering” career amounted to bluffing her way into an AI Alignment bootcamp for the free room and board.

That’s what had bought Alia to the entryway to the headquarters of Overton Cybernetics, a giant skyscraper of steel and glass. Apparently they needed an actor with AI Alignment experience. Alia took a deep breath. She was an actor. She had already faked her way through an AI Alignment bootcamp. Surely she could social engineer her way through an actual AI Alignment gig too, right?

An older woman in a pencil skirt greeted Alia at the door.

“You’re going to be meeting with Dominic Hamilton,” said the woman, “so make a good impression.”

Dominic Hamilton.

The 27-year-old founder of Overton Cybernetics.

Alia played it cool. She smiled as if she met billionaire geniuses all the time. Surely that’s how a real AI Alignment actor would react, right?

Dominic Hamilton’s assistant led Alia to an elevator. They took it halfway up the building, transferred to a second elevator and took the second elevator the rest of the way to the top. Alia deliberately avoided paying attention to her surroundings. She was an actor specializing in AI Alignment. She met billionaire geniuses all the time. Today was an ordinary day for her.

Dominic Hamilton’s office was sparse. One desk. One laptop. One door opposite one giant floor-to-ceiling window instead of a wall. Dominic Hamilton’s throne chair faced away from the window towards the door. Surely Dominic Hamilton didn’t actually work here. It must be a greeting room to intimidate visitors. Alia decided not to be intimidated.

Alia sat in the seat opposite the throne. Dominic Hamilton’s assistant quietly stood in a corner of the room by the door.

“It’s nice to meet you Mr. Dominic Hamilton,” said Alia. She held out her hand to shake. It was ignored.

“Just ‘Dominic’, please. But not yet,” said Dominic. He motioned to a pair of smartglasses on the desk. “Put them on.”

Alia examined the smartglasses. They were bulkier than commercial smartglass. It was a prototype. Dominic Hamilton twiddled his thumbs until Alia put on the glasses.

“What is your name?” said Dominic.

The glasses flashed a name across Alia’s vision Zoe.

“Zoe,” repeated Alia.

“What do you think of her?” said Dominic.

Good reaction time, so far. was displayed across Alia’s vision. “Good reaction time, so far,” said Alia.

“Good,” said Dominic, “Do you feel comfortable?”

We'll see. flashed across Alia’s vision. “Yes, definitely,” said Alia. Hey!

“Finally. I’m so glad,” Dominic leaned forward against his desk as if to cry.

Take his hands. Alia took his hands. “Are you okay with me going a little off script?”

“What’s your name?” said Dominic.

Zoe. “Zoe,” said Alia.

“No. I mean your name,” Dominic laughed.

Say your name. “Zoe,” insisted Alia.

“The actress’s name. Whose body are you wearing?” said Dominic.

“Alia,” said Alia, “is the actor whose body I am wearing.”

“I’m sorry,” said Dominic.

“It’s okay,” said Alia, “May I be permitted to speak?”

“Alia? Of course,” said Dominic.

Alia took a deep breath. She was about to break all her rules about pretending she was supposed to be wherever she happened to be?

“What on Earth is going on?” said Alia.

Dominic laughed maniacally. “Surely you have figured it out by now, Alia.”

Alia hesitated. She had no idea what was going on.

It's obvious, really. You have a hard time relating to people. So you created a person you could relate to. Software advances faster than hardware. You could build a chatbot out of nothing but software. But robotics isn't up to the challenge of simulating a person yet. Plus there are glitches in the chatbot you need an actor to smooth over. “It’s obvious, really. You have a hard time relating to people. So you created a person you could relate to. Software advances faster than hardware. You could build a chatbot out of nothing but software. But robotics isn’t up to the challenge of simulating a person yet. Plus there are glitches in the chatbot you need an actor to smooth over,” said Alia. Thanks, thought Alia.

“We’re a team, she and I. The head and the hands. Together we are Zoe.” said Alia.

“Am I talking to Alia or Zoe right now?” said Dominic.

Lol. Alia laughed.


Update #1: abramdemski has written a fanfic/​riff

Update #2: burmesetheater has written a parody