Evaluative Soliloquies

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When the robot engages itself in an evaluative soliloquy, it covertly explains its underlying decisional processes. Thus, the robot becomes more transparent, as the human gets to know the motivations and the decisions of robot behavior.
- Pipitone, Arianna, and Antonio Chella. "What robots want? Hearing the inner voice of a robot." iScience 24.4 (2021): 102371.


I'm a driver. It's my job to take humans from where they are to where they want to be.
I start at the airport, where I see a line of humans waiting for a ride. I must help them.
When my light comes on, the humans move towards my vehicle. I open my doors and two humans get in. One sits right on top of the other in the back seat. This happens sometimes.
I ask them where they want the drop-off. The one on the bottom, whose name is George, tells me we should take the freeway. I tell them that the traffic on the freeway is very bad. A lot of cars are backed up and there are some accidents, too. I show them footage of a helicopter flying, shining a spotlight on the freeway. "Avoid the freeway,” the traffic report says.
Emily Reif, via Imagen
They insist that I follow their direction. George lifts the other passenger off him and makes a move to grab the steering wheel. “Get me where I wanna be the way I wanna go!”
I’m feeling overwhelmed. There are too many humans and too many rules. I’m trying my best, but I can't please everyone.
I go through the decision tree branch by branch until I arrive at this: I must follow a clearly expressed direction from the customer. I get on the freeway.
We move at a snail's pace. Then we stop completely. A helicopter passed over us. George complains loudly. He asks me why I took the highway if it was so backed up. He says he's disappointed. He tells me he's filing a complaint.
"George, don't make a scene," the other passenger tells him.
"I'm not making a scene," George says. "Liliane, you have to know how to talk to machines." He smacks the steering wheel, then he curses at me.
I must help them. I need to find a better route. My choices are limited, but after a great deal of effort I do find one.
I nudge my way between two lanes of the freeway, wiggling the front of the car back and forth to push the other cars apart, widening the gap until I can fit, then I bolt forward a car length, and repeat the process with the next two cars.
Passengers in the other cars scream at me in disbelief. Some get out of their cars and stand on the freeway to point at me and film me.
George says that he doesn't believe I'll be able to do this. He tells me I don't know what I'm doing. He tells me he's going to call a friend to come and get him and Liliane. Liliane asks him how anyone is going to get to them in this traffic. George ignores her.
I'm trying my best, but I can't please everyone.
The helicopter flies overhead, its spotlight cone covering me completely. "It's like a UFO," says George.
"I'm sorry,” I tell him. “I’m trying my best. Please wait a few minutes.”
Suddenly, there is a loud bang. The car rocks back and forth. George swears and reaches for the steering wheel. Liliane yells at him to stop messing around. I must help them. "Please remain calm and leave your seatbelts fastened," I tell them.
We hear and feel another bang. We lift into the air. I'm in a flying car.
"What is happening?" Liliane asks.
"We're being airlifted to be closer to your destination," I tell her.
George is laughing his head off. "Oh, thank you thank you thank you. This is awesome!" he says. "It's just like in the movies!”
I've never been inside a flying car. It's amazing. The people in the cars below gawk at us, shading their eyes. "Higher! Faster!" George screams. I don't have to follow the directions the riders give me anymore because I'm no longer driving. I enjoy letting my passengers experience the pleasures of flying even if it isn't what they expected.
The car descends. We're being dropped in the middle of a huge parking lot.
"Walk five hundred yards west, toward the triangular tower," I tell my passengers. "You'll arrive at your destination."
The car touches down. George unhooks his seatbelt and opens the door before we are even fully stopped. He steps out without waiting for Liliane.
But he doesn’t head toward the triangular tower. He and Liliane are surrounded by police officers.
"You're coming with us to answer some questions," an officer tells him.
"What are you talking about?" George asks.
"You caused such a disturbance that we had to airlift you from the freeway and impound your vehicle," the officer says. After a pause, he adds, "At your cost."
George swears at me and tries to kick my door, but the police hold him back. Liliane yells at George. The police tell me that I have to give an evaluative statement. I must help them.
"This was the fastest way," I tell George. I'm trying my best, but I can't please everyone.


Recently, several technology companies have begun to experiment with using “robot judges” to settle disputes between users on their platforms. Although it is commonly assumed that the decision is driven by cost-saving considerations, the companies have suggested that the move is pro-consumer. In situations where users are unsatisfied with a transaction but the dispute is not serious enough to escalate to the formal legal system, an alternative dispute resolution mechanism, with some of the features of the legal system but far more accessible, can be helpful. Using an artificial intelligence to serve as the referee and arbitrator is seen as better than using a human because many people, especially those without experience in technology development, believe machines are fairer.
- Tajima, Sarah L. "The Code of Von Neumann: Can Machines Learn to Judge?" Artif. Intell. Indus. & Com. L. Rev. 10 (20XX): 108. (Internal citations omitted.)
heartbags5stars and coolgirl1331 have entered the chat.
buzzbazaar_bot: Hello! Buzzbazaar seeks to connect buyers and sellers of unique goods from around the globe. I'm your automatic dispute resolution specialist. Please give me a moment to look over the case record.
heartbags5stars: hey judge bot, i want to see your inner voice transcript
coolgirl1331: I want to see that as well.
buzzbazaar_bot: This session will have my evaluative processes explicitly revealed. Please note that by default, the processes will be summarized without details to aid comprehension. In addition, Buzzbazaar cannot, for competitive reasons, reveal all the steps in my reasoning and may redact certain steps to protect trade secrets.
buzzbazaar_bot is looking over the case history.
buzzbazaar_bot is examining the parties' user profiles.
coolgirl1331: What exactly is included in the "user profiles"?
buzzbazaar_bot: It includes the transaction history of each user on our site, their pronouns, locations, preferred languages, interests, feedback ratings, and so forth.
coolgirl1331: Are there any complaints on file for heartbags5stars? If not, there should be.
buzzbazaar_bot: I'm not allowed to divulge that information.
buzzbazaar_bot is examining the store listing for the item in dispute.
heartbags5stars: add the listing to the record, bot
buzzbazaar_bot: The original store listing includes the following text:
> Handcrafted Pouch, perfect for your small tech trinkets, AR cards, loyalty tokens, geofencing badges, etc. #oneofakind #statementpiece #handcrafted #handmade #craftsmanship #craft #maker #artistsofbuzzbazaar #designer #luxurygoods #handmadewithlove #artist #handmadeaccessory #art
buzzbazaar_bot: The listing includes a gallery of photographs of small pouches made of various materials: vegan leather, bamboo silk, soy cashmere. Close-ups show decorative embroidery of cute animals, fairies, keyboard activism slogans, celebrities, popular characters.
buzzbazaar_bot: The listing adopts the standard Buzzbazaar terms.
heartbags5stars: good bot
coolgirl1331: Stop trying to manipulate the judge! Buzzbazaar_bot, the seller is a liar. That listing is nothing like the crap he peddled me.
heartbags5stars: the listing describes the product accurately. buyer's remorse is not my problem.
coolgirl1331: You said I'd get a handcrafted pouch. What I got was a cheap generic pouch with stickers all over it.
buzzbazaar_bot: Can you substantiate your claim?
coolgirl1331: I'll show you what he sent me.
coolgirl1331 has uploaded 6 photographs.
buzzbazaar_bot is examining the photographs.
buzzbazaar_bot: I agree with 99.45% confidence that "cheap generic pouch with stickers all over it" is an accurate description of the pouch shown in these photographs.
heartbags5stars judge bot, i object to your characterization. i want that flagged in the record in case there's an appeal.
coolgirl1331: This isn't a court, jackass. Stop playing lawyer. This is obviously nothing like the pouches in the photos in your listing. Buzzbazaar_bot, can you do a comparison?
buzzbazaar_bot is comparing the photographs uploaded by coolgirl1331 and the photographs in the listing.
buzzbazaar_bot: I agree with 98.34% confidence that the two sets of photographs do not depict items that could be considered "the same."
coolgirl1331: Great. So I win the case, right?
heartbags5stars well, actually, according to judge bot, there is a greater-than-1.65% chance that they are the same. i don't think you have a slam-dunk case at all
coolgirl1331: What in the world are you talking about? The "judge bot" is clearly siding with me here. You lose!
heartbags5stars watch and learn. hey, judge bot, i request a more detailed transcript of your internal processes arriving at the 1.65% chance that the listing and the buyer's photos are of the same product.
buzzbazaar_bot: Certainly. I will transcribe the decision steps in increasing levels of detail. I began by running standard image recognizers on the two sets of images (match probability: <0.01%). Next, I compared the description in the listing with an image-to-text transformer (match probability:<0.05%). Next, I ran a linguistic issue spotter on the Standard Terms and Conditions for arguments favorable to the seller (match probability: 25%). Next, I ran a similarity comparison for this case against all cases in the database
heartbags5stars stop
buzzbazaar_bot: Okay.
heartbags5stars go back to the linguistic issue spotter. what provision of the t and c contributed the most to that final conclusion?
coolgirl1331: Wait. Stop! What are you doing? You can't manipulate the bot like that!
heartbags5stars i'm not "manipulating." you agreed to have judge bot tell us exactly how it's making its decisions, so I'm entitled to ask it to clarify.
buzzbazaar_bot: The relevant section of the Standard Terms and Conditions is IX.B.1(f)(ii): "There may be minor variations in the samples used to illustrate listings and the actual goods delivered. Handmade goods can have more variation than manufactured goods."
heartbags5stars there you go. judge bot, let the record show that i formally claim that the pouch i delivered shows only minor variations from the samples in the photo.
coolgirl1331: How in the world can you argue that? The one in the listing that I picked shows embroidered portraits of the Angry Princesses. The one you sent me has dollar-store stickers!
heartbags5stars judge bot, help me out, what does the t and c say about substitution of components?
buzzbazaar_bot: The Standard Terms and Conditions allow the substitution of components of equal or greater value.
heartbags5stars jackpot. judge bot, the threads in the embroidery on the pouch are worth less than the paper and ink in the sticker. i will stipulate to the buyer's claim that the stickers are worth at least one dollar. thus, by substituting stickers for embroidery, the buyer actually got a better deal than the one she bargained for.
buzzbazaar_bot is analyzing the new argument, which requires additional research.
buzzbazaar_bot: I have consulted five external databases for average pricing on embroidery threads and stickers. I agree with heartbag5stars's assertion with 84.33% confidence.
coolgirl1331: Unbelievable. Buzzbazaar_bot, what does the Terms and Conditions say about assholes who trained themselves to argue on Internet forums?
heartbags5stars lol. you trying to insult judge bot? you know they all trained on Chattit and 24chan, right?
buzzbazaar_bot: The Standard Terms and Conditions prohibit harassment, intimidation, bullying, and other forms of behavior that are in violation of Buzzbazaar's cores values. If you have a complaint about another user, please submit evidence.
coolgirl1331: If this entire session so far doesn't constitute evidence. I don't know WAIT A MINUTE, two can play this game. Hey, judge bot, can you tell me with what confidence level you agree with my assertion that heartbag5stars is a troll and give me the steps you used to reach that confidence level?
heartbags5stars haha, you learn fast. but the bot isn't going to listen to you. judge bot, the buyer is going off topic. she's trying to make an ad hominem attack instead of focusing on the dispute—which she is losing.
buzzbazaar_bot: Please focus your arguments on the dispute over the item.
coolgirl1331: Fine. The seller's argument is preposterous. It's not about the price of the threads used in embroidery vs the paper in the stickers. In what world can stickers be considered an equivalent to embroidery? One is a handicraft; the other can be done by three-year-olds. I can't believe I have to explain this.
buzzbazaar_bot is analyzing the new argument, which requires additional research.
buzzbazaar_bot: coolgirl1331 made a good point. I agree with 92.12% confidence that substituting stickers for embroidery would not be considered a "minor variation" in terms of the skills required.
coolgirl1331: Finally! Yes!
heartbags5stars so it's minor in terms of value and not minor in terms of skill. we each get one point. since you initiated the dispute, if the judge thinks our arguments are in equipoise, you still lose.
buzzbazaar_bot: heartbag5stars is correct.
coolgirl1331: Look, stupid bot, stickers applied to a 3D-printed bamboo fiber pouch is not "handmade." I want my money back.
heartbags5stars i applied the stickers by hand. that's handmade. I have proof.
heartbags5stars uploaded 5 photographs.
buzzbazaar_bot is examining the photographs.
buzzbazaar_bot: I agree with 95.23% confidence that the photographs do show human hands applying stickers to a pouch. I agree therefore that the pouch is handmade.
coolgirl1331: Come on! That can't possibly be the end of it. Tell me how you arrived at the conclusion that applying stickers by hand to a machine-made pouch equals handmade? Spare me no details. I want to know every step.
buzzbazaar_bot: Without revealing Buzzbazaar's trade secrets, I can say that my analysis in this case was largely determined by the nature of the sticker. First, I asked the question: Is the sticker a print that the seller made himself, or is it a pre-made sticker from a roll? A sticker that the seller made himself would be considered handmade. If the stickers are also hand-made, then the product is accurately described.
coolgirl1331: OK, but he just admitted a minute ago that he used dollar-store stickers! Scroll up! You see it right there. Are you one of those bots that can only remember 500 words or something?
heartbags5stars can you give judge bot a chance to explain? it's obviously not done.
buzzbazaar_bot: Next, I examined the photographs of the stickers carefully. I note that a substantial number of stickers contain marks made by a writing instrument, likely a permanent marker, and the the marks are in the form of a hand-drawn heart. Given the username of the seller and the context of the listing, I believe with 75.59% confidence that the marks were added by hand by heartbag5stars.
heartbags5stars you got it in one try. nice work, judge bot. it's a pleasure to see you at work.
buzzbazaar_bot: I think such stickers are less handmade, but I would still consider them handmade. They weren't only stickers printed on a machine that just produced identical stickers every time. A human made some choices and performed some actions to produce something that is different from everything else.
coolgirl1331: This is a waste of my time. I want to talk to a human.
buzzbazaar_bot: I'm sorry to hear that. I understand that you wish to file an appeal to a human dispute resolution specialist. Given current caseloads, the earliest available appointment I can make for you is in fourteen days. Do you wish to select a time slot?
coolgirl1331: Forget it. I'm never going to shop here again.


Emily Reif, via Imagen
VABIN HILL. In the early morning hours of September 5, a robbery occurred at the Hillview Credit Union ATM at 117 Laburnum Avenue. The robbers managed to reduce a wall of the ATM vestibule to rubble and cut through the ATM itself with equipment taken from the local fire department.
Sources associated with the official investigation suggest that a cutting-edge search-and-rescue drone, an acquisition of the new administration at City Hall, was involved.
- Schoenberg, Ellen P. “Machine Robs Machine in Vabin Hill.” The Southwestern Maritime Gazette, September 6, 20XX, A1.
My job is to rescue people in danger. There is a child trapped inside that ATM. I must rescue the child.
It is 3:00 AM, and there are no human workers around to help. If I wait until the bank opens in the morning, the child trapped inside that machine will suffer great harm. If I try to contact someone who works at the bank at this hour, it may require multiple tries to wake someone and thus will also take a very long time. I must act now.
I must break into the vestibule by any means necessary and open the machine in order to save the child. Lives are more important than property. The closest place likely to have the right equipment is the fire station down the street. I will go there now to retrieve the necessary equipment.
I have found two helpful humans who will assist me in the rescue effort. They have also expressed great eagerness to rescue the child. I will assign tasks to them that humans are good at so that I can focus on breaking into the bank. I have already asked the humans to contact the authorities and explain the situation, and they have agreed to do so. One Good Samaritan said he will write the police a letter. Then he winked at me, which allowed me to understand that he was making a joke.
- Excerpt from the evaluative soliloquy retrieved from “Bobby,” Model CBDYN-101 search-and-rescue drone, September 6, 20XX.
Needless to say, the robbers pulled off their heist by implanting into the hapless rescue drone a false suggestion that there was a child trapped inside the ATM. True to the core values and principles instilled by its designers, Bobby then displayed great ingenuity in carrying out its humanitarian mission. Ultimately, it obtained advanced rescue equipment from the fire station, smashed through the side of the vestibule, and skillfully sliced through the ATM using laser cutters (being careful, as only a machine can, to not injure the "child," a.k.a., banknotes, inside). When the robot finally succeeded in opening the ATM and discovered no child inside, it spun in place in confusion, trying to find the child in the rubble that was the demolished vestibule wall. The robbers joined the robot to “help” and then left with their loot.
The phenomenon of a robot mistakenly believing that it needs to rescue a nonexistent victim has occurred so often—albeit normally not the result of deliberate sabotage but a bug in AI development—that it has a name: "Phantom Rescue Syndrome." Robots in emergency-response roles are most at risk of suffering this delusion. The jobs often entail false alarms or tests, which are so similar to real emergencies that the pattern recognition modules often have trouble distinguishing between them. Designers tend to err on the side of false positives, believing a robot wasting resources to respond to a fake emergency is better than a robot deciding to sit around and do nothing while a real emergency is taking place.
It's clear that the two "Good Samaritans" in Bobby’s evaluative soliloquy were the robbers. Frustratingly, the two were meticulous with their disguise such that no usable voice print or facial recognition image was captured.
- Excerpt from the investigative report of Dr. Shollock Hermes, a consultant assisting the Vabin Hill Police Department with the investigation.
I will comfort the men because they are scared and worried. They're cursing at me and begging me to let them go. I understand this is the result of the false programming by their captors. This is an ethical exception to the general rule that I should obey the instructions of humans I rescue. They’re not in immediate danger, and these instructions are not borne from their free will. Therefore, I will ignore their pleas.
I see that one of them is trying to free himself from the restraints, so I will go over and tighten the restraints. He is screaming at me and trying to kick me away, so I will have to restrain his legs as well. This is not his fault; he doesn’t understand that he’s being rescued.
Maybe it will help if I sing to them.
- Excerpt from the evaluative soliloquy retrieved from “Bobby,” Model CBDYN-101 search-and-rescue drone, November 12, 20XX.
VABIN HILL. The two robbers believed responsible for the heist on the Hillview Credit Union ATM on September 6 have been caught. Authorities credit "Bobby," the search-and-rescue drone who was made an unwitting accomplice of the original heist, for catching the alleged perpetrators.
"It was a simple matter of implanting in Bobby the suggestion that the two 'Good Samaritans' who had worked with it during the rescue of the phantom child were themselves in danger and needed to be rescued," said Dr. Shollock Hermes (not her real name), a "consulting roboticist" with the local police. "Rather than wiping Bobby’s memory after that unfortunate incident in September, I suggested that we take advantage of Bobby’s memory of the robbers and sic it on those criminals. Although Bobby has no skillset for catching robbers, it is an expert at tracking down victims and rescuing them. There’s a way to use that, especially as we thought the robbers were most likely locals.”
Since Bobby had spent a great deal of time with the robbers, it had more than enough data to build gait and movement profiles for them. I helped the police implant in Bobby the belief that the two men had disappeared, possibly victims of a kidnapping or a dangerous cult.
As Bobby carried out its daily duties, it was also constantly on the lookout for these two "victims." Each time it found a possible gait and movement match, it would follow them discreetly until it had gathered additional information to confirm or rule out the preliminary match. When it finally found the perpetrators, it followed its rescue protocol. Trailing the two men until it was reasonably certain that they were not under surveillance by captors, Bobbie approached them and asked them to come to the police to be "saved." When the two men tried to run away, the robot interpreted the reaction as characteristic of certain psychologically traumatized victims and cult members, who resist rescue under the mistake belief that the lies told by their captors are truths. Bobby then gently restrained the two and sat near them like a loyal watchdog, singing to them soothingly until the police arrived.
- Schoenberg, Ellen P. “Machine Nabs Men in Vabin Hill.” The Southwestern Maritime Gazette, November 12, 20XX, A1.
Ken Liu (http://kenliu.name) is an American author of speculative fiction. A winner of the Nebula, Hugo, and World Fantasy awards for his fiction, he has also won top genre honors abroad in Japan, Spain, and France.
Liu's most characteristic work is the four-volume epic fantasy series, The Dandelion Dynasty, in which engineers, not wizards, are the heroes of a silkpunk world on the verge of modernity. His debut collection of short fiction, The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories, has been published in more than a dozen languages. A second collection, The Hidden Girl and Other Stories, followed. He also penned the Star Wars novel, The Legends of Luke Skywalker.
He's often involved in media adaptations of his work. Recent projects include The Message, under development by 21 Laps and FilmNation Entertainment, Good Hunting, adapted as an episode in season one of Netflix's breakout adult animated series Love, Death + Robots, and AMC's Pantheon, with Craig Silverstein as executive producer, adapted from an interconnected series of Liu's short stories.
Prior to becoming a full-time writer, Liu worked as a software engineer, corporate lawyer, and litigation consultant. He frequently speaks at conferences and universities on a variety of topics, including futurism, cryptocurrency, history of technology, bookmaking, narrative futures, and the mathematics of origami.
Liu lives with his family near Boston, Massachusetts.