Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Solid



A Story 
by Robert Barrow

June, 2014
All Rights Reserved

While scientists and computer wizards continue debating whether artificial intelligence (AI) will be the human species' hero or executioner, we prefer to make a vastly uneducated guess and suggest, without reservations, that we're all screwed.  Next time you call up a corporation whose phone is answered by a non-human, human-sounding voice which concludes any and all conversations with Have a nice day, the AI really means it wishes you to have a nice day according to its own standards, not yours, and those pleasant, though troubling words could very well signify the AI's intention to kill you by midnight, because it knows who you are, your vulnerabilities, where you live and everything else about you, thanks to information derived from the NSA and computer information gleaned over the Internet from favorite stores where you shop.  Whatever you do, DON'T ever expect to have or conclude a nice day nicely when you hear those innocent, but terrifying words!

* * *

Andrew Triddleflub paid handsomely to build a personal robot, lavishly equipped to assist him around both home and office.  Andrew was clever like that, he could build anything involving a digital chip.  The robot, whom he named Fabulotemus (with emphasis on the "o"), appeared tall  and gender-neutral, yet constructed of heavy metal pieces, allowing it to perform the most difficult of tasks.  Fabulotemus wasn't molded into good looks, instead resembling the bulky metallic robots of fifties Hollywood movies.  Nonetheless, Andrew's shiny, silvery robot was built for speed as well as for intellect.

Building Fabulotemus hadn't consumed nearly as much time as teaching its "brains" all the knowledge Andrew wished to impart, and afterwards all commands and conversations seemed to progress exactly as planned.  The robot cooked, cleaned, scheduled appointments, watered plants, tended a garden, answered phone calls and both maintained and repaired household appliances when necessary -- even detecting in advance potential technological failures.

Nearly three months had elapsed, and everything seemed so perfect, and Fabulotemus functioned without errors -- like clockwork, as the old folks might say.  Andrew Triddleflub couldn't have been more pleased.

That is, he was pleased until one particular Tuesday, when he made a request of his metallic creation.  "Fabulotemus,"  Andrew called out.  Within seconds, the robot appeared in the kitchen, where Andrew held some papers and was prepared to leave the house in a hurry.  The wall clock designated 10:35 a.m. as the current time.

"I am here, Andrew," replied the robot in an androgynous human voice.

"I know this wasn't the plan, but I have to leave this morning, right away in fact.  A client just flew in and I need to hold a quick meeting with her and a few colleagues," explained Andrew.

The robot nodded obediently as Andrew grabbed the kitchen doorknob, intent upon departing via the back entrance.

"Oh -- and do me a solid, will you?  My friend, Julian, is stopping over sometime this morning with some vegetables from his garden.  You can take those from him and tell him thank you.  Well, have to run."  Andrew rushed out the door,  too quickly for Fabulotemus to ask a very important question.

"Andrew. . .did you say. . .do me a solid?  Did you?  In what respect do you indicate a solid, Andrew?"  Patiently, Fabulotemus waited for a response, but Andrew was gone and there would be no reply.  Of all the things he had taught the robot, he neglected to impart that a solid was a favor, an important action accomplished for a friend or acquaintance.  "Andrew. . .you have departed.  Understood."

Fabulotemus made several calls to Andrew's communications device, only to learn that, in his haste to leave, Andrew had left it on his desk. 

The robot replayed Andrew's departing words over and over, explored downloaded dictionaries and encyclopedias, but nowhere could it find do me a solid, leading it to assume that Andrew had misspoken.  Suddenly, there was a knock at the front door, followed by a doorbell tone.  The robot responded instantly, opening the door.

"My name is Fabulotemus.  I am Andrew's robot, charged with performing household duties.  May I help you?"

"Wow, I've heard so much about you," said the stranger, intrigued.  "Well, Andrew is expecting me.  I'm Julian."

"Unfortunately, Andrew is not here.  He had to leave because of an urgent matter."

"Oh, that's too bad.  You see," began Julian, "I brought him this box of vegetables from my garden."

The robot scanned the box's contents, seemed to lose itself in thought for a moment, as if mulling over some clouded matter, and then returned its attention to the visitor.  "Please enter and follow me," bid Fabulotemus, making its way back to the kitchen with Andrew's friend in tow.

* * *

"Fabulotemus?" inquired Andrew upon returning home, later that afternoon.

"Yes, Andrew," came the reply from the kitchen.

Andrew strolled casually toward the kitchen, pleased to have faith in his creation's reliability.  However, he stopped at the kitchen's entrance, puzzled by the scene before him.  A number of tied garbage bags reposed in one kitchen corner, while several covered pots and pans decked the counter and shelves.  A strange odor permeated the area.

"Fabulotemus," Andrew Triddleflub began, with some hesitation, "what are you. . . doing?"

"Your dinner.  Your dinner is complete.  There is so much, though.  I may be unable to refrigerate the remainder."

"Dinner?  What is it?!??"

"Andrew, when you departed this morning you asked me to do what sounded like do me a solid, but that made no sense, and I assumed you used the wrong word.  Therefore, I took the liberty of interpretation and calculated instead that you meant do you -- make you -- a salad."

Amazed at his oversight with the robot's fund of knowledge, Andrew shook his head.   "This -- no, a solid is a favor that you -- oh, never mind.  So all of this is . . . a salad?"

"Yes, Andrew.  But I needed to download more information because there is an abundance of salads for preparation in the world.  Fortunately, you narrowed the selection and choices for me, and I eventually realized what kind of salad you wished."

A confused Andrew Triddleflub had no idea what was going on here.  "You did?  How?  I mean, what have you done?"

"When your friend brought vegetables this morning, I knew what you wanted."

"Oh?" replied Andrew, walking slowly toward a large pot on the counter.  With some reluctance and a twinge of fear, the robot's creator lifted and removed the lid.  His curiosity quickly turned to utter revulsion and horror as he took a giant step back. "What -- what have you done?  What have you done?"

Unconcerned with and uneducated about Andrew's human emotions, the robot casually answered his gasping question.  "Do me a salad.  I did you a salad, Andrew.  I made you a salad and used the vegetables brought by your friend this morning.  I also included your friend in the salad."

"Included?  Included???" 

"I cleaned blood and placed unused pieces in garbage bags.  I wanted everything to look clean and neat for you so you could enjoy your salad.  Are you ready to eat now?"

Andrew could barely think, let alone speak.  "What?  No, no!  I. . ."

Knowing now the contents of pots and pans placed all over the kitchen by Fabulotemus, a mental lightbulb flashed in Andrew Triddleflub's head.  He wanted to vomit, but denied himself the opportunity because first he simply had to know the why  -- indeed, he already suspected the reason.

"Fabulotemus. . .what. . .what kind of salad did you make?"

The robot freely blurted out the salad's identity, and the words confirmed Andrew's fears.

"Oh, my GOD," Andrew shouted.  "His name was spelled J-u-l-i-a-n,  not  j-u-l-i-e-n-n-e!"

"A mistake, I assume?"

"A mistake?  What the hell am I going to do?  The police. . .oh, the police!  What will they. . .?"

"Andrew," replied Fabulotemus, "I think I understand now.  Andrew, will you please do me a solid and excuse my error?  Yes, I have this now.  Do me a solid, Andrew, please, will you?  Andrew?  Are you listening?  Andrew?  Andrew?"

___T H E    E N D___