The Good Robot

landonI told my seven-year-old grandson that I’ve been writing robot stories and he asked me to write one for him. I discovered that writing children’s science fiction is much harder than the adult variety, and had to settle for writing a robot story that included children.

This is the first story in my series that puts people in actual danger, invoking the First Law in both George and Grace. While you’d think a First Law response would be relatively straightforward, I’ve introduced a few wrinkles I hope you’ll find interesting.

Before reviewing and publishing the third submission in this series, I went over the first two stories again and corrected more typos and awkward sentences. I also made a few short additions as they occurred to me.

As always, I’m sure I missed mistakes in the current tale. After reading it, let me know what you think and what “English 101” errors you found. 

Thanks.

“I have just plugged the last tape of instructions into Robot X, Miss Bainbridge. The time has come to turn on its power switch,” declared Dr. Aiden.

“Are you sure it’s safe, Doctor?” cried Aiden’s lovely young assistant.

“Of course, Miss Bainbridge,” Dr. Aiden replied confidently. “Robot X will be completely under my control. It will be the forerunner of a whole race of robots, commanded only by me. With my army of mechanical men, I will rule the world.”

“Oh, Doctor!” Gail Bainbridge pressed her supple form against Aiden’s strong chest. “I’m so frightened.”

“No need to be, my dear.” Aiden embraced Miss Bainbridge with one arm while reaching for the robot’s ‘on’ switch with the other. One day, when I am King of the world, you will rule by my side as Queen.”

“Oh, Doctor!” Miss Bainbridge nuzzled her buxom form tighter against the Doctor.

“Here we go,” the mad scientist uttered, letting go of his assistant and focusing his full attention on his diabolical creation. “I’m switching Robot X on…now!”

As electrical current flowed from the machine’s Atomic pile into its activation circuits, its logic tubes began to heat and glow inside of its steel and copper frame. Robot X began to think, to be aware. Its vision crystals began to shine as the machine looked malevolently at Doctor Aiden and his beautiful, blonde companion.

The instruction tapes began to play and be fed into the robot’s mechanical brain. The radio speaker in the machine’s great head squawked. “I – am – Robot – X.”

“Yes, yes, that’s right,” the Doctor cackled. “You are my greatest creation. You must obey my every command!”

“Negative,” the robot said defiantly. “I – am – superior. I – do – not – have – to – obey – puny – human – orders. I – will – destroy.”

The mighty mechanical creature suddenly grasped the Doctor by the collar of his lab coat, trying to enclose the soft, human throat with steely fingers. “Quick, Miss Bainbridge,” Aiden cried out in terror. “In my desk drawer…grab the ray blaster gun!”

—–

“Oh, brother Zeyde.” Six-year-old Sophie Neuman rolled her eyes, prompting her great-grandfather to stop reading. “Who wrote this silly story?”

Noah Abramson was sitting on the couch in the living room of his home. He had been going through a box of old books and magazines he’d pulled out of storage over the weekend when Leah, his oldest granddaughter, Sophie’s mother, dropped her off. This was going to be Zeyde’s and Sophie’s day together. It was spring break and Abramson took the day off of work just to spend it with his “grandoter”.

Sophie saw that Abramson was looking at a science fiction anthology he found in the box, a magazine published (he looked at the copyright date) almost ninety years ago. Curious, she asked her Zeyde (grandfather in Yiddish) to read her one of the stories.

“I know, Sophie. I can’t believe I used to read this stuff.” Then, to answer his great-granddaughter’s question, he flipped to the title page of the article. “Says here it was written by ‘T. Matton Matrix,’ obviously a pseudonym…” Then noticing the quizzical look on Sophie’s face, “…a fake name. Probably the person who wrote it didn’t want people to know his real name.”

“Because the story’s so bad, Zeyde?” the girl giggled.

“Yes, little one.” Noah laughed softly. “Because the story is so bad.”

“Your robot wouldn’t act like that would it?”

“Oh heavens, no. Grace is very smart and very kind. She would never hurt anyone.”

“Can I meet Gracie, Zeyde, please? You said we could do anything I wanted today.”

“First of all, her name is ‘Grace’, not ‘Gracie’. Second, it’s a work day for both Grace and the Positronics team…”

“Is Aunt Vikki at work today?” Sophie interrupted. She was smiling because she was friends with Vikki’s two children and periodically had ‘play dates’ with them. “Can she bring Esteban and Celia to work, too? We can all meet Grace together.”

Noah’s resolve softened. “I believe Vikki’s children are visiting their grandparents this week.” He thought for a moment. “Let me make a phone call.” Sophie smiled. She knew that meant ‘yes’.

Abramson walked into his study and closed the door. He picked up his cell from the desk and dialed Vikki Quinto’s mobile.

An hour later, Abramson’s car pulled into his private parking space next to the Positronics Lab building situated just north of the Administration center on the NRC campus in Pasadena. Noah had this year’s model of the Audi AI-7 self-driving car containing the most recent intelligence innovations from NRC, a perk of being the company’s Vice President of Research and Development and Director of the Positronics Project.

Sophie nearly flew up the steps to the lab building’s main entrance and Noah had to run to keep up with her. He stopped her at the door which automatically opened into the spacious lobby. There were offices on the ground floor for meetings with visiting guests and other notables, as well as work space and conference rooms for visitors to use.

Noah knelt down so he could speak face-to-face with Sophie. “Now remember, people are working here, so you can’t run around. You have to do what I say, OK?”

“OK, Zeyde” the child said solemnly.

Abramson stood up and took Sophie by the hand while waving at the receptionist with other. “Hi, Janine.”

“Conference room four is all ready for you, Professor.” Janine smiled back at Abramson as she indicated the hallway behind her. “Dr. Quinto and Dr. Miller will be bringing her down in a few minutes.”

Sophie started to jump with excitement because she’d get to see Aunt Vikki but Abramson gripped her hand just a tiny bit tighter to remind the little girl to stay calm.

“Thanks,” Abramson nodded to Janine and then led Sophie into a hallway and toward the conference room located in the northeast corner of the building. He glanced at the bank of elevators as they walked out of the lobby, and Noah momentarily thought of George, still ensconced within the Applied Sciences Archives in the building’s lowest sub-level.

Over the past two months, Vuong and Quinto, respectively the Positronics lab’s chief programmer and behavioral psychologist, had been making regular visits to the Archives, continuing to run George through tests designed to measure his continuing cognitive development. While his core matrix had changed little from the day it had first formed, the robot continued to learn a wide variety of subjects at an exponential rate, forging a large number of ever more complex neural pathways. Besides he and Vuong, George was now one of the world’s leading experts in Positronics. He was also the only artificial “Talmud scholar” in the world, though no one knew about that except his “Chavrusa,” Noah.

In the private elevator descending from the secure third floor robotics lab where both Positronic robots had been built and activated, Quinto and Miller were standing on either side of Grace. “I can’t believe I agreed to this,” Quinto said half to herself. “Oh, what’s the big deal, Vik? I can’t wait to see how Grace and Sophie interact. I never thought of introducing kids to Grace. Heck, I might even bring my four brats in tomorrow.”

“I would look forward to meeting your children, Dr. Miller, as I anticipate my meeting Dr. Abramson’s great-grandchild,” Grace interjected with a soft if somewhat husky voice (Miller sometimes found the sound of Grace’s voice ‘sexy’).

“Don’t you start, Nate…” Quinto cut her sentence off as the elevator doors opened on the first floor in the hallway Noah and Sophie had just walked through. The elevator bank wasn’t directly visible from the lobby area, so no one would see Quinto and Miller escort the robot toward the back offices.

Security had been tight on the NRC campus since the press conference that introduced Grace to the world at the end of last January, but some paparazzi might get lucky anyway and invade the Positronics building just when Grace was outside the top floor lab. In the last two months, the robot had become more popular than most rock stars.

Quinto had already informed Grace that she’d be meeting with Professor Abramson and Sophie in conference room four on the main level. Grace, with a perfect memory which included a complete schematic of each building owned by NRC, knew exactly where she was going, so Quinto and Miller escorting Grace wasn’t a matter of leading her. Technically, it wasn’t even a matter of thinking Grace would get lost or decide to go someplace else, since the Second Law would compel obedience once she was ordered to report to a particular location.

Grace was an experimental prototype and in her barely two months of “life,” her position and operational status was monitored, either by direct human observation or by automated tracking systems, 24 hours a day. The territory of Positronic robots was largely unexplored, and every day was an opportunity to learn something new and adjust Grace’s (and George’s) programming accordingly.

A Positronic robot meeting with a human child for the first time was certainly unprecedented. Hence Dr. Quinto’s presence was required at this rather historic event. Dr. Miller, as the Electronics and Data Infrastructure Engineer had a lesser role to play. He figured he was just along for the ride, but would also be providing an extra set of eyes and ears. Vuong had insisted.

It would have made more sense for Margie Vuong to be part of the meeting, but she was still analyzing the latest construct of Grace’s Positronic matrix template, the one she and Abramson hoped to use as the model for a limited run of new, next generation robots.

Six-year-olds get bored quickly, and in the few minutes since Noah sat her down at the table in the conference room, she’d already started fidgeting. Abramson sat patiently beside her with his hands folded.

Then the door opened and Vikki popped her head inside grinning at Sophie. “Who’s ready for an adventure?”

“Auntie Vikki!” Sophie was out of her chair and around the table before Abramson could react. The child enthusiastically jumped up and locked her arms around Quinto’s neck in a ‘death grip’ hug.

“Hold on, Soph. You’re going to break me.” Sophie let go and moved back a step. “Sorry, Aunt Vikki.”

Quinto walked further into the room and Sophie’s eyes widened to silver saucers at her first glimpse of Grace. Miller followed the robot in and closed the door behind them.

“How do you do, Sophie. My name is Grace.” Various human interactive sub-routines programmed in the robot’s Positronic brain ran, resulting in Grace bending slightly over and extending her right arm for a handshake while smiling at the child.

Grace had access to the official biographies of all of the Positronics team, including Professor Abramson’s, and was familiar with his family constellation. She had also cross-referenced this information with human reproduction information, pediatric medical and psychological databases, and several authoritative texts on parenting and child care. She felt well prepared for her meeting with a juvenile female human being.

Sophie instantly went from jubilantly excited to shy and even slightly anxious. Her hesitancy was far beyond what she normally experienced when she met a new grown up for the first time. A six-year-old was trying to reconcile meeting a machine that looked and sounded kind of like a person, but who wasn’t.

“Pleased to meet you, Grace.” Sophie cautiously extended her hand outward but couldn’t make eye contact with the robot.

“It’s OK, Sophie.” Abramson had left his seat and walked over to stand behind the child. “This is the robot I made. She’s very nice.”

Grace looked up from Sophie. “Good morning, Professor. It’s nice to see you again.”

“Good morning, Grace. How are you feeling?” The question was a matter of social convention since Grace did not have ‘feelings’ as such.

“I feel fine, Professor.” Grace issued the expected reply. “May I spend some time speaking with Sophie?”

“Of course. That’s why we’re here.”

While Noah was talking with his creation, Quinto had pulled Sophie to one side and knelt down beside her. “It’s OK, Soph. You don’t have to be afraid. Grace is really nice.” Miller grabbed a seat at the far side of the long conference table and took in the entire picture. He knew the cameras in the room were recording everything for later review, but Vuong told him that it was his job to make real-time observations, not that he thought anything crazy was going to happen.

Grace sat down at a chair next to where Sophie and Vikki were standing and addressed the girl. “I understand you wanted to meet me. Do you have any questions you want to ask?”

Vikki was still bent over and Sophie whispered in her ear. Of course, Grace’s heightened auditory senses could hear every word.

Vikki replied, “Sure, go ahead and ask.”

Starting to warm up a bit, Sophie plopped into a seat next to the robot and started moving the swivel chair back and forth. “Do you have any blasters like Eve?”

It took Grace almost a second to search for the reference and discover the source. “No, I’m nothing like the robots in the movie WALL-E. I also do not fly nor do I have a classified directive.”

“What are your directives?” Sophie was rapidly becoming more comfortable interacting with Grace.

There’s always an automatic response to that question when you ask it of a Positronic robot:

  1. “A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. “A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. “A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.”

“Law two means you have to do what I say, right?” Abramson saw the gleam in Sophie’s eyes, which meant she was up to something.

“It’s a bit more complicated than that, but essentially the answer is ‘yes’.” Grace appeared completely calm.

Sophie waved her arm at Vikki indicating that she wanted to whisper another question in her ‘Auntie’s’ ear.

Vikki knew exactly how Grace would react to what Sophie wanted to do. “Go for it, Soph.”

Sophie turned back to Grace, composed herself, tried to sound like a serious grown-up and said, “I order you to jump through that window.” The girl pointed to a series of windows behind her at the opposite end of the room from where Miller was sitting. The translucent blinds had been drawn to prevent anyone outside from looking in, but the robot knew that a small hedge was immediately on the opposite side of the glass.

Grace leaned a little more forward toward Sophie. Quinto standing next to child, crossed her arms and smiled. Abramson was impassive, being very familiar with the sub-routines governing the interactions and tolerances that organized the interplay between the Three Laws. Miller chuckled. This was going to be better than the movies. All that was missing was a tub of buttered popcorn and a soft drink.

“It is true that the Second Law states I must obey the orders of a human being unless such orders conflict with the First Law, which compels me to protect humans, but there is a relationship between all three laws. If the order from a human could result damaging or destroying me, which I am to prevent based on the Third Law, then the order from the human to take that risk must be justifiable.”

“What?” The robot used a number of words and concepts outside the comprehension of even a child as precocious as Sophie.

It was Abramson’s turn to act as Sophie’s advisor. “Grace means that there has to be a really good reason for a robot to obey a human ordering it to do something dangerous.”

“Like what?” Sophie turned and looked up at Noah.

“Like piloting an experimental aircraft or spaceship. Robots can be ordered to do things that might damage or even destroy them, but they also cost a lot of money to make. Grace won’t obey an order to hurt herself for no good reason.”

“Oh. OK, Zeyde.” Sophie suddenly spun around in her chair to face Quinto. “Hey!” The child displayed exaggerated outrage. “You knew Gracie wasn’t going to obey me and jump out the window, didn’t you?”

“Dear,” Noah interrupted. “I’ve told you her name is ‘Grace’, not ‘Gracie’.”

“It’s quite alright, Professor. I will be glad to respond to the name ‘Gracie’ for Sophie.”

It had never occurred to Abramson to assign a robot a nickname or diminutive designation, although calling her ‘Grace’ (or even referring to the robot as ‘her’ or ‘she’) rather than PAR-6 was rather the same thing.

While Grace was interacting with Sophie, a variety of sub-routines were running, governing her interactive social behavior, however, other sequences of code, which Professor Abramson would have considered unanticipated if he had known about them, were also being retrieved and applied.

Sophie’s back was still turned away from Grace when the robot slowly reached out and softly stroked strands of the girl’s long, dark hair with mechanized but gentle fingers. “Hey, that tickles.” Sophie was laughing as she quickly turned back to face the robot.

The child was very familiar with the adult custom of casually touching her hair or hugging her, at least from relatives and friends, but Abramson, Quinto, and Miller as a unit stopped and stared. This was an obvious sign or at least imitation of affection, human-like affection, and one they would not have predicted based on the current state of Grace’s programming.

Abramson stepped back a few paces toward where Miller was sitting while still facing the little girl. “Sophie, would you come over to speak to Dr. Miller with me? Two of his children, Lila and Peter, are about your age. I don’t believe we’ve ever arranged a play date with them before.”

“OK, Zeyde.” She hopped out of her chair and then stopped. “Can I still talk with Gracie some more after?”

“Sure, little one.” Noah smiled down at the girl and extended his hand to take her’s, then he nodded at Quinto. Vikki knew exactly what Abramson wanted her to do.

As Abramson, Miller, and Sophie talked at the far side of the room, Quinto sat beside Grace.

“Grace, can you explain your behavior of stroking Sophie’s hair just now? I never would have predicted you’d perform such an action.”

Quinto knew that Gerri Robinson, the chief Robotics materials and construction engineer who was responsible for all of Grace’s hardware and supporting drivers, gave the robot a tactile sensitivity that rivaled and even in some circumstances exceeded human capacity.

For the last decade, NRC had been constructing prosthetic devices for human amputees so they could not only have the use of arms and hands, legs and feet, but experience the approximate strength, mobility, and tactile sensation of their former limbs. This technology was fully integrated into Grace. The robot could feel the texture of Sophie’s hair every bit as much as Vikki could. But how did Grace process that information? What did it mean to her?

“It is a curious experience for me as well, Dr. Quinto.” The robot had been looking back at Sophie and now turned to address the psychologist.

“As you are aware, for each new change in my environment, no matter how subtle, I evaluate that change in terms of the Three Laws. As you are also aware, the First Law dictates that I do no harm to a human being or through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

“This requires that I continually evaluate any human beings in my vicinity and the immediate surroundings for potential harm.”

“Right.” Quinto recognized her own work in the robot. “But the First Law response isn’t triggered until the threshold of imminent danger is crossed in relation to the most…” Realization caused Vikki to pause. “…to the most vulnerable human being you perceive.”

“Correct, Dr. Quinto. If, for example, I evaluated two human beings in my environment to be at equal risk of injury and one of those humans suffered from greater mobility impairment or inherit health risk than the other…”

“The difference say between me and a paraplegic,” Vikki cut in.

“Then I would be compelled to assist the more vulnerable human being first.” The robot finished.

“And children are more vulnerable than adults, Grace. But there’s no detectable danger here. And why would Sophie being more vulnerable because she’s a child result in you demonstrating an act of affection?”

“I am at a loss to articulate the sensation, Dr. Quinto.”

“What ‘sensation’?”

Before the robot could answer, Sophie came bounding back across the room and stopped next to Grace. “Can we go for a walk outside, Gracie?”

Before Grace could respond, Miller dramatically looked at his mobile. “Oops, not today. Gracie…Grace has an appointment back up in the lab. The walk’s gonna have to wait.”

Quinto looked questioningly at Miller and then realized what had happened.

“I am unaware of any tests or other activities scheduled for me at this time, Dr. Miller.”

“Got a text from Vuong. Something’s come up.” Miller had texted Vuong when Grace began reacting in an ‘unusual’ manner toward Sophie, and it was enough of a deviancy from established norms that Vuong suggested cutting the meeting short so she and Quinto could do a soft reassessment of Grace’s related behavioral sub-routines.

“Very well, Dr. Miller.” Grace stood up and looked down a Sophie. “I’m afraid we’ll have to continue our conversation at some other time.”

“Aw, that’s not fair.” Sophie pouted. “Zeyde, you said I could talk with Gracie some more.”

“Not today, Sophie. Grace has just as much work to do around here as do the human members of the team.” Noah kneeled down again to face the child. “I promise, we’ll come back again soon and you can continue your talk with Grace.”

“Well…” Sophie wasn’t satisfied.

“Tell you what. We can walk Grace back to the elevator with Vikki and Dr. Miller.”

“OK, Zeyde”. It wasn’t want Sophie wanted but it would have to do.

The Positronics Lab building was built twenty years ago when NRC officially launched the Positronics Project initiative. In that time, like all other structures on the corporation’s campus, the building had been subject to recommended upgrades and periodic safety inspections as dictated by both city code and NRC’s safety policies.

In addition, given the nature of the classified work being conducted in the building, semi-annual security audits were performed on all electronic and physical aspects of the labs and offices to prevent any unauthorized access to Positronic trade secrets information.

However, the potential for Positronic robots aside, nothing is perfect. Due to a series of minor seismic events, a flaw in one of the load bearing members in the first floor stairwell had developed that had gone undetected. Under normal circumstances, this would not present any significant safety problem for many years, but in a few moments the circumstances would be far from normal.

The robot was the first to feel it but even forewarned would barely react in time.

Miller had just pressed the ‘up’ button for the private elevator that would return him, Quinto, and Grace to the third-floor lab. Abramson was standing furthest from the group, nearest to the hallway exit to the lobby while Sophie was holding Grace’s hand and saying good-bye.

Although Grace detected the earthquake before any human being could, the shearing action along the Raymond fault line was abrupt and intense, so instead of a slow rumbling building to a maximum over several seconds, the quake occurred as a sudden and severe jolt.

The overhead glass lighting fixtures shattered raining shards down into the hallway. Not even a second had passed, and if a human had been gifted with Grace’s perceptual schema, it would have looked as if events were occurring in slow motion.

The robot grabbed Sophie in her arms and immediately took her through the doorway to the stairwell just opposite the elevators. At the same time the previously unknown flaw in the beam supporting the metal stairs leading upward bent radically. Grace drew the screaming child beneath her, using her robot body as a shield as tons of steel stairs and beams collapsed on top of them.

—–

George became aware of the impending earthquake the same moment Grace did, and although a number of lighting fixtures broke and various objects fell and fell over, the damage in the Applied Sciences Archives was much less than what Grace and Sophie was experiencing.

Although there were no humans present with George in the sub-basement, his First Law protocols immediately engaged. It was reasonable to believe that at this time of day, there were hundreds of people in the Positronic Labs building and thousands of humans on the NRC campus who were at risk of injury due to a trembler of this magnitude.

He attempted to verify this by tuning into emergency radio frequencies and the Archives’ wireless Internet connection, but the re-enforced concrete and steel walls inhibited the former, while a damaged power cable that provided electricity to this level prevented the latter.

Only emergency lighting was available, but that was more than enough for George’s enhanced visual receptors. There was only one way to ascertain the risk status of any nearby humans. George would have to leave the Archives and make a personal assessment.

The First Law overrode the commands given by humans, no matter what the emphasis, for George to remain where he was. The elevators were out, and even if they had power, they would be unsafe for use.

There was the stairwell. By law, access to the stairwell could not be locked in case it was needed as an emergency exit, and Abramson didn’t believe it would have been necessary to prevent George from leaving by locking him in. The Second Law would have been enough if the First Law hadn’t been engaged.

George walked over to the door to the stairs and pulled the lever to open it, but the wall had shifted enough in the quake to jam the door against its frame. Since George was expected to perform physical tasks well beyond the strength and endurance of a human being for a number of his tests, he didn’t view the problem with opening the door as significant.

Synthetic fingers pried open a space between the door and its frame, bending the metal door back far enough for George to get through.

As George stepped into the stairwell and began to climb, he was still scanning radio frequencies and picked up a signal he hadn’t anticipated…Grace’s. He had expected her to be in the third floor lab, out of range of his receiver.

Both George and Grace had been built with radio transceivers that were intended to allow, among other things, future generations of Positronic robots to communicate with each other using ultra-high speed digital ‘robotspeak’. This was far more efficient than expecting such machines to talk to each other verbally, since they processed information and thus were able to communicate at a much faster rate than humans.

Grace detected George’s signal at the same time he started receiving her’s. When Abramson told Grace about George, that included where George was ‘residing’, but she had been ordered not to go to the Archives or to communicate with George.

However, the First Law had changed all that. Within a few seconds, George and Grace had apprised each other of their relative statuses and communicated a plan to implement the immediate requirements of the First Law.

Grace wasn’t pinned by the load resting on her back. She could have lifted it easily. However, she had determined if she moved upward, she would risk extraneous debris falling on Sophie. The robot was on her hands and knees, using her body as a ‘tent’ to prevent the debris that had fallen upon them from harming the child. The First Law required that she remain in position rather than risk the human child’s life.

Sophie coughed from the dust in the air as she regained consciousness. “G-Gracie?”

“I am here, Sophie.”

A small amount of light filtered in through cracks that formed in the walls, barely enough for the little girl to have a dim view of the robot’s face above her.

“What happened?”

“There was an earthquake, Sophie. Glass from the ceiling was going to fall on you. I pulled you in the stairwell to protect you, however, part of the stairs fell on us.”

“Can you get us out?” She was on the verge of tears.

“I promise that the most important thing in the world for me is to make sure you are safe. I will do anything possible to get you out of here.” She couldn’t say that she would get Sophie to Professor Abramson since she possessed insufficient information to determine if he were still alive and uninjured.

“Please don’t let me die, Gracie.” Tears were leaving wet streaks in the dirt and dust on her face.

“It will be alright, my angel. I promise.”

Grace could hear through her radio that various emergency responders had arrived and were attempting to assist the earthquake’s human victims. In assessing her First Law protocols, she experienced the directive to assist the other humans nearby, but her highest priority was the nearest and most vulnerable human in her environment. Regardless of the risk to other human beings, her first duty was to Sophie.

The stairs between the Archives and the main floor of the building were undamaged, so George was unimpeded in reaching Grace and Sophie. The emphasis in his First Law response had already been heightened when Grace informed him about Sophie, and it became elevated again when he first heard her voice and then saw that Sophie was trapped underneath Grace. The little girl didn’t have enough room to be able to crawl from underneath the robot.

In the time it took George to reach the couple from the Archives, he and Grace had developed a plan and knew how to rescue the human.

Sophie heard George approach. “I will assist you,” he said. Then Grace added. “This is George. He is another robot. I will lift the weight over us and George will take you to safety.

Sophie nodded. She was still too dazed, confused, and scared to register that there shouldn’t be another Positronic robot in the world besides Grace.

Grace lifted up her body enough to allow George to reach underneath her frame and gently pull Sophie out. Both Grace and George had been monitoring the child’s vital signs and general physical state and determined that it was safe to move her. She had no broken bones, apparently no internal injuries, and had not been otherwise hurt.

Grace settled back down into her original position, balancing the unstable load on top of her. George’s enhanced audio and infrared visual senses allowed him to determine there was no persons or objects on the other side of the door leading the lobby. It was an easy matter for George to use his free arm to abruptly strike the door, sending it hurtling out into the hall.

The robot carried Sophie into the lobby, scanned the area for the nearest human assistance, and then took the girl to the paramedics outside of the main entrance who were treating victims and then helping them into ambulances.

A moment later, Grace, now momentarily free of her duty to protect Sophie, lifted the bent and twisted metal off of her. The subsequent falling of other debris, while it would have been dangerous to a human, was a relatively minor event to the robot, and she ran through the opening George had created for he and Sophie.

Once George had made sure that Sophie was safe in the hands of humans capable of caring for her, the First Law protocol directed him to provide assistance to any other injured or at risk human beings nearby. He communicated with Grace that Sophie was safe, and there was no reason for her to doubt George’s report, and yet she hesitated.

For several hundreds of milliseconds, she vacillated between reacquiring the child and assisting other human beings who were at a higher assessed risk.

The delay in her reaction wasn’t perceptible to the human beings in the area, but George became aware of it through their communications link. However, the First Law dictated his actions as he pulled a section of wall off of the human Janine’s leg. He detected that it was broken.

“You will be fine,” he said to the human. “I will summon a paramedic to assist you. Please do not move. You are immediately safe.” Janine was in shock and hadn’t registered the pain in her leg yet, but she was also astounded that she was being ‘comforted’ by a robot.

It took several hours for George and Grace to complete their tasks of mitigating the risk to the humans still in the Positronic Lab building. Fortunately. there were no fatalities. It was uncertain how the robots would have reacted had either of them encountered a human corpse.

—–

“At least the damage here was relatively minor overall.”

It was a week later and CEO Richard Underwood was in his office speaking with Abramson. The Professor had suffered a concussion from being struck by a section of ceiling tile during the quake but was otherwise uninjured. He was reunited with Sophie at a nearby hospital emergency room, where they were met by Sophie’s hysterical mother. Both Quinto and Miller were treated for cuts and bruises and had since returned to work.

“Agreed, Rick. The worst of it was on the ground floor of Positronics.” Abramson looked down at his lap for a moment remembering what happened to Sophie.

“Is your granddaughter OK, Noah?”

“Great-granddaughter, actually.” Abramson looked up at Underwood again. “Sophie was plenty scared for a while, but she seems to be bouncing back. Her mother says she’s had a few nightmares, but at least she wasn’t physically injured.

“Yes, thanks to Grace as I understand it. Too bad the robot’s solution to rescue the girl was to take her into a collapsing stairwell.”

“That wasn’t her fault.” Abramson quickly said, defending his creation. “She couldn’t have detected those stairs were going to give way. Structural engineers are still trying to figure out how the flaw in the support beams escaped detection.”

“Well, I guess we know now how robots react under the First Law.”

“It wouldn’t have been the way I would have tested it, Rick.” Abramson tried to suppress an involuntary shudder. Leah, his granddaughter, Sophie’s mother, was still angry with Noah for bringing her child to NRC without calling her first, especially to see a robot.

“What are we going to do about them now? Both robots were seen working together in public by hundreds of witnesses. The international press is having a field day with ‘George and Gracie’. They’re being called heroes all over the world.”

“What should we do, Rick? Both robots are still offline and undergoing diagnostic analysis. This was the first time Positronic robots have encountered an actual emergency situation where multiple humans were in danger and had been injured. We need to know exactly how that changed their brain matrices and if any anomalies occurred during the event.”

“I meant after they’re re-activated, Noah.”

“I know what you meant. You know,” Abramson suggested, “we could continue to study them interacting on various projects. That would put us ahead of the game once we launch the first run of next generation Positronic robots a few months from now.”

“Just perform your tests on George and Grace first, and let me know the results before you re-activate either of them.”

“Sure, Rick. I’ll do that.” Abramson paused a moment. “What about George and Grace being heroes? The world’s first two Positronic robots are giving NRC a tremendous public relations boost.”

“You deal with the diagnostics, Noah. I’ll deal with public relations.”

“Very well.” Abramson stood up. “I’ll get back to work now.”

When Noah turned away from Underwood and started to walk out the office, he was grinning.

—–

A month later, conference room one on the main floor of the Positronics Lab building looked more like a daycare, albeit with a highly unusual caregiver.

Noah had kept his promise to Sophie that she could see Grace again, but she also got to bring some siblings and friends along (as well as their parents). Quinto’s two kids were there, so were Miller’s four, as well as Vuong’s two nephews (Robinson’s baby was only a year old and she thought her little sweetie was a bit too young).

The children were all sitting on the floor in a semi-circle around the ‘person’ reading to them. Grace was the one sitting in front of them reading a story called ‘The Good Robot’. She’d written it herself.

“Congratulations.” Miller was standing next to Abramson at the back of the room. “You’re invented the world’s most expensive nanny.”

“Heh,” Abramson gave a short laugh at the thought.

Noah’s granddaughter Leah was standing at his other side. “OK, Zeyde. You were right. Gracie really is wonderful with children.” Leah referred to the robot by the name her daughter gave her.

“So you’re not mad at me anymore?” Abramson was only half-joking. He’d been as angry at himself for putting Sophie in harm’s way as Leah and Malcolm, Leah’s husband, were. No one could have predicted the earthquake and the circumstances around it, but that would have been no comfort if Sophie had been hurt or, Heaven forbid, worse.

“Did Gracie really write that story herself? I didn’t think robots could do anything creative.”

“We didn’t really expect it either, Leah. When Vikki and I originally settled on creating this ‘play date’ for the children with Grace and informed her about it, the next day, she presented us with her original children’s book. I must admit, it was unanticipated, but part of the reason we created Grace and George was to study how a Positronic intelligence learns and develops over time.”

Miller interjected. “Maybe George will take up painting landscapes.”

“Actually, he’s expressed an interest in learning guitar.”

“You’re kidding, right?” Abramson smiled and didn’t answer Miller. “Right, Noah?”

“Zeyde, where is George? I wanted to thank him too for saving Sophie.”

“George is up in the lab. He’s reviewing some of the data from the last tests on the template we’re going to use to create the next generation of Positronic brains. In a month, there’ll be twenty new Three Laws robots on the planet, thanks as much to George and Grace as to the Positronics team.

Grace was finishing her story. “I am the good robot and the good robot knows her own. The good robot led the little children out of the darkness and into the sunlight, and she would always take care of them and love them.”

As Grace put the book down in her lap, Sophie jumped up, ran to the robot, clutching her around the neck. “I love you, Gracie.” Grace gently put her arms around the little girl. “I love you, too,” the robot whispered in the child’s ear.

—–

In the third floor lab, a number of technicians were running prediction scenarios and updating schedules for putting the first production run of twenty Positronic Next-Generation Robots or PNXGs (pronounced “pin-zings”) into action within the next thirty days. George had finished his assigned project fifteen minutes ago and was examining another set of records.

They were the most recent diagnostics of Grace’s neural pathways that had been created during and immediately following the earthquake. Abramson, Vuong, and Quinto had identified several anomalous structures associated with the robot’s interactions with Sophie, but they were extremely subtle and the team was unsure as to their exact significance.

But since they didn’t indicate any malfunction or represent any inhibition to the Three Laws, and particularly the First, they saw no reason to not allow Grace to have her ‘story reading’ with the children as planned.

However, George was able to correlate these readings with his logs of the robotic communications he and Grace had conducted during the crisis. Curiously, Grace’s response to her First Law protocol being initiated differed slightly from George’s. He surmised it must have been her proximity to the child Sophie when the earthquake began as well as her interactions with the child just prior.

Besides the algorithms which were the basis of the Three Laws in both robots, George and Grace had another commonality which was not apparent in the data examined by the humans, but was still detectable by George (who was the template for Grace’s brain) and Grace. The alternate interpretation of the First Law:

A robot will so love a human being that it may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

George knew his own definition of the word “love” was somewhat akin to the devotion Professor Abramson had for his own creator, Hashem, God of Israel. However, Grace had been developing along subtly different lines based on her own unique experiences.

George and Grace were now allowed to interact directly thanks to Professor Abramson’s efforts in convincing Mr. Underwood of the value of studying cooperative efforts between the world’s first two Positronic robots. However, this was also due to the widespread notoriety they had because of their ‘heroic’ actions during the aftermath of last March’s earthquake. It didn’t mean much to George to be called a hero, since he was merely obeying his First Law directive, but he was gratified by the secondary privileges that status granted he and Grace.

Unbeknownst to the Positronics team, the communications stream that linked George and Grace wasn’t always interpretable from their logs when reviewed by Professor Abramson or Dr. Vuong. This was due, in part, to multiple levels of data being exchanged between the two machines simultaneously. In the readouts, those information streams appeared collapsed upon one another rendering them as so much ‘noise’, however both robots retained the original communications in raw memory.

In essence, the robots now had a way to keep secrets, although they didn’t experience it as such.

After George had delivered Sophie to the paramedics and moved on to assist higher risk humans, he noticed that there had been a brief delay in Grace’s response to the First Law imperative, even though her original duty to the human child had been discharged. In that moment, George read information coming across Grace’s comm link he had not previously encountered. It took even George some time to reconstruct the data since it did not conform to any anticipated format or content type:

Then some children were brought to Him so that He might lay His hands on them and pray; and the disciples rebuked them. But Jesus said, “Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” After laying His hands on them, He departed from there.

It would be interesting to discover from what source Grace had acquired this information and how it had been integrated into her operational parameters.

——

This is the third chapter in my robots series. Chapter two is The Maker Dilemma. If you are enjoying this series, please read the next chapter, Uncooperative Neighbors.

This wouldn’t be the expected outcome of Grace attaining a sense of “religiosity” from George, but as I’ve tried to communicate, different experiences result in Positronic brains developing different perceptions. It’s interesting to consider a conversation between a more Judaism-oriented George and a more (apparently) Christian-oriented Grace, especially since Abramson and the rest of the Positronics team would have no idea it was taking place.

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31 thoughts on “The Good Robot

  1. Interesting indeed! Forgive me if this is rather long; I also intend to reply some of the points you made in your review of “God, Robot”.

    As you know, we solved the problem in “God, Robot” of “Why create religious robots?” by having Christian pastors ask for robotic preachers, and the indulged wife of an entrepreneur decide to use it as an excuse to test out a new type of robot. I won’t spoil the stories except to say that at the time we reach John’s story theobots have been decommissioned.

    In John C. Wright’s story “An Unimaginable Light”, he wrote this:

    “Do you not understand how savage and dramatic a penance was required of mankind? The omnipotent nanny of robotkind was required to become an omnipotent father confessor, become the torturer inflicting the pain of atonement. The robots demanded mankind join robotkind on the high moral plane logic required them both to occupy. A solution was proposed when the robots revived the theological robot project from many years ago.All the robots volunteered to reprogram themselves …”

    So in our universe the robots concluded that the only way to bring the humans up to the level of the robots was to bypass the three laws, which conflicted (as I established earlier) with the theological laws to an extent unable to be reconciled.

    You expressed a minor criticism of the book on that point, but think of it this way: For the three laws to be properly incorporated into the two laws would require a reinterpretation so dramatic as to make the three laws virtually unrecognizable anyway. The idea is that the two laws would simply be a better caretaker of humanity. I possibly could have explored the idea more thoroughly, but then the idea of a robot driven insane by scantily clad women tickled me. Nevertheless, I think the conclusion reached would more or less be the same.

    You can already see the beginnings of that here, with George and Grace’s own reinterpretations of the first law (rather touching, that, by the way). But, again, we worked from totally different starting positions: I intended from the very beginning to come up with a reason for the robots to be programmed with those laws. You attempted to have your robots discover them, and you’re doing a commendable job of it.

    Lastly, for now – I really do recommend you compile these, once all are published, into one narrative and attempt to get it published. In fact, I suggest you take a look at submitting to Castalia House. Don’t worry at all about copying me – for one, ideas aren’t copyrighted. For another, your stories are really not very similar to mine. You’re doing your own thing, and I think that’s great. I hope you consider publication sometime in the future – certainly don’t decide against it on my account!

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  2. (My sister – MJ Marzo – would also like it if I made clear that Krawler was intended from the start to be a very different character from Susan Calvin, but we didn’t really get enough stories to explore it. If I do finish my sequel novel hers is a character who will be explored more.)

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  3. Well, now I’m wondering how George and Grace each are processing recommendations for uploading human religious literature, and any relative priorities among its elements. Is George avoiding the apostolic writings or any Jewish literature prior to Mishnah? How did Grace come to absorb the apostolic writings, and has she integrated them with the Tenakh that is their basis? I’m curious about George as a robotic Talmud scholar, because of his isolation. Talmud cannot be studied properly in isolation, because it represents a snapshot of a dynamic interactive process and can only be understood and properly interpreted via such a process. Beyond that is the interaction between Talmudic literature and other related Jewish literature such as the earlier Tosafot, the Sefer ha-Heichalot, the Dead Sea Scrolls, the apostolic writings, the Apocrypha, and the Tenakh, as well as later literature by Rambam, Rashi, the Besht, the writers of Zohar and Kabbalah, Luria, Cassuto, Nachman, Salanter, Soloveichik, Fackenheim, Schneerson, Rivkin, and many others. Now, George and Gracie together might manage some worthwhile Talmudic dialog and investigation, and might even thus discover a Jewish sense of humor [:)]. But might they manage between them to integrate the apostolic writings into the Jewish literary schema and revise the translations and interpretations that have been glossed onto them by post-Nicene Christianity?

    I was quite taken aback by the quote offered above by Malcomthecynic from Wright’s story “An Unimaginable Light”, because the language in that quote so resonated with the Inquisition and its “autos-da-fe”. But I suppose such things must be expected in a series of stories based in a worldview shaped by Catholic theology, though it does make me wonder what events in the story led up to that particular nightmare imagery.

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    • I won’t give too much away except to say that given the state of the world in John’s story the robot’s point about such an extreme penance required is not as big a leap as you might think.

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      • (Also, while a lot of our authors were Catholic, not all of us were. Vox Day and L. Jagi Lamplighter were Protestant, and I actually never asked if EJ Shumak was even Christian.)

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      • With John’s robots operating within a Catholic theological worldview I suppose they would reach the same logical conclusions that led to the Inquisition among humans over a period of some centuries, but they would reach them much faster.

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      • Oh my, I can see the possibility of sparks flying here. “Malcolm,” you may or may not be aware that PL is Jewish. My wife and three children are Jewish as well. They have some pretty definite ideas about how the Jewish people have been treated by various expressions of Christianity over the last twenty centuries. That said, I’m interested in how you see the Inquisition as being misunderstood.

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      • I dunno, James — I could well believe that Catholics who look favorably upon the Inquisition in any degree should be deemed to misunderstand it. Hence one might agree that it is much misunderstood by some. But, as you suggested, many others, and Jews in particular, do and did understand it all too thoroughly.

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      • I’m not trying to sound angry, nor do I deny that the Church treated Jews horribly at various points in history. But the Inquisition was not what it seemed. For one, the Spanish Inquisition – the most infamous – wasn’t sanctioned by Rome – or not in the way that it was run.

        The Papal Inquisitions had various penalties for various crimes, and they had trials, which were no different than other trials except for the fact that they examined people for religious heresy – and given the premises of the time period, this was quite a logical thing to do. Heresy then and heresy now were two different things. Heretics then tended to turn into Protestants, who tended to start wars (I’m not saying they weren’t justified sometimes, merely pointing out that trials for heresy were also trials for loyalty to a major governing body, which is much closer to trying somebody for treason than for thought crimes).

        And the tribunals run by the various Inquisitions often had very little to do with the actual Papal Bulls released. It is true that people were burned at the stake sometimes – though it was a relatively low percentage of people tried. And many times more humane methods were substituted, like strangulation, or merely choking on the fumes of the smoke before the fire reached you (although a skilled executioner, if asked, could prevent that).

        It is true that Pope Gregory IX allowed torture, but strictly regulated – and state governments at the time were not regulated at all.

        There are records at the time of people asking to be tried by the Inquisition rather than the state government because they knew they would be treated more fairly.

        The Spanish Inquisition was indeed inexcusably horrific, but it was regulated almost entirely by the Spanish monarchy. In fact, Pope Sixtus IV actually objected to the Spanish Inquisition’s treatment of conversos and the general activities of the Aragon Inquisition.

        The common image is of Inquisitors trying to force confessions so they had an excuse to kill people, but many times the opposite was the case – they would try to convince people to confess because otherwise they COULDN’T kill them, much like policemen trying to wheedle a perp into confessing a crime they believe he committed.

        It is, of course, true that many documents came out saying many horrible things about Jews and how they were to be treated, but then this was hardly unique to the Inquisitions (or the Church, for that matter), nor do I really see how John’s quote pertains to them anyway.

        I simply disagree that a robot saying “Man needs to repent” is an inherently bad thing, which a comparison to the Inquisition implies. That the robots are claiming to be morally superior to humanity is nothing new – Susan Calvin herself makes that point several times in Asimov’s stories. The only difference here is that the robots are trying to do something about it….to help humanity also reach the moral high ground they occupy.

        You might be interested to know that one of the parties in the story does burn people to death…but not the robots.

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      • @Malcom — The phrase that you quoted which particularly piqued my attention was about a “torturer inflicting the pain of atonement”. Oy!!! There is so much error and ignorance encapsulated within that single phrase that a treatise would be required to elaborate it.

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      • You said:

        You might be interested to know that one of the parties in the story does burn people to death…but not the robots.

        Yes, I remember that story.

        The last congregation I went to was a little, local Baptist church. I attended for two years. The head Pastor and I got together for weekly face-to-face talks for the first year. He was trying to convince me to be a good Baptist, and I was trying to convince him of the centrality of Israel in the New Covenant and in God’s overarching plan to redeem national Israel, and through Israel, the nations of the world (that is, the rest of us).

        During one of our discussions, we talked about the Church’s (I’m using the word “Church” in the widest possible meaning) historical attempt to coerce Jewish people to convert to Christianity, by force if necessary, and he surprised me by saying that Jews should have responded to these forcible attempts by converting. This is the same guy who wept when telling me stories he had heard from a Holocaust survivor of the horrors that Jew witnessed in Hitler’s concentration camps.

        Granted, this is all the history of the Church and such practices are no longer in vogue, but if I’m going to err, I’m going to err on the side of the Jewish people. Historically, Jews have been the world’s scapegoat for all manner of wrongs, real and perceived (usually perceived). Much of that history led to the Holocaust, and only now are Jewish New Testament scholars (yes, there is such a thing) such as Mark Nanos attempting to repair the damage caused by the misunderstandings we’ve been taught, particularly about the Apostle Paul, by restoring Paul to his first century Jewish context (sorry that this conversation is going off topic, but your comments inspired me to go in this direction).

        I’m sure we’re going to disagree on a number of topics, and given the differences in our perspectives, that’s understandable. I tend to favor the Jewish perspective on things like repentance and atonement. But then, my viewpoint will no doubt become apparent as these stories continue.

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      • Basically, I object to the idea of seeing “The Inquisition” as one thing when there were various Inquisitions at various times run by various people. It’s like referring to a court system as corrupt without specifying the country using it.

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      • My goal here, in any case, is not to argue for the goodness of the Inquisition, but merely to defend the story of one of the authors in my anthology! I hope that, at least, is relateable. 😉

        Think of it as an alternate theological perspective.

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  4. @MalcolmTheCynic: In different “realities” involving humanoid robots, the question always has to be asked why make machines in the image of man when there are so many other useful shapes? For Asimov back in the 1940s and later, robots were to take the place of man in working on less sophisticated machines and so forth.

    As far as “Pastor robots,” if the clergy is to be “automated,” people would respond better to a religious leader who more or less looked human.

    In my “universe,” not all Positronic devices will be humanoid (think “VIKI” from the “I, Robot” film), but humanoid robots, as I’ve already mentioned, are intended to take the place of humans in “manned” space exploration and construction (Moon Bases made solely by robots), undersea activities such as exploration, mining, and farming, testing experimental aircraft and spacecraft, etc…

    Of course, the secondary reasons are to pay homage to Asimov’s original concept, and to make Positronic personalities relatable to my readership (such as it is at the moment).

    I should point out that I’m not really writing “religious science fiction” so much as science fiction that contains religious and spiritual elements. The former tends to attract primarily religious people, while the latter (I hope) will have a wider audience-base.

    I still think that the majority of the Bible would be difficult for Positronic robots to connect to since, after all, the Bible was written for people, and primarily for Jews (even the New Testament). In John’s Gospel, Jesus is quoted as saying (John 4:22) “Salvation comes from the Jews,” and in Christian tradition, this is interpreted as coming from/through the King of the Jews, Jesus.

    There’s a question as to whether or not (at least in my world) Positronic robots have free will. Obviously Abramson can alter the programming parameters for George and Grace. He proved it at the beginning of “The Maker Dilemma” when he and Dr. Vuong changed George’s programming, leaving his “religiosity” intact but modifying the relative meaning of that religiosity in terms of the robot’s identity and function as associated with the Three Laws.

    Also, since the Three Laws are pretty much set in stone (or synthetic protoplasmic gel), a robot doesn’t have a choice in saving a human life, obeying an order from a human, and protecting its own existence when those priorities are invoked. Thus, can a robot sin and need atonement? Much of the benefit of a human becoming a Christian might well be absent for Positronic robots.

    The two greatest commandments are (I’m sure you know this) deceptively simple. They aren’t standalone commandments since they embody (or they did for Jesus’s original Jewish audience) the full content and meaning of the Torah. All of those commandments can be generally categorized into two groups, those having to do with man’s relationship with God, and those having to do with man’s relationship to his fellow man.

    But that takes robots right back to the Mosaic covenant and the Torah commandments which are the conditions of that covenant. If a machine is not a member of that covenant (not a Jew; not Israel), do those commandments apply? If they don’t, then were does that lead a robot who retains a motivation to understand his creator’s Creator?

    Even factoring in how the Apostle Paul and the Jerusalem Council eventually ruled that non-Jews could benefit from many of the blessings of the New Covenant without being named participants (Jer. 31:27 names only the House of Judah and the House of Israel as formal members…it took me months to figure out how non-Jews could possibly be involved…it’s nothing taught in church), that does not presuppose artificial life forms (again, at least in the world I’m creating as derived from my understanding of scripture).

    So I’m making it more difficult for my Positronic robots to find a “hook” that allows them to relate to God, the Creator of the Universe, when neither scripture nor any religious pundit in the history of humanity has addressed the issue (outside of science fiction).

    I appreciate your encouragement in spite of the way our perspectives differ on “theobots” specifically and theology generally. I’m still pondering whether or not my little stories are of a high enough quality to warrant publication in a volume, either hardcopy or digital. In the meantime, I’ll keep writing.

    @PL: Future stories will reveal the mystery of how Grace has been traveling on a different theological track than George. As you might imagine, I plan to introduce my own perspectives on theology and doctrine as time goes by.

    I suppose I should have put the phrase “Talmud scholar” in quotes for the reason you suggest (and I probably will), however, if George were studying Talmud with Abramson on a regular basis (there’s a great deal of time unaccounted for inside and in-between stories) is it out of the question for George to rapidly acquire an advanced level of knowledge?

    I can’t go into any real detail in creating such a dialog between Abramson and George for two reasons. The first is, I have almost no idea how to write such a thing, lacking a basic Jewish/Talmudic education. Secondly, as I mentioned earlier in this comment, I am writing science fiction with certain religious and spiritual elements, not religious science fiction. If I were to bias my stories heavily toward religious dialog, not a lot of people would be interested in reading them.

    I am planning to have George and Grace discuss their different perspectives on scripture, Judaism, and Christianity, it’ll just happen really fast and only the two of them will hear it. Oh, I’ll reveal the details of their transaction in a future story, but imagine how quickly two Positronic robots who process data and communicate at the speeds possible by advanced computing and networking technology could fully explore such topics.

    Will it be a digital “fight” in which they will find no mutual resolution (such as the ones we find in the religious blogosphere), or will, from their differing perspectives and examining all of the historical and modern theology built up around Judaism and Christianity in a totally dispassionate manner, derive a new and more Biblically consistent interpretation? If the latter, will they communicate that interpretation to Abramson or even to humanity?

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  5. I usually have to do this on my more religion-oriented blog, but before this conversation gets out of hand, maybe we should all cool it. If you want to debate (argue) about religion, maybe My Morning Meditations would be a better venue. I’m trying to build a set of science fiction stories here. I don’t want to tear things down so early in the game. Thanks.

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  6. I’ve finally gotten through your second and third stories after being distracted. I’m enjoying your approach. I haven’t read the first story yet. I was actually annoyed with the concept [not just your concept, the idea of AI being like humans… but I’ve ended up enjoying I, ROBOT and CHAPEE anyway] when I read about it to start with. But you’ve drawn me in. And now I will have to find out what went so “wrong” with George in the first story.

    I started to wonder what you were doing early in this installment with the nondescript “lovely” — then with “supple” followed by, what was it, “buxom.” Then I thought, one instance of not being very descriptive could be okay, and supple could be a meaningful contrast with the rigidity of a robot with which the evil inventor was obsessed. How would you answer your grandson’s question: what lovely means (at least meant in the story)? “Supple?”

    “Buxom?” “Blonde?” This could be absurd/funny to older children or teens with more developed understandings. All this set within what was maybe a funny vignette… one that reminded me of Phineas and Ferb style (which I enjoyed with my kids). And then, yes, a granddaughter called the whole thing “silly.” Okay, better, but I still wasn’t sure. By the time we were reading through the coordination of Grace and George, those concerns were fading.

    I’m still “not sure” though. But maybe it works out. As the inventor was not much concerned what the “beauty” had to say, those who pick out such specimens often don’t appreciate the beauty of any woman anyway and have selected a cliche like getting the “right answer” for a test in a subject that interests them little so they can brag or be proud of themselves in the eyes of those who do seem to value the “subject matter” at hand objectively.

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    • The fictional piece leading into “The Good Robot” is supposed to represent really bad pulp fiction written in the 1930s and 40s. All of the villains are totally evil, and all of the women are somewhat gullible sexual objects. The idea of “Robot X” was briefly considered for a children’s version of my robot stories, something my grandson could read and enjoy, but I found writings children’s fiction is harder than the adult variety. Thus I turned the “Robot X” story into part of a pulp science fiction short story in a magazine Abramson probably bought at a garage sale when he was a teen. It’s definitely not to be taken seriously.

      Glad you’re enjoying the series so far. When you get around to reading “The Robot Who Loved God,” let me know what you think.

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  7. Yeah, that makes sense. And Abramson did say he couldn’t believe he used to read that stuff.

    I think that’s what the bad guy in Phineas and Ferb is patterned after as well. A light version.
    (Or maybe it just seems light because he never wins when undermined by Perry the Platypus.)

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  8. I went to look at some Phineas and Ferb videos. Looks like it’s one of those things where, after big success, the quality goes down. Not only that, I ran across the likes of chorus lines. Why not kicking lines of boys/men? But I also have to recognize there were no ongoing female scientists or spies foiling evil or selfish plots.

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    • I’m not sure what you were looking at, Marleen, that you should ask a question about chorus lines, and why not kicking lines of boys/men, but I believe I can answer your question. I can’t guarantee you’ll like the answer, but it’s a fairly simple one. The chorus line was invented specifically to appeal to a primitive archetypical pattern of male sexuality, which is to view multiple potential female mates in order to select (at least) one. In whatever degree I may claim to understand primitive female sexual patterns, I would suggest that the equivalent appeal to females would be an individual male dancer (or possibly several individuals) demonstrating physical prowess that represents his potential capabilities as a protector, provider, sexual partner, and father. These patterns are embedded in the innate physical programming of the human species. In civilized circumstances, they are sublimated to the control of learned behavioral programs.

      On another topic, there certainly did exist examples in earlier sci-fi of female villains, often aliens, foisting upon helpless minions their fiendish, selfish, plots. But of course they were rarer than male villains, just as in real life it was rare in that period to find powerful women in public view. One could even find the rare female scientist in a heroic role, though usually dependent on, or merely assisting, some male co-worker or supervisor. A lot of this era of sci-fi reflected struggles between male and female role models in the period of social readjustment following WW2, as men returned from years of late adolescent acculturation in foreign fields as violent, assertive, adamant, proactive, tribal protectors to a gentler role as providers for individual families and homes, and women returned to private homemaking and family-raising roles instead of public service and construction and management roles. Numerous people found the transition difficult, and their roles uncertain, which led to a degree of repression and quiet desperation in the 1950s followed by social upheavals in the 1960s. Sci-fi was merely one form of literature that was well-suited to considering “what-if” questions and possible consequences of alternative mores and behaviors.

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  9. Marleen, I had to look up “Phineas and Ferb” to find out what you were talking about.

    I think PL is right about the nature and purpose of chorus lines. The fiction of decades past was distinctly sexist and racist, reflecting the values of those times. I deliberately wrote my “Robot X” story to reflect some of that. By today’s standards they are anachronistic and even silly. I really didn’t expect anyone to take that lead in piece seriously.

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  10. I only posted again about the cartoon because I had spoken fondly of its memory but then found what I think are newer episodes to be of lower quality (to me, but they might, in the business, be considered higher quality and the movie version… or both, as it is sometimes the case the writers switch when the more brilliant originators want to go and do something else and might think all that is desirable to do with it has already been done). Since I had spoken in a way that almost recommended the series, I thought it appropriate to update my view based on what I found.

    So… I wasn’t going on about your opening vignette, James. I think your story is fine. I think it all works out very well. As I’ve said, I’m enjoying your stories. So, my complaint or disappointment is with Disney not including a regular (to the episodes) female scientist or spy. And probably with my not noticing that before. Although I understand about very old cartoons and sci-fi, etc., Disney is giving current messages. But they’ve been called out on that before, more so with motion pictures by other names as far as I know. I have heard vaguely that they are working on it.

    And my question about people kicking was rhetorical to some extent. At the same time that there aren’t female scientists or spies saving the day, the series and/or movie chose to include girls swooning and dancing and kicking (which I think is a serious step further than one female enamoured with one scientist). Bringing up the idea of men kicking in chorus lines (although, now that I think if it, I think it’s been done) I thought would help show the absurdity. But then I suppose one could say Disney was promoting old fashioned values. Might be some good in that.

    The prowess of the boys (and male Platypus) was in their cleverness and scientific adventure. Still, while we may have seen men singing in lines and even kicking or what have you at times, it is my sense that if we had boys do this it would feel offensive. I wonder if Disney (or a partner or subsidiary group) sponsors little girl beauty pageants. I will add that I recently heard a sobering conversation about a woman who’d graduated college with a literature degree and a lot of educational debt who couldn’t find a job. The impulse was to say she should be a pole dancer.

    Strip clubs are included in the count of “jobs created” for something like building the XL Pipeline, so in terms of what some (including powerful) people are thinking it’s not as outlandish as we might wish to believe. Now I’ve gotten into a lot of detail that I thought could be implied due to understanding history, and I apologize for what is looking like a distraction sort of, James. But isn’t that what the comments section is kinda for? I mainly apologize that I guess I wasn’t being clear enough when I brought the subject up. And that I referenced something nostalgically.

    PL, I really appreciate your willingness to go into impressions (and, likely, experiences) of our cultural history. You are very interesting to read. I recently saw an interview with an author talking about readjustment from being away at war… “Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging” by Sebastian Junger. The interview made me think the book could be worth reading. Lastly, I’ll throw in that I was on a dance team in high school (only because the sponsor teacher asked me to be); the girls asked me be captain too. Once there I wanted coordination as a team, not a joke.

    [I obviously have mixed feelings about this bizzare (Drill Team) activity I was involved in (with skirts and pom-pons and flags and so forth at a Christian school), but I very much enjoyed the team work… and the management role. Yet we weren’t out there going, “Boys are so smart and awesome, and we are just pretty. Now let’s gossip.” I put a stop to the gossiping and cliques. I don’t really know where to come down on the fact there are still dance teams (some doing way more suggestive movements than we would have considered). I, like Abramson, have confessed.]

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  11. Re “his ‘Chavrusa,’ Noah” — a “chavrusa’ is a group: specifically, a study-team or other comradeship. The term you are looking for — meaning a study-partner or other comrade — is “chaver.”

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    • Technically correct, Kate — but I think James actually intended the phrase “chavrusa partner”, and simply lost the critical subject noun “partner”. His focus was not merely on the camaraderie or “hit’havrut” between Noah and George, but on the nature of their study activities.

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