I have been going over the dialogue, trying to see if I could trace a source for the slightly negative "vibe" I had been unconsciously getting.
The "she" he refers to in the course of the strip is not a single "she". He is changing referents (without marking the changes in any way).
"How much it will cost to buy her". You don't buy a prototype, and he assumes Ashe is aware of this. He is talking about buying one of the many EDS dolls that will be on the shelves in stores.
"She is still very much a work in progress." He is talking about the project as a whole, on the way from multiple current prototypes to eventual mass-produced sellable entities.
"I don't know how much she will cost when she finally hits the market." Again, the final product once it's available for consumer purchase.
Panel 6, the same, a sold commodity product.
"How surprised I was to run into her today." Now he is suddenly (and without transition) talking about a particular prototype, the Ping we know and love.
He does not distinguish these uses because he makes no such distinction in his head
. As far as he is concerned there is only the EDS project
, which is the real "she" behind all of his usages. He doesn't indicate any change in his speech because no such change is happening in his mind. The abstract design, the various prototypes, the mass-produced final products, these are all instances of the Ping project. The antics of a particular protoype, one among many, and only one step along the development path of the Project, are of mild amusement to him, but not enough to trigger either concern ("we need to get her back to the lab to make sure she's ok") nor genuine scientific wonder at whatever signs of individuality she has managed to develop ("Fascinating... but not fascinating enough to interrupt this great cup of coffee.").
This amalgamation of referents simply wouldn't be possible if he were a rogue scientist who had managed on his own steam to create a new life form without regard to Sony's product requirements. He would immediately suss that the "she" in Ashe's first message was about his Ping, The Ping, and would respond that of course She isn't for sale at any price... but that Sony was planning to develop and sell non-self-aware "ordinary" Ping-like accessories, if Ashe had any interest in those. The distinction between "his" Ping and the (much less interesting) project from which she had sprung would be impossible to conflate or leave ambiguous in his mind and speech.
Another trail of breadcrumbs... I had been struggling the past few days to recall, without doing the obvious thing of rereading the comic, if Tsubasa was a legitimate beta tester of Ping, or had somehow acquired her less legitimately (stolen or gotten from someone who stole her; substitute "helped escape" for "stolen" depending on which POV is under discussion). Then today while searching for something else I found this one
: "The missing EDS prototype" (so not legitimately beta tested by Tsubasa); "The boys in the lab were pretty upset when you went missing."
But the Old Man here doesn't seem "upset" at all. Yes a lot of time has gone by since 252; but if he no longer had reason to be "upset", it seems strange that Sony (and thus Ed) still would be. If she was the unique creation of a rogue genius, her escaping under unknown circumstances ought to upset him greatly. If the lead designer of an official Sony project "misplaced" one of the key prototypes of the project, the resulting shitstorm from upper management indeed ought to leave him rather upset. But in panel seven he is giggling at the prototype's antics, not bothering to mention her having escaped, apparently unconcerned with where she's been or where she's going.
This makes sense to me if "the boys in the lab" Ed is talking about are the ones in the testing (QC) lab, not the design lab. (Maybe even these guys
) The Old Man is not "upset", because his lab finished
their work; he signed off on the prototype(s) and passed them on to the QC lab. QC dorks lost a prototype? Ha, sucks to be them. Ooh, found it on the street, retrieval? Nope, not my bailiwick, let Ed handle it.
Believe me, I would love it if this guy were Noonien Soong or Tony Stark. The things he's said here just aren't pointing me in that direction I'm afraid.