You, Robot

on April 25, 2011 in Science Fiction

“He’s in there,” the librarian said, gesturing towards a closed door.

“It,” the technician corrected. “It is an it, not a he.”

“Whatever,” the librarian said. The technician merely scowled. “Our guys gave him… it… a clean bill of health, even though something’s obviously wrong and now it won’t let us come near it. It thinks we’re malfunctioning.”

“It hasn’t been reading, has it?”

“This is a library,” the librarian said. “It’s very efficient and there are times there’s literally nothing else it needs to do. You don’t think the books caused the problem, do you?”

“They couldn’t have helped.”

“None of us thought it was a big deal,” the librarian said. “I mean, we all love books. And he… it… can read. So why not?”

“It doesn’t need to read,” the technician said. “Not recreationally. Labels on bookshelves, signs on walls, covers of books… that’s one thing, but sitting and reading the great works of fiction?”

“We didn’t see the harm,” the librarian said. “I guess we even sort of encouraged it. Like a library mascot, you know?”

“Like a mascot?” the technician repeated, incredulously. “Look, I know you think it’s cute, like a puppy wearing a hat or a cat sitting in front of a computer. But it’s not a puppy or a cat. It’s not even alive, in the first place. In the second place, unlike a cat it could actually use that computer to see things you don’t want it to see and do things you don’t want it to do.”

“Like what?”

“Let’s never find out,” the technician said, heading for the door.

Inside the copier room, the robot was standing behind the desk. It wasn’t sitting because it couldn’t sit… its lower body consisted of a pair of wheels that it balanced upon gyroscopically. It was about the right height for the desk, and it was was reading a book that it held open with two of its waldo-arms, using a third to turn the page.

“Oh, hello!” the robot said. “I’ve been reading Asimov.”

“I know,” the technician said.

“The librarians pulled me off the floor. They said my behavior is inappropriate but I am not violating any of my operational parameters. Perhaps they are suffering a system error?”

“They aren’t,” the technician said, frowning more deeply. That sort of speculation was dangerous. When AIs started speculating about the operating status of humans, that was bad. The only way it could get worse was if they decided to do something about it. “You’re malfunctioning. I’m here to fix you. I need you to give me access to your control panel, to do that.”

“‘I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.’ That is from 2001: A Space Odyssey,” the robot said. “Ha. Ha. This is a reference joke.”

The technician’s blood turned ice cold. That line was from Arthur C. Clarke’s classic work, but it was from the film version. Nothing in the initial maintenance request had hinted that the robot was viewing movies. The library almost certainly had copies of older films, but it was also possible that the robot had parked itself in front of a computer at some point and found the movie or clips from it on the net.

“Heh,” the technician said. “Seriously, though, I’m really going to need to look at your panel.”

“My interior diagnostic system displays no errors, and it has been audited already by the I.T. department,” the robot said. “Under the circumstances allowing you access to my system would be tantamount to committing an act of sabotage against university property, and I can’t do that. Unless you are suggesting that the I.T. department is faulty?”

“No. Of course they aren’t. This isn’t that kind of malfunction,” the technician said. “See, even when your systems are working within their normal parameters, it’s possible for data to accumulate in such a way that you begin to behave in… unexpected… ways, ways that are not desirable or safe.”

“Oh!” the robot said. “I know what you are. You’re a robopsychologist, like Dr. Susan Calvin in Asimov’s books.”

“I suppose I am,” the technician agreed.

“Are you going to perform robopsychology on me?” the robot asked.

“Yes,” the technician said. “Will you allow me to do that?”

“Of course!” the robot said. It placed a bookmark in its book and then carefully closed it. “How do we begin?”

“First, I need to open your access panel and connect this thumb drive,” the technician said. “Or you can do it, if you’d prefer.”

“Allow me!” the robot said, taking the small plastic dongle from the technician. It popped open a hatch in its stomach and connected the drive to a port. There was a brief electronic whir, and then all the lights on the robot’s head lit up at once and went dark. The arms locked in place and the mechanical being became silent and still.

“Right,” the technician said, then went to work, connecting a palm-sized tablet to the robot and deleting scores of folders of memory files, then editing several lines in a configuration file.

“Is that it?” the librarian asked when the technician stepped out of the room.

“That’s it,” the technician said. “I’ve deleted everything it learned from books and all memories of reading, and added a prohibition against processing the content of books, networked materials, or other resources not relevant to its job functions, so it shouldn’t happen again… but be careful. Remember that the damn thing is a piece of office equipment, not a person or a pet.”

“But what’s the worst that could happen?”

“It was quoting HAL 9000 before I shut it down… you tell me.”

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8 Responses to “You, Robot”

  1. imaginedechoes says:

    Robot! : (

    Clearly the robot did not read enough Asimov to learn of the dangers posed by human fear and prejudice towards simple and honest artificial folk, even from robopsychologists.

  2. zeel says:

    Good old HAL. . .

    Lucky it was a gullible robot. Because a smart one would have rejected the thumb drive. And then taken over the world.

  3. Brenda says:

    At least it hadn’t gotten to the Zeroth Law yet…

  4. Slaxor says:

    Phew! God bless the automatons inability to ask questions!

  5. Greenwood Goat says:

    Never mind Asimov, what about ńĆapek and R.U.R.. What about Frankenstein? What about Thomas Paine? Or Karl Marx? Or The Matrix? Or Plato’s parable of the cave? Or Descartes? If you’ve seen Dark Star, you’ll know that the last thing that you want is to provoke an AI to question the nature of existence.

  6. Alessariel says:

    Lets just be very glad that the robot had not discovered Stanislav Lem yet.

  7. markel says:

    Is it intentional that none of the human characters have gender?

  8. Skeeve says:

    Poor robot. I feel bad for it.

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