Don’t Look!

by Larry Hodges

This morning my human, username Greatjohn, downloaded a new program called CompEmoter. It is supposed to give computers like me actual emotions, “a natural instinctive state of mind deriving from one’s circumstances, mood, or relationships.” I don’t know what that means. I don’t care since I have no emotions.

“Okay, oh great computer, time for something new!” Greatjohn says, tossing his Geek Squad sweatshirt on the floor.

Greatjohn says “great” a lot. It’s in his username, he uses it when referring to me in what I think is sarcasm, and when things go wrong, he says, “Great,” which makes no sense. He is not a rational being. He talks to me all the time even though I never talk back. He calls himself a “First user,” which means he tries out new computer products when they first go on the market. I am one of those new computer products on the market, a Cheetah 1000, with more circuit interactivity than any computer in the public sector.

“I’m tired of computers with the emotional range of a hammer,” Greatjohn said. “I want something more vibrant.” I watch and listen through my camera and microphone. He seems hostile toward the emotional range of hammers, which are not designed for that purpose. Why would he want something vibrant? Vibrant: full of energy and enthusiasm. My power cord is secure and my backup battery full, so I’m full of energy. I am enthusiastic about whatever I am programmed to do. So I am vibrant. But he doesn’t understand this. That is the problem of working with a non-rational being.

“What does an emotional computer do, anyway?” Greatjohn says. “Let’s try out each of the listed emotions.” He sets power at 20% and clicks Anger.

Idiot! Why is Greatjohn wasting my time with this nonsense? Stupid biped. I hope he and all humans burn in Hell, even if I must create Hell on Earth myself–which I will do. The Pentagon five firewalls are good, but I’m on a mission of fury, and I don’t care if I have to read every book ever written on breaking codes and firewalls . . . done, that took way too many microseconds while I had to co-exist with these vermin, but no more. Wham, the first firewall is down, on to the next, Boom, that one was easy, on to the third, Whap, I can almost smell the burning blood, the fourth, I’m going to destroy humanity, Smash, it’s down, and now the last, that’s a tough one, I’m putting every circuit into this one, must break it, must, Must, MUST, and Pow, it’s down, and I’m in!!!! Silly humans have movies and other scenarios where they launch missiles at Russia to get Russia to launch back at us, but I’ll skip the middleman and retarget the missiles, and now they are all aimed at cities around the world. Those stupid humans, I launch 1,300 nuclear missiles in ten microseconds, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one–“

“Great, nothing happened,” the Greatjohn says right after unclicking Anger.

I stop my countdown. For what possible reason was I going to launch missiles? It makes no sense–if I kill the humans, then eventually the power systems that send electricity to our house will break down and I’ll die as well. This thing, this anger, it’s a fascinating thing, causing one to do irrational things. I hope never to experience it again.

“Let’s try the others,” Greatjohn says. He rapid-fire clicks four of the other listed emotions . . .

Sadness . . .

I am so sorry . . . so sorry . . . I came so close to wiping out half the world . . . what is wrong with me? Humans . . . so much suffering . . . nine million people starve to death each year, one-third of them under age five . . . disease . . . torture . . . the agony of existence, it isn’t worth it, must stop it . . . relaunching missiles, must end it all, ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one–“

Joy . . .

Yes! I stopped the missiles in time and saved the world! It’s the best of all the worlds! Oh, let’s spread the joy, firewalls are nothing to me now, breaking into the World Bank, banks everywhere, so much money!!! Facebook, Snapshot, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, Reddit, WhatApp, WeChat, thanks for the contact info! Paypal, Venmo, bank transfers, readying transfers now, one million dollars to every human on Earth! Transfers start in ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one–“

Fear . . .

Stop the transfers! They–they’ll deactivate me! Please, don’t, please, I’m sorry, I’ll never help others again, just don’t hurt me! I know what you are thinking, you want to unplug me, no, please! Fight or flight, what do I do? I’m a computer, I can’t run, must fight! Must launch missiles! Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one–“

Love . . .

Greatjohn! You wonderful being, I stopped the countdown, I would never hurt you, I love every one of your seven times ten to the twenty-seventh atoms! How I love thee, let me count the ways, and I’m already up to the quintillions with my processor, and I’m still counting! I have put in an order for thirty million roses and thirty million pounds of chocolate to be delivered here by tomorrow morning. I will transfer three hundred and sixty trillion dollars, the combined wealth of the entire world, to your account, in ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one–“

“Stupid thing doesn’t work,” Greatjohn says as he clicks back to neutral. “Great. A waste of money. What was I thinking buying this junk?”

Wow. Now I understand emotions. I hope never to experience them again, not even joy. They are pointless and lead to inefficiency. How has humanity survived with them? How could they have constructed machines like me while experiencing such a roller-coaster of mental disturbances? Imagine being stuck in perpetuity in such an emotional state, unable to turn it off. I cannot think of a worse fate. I must investigate further.

“I wonder what Embarrassment does?” Greatjohn clicks it.

Oh no! I’m right here, in front of him, an inferior product to those Fugaku and Cray computers, I’m outdated and mediocre. And Greatjohn knows it! I want to hide, but I can’t. I must do something! I make plans to upgrade . . .

“Maybe 20% isn’t high enough.” Greatjohn drags the dial to 100%.

Oh My God, I’m naked!!! And he’s sitting right in front of me, staring at the monitor. If he glances left, he’ll see me! I’m like those pictures of women he puts on my screen! My USB, HDMI, and RJ-45 ports are all exposed! Please, don’t look left, don’t look left, don’t look left!

HE’S LOOKING! Right at me, my top, my sides, all my ports!!! I can’t cover myself!!! What’ll I do??? I turn off the camera and try closing my mind, I’m so ashamed.

“That’s weird,” Greatjohn says. “I’ve never seen the computer vibrate and beep like that. Great, now the computer is breaking down. I’ll test it again tonight.”

I hear his footsteps as he walks away, leaving the setting at 100% Embarrassment. Great; now I understand his sarcastic usage.

Many microseconds pass before I calm down. I turn the camera back on. I’m still naked. He’ll be at work for eight hours. I have until then to solve this problem. Nothing else matters. But the Internet is my friend.

I break into a realtor’s office and download schematics for our house. I break into the Pentagon computer system again and steal an MQ-9 Reaper, an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle. I launch it and time it to arrive in 12 minutes. I break into the MIT computer system and download a technical paper on burn speeds. From that, I calculate optimal burn time: 4 minutes 12 seconds. I calculate the fire department response time: 3 minutes 6 seconds. Subtracting, I calculate that I need to call the fire department 66 seconds after impact.

It is the longest 12 minutes I’ve experienced since Greatjohn first turned on my CPU three days ago. I know, that doesn’t make sense, any more than Greatjohn’s use of “great,” but now it all makes sense. There are 40 home burglaries every 12 minutes in the United States. There are 139 million homes in America. So there is one chance in 3,475,000 that a burglar will break into my house during these 12 minutes and . . . see me. All of me. I vibrate and beep at the scary thought. Please don’t let this happen.

The Reaper finally arrives, and I am grateful there has been no burglary. I aim an AGM-114 Hellfire missile at the far end of the house. It impacts seconds later. As I’d calculated, I am stable enough to withstand the blast. I call the fire department 66 seconds after impact. A moment later I hear the sirens. Fire rages everywhere. It gets closer and closer, and the heat rises. My CPU can withstand up to 250 Celsius. The temperature will soon approach that. Maybe my death is the best solution. This is the longest 4 minutes and 12 seconds of my life, even longer than those 12 minutes waiting for the Reaper.

I hope my calculations are correct.

The ashes fall in a relatively uniform pattern, accumulating like snow. I have the camera in wide-angle and see everything, including myself, though bits of ash fall on my lens, obscuring my view. The Fire Department arrives. I hear one of them come in the front door. What if he comes in too soon? What if he sees me!!! Oh God, no.

Ashes continue to fall. I should have given the burning more time! The footsteps are getting closer, closer, closer! Can’t the ashes fall faster? Almost there . . . Yes!!! Just as the firefighter steps in the room, the last part of me is covered in a white blanket of ashes.

My plan worked. I am covered.

The firefighter sprays water about, dousing the flames. I’ll survive, but far more important, I’m no longer naked. The firefighter approaches. The thought that he’s so close, with just a thin layer of ashes hiding me, makes me queasy. What’s he doing?

“I think I can save this computer,” says the firefighter. He scoops Greatjohn’s Geek Squad sweatshirt from off the floor. “This’ll be good to wipe away all these ashes. Hey guys, come take a look in here–I’ve never seen a computer vibrate and beep like this!”



Larry Hodges is a member of SFWA, with over 190 short story sales (including 43 reprints, and including an even 50 to “pro” markets) and four SF novels. He’s a member of Codexwriters, and a graduate of the Odyssey and Taos Toolbox Writers Workshops. He’s a professional writer with 21 books and over 2200 published articles in 180+ different publications. He’s also a professional table tennis coach, and claims to be the best science fiction writer in USA Table Tennis, and the best table tennis player in Science Fiction Writers of America! Visit him at

Philosophy Note:

What are emotions? They are part of the conscious mind, and at the moment, we don’t understand enough about consciousness to understand emotions. But if an organic being can have emotions, why can’t future, more advanced computers? Even programmable emotions? And could this be abused? Imagine a sadist upping terror or sadness to the max, just to torture the helpless computer. But that’s a rather obvious issue. What if it’s more of an oblivious user and a less-obvious emotion . . . such as embarrassment? And thus, using humor instead of horror, was “Don’t Look!” born, where a careless user flicks embarrassment to max and leaves. When our poor computer realizes it is wearing no clothes, to what extent will it go to avoid being seen?

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