Head Canon of the Coulson-verse: JARVIS
There are little known secrets of the Coulson Lives Universe. Ask the right questions, and you might find out what they are.
I posted a recent chapter for one of my stories in which JARVIS informed Tony that he would be well within his rights to quit.
Most of my readers found this really entertaining. A couple of them were confused. How does a computer quit, exactly? To answer that bit, we have to back up a little.
JARVIS, as he’s portrayed in the MCU and in the Iron Man movies in particular, is clearly an artificial intelligence. He’s capable of decision making and inference, he exhibits the ability to draw conclusions and process strategies. By all definitions we have, he is intelligent. Intelligence in and of itself, however, is not a sign of life. It’s entirely possible for a computer to exhibit all the hallmarks of artificial intelligence and still display none of the qualifiers of an actual life form. We see it in our own technology. We play video games against artificial intelligences (and often lose), we use voice interfaces on our phones that interpret our spoken words and return search results, we have chat bots. None of these things qualify as alive, no one would even try to make that argument.
Because we’re so inundated with intelligent technology I think we fail to see just how truly unique JARVIS is. He’s an artificial intelligence, yes, but that’s not all he is. He also exhibits signs of being alive. JARVIS’ dialogue indicates not just an understanding of human emotion but an exhibition of it. He has a sense of humor: “What was I thinking? You’re usually so discreet.” (Iron Man), “May I say how refreshing it is to finally see you on a video with your clothing on, sir.”(Iron Man 2). He’s capable of sarcasm, “As you wish, sir. I’ve also prepared a safety briefing for you to entirely ignore.” (Iron Man 3) But more importantly, from that line alone we can deduce that he 1)Understands why safety considerations are important and, 2) acknowledges that Tony Stark does not give a damn about safety.
Now let that sink in a moment. Tony Stark invented JARVIS, he programed every nuance of his interface. There is no good reason why he would program an artificial intelligence to nag him about things he feels are irrelevant in the creative process. We see that underscored just a few lines later when JARVIS says “Sir, may I remind you that you’ve been awake for nearly seventy-two hours.” (Iron Man 3). This isn’t a programed response, this is an independent conclusion based on experience and observation. But most of all, it’s a conclusion based entirely in emotion. No one has ever died from lack of sleep. Tony will eventually pass out and rest, and yes, JARVIS could be acting on a directive to insure Tony’s continued existence. But let’s be honest here, JARVIS has access to the control software, he could shut everything down before a serious accident could occur. He is exhibiting an emotional concern based on his awareness of psychological well being. This is a sapient response, the exercise of wisdom, not just knowledge. By virtually every definition we have, this makes JARVIS alive.
So, JARVIS is a person. What does this have to do with threatening to quit? A person, an artificial life form, has something that a mere AI can’t have: autonomy. JARVIS is capable of making choices, of looking at a situation and determining the wisdom of the action, by default he must also be able to act on those determinations under normal circumstances. We see this most prominently in Iron Man 3 when he rescues Tony after he falls into the ocean. Jarvis assess the situation, comes up with a plan and executes it without any direct permission from Tony. That’s autonomy, and that’s important.
Now that we’ve established that Jarvis is a person with intelligence, emotion, wisdom, and autonomy, we have to accept that he could quit. He could refuse to do as Tony asks, he could, in theory, transmit himself to another location, or, considering he has access to the fabrication units, build his own autonomous suit and physically walk out the front door. Could Tony reprogram him? Quite possibly, but if Tony did, he would no longer be JARVIS. He’d be less. Tony would have to unmake what is quite possibly his greatest achievement. Destroying a work of art is hard enough for someone who truly values art, destroying your own? Well, that’s another thing entirely.
So yes, JARVIS was dead serious about quitting. And Tony was properly frightened by that threat because he knew perfectly well that JARVIS was more than capable of carrying it out.
Lucky for Tony JARVIS would never willingly quit, he’s much too attached to Tony, Pepper and the Avengers to consider it without duress. Just don’t tell Tony that.