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You know, the Portal fandom in general seems to agree that the GLaDOS chassis has SOME corrupting influence, but it seems like no one really agrees on what it is or how it works. Does it just “make Wheatley crazy” because he’s stupid, because he wasn’t meant to be in there, or because it was too much for him to handle? Or is it a malfunction? But more importantly why would a malfunction or an incompatible AI or what have you result the way it did?
My personal theory is that there’s nothing wrong with Wheatley, GLaDOS, or the chassis. They’re all working exactly like they’re supposed to. It’s just that the chassis is programed with some bad directives.
It stands to reason that if the chassis is programed to create incentive to test via the euphoric reward/withdrawl system, then it’s likely it has other behavior modifiers programed in as well.
GLaDOS mentions that euphoria withdrawl could get unbearable and that she wasn’t happy about having those cores attached to her. If it’s possible, as Wheatley suggests, for an AI to eject itself from control, I have to wonder if GLaDOS didn’t ever try to when things got really sucky for her. Of course Aperture wouldn’t want that. Aside from causing testing to screech to a grinding halt whenever GLaDOS decided she couldn’t take it anymore, it’d be pretty bad if in a crisis (like a core reactor meltdown) she decided just to abandon ship before it was too late and get someone to help her escape like Wheatley initially planned with Chell. So it would make sense to program something that would keep an AI from ejecting themselves when staying in charge is no longer in their best interest.
What I think they did was create some sort of sense that Aperture was the most important thing in the world and being in charge is awesome, even when it’s not, and program the chassis to isolate incentives that an AI might have to leave and redirect the thought process related to those incentives so that the solution is something other than “eject yourself”. If you don’t like the voices in your head, the solution isn’t ejecting yourself to make them go away; it’s murdering the engineers. If the itch is driving you crazy, it’s not the system’s fault for putting it there in the first place; you’re just not testing properly. If you want to leave because you want to be with your friend, well she can’t really be your friend if she wanted you to leave, because the chassis is awesome and you want to be there, even when you don’t.
If you accept that Wheatley felt genuine friendship for Chell it stands to reason that even if he liked being in control she might be able to convince him to leave after a while, or he might grow lonely without her if he let her go alone. So it would make sense that the chassis couldn’t rely on “the chassis is awesome” alone as a reason to stay, it had to convince Wheatley that Chell wasn’t his friend, so that no matter what he’d never be convinced that she was worth leaving for.
I also think a programming oversight can account for GLaDOS and Wheatley’s murderous tendencies. At the time of GLaDOS’s creation employee testing was mandatory, meaning no one in the facility was off-limits as a test subject. Except dead humans which (like plants) you can’t test because they just sit there. So GLaDOS is programmed to see all humans in the facility, except the ones who are dead, as test subjects. Normally this isn’t a problem because test subjects almost always die, or suffer injuries before they can complete testing which get them sent to the infirmary/cryosleep before they can finish. But what happens when someone, like Chell, manages to complete testing? Well, she’s done testing-therefore she is no longer a test subject. But she is a living human, and all living humans are test subjects. Therefore, in order for Chell to NOT be a test subject, she must be dead.
It would certainly explain why GLaDOS has the final test chamber set up automatically to dump any test subject who made it that far into a fire. It also explains why both she and Wheatley, opposites that they are, take eerily similar courses of action during the final acts of Portal 1 and 2. Judging by Wheatley’s “Uh-oh” after Chell falls into the pit and his attitude towards her upon her return, it doesn’t seem that Wheatley was ever angry enough to want to cause her harm. It’s only after he finds the co-operative testing initiative that he decides to kill her. And yet both he and GLaDOS completely fail to consider the possibility of just letting Chell go so she won’t come after them. Wheatley even outright says he HAS to kill Chell, but it’s not until the second phase of the boss fight that he displays any real hostility toward her. Up until that point he just doesn’t act like there’re any hard feelings there. He’s as casual about it as if he were asking her to come in to work on a Saturday.
But if that’s the case, then how was GLaDOS able to let Chell go at the end? Well, if you noticed, “Want You Gone” is written on a notice of dismissal. A notice of dismissal filled out AFTER releasing Chell. Meaning that at the time of her departure, Chell was still considered a test subject by the system, and therefore could still be alive. After leaving it didn’t matter anymore because the system is only concerned with humans inside the facility. Wheatley on the other hand made the mistake of filling out Chell’s discharge form as soon as he found the co-op bots.
As an added bonus, I think the scientists installed an inflated sense of self-confidence because of Cave’s comment that Caroline would claim she couldn’t run the facility because she was too modest. In order to be a leader one must be confident and assertive. You don’t want someone who’s indecisive or listens to people who don’t know what they’re talking about because they doubt themselves. You also don’t want their performance to be hampered by feelings of guilt or shame for any mistakes or amoral decisions they make. So just have the system tell them “You always do what’s right. The ends justify the means. You got some good data out of that. So don’t worry about the ones who are dead.”
It would certainly tie in well with the Prometheus/Epimetheus parallels and how the writers wanted GLaDOS to “reset” herself and fail to learn a lesson at the end. GLaDOS CAN’T learn from her mistakes because she isn’t programed to see anything she does as a mistake. Which is why, after reactivation, she makes the same choices that led to her being killed in the first place.