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We Are The Robots!

A microstory by Roger Arrick (c)1995

Sitting in my recliner on a Sunday afternoon and staring out the patio door, my mind began to wander. As a robot builder, I began to think about the future of robotics. How could I make a robot that could perform some useful task and make it truly affordable? Something really cool, like keeping my back yard mowed without flattening daisies or slicing and dicing small children. Maybe this wasn't even possible in my generation, I wondered.

Mentally, I tried to list the specifications for such a machine. At first, I began with common specifications such as speed, battery life and payload capacity. Then I stopped. Since I was in dream mode, why not go for it all. Abandoning the previous list, I restarted with - self-repairing, self-replicating and biodegradable. Sure, many people have dreamed like this before, but what would it really take to create the technology needed for such developments? After some frowning and head scratching, I decided I didn't have a clue. Ok then, how long would it take? 50, 100, maybe 200 years to develop such technology? I finally settled on 100 years. In 100 years we should have the ability to create machines that can perform really useful tasks under human control. Tasks such as clearing a forest, removing the bark from the trees, and loading those tubular dudes onto a flat-bed truck. All this while stopping for food when needed and even repairing any damage that may have occurred. Mowing the yard would be another such task (I admit being influenced by my current view).

As I looked out my patio door into the back yard, I noticed our very destructive dalmatian. He was digging yet another hole in order to bury an empty 2-liter bottle. Why he performs this daily ritual, I'll never know. The new hole looked right at home among the other 62 previously dug. My entire back yard looked like an Iraqi runway and all because a 50 pound dog doesn't have anything better to do. Why couldn't he use that energy more efficiently? Just think what work could be accomplished by a pack of dalmatians. They could replace an entire fleet of back-hoes!

Then it hit me! If this dalmatian could be controlled, the problem would be solved. The perfect robot would be here! After all, the dog fits almost all of the specifications of the perfect robot. We wouldn't have to go through years and years of research to design and build such a complicated device. All that's needed is to find out exactly how to communicate and motivate the dog. Hey, why stop at dogs? A herd of elephants are the perfect solution for the task of clearing a forest. They have all of the equipment necessary. We just need to figure out how to convience them to do it.

Now, if we established two research teams, one to build the perfect robot from scratch and another to figure out how to control animals, which would finish first? My guess is that controlling animals would be accomplished long before the perfect robot was ever built. Let's face it, the perfect robot already exists. And several models are currently available. Even underwater and flying models! The only thing stopping us is control.

If we could do this, the animal-robots (Let's call them Anibots for short) would not do very well if we completely controlled every aspect of their lives and every second of their day. So, we would probably end up controlling them about 4 hours a day and let them have the other hours to maintain themselves, care for offspring, and maybe a little R & R to keep morale up. We would let the hordes of Anibots do almost anything outside of their work functions as long as it didn't hurt other Anibots or disrupt the general order of things. We would tolerate their activities because they save us so much work! It would be even better if the Anibots didn't even realize they were being controlled. This would minimize the possibility of any future uprising against human control. Maybe they could even be convinced to like their work, or that their contribution was necessary for the good of society.

These thoughts kept growing in my mind like a dandelion in an unmowed back yard (once again influenced by my view). Suddenly, my mental gymnastics were interrupted by the phone. After taking care of the two-wire intrusion, I began to return to my easy chair., Looking down I noticed a stack of mail on the kitchen table. On the top of the stack was a letter from the IRS with the latest forms for filing my taxes. I then remembered a recent newscast which reported the statistics that almost 6 months of work was required to pay the annual tax bill for each working person.

I stood totally stupified as I realized, the perfect robots already exist - WE are the robots!

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