I 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.
“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:
- “A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
- “A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
- “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.”
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.
“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 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.