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Meltec glanced around at the others as he walked his project into the building. The science fair was the most important event of the year, and it could make or break your chances for higher education. He was doubly nervous because he hadn’t told anyone what he was working on. Most seniors didn’t – the projects were too high-level, too important. Often they touched on areas of real research being done by universities or corporations – only peripherally of course. If you did anything with a direct connection, your research would probably be declared owned by the appropriate hierarchy, and you could even be prosecuted for theft if you hit too close to home.
Still, many students used their research as a resume to get into the program they wanted and eventually get connected to the right corporate network. Someone who wanted to work in gene splicing would almost certainly do a project in biochem. Others might build programmable android enhancement units, or even unique network interfaces. That sort of thing.
Meltec, on the other hand, had chosen an area that the big programs had written off as junk science deltons ago. Everyone knew that true artificial intelligence was impossible. AI was simply clever programming that trained artificial organisms to mimic desired behaviors. It wasn’t even that hard. Meltec himself had done his first AI science fair project when he was only 7. The topic had fascinated him, and he became convinced that he could create real intelligence if he started early enough and tried hard enough.
That was why today, he was walking into the science fair with a project he’d been working on for nearly 10 years.
His aural sensors couldn’t ignore the whispers that seemed to assault him from every angle. At least, not without turning them off. Here at the school, they were locked to “on” to prevent lazy students from sleeping through class. Other systems, like silent communication, were jammed for obvious reasons. All student interactions were fully observable and documented.
“It’s OK,” he said out loud. Someone snickered as they hear him addressing his project. “They’ll see.” He continued toward the display hall, hands on his project. Whether to stabilize it or himself he couldn’t have said.
Stepping up to the registration table, Meltec faced the laser stares of the coordinators.
“Greetings, Meltec,” said the registrar. “State the nature of your project.”
“Intelligence in artificial life forms,” he replied. He could hear the click and whir of gears as many turned to look at him.
“Are you certain this is a project worthy of graduation?” The registrar asked as Meltec uploaded the specifications for his display. “Most androids get that out of their system at the primary level. You know that biological life forms can’t be programmed beyond simple task fulfillment.”
Meltec allowed his light array to glow with both embarrassment and excitement. “This organism hasn’t been programed,” he said. “This human was raised.”
The room fell silent as servos stopped whirring, all visual sensors focusing on the child that had come in with Meltec.
“Hello,” it said. “I’m David.”
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