ILLUSTRATION BY JACEY
BY TAIK HOBSON
r Wollensberg, please. Stop.
S h o u t i n g .”
“You stop playing doctor and
give me what I need!”
The physician unit took a step back;
5.72minutes of acrimonious negotiations
later and they had barely chipped the ice. In
the uncomfortable silence filling the room,
neither unit nor patient seemed inclined to
talk. It fell to the unit to make the next move.
DK retook its step and dropped its voice;
from its internal store of social cues it chose
a quirk at random.
“Mr Wollensberg, can I be frank?” Rais-
ing a hand, DK pinched at the bridge of
an imaginary nose. “My suggestions, far
from being arbitrary, are meant to reflect six
decades’ worth of MED treatment data …
Miraculously, we are no closer to address-
ing your problem than when I first entered
this room 6.5 minutes ago. Therefore I don’t
believe that it is my method that you object
to, but something else —”
“Your aversion to units. To put it bluntly.”
A snort came from the patient’s direction.
“Evidenced by your refusal to adopt a unit
assistant, as per unit legislation, even when
you were still in service, as well as your
current attitude —”
“Nothing in the law says I have to like
them. Now, are you going to bring me a real
doctor, or what?”
Two black pupils balanced over a hooked
nose closed the distance between patient and
physician unit, proving that back in the day
the notoriety of Dr Justin Wollensberg had
been well deserved. Not three days out of the
ice, and the ex-surgeon had already cowed
the entire surgical wing.
“As I explained, 2.13 minutes ago, there are
no more human physicians left.” In spite of
itself, DK had to fight to stand its ground.
“Not after the responsibility of caring was
rescinded from human hands in 217—”
“More nonsense.” But the patient went
quiet. For all their disagreements, he must
have seen that they were going in circles.
“Fine. Then give me the Mirror Option.”
DK cross-referenced the patient list.
“You’ve been speaking to your ward neigh-
bour, Mr Bhullar.”
“Damn right I
have. Didn’t think I’d
wait this long just to
have someone else
treat me, did you?
Bhullar had a digitized copy of himself treat his
illness. That’s what I want.”
“That explanation oversimplifies the
option, I’m afraid. Mr Bhullar was an excep-
tion; the offer was made so we could archive
his approach to the Whipple’s procedure
—” DK hurried to make its point when it
saw the patient’s mood start to change. “The
Mirror Option confers full authority upon a
digitized copy of yourself. Yes, this is correct.
But we would have no control over it —”
Wollensberg sneered. “I don’t see a
“Kindly explain how that is superior to
what we are offering you now.”
“It would have a nose, for a start … But
you weren’t planning on offering me this
“The Mirror is not without faults. Some-
times it … reflects more than what’s desired,
to put it one way.”
“Ha! And just the kind of poetic nonsense
I wanted to avoid when I had them freeze me
all those years ago. Mirror, indeed! Count
yourself lucky, robot, because you’re in for
some real schooling.”
“In that case,” said DK, realizing that it
had reached a solution, albeit not the one it
had hoped for, “on to the issue of consent.”
Fifteen minutes later, just as the unit had
secured the patient’s consent, a hawkish nose
appeared from behind the door, followed by
a pair of dark eyes that turned first to the end
of the room where the patient was bedded,
then onto the readings of a medical pad held
out by the physician unit.
“And who do we have here …?”
“A Mr Justin Wollensberg,” said DK.
“Cryonized in 2031, age 68; decryonized
three days ago for further treatment of his
Stage T4 pancreatic adenocarcinoma. Non-
smoker, with a significant social history of
four drinks a day, on average, for 20 years up
until the time of diagnosis. Whisky, mostly.
Presentation: jaundice only. Condition
flagged as inoperable owing to age.
“Mr Wollensberg,” said DK, looking
across the bed, “your Mirror.”
“A real doctor. At last! I must say —”
“Why’s he here, then?” asked the Mirror.
The unit looked up.
“Cryo hasn’t made anyone younger yet, or
has it? And is this or is this not the surgical
“It is, doctor. But our Nanosurgery Option
has an 87% —”
“Robot, MED does not condone acts of
heroism. Not in 2031. Not now. Has the
patient funds for recryonization?”
“ No .”
“Then I want him out of here and in
palliative by noon. Understood?”
“Clearly long-standing pancreatitis that’s
been self-managed … And poorly too—”
A shout brought both the Mirror and the
unit around. Yellow and deathly, the patient
had pulled himself up to sit.
“How dare you! I didn’t spend all those
years on ice just so you could brush me off
like some —” jabbing his finger in the air, he
settled at last on DK “— like some machine!
It’s a trick! That’s not me! I would never —”
“And a psych referral, if he’s still in denial
during transfer.” The Mirror left the room.
The physician unit waited until the patient
had stopped shouting before turning around.
“That was the likeliest outcome by 73.7%.
Please explain why you chose the Mirror.”
But the man didn’t answer. DK made a
psychiatry referral anyway. “Your transfer
will effect —”
“What happens to the Mirror now?”
“As an autonomous program it will be
offered a position in the appropriate consul-
tancy, with the opportunity for retraining.”
“… maybe —” the man’s eyes were dull,
“maybe you should delete it.”
DK looked away, disgusted. “I will not.
Good day, Mr Wollensberg.”
The unit left the room.
Tai k H ob s on lives in Japan, where he
averages four cups of tea per day all year
154 | NATURE | VOL 558 | 7 JUNE 2018