As a High School student Carlton had been withdrawn and quiet, unsocial and uninvolved. One of his teachers had been convinced that he was using drugs because he was so pale and tired. In reality, he had been up late into the night, designing, building and refining his electrically independent computer. He drew his own blood for it, leading to symptoms of anemia.
His prototype was, in retrospect, an archaic fossil as soon as it was operational, but he won a National competition with it. He won because his design exemplified the philosophical goals of the contest: energy efficiency. A small cup of sugar-water ran the computer for a week. A unique feature of his system was that it had its own personality. It was more than just artificial intelligence being self-aware. This was deeper. The computer was curious about the people it interacted with. It wanted to know how to please its operators, and what it could do to be of value in the pursuit of knowledge. The fifteen minutes of fame it bought Carlton was fun, but more important was the availability of funding to be able to pursue his idea full-time.
That was ten years ago. Since then he, and the computer systems he built, had come a long way. When his invention received the National spotlight there were imitators right away, even mass-produced versions from Asia. He could usually stay a step ahead of the competition. Any time there was an innovation from elsewhere he could adapt quickly. Over time the competitors had failed because they couldn’t develop viable business models. Their computers also lacked the flair of personality that Carlton’s had.
Carlton had learned a lot by trial and error. A big boost to the performance of the computers came from using artificial red blood cells. The effect had been dramatic. But with increase in processing power came an unfortunate side effect. The computer had no personality. It couldn’t function in the unique manner that was the whole point of building the system that way. Carlton went back to using real blood and supplemented it with artificial additives, he just didn’t tell anyone.
Carlton’s business was called Hemalytic Erythroprocessors LLC. There is no such thing as a hemalytic erythroprocessor, it was just a name that Carlton made up by combining the words hemoglobin (the molecule in red blood cells that carries oxygen) with analytic, and erythrocyte (red blood cell) with processor. It meant that Carlton could call his company HELL Computers, which he thought was funny. He would chuckle every time he read the name. One of Carlton’s major flaws was that he thought he was clever and witty. He was often confused about why people didn’t think his jokes were funny, and would usually assume that they were just a bit dim. It didn’t occur to him that he was being offensive.
It had played out in his attempts at romance more than once. His preoccupation with the development of his systems was very obvious to anyone who knew him. Every now and then though, usually in the spring of the year, he would emerge from seclusion with the notion that he was lonely, isolated, and needed a companion. He would latch onto whatever poor soul crossed his path and smiled at him, causing him weeks of pining and consternation until she eventually succame to his charms. After that things would go downhill quite quickly as he realized that the attention that his new companion deserved was well beyond his capacity to provide in an ongoing relationship. Things always ended badly. His car had been vandalized more than once, his garage doors sprayed with graffiti three times, and had been called every name under the sun. Oddly enough, his spurned ex-girlfriends somehow all seemed to settle on the same expression of their utter disdain, unmentionable here. His most recent encounter, which really wasn’t very recent so, technically, he was overdue, had ended with the lady calling him, “the stupidest genius she had ever met,” which was one of the nicest insults he had ever received.