Why is C3PO so fussy?

The gold-plated diplomacy droid from Star Wars makes up half of the duo led by the mobile garbage receptacle R2D2. Unlike his whistling, screaming companion, C-3PO speaks over six million languages. One of these languages is droid, and C-3PO and R2D2 use this shared communication method to, well, bicker. What’s more, he maintains his fussy attitude throughout nine movies with most of the people he’s with. Why?

C-3PO was originally a protocol droid for the chief negotiator of the Manakron system. If you didn’t know this, go easy on yourself. The system is only mentioned once in the entire franchise, and not even in a main series installment. C3PO offers this fact in the spin-off animated series The Clone Wars as he’s tortured by a bounty hunter named Cad Bane. Although he later fell into disrepair and was restored from junkyard parts by Anakin Skywalker, this original experience would have offered him an opportunity to meet and learn from high-ranking ambassadors and dignitaries. I suggest that he learned from this high class society to be a snob and he has followed this pattern ever since.

Here I will surmise an additional functionality for C-3PO to supplement his reinforcement learning: imitation learning. One element of human social interaction is mirroring. How much I can trust you derives from the extent to which you are like me. Therefore, a protocol droid that can match the mannerisms of its interlocutor will be better received than one that cannot. 

With his imitation learning, C-3PO learned how to behave in high society. When things went well he was proper, erudite, and well-spoken. The rare times that something went wrong, the dignitaries surrounding him reacted the way he does – fussy and dismissive of the low class people around them upon whom they were suddenly dependent to get to safety. 

After he was decommissioned, left in a dump, and resurrected by Anakin, something had changed. Whatever may have broken or become mistakenly deactivated, his imitation learning no longer functioned, and he was stuck. Throughout the rest of his storied career, he has interacted with smugglers, farm-boys, renegade princesses of obliterated planets, space bigfoots, culturally insensitive teddy bears, and beeping trash cans with wheels, and he treats them all with the prickly derision that would make a Manakron dignitary proud.

Name: C-3PO

Origin: Star Wars (1977)

Likely Architecture: Reinforcement Learning, Convolutional Neural Networks for vision processing, and Transformers for Speech and Language. Imitation learning to match the mannerisms of the people he is around (broken since before Episode 1).

Possible Training Domains: An endless parade of fussy, dismissive Manakron system dignitaries

I take requests. If you have a fictional AI and wonder how it could work, or any other topic you’d like to see me cover, mention it in the comments or on my Facebook page.

By Sam Munk

Science fiction and Fantasy author with a focus on philosophical inquiry and character-driven drama.

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