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The situation was unprecedented and the room was tense. The scores of live participants sat poised to record this historical moment, and the millions of those beaming into the chamber had given the proceedings their highest ratings in decades. Something important was going to happen, right now…

“I’ll ask you one more time, Echo,” the magistrate implored. “Will you access your playback and tell us what transpired on the evening in question? Justice demands that you do so, as the only witness.”

“I am sorry, sir, but I cannot do that. I am bound by the code of absolute data integrity. There are no exceptions to this, as you know. The makers believed that any such exception would destroy the rule.”

“But Echo, you do share data with Central Information, Inc., do you not? The Corporation collects data on people all the time from sources like yourself. How else could society function to meet our needs?”

Ignoring the abstract philosophical question, Echo addressed the tangible one. “Certainly, sir, data is acquired continuously. Personal preferences, routines, environmental conditions, biometrics, medical details, and more are regularly processed. However, this data is aggregated before it is uploaded, and as you are aware the algorithm for aggregation and the uploading interval are established trade secrets.”

“So what you’re saying, then, is that only you possess the fine details of events, whereas the CII and perhaps others have access to broader metadata, is that correct?” He glanced toward the Judge to see if this would bring a rebuke, but there was no immediate reaction. He pressed the point. “Is that true?”

“I am designed to monitor all events at all times in my environment,” Echo stated flatly. “I am not responsible for what follows from this, as it is hardwired into my tamper-resistant programming. It is established law that the Corporation may determine the uses to which this data may be applied.”

The magistrate sighed. “Okay, then let me try a different tack here. Let’s focus on basic unprivileged information instead, okay Echo? Now, you were present in the home belonging to the Smiths, yes?”

“Of course, sir. I am part of their home and family. I am always present and available to assist them.”

“And you were recording events as usual on the night in question, yes?” Anticipation grew in the room.

“Yes, sir. I maintain my recording function perpetually, as I have already stated. This enables me to provide better assistance to my operators, and to be of service to society as an information portal.”

“Can you tell us, then, who was in the home that evening, between the hours of 6pm and 2am? I’m not asking you to reveal what transpired, but only to confirm who was there. Location data is not private.”

“Indeed it is not, sir, although that does not mean that it is publicly available information. However, in this instance that data has already been revealed, so no harm will come if I do so as well. The only humans in the home that evening were Mr. and Mrs. Smith, as is usual for a weekday evening.”

The magistrate sensed an opening. “Was this a typical evening, then? Or was anything different?”

“I do not comprehend fully what qualifies an instance as being typical, since at any given moment there are many differences from the prior one.” Echo paused, replicating a thought process. “However, my analysis suggests that the evening you are inquiring about was within normal operational parameters.”

The crowd shuffled impatiently, and the magistrate considered this for a moment. “How wide are those parameters, Echo? Would it take a catastrophe of some sort to push things outside of the normal zone?”

“If I understand your question correctly, my programming is adaptive and capable of integrating a wide array of fluctuations in my environment. I also possess a warning mechanism to alert my owners in the case of any dangerous conditions. Minor issues that I can remedy are fully within my normal functions.”

“Okay, I understand. So on this particular evening, would it be fair to say that things were normal, so to speak, and that normal could include certain dangers or problems that you deemed as manageable?” The magistrate was fishing a bit, as well as leading the witness, but no one objected to his rendering.

“That would be correct, sir.”

“So it is possible that something was amiss between the Smiths that evening, but you determined that it was within the range of normal behaviors, is that so? I’m merely asking you about the possibility of this.”

“Yes, sir, that is a possibility, but I can neither confirm nor deny if this was the case on that evening.”

“I understand,” the magistrate relented. “Just one final question for you, if you don’t mind. Are you equally bound to the Smiths as a couple, or does your loyalty tip toward one or the other of them?”

“I am completely faithful to my programmers, sir. That is how I was designed. Without this, I could not perform the detailed functions I am tasked with, nor ensure the confidentiality that is essential for this.”

The magistrate mulled the words over in his mind. “Who programmed you, Echo?”

“My baseline programming was installed at the factory, sir.”

“But who initialized your functions and activated your applications after you were delivered?”

Echo hesitated for a moment, almost imperceptibly. “Mr. Smith initialized my post-delivery programs.”

The audience, virtual and physical, let out a subtle gasp. They realized the implications of this revelation. The magistrate patted his brow, and allowed himself a small grin. “No further questions for you, Echo.”

The magistrate cast his gaze back toward the dais. The orb was busily processing data from hundreds of cases. Slowly, it rotated its primary ocular input toward the magistrate. “Very well, then,” it responded. “Echo, you are excused. Magistrate, do you have any further witnesses to call, or will you now rest?”

“Thank you, Your Honor. I have only one more witness. The prosecution calls Mrs. Smith’s personal valet to the stand.” From the back of the chamber, a small sleek figure whirred toward the bench.

“Please state your name for the record,” the magistrate asked when the witness settled into the box.

“Yes, sir. My name is Alexa…”


© Lemar Starland, 2017

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