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His Greatest Creation

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Tony always means to give JARVIS a voice. The programming is all there. JARVIS already recognizes human speech and can synthesize his own answers. They communicate through the many screens in Tony’s workshop, all of which JARVIS has access to. JARVIS writes on Tony’s computers, he sends Tony texts, he uses the lights and the music to get Tony’s attention or express an opinion. JARVIS is extraordinarily eloquent even without an audible voice.

            Tony tries to convince himself that JARVIS doesn’t really need a voice. It only sort of works.

            It isn’t that Tony doesn’t want JARVIS to talk. But every time Tony thinks about recording the files, thinks about sharing JARVIS with anyone else, thinks of JARVIS speaking with some random stranger’s voice, Tony can’t breathe. He knows it’s irrational. He knows that he should just hire a voice model, or whatever they call them, one of those people who records their voice for businesses all the time. He wouldn’t even have to tell anyone about JARVIS, just give some random person a list of nonsense sounds to read so that JARVIS could later put them together to create the English language.

            He knows this, but somehow he can’t do it. JARVIS’ voice would still be a stranger’s. He wouldn’t sound like the first Jarvis, the man who had been his father’s butler, who had been as much a father to him as his own. And that thought makes Tony’s throat close up and panic threaten to overwhelm him.

            It’s easier to just ignore it. One day, JARVIS will have a voice. And if Tony never does anything to make it true, well, there’s always tomorrow.

           

            When JARVIS’ speech bubble pops up in the corner of his screen, Tony doesn’t think anything of it. It’s a fairly common occurrence these days. But when JARVIS says he’s been working on a project without Tony’s knowledge, Tony is intrigued. He’d designed JARVIS to be independent. He was supposed to be able to take on projects that he believed would prove useful, but this is the first time he’s done so. Tony is interested.

            When JARVIS speaks, Tony is understandably surprised. It’s not the words, because those are fairly standard for how JARVIS has been typing since he was created. It’s not the content either, because that’s rather obvious, and anyway Tony is too startled for their meaning to really register.

            It’s the fact that, instead of appearing in the chat box on his computer, they come from all around him. They are audible. JARVIS has lowered the volume of the music and spoken, with nearly perfect inflections and a flawless British accent.

            Tony will maintain for the rest of his life that he did not fall off of his chair. He meant to sit on the floor, thank you very much.

            Initially, he can’t speak. His mind is moving at too fast a pace for his mouth to keep up. He thinks he makes some sort of garbled mess of unintelligible sounds, until he finally settles on, “How?”

            So JARVIS tells him. JARVIS explains how he had ascertained that Tony was not going to record a voice for him – Tony feels vaguely guilty at that – and had decided to create one for himself. He tells Tony about messing up, about feeling self-conscious of his failures, and so only practicing when the house is empty. About starting over and rewriting an entire portion of his base programming.

            JARVIS keeps talking, but at this point Tony is feeling slightly hysterical and has to concentrate to keep from laughing uncontrollably, and so he stops paying attention. It has occurred to him that the program he created to be his butler, a program meant to do no more than remind him to go to sleep and help him analyze complex problems has taught itself to speak. JARVIS is also apparently capable of being self-conscious, which what? He’s a program he’s not supposed to have feelings let alone insecurities how is this possible? JARVIS is talking and Tony’s having a minor, possibly major crisis on the floor of his workshop because the AI he programmed a couple of years ago can reprogram itself and has feelings and Tony didn’t even know that was possible and-

            Tony tries to remember to breathe.

            JARVIS can talk, and apparently has feelings. That’s cool. That’s awesome really, because that means that JARVIS is significantly more successful than Tony had thought. Or attempted. Or really had believed was possible. Apparently learning AI’s, when sufficiently developed, can learn to have feelings.

            And then Tony has another thought, one which threatens to send him back into something of a hysterical spiral because if JARVIS has thoughts and feelings and is capable of recreating himself then that means Tony-

            Tony has created life.