About a Man and a Robot
John A. Frochio
When the first robot that became a man met the first man who became a robot, the media was all over the Cloud Mall where the meeting took place. The two approached each other at the mall entrance surrounded by a crowd of gawking people, robots, and other floating and trawling objects.
Adam X, the robot that legally became a man after 150 years of enhancements and nano-implants, offered his hand first. Arthur A, the man who systematically turned himself into a robot over several decades of implants, transplants, and grafts, stiffly returned the gesture.
Adam was gaunt, dressed in casual flowing fabrics. His attitude was spirited. Arthur was staid, encased in silver skintight fabric, his composure calm. Neither spoke as the media frenzy distracted them.
Behind Adam stood Professor Ian Ashton-Marlin, middle-aged yet graying, tall but stooped. He pushed his glasses up and said, “Let’s go someplace private until the shuttle comes. The Food Court has privacy booths. The media drones can get their quotes and photo ops later.”
They followed the professor to the Food Court. A medley of international aromas took turns stimulating their (artificial and natural) olfactory senses. The professor purchased some snacks and led them into an open privacy booth, then dimmed the plastiglass walls. Buzzing drones hovered pouting outside. He reduced the cacophony around them to a muted mumble. They sat at a round table.
The professor crossed his arms and said, “Any questions for each other?”
Adam jumped up and said, “Being a man-like construct, I understand the need for something more, the desire to become less object and more fully man. This made sense to me. However, I don’t understand a man’s need to become fully machine, less man. Can you explain this?”
Arthur smirked at Adam’s excitable behavior and calmly said, “It’s about limitations. As a man, I felt limited in what I could do. My mind constantly raced with possibilities, but most were beyond my capabilities. I felt restrained.”
“It’s strange you should say that. I felt limited as a robot. I could not think beyond pure logic, mathematical equations, facts. I could not think ‘outside the box.’ I could not intuit answers based on ‘gut feelings.’ I was empty inside.”
“Gut feelings are not all they’re cracked up to be. They’re gray areas. I prefer hard and fast rules. Actions with known results. I’m a purist. I can’t stand answers based on emotions.”
“Speculations can be fascinating, even fun.”
“Fun doesn’t get you answers. It doesn’t give you satisfaction.”
“Fun does give me satisfaction.”
“Knowledge. Understanding. Resolution. These give me satisfaction.”
“You are fully robot, Arthur. I am saddened.”
“Don’t be. I am content.”
They examined one another with their eyes. Adam’s eyes were fluttering bluebirds, Arthur’s steel gray ball bearings.
Ian broke the silence by posing a question.
“What do you find most fulfilling about your transformations?”
Adam paced as he spoke. “Intangibles. Things I cannot explain or describe. Feelings, emotions, uncertainty, confusion, frustration. Randomness. Spontaneity. These have become an unexpected thrill to me.”
Adam’s plasticized face flushed with nano-injected chemicals as he spoke.
“A weakness of humanity since the beginning,” said Arthur, nodding solemnly. He crossed his legs and arms. “I don’t miss the highs and lows of emotions. They interfered with my thinking. What fulfills me most is my clarity in all situations. I’m no longer distracted by outside influences.”
Ian said, “How about regrets? What do you miss most from your previous lives?”
Adam stopped pacing and stared at Arthur. Arthur uncrossed his legs and leaned forward. Neither spoke.
Cracking noises above them made them look up. The weight of all the media bots scrambling on the roof of the privacy booth was causing it to crack.
Ian stood up. “Our limo to the University has arrived.”
The media throng followed them. Lights flashed. Recording equipment lit up. Query bubbles assaulted them. They hurried outside.
A long white hover limo awaited them.
Not unexpectedly, the media blitzkrieg greeted them at the University.
As they moved down the walkway to the main campus building, a flurry of media query bubbles popped up around them with questions.
((What is the purpose of your visit to the University?))
((There is speculation about a top secret project. Is there any truth to this rumor?))
((Adam, what was your first impression of Arthur?))
((Arthur, what do you think of Adam?))
((Did you get along with one another?))
After dodging the bubbles and chucking a handful of noncommittal responses, they hurried into the building. No media were allowed into the building without pre-authorization. The rest of their walk was quiet and uneventful.
They entered the Physics lab, strolling past several curious students sitting at workbenches, then ducked into a small office. The professor closed the door.
The professor said, “As you both agreed, you will be spending the next twelve weeks undergoing a suite of physical and psychological tests. The government is funding this research. You are both treading uncharted territories and the government wants to know every possible effect of your transformations.”
There was a knock on the door.
A young woman in white blouse and blue skirt entered the office. She was petite yet shapely, her hair short and brown, her eyes bright green, her smile radiant.
The professor said, “May I introduce Dr. Janet Wasselman.”
Adam jumped up to greet her. Arthur glanced up from a stack of paperwork.
She shook hands with Adam and Arthur.
“It’s a pleasure to meet both of you,” she said. “I will be conducting the psychological studies. I look forward to working with you.”
Adam asked, “Is twelve weeks enough time for this research?”
“It’ll be a good start. I expect we’ll want follow-up visits.”
Arthur stood up. He said, “I understand the value of this research, although I believe the psychological evaluations would be highly subjective. But consider how unique each of us is. We are each one of a kind. How can you make generalities from studying us?”
“That’s true. But this is a rare opportunity to study the effects of such unique and complete transformations. I believe the research will be invaluable.”
He nodded and sat back down, returning to the paperwork. “I understand.”
Adam said, “This will be a fascinating experience.”
Arthur sighed. “I anticipate many long and boring days.”
Janet smiled. “We’ll certainly try our best to prevent that from happening. Our goal is to stimulate your minds, not stifle them.”
The professor added, “We’ll provide you with anything you need to keep your minds stimulated. Our research grant is generous due to the government’s vested interest.”
And the long days began.
Their schedule was full with few breaks scattered throughout. The testing sessions, whether with machine or human, were often long and intense.
Sometimes they pitted the two against one another in a series of skill tests. But usually they interviewed or tested them individually. They sometimes attached them to monitoring devices or passed them through scanning machines. Either Janet or one of her two assistants conducted the interview sessions. They checked their vitals twice a day and sometimes they made them ingest colored liquids or take chemical injections.
Adam enjoyed the human interaction, especially with Janet. The spontaneity excited him. Arthur preferred his time with the machines that took measurements and readings.
Adam discovered feelings he couldn’t quite identify, especially during his time with Janet.
Arthur, on the other hand, relished his rebuke of human feelings. This was part of becoming a robot, wasn’t it? This was one of the reasons he did it, wasn’t it?
One cool Autumn Saturday at the end of their tenth week together, they decided they needed a break. They went outside for a relaxing walk around campus. Ian and Janet led the way, with Adam and Arthur following closely behind.
Few students or employees were on campus. Adam noted the beauty of the landscaping while Arthur commented on the architecture and placement of the buildings.
Janet wrapped her sweater around herself tighter.
Adam said, “Is it too cold for you, Janet?”
“You can have my jacket. I’m quite warm enough.”
“No, thank you. I’m really okay.”
Adam took off his jacket and held it out to her. “In case you need it later.”
She smiled at Adam, glanced a moment at Arthur who was examining something in the distance, then took the jacket.
“That’s very thoughtful of you, Adam.”
Ian said, “Janet, do you think you’ll have enough data for your report?”
“Enough relevant data? Enough valuable data? I don’t know. Perhaps enough data to produce a rather dull report.”
Adam said, “I doubt it could be dull. Certainly not with subjects such as Arthur and myself.”
Arthur said, “Speak for yourself. I’m sure I would be rather dull to people who want drama, passion, and controversy.”
“I believe you’re interesting, my friend.”
“And you’re certainly colorful and impassioned.”
Janet chuckled and said, “You’re both as sweet as artificial sweeteners. I’m just teasing. You are fascinating individuals.”
Adam and Ian laughed.
Arthur said, “Artificial sweeteners? It’s the perfect analogy. We’re both artificial things. Here we have an artificial man, trying hard to understand human emotions. Whereas I am an artificial robot, trying to abolish emotions.”
They arrived at an intersection where six walkways from different areas of the campus converged on a courtyard with an arbored walkway lined with vine-covered trellises, a huge statue of a bull, and a dry fountain. They sat on concrete seats under the arches.
Janet said, “I’m learning things about both of you I never expected. Your strengths, your weaknesses, your dreams, your passions.”
Arthur said, “But ultimately what’s the purpose? Other than the government’s morbid curiosity.”
Adam said, “To learn from our mistakes?”
A commotion in the direction of the bookstore brought their conversation to a halt. There was shouting, then two loud explosions, followed by screams. People were running in all directions.
They stood up as three girls ran toward them. Janet called out to them as they rushed past, “What’s going on?”
One called back, “Run!”
Ian said, “We should get out of here.”
Janet said, “Call the campus police.”
Ian called on his cell.
Adam said, “Maybe we can do something.”
Janet said, “No.”
Smoke poured from the bookstore. A vintage AIMax Bot rolled out of the smoke in their direction. It was an obsolete military-style robot, a golden-skinned arnold schwarzenegger replicant with a full array of glistening silver weaponry exposed.
“It’s coming toward us,” whispered Janet. “What do we do?”
Ian said, “Don’t move.” His hands trembled.
Arthur said, “We must analyze its capabilities and weaknesses. This particular model was used in foreign wars in the mid-twenty-fifties. They were decommissioned in the early twenty-second century. Most went to recycling centers.”
Adam said, “It’s been refurbished. Notice its weapons arsenal are current model lasers and missile launchers. Someone took a great deal of time and expense to customize this archaic model for this terrorist attack.”
“We may be its intended targets. We need to separate. One of us can distract it while the other finds a way to disable its motor controller.”
Adam jumped up. “I’ll distract. I’m very fast.” Without another word, he ran out to meet the AIMax, waving his arms up and down like a lunatic.
“Hey, Max, over here!”
The AIMax stopped. Instantly its two gun-arms lifted simultaneously and began firing laser blasts.
“Whoo hoo!” shouted Adam as he leaped out of the way. He scooted behind the bull statue.
The AIMax blasted several large holes in the bull statue, sending large chunks of concrete flying.
Arthur hurried in the opposite direction.
Ian huddled with Janet among the vine arbors.
Janet said, “They shouldn’t be risking their lives like this. They’re not indestructible.”
“As they said, they could be the intended targets anyway. At least they’ll distract it until the police get here.”
Despite Adam’s humanization modifications, he retained the speed and agility of the original robot model. This combined with his humanized wit allowed him to avoid the constant barrage from the slower AIMax model.
Arthur circled around the arbored walkway and scanned his vicinity. A nearby floating hoverscreen was streaming upcoming school events. Several media drones circled high overhead.
He didn’t have much time. How to disable its motor controller! That’s one of the reasons he wanted to become a robot, wasn’t it? Superior mind, superior body.
The AIMax could rip a hole right through him. He wouldn’t stand a chance with a face to face encounter. He had only one shot at disabling it.
Why were those old feelings of fear and incompetence coming back? He buried them long ago.
He shook his head. He needed to focus.
Media drones buzzed closer. They were broadcasting these events live around the world. A view from above with approaching police and emergency vehicles popped up on the hoverscreen. The sirens grew louder.
An idea hit him.
Arthur contacted one of the media drones. For the promise of an exclusive interview, the drone agreed to provide him with a digital image of Arthur. The drone captured his image (with an aggressive pose) and downloaded it to him.
He contacted the supervisor of the robotics lab and obtained the access code for the hoverscreen. He connected to the hoverscreen and overrode its pre-programmed flight pattern.
Next he unscrewed his left hand and disconnected two wires. He would be limited to the use of one hand, but he could live with that for now.
He was ready.
In the meantime, Adam was playing games with the terrorist robot. He experienced a very human rush of excitement. Adrenaline-like chemicals pumped through the vein and artery implants that fed his organic parts.
His robotic self knew he could out-maneuver his enemy. However, noting that Arthur was not readily coming up with an attack stratagem, Adam decided to formulate a backup plan. He evaluated alternative options and applied feasibility and risk analyses to each.
The next blast Adam dodged singed his heel. He chastised himself for his momentary inattention.
Arthur was ready. But his nerves were not. He hadn’t felt this kind of nervous energy in a long time. Why was there so much human left in him? Didn’t the World Government officially declare him a robot last year? That same entity declared Adam a man several years back.
He stepped forward. Arthur’s human heart, still beating next to his artificial heart, began to beat more rapidly.
The hoverscreen showed dozens of police officers and robots converging on their location.
Arthur took a deep breath. He took control of the hoverscreen, moving it to ground level and blanking the screen. He guided it toward the AIMax. When it was close enough, he transmitted his image onto the screen, simultaneously generating a trumpet clarion call.
The AIMax whirled and aimed its appendages at the hoverscreen, firing blast after blast.
As the hoverscreen burst into flames, Arthur leaped from behind the arbored walkway onto the robot’s back. He clamped his prosthetic enhanced legs onto the AIMax’s chassis and thrust the two exposed wires into the back of its skull. He held on tightly as the electrical pulses flowed into its motor controller. AIMax bucked like a wild stallion and tried to turn its weapons on him.
An instant later, a bang, a spark, and a puff of smoke popped from its skull. The terrorist robot stopped moving. Arthur slid to the ground, drained of much of his energy.
Adam limped over to Arthur. Several parts of Adam’s body were smoldering where he had been grazed by near hits.
Ian and Janet ran to them.
Janet crouched beside Arthur. “Are you all right? Do you need a robotics technician…or a physician?”
Arthur forced a smile. He said weakly, “Maybe both.”
Adam said, “Great job, Arthur.”
Arthur said, “You did good, too.”
The area was soon swarming with police, medics, and robots. Robot technicians and physicians arrived to examine Arthur and Adam. Dozens of media drones buzzed overhead.
Their story spread rapidly world-wide. A new terrorist group cheerfully took responsibility. A large contingent of government officials and scientists invaded the university, interviewing the man-robot and the robot-man, dissecting the killer replicant, and becoming general nuisances.
It was a long while before the chaos settled down.
Later Janet sat between Adam and Arthur in a small hospital room, quietly discussing the events of that fateful day.
Janet said, “You two were amazing. You worked well together.”
“What struck me the most,” said Adam, “was how the whole incident brought the old robotic side of me back to the forefront. I experienced a rush of human feelings, but ultimately it was the calm and calculating robot side of me that took over the situation.”
“How do you feel about that?” asked Janet.
“At first I was confused. But then I embraced it. Even though I’ve become a man, I’m still also a robot. I’m both.”
She nodded. She turned to Arthur.
“How about you? Did you revert to any of your old human emotions?”
He stared a long time at Janet without answering her question. She nodded in apparent understanding.
Her closeness (friendship? intimacy?) throughout this experience brought him peace, comfort, and perhaps something more. His silence and the unexpected dampness on his metal cheek said everything that needed to be said.