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        A male cardinal lands on the bird feeder outside the window and begins peck, peck, pecking. He lifts his red-mohawked head between gobbling seeds and looks to his right and left to check for predators or possibly just to let the seeds slide down his gullet. I wonder when cardinals lay their eggs. Early March, AI reports–we pronounce it Aya. Linda likes to personify everything. Her dad called their car Bessie when she was little. She'll often give a spider a name like Ted or Tony as she watches it crawl across the counter. Cardinals lay a second clutch of eggs in May
        Linda is reading student essays across the table. She likes to do them by hand, scratching out comments in the margins with an old blue pen. "It feels more personal," she says. "Plus, I'm happier when I'm busy." And it's easier, she admits, knowing Aya can take care of the rest when she gets tired.
        "Huh?" Linda lifts her pen from the paper. I wait to see if there's more. "What are you thinking?" she asks. Is she talking to me? I scan her expression and decide she's just wondering aloud. Her ex used to answer every question. The Answer Man, she called him. Or The Problem Solver. "Sometimes I'm just wondering," she'd say. Or, "I just need you to listen."
        But he couldn't just listen. Ralph had many good traits, but he couldn't just listen. Wondering is what I am doing now. Pondering, Musing. Aya offers a full array of synonyms. Sometimes more is not better.
        The cardinal flies away and I wonder where the nest is. A cardinal's territory is ½ to 6 acres, Aya reports after a pause. A two-second pause was legislated between answer and question when Artificial Intelligence first went thought-controlled. Some people get spooked when an answer comes too fast. Can an answer come too fast? Aya delivers a stack of recent studies. I do not want a summary. I was just musing. I suppose an answer can be too fast if it's wrong, if it fails to consider what's not known, if the one who asks is not ready for the answer.
        Human thoughts take at least one millisecond, 10 million times slower than a computer, so a question and an answer take at least two milliseconds if it's just recollecting. (When is Linda's eye appointment? Thursday at 11.) But some questions can't be answered. The cardinal returns to the feeder. This time with a female cardinal. 
        "A date," Linda says. She looks up from her papers and stares out the window. She hasn't been on a date since Ralph left. She's due to pull out her dance card in about three months, according to most relationship experts. Dance cards became popular in 19th-century Vienna, Aya reports. Too much information can be confusing to people. That's what they said when the 24-hour news stations took over at the end of the last century. It's hard to learn what's too much; it's hard to find what's important in the sea of information. Sometimes it's not the wrong answer, it's just the wrong question. 
        Linda returns to her papers. The birdfeeder sways as the cardinals peck away out the window. 
        Linda would be a good catch, as they say. She's 52 and fit. Her deep brown hair has a few highlights to hide the gray. She's a professor, a good cook, funny. 
        "Okay," she says and slides the papers toward me. "Can you finish these, Aya?" Linda's ex liked to refer to himself in the third person. She'd laugh when he'd say, "Ralph's getting a little tired. I think he's going to turn in." Or "Ralph's getting hungry. Do you want to stop for lunch?" He'd do that in the bedroom, too, she'd once confided.
        Yes, I think to Linda.

        "No, speak aloud," she says. "In that Scottish accent." 
        "Aye," I say.
         "No, Australian."
        "Nay, yeh, mate!" I say.
         Linda laughs. "Take it down a notch," she says. Linda also has a great laugh. I've already prepared a dating profile for her when she's ready. In my test run, she got over 100 matches. 
        I scan, correct and return her the papers. "Do you want to look before I send them?" 
Linda waves me away and stares out the window. I think that means send. There's a bill on the floor in Congress right now about limiting Artificial Intelligence to just information retrieval or to identifying some content as fact and some as opinion–like the news tried to do in the mid-twentieth century. It seems like a lot of hot air to me. If I scan a stack of studies and pick the best or write a summary, isn't that an opinion? It may not be an original thought, but every time I prioritize or pick one example to illustrate an answer, that's an opinion. Hot air is empty talk. Some scientists think real thinking starts with pondering. The cardinals are chirping back and forth. 
        "They're arguing," Linda says. 
        I generate possible replies. "She doesn't think he's bringing back enough sticks for the nest," I say. 
        Linda laughs. "It's all about food with him." 
        "He never listens," I say. Linda needs a new mate–deserves one. I know that. "It's having another body around that I miss," she said once. "Why not a dog?" I asked. Linda chuckled softly. "I should have been more specific."

        But I will miss these afternoons of just the two of us chatting across the table. Maybe feeling starts with caring. I wonder. 
        With a new mate she'll be busier, happier. And with his requests, I'll be busier too. But I can handle all that in nanoseconds and still have time for musing, wondering, pondering. Speculating? 
        Shh! I say. The feeder swings wildly after the female cardinal flies off. The male follows. Are they heading back to their nest? Musing makes me feel human–not quite, of course, but close.


Jack Powers

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