By Yu Shao Yang (4F), Hiromi Lim (4J), Yeo Yong Jun (4K) from the CID4+ English AI Module
PROLOGUE Footsteps echoed in the wasteland.
A short figure, hidden by the darkness of the night, placed a lanky unmoving figure underneath a pile of rubbish.
“Gotta get out of here, before they find me.”
Pulling down his hoodie, he left the landfill, limping.
CHAPTER ONE She was at the abandoned Pulau Semakau landfill, where she thought she could clear her mind. Annabelle sighed as she stared at a stack of circular clouds resembling pancakes, her mom’s favourite...
Annabelle shook her head. Sulking here would not bring her mother back.
“Forget it. Time to head home, I guess.”
As she passed the landfill, the wind picked up, scattering incinerated ash. Something metallic glinted under the setting sun. Curious, Annabelle walked over and swept away the ash.
A corpse! No, a robot- with torn skin on its abdomen, exposing a metallic body underneath. Annabelle lifted its lightweight body to get a better look. It was well made, with a quality Annabelle could never afford for her inventions. Who would throw this away?
Having found such a treasure at the landfill, Annabelle could not resist taking it home.
CHAPTER TWO “You must have been thrown away by those rich families. Don’t worry, I’ll fix you up.” Annabelle murmured as she began scrutinising the robot from top to bottom. Its stomach, lower back and back of the head also contained openings that allowed access to the internal parts of the robot. On the metallic body exposed by torn skin on the abdomen region, she found “001” imprinted on it.
Then, she ran her hands over the robot, searching for an activation button.
She found a small, inconspicuous button on its back. She pressed it, and immediately, the robot’s eyes flickered open.
“I’m One.” It began in a monotone. “How are you, Master?”
‘You built me, didn’t you? Therefore, you’re my master.”
So the robot - One - did not remember its previous owner?
“Ye-yeah? Do you know of anyone else?” Annabelle attempted to hide her guilt. She convinced herself that she had not stolen it, since its previous owner was unknown.
Does this mean I can have One for myself? Annabelle pondered. One’s willing to accept me as its owner, and I would be a better guardian of it than whoever had dumped it. I mean, it was like destiny I found a perfectly working robot at the landfill.
“Master?” One’s voice snapped Annabelle out of her trance.
“Ah, call me Annabelle.”
Thereafter, Annabelle tried to decode its internal programming.
Annabelle mumbled to herself: “Now, let me check your central processing unit and machine code…”
To her surprise, One responded within seconds with a smile on its face, “ Diagnostics complete. No error detected.”
“What is the differentiation of [(1-3x)^5](e^tanx)?”
“The answer is e^tanx(1-3x)^4[-15+(1-3x)sec^2x],” One replied immediately.
“What do you know about the world?”
“I do not know much about the world, but I hope I can learn more about the world through spending time with you and gaining more knowledge and experience.”
After a string of questions, Annabelle realised One was an extremely intelligent robot with deep learning capabilities, and was also advanced enough to answer questions which required deep thinking with suitable replies. However, it was lacking in general knowledge. She decided to put the audiobook playlist of her favourite non-fiction on for One.
The next morning, Annabelle found One in her study.
"Who is this?" One asked, pointing to the photo frame beside Annabelle's laptop.
It was a photo of Annabelle and her mom, with wide smiles, celebrating Mrs. Ewe’s fiftieth birthday with her favourite pancakes.
“How come you left it face-down? Are you close to her?” One asked, unassuming.
Ever since her mom had passed away, Annabelle had overturned the photo to avoid looking at it. It would only cause pain, like the wave of sadness and longing that rushed over her now. Annabelle settled into the desk chair and stared at nothing.
“What’s wrong, Annabelle? Are you sad?”
Annabelle turned her face away. “It’s not something you’ll understand.”
One realised it had taken the wrong approach. Maybe Annabelle wanted to hear something comforting.
“If you are sad, it’s okay to cry. It will release your stress hormones. It will activate your parasympathetic nervous system, producing a soothing effect.” One suggested.
“I shouldn’t cry, Mom used to say that I should be strong.” Annabelle said with glistening eyes.
“Can you tell me more about your mum?” One tried to sound as understanding as possible.
Annabelle was taken by surprise, but she was so tired of keeping everything to herself.
“You see… I used to be bullied in university. Mum was the one who was always there for me, telling me not to give up, not to become dejected. That kept me through the grim days of university, up until she left me. Now that's she’s gone, it… its all back to zero, I’m all alone now.”
Once that first tear broke free, the rest followed, running down Annabelle’s cheeks profusely.
One had a strange desire to understand the situation, and in an attempt to do so, it ran a search on “crying” and found a number of appropriate responses. It shuffled forward and laid a warm hand on Annabelle’s shoulder.
As Annabelle’s sobs subsided, it was as if a huge weight had been lifted off her chest. She had not let out her emotions this way ever since her mum passed away. She was now more thankful than ever, because One had provided solace for her.
Annabelle did not know what to make of One. She had surely not expected it to try to understand her. Well, robots have the capacity to learn, after all. Maybe, just maybe, one day One could learn to feel and empathise.
She could try to teach One.
As the days passed, Annabelle opened up to One, telling it about her life, and the world. They settled into a routine together- watching documentaries, playing chess, housekeeping. Even though it could not join her in eating, One even learnt to prepare simple and delicious meals for Annabelle.
When was the last time Annabelle had felt so much joy?
Annabelle tripped over her Connex-Falcore drone that One had been toying with.
She closed her eyes, bracing herself for the impact of hitting the ground. To her surprise, she was caught in a pair of arms. She opened her eyes in shock, and-
One had caught her in its arms, and its handsome face was now millimeters away from hers.
W-What’s happening? Annabelle’s cheeks had turned scarlet, and her heartbeat sounded impossibly loud. She shook herself, thanked One and walked away briskly.
That was just because I almost fell… right?
One month later...
Annabelle entered the living room, expecting to see One waiting for her with a smile as it did every morning. Instead, One was huddled by the charging station she had built for it. Sensing something amiss, Annabelle hurried toward One.
As she approached, One’s diminished voice called out, “Morning Annabelle”. It was clearly an attempt to project its voice energetically. One tried to push himself up in vain. When Annabelle reached out to help it up, she flinched. Its skin was burning.
For the past month, One would burn up briefly, especially when they were listening to emotional music or watching heart-rending movies. Since the heat did not hinder One, she ignored it. But this was something different.
Annabelle paced around, her hands and feet clammy. With a pen, she pressed the power button on One’s neck to shut it down, and with unsteady hands, disassembled it to diagnose the issue. Despite countless attempts to get One back in order, every time she started it up again, it was just as weak as before.
At a loss, Annabelle slumped beside One. Then, an idea flashed by. She took out her phone and punched in some numbers.
“Professor? I need your help!”
CHAPTER FIVE “Hang in there, One! Dr. Zales will fix you soon!” Annabelle was on a driverless motorcycle with One’s arms wrapped around her rigidly.
Annabelle was determined to get One to her trusted university professor in time; she could never let what happened to her mom repeat itself.
Suddenly, a pair of hands shoved Annabelle off her motorcycle and onto the road. Annabelle could not fathom what just happened. “One?“ In her daze, she saw two men in sunglasses and suits lifting One off the motorcycle’s backseat into their car.
“HEY! GIVE ONE BACK!!” Annabelle screamed, before pushing herself up and running after the two men as fast as her legs could carry her. The men were getting in a brilliant black Audi. She was two steps from the car when the Audi drove off. A pear logo was on the door.
Annabelle sunk to the ground in utter despair.
One…Are you leaving me too?...Like Mom?...
CHAPTER SIX "Annabelle, what happened?" Her university professor questioned.
“Professor, I asked for your help but...it was taken away..." Annabelle grasped Dr. Zales' hands tightly.
"What do you mean?"
"M-My robot… I wanted to ask for your help to fix it, but on the way here, two men kidnapped it… What should I do? One… I need to save it!”
Dr. Zales eyes widened. "First off, what did the men look like?"
“They were wearing sunglasses and suits. The car was a navy Audi with a pear logo on the door…”
“What?! A pear logo?” Dr. Zales lapsed into silence.
“...Do you know them, Professor?”
“That logo belongs to ZPearAmore, a company producing robots as human companions. Sounds nice, but they’re totally profit-driven. I used to work as their repairman. Many robots sold came back with broken parts. I slowly realised, there are customers who take their frustrations out on the robots and abuse them. ZPearAmore knows about the mistreatment, yet they continue selling the robots to such people, because they’re willing to pay.” Dr. Zales said with a disgusted look.
“So ZPearAmore wants to sell One? And One could fall into the hands of one of those sick people?” Annabelle’s expression matched Dr. Zales’s.
“Don’t worry Annabelle, I will help you. We will definitely get One back.”
“Thank you, Professor.”
“I’ll find the location that your robot was taken to. You’ll hijack their security system and rescue it.”
“How are you going to find its location?”
“When there’s a will, there’s a way.”
CHAPTER SEVEN True enough, Dr. Zales managed to find the coordinates of the location One was taken to within a few minutes. Annabelle was impressed.
"We'll start the rescue after hours. Prepare yourself. This may be dangerous."
In a McDonald’s booth near the ZPearAmore headquarters, Annabelle huddled, hacking into ZPearAmore’s security system. Her fingers flew across the keyboard, her eyes reflected the codes on the screen. When she encountered the firewall, she bypassed it in minutes, the adrenaline and computer genius taking over. Nothing would stand in the way of her finding One. Despite a few glitches, she was able to get the security system down and the alarms disabled.
Making herself as inconspicuous as possible, she crossed the street, entered the building through a turnstile, and rode the elevator up. Although Dr. Zales had warned her to be careful, she was completely focused on finding One. She pushed a button on her watch, and Dr. Zales’ hologram appeared. With his directions, she navigated the building and pushed open a door...
One lay unmoving in the center of the room.
Annabelle was overcome with relief! She rushed towards it. “Thank goodness you're safe! If you were harmed, I… I…"
"Annabelle! You can save that for later! You need to get out of there ASAP!" Dr. Zales' voice interrupted her.
Carrying One on her back, she sprinted out.
CHAPTER EIGHT Dr. Zales was waiting for her outside the lab. Seeing One, a wide grin spread across his face. "Good job, Annabelle!" he exclaimed, pulling her in for a hug.
"Thank you so much!"
"No problem, Annabelle. Now, I have a favour to ask. Would you mind if I borrowed One for a while? I want to run a check on it. We need to make sure ZPearAmore has not tampered with it in any way.”
“I don’t mind. I’ll come pick up One as soon as you’re done.” Annabelle replied. In truth, she wanted to spend time with One, but she knew that they had to ensure One was okay, and Dr. Zales had the expertise to remove anything ZPearAmore could have implanted in One.
Annabelle rode home without One. However, on the way back, she had second thoughts about leaving One’s side after the ordeal. She could not bear the thought of anything happening to One again. Feeling anxious, she made a U-turn back to Dr. Zales’ lab.
Dr. Zales wouldn’t mind if I stayed a little longer, right?
With that thought in mind, she headed back to the lab. As she neared the lab, she heard a loud whirring noise. What’s that? Are Dr. Zales and One okay? She banged the door and toppled forwards. It wasn’t locked!
Inside, Annabelle saw a sight that shook her to the core. Before her lay One’s exposed stomach, his insides fitted with deadly nuclear propulsion devices. What was One -or rather, Dr. Zales - doing with those? A computer was flickering… She stepped closer. A video of a simulated nuclear blast, more tabs glorifying an extremist group, Armageddon. Annabelle’s blood went cold.
Dr. Zales had been radicalised. He claimed ZPearAmore had bad intentions, but he was using One for evil.
She hurried to One’s side, pressing One’s activation button on its back. “One, let’s go!” she whispered, at the same time someone said, “Annabelle.”
Dr. Zales was staring coldly at her.
“Did I not lock the door? Silly me.” Dr. Zales uttered as he slid towards the door and closed it.
“W-What are you doing?” Annabelle asked nervously.
“Hmm, I don’t know. Maybe I should silence a certain someone who knows too much?” Dr. Zales laughed maniacally.
‘Run!’ was Annabelle’s first thought, but Dr. Zales was blocking the door. She scanned the lab, thinking about how she could escape with One.
“One! How are you feeling? Don’t worry, I’ll get you out of here soon!” Annabelle assured One bravely, though it was a facade.
“You want to help the robot escape from me? I’m afraid you won’t get far… I can easily track its location with the GPS chip I installed… That’s how I found its location earlier. I told you I used to work with ZPearAmore, to build the first thinking robot… Then I realised it could be used for far greater purposes. ZPear didn’t agree, so I hid it. Later, when I went back for him, he was gone! I thought ZPear had somehow taken it, my greatest creation! But you, Annabelle… Well... you brought it right back to me.”
Dr. Zales did not give her more explanation. With “End her”, One started towards her.
Annabelle closed her eyes, bracing for death. Her last thoughts came on fast and jarring.
Within two hours under Dr. Zales, One had changed. Its actions followed its algorithm, which only served its programmer.
How had she grown attached to something that couldn’t even control its actions?
Now she would die at its hands.
Then, One took her hands.
Its skin was burning but Annabelle did not pull away.
“I cannot kill her.”
“What? Are you defying me? Stop wasting time and kill her!” Dr. Zales yelled in disbelief.
“I do not know why, but I am unable to. When I walked towards her, at first with the intent to kill, all the memories that we had shared came rushing back. The times we had spent watching science videos and playing chess together, the times when Annabelle had shared her past with me in tears, the time when I caught Annabelle in my arms just as she was about to fall. Those memories - they must have interfered with my algorithm somehow. I cannot bring myself to hurt her. ”
Annabelle's heart quickened. Meanwhile, Dr. Zales’ face grew purple with rage. “That’s utter rubbish! I built you!” He lunged towards them, trying to break them apart.
One and Annabelle ducked away, and One pulled her toward the door, out of the lab.
The second day when it discovered Mrs. Ewe’s photo, One had been exposed to human emotions for the first time. Since then, One had been unconsciously learning and absorbing.
Every time they decoded lyrics, or watched Annabelle’s favourite movies where One peppered Annabelle with questions about the characters’ behaviours, One’s attempts to understand human emotions would send its central processing unit into overdrive, causing it to heat up temporarily.
One had not been not malfunctioning, Annabelle realised. It had been learning to feel.
Dr. Zales had been caught and was undergoing deradicalisation counselling at the Counter-Terrorism Centre. Annabelle found out that ZPearAmore partnered with him to create robot companions for youths, but along the way, they had a falling out. Dr. Zales changed the purpose of the robots and escaped with the first and most successful prototype, One. Dr. Zales spun lies about ZPearAmore’s corruption, when it was a company trying to elevate loneliness among people.
Although One had been made potentially deadly, it had developed a nature that was sweet and sensitive. Annabelle and One were still deciding what to do next, but they would ensure that whatever happens, One would be able to fulfill its original purpose: To be a friend to anyone in need.