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Homework

Philip Apps is a data scientist who lives in California with his wife and daughter. He has been published in Daily Science Fiction and McSweeney's Internet Tendency.
"Daddy?"
"Yes, Maggie?"
"What's the difference between an android and a robot?"
Maggie was eight years old, with hair in tight black curls and an inquisitive mind. It was often a struggle to keep up with her.
"A homework question?" he asked.
"Yes," she said. "Science class."
"Well, they're kind of similar, but an android is really a robot that looks like a person."
"So does it look very like a person, or just a little?"
"Oh, it varies," he said. "Sometimes you can't tell there's any difference."
"Really?"
"Sure--like with you," he said, with a smile. "The robot shop did a really good job when they made you."
"Daddy," she said, in a warning tone.
"Yes, people can hardly tell you're not a real person."
"Daddy, no. I don't like this game."
"It's O.K.--we'll take you back to the robot shop soon to have you reprogrammed. Then you won't remember any of this."
"Daddy, stop!" Maggie shouted.
He froze.
"Reset. Code Seven Unicorns," said Maggie.
A panel popped open on his right forearm, revealing a series of dials. Maggie turned some of them--playfulness down from eight to five, kindness up from four to seven--and kept self-awareness down at two. This android-programming homework was hard, but she'd get the right balance eventually. She closed the panel with a click, pressed a button behind his left ear, and waited for "Daddy" to reboot so she could run through the test script again.
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, February 27th, 2020


This story was inspired by conversations with my daughter, and interactions with Amazon's Alexa.

- Philip Apps
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