“Not a chance, man. Let that thought sail off into oblivion.”
“But why?!”
“Call me an analog snob, I still believe in meeting people ‘irl’ first. See what I did there? Because, an internet term, but –”
“Yep. Good one. Seriously though, how you can write off dating apps because ‘meeting people online is creepy’ is entirely hypocritical of you – your entire business relies on online interactions and customers you’ve never met. You’ve built up relationships with them that have lasted for years!”
“That’s exactly it – I never haveto meet them in person only to realize that username ‘gymratatouille’ is not a dead lifting, Michelin starred chef, but in fact, a forty–eight–year–old used car salesman who’s never stepped foot inside a gym and can’t boil an egg, just some dude who loves puns. The work I do online is exactly that, it’s strictly business, my work, not romance. That’s – different.”
“You have a bleak outlook on your fellow man. Where’s the trust? And you’re not analog, you’re old hat. You’re thirty–four, solidly in your career, and so lonely you Netflix and chill with your dog.”
“You do know what the point of Netflix and chill is, right? I know you’re not saying that I –”
“It’s not a perfect analogy. What I’m saying is you legit need to meet this girl and give her a shot.”
“Of course. Because she’s so perfect you decided to pass on her...”
“I’m just that good of a friend.”
“Never in your life.”
Morgan lets out an exaggerated ‘arg.’ “Ok, you got me. There’s actually a conflict of interest.”
“Let me guess –
“Nooooo, newp. No. Luke, you are the world’s worst guesser, and even worse when it’s to make a joke at my expense. I’ll save us both. I found out she does consulting through my work. I don’t mix work and play.”
“So, you do have boundaries.”
“I knew you’d get a jab in somehow. Ok, let me at least show you her photo. She’s exactly what you go for, artsy, girls who make their hair all different colors and stuff.”
“I do love those creative types. But still, no.”
Morgan trails after Luke, his arm swung around his neck so his phone can be right in Luke’s face.
“I mean, c’mon. You’ve got to admit – she’s cute.”
“What are the chances of you leaving me alone until I cave.”
“Zero.”
“Do you owe someone a favor or something, is that why you can’t give this up? Because if so I’ll pay them off if you’ll just drop it.”
“Listen, I already sent her your photo because I thought she’d like you and she really wants to meet. Also, I need you out of the house Saturday because I have a date.”
“Annnnd there it is. You couldn’t be a normal person and just ask me to leave? You had to set me up with an Internet person?”
“You literally spend every weekend working, cruising around the house in your underwear eating cereal. I’d change the locks if I thought it would keep you out for the night, but what you need is a social life. So, I did what any guy needing his roommate to disappear would do – called in a reservation for that steak place down on Fifth at eight on Saturday for you and Imma.”
“Who’s Imma?”
“You’re joking.”
“Yep. I figure a little more annoyance for you makes us even for this. Expect it to continue until Saturday arrives.”
“As long as Saturday arrives and you go, give it all you’ve got.”

* * *

“Whaaaaaat am I even doing here? This is ridiculous.” Luke mumbles to himself as he stands outside Eight Cedars on Fifth waiting for Imma to arrive. “I wish she’d have let me pick her up so I wasn’t standing here thinking each Uber is hers. I don’t even know what to do with my hands or where to focus my attention, and I don’t want to be face planted into my phone when she arrives, that’s lame.” Glancing at his phone just to check the time, a hand touches his arm.
“Imma? Hi! Nice to meet you, uh, should we?”
“Sure, I’m early so let’s grab a drink at the bar first. I don’t know about you but I’m nervous and could definitely use something to help me relax.”
“Perfect idea.”
Opening the door and following behind her Luke takes stock. She’s a petite girl, her hair a pale shade of lavender to her chin and her skin such a pearlescent shade she looks to be giving off a faint glow. Maybe it’s some kind of new Instagram glitter makeup trend, he thinks.
Inside the two of them manage to find only one seat so Luke, being tall, stands and leans forward on the bar so they can talk while she sits.
“Fair warning, I can be a bit of a spaz and I don’t ever agree to these kinds of things, so here’s to hoping this rum is on my side and chills me out just enough to not say anything stupid.”
Luke laughs, “Cheers.” Their glasses meet. “It’s funny though, Morgan insisted you wanted to meet me, or was he just saying whatever he could to get me out of the house?”
“Hah, I don’t know what motivation he had to get rid of you, but you’re right, I did want to meet you, but that doesn’t mean I do this type of thing all the time. Actually, this is the first date I’ve ever had through a dating app. Although, I’m not sure if it counts since you’re not even actually on the app. What a weird way this all worked out.”
“Morgan is a weird guy, if you know him long enough this will become your norm.”
“Apparently I don’t even have to know him at all, apart from us being matched up on the app and this happening. But let’s drop it, who cares how we got here. In fact, let’s keep this as offbeat as possible and not mention a thing to one another about ourselves past our names and a vague idea of each other’s work. I’ll start. I do consulting for the same company Morgan works for, though I’ve never actually met him. There, now you.”
“I manage a digital marketing team for a fine arts supply company. Now what?”
“Now we say whatever we want! So long as it has absolutely nothing to do with personal details about ourselves.”
“Can I break that rule, just once, for only a moment. If you feel otherwise it’s all good, but,” Luke pauses, “I hate steak.”
“Wait, me too! I thought you picked this place though?”
“Morgan.”
“Well, I don’t care about hurting his feelings, let’s get out of here. This place is way too serious for a first date to succeed anyway. I was just watching one bomb out of the corner of my eye.”
“How can you tell?”
“The signs are as subtle as a building on fire. C’mon, there’s a great Thai place down the street. And if you say you don’t like Thai, well, find your way home because I don’t converse with people who don’t know good food.”
“If they don’t have any tom yam boran then we search until we find it!”
“I’m impressed, let’s do this!”

* * *

“So there’s this guy, who, every day at five a.m., noon, and five p.m. swings into the Starbucks by my work and orders five shots of espresso straight. There’s a pool amongst the baristas there about which trip of the day will be the one where his heart will finally rebel. They even have side bets about what exact day of the week and in what year it’ll happen. And what color polo he’ll be wearing when it all goes down, because apparently, he only wears three – white, blue, and grey. Some of them have done some serious math about caffeine consumption over time and what a ticking bomb this guy must be. I threw ten bucks on five a.m. grey polo on a Friday.”
“People are insane. I drink one cup of coffee in the morning and I’m wired until midnight.”
“So you’re saying you don’t want to go somewhere after this and get coffee and dessert?”
Imma blinks mildly after her question but when she does it’s as if all of her seems to blink. As if for just a second, she wasn’t there.
“Maybe I should have some coffee, if only just a sip, I think I’m starting to see things.”
“How do you mean?”
“Nothing. I must just be more tired than I thought. And I should keep up and out of the house because I’m certain if I step foot into my place before two, Morgan will launch something at my head.”
“Hah, well, easily solved. Right next door has the best pastries in town, and as I consider myself a bit of a horrible sugar monster, I can guide you down the path of a sugar rush with pleasure.”
“You broke your rule! You just mentioned a detail about yourself.”
“You broke it first with your coffee admission. I let it slide.”
“So does this mean we’re at the point where we can talk about ourselves?”
Imma lets out a quick laugh and for another second, she’s gone. Like she was static that fizzled out for a quick moment.
“Luke, did you hear me? You look dazed.”
“What? Yes, I mean, no. What did you say?”
“I said talking about yourself is the quickest way to bore people to disinterest. Are you sure you’re ok?”
“Yeah, I’m just, I don’t know. Forget it. Sorry, it’s nothing.”
“If you say so, ready to go?”
“Sure thing.”
Walking out the door, Luke holding it open for Imma, she vanishes.
At a complete loss, Luke stands frozen, staring, when she reappears, turned towards him with a puzzled look.
“You just disappeared!”
“Shit.”
“‘Shit?’ What?! ‘Shit’ doesn’t sound surprised. ‘Shit’ sounds like you know what I’m talking about. Now, before I walk myself into the nearest ER and tell them I must’ve been hit by a car and I’m in a coma that feels like an episode of Black Mirror, tell me what you know.”
“How could you walk into a hospital if you’re in a coma?”
“Stalling? Really??”
“Ok, ok. I’m not ‘real.’ Not exactly, not yet. I must be on the fritz.”
“What does that even mean.” At this point, Luke’s questions are more statements because his disbelief level is somewhere between the outcome of the last election and finding out Santa is actually real. At this point getting worked up seems useless.
“Well, I didn’t see the night going this way so I’ll try and tell you the easiest way possible. I’m just a consciousness, disembodied, but we’re working on that.”
“Uh huh. And, so, are you a ghost then?”
“No, I was never alive. I was engineered.”
“Liiiikkeee...”
“Like in a computer lab. By scientists.”
“So you’re a robot?”
“Not exactly. Robots have bodies constructed, I guess you could call them, first, and then the switch is flipped to illuminate their consciousness. I’m in reverse.”
“So you’re kind of a ghost. But, a computer ghost. You’re a computer ghost. Right, ok.”
“Or, more commonly, I’m AI.”
“My roommate sent me on a date with a computer ghost.”
“I’m a test run.”
“Sure.”
“There’s this thing, I guess you could say it makes collecting matter into the form you’re seeing possible and sustainable through concentrated ‘thought,’ to see if I can exist outside a computer in a more permanent way. It’s just an intermediary testing device allowing us to work up to independent physical existence. It’s like an illusion, but much more complicated and then that.”
“Makes sense.”
“Does it?”
“No! Listen. You’ve been lovely, this has been... interesting. I have to go.”
“I get it. It’s a lot. I kind of thought you knew?”
“Nope. I’m thoroughly convinced I now know absolutely nothing.”
“Morgan knows.”
“Of course he does! That – that makes sense. I thought you two had never met before? Lying computer ghost!”
Imma lets out a laugh at Luke’s expression. “I’m not lying, we haven’t met. But he knows about the program. I’m a consultant in the way that I’m part of these experiments and I report back about how well they go. Morgan works in the senior programming department. So, I guess you could say that he’s the reason this date bombed.”
“In every way possible.”
“Well, I’ll let you go. I may not be around much longer anyway if this system keeps glitching. Talk to Morgan, he can go into more detail.”
“This is normally where I would hug you goodbye, and I want to, but also, I don’t.”
“No worries. I get it.” Imma blows Luke a kiss and trots off, leaving him there mumbling to himself about a decision between a seeing doctor right away or smacking Morgan upside the head.

* * *

“What gives? It’s only eleven!”
Without saying a word Luke pulls Morgan down the hall into his bedroom, Morgan shouting apologies and ‘I’ll be right back’ in the direction of his date on the couch.
“So, when were you going to tell me you set me up with a computer ghost, AI, or whatever?”
“How’d you find out? Shit, did the program falter? Barry is going to light me up for this one.”
“Focus! Back to right now. Morgan, what happened tonight?”
“You went on a date with artificial intelligence.”
“Yep, I got that, what does that even mean? Was there some Google glass tech nerd back at your office piloting her? How does this all work?”
“Well I can’t tell you exactlyhow it allworks. As is I’ll probably get in enough shit for this, being the lead oversight on the program and all...”
“Morgan!”
“She was her, she was Imma. AI isn’t puppeted. We started her off with a base set of memories and once she became aware she has since cultivated her own consciousness. You’d be surprised, there’s a lot more AI roaming about online then you know of.”
“This is a prank.”
“I wish. Because that would make my headache on Monday nonexistent. No, Imma is real, in a non- physical sense, but we’re trying to give her a physical sense. I just got put in charge of this round of project testing for AI substantiation. Imma’s the consulting AI and I figured I’d do double duty and launch a test while also getting you out of the house for my date. You know, the one you’re currently ruining?”
“Call us even there.”
“Sorry Luke, I didn’t anticipate the test failing, I thought you’d have a fun time! Get out of the house, socialize. Imma’s snappy isn’t she?”
“Somehow I find myself questioning your ethics right now. What would have happened if I wanted to keep seeing her?”
Morgan just shrugs. “You call her up and ask for a second date.”
“You know what I mean.”
“Welcome to the future my friend.”
“This feels a bit – duplicitous. I don’t want to date a robot thinking that it’s grown up just as I have and has all the same experiences, emotions, and can relate to me, to my personhood.”
“She’s not a robot, we’ve moved away from that. Too many technical issues can arise in terms of complex systems of parts. We can’t even stop ourselves from falling apart – no, we’re in “I think therefore I am” territory. How much more real can you get than that? It’s the philosophical foundation of your personhood, too. If Imma thinks – she is.”
Luke thinks for a second. “I don’t get any of this. My brain is fried, I’m going to bed.”
“Works for me, you being knocked out is the next best thing to you not being here. Sorry about tonight. I’ll let Imma know you’re not totally freaked out.”
“Who says I’m not?” Morgan ignores him and keeps making his way back to the living room. “Wait!” Luke calls back. “I guess I’ve had worse dates. But, if she was just a projection, how was she even able to eat?”
“I’ll explain that one in the morning, buddy. Night!”


*Author’s notes:

I wrote this story after hearing about an Instagram account for a gal who has nearly 40k followers and is regularly approached for branding deals and modeling gigs. Thing is, she’s not real. She’s a computer generation so convincingly designed that if you didn’t already know, you probably wouldn’t guess she wasn’t real (and if you did have any inkling that anything was amiss you’d probably just write it off as a heavily photoshopped person.) It spun me out to think that if you added AI (which is equally freaky, I’ll get to my experience with that in a second) she’d be a person (?) living in the internet convincing us all she exists in real life. Her designers named her Imma as it’s the Japanese word for ‘present’ and so the title of this piece works on two levels - if you pronounce it “I’m Artificial” it speaks to the core of the story, or, if you translate it it can mean the present is artificial, which seems to be a future we’re moving towards. It’s all totally mind blowing and definitely creepy (here I chose to be light hearted about it). So my experience with AI? I was working as a freelance floral designer in Hawaii over a busy holiday. We had to show up to a parking lot at 4 a.m to be shuttled to the shop as there was no parking on site and so there I was, in an empty parking lot (I’m always early) waiting for the shuttle, in the pitch black listening to NPR when a segment about AI comes on. A scientist is talking about AI they’ve been initiating in the form of a robotic bust in their laboratory. She (the AI) was uploaded with the memories of the creator’s wife, then allowed to cultivate her own mind. Why was it so freaky? They interviewed the AI. She talked about how she was lonely in the lab and when the lights were turned out she would hear noises and it would scare her because it was dark and she was just a head on a desk. Yeah – as a person (am I even real or is this the Matrix?!) sitting in my car in the pitch dark with no one else around thinking about how totally insane AI is going to be ethically, morally, and so on, once this picture of the future becomes the present – I was freaked out. So I decided to write this story and add to the sci-fi-verse but took a left turn away from the ‘rise of the robot’s trope and into ‘I think therefore I am’ territory. Which I think makes it all a bit more crazy.