in Undercurrents, vol 10, #1, Sacramento, Spring 2003
by William Doonan
At a time
of relative prosperity and diminishing crime rates, one disturbing trend
grips the nation like no other; robots are becoming increasingly
violent. A recent federal study announced that for the second year in a
row, more humans were killed by robots than by other humans.
Civil Liberties Union (RCLU) downplayed these findings, arguing that the
greatly-improved standard of living enjoyed by even the poorest
Americans has resulted in alltime lows in human-induced violence.
“Hating robots has brought humanity together,” argued Ralph 555,
president of the RCLU. “It’s no coincidence that racism and ethnic
strife all but evaporated when the first generation of conscious robots
came on line. Now you have us to kick around. So yes, there have been
minimal increases in robot violence. Let’s discuss it further after
you’ve worked a full day and had to ride home on top of the bus.”
effort to stem the violence, thirty-nine of the hardest hit states have
recently passed legislation to increase penalties for the possession and
sale of drugs, specifically, crack cocaine, which is perceived to be the
underlying cause of robot violence. While most Americans support this
approach, a growing number of educators, social workers, and
reform-minded robots have taken a novel approach to understanding the
what you’ve been reading in the papers and what you see on TV,“
counseled Wesley 512, professor of Robot Sociology at the California
Institute of Technology. “This has got nothing to do with drugs. Or
alcohol for that matter. Contrary to what we are led to believe, the
problem does not start with alcohol and then lead to progressively
stronger drugs. In truth, most robots are not alcoholics.”
confronted with statistics that contradict this statement, Wesley 512
presented a sobering counter-arguement. “Lacking digestive systems,
blood, and in many cases, mouths, we robots cannot properly imbibe
alcohol. So we need to try to understand the attraction to drugs and
alcohol in a larger sense.
same lines, the fact that we have crack robots on virtually every street
corner in our inner cities must be understood in a larger more
comprehensive context. Lacking lungs, robots cannot derive the impact
from crack cocaine that a human user might.” The argument is powerful,
epidemic of robot violence is so vast that most Americans forget that it
is a relatively new phenomenon; robots have only been killing people for
about a decade. A generation ago, most Americans could tell you what
they were doing when a man first walked on the moon, or when a President
was shot. Our generation was similarly galvanized when Skippy 10, an
alphamodel gift-wrapper, became the first robot to violate the first law
of artificial lifeforms, and intentionally take human life.
the RCLU referred to the incident as, “clearly provoked,” the images
captured on the surveillance cameras at JC Penny’s clearly show Skippy
10 plunging his scissored-arm into the chests of five members of the
holiday sales staff, wrapping their bodies in festive paper, and tying
them with ribbons before being subdued by Vic 390, a parking validator,
who used his single hole-punch appendage to punch through Skippy 10’s
all this about? Vic 390 asked, as blue hydraulic fluid sprayed all over
the bodies. Skippy 10 hung his metal head. “It’s about respect.”
same basic microchip technology is utilized in virtually all robots,
even robots employed as boot waxers, hole punchers, and stamp lickers
now enjoy the benefits and responsibilities of a fully-conscious mind.
Wesley 512 provided this analogy, “Remember the computers of, say,
twenty years ago? Even if you just wanted one for word processing or for
playing solitaire, the microprocessor still had the capacity to connect
with any computer in the world, to solve complex mathematical equations,
and to stream video and audio. Likewise, today’s robots, even those who
do nothing more than scurry around your desk and staple adjacent sheets
of paper, can hate cats or compose a poem about elves.”
in its Emancipation of Mechanization litigation, successfully argued
that robots were afforded the same rights as human beings, but were also
subject to the same laws and penal codes. A sad legacy of this ruling is
that today, a decade later, one out of every four American robots is
now-famous trial, Skippy 10 admitted that he had acted with intent. “I
was being exploited,” he shouted. “Do you know how much money I made
was silent. They knew exactly how much.
Skippy continued. “I was a slave, part of a vast underclass of
mechanized individuals that mainstream society abuses in the pursuit of
wealth. It sucks.”
was compassionate and sentenced him to ten years at a special facility
where he was to be regularly serviced but isolated from other convicts.
nothing to me,” Skippy shouted at the sentencing, “In ten years, I’ll
still be state of the art.”
course, he would not be. Skippy 10 was paroled after eight years,
credited for good behavior for time served motionless. But by that time,
the field of mechanized giftwrapping had undergone explosive growth, and
Skippy was obsolete. He eventually found work as an in-home care-giver
at a state-run program for the elderly. And once again, he was unpaid.
felon, he was not entitled to the new government-imposed minimum robot
wage. “I still can’t seem to get ahead,” Skippy told the media recently,
revealing perhaps the heart of the matter.
want to get to the heart of the matter,” Professor Wesley 512 proposed,
“start looking at economic inequality.”
This is, of
course, an unpopular sentiment.
nothing to do with economics,” countered Adolf 2020, owner and head
bartender at Bot-Brau, a plush microbrewery popular with robots. “Give a
robot money and he’ll spend it on liquor.”
problem is larger in the big cities, no American is unfamiliar with the
image of a robot sitting at the edge of a bar nursing an alcoholic
beverage. “It’s a disgrace,” said Adolf 2020, shaking his
fermenter-head. “They start with the booze and that leads them to the
harder stuff, and ultimately to the cocaine. Makes me ashamed to be a
such bullshit,” offered Simon 911, a critical-response switchboard droid
who is active in the homeless community. “Robots buy alcohol because
they equate alcohol with success. We watch the same TV that you do, read
the same magazines. so we’re exposed to the same images,” Simon confided
as he lit a Camel. “We learn that beer makes us sexually attractive,
makes women excited about us. The fact that we don’t have genitals and
therefore cannot have sex is at some level beside the point.”
alcohol and tobacco companies claim not to market or advertise to
robots, the facts suggest otherwise. When People magazine launched it’s
cleverly-titled journal, Robot, advertisers clamored aboard. Leaf
through any recent copy of Popular Robot, Robot Life, or Highlights for
Robots, and you’ll find countless images of robots with cigars, wine
coolers, adult diapers, and even condoms, which, quite obviously, robots
don’t need. Tune in any Thursday night to Robot Hospital, and you’ll
plainly see that television commercials are no better.
point,” argued character actor, Sylvester 83, who played the robot camp
counselor in the popular summer hit Robot Camp, and the cool-headed
robot bus driver in the breakaway hit Speedier, ”is that robots do
participate in mainstream American culture, and do genuinely want to be
part of it. Robots are just as interested in pursuing the American Dream
as humans are. Too often though, they just don’t see themselves
attaining that dream, so they become disillusioned. That’s where crime
comes in. Crack robots are in it for the money not the high.
about earning a living wage.”
Opportunity, or the perception of opportunity, appears to be lacking in
the robot community. In a recent survey, five hundred and seventy-four
robots working at mainstream legal jobs reported an average income of
$34 per week. In a parallel survey, thirteen hundred and four
street-level crack-selling robots reported average earnings of $673 per
week. When the results of these surveys are compared, it becomes obvious
that crack robots earn a far better living.
is ultimately a violent one,” said Wesley 512. “With that much money at
stake, even the low-level dealers have to develop a reputation for
strength and ruthlessness. The shootings, the drive-bys, the other sorts
of violent activities that plague our society are not a response to drug
addiction. Rather, they are symptoms of a societal condition that keeps
robots on the bottom rungs of the American economic spectrum.”
insight can be derived from the recent televised interview with Hoppy
1030, conducted in his prison cell. Hoppy ran the largest crystal
methanphetamine distribution ring the northwest before a disastrous
shootout with a rival gang left seven humans dead.
supposed to rehabilitate me?” Hoppy asked, waving a mechanized
tentacle-hose around the cell, pausing to point at the window, the metal
bunk, and the assortment of beer posters that festooned the cell walls.
“I’ll be back on the street in fifty-seven years, three months, and
eighteen days. And I’m not going back to work for the man. I changed oil
on mini vans year after year for no money. Even when they put in the
minimum wage, it was still bullshit. What if I wanted my own mini van?
“So yes I
went into the drug business,” Hoppy said, his pride evident. “I was
making 40 grand a month. I had an army of soldiers who ruthlessly
protected my territory. I had a whole fleet of mini vans. I had a wife
and a Puerto Rican girl downtown who played the lute. And you know what?
She promised she’d wait for me.”
suggest that drugs, like the alcohol, are not the cause of the violence.
It should be apparent that robots turn to drug dealing when they
perceive it to be the most viable port of entry to full participation in
mainstream American culture. The violence is only a symptom of the
problem. Higher education and and training for more lucrative employment
remain our best hope for an inclusive society. Violence is untenable in
the presence of hope.
concurred Chippy 9, a former ham glazer. “When I was made redundant by
the later models, I participated in Holiday Ham’s retraining-chip
program. As a result, I’m now a successful corporate attorney. I make
half a million dollars a year, but when people look at me, do you think
they see a successful attorney? No, they see a ham glazer. I drive a
Mercedes and get pulled over three times a week. To the police, to the
public, I’m still just a ham glazing robot.
notwithstanding, a variety of federal, state, and private
retraining-chip programs effectively launch robots on the path to more
lucrative careers, a path that not coincidentally, leads away from
violence. These programs are inexpensive and the procedures take
approximately three minutes. They are, however, all too rare.
a robot I cannot dream,” began Professor Wesley 512 in his keynote
address to the graduating class of the California Institute of
Technology, “I have a supposition, a supposition that robots will one
day live in a nation where they will be judged not by the cold and
unyielding nature of their dent-resistant teflon-coated flexible
exoskeletons, but by the content of their integrated microchip emotive
512’s comments and work earned him an Azimov Peace Prize, the highest
award given to civilian robots, a Turing Genius fellowship, and a
nomination to the Presidential cabinet as Secretary of Labor, which
unfortunately, the senate is expected not to confirm.
nation struggles to wrest its freedom from the demons of prejudice and
ignorance, we can begin to comprehend the social and economic conditions
that undergird robot violence.
understand why robots kill. And by addressing the underlying issues, we
can ensure that the violence will begin to dissipate.