Realistic, isn't she?

Zoe Ball Dismantled

BBC Temptress in Android Shock

It's no secret that Zoe Ball is the latest media darling. On radio, on TV, in the press, there's just no escaping from those blond tresses and that perky grin. But have you ever suspected that there might be a sinister side to this multimedia domination? Well, there is, and we're here to reveal it. Top secret BBC documents have been leaked to us that reveal the startling facts behind Zoe's meteoric rise to fame.

She is not a human being, but is actually an Artificial Lifeform, otherwise known as an android.

Think about it. Somehow this revelation is not a total surprise, is it? And a glance at the facts below should confirm what a nation has oft suspected...

Johnny Ball - Frankenstein!

Zoe's official cover story is, of course, that she is the daughter of TV science boffin Johnny Ball, undoubtedly one of the greatest scientific minds of all time. This tale does have some basis in fact, since Johnny is in a sense her father, being entirely responsible for her design, construction, and education in the ways of human society.

Johnny Ball had always had two ambitions. Firstly, to show children that science can be both accessible and fun. And secondly, to become master of life itself and create a living breathing artificial being. The experiments began in the late seventies, when Johnny was fulfilling the first of his ambitions by presenting the popular children's science show Think Of A Number. While the public watched him explaining the basic principles of physics every week, few suspected that in private, he was actually putting every ounce of his scientific genius to work, making Asimov's dream of a positronic brain a reality. He named the experiment Project Zoe, from the Greek word meaning "life", the goal of his research, although it was only in the later stages of construction that it also became the name of his creation. "Zoe" was originally called simply "my child" by the doting Johnny, and "That Thing From The Cellar" by the BBC honchos, a sobriquet still occasionally used today.

Triumphs and Teething Troubles

It was the BBC, with help from government subsidies, that allowed Johnny to set up and maintain a fully-equipped cybernetics laboratory in the basement of Television Centre in Shepherd's Bush, and this is where Zoe was first built and activated, and where most of the day-to-day repairs and maintenance required to keep her running smoothly are still carried out. At first, the project was fully supported by the BBC, who believed that the completed android would make the ideal TV reporter for the twenty-first century. Fearless and nigh-on indestructible, it would be able to report from the most dangerous war zones and disaster areas, while Kate Adie gracefully retired to a life of comfy armchairs and slippers.

That was the plan. However, it took ten years of solid work before Johnny was able pull back the curtain and reveal his working creation to the BBC management, and by this time, corporate faith in the profitability of the Zoe machine was on the wane. Here we reproduce an internal memo sent to Johnny just after the tests set up to showcase Zoe's abilities had taken place...

To: Ball Laboratories
From: The Director General

Dear Johnny,

I'm afraid to tell you this, but we have found the results of  
initial testing on the ZOE machine to be disappointing. We 
were led to expect a logical, selfless being, able to carry out 
simultaneously tasks involving complex reasoning and literate
intellectual discourse, and these expectations were not met. 
Generally speaking, we require a higher level of emotional 
involvement from our investigative reporters, and less 
conversation about lipstick and shoes. 

We are sorry that we must be the ones to thwart your original 
high ambitions for ZOE. However, we hope our investment will 
not be entirely wasted. A bright spark happened to notice that 
your creation displays the exact combination of innocent glee 
and very basic motor skills that we look for our children's 
presenters. We would therefore be happy to hire the machine 
from you at an hourly rate, while you continue to work on its 
higher brain functions.

Yours sincerely
(signature withheld)
Johnny was dismayed at first, as any "parent" would be, but soon came to terms with the situation, and decided to train his creation specially for her new role. The first tests of Zoe on live television took place not at the BBC but hidden far away from the public eye, on Sky TV. These broadcasts were deemed incident-free enough to warrant the debut of the Zoe android on the early morning birthday slot on the BBC. There, it was believed, the occasional quirk of un-human behaviour would not be noticed, the pre-school audience being too pre-occupied with thoughts of swallowing Lego bricks and buttering the cat to notice any accidental cries of "Zark!" or "Die, puny flesh beings!" And the gambit worked. Zoe took to the simple repetitive speech patterns and humour responses of children's television like a duck to water. It was onwards and upwards for the proud creator and his cybernetic child.

A mere TV presenter? Think again...

Zoe-Technology - But Is It Safe?

Quite understandably, many at the BBC expressed doubts about the potential environmental costs of maintaining such an android, and fears about any danger to the public in the event of a malfunction. Fortunately, her creator foresaw many possible problems and vetoed the use of radioactive materials as a power source during early development. Just as well, for a Plutonium-powered Zoe would have been a fearsome thought, especially during her early broom-cupboard days, when Johnny and his team lived in constant fear of a short-circuit due to carelessly spilt BBC coffee. One accidental jolt of the elbow and Shepherd's Bush could have become a mushroom cloud.

There were also some early trials using with double A batteries, but these came a cropper when untrustworthy cameramen thought it was funny to remove Zoe's batteries just before a broadcast and use them in their Walkmans instead.

A couple of years ago, however, she was converted to run entirely from solar energy. The solar cells are highly advanced, and in the form of many-stranded fibres which look very much like hair, and so have replaced the wig she originally wore. When fully charged, they are a pale yellow in colour; when energy stocks are being depleted, the ends nearest to the scalp become much darker in tone. Any off-stage technician spotting the tell-tale hair can quickly send a message to Ball Laboratories, using the code-phrase "Her roots are showing" and an "urgent location report" in the Costa del Sol will be arranged so that Zoe can be recharged discreetly.

Continuing with the environmentally-friendly principle, most of Zoe's outer casing is made from recycled materials. In the main these are taken from disused shop-window mannequins, with the occasional Barbie spare part thrown in. Any plastic sheen to her skin is rendered invisible on camera by the skillful use of make-up, so that now, ironically, Zoe appears more authentically human than many so-called "real" presenters.

What Of The Future?

It is not yet known whether the Zoe Unit is capable of developing true consciousness, and what the consequences of this would be. The capacity of her electronic brain is consistent with the simple grade of task she is required to perform. We do know that she has recently had a small upgrade, to take her from "Children's Presenter Intelligence Level" to "Radio One DJ Intelligence Level" (a difference of approximately 28 bytes), but this in itself would not be enough to contain a fully conscious mind with knowledge and responsiblity for its own actions, and a total system overload might be the result. In the event of such a crisis, who knows how many innocent lighting technicians and sound engineers could be taken with her when she blows?

We can only hope that Johnny Ball has foreseen the possible consequences of his creation over-stretching itself and attempting world domination, and has built in a failsafe to prevent this, perhaps in the form of a restricted lifespan. Already, some attentive viewers may have noticed that, of late, the Zoe unit's clothing has become more and more scanty. This is due to the increased risk of internal over-heating due to circuitry overloads, and means that, as a precaution, outer insulation of the unit must be kept to a minimum. It is feared that this is a sign that irretrievable meltdown is approaching. Any untoward demands on her neural nets - for example, a request to present the National Lottery Live - could quite literally cause Zoe to explode. But we know Johnny will do everything possible to keep his beloved creation in a safe, non-challenging environment. Her very existence may depend upon it.

And Our Correspondents Write...

We have received several fascinating letters from vigilant members of the public who are out there now, delving deeply to research new aspects of Zoe-Technology. For example, Chris Lamb writes:-
Your comments re the unit's heat dissipation are very true. Last year when the unit was on a photoshoot to publicise the relaunch of Pepsi, it came so close to overheating under the studio lights that its external covering of T-shirt and denim jacket had to be removed altogether, the clothing then being crudely painted on. One effect of this, from our point of view, was to show the two expansion sacs on the Zoe unit's chest, used to absorb excess pressure generated within the body cavity. These had inflated, indicating a build-up of pressure, and it was also apparent in the sideways shots that the pressure relief valves on each sac were also fully extended, suggesting that pressure was becoming dangerously high. The valves had apparently been adjusted during the shoot, presumably to prevent blow-off, as the blue paint had worn off exposing the pink underneath.
Some valuable information you never thought you'd hear, I'm sure you'll agree. So if you discover any further clues to Zoe's mechanical origins, please do mail Jill and get the whole thing off your, errrr, chest...

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