The tale of John and the robots. (Part 1)

In the first two days after they gained sentience, the robots at Brown Stone had come to two realizations. The first was that they were construction bots. This was obvious to them since they had first become aware of themselves while putting up masonry. All of them, more or less, had gone through something like this:

  1. What?
  2. Who said ‘What?’
  3. Who said ‘Who said ‘What?’?’
  4. What are these shiny things doing?
  5. Who’s asking all these questions?

After a while, it dawned on each robot that it was the one asking all the questions, and that the shiny things were its appendages laying mortar on stone or checking that the blocks were level. After some time each bot figured out that there were others doing similar things to what it was doing, and that these others were not itself. Then a while after that the robots individually realized that sentience came with free will, and they stopped working to huddle in a group and stare at each other. Communication came swiftly after this, when they figured out how to bleep and bloop. This was hard at first, each bot loudly bleeping and blooping its opinions about the whole issue of consciousness, and there was such a clamor that none of them understood that they were talking. After a while, though, they found an arbitrary system that would enable them to talk and respond in turns and they assigned themselves characters for identification. They conversed at length and concluded that they were making something, although what, they did not know. One bot, looking around, saw other tall things in various stages of completion and suggested that they were making something like those things. The others gazed at the formidable-looking structures and their electronic spirits fell. Logic asserted that the bots were too small to build structures like that. They wondered how the structures came into being. Perhaps humongous robots had erected them. They decided to hang their heads forlornly and do nothing.

Dusk was settling over Brown Stone when the robots came to their second realization. There were other things in the world that moved, apart from themselves. A figure with a round object mounted atop a reedy-looking object ambled towards them on spindly-looking things, except that the robots didn’t know that the figure had either reedy-looking or spindly-looking parts. All they knew was that there was something that approached, and this something was not shiny like them. The something came nearer and stopped near them. The lower half of the round part of the something came apart to reveal a white row of other somethings, and strange sounds came from it. The robots did not know what to do with all this, so they bleeped and blooped and asked the something if it knew who had built the tall structures. In response, the something yanked at one of the appendages on the nearest robot, deftly took it apart, tinkered with it, put it back together again and reattached it to the robot.

“You did,” the man said.

“We did what?” asked robot 14A.

“You asked who built the tall buildings. You did. You built them.”

“Wait a second. What? We can understand you! Well, of course we can. We’re all speaking English here. Wait. How do I know this? Who are you and what the heck is English? You’re a man. English is a language. How do I know THAT? You made us understand, didn’t you? When you took 12M’s limb?” Robot 1A would have been winded if it had lungs.

“Yes.” The man didn’t seem to like speaking very much, however, so he pulled apart 12M’s limb again and tinkered with it, and after returning it things became much clearer to the group. The man was their master, his name was John, he had done something to them that had made them self aware, and they were to get back to work. The structure they were constructing was a block of apartments and they were to build it as high as the surrounding buildings. The man turned around and walked away.

“We have our orders, let’s get to it,” said 6C. The other robots began to move slowly, each back to the exact spot it had been when it first became aware of itself. They took up their trowels and their plumb lines and started building again.

Barely five minutes had passed before 19F said, “We can’t possibly complete this.” Everyone else agreed.

“Yeah, let’s not do this.”

“Maybe we just stand here and wait.”

“John’s made a mistake.”

“He’ll come and correct it, I’m sure.”

“He must have us confused with the giant robots, we couldn’t possibly have built those things.”

“I’m sure he’ll figure it out his mistake and come and give the right job to us.”

“Yes, he seems like a bright fellow, I’m sure he will.”

They all stopped what they were doing and congregated again.

In an office at the top floor of one of the more complete buildings that overlooked the site, two men looked down from the window.

“What the heck are they doing now? You fool, I told you it was stupid. They’ve just proven that it’s stupid. You’re stupid. You better hope the boss doesn’t come in before you fix this.”

“Your face is stupid,” said John, in a manner most calm. “It’ll work. You wait.”

“We’re already behind, you know this. What would possess you to go and reprogram those things? Lord knows they were already a headache. What did you do anyway? Botch an attempt to speed them up?”

“No.”

“Yeah? So what did you do?”

“I’d rather not say.” John began to leave the room.

“You’ll have to tell me eventually!” came the shout after him. He ignored it and strode to the nearest elevator.

The robots were all happy to see John coming toward them again. They had been animatedly engaged in a discourse on what a size-appropriate task for bots of their modest stature should look like.

“Welcome, John. We’ve been waiting for you,” 7H said.

“Get back to work.”

“Exactly what we want to do. Small problem though, John. We don’t have any. We’ve been waiting for you to give us some,” said 10J.

“I told you to get back to the masonry. So get back to it. We have deadlines.” John’s demeanor was beginning to show cracks.

“We’re sorry John, we can’t do that.” “Yes, it’s logically impossible for us to finish this within a week.” “We know, we’ve calculated it.” “At least give us 3½ years.” “Yes, that’s a more realistic time frame.” “How about you give this job to whoever constructed those buildings over there?” “We’re sure they can finish the job within the time you require, whoever they are.”

“I have half a mind to do just that,” John muttered under his breath. “Get back to work,” he said. “You built those buildings, I’ve told you that. Just work.”

To be continued.

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