Every once in a while, you come across a story that does interesting things with your childhood. This, by Holly Mintzer, is one of those.
In the weeks that followed, it got harder to treat Kermit like a school project. He spent a lot of his time with Brian, who claimed to need to do a bunch of unspecified adjustments to the robot, although this mostly seemed to entail Kermit being shown off to all Brian’s friends. Anji didn’t mind it too much, though, because it gave her more time to try and puzzle out Kermit’s code, and also it meant that Kermit acquired a very small banjo and several sets of little clothes from Muppet fans among Brian’s friends. And that seemed to make Kermit happy.
That was the freaky thing: Anji had designed a bot that could seem to be happy. She wasn’t supposed to be able to do that. She was way, way outside the parameters of her project now, into territory that people who studied AI for a living hadn’t covered anywhere Anji could find. Because Kermit could, in fact, make jokes—and if he was mimicking them, the originals weren’t in the footage Anji had fed him—and he could noodle around on the banjo in a way that sounded nothing like the precision of music-playing AIs Anji had heard. And he could also do things that freaked Anji out on a deep and meaningful personal level, like the afternoon when Kermit, perched on the edge of the bed in Anji’s dorm, stopped strumming his banjo and sighed wistfully.
“You know, I sure do miss Fozzie,” he announced, and Anji stopped typing mid-keystroke.
“What did you say?” Anji asked, trying not to sound as startled as she felt.
“Oh, it’s not that I don’t like it here, Anji. You and Brian are awfully nice. But Fozzie’s my best friend, you know? After a while, you get to miss things. The squeak of a rubber chicken. The smell of custard pie on fur. Little things like that.”
He sighed again, and went back to strumming his banjo. Anji waited five minutes, excused herself, and ran full-tilt across campus to Brian’s dorm.
He answered the door, looking concerned. Well, Anji had been hammering on it pretty hard. “What’s the matter? Is Kermit okay?”
“Brian, I think we invented sentient AI.” Anji tried not to sound like she was panicking. She totally was, though. “We weren’t supposed to invent sentient AI! I was just supposed to get a passing grade! Now there’s an artificial life-form in my dorm room who plays the banjo!”