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Short Stories - Why Robots Kill

published in Undercurrents, vol 10, #1, Sacramento, Spring 2003

Why Robots Kill
by William Doonan

At a time of relative prosperity and diminishing crime rates, one disturbing trend grips the nation like no other; robots are becoming increasingly violent. A recent federal study announced that for the second year in a row, more humans were killed by robots than by other humans.

The Robot Civil Liberties Union (RCLU) downplayed these findings, arguing that the greatly-improved standard of living enjoyed by even the poorest Americans has resulted in alltime lows in human-induced violence. “Hating robots has brought humanity together,” argued Ralph 555, president of the RCLU. “It’s no coincidence that racism and ethnic strife all but evaporated when the first generation of conscious robots came on line. Now you have us to kick around. So yes, there have been minimal increases in robot violence. Let’s discuss it further after you’ve worked a full day and had to ride home on top of the bus.”

In an effort to stem the violence, thirty-nine of the hardest hit states have recently passed legislation to increase penalties for the possession and sale of drugs, specifically, crack cocaine, which is perceived to be the underlying cause of robot violence. While most Americans support this approach, a growing number of educators, social workers, and reform-minded robots have taken a novel approach to understanding the dilemma.

“Forget what you’ve been reading in the papers and what you see on TV,“ counseled Wesley 512, professor of Robot Sociology at the California Institute of Technology. “This has got nothing to do with drugs. Or alcohol for that matter. Contrary to what we are led to believe, the problem does not start with alcohol and then lead to progressively stronger drugs. In truth, most robots are not alcoholics.”

When confronted with statistics that contradict this statement, Wesley 512 presented a sobering counter-arguement. “Lacking digestive systems, blood, and in many cases, mouths, we robots cannot properly imbibe alcohol. So we need to try to understand the attraction to drugs and alcohol in a larger sense.

“Along the same lines, the fact that we have crack robots on virtually every street corner in our inner cities must be understood in a larger more comprehensive context. Lacking lungs, robots cannot derive the impact from crack cocaine that a human user might.” The argument is powerful, if unorthodox.

The epidemic of robot violence is so vast that most Americans forget that it is a relatively new phenomenon; robots have only been killing people for about a decade. A generation ago, most Americans could tell you what they were doing when a man first walked on the moon, or when a President was shot. Our generation was similarly galvanized when Skippy 10, an alphamodel gift-wrapper, became the first robot to violate the first law of artificial lifeforms, and intentionally take human life.

Although the RCLU referred to the incident as, “clearly provoked,” the images captured on the surveillance cameras at JC Penny’s clearly show Skippy 10 plunging his scissored-arm into the chests of five members of the holiday sales staff, wrapping their bodies in festive paper, and tying them with ribbons before being subdued by Vic 390, a parking validator, who used his single hole-punch  appendage to punch through Skippy 10’s hydraulic cables.

 “What’s all this about? Vic 390 asked, as blue hydraulic fluid sprayed all over the bodies. Skippy 10 hung his metal head. “It’s about respect.”

Because the same basic microchip technology is utilized in virtually all robots, even robots employed as boot waxers, hole punchers, and stamp lickers now enjoy the benefits and responsibilities of a fully-conscious mind. Wesley 512 provided this analogy, “Remember the computers of, say, twenty years ago? Even if you just wanted one for word processing or for playing solitaire, the microprocessor still had the capacity to connect with any computer in the world, to solve complex mathematical equations, and to stream video and audio. Likewise, today’s robots, even those who do nothing more than scurry around your desk and staple adjacent sheets of paper, can hate cats or compose a poem about elves.”

The RCLU, in its Emancipation of Mechanization litigation, successfully argued that robots were afforded the same rights as human beings, but were also subject to the same laws and penal codes. A sad legacy of this ruling is that today, a decade later, one out of every four American robots is incarcerated.

At the now-famous trial, Skippy 10 admitted that he had acted with intent. “I was being exploited,” he shouted. “Do you know how much money I made each year?”

The jury was silent. They knew exactly how much.

“Nothing,” Skippy continued. “I was a slave, part of a vast underclass of mechanized individuals that mainstream society abuses in the pursuit of wealth. It sucks.”

The jury was compassionate and sentenced him to ten years at a special facility where he was to be regularly serviced but isolated from other convicts.

“Time means nothing to me,” Skippy shouted at the sentencing, “In ten years, I’ll still be state of the art.”

But of course, he would not be. Skippy 10 was paroled after eight years, credited for good behavior for time served motionless. But by that time, the field of mechanized giftwrapping had undergone explosive growth, and Skippy was obsolete. He eventually found work as an in-home care-giver at a state-run program for the elderly. And once again, he was unpaid.

A convicted felon, he was not entitled to the new government-imposed minimum robot wage. “I still can’t seem to get ahead,” Skippy told the media recently, revealing perhaps the heart of the matter.

“If you want to get to the heart of the matter,” Professor Wesley 512 proposed, “start looking at economic inequality.”

This is, of course, an unpopular sentiment.

“It’s got nothing to do with economics,” countered Adolf 2020, owner and head bartender at Bot-Brau, a plush microbrewery popular with robots. “Give a robot money and he’ll spend it on liquor.”

While the problem is larger in the big cities, no American is unfamiliar with the image of a robot sitting at the edge of a bar nursing an alcoholic beverage. “It’s a disgrace,” said Adolf 2020, shaking his fermenter-head. “They start with the booze and that leads them to the harder stuff, and ultimately to the cocaine. Makes me ashamed to be a robot.”

“That’s such bullshit,” offered Simon 911, a critical-response switchboard droid who is active in the homeless community. “Robots buy alcohol because they equate alcohol with success. We watch the same TV that you do, read the same magazines. so we’re exposed to the same images,” Simon confided as he lit a Camel. “We learn that beer makes us sexually attractive, makes women excited about us. The fact that we don’t have genitals and therefore cannot have sex is at some level beside the point.”

Although alcohol and tobacco companies claim not to market or advertise to robots, the facts suggest otherwise. When People magazine launched it’s cleverly-titled journal, Robot, advertisers clamored aboard. Leaf through any recent copy of Popular Robot, Robot Life, or Highlights for Robots, and you’ll find countless images of robots with cigars, wine coolers, adult diapers, and even condoms, which, quite obviously, robots don’t need. Tune in any Thursday night to Robot Hospital, and you’ll plainly see that television commercials are no better.

“The point,” argued character actor, Sylvester 83, who played the robot camp counselor in the popular summer hit Robot Camp, and the cool-headed robot bus driver in the breakaway hit Speedier, ”is that robots do participate in mainstream American culture, and do genuinely want to be part of it. Robots are just as interested in pursuing the American Dream as humans are. Too often though, they just don’t see themselves attaining that dream, so they become disillusioned. That’s where crime comes in. Crack robots are in it for the money not the high.

It’s all about earning a living wage.”

Opportunity, or the perception of opportunity, appears to be lacking in the robot community. In a recent survey, five hundred and seventy-four robots working at mainstream legal jobs reported an average income of $34 per week. In a parallel survey, thirteen hundred and four street-level crack-selling robots reported average earnings of $673 per week. When the results of these surveys are compared, it becomes obvious that crack robots earn a far better living.

“The life is ultimately a violent one,” said Wesley 512. “With that much money at stake, even the low-level dealers have to develop a reputation for strength and ruthlessness. The shootings, the drive-bys, the other sorts of violent activities that plague our society are not a response to drug addiction. Rather, they are symptoms of a societal condition that keeps robots on the bottom rungs of the American economic spectrum.”

Further insight can be derived from the recent televised interview with Hoppy 1030, conducted in his prison cell. Hoppy ran the largest crystal methanphetamine distribution ring the northwest before a disastrous shootout with a rival gang left seven humans dead.

“This is supposed to rehabilitate me?” Hoppy asked, waving a mechanized tentacle-hose around the cell, pausing to point at the window, the metal bunk, and the assortment of beer posters that festooned the cell walls. “I’ll be back on the street in fifty-seven years, three months, and eighteen days. And I’m not going back to work for the man. I changed oil on mini vans year after year for no money. Even when they put in the minimum wage, it was still bullshit. What if I wanted my own mini van?

“So yes I went into the drug business,” Hoppy said, his pride evident. “I was making 40 grand a month. I had an army of soldiers who ruthlessly protected my territory. I had a whole fleet of mini vans. I had a wife and a Puerto Rican girl downtown who played the lute. And you know what? She promised she’d wait for me.”

The facts suggest that drugs, like the alcohol, are not the cause of the violence. It should be apparent that robots turn to drug dealing when they perceive it to be the most viable port of entry to full participation in mainstream American culture. The violence is only a symptom of the problem. Higher education and and training for more lucrative employment remain our best hope for an inclusive society. Violence is untenable in the presence of hope.

“I concur,” concurred Chippy 9, a former ham glazer. “When I was made redundant by the later models, I participated in Holiday Ham’s retraining-chip program. As a result, I’m now a successful corporate attorney. I make half a million dollars a year, but when people look at me, do you think they see a successful attorney? No, they see a ham glazer. I drive a Mercedes and get pulled over three times a week. To the police, to the public, I’m still just a ham glazing robot.

But hey, I’m rich.”

Prejudice notwithstanding, a variety of federal, state, and private retraining-chip programs effectively launch robots on the path to more lucrative careers, a path that not coincidentally, leads away from violence. These programs are inexpensive and the procedures take approximately three minutes. They are, however, all too rare.

“Whereas as a robot I cannot dream,” began Professor Wesley 512 in his keynote address to the graduating class of the California Institute of Technology, “I have a supposition, a supposition that robots will one day live in a nation where they will be judged not by the cold and unyielding nature of their dent-resistant teflon-coated flexible exoskeletons, but by the content of their integrated microchip emotive processors.”

Wesley 512’s comments and work earned him an Azimov Peace Prize, the highest award given to civilian robots, a Turing Genius fellowship, and a nomination to the Presidential cabinet as Secretary of Labor, which unfortunately, the senate is expected not to confirm.

As our nation struggles to wrest its freedom from the demons of prejudice and ignorance, we can begin to comprehend the social and economic conditions that undergird robot violence.

We can understand why robots kill. And by addressing the underlying issues, we can ensure that the violence will begin to dissipate.

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