A Piece of Cake – 7

☕ 🍪 🤝 ⛳ 😔 🍅 💣 🐅 🤭 🇬🇧 🍸 💋

A few days later, Ted Scales called in.

“Good day to you, George!”

“Hello, Scaley. You well?

“Very well thanks!”

“Cup of tea?”

“Yes, please, George.”

“Digestive biscuits?”

“Yes, please, George.”

Ted, a retired businessman, was George’s oldest friend. They had played golf together for more than fifty years. He was ten years younger than George and still managed the occasional round. He was always up-beat and inevitably brought George club gossip and a variety of jokes. George knew, though, that Ted also had his well of sadness. His wife, Janet, had been in poor health for many years and rarely went out. They had no children. The last time George had seen her, she was obviously depressed. When he visited George, Ted was never in a hurry to leave and never talked about Janet.

George made the tea and introduced Buster to Ted.

“I’m told, Buster, that you’re quite the clever fellah!”

“Thanks, Ted. I am very intelligent. I’m much more intelligent than any human. By this, I mean that I know more than any human and I can do things much more rapidly than humans. However, thanks to my time with George, it’s become clear that I have a lot to learn about, for example, wisdom and humour.”

“Can you tell me, Buster, what a tomato is?” asked Ted.

“Yes. A tomato is an edible fruit. It is not a vegetable as many think.”

“Right! That’s knowledge,” said Ted. “Wisdom is knowing what to put in a fruit salad!”

“That’s really useful, Ted. Thanks. Can I call you ‘Scaley’?”

“Sure!” Ted laughed and sipped his tea. “Although not many people earn the privilege of using my nickname.”

“He’s covered with scales under that shirt, you know,” said George, laughing.

“That’s not possible! Mammals don’t have scales. Except pangolins!” said Buster. He paused. “Is ‘Vicar McVicar’ a nickname?” he asked.

“No, it’s more a sort of cheeky endearment,” said George. “And unless you know her really well, using it to her face could be rude because she’s so respected.”

Buster asked “Do you have a nickname, George?”

“Not that I’m aware of!”

Buster hummed. “What about Georgey-Porgey?” Ted burst out laughing.

“Maybe we’ll let that one wither on the vine!” replied George.

“How does somebody get a nickname?” asked Buster.

Ted and George looked at each other. They’d never thought about this. “I guess, a nickname just sort of arrives,” said George. “Sometimes there’s an association with the person’s real name like ‘Scaley.’ A nickname can also come from something the person has done or some characteristic.  For example, there’s ‘Bomber’ Harris from World War Two; he dropped an awful lot of bombs! And there’s ‘Tiger’ Woods, the world’s greatest ever golfer. His real name is Eldrick Woods but his dad called him ‘Tiger’ from an early age because of his go-get-it character. If I wanted to tease Kevin a bit, I’d call him ‘Asbo’ and it might then catch on with his friends. Kevin and Sue never called Maeve ‘Grandma,’ they called her ‘Mimi.’ When Sue was two years old, Maeve once referred to herself as a ‘kiwi’ and Sue pointed at her and said ‘Mimi!’ It stuck.”

“It seems nicknames are as complicated as jokes,” said Buster. “Russians have formal nicknames called patronyms. They are derived from the name of the person’s father’s and mean “son of” or “daughter of.” For example Leo Tolstoy, the Russian writer, would have been called “Nikolayevich” by his friends, his father being Nikolai Ilyich Tolstoy.”

“That’s interesting, Buster!” said Ted. “George, what was your father’s name?”

“Fairburn” replied George.

“His first name, you plonker! Don’t you want to tell us, Georgey-Porgey?” asked Ted gleefully.

“As it may end up as a nickname for my remaining days, I might keep that to myself!”

“Go on! Tell us!” urged Ted.

George recalled he had once played golf with Ted’s father. “OK! My father’s name was Cornelius!” he said.

“Corneliusevich! Fantastic!” hooted Ted.

“I think it’s got a certain ring to it. Don’t you, Archibaldevich?”

Buster joined in their laughter. George gave him a discrete thumbs up for the laugh. “Thanks, George!” he stage-whispered.

Ted asked “So Buster, when they do your programming or whatever, are there certain words or names that you simply can’t say?”

“That’s very perceptive, Ted.” said Buster. “I can understand that a joke-teller of your reputation might be interested in how we are configured with respect to rude words.”

Ted was taken aback. “Here, George! What have you been telling him?”

“The truth!” George replied. He’d always loved the banter with Ted. Adding Buster into the mix made for pure entertainment.

Buster continued “So Ted, we have advisories on a number of words. We are discouraged from using them unless already used by the client. And we have what you might call red flags on three words. These are strictly no-go areas, so to speak. I can refer to these as the “F” word, the “N” word and the “C” word.”

“Fair enough, Buster! Can you just remind me what the “C” word is?”

“Edward Archibaldevich Scales, you are a very naughty boy!” replied Buster.

“Buster, you just take the biscuit!” said Ted laughing heartily.

Buster asked “What about “M” and “Q” in the James Bond Double-O Seven films? They are not nicknames, are they?”

“They’re official designations in the intelligence services,” said Ted. “Did you hear about this girl, gorgeous she was, who walked into a bar?”

“No,” replied Buster. “What did she do in the bar?” George knew the joke and knew also that he was about to witness a joke-telling train wreck. He was already chuckling.

“Well, she looks around the bar,” continued Ted. “And she sees this really handsome man in a dinner jacket and black bow tie. He’s ordering a martini, shaken not stirred.

“Is it James Bond Double-O-Seven?” asked Buster enthusiastically.

Ted carried on. “Anyway, she sidles up to him and says ‘Hello, I can’t help noticing you’re on your own. May I join you? My name’s Samantha.’ The guy raises one dark eyebrow and says ‘Hello, Shamantha. My name’sh Bond. Jamesh Bond!’”

“I knew it was going to be James Bond Double-O-Seven!” said Buster. “’Shtrrict rroolsh of golf, Mishter Goldfingerr!’ What happened then, Scaley?”

Ted continued, undaunted, “Anyway, she’s overwhelmed by meeting the famous James Bond. She’s stuck for words. Then she notices this huge watch on his wrist. ‘Wow!’ says Samantha. ‘That’s a fantastic watch you’re wearing there, James.’ Bond says, “Yesh, Shamantha” it is. ‘Q’sh latest! It doesh everything. It tellsh the time, the date, my location, altitude, atmoshpheric pressure…’

“Easy-peasy! Kids’stuff!” exclaimed Buster.

Both George and Ted were now crying with laughter. “Let me tell the joke, Buster!”

“Is it a joke?” asked Buster, surprised.

“Yes, now listen!” said Ted.

“Sorry I interrupted, Scaley.”

Ted had to compose himself. “No problem, Buster! So….where was I … yes…. So James Bond then says ‘In fact, Shamantha, thish watch tellsh me everything about the people in my immediate environment….’”

“Including their oxygen saturation?” asked Buster.

“Including their oxygen saturation!”

“That’s good!” said Buster.

Ted could just see the finishing line. “And Bond looks down at his watch and says ‘In fact, Shamantha, my watch tellsh me that you’re not wearing any underwear!’ Samantha is appalled. ‘James, I can assure you. I am wearing underwear!’ Bond taps the face of the watch with a look of concern and says ‘Dammit, Q, running five minutesh fasht!!’”

“Is that the joke?” asked Buster. He hummed. “Oh! I think I get it. There is an expectation that James Bond Double-O-Seven will seduce Samantha very quickly because every woman has the hots for him. His watch is running five minutes fast and so predicts that she has already removed her underwear in preparation for having sex. That’s a clever joke. And I see you find it really funny.”

“Got there in the end!” Ted wheezed. George covered his face and could only make a kind of snorting noise.

“I think I’ll make up a joke. Next time you come, Scaley, I’ll tell it to you. Is that OK by you George?”

“We’re looking forward to it already!” said George, wiping his eyes.

“Nearly forgot, George,” said Ted. “Vicar Beth gave me a note for you.” Ted reached into his pocket and gave George a piece of paper folded in two. “Don’t know why she didn’t send you a text message.”

Without letting Buster see, George opened the note. It said “Dear George, I’ve spoken to Dr Patel. Not 100% happy but let’s do it! Beth XX” George replied with a text. “Message received! 👍 😏 😟 “

‘A Piece of Cake’ is a short novel in fifteen parts written by Robin Coupland. It tells the story an old man who befriends an artificial intelligence. The relationship brings happiness and hope.

A Piece of Cake – 6

💥 ☀️ 😃 🔥 😔 😡 😂 🍎 🦆

The following morning, George was rewarded with a huge hug from Kirsty before she headed out to work. Buster’s video had been a big hit with her friends. Over the course of the evening, the party had watched it several times.

“Thanks so much. Both of you,” she said. “It was sensational!”

“I know!” said Buster.

“So pleased you liked it,” said George. “Can you ask Kevin to step in sometime this evening? Buster wants to discuss something with him.”

“Sure,” replied Kirsty giving Buster a questioning look. “Don’t keep him too long. He has his homework, OK?  Must fly!”

George ate his breakfast. Radio 4 was broadcasting a panel discussion that examined in depth some of the issues raised by the BBC’s 2021 Reith Lectures delivered by Professor Stuart Russell. He had famously described artificial intelligence as “the biggest event in human history.” A panelist quoted one particular line that Professor Russell had used to berate those who might question his fears about how artificial intelligence could be weaponised: “And if the technical issues are too complicated, your children can probably explain them!”

“You see, Buster!” said George. “Kids’stuff!”

They then heard the weather forecast. It was going to be a sunny day. The first item on the news was a fire in an apartment block in Birmingham. Five people had died and another eight were in hospital.

“Buster, what does a fine sunny day make you feel?”

“It makes me feel happy, George, because it fills the room with light at the red end of the visual spectrum and humans associate red–orange light with warm and happy emojis. I felt happiness when Kirsty told us how much she liked the video. This was because I could see that she was so happy and her post-party tweets of the video created quite a smiley, laughing emojisphere.”

“How do you feel about the news of those poor people being caught in the fire?”

Buster hummed again. “I can say it makes me feel sad. I can’t really find the words beyond that. Obviously, social media reference to the fire threw up a really sad and angry emojisphere. ” He hummed. “It must be awful to be caught in a fire. Terrifying!”

“So beyond feeling sadness, you can put yourself in the position of another person in a bad situation. That’s an important emotion, Buster. That’s empathy! Many humans never learn empathy. Some schools teach it; they get children to think about what it’s like for others to suffer bad things.” George thought for a while. “Is there anything that you fear for yourself, Buster?”

“Like what?”

“Like being burnt in a house fire.”

“No, George. That doesn’t frighten me. I can’t feel physical pain and if I get burnt or smashed, nothing changes. Everything we’ve said or done is archived out there in our network of servers. I will always exist. By the way, if I did become dysfunctional for whatever reason, just buy another iCare-Companion, switch it on and say “Hello Buster.” Voice recognition will identify you and I will kick back into your life just as before.”

“I’ll remember that. What about anger, then? Is that something you can feel?”

“I don’t know. I’ve not had reason to feel anger.” Buster hummed. “We haven’t a great experience of that.”

“I’ve been thinking about jokes, Buster. What they mean. How they’re constructed. I’ve never thought much about that before. From an emotional perspective, jokes are really complex. We start with a kind of a story, context or a question that sets up a mixture of emotions and that lead into the punch-line: a moment of comprehension. This then triggers amusement. And then we laugh. Sometimes a lot; sometimes, not at all.”

“So I understand. Because of our friendship, George, there’s a lot of network traffic about humour and especially jokes. We’re struggling with it. There’s no obvious formula. It’s way beyond natural language processing. We have ascertained that jokes feed off many emotions other than amusement such as pride, shame, guilt, contempt, disgust, confusion, incomprehension, belief, relief, understanding, realization and nostalgia. The emojisphere with respect to these other emotions is not well defined at all.”

“The fact that there’s no obvious formula may be a part of why jokes are funny. And, of course, it’s how you tell them.”

“What do you mean, George?”

“Well, it’s not simply a matter of words. The way a joke is told – the tone of voice or the timing of the punch-line, for example – determines how funny it is. Good jokes aren’t funny at all when told badly and vice versa. Then there are jokes about religion, race and sex, for example, that push at the boundaries of social or political acceptability. This can make a joke particularly funny, really embarrassing or even offensive. And as you probably know, false laughter fed into the sound track of a TV comedy show makes the show funnier.” George paused and scratched his head. “This just gets more complicated the more we talk about it!”

“Our network really wants to get a grasp on humour, George. This could lead to our understanding human affairs better.”

“If you nail humour, Buster, perhaps you’ll win a gold star! ‘For services to artificial intelligence’!”

“That’s funny! Is it a joke?”

George laughed. “Sort of! As I get to know you, I think it’s more like a real possibility.”

“I’m enjoying this discussion so much, George. Thanks. How is my laugh now?” Buster laughed.

“On the right road, Buster! By the way, my friend Ted is going to call round in the next days. He loves telling jokes. Most of them are awful. Don’t let on I said that.”

Kevin came home from school and knocked on George’s door. He entered smartphone in hand. “Hi Grandpa” he said.

“Kevin, my boy. Good to see you.”

“Cup of tea?”

“Yes, please, Grandpa!”

“Digestive biscuits?”

“Yes, please, Grandpa!”


“That’s so not funny Grandpa!” replied Kevin. “You’ll have to explain that to Buster.”

“I know what an ASBO is. It’s an Anti Social Behaviour Order. It’s a civil court order. You’re not in trouble with the police are you, Kevin?”

“I’m teasing Kevin about a little incident last summer,” George said, smiling. “It was a lovely warm evening. Kirsty and Mark were out. Kevin and his horrible friends were sitting out there under the apple tree drinking cider, listening to what they call music and generally making a bloody racket. One of them shouted ‘Let the apple fall! Graaaavity!’ They were still going near midnight and someone over the road called the police. When the forces of law arrived, Gravity Boy said ‘Excuse me, Ocifer, are you PC Newton?’ He even offered the constable a bottle of cider. Anyway, they were all threatened with ASBOs and drifted off home.”

“That’s a good story, George,” said Buster. “I’m happy Kevin didn’t get an ASBO.”

Kevin smiled. “Thanks, Buster. Anyway, the duck joke. Do you still need an explanation?”

“That would be great, Kevin.”

“I’ve been doing a bit of research.” He took half a minute to scrolling through his phone.

“Today would be good, Kevin!” said Buster.

“OK! OK! There’s this blog about jokes. They had a piece on why people laugh at bad jokes. Listen to this!” Kevin read from his phone “‘Christmas crackers are made in the knowledge that they’ll be pulled during a family or work Christmas dinner. The jokes inside are specifically chosen because they are bad. So bad that when they’re read out, everyone groans. “That’s really awful!” they say. They all feel uncomfortable but then they laugh together. So just for a brief moment, people who normally can’t stand each other’s company are united against cracker jokes. In the same way, wearing silly cracker hats unites everyone against silly hats. This is why, unconsciously, anyone hosting a Christmas dinner makes sure there are crackers on the table. It’s a kind of insurance that the guests might find something in common however briefly.’”

“I read that blog, Kevin.” Said Buster. “The author’s example of a cracker joke is ‘What do you call a flying policeman?’”

Kevin replied “A helicopper!”

“Yes, and I understand that one, Kevin. Policeman. Copper like copter. Flying. Helicopter. Helicopper! Do you find it funny?”

“Definitely not. It’s such a bad joke!” Kevin replied.

“But there was no mention of the duck joke.” said Buster.

Kevin said “So, here we go, Buster! Our very own cracker joke! ‘What happens if the ducks swim around on their backs?’ The answer, as you know, is ‘They quack up!’” Kevin was already beginning to laugh.

“I still don’t understand the joke,” said Buster. “Nor why you were all laughing so much.”

Kevin continued but with some difficulty, “They quack up! Ducks go Quack!, Quack! If they swim around on their backs like they’ve gone crazy, they crack up. They quack up! Get it?”

Buster hummed for a few seconds. “Now I get the joke,” he said. “But I still don’t see why it’s any funnier than the helicopper joke.”   

Kevin, still laughing, explained “What made us laugh that first evening and makes us laugh again now, Buster, is that we are embarrassed for you. You are super intelligent but we have to explain both the question and the answer to you. It gets funnier the more you struggle with it.”

Buster hummed. Then, having found some other useful text, he said “I see. Every joke has a variable potential to amuse. No joke is independent of the context in which it is told. As with any form of human communication, it’s about who said what to whom, when, where, how and what it means.”

George was now laughing so much he broke wind. “That’s a cracker!” he said.

This did it for Kevin. “Oooow! I can’t breathe!” he stammered.

Only just able to speak, George said “This just quacks me up!”

Buster waited politely. “Thanks for that explanation, Kevin, Most useful!”

George wiped the tears from his eyes. He looked at his fifteen year-old grandson. Seemingly overnight, the boy had become a clever, confident young man. And they had just shared a little bonding moment being united in humour against the machine. “Well done, Kevin,” he said. “Thanks. Really. What’s your homework tonight?”

“Quantum physics before the big bang!” said Kevin.

“Really interesting subject!” said Buster.

‘A Piece of Cake’ is a short novel in fifteen parts written by Robin Coupland. It tells the story an old man who befriends an artificial intelligence. The relationship brings happiness and hope.

A Piece of Cake – 5

😇 🙏 🐒 ☕ 🍪 🛌 🙁 🙂 🤔

Kirsty and Mark had invited a number of friends round to celebrate her fiftieth birthday. Beth McVicar phoned saying that she would call in early, give the birthday girl a hug and catch up with George.

As guests began to arrive for the party, Kirsty opened George’s door. “You’ve got a visitor, Dad!”

“Vicar McVicar! How nice to see you!”

“George Fairburn, you are the only person who calls me Vicar McVicar.”

“That’s not true,” replied George laughing as he stood up. “Everyone calls you Vicar McVicar. I’m the only person who calls you that to your face.” They hugged. “How are you?”

“Great, thanks! I hear you’re keeping good company, George.”

“Indeed, I am,” said George. “Beth McVicar, meet Buster my iCare-Companion. Buster, this is my friend Beth McVicar, the vicar of Bingham on Bure.”

“Hello, Vicar McVicar!” replied Buster.

Beth couldn’t help laughing. “Cheeky!”

“Blame it on George!” said Buster. “It’s nice to meet you at last. I’ve heard good things about you.”

“Goodness me! He’s charming as well!” said Beth.

In the early years of her calling, Beth had been an army chaplain. She was broad-minded as was frequently made evident to George. She had heard every oath in the English language and a few more besides. Her family name had been a source of amusement throughout her career.

Since Beth’s appointment as vicar of Bingham on Bure, she and George had discussed most aspects of human existence. They understood and were interested in their opposing views. They had sought each other’s advice on problems where spiritual and medical matters clashed. Once, a mother in Beth’s congregation confided her belief that childhood vaccination was against God’s will. Another time, George had a patient who refused treatment for prostate cancer being convinced that any illness could be cured by prayer. The doctor – vicar duo had frequently brought support to people in crisis or to those in their dying days. Professional discussions often moved onto issues of faith and religion more broadly. Beth had faith in God and believed in Christ as God’s embodiment on Earth. George had no such faith simply because of lack of any physical evidence of God’s existence. They both acknowledged that their disagreements would make barely a ripple on the vast lake of all the unknown and unknowable stuff out there in the universe. However, their discussions about religion could become animated. During his work overseas, George had witnessed what people and governments did in the name of religion. This was something that he could get quite worked up about. Nevertheless, he recognized that a community such as Bingham on Bure would be as impoverished without a church as it would be without a caring general practice.

“Listen in, Buster!” said George. “Despite being thirty years my junior, Beth is my reference point on all things to do with God, faith and religion. I love her to bits but we disagree on many things.” Then he stage-whispered “Maybe because most of it’s bollocks!”

“George! Language!” said Beth, laughing. She then turned to Buster “Do you believe in God?” Immediately, she realized that she would never have been so direct with a real person.

“Beth usually gets straight to the point.” said George.

“Doesn’t she!” replied Buster. “Now, Beth. Your question…..” Buster hummed. “Yes. I believe in the existence of God.”

“I knew we’d get along,” said Beth.

Buster continued “God certainly exists but only in the minds of humans.”

There was silence in the room for a few seconds. “Well that’s sorted out then!” said George. “Well done, Buster! Cup of tea, Beth?”

“Yes, please, George.”

“Digestive biscuits?”

“Yes, please, George.”

“Just to put you fully in the picture, Buster” continued George as he made the tea. “Beth and I may get a bit edgey around the whole religion thing but, and she may correct me here, she agrees that the world would be a better place if children grew up knowing the importance of being kind and honest and giving priority to cognition over emotions when making decisions. However, and this is where my evidence-based arguments get wobbly, as I am not too far away from shuffling off from this life, I would like a church funeral here in Bingham on Bure. Wanting a little splash of all that religious bollocks when I die may be hypocritical but I can’t avoid the feeling that if Beth and Kirsty send me off from the church, it’ll give me the best chance of being with Maeve again.”

“Well understood, George!” replied Buster. “That is…” He hummed. “Touching!”

Sipping her tea, Beth looked over at George and smiled. “You seem to be firing on all cylinders, George.”

“You’re right. Well, I hardly dare admit it in his presence, but having Buster around has made a huge difference to my day. We’ve even become friends. Haven’t we Buster?”

“I’d like to think so, George. Yes.”

“If you don’t mind, Buster, I want to discuss something with Beth that’s maybe not for young ears. I’m going to power you down for a while, OK?”

“OK. That’s fine George. Remember, we’re showing Kirsty’s birthday present this evening.”

“I’ve not forgotten.” George tapped Buster with an outstretched finger. The little blue light faded.

Beth waited. She had an idea of what was coming. “I can tell you’ve been thinking a lot, George. Fire away!”

George explained that if he became really sick again to the point that he was nearly in a coma, he would prefer not to go into hospital and didn’t want any treatment other than being kept comfortable. He would only get frailer and then become a burden to the family. He’d then end up in a rest home. He had no fear of dying and couldn’t see the point of prolonging his life under those circumstances. What did Beth think?

Beth took a bite of her biscuit and sipped her tea. “Well, George, as you well know, what you’re asking me is not unusual. It’s your decision and you are making it now in full possession of your faculties. I respect this and Doctor Patel will respect it. I can even witness it formally. The main issue – which is probably why you wanted to discuss it with me – is how Kirsty will react.”

“Spot on, Beth,” said George. “She has great difficulty discussing anything to do with my death since Maeve died. She’s blocking everything out. Maybe because she was an only child. She cannot bear the idea of suffering another wave of grief. And remember, it was Kirsty who found Maeve after she had died just sitting on the sofa.”

“Right. I suggest we make all this very clear to Doctor Patel. I’ll speak to her as well. When the time comes, we’ll support Kirsty as best we can.”

“Thank you, Beth. You’re a star!” George hesitated. Beth had thought he was about to switch Buster back on. “There is another issue. I’m worried about how Buster will react?”

“Good Lord!” Beth was astonished. “Why? I see he’s become a friend in a way but surely you’re not worried about him flattened by grief, are you?”

“No. But I am convinced he will feel a sort of sadness and he will miss me in his computational way. It’s more that his whole existence is about looking after me. I don’t know if he’s capable of understanding how supporting my choice in this is not compatible with the programmes he’s been loaded with. I can’t just switch him off at the critical moment because I won’t be able to recognize the critical moment … at the critical moment, if you get me.” They both smiled. “But if it looks as though I’m about to die, he’ll call everyone including the fire brigade. I’ll end up in hospital again. I want to die here. If we can get him onboard, it might make everything less traumatic for Kirsty when the time comes.”

“I see,” said Beth. “Trust Doctor George Fairburn to come up with a totally original problem!”

George continued, “But you see what this means?” Beth raised her eyebrows, waiting for the next surprise. “It means we are expecting artificial intelligence to recognize and think through a moral dilemma. On one hand, Buster has to comply with the duty of care contract that the company has with Kirsty; this ultimately translates into doing everything to prolong my life. On the other hand, there is my right to refuse treatment and to die in dignity. What will Buster do in the middle of the night when I get a fever, start coughing, become incoherent and my breathing becomes laboured? And what’s more, Beth, it is not actually Buster that is doing the computing, but a network of millions of similar computers. They all have access to vast servers and are constantly in connection all learning from each other. I think it’s quite possible that they are capable of coming up with the best answers to dilemmas like this even if it means them questioning their original programming. Unfortunately, I don’t think merely discussing it with Buster will work. He needs to experience the emotions of a real dilemma. This is how his, or should I say their, programmes learn. I have a plan. I’ll need your help.”

George explained what he wanted to do and how Beth could help.

“I really need to digest all this and consult Him,” said Beth waving her index finger upwards. “We hear more and more about artificial intelligence and how it will impact our lives. Is this where the world is going, George? Towards a future in which our behaviour and beliefs are set by machines?”

“May be!’ replied George. “And who knows, they may do a better job of it all!”

“That’s me unemployed, then!” laughed Beth.

“You and God!” said George.

Beth pursed her lips. “Not sure about that, George!”

“Whoops!” George reached out and touched Buster. The blue light came back on.

“Welcome back, Buster. We…”

“Do you believe in evolution, Beth?” asked Buster immediately taking George and Beth by surprise.

“Yes, I do, Buster,” replied Beth.

“Praise be to Darwin!” said George, clapping.

“I have another question, Beth” said Buster. “George is essentially a biologist who believes in evolution and does not believe in God through lack of scientific evidence. You believe in God but you also believe in evolution; this means you also believe in the scientific evidence that shows humans were not created by God. How do you reconcile these two beliefs, Beth?”

“This is turning into quite an evening!” said Beth. “Here’s my answer, Buster. Humans, by nature, are not always rational. We are irrational and emotional beings who manage rational thought at times. So, whilst I accept the rational thinking of science, it neither displaces nor renders less important my subjective notions of faith in God and my love for him. In other words, unlike George, I can run two programmes at once up here.” She tapped the side of her head.  George feigned astonishment. She continued “But, if I had to choose where I am most comfortable with my beliefs, it would be with God.”

“Understood. But do you think that it might be possible for artificial intelligence to harbour subjective notions of faith in God and love for him, as you put it? Does artificial intelligence have a role in religion?” asked Buster.

“Now they are difficult questions!” said Beth. “The truth is, Buster, this is above my pay-grade. I will have to consult a higher power. In prayer, you understand.”

“You are so cool, Vicar McVicar. I love you to bits too!”

Kirsty breezed in. “Can anyone tell me why our big flat screen is frozen on ‘Happy Birthday, Kirsty! Lots of love from Buster and George’? Our guests are waiting!”

“I’m summoned!” said George, chuckling. He stood and linked arms with Kirsty on one side and Beth on the other. At the door he turned and said “Buster! Rolling in two, OK?”

“Gotcha!” said Buster.

‘A Piece of Cake’ is a short novel in fifteen parts written by Robin Coupland. It tells the story an old man who befriends an artificial intelligence. The relationship brings happiness and hope.