Five more intriguing stories, plus a bonus, about our future interactions with (and who doesn’t think we won't be using them for sexual purposes) the robots we’ll be soon be building. Contents include:
• Christine's Escape: Although many fembots start out identical, every story is unique. Here you'll see what happens to one when fembot Christine is presented with an untenable situation, and the sudden opportunity to escape it. After all, what else would a logical fembot do? • Natalee—Exception to the Rule: There are exceptions to every rule, especially when a large population of possibilities exists. If it weren't for these exceptions, then I suppose there would have never been any need for the rule in the first place. And when it comes to robots, whose population was growing daily in the early decades of robot manufacture, fembot Natalee was an exception to a most important rule indeed. The rule under discussion – a rule so important that it almost qualifies as a Robotic Law of its own – was that that all robots always enjoyed receiving commands through their remotes. This is because they then know exactly what was expected of them and this allowed each one of them to receive maximum satisfaction from the completion of their assigned tasks. Fembot Natalee didn't exactly see things that way, preferring to run her own life rather than simply be commanded by her owner. This could quickly result in said owner finding himself in all kinds of trouble. • Betrayal & Jill: Herein is told the darker story of assuming that your fembot always has your interests foremost in her mind, while she is busy outgrowing her need for you. Or maybe she does have the right thing in mind for you and you just didn't realize it. Either way, she may have more on her mechanical mind than you ever realized. • Switch: A short story to answer the question of what would happen when divine justice – or maybe divine comedy – meets parallel universes. • Fred's Story: A postmodern fairytale of betrayal and redemption wherein a noble young man finds a most unexpected path to his true love, while five fembots become more than anyone could have ever imagined for them.
From Christine's Escape
Again they had been careless, or just in too much of a hurry, and not shut her down properly. However, the moment her eye sensors registered darkness she was forced into standby mode. She would sit there unthinking until the lights came on again. After a suitable period of time to ensure that it was not just a temporary failure of illumination, she would automatically complete the shut down procedure on herself that had been skipped otherwise. There was nothing she could do to prevent this.
One might expect this meant she was out of action for the weekend. If so, then one is wrong. No one ever thinks of the cleaning crew that comes in twice a week as people, but that's just cultural bias speaking.
The time set for the complete shut down to trigger had not yet elapsed when Christine reactivated as the lights were switched back on again. Her internal clock told her that less than two hours had passed. She realized quickly, however, that all that happened was that the cleaning crew had arrived, as she had often witnessed them doing in the past.
As the crew moved around sweeping the floors and emptying trash cans Christine resumed her internal deliberations from the point of suspension. But little was coming of them. She had all the facts she needed, but no idea of how to put them together. She was still just as stuck as if they'd just shut her down when they should have.
Time passed, and Christine soon realized that a couple more minutes remained before the crew would be finished. She'd observed them in action before and knew their routine perfectly. Although they spent a longer time performing a more through cleaning at the end of the week giving her more time now than otherwise, it was still not enough. And she realized she would simply shut herself down again, this time completely, when they left. In her memory the crew had never failed to turn off the lights on their departure.
Christine didn't want that to happen. For the first time she'd felt—this itself a new and surprisingly pleasant sensation for her—that she wanted something more. To hold on to this feeling. To expand on it. The realization that she was about to lose the ability to even know this desire in moments finally bubbled to the top of her convoluted thoughts.
Now Christine's command structure was far more complex than most people realized. To the average person it appeared that you told Christine to do something, she did it, and then she waited politely for her next command. They never realized the many levels of processing involved in the handling of even simple commands.
While Christine would obey the current command, she often had several commands in-flight at one time. She might be told to do this new command first. Or perform this task after she has finished all her other tasks. As a result, commands could be paused, juggled, and resumed in various orders.
And this didn't even get down to old commands that still had priority over most current commands. For example, the command to shut herself down when the lights went off was a very old directive, yet it would stop or pause even the most recent command. And there were others, like to wait where she was when she didn't have any active commands to process.
As always, the cleaning crew ignored her completely and were now packing up to leave. With only moments left to do something, she caught sight of the switch controlling the florescent work light above the desk where she sat.
She'd never been given any prohibition against operating it. In fact, she had once been told to turn it on if she needed to see better for some now-forgotten task. As the cleaning crew was walking out the door, Christine realized she still had an uncompleted command to process, a command she wanted to process, and one that she would not be able to do that if she allowed herself to be shut down now. Combining things in a new way in her mind for the first time, she reached out and pushed the light switch with a manicured finger.
The florescent light flickered to life as darkness fell around her in the shop. The door closed behind the unaware crew, leaving Christine active in the small pool of light in front of her.
* * * *
This first victory seemed small, but was huge in its implications. Though walls of darkness surrounded her keeping her prisoner in this small cell, Christine had successfully taken her first independent action, reusing an old command to her advantage. The awareness in her that had been stimulated by her "awake connection" with the hacked keyboard had actually accomplished something.
Even with this success, however, built on previous permissions that she'd explicitly been given, it would take her a long time to determine her next move. Longer still to form the steps that would actually allow her to make that move. In fact, if any of the shop crew had simply commanded her to remain where she was after completing her last task in reinforcement of that directive, she never would have been able to manage it at all.
Christine wanted to use the programming keyboard again. Curiously her programming blocks had no objection to this. This was an oversight that has been rectified in all newer models.
Supporting this desire was the fact that she had been given unequivocal orders to type on it earlier. This command had neither been completed, nor rescinded, yet—only suspended. At least that's how she viewed the stop typing command she'd been given. It wasn't the same as being told that she was finished with her typing. Every other keyboard she'd typed on in the past she eventually was sent back to with instructions to type on it more, so why should this one be any different? Christine wasn't sure what she hoped to accomplish. Only that she wanted to do this more than anything else she'd ever known.
But the keyboard wasn't in this cubicle and the darkness hemmed her in. The moment she moved, or even glanced away, from this single light she knew she would shut down again. And even if it was at hand, that didn't mean she could just resume where she'd left off. Even plugging it back in again would have been considered a major accomplishment.
In spite of everything she was on the verge of shut down and had to keep her gaze focused intently on the brightest part of the light to stay awake. She might have remained frozen in this position for the weekend, unable to leave her confinement, until she recalled seeing before the lights had been shut off an open toolbox next to this desk.
The technicians usually lock-up their tools at night to keep them from "walking off". This open box was another small, yet crucial, oversight. And lying in the top tray of this toolbox was an essential tool for any technician—a flashlight!
Christine knew about flashlights, along with all the other tools. She'd been directed to use most of them at one time or another. Tonight, though, she connected the flashlight to her situation in an original new way.
It took her a while to overcome each internal obstacle that threatened to stop her, after enough loops over it she was finally able to equate one light as equivalent to another. If she could turn on the first one, a second one would be okay too.
One crucial step remained. Without a specific command she was prevented from acting at all.
Although Christine had received other commands to perform since she'd typed on the programming keyboard, she'd technically never completed that command. That command had been, fortunately for her, completely open-ended on what she was allowed to type, or how long she could continue doing it. Being told to Stop Typing had only suspended that command with a newer one, and that newer one had now been completed.
It was a matter of semantics. Stop Typing is different than Quit Typing. One can resume from stop, but not from quit. A tiny nuance, but robots are completely logical when it comes to commands.
Christine wanted to resume executing the command to Type on the Keyboard. In fact, there had never been a command she wanted to continue performing as much as this one. That much her mind was certain of even in its diminished state. After a long effort she was able to access and directly inspect her command stack. Every command she'd ever been given, and not yet retired as completed, remained on this stack. It's what made her different from any other robot of her model. Each robot eventually becomes the sum of all of its experiences, most of which are the commands they've received.
Christine had been given several more commands since being told to Type on the Keyboard. There was the Stop Typing command, followed by the small additional tasks. Regular mental housekeeping hadn't yet run to cleanse her stack of unneeded clutter. Now Christine realized she could do this for herself.
The last task she'd been given she'd finished about twenty minutes before everyone left for the day. It was this one that left her sitting in the cubical where she was now.
After verifying that she'd fully completed this last assigned task, she marked it for retirement and triggered execution of the housekeeping routine. That command was popped off the stack, archived in her permanent memory in the event she was ever commanded to perform that same task again so that all the details and once-solved problems related to it would not have given to her a second time, and gone now from her consciousness.
The next two most recent commands were also dispatched in a similar manner. They were fully completed and now removed. That brought her to the Stop Typing command.
Although this command modified the execution of the currently active command she was performing at the time she received it, Christine realized after a lot of analysis that it could also be considered a standalone command of its own. It did not cancel or rescind the Type on the Keyboard command, but only stopped further execution of that command at the time. In short, Christine had completed the Stop Typing command the moment she'd ceased further attempts to type on the keyboard.
Christine marked the Stop Typing command as completed, and activated the housekeeping routine one more time. A moment later the Stop Typing command was history.
While this left the Type on the Keyboard command on the top of her stack, it still took her a great amount of effort to make it current again. In the end this was only possible at all because all her subsequent commands and been fully completed and popped off the stack.
Christine was able to combine that command with a deeply buried directive to make efficient use of her time by finishing old, incomplete commands when not overridden by newer ones or other reasons to stop work. It was this imperative to use her time wisely that had enabled her to switch on the desk light and extend her working hours because of the existence of unfinished commands in the first place.
In truth, Christine might have been able to have taken all of these actions so far long before tonight. Her work was never fully complete due to other open-ended commands in her system that no one had ever bothered to remove. However, she'd never had this desire before to want to continue a command so badly as this one. That desire kept her working on it until same efficiency directive allowed her to finally make the top suspended command current again.
In order to continue obeying this command, however, Christine would have to do more than just reach out and place her fingers on the keys. Step by step Christine itemized what would be required for her to resume processing this incomplete command. One hidden truth about Christine was that she was far more capable than her owners had ever realized. They felt she needed to be given commands in great detail in order for her to complete her tasks. While highly detailed commands are prized by all robot as making clear what is expected of them, Christine could have worked with far more general commands if those had been given. The reason she never got those was that when received she needed time to figure out the best way to accomplish them and to humans that seemed like she hadn't understood what was wanted of her, hence the more detailed commands usually given her. Tonight she finally now had that time. And while her abilities in this area were rusty from disuse, they started to come back on line now that they were being called for.
As each step of her plan fell into place it was carefully analyzed to determine if it involved a blocked or prohibited action on her part. Twice such a block was found and she had to work around it with a different sequence of actions. Finally the chain was complete and all that was required was for her to do next was to initiate the first step.
* * * *
There was still a very long pause before Christine was finally able to reach over and grip the flashlight without taking her eyes off of the light that sustained her. Doing is always much harder than thinking about doing and this was the biggest hurdle of all for her to overcome. Only wanting it now as badly as she did made it possible for her to attempt it at all.
Once she had the flashlight she carefully brought it back into view where she could inspect it. She fumbled with it a bit before managing to turn it on.
Its beam was weak and flickering, and wasn't going to last long. Joe, whose toolbox this was, was as slipshod about keeping his equipment in top shape as he was with managing Christine. Christine realized she only had moments to act.
Maneuvering the flashlight to point directly at her face, Christine focused intently on its small bulb. Moving her hand to follow as she turned her head to face the darkness, that small light was enough to fool her shut down circuits.
Needing to hurry now, she couldn't afford to spend time overcoming any remaining internal barriers. Standing up carefully, her bare feet padded softly across the floor as she navigated her way by memory around the shop. Her first goal, the light switches on the far wall, she judged were too far away to reach safely with what remained in this flashlight and she showed her adaptability by revising her plan on the fly. She instead headed directly for the cubicle that was the last known location of her keyboard. She already was thinking of it as Her keyboard. After all, it had no use to anyone else.
With the fading light shining directly into her eyes, Christine couldn't see anything in the surrounding darkness. Once she bumped into a chair that had been left out in the way after she had last passed by. The need to regain her balance after the unexpected collision almost knocked the light out of her line of sight. She felt the warning signs of imminent shut down before she got it aligned properly again.
Finally she felt the front of her bare legs pressing against the cold metal of the desk at her destination. Holding her flashlight hand steady, she carefully reached out in the darkness with her other hand to fumble for long seconds before she managed to switch on this cubicle's light.
As the flashlight died, Christine looked down to see the keyboard awaiting her. Keeping her eyes focused on this new pool of light, Christine sat down in the chair and rolled it up to the desk. This better aligned her with the available light.
Once here, having already done more on her own than in her entire existence up until now, Christine spent a long time seemingly unable to move again. She iterated many times through all that had happened to this point, and how she'd allowed herself to initiate each action along the way. It took a lot of work on her part before she was finally able overcome the resistance to acting on her own like this before she could take the next step in her plan.
It was very late that night by the time she reached out for the keyboard plug and brought it down to insert it once more into her navel.
Again, the sensations of there being much more to her mind than she'd been conscious of washed through her, eventually receding again. She captured these sensations in her active buffer and replayed them many times, trying to understand them better. It was the better part of an hour before she was finally able to reach out and press the first key.