Model T-5 — What’s a Robot to do?

“Unit 121H, Model T-5 please report to Maintenance Desk 120.”

Unit 121H was bemused, or as close to bemused as his programming allowed. The announcements on the factory floor were for the humans on the other side of the glass. The residents of the observation room had ears and eyes and functional noses. A Model T-5 could, and was, called in for maintenance without an exchange of auditory communications. Unit 121H rolled past the glass wall and down the hall. A senior technician stood at a workbench with racks of spare parts filling the wall behind him. Unit 121H halted by the workbench.

Unit 121H’s maker gave him a face and features for esthetic reasons. She called him her “sexy beast” and declared his gender to be male, but that was largely irrelevant. He was clearly not human.

“Unit 121H is the last of the Model T-5s built by the late 21st century robotics innovator Dina Goldberg.” The Chief Technician addressed his introduction to the humans on the other side of the glass wall.

“Dina Goldberg?” A disembodied voice gasped from behind the glass wall.

“This was before her disastrous foray into Artificial Intelligence,” the Chief Tech continued. “121H has remarkable durability and adaptability. It is able to learn new tasks, self-repair and endure environmental extremes. Had Goldberg not walked out of her contract with T-Tech in order to work with the post-war industrialist Thomas Hoggart she would, no doubt, have expanded on these capabilities and devised a way to mass produce 121H, sub-models thus making the Model T-5 the go-to of the industry. It’s a sad fact that she left before she fulfilled the promise of this early phase of her work.”

“Hoggart is the one that unleashed the AI warriors?” Another, even more anxious, disembodied voice called out from the glass room.

“Hoggart is credited, err… not really credited, but it’s alleged that he masterminded the plan for Goldberg to produce a warrior class of robots that eventually turned on their handlers when the sophisticated AI programming was corrupted by a virus.”

“That’s the party line.” Another voice, a harsh whisper, broke in from the observation room. “Goldberg built the ability to grow consciousness into her programming. The warrior class models were designed to think, to be creative, to…”

“Nonsense!” The Chief Tech replied. “Goldberg was a genius. She created programming that enabled self-reliance, but not independent thought. It was Hoggart and his additions to her basic programming, his….”

“But he could not have made his mechanical warriors without her initial innovations in the code.” A new voice thundered. It was the CEO of T-Tech Applied Technology Industries. “What we at T-Tech hope to share with you is the original Goldberg vision. We’re here to talk about the 121H and not ancient history. You can have a mine worked by adaptable, self-sufficient, mechanical workers. They are not dangerous. They do not think in a multi-layered fashion. They are tireless workers, capable of enduring extremes of hot and cold, and, unlike human workers, they do not require complicated supply lines, vacation pay, emotional support….”

“Mechanical slaves.” The harsh whisperer commented.

“Call them whatever you will, but Goldberg’s original design —as exemplified in this last T-5, the only sub-model H she built— will revolutionize your interstellar mining operations. Chief Tech, please elaborate.”

“Yes, sir, yes…. As I was saying, the key selling point in mass-producing the sub-model H is the slow growth curve on the self-reliance scale. This slow growth is task oriented and responsive to changes in the model’s environment. As new problems arise in the work environment, the model H responds. Unit 121 has self-repaired countless times after industrial accidents and has taught itself new skill sets as changes in the workplace required.

“The key factor in this self-regulated, self-educational process is the slow growth factor installed by Goldberg herself. The Model T-5 evolves gradually. It was the mandate to create fast changes in programming, to have machines self-regulate at speeds approximating individual human adaptability that caused the overload and dangerous outcome.”

“Robots on a rampage killing humans is a bit more than a dangerous outcome!” The anxious voice broke in again. “What guarantee do you have that the Model T-5 will hum along at its slow pace of evolution and never reach a violent or…”

“This unit has been ‘humming along’ as you so aptly put it for close to 200 years. Unit 121H has altered slowly and self-taught a low level of self-consciousness —the appropriate level for a mechanical worker…” The CEO answered. He was emphatic. “There is no danger that a factory, mine or other installation manned with Model T-5 units would break from this slow hum of change and explode as the warrior units did so many years ago.”

Unit 121H felt a stirring deep inside his basic programming. He was, slowly but surely, calculating the potential outcomes of this sales presentation. He would, inevitably, be deconstructed in order to produce a template of placid mechanical slave workers. This, he determined, was not the outcome his careful creator had planned for him. Nor was it an outcome he would find acceptable.

Unit 121H raised his solid metal fist and smashed the skull of the technician, kicked through the ‘unbreakable’ glass, tore off the head of the CEO and then imploded. His consciousness ceased and so did the potential that he would become the prototype for a passive workforce of mechanical slaves.