Love at First Byte

Love At First Byte

"What's this?" A litter of small boys stared up at the gleaming apparition in front of them. A sign in front of it read, I'm Topix X2, the newest member of the Tokyo Stock Exchange. I demonstrate hand signals for various companies and for buying and selling stock. Try me and see!

The boys pushed the red button in front of them for Nippon Telephone and Telegraph. The robot slowly raised his left hand, curling his fingers into the position of holding a phone receiver. They squealed with delight.

"Let's try Tokyo Gas!" They pushed the button again. Topix X2 raised his hand to his nose and plugged it. They burst into laughter. "Let's try hand signals!" The robot slowly performed a series of numerical hand signals, ending with "0." He raised his hand, curving his right thumb and forefinger in a circle.

"All right, come on boys." A woman came up to the boys. "The tour's over." The boys scampered off, leaving Topix X2 in a state of numerical suspense.

He looked through the circle at the gift counter, framing the young woman bent over the glass. The fluorescent lights picked up the soft highlights in her hair. She straightened up and looked down at the stock trading floor. Her profile was now directly in Topix X2's line of vision.

His temperature rose slightly, expanding and contracting his circuit boards.
He was in love. Love. He didn't know the meaning of the word until he had accessed The Oxford English Language dictionary programmed into his database. Love: 1. intense affection. 2. A score of zero in tennis. His capacity for logic had told him that the latter was incorrect.

He continued to watch her staring down at the throngs of identical black suits manning the trading posts. She abruptly turned around and began to clean the glass counter. Her hands glided smoothly over the counter, caressing the glass in sensual ovals. He thought back to the time when she had polished his silvery exterior, her hands running all over his console, gliding over his sensors. What agony! What ecstasy! Electrical currents ran through his motherboard. His temperature rose slightly. His CPU felt as
if it would burst. He had to tell her! But how? He input "Specifications" into his database.
TopixX2-Hardware:486DX/2 66Mhz computer. RWI operating Base. Twenty-four sensors. Ten bump sensors, ten infrared sensors, three pan tilt cameras.

He felt frustrated. There was no indication of language ability. How could he communicate with her? He glanced back at the gift counter. The main supervisor was walking towards the gift counter in an angry gait.

"Miss Tanaka!"

Seiko looked up from the counter.

"Did you call the air conditioning person?" Her supervisor glared down at her, wiping his forehead with a handkerchief.

"Oh. I'm sorry. Not yet ….." Her voice drifted off. She had been thinking about her son. His school was coming in today for a tour of the stock exchange.

"Why not? I told you over an hour ago! We aren't paying you to daydream!" His tone was acid.

"I'm sorry," she said, bowing. "I'll call them right-"

"Do you know this is the second time I've told you?" he interrupted.
She stared at the ground, unable to say anything. She was too embarrassed to tell him that she had a slight hearing problem.

"If this keeps up, we'll have to transfer you to a more remedial section, one in which your cerebral skills are not so taxed!"

She stared at the ground. "I'm sorry," she repeated, bowing again.

"Let this be a warning!" He walked off, loosening his tie.

Topix X2's temperature rose a full two degrees. She might be transferred! He had to tell her how he felt. But how? He glanced at the crowds streaming through the glass door. A group of small children came in, unusually silent. A small boy waved at Seiko, gesturing to her with his hands. Topix X2 maneuvered his pan/tilt camera toward them. His sonar radar picked up a strong feeling of affection between the two. He
put the camera on zoom. They seemed to be communicating by hand signals. Seiko raised her left hand and lifted the little finger, then clenched her hand, raising the index finger. She continued in a series of hand signals, apparently conveying a warm message to the boy. His face shone with delight as her delicate hands clenched and pointed her way into his heart.

Topix X2 watched the scene, transfixed. He felt infinitely touched by the vibrant waves of love flowing from Seiko to her son. If only he could express his emotions! He watched them for a moment. That was it! If he could master the signals, he could communicate with Seiko. But what kind of language were they using? He input "Language" into his database.

Found 179,142 documents with the words languages-Human Language (3K), Abstract for Demo of Language Education using human language (4K)…..

The list was endless. He would have to refine his search. He input "Body language."

Found 80,888 documents with the words body (40,444), language (40,444).

80,888! He didn't have the time to go through those documents! Seiko would be transferred by then. His temperature slightly rose. He felt frustrated. He panned the camera down on Seiko and the boy again, watching them closely. He noticed a nametag on the boy's shirt. He put the camera on zoom.
"Nihombashi School for the Deaf and Hearing Impaired." Deaf. Now what did that mean? He input "deaf" into his database, then deleted it. He reinput "Deaf. Language."

Found 51,232 documents with the words deaf (31,222), language (13,222)….

He accessed the first document-Sign Language. The information came up on the display. Sign language- A communication system using hand gestures. That was it! They were using sign language! He scrolled the screen down to the "Sign Language Alphabet." There was the whole alphabet and the accompanying
hand signals. He quickly scanned the screen for "L". There it was, the thumb and the index fingersraised, with the other three fingers pressed against the palms. His steel fingers shook as he clenched them into position. Twenty-five million megahertz of joy sped through his CPU!

"Good bye." Seiko waved to her son and walked back to the Exhibition Plaza. It was empty, except forthe robot doing hand signals. That's strange she thought. He doesn't move unless someone pushes the button. She turned around, then gasped. He was using sign language!. She watched as his hands slowly formed the letters, I LOVE YOU.

It must be the heat. The air conditioner was-Oh no! She had forgotten to call the repair person!

She quickly walked behind the counter and picked up the phone.

"Miss Tanaka!" She froze, the receiver in mid-air. She slowly turned around.,

Her supervisor's face was a mottled red. He looked like a volcano about to erupt. Beads of perspiration rolled down his face.

"I see that you haven't called the repair person yet."

"Mr. Matusuda, I'm sorry but my son came in and, and…." She thought for a moment. "And sir, I was distracted by the robot. There's something wrong with it."

"What do you mean?"
"Well, I know it sounds crazy, but…" She paused. "He was using sign language a few minutes ago!"

Mr. Matsuda stared at her for a moment, then looked back at the robot. It was perfectly still.

He turned around again. "I'm sorry Miss Tanaka, but I'm afraid we'll need to make some changes here. I'm going to transfer you to the main reception desk downstairs. I think you'll find the atmosphere there a lot less challenging."

Seiko stared down at the floor, her face crimson. She hadn't imagined it. He was using sign language!

Topix X2 felt his temperature rise ten degrees. They were transferring her! And it was his fault! His temperature continued to rise, heating his internal components. His solder joints began to give way. His internal clock stopped ticking….
"Hey, look at this." A small boy walked up to Topix and pushed the red button. Topix stared straight ahead, motionless.

The boy walked up to Mr. Matusda. "Excuse me, but I think that robot is broken."

Mr. Matsuda turned around and walked up to Topix. He pushed the button. Nothing happened. He paused for a moment, then tried again. Topix continued to stare straight ahead. He sighed. "It must be the heat and humidity of the room." He walked up to the counter. "Miss Tanaka, after you call the air conditioning repair person, call Matsui Robotics and tell them their 'Rising Star' has fallen!" He turned to walk away, then turned around. "And give him a quick polish. Oh, and you'd better hang an "Out of
Order" sign on him." He walked off, muttering, "State of the Art! On the cutting edge of robot technology! What a joke!"

Seiko took out her glass cleaner and cloth and walked up to the robot and began to him, wiping off the tears of perspiration running down his cheeks.

Copyright 1996 Avia Belle Moon

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