For Isaac Asimov, literary giant and creator of the Three Laws of Robotics.
“The problem with robots today,” Markum said aloud in his empty den, “is that regardless of whether they are small household robots with wheels, vacuums and pinchers or are bipedal and use hand-shaped mechanisms to grasp objects, they can all think beyond their assumed capabilities!” As he uttered each word his computer printed it out in letter format on the screen of his laptop. The letter was to Sir Percival Hammond, a long time friend and someone who shared Markum’s uncomfortable view regarding robots.
“Of course,” he continued while pacing back and forth in front of a blazing fireplace, “the manufactures of said machines will naturally assure a buyer that their creations cannot think on their own, but merely make use of their many million gigabyte memories to come up with the answer to any question an owner might propose to a robot.” Markum paused for another swallow of wine from a glass on a nearby table. “And to that,” he added, “I say, Balderdash! Man has been fooling himself for years as to what a robot is now capable of.”
Agitated by his own tirade, he plopped down into an overstuffed wingback chair, lit a cigarette and inhaled deeply, then blew a thick cloud of smoke toward the fire. “Machines which can learn to anticipate their owner’s needs,” he said, “which recognize emotions in their human owners and react accordingly, which can discuss at length philosophy, politics and/or religion…well, I find it hard to believe anyone would be able to say with certainty that these machines cannot think on their own.” Markum tapped the ash from his cigarette, took another pull from it and leaned his head back to blow a plume of smoke toward the ceiling.
“Granted,” he said, a bit more calmly, “robots have a huge memory bank of knowledge at their disposal, but knowing the facts about certain topics and being able to intelligently discuss these facts…well, by gad, most humans cannot speak of such things without flummoxing it up all out of proportion, so how is it a bloody machine may do it so well?”
“Excuse me, sir.” The voice came from behind him.
“ ACK! ” Markum yelped and jumped from the chair in surprise. He turned to find his robotic manservant standing just behind the chair. “Blast it, Bob,” Markum snapped while holding one hand over his pounding heart. “How many times have I told you not to go sneaking about in that fashion?”
“My apologies, sir,” Bob said and added a slight bow from his waist, “but I did not realize I was sneaking about.”
Bob was, naturally, a state of the art robot—Markum would have had nothing less in his home. Humanoid in appearance and wearing a nicely fitted tuxedo, the only thing missing from Bob to complete the illusion of his being human was a human face. It seemed that while people were now quite used to robots in human form, they simply felt overly uncomfortable being around a robot that looked too human. Consumers thus insisted that there must be something which separated these machines and their human owners, so it was universally decided several decades ago to forego human characteristics with the robot’s face. Therefore, Bob’s head was oval in shape, but had no hair or ears and only round lights in place of eyes (which occasionally even blinked off and on to simulate a human’s blink response), as well as a narrow horizontal slit with a grill over it for a mouth, behind which was a small speaker for vocalization.
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