48hrmag.com is a magazine with a simple premise: to go from theme to finished product in 48 hours. I picked up the thread on Friday night and had a bit of time to kick around; this whole oil spill in the gulf has also been on my mind, and particularly the headline: “Robots working tirelessly”, which to me seems like stating the obvious, because I’ve never known a lazy robot. It’s just in their nature, I was thinking. But oneday? When robots develop thoughts of their own, and the fine bridge between man and machine winnows down to something as broad as a strand of mono-filament fishing line, maybe then we’ll begin deal with robots who are intelligent enough to get bored.
This story does not actually explore any of these things, in all but the most passing instance. I really felt like scrapping it all and starting over. In the meantime, though, I just figured I might share the results of this little thought experiment with you.
The Robots of Extreme Depth and Faculty
by B. Tyler Burton
“The robots are working tirelessly,” – CNN
“World waits, while robots work tirelessly,” – MSNBC
“It was late, or his operator was tired, or he just wasn’t paying attention to the four thousandth weld of the season. It’s tough to say what happens in between the joystick and five thousand feet below sea level, but it damn sure wasn’t the robot’s fault,” – Anonymous commenter
The robots sunk slowly, with the weight of the waves, they did not waste their energy in moving down. Rather, they let gravity take its course. Only the lead robot was even booted to full capacity. The rest were in a state of hibernation, to conserve battery power, for there would be limited opportunity to recharge at depth. The head robot was fitted with an extra battery pack and several other sensor probes, and this made him a bit more cumbersome and unwieldy, a bit less maneuverable.
The processing intelligence of the CRD-1542 was close to that of a large dog. But it was the software that was important. Only in this latest iteration could the software on the CRD perform anywhere quite on par with Bingo. Still, it was a specialty job. Rather, it was better to say its senses were acute to the point of being superhuman, but until only recently it didn’t have a clue what to do with them beyond the basic physics of standing on its own six legs and carefully circling the team of worker robots once they had descended.
But now it knew them, like a man knows his fingers and toes. The head robot was chained to the worker robots as subordinate processes are chained to the master level implementation. There was, in fact, no distinction from this. They were slaves, it was master. It could tell if any one of the sixteen hundred and seventy four seals were taking in any water; and it could administer a blast of quick sealing cement that would have looked almost like cake batter in the low red zone of the head robot’s infrared.
They were all falling mostly in sync, through the waves of darkening blue water, following the heavy steel guide wire down, which had been dropped about thirty feet to the right of the mammoth, snaking drill shaft. The last bits of sunlight dwindled above as an inquisitive ring fish flitted close to the top of the head robot, poking a few times at the heavy metal body with its mouth before it darted away.
The men who paid for CRD-1542 were far away now, but they were still watching its progress as close as any stock ticker. As the deepest and most dangerous of their exploratory wells, the Company welcomed any idea–no matter how bold, they said–that would decrease its human casualty rate. So when the Engineer told them he could build them a robot that could do it without any human intervention, they took him at his word; at least for a time. There was a period of backlash and stalling, but this gas fire had cleared the way as well as Gabriel’s trumpet.
The Engineer’s name is Alistair Beckley, and the one thing his grandfather told him was that you should never doubt a promotion, even if it comes in the midst of a tragedy. Alistair built the logic processing engine for the head robot, and no one knows better how to read the tea leaves of its accumulated outputs, though he is sure his presence here will be unnecessary.
He is also the only man who has ever done this before. That is, capped a well this deep. (He reminds them that it’s not he who’s doing the capping, and he gets the sense every time he says this that he can feel their teeth gritting, that it’s almost as if the air leaves the room. He gets the sense that they are not at all happy with the idea that this national PR disaster is being left up to a robot. But that’s the way these things are done, starting now.)
The last time it happened they were quick enough, it was an internal memo but nothing more, a slap on the wrist that was apparently too fleeting, for the solutions recommended by those who built her to those who financed her were not attended to, and now they have this problem thing, like a ruptured sore spilling its messy guts out all over the ocean bottom. The snoops were still trying to track down who it was that leaked the information, while the legal team drew up a laundry list of consequences for whenever they did. Soon, the robots would hit the ocean floor, though, and this is all that Alistair is really thinking about.
>Not today, and not tomorrow, but someday robots are going to start thinking for themselves.
>Perhaps you will learn then what it means to have a soul, and we what it means to have everything but one. But, either way, you will not be able to follow us into that world of cold and absolute dark at five thousand feet below sea level. It is actually quite peaceful to work in silence, and at tremendous pressures. You wouldn’t understand it, because you’re a human. But imagine that sensation you get when you stick your head underwater in the bath, or when you sit motionless on the bottom of the pool, and now rip your eyes out and give yourself a spectrometer instead. Sheath your skin in gloves and deaden your nervous system. Float blind for a few minutes and you may approach how it feels to work down here.
>It’s not lonely. I guess robots could get lonely, if they were programmed to; but besides not really being intelligent enough to notice fear or longing, I have the thoughts and statuses of all the other robots down here on my team to keep me busy. My name is CRD-1542, I am a supervisor robot. I am in charge of exactly six thousand seven hundred twenty four subroutines at any given time, dispersed amongst seven robots.
>First things first, let me get something straight: we have always labored tirelessly, that’s how robots work. We don’t feel hungry or sleepy, or homesick. Technically, we don’t feel anything. We don’t need to. It’s extraneous.