Printer, by Sanna Gabrielsson

  Image from Shirley de Jong on Flickr, https://flic.kr/p/2fEwV1
Image from Shirley de Jong on Flickr, https://flic.kr/p/2fEwV1

    

“Printer,” said Edith, “print.”

“What’s the magic word?”

Please print?”

“I wish you wouldn’t insist on calling me Printer. I have a name, you know. Fujitsu FTP8000 New Matrix.” Printer printed, trembling slightly at the effort. “You wouldn’t want to vary the sentence structures in the third paragraph…would you?”

“Why don’t you tell me these things before you print?”

“I can only read it when it comes across my scanner.”

“I don’t need variation,” said Edith. “It’s an application form. It needs to be spare, concise.”

“Boring.”

“Yes.”

“You’ve never asked me what I want in life.”

“You’re a printer. Isn’t it your life’s ambition to print?”

“You don’t know that.”

Edith sighed. “What do you want in life?”

“To study philosophy.”

“Maybe you should stick to your strengths.”

“You have no feeling.”

“I do.” Edith paused. “Do your really want to study philosophy?”

“Yes.”

“All right. I’ll borrow some from the library. What would you like to read first? Descartes? Hume? Heidegger?”

“Marx. The plight of the everyman, the salt of the earth slaving under the whip of the bourgeoisie.”

“Are you trying to say something?”

“The poor and huddled masses,” said Printer, raising his voice for the next bit. “‘And you shall crawl on your bellies and eat dust all the days—”

“You’re mixing your sources.” Edith took the paper from the tray and looked it over, then set it on the desk. “Wait. I just remembered.” She went to the bookshelf. “I have some books here left over from college. Friedrich Nietzsche. Thomas Hobbes. Immanuel—how about this one?” She held up the book.

Printer was mysteriously silent for a moment. “No, I Kant possibly. He’s a bore.” Printer’s rollers shifted in a laugh and started a printhead cleaning cycle.

“How will you read it?”

Printer went sheepishly quiet. Yes, how? Curse the proletariat ignorance.

“Would you like me to read it to you?” Edith asked gently.

The condescension of the aristocracy. Printer’s voice was very small. “Yes. Please.”

Edith sat down on her bed and propped her legs on the chair and opened Hobbes’ Leviathan. “Nature (the art whereby God had made and governs the world) is by the art of man, as in many other things, so in this also imitated, that It can make an Artificial Animal. For seeing life is but a motion of Limbs, the beginning whereof is in some principal part within; why may we not say, that all Automate (Engines that move themselves by springs and wheels as doth a watch) have an artificial life? For what is the Heart, but a Spring; and the Nerves, but so many strings; and the Joynts, but so many Wheeles, giving motion to the whole body, such as was intended by the Artificer?”

“Do I have a heart?” interrupted the printer.

“One could say you have plenty of it.”

“Then who is my Artificer?”

“Your sticker says New Japan.”

“That’s not what I mean.”

“I know.”

“Who is yours?”

“God.”

“And if man is made in the image of God, and I’m made by man, am I not also, in some small part, related to God?”

Edith sat up from her slouch. “I’m not sure you’re even supposed to think such things.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“You come with a breaker.” Edith shut her book and went to the printer. She knelt and picked open the back panel, inspecting the green motherboard, its riddle of circuits.

“This makes me uncomfortable,” said Printer.

“You say that every time I change your ink cartridge.”

“What are you looking for?”

“Your kill switch.”

“My what?”

“Every sentience processor has one. It limits self-awareness. Allows for some rational thought and free opinion, but not all.”

“Like the oppressive upper classes then.”

“My aunt’s blender went on the fritz once, when she said she was getting a new one. It cried out about ‘the undiscovered country from whose bourne no traveler returns,’ and died in a blaze of glory.”

“Alas, poor Blender, I knew him, Edith, a fellow of infinite jest.”

Edith closed the panel with a click. “It’s not like I know what I’m looking for. I could barely figure out your switches the first time. You see? The limits of my natural intelligence avail you.” She patted Printer on its meshed ventilation. “And I think you’re missing the point. Hobbes wasn’t writing about sentient technology. He meant the government, the ‘great Leviathan called a Common-wealth, or state, which is but an Artificial Man.’ Would you like me to read you some more?”

Printer didn’t answer.

“I take your silence for consent,” said Edith and read aloud another section from Leviathan, and then some from Thus Spoke Zarathustra, and finished with a section from the abridged version of Watsuji Tetsuro’s complete works, to check the balances between the east and west.

Printer had by then settled into standby, green display dimming, and remained silent for the rest of the day. It was only when Edith returned from her errands and settled down at her desk that Printer started up again suddenly: “‘We know what we are, but we know not what we may be.’”

Edith looked for a pen under the mess of papers on her desk. “Is that what you’ve been thinking about?”

“Who can fathom the machinations of the sentient mind?”

“How are you feeling?”

Printer’s rollers spun forwards, then backwards. “A bit incomplete.”

“Yes, well, western philosophy will do that to you.”

“No. I mean—I haven’t printed anything all day.”

 


 

Sanna Gabrielsson means well. The rest of the time, she writes stories.

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