By Corbin Knapp
“It’s not human enough'
A voice rang through the halls of the building. Situated in the heart of America, Sentech Industries was the fastest growing robotics company in the world. The voice that had rung through its halls belonged to the esteemed robotics engineer Dr. Martha S. Sentech, CEO of the company and head engineer of their latest project. The people of the year 2150 didn’t have enough time to take care of their children anymore and there was a place in the robotics market for care-taking robots. The company had been working on designing such a robot, but they had come across a problem on how to make the robot more “human.'
“It will scare the children if it doesn’t have a realistic personality.' Martha said, as she watched the robot stack some alphabet blocks in the test room through the viewing screen.
“It’s programmed with over a thousand different reactions for all possible scenarios,' her assistant Burt Milhouse droned as he stroked his bald head with one hand while typing code into the computer. “It should be as human as the average parent.'
“Yes, but it lacks a certain something, Burt.'Martha smiled, sighed, and sat back down in her chair. They both sat in silence for a moment, watching the robot going through it’s program. When the company had designed the robot they had tried to make it’s design appear as least threatening as possible. With thin limbs and a photoelectric screen for a face that could make different cartoon expressions. They had figured that they had accomplished their goal.
Usually it was a simple smiley face, painted across the screen with blue pixels. When Burt designed the facial programs, he said that the simplicity of the facial expressions made the robot less intimidating to children. It’s body was cylindrical in design, and its limbs were thin and stick-like. It also was short, around the same size as a child. Martha thought it was better that the robot was small, because she said that, “A bigger robot would terrify any kid.' After several months of testing how the robot behaved in different scenarios and how children reacted to it, Martha and Burt were getting closer to finding the perfect design for the robot’s personality.
“I think we can come up with the solution to our problem if we give it a night’s thought,' Martha said as she rubbed her bleary eyes. “What do you say to working on this tomorrow Burt?'
“Sounds good to me!' Burt stated, spinning his chair around and shutting down the program. With a juddering halt the robot stopped stacking the blocks in the viewing room and the screen on his head went blank. Nodding good night to each other, Burt and Martha locked up the lab and headed to their homes. As the light from their cars disappeared down the road, a bluish glow suddenly lit up the lab as the robot’s screen lit up once more. Setting down the blocks, it approached the viewing screen and placed a metal hand on the glass. It’s bluish eyes settling on the desk where Burt’s computer still lay in anticipation of his arrival the next day. Almost sadly it went back to the blocks and sat down , it’s gaze fixed on the door where it’s only friends came in every day.
The next morning Martha walked into the lab and was surprised to see Burt was already there, frantically scrolling through his computer and checking the sensors. “Whats wrong Burt?, you haven’t looked this excited since you and Darla got your first house together!'
“Look at these readings Martha!' Burt exclaimed as he rushed over. “Last night there was a bug in our program, but instead of hurting our robot’s software it seems to have fixed our problem!' Excitedly they both looked at the robot who waved at them through the viewing screen and smiled happily, finally it was getting some attention from it’s friends!
Wanting to please them even more he decided that he wanted to express his gratitude by expressing himself. “I am glad that you are pleased, I hope I do not fail you!' To his surprise, his friends let out ear splitting shrieks of terror and ran out of the room slamming the door behind them. “I hope that does not mean I have let them down,' he said to himself as he looked at the space where moments before his friends had been laughing and celebrating.
Outside the lab Burt and Martha were gasping for breath, their hearts thumping in their chests as they remembered the horrible voice that had come from the robot in the lab. “It talked, it’s not supposed to TALK!' Martha gulped as Burt wiped his sweating head with one arm. “I thought you said that the bug fixed our problem, instead it’s created a completely different one!'
“I thought it did make it better,' Burt panted as he checked the instrument readings he still had clutched in his hands. “Late last night the program glitched and the code was changed slightly, I knew that the program had been changed, but we designed that robot so it could only make indistinct noises, it’s definitely not supposed to be talking!'
“Well it is now!' Martha yelled, yanking her hair as she thought of what this could mean for her company. “Calm down Martha' she thought to herself as she started to hyperventilate, “This could be very good for the company! Who doesn’t want a caretaker robot that can talk and think for itself?' I wouldn’t, it’s just not natural for a robot to be so real,' the darker part of her mind whispered. Shuddering she forced herself to calm down, and her breaths came at normal intervals again.
“Lets just check back in the room and make sure the robot isn’t dangerous,' she said as she glanced at Burt, “Burt, as your boss I order you to check if the robot is dangerous or not.' Burt gulped and straightened his tie.
“If you live through this Burt, remind yourself to find a robotic engineering job at a different company,' Burt thought to himself as he pushed open the door. “One that has a very low chance of me having bodily harm done to me by deranged robots.' As Martha waited outside the door ready to run at the slightest scream from Burt, she heard him gasp in horror. Her curiosity getting the better of her she peeked around the side of the doorway to see what had happened to Burt.
“It’s gone' she exclaimed as she ran up to where Burt was standing, his mouth hanging open as he gazed at the smashed remains of the viewing screen and the hole in the wall where the robot had leaped out. “It must have panicked when we left the room,' Martha gasped as she stared at the destruction, “If it can panic.' she said, quickly correcting herself. “ It can’t feel panic can it Burt?' she said staring at him with wide eyes.
“Your guess is as good as mine,' Burt said as he accidentally stepped on some of the viewing screen glass with a crunch. “There’s no telling how much his programming has changed, for all I know he can feel as many emotions as you and I can!'
Meanwhile the robot was running away from the building. He was puzzled at how his friends had reacted, it had made him feel vulnerable. What if they shut him down and dismantled him? What if they never let him fulfill his destiny and take care of and protect children as his program demanded of him? He ran into the neighborhood beside the company and stumbled into an unfamiliar yard. As he looked up to scan his surroundings, he noticed a little boy staring at him open mouthed from the back porch of the house whose lawn he was standing in.
“Whoa, you’re a real robot!' the boy yelled as his eyes grew wider and he surveyed the robot that had just burst unceremoniously into his backyard. “Do you have name?' the boy asked as he hopped down from the porch and warily approached .
“I do not have a ‘name’ as you call it,' the robot said, his head tilting to one side as he gazed at the boy.
Smiling the boy said, “I’ll call you Sparky, that’s a great name for a robot!' Sparkie’s pixelated face formed a grin as he gazed at the boy, a strange feeling was filling his circuits something amounting to the feeling of joy. Suddenly a man rounded the corner of the house and dropped the keys that he was carrying when he saw Sparky standing next to the kid.
“Get away from that thing Liam!' the man yelled as he started to run towards Sparky. Panicking he turned and ran out of the man’s lawn tearing down the street to escape. As he ran down the street, people pointed and yelled, and Sparkie’s sense of fear heightened as they all began to chase after him.
Sparky had to make it back to the company, his friends would save him from the mob that was now chasing him. All of them yelling at him to get away from their families. A feeling of fear had seized him, and he wondered what the people would do to him if they caught him.
Burt had been sweeping up the glass of the view screen while Martha went to her office to call the police to help them find the robot when to his amazement he saw the robot running back to the company with a mob hot on his heels.
Hurriedly dropping his broom he ran down the stairs to open the door for the robot. As he ran by Martha’s office he yelled out to her, “The robot’s come back! I’m going to let him back in, can you keep him safe while I try to calm down the angry mob that is chasing him?'
“What?' Martha exclaimed as she stuck her head out of her office, “An angry mob?'
As Burt opened the door, Sparky came sprinting through and started running up the stairs leaving him to confront the mob. As Burt shut the door behind him the people began to demand answers to why a robot was wandering through their neighborhood.
“It scared my child,' one man yelled. “It‘s a menace to our society, something like that shouldn’t be allowed to exist!'
“It was an accidental mistake in it’s programming,' Burt shouted as he tried to make himself heard over the angry buzz of the crowd. “I believe it has developed feelings and should be treated as if it is one of us!' The crowd started forward, their confusion quickly turning into anger. The mob surged forward and pressed against Burt.
“It’s not natural, it needs to be destroyed!' someone in the crowd yelled as the mob got closer, “Human being are the only thing on two legs that should be able to have feelings!' and old man yelled from the back of the crowd,
“Anything that is made by man should not take on what makes them human!' a woman shouted from the midst of the crowd. As Burt pressed up against the door, a rock came flying over the top of the crowd hitting him in the head as the mob busted through the doors and shoved him aside.
Sparky was hiding behind his woman friend when the mob burst into her office. He wondered why they looked so mad, he hadn’t done anything wrong had he? As he watched the mob get closer, his friend put a protective arm across his head telling the mob to leave them alone.
Martha realized that she couldn’t stop them as they rushed towards her, knocking her aside and seizing the robot. It was emitting pitiful sounds as the mob started to beat it. Tears running down her face she watched as they threw it on the ground and began viciously smashing it with anything they could get their hands on.
It screamed out “Help me friend!' as one of the mob smashed its face screen with a piece of her desk. Sobbing she looked away as the cries from the robot ceased.
The mob left shortly afterwards, their evil deed done. Burt and Martha stood quietly in the wreckage of Martha’s office, staring down at the ruined remains that had been more human than all of them.
“All things have a right to be alive, no matter how “Human' they seem to be. It is only right to stretch out a hand and give everything a chance. It does not matter if it is made of steel or flesh, everything deserves to live.'