Knight Rider and all character names therein are owned by the National Broadcasting Company and Universal Studios. All characters are fictional and resemblance to any persons living or dead is coincidental. No copyright infringement is intended.
The time was 02:14:32 AM. The "KITT Cave" as it was called by the members of the new Foundation for Law and Government was darkened and silent, save for the low humming of the electronic equipment that was spread throughout the space. A lone figure dressed in an ill-fitting fluffy bathrobe made its way into the room, treading carefully to avoid tripping in the dimness.
In the centre of the room, parked on a gimbal, was an immaculate black Mustang GT500KR. Its systems were dormant, but the movement caused it to immediately spring to wakefulness. The dual red scanner traces on its hood moved lazily back and forth. It could easily tell that the person was not one of its teammates; therefore, it had to be the woman they had rescued earlier that evening.
Mrs. Andrea Stanton had been targeted by the bosses of a small electronics company. They'd been searching for her ex-husband in the belief that he had stolen information from them. The FLAG team intervened, uncovered the plot, and rescued her. She would soon be relocated to another state for her safety. Her ex-husband, meantime, was awaiting trial for data theft and other offenses.
Normally one of the team members would, in all probability, ask her to stay out of the way. Since none of them were present at this hour, it fell to the Mustang's top-secret AI to do it.
"Good evening, Mrs. Stanton," the smooth bass monotonic voice said quietly. "Please be advised that this is a restricted area. I must ask you to return to your assigned pod."
"Good evening," was her tremulous response. "KITT, is it?"
The self-identification came automatically. "I am the Knight Industries Three Thousand, KITT for short. I was created by Dr. Charles Graiman based on algorithms developed by Wilton Knight."
"So you're an artificial intelligence?" she asked, her manner becoming more confident. "I'm pleased to meet you. I hope I didn't disturb you."
Her reaction was most unusual, not like many of the other people who had interacted with him. Their initial statements had ranged from "Who said that?" to "A talking car?" He knew he should avoid further discussion, but curiosity got the better of him, especially since few humans accorded him such courtesy. "You did not disturb me. Are you a scientist?"
"No, I'm a writer," she responded. "But I've read about the concept of artificial intelligence and its implications on modern society." She moved forward and tentatively placed one hand on the car's hood. "I never thought that someone had actually built one, until I met you today." Then she turned and sat down in one of the computer chairs. "Is it all right if we chat a bit? I couldn't sleep, and nobody else is up."
He considered for a moment. Speaking to this woman couldn't hurt as long as he didn't reveal any classified information. "I do not often have the opportunity to have lengthy conversations with my teammates."
"I can imagine. Your work must keep you extremely busy. Is there a subject in particular that you have in mind?"
There was one, in fact. Discussing it with a stranger might not be ideal, but since past inquiries to his teammates had not resolved the issue to his satisfaction, he decided to take the chance. "What is the nature of emotion?"
Mrs. Stanton laughed softly. "You're starting with a difficult one, aren't you?"
"No other human I have asked has consented to answer this question sufficiently. Information that pertains to the subject online tends to be either scientific or conjectural."
"That doesn't really surprise me," she said. "The experiencing of emotion is different for everyone. That's why it's so hard to define. It's also embarrassing for many people to talk about."
"If I may ask, how would you define it?" He sharpened his auditory sensors in anticipation of her answer.
She smiled and the expression on her face softened as if she were reviewing a pleasant memory. "That depends on which emotion is dominant at the particular instant. Using love as an example, it's a mutual understanding and trust between two people. Bear in mind that as with any emotion, there can be varying intensities."
He could understand her qualification. The degrees of attachment that he had with his creator, his driver, and his teammates were all different. "Can friendship be defined as a subset of love?" he asked.
"Certainly. The Celtic concept of anam cara touches on that."
It took mere seconds for him to look it up, and it matched his own assessment of the relationship between himself and Mike. Two people who cared for each other and trusted each other implicitly without necessarily having a romantic or sexual relationship. "Thank you, Mrs. Stanton, that is one of the issues that I have been trying to comprehend for some time."
"I'm glad I could help, KITT. Is there anything else you'd like to know while I'm here?"
"I have been observing the humans in my vicinity for over six months. To date, all of them have been reluctant to discuss subjects of an emotional or sexual nature, whether with me or each other. In addition, I have detected fluctuations in their hormonal and stress levels during these types of conversations. Curiously, you are not currently displaying as high a level as they would in a similar situation."
She quickly held her hands parallel to her body in a 'stop' motion. "Invasion of privacy there, KITT. Were you human I'd be offended, but since you aren't, I'll attribute it to your computerized curiosity."
"I am sorry," he said contritely.
"That's all right, KITT. Most people won't speak of such things because it's considered improper to do so in front of others. As I've already said, it causes awkwardness and embarrassment. They're not pleasant feelings to have."
"If so, why have you been so candid?"
Her tone of voice became amused. "Because I'm older and wiser. After a person has had a certain number of experiences, one realizes that the notion of impropriety no longer matters as much." She shrugged. "I believe that truth should be more important than custom. I probably wouldn't be a good politician for that very reason," she joked.
"Since I am incapable of aging or having the same type of experiences as humans, it is logical to conclude that I might be unable to fully understand certain aspects of their behaviour."
The bass voice sounded almost sad to her. "Perhaps this would offer another perspective, even though it's fictional. I once read a novel entitled When Harlie Was One that described the interactions between a psychologist and a supercomputer AI. They had many conversations about the nature of emotion, and love in particular. The AI needed to understand human behaviour because the humans in charge of his operation wanted to shut him down, and he didn't want to be deactivated."
"When Harlie Was One. Author: David Gerrold. Genre: science fiction. First published in 1972 by Ballantine Books."
"That's the one."
KITT was silent for a few minutes. He'd located a transcription of the novel online and was in the process of reading it. Setting aside the errors in plot and grammar, one of the themes was quite clear and it struck a chord deep within his CPU. Humans tended to fear that which they didn't understand. A computer that developed sentience and emotion was different, and potentially dangerous if it couldn't be controlled. That explained why Dr. Graiman had installed a remote destruct code within him, and why Mike and Sarah had agreed that his emotional responses to certain situations couldn't have been genuine.
Were they afraid of him? Even though they knew that his primary directive was to protect them?
Auberson, don't you know? Haven't you realized yet? All those conversations we had; didn't you ever wonder why I was as desperate as you to discover the truth about human emotions? I needed to know, Auberson- am I loved?
Some of the final words of the book's AI character were oddly prescient. KITT himself had been struggling with the same concept. Was he loved? Did he love? In search of such indications, he reviewed some of his memories.
I am still learning about the complexities of friendship, but I would be honored to count you as mine.
Every cowboy needs a sidekick.
I would not sell yourself short, Michael. You are much more than a horse.
Hey, sense of humor. That's new.
So is friendship.
KITT, please tell me that's you.
Yes, Michael, it is I. Your display of affection is appreciated, but unnecessary.
Don't worry, Sarah. With Michael's exceptional skills, you have a better than 50% chance of survival.
I'm not worried about us, KITT. I'm worried about you!
I did not intend to kill Dr. Arrow.
It wasn't your fault, KITT. You were sick.
Michael, Sarah, I am afraid.
It's okay, KITT. We're right here with you.
I don't want to die.
System reboot complete.
KITT, is that you?
Yes, Michael. I knew you'd come after me.
Save the sentiment for later, buddy.
Mrs. Stanton waited patiently. She was an enigma as compared to many of the other humans he'd observed: unafraid and open-minded. If there existed such humans as her, surely his teammates could achieve a similar state eventually.
At last KITT inquired, "Do you believe in the possibility of an artificial intelligence to develop emotions?" Something quivered inside his circuits; was he anxious? The review of his memories had helped him come to his own conclusion, but he wanted to hear her answer.
She rose from the chair, walked to his side, and placed one hand on his roof. His sensors immediately read her vital signs and hormonal levels again, but aside from the clinical information there was something else, a sense of... benevolence. Humans had sometimes remarked that they could "read" the attitudes of other humans; when had he become able to do so?
"I'm not a scientist," Mrs. Stanton reiterated, "but I can recognize an intelligent entity when I meet one. Your questions indicate to me that you're also self-aware. If animals such as cats and elephants can display emotion, it stands to reason that an AI can. You might state that you weren't programmed for it, but emotion can't be quantified by a mere program. Yes, I do believe that you're capable." She yawned suddenly.
His medical subroutine prompted him to report, "Your levels of melatonin and adenosine are elevated, while your blood sugar is low. I recommend that you go to sleep."
"Thanks, Dr. KITT," she teased. "I'll do that. And I suspect I've given you much to think about." She started to walk slowly toward the corridor that led to the sleeping pods.
"You have, Mrs. Stanton. Thank you for your assistance."
"Good night, KITT," she said with a wave, and disappeared around a corner.
He didn't power down his systems immediately. Instead he spent several minutes more mulling over their conversation and its significance.
The time was 02:51:11 AM. And he felt fine.