I robot to protect book.., p.7

I, Robot: To Protect Book 1, page 7


I, Robot: To Protect Book 1

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  Chapter 6

  The door to the Calvins’ apartment swung open before Susan could insert the proper thumb into the scanner. John caught her up in an embrace on the threshold. His familiar, strong arms winched around her, and he rested his chin on the top of her head. “Hi, Susan. How was your … days?”

  Susan chuckled. “Interesting in so many ways.” She wriggled free. “And you might regret hugging me. They keep the unit hotter than I like, and the on-call shower sucks.”

  “You smell fine,” John Calvin assured her, ushering her inside. He was slender to the point of gauntness, with the same pale blue eyes and straight brown hair as Susan, though he wore his short.

  Susan stepped inside the main room and looked around at furnishings that now showed a hint of her decorating taste, as well as her father’s. John had always kept things simple. Silver tubing framed myriad glass shelves holding everything from a stereo/television system to notebooks filled with his small, neat writings. The walls had held only black-and-white diplomas and a single color picture of the only woman he had ever loved: Amanda Calvin, Susan’s mother. As a child, she had memorized every detail, every line, and she suspected her father had done the same. Since moving in, Susan had added a handful of tasteful paintings, with splashes of blues, greens, and reds.

  John closed the door behind his daughter. “I have a casserole ready and waiting for you in the kitchen.”

  That intrigued Susan. Her father’s casseroles were a mishmash of whatever remained in the refrigerator. Despite their experimental nature, they always wound up tasting at least reasonably good, if only because he had a keen eye when it came to shopping, especially for fruits and vegetables.

  Susan walked through the den into the kitchen. She barely glanced at the familiar cupboards or the refrigerator/freezer, which still sported her childhood drawings clamped to the stainless-steel surface with animal-shaped Happeez. She took her usual seat and waited for her father to serve. He would have already eaten, she knew. Though kind and normal in so many ways, he had an oddity that used to bother her but no longer did. John Calvin preferred not to eat in front of other people, regardless of whether they shared the meal. Susan could still barely remember when they had eaten together as a family: her mother, her father, and herself. His neurosis had developed immediately after Amanda’s death, and Susan wondered if it stemmed from that trauma as fully as Monterey’s mutism did from the accident that had claimed her father.

  It was one of the few images Susan still had of her mother, beaming as husband and daughter ate what she had made. Amanda had seemed to take great pride in her cooking and in her family’s enjoyment of it, which might explain the origin of John’s oddity. Perhaps he equated group meals with his beloved wife.

  John placed a plate of steaming food, a glass of dark juice, and a fork in front of Susan, then took the seat directly across from her and leaned across the table. “So, tell me about Manhattan Hasbro.”

  Susan let the aroma of the food tease her nose. She had eaten breakfast and lunch in the hospital staff cafeteria, a good selection of institutional food. The casserole had an egg and vegetable smell, quichelike, and she could see chunks of carrot and ham. “I like it. The staff seems intelligent and competent, if a bit quirky. I like my R-3 a lot, and my R-2 is, at the least, entertaining. The patients have real problems that force me to think.”

  “Tell me all about them.”

  Susan shoveled food into her mouth. It had a unique taste, an odd combination of flavors that worked well together. She realized that might describe the hospital as well, but she had more than patients on her mind. Soon enough, she would spend hours on the palm-pross researching them. For now, she had questions only her father could answer. She looked directly at him. “I met Nate last night.”

  “Nate?” John Calvin’s brow furrowed. “As in ‘Nathan’?”

  “As in N8-C.” Susan studied her father’s reaction.

  John clearly tried to hide his surprise, but it leaked through his eyes.

  “Nate says you’re a legend at U. S. Robots and Mechanical Men.”

  “A legend?” John laughed. “What a silly thing for him to say.”

  “Is it?” Susan doubted anyone else would find it silly. “How come you never told me you worked with the actual robots?”

  Even John’s not-quite-casual shrug seemed uncomfortable beneath his daughter’s scrutiny. “I didn’t think it would interest you. It’s boring stuff, really.”

  Susan put her fork aside and glared at her father. “The bell’s rung, Dad. You can’t unring it.” She took a swallow of juice to clear her palate. Like the casserole, it had a combination of tastes. She thought she recognized pomegranate and cranberry. “I now know you work directly with mechanical men who can pass for human.” She quoted Nate verbatim, “‘Human stem cells coaxed into a dermal and muscular system grown over a skeleton of porous silicone plastic.’”

  John grumbled, “Nate talks too much.”

  “Just enough,” Susan corrected. “And I intend to spend a lot more time with him, so don’t try to feed me any bullshit.”

  Her father’s brows shot up. “Surely, it doesn’t taste that bad.”

  “What?” The sudden change of topic caught her off guard. Susan followed his gaze to the serving of casserole on her plate. “Funny. The food’s fine, Dad. I’m just mad you convinced me you had an insignificant job for so many years we could have spent talking about miracles like Nate.”

  “It’s not as interesting as it sounds.”

  The defense fell flat. “If it’s even a tenth as interesting as it sounds, I’m fascinated.”

  John Calvin sighed. He had spent most of his life avoiding the topic he no longer could, and Susan could not help feeling cheated and angry. “What do you want to know?”

  Susan picked up her fork. “Nate mentioned he had a ‘positronic brain.’ What does that mean?”

  John kept his voice level, almost monotonic, as if trying to infuse the boredom he had hidden behind so many years. “It’s kind of like a telephone switchboard on an atomic scale, with billons of possible connections compressed into a brain that can fit inside a human-sized skull.”

  Struck with a sudden realization, Susan chewed a bite of casserole. “You invented it, didn’t you?”

  “Good Lord, no! That would be my incredible friend, and college roommate, Dr. Lawrence Robertson.”

  “But you had a hand in it.”

  “A small one.”

  Susan suspected her father was still downplaying his role. “And you thought I would find this boring?”

  “You were a child. How many little girls find robotic circuitry interesting?”

  Susan ate more of her dinner. “I haven’t been a little girl for quite a long time. I raved about algebra. I found physics, organic chemistry, and differential calculus exciting. Didn’t that give you a clue I wasn’t your average ‘little girl’?”

  “I never thought you were average, kitten. Not in any way.”

  Susan leaned toward him. “Then why did you lock me out of this incredible part of your life?”

  John sat up, rigid. His blue eyes dodged hers. “Susan, if I talk to you about it now, will you let my reasons for waiting lie?”

  Susan wanted it all but saw the prudence in waiting. The topic clearly agitated him; and, for now, the details of his projects interested her more than his excuses. “Fine. Tell me why robots that can pass for human, that can actually think, aren’t everywhere. The world should be clamoring for them, fighting over every one USR can make as fast as you can make them.”

  John’s head started bobbing, as if of its own accord. He clearly agreed with her, but he would not say so. “First, they’re unbelievably expensive to build.”

  Susan shrugged. “All the more reason for popularity. All new technology is expensive. The price comes down as raw materials can be purchased in bulk, construction becomes more mechanized and widespread, and supply catches up to demand.”

, mostly,” John continued, as if Susan had never spoken, “it’s the Frankenstein Complex.”

  Susan hesitated, fork halfway to her mouth. The word “complex” implied a medical diagnosis, but she had never come across this particular abnormality in any of her studies. “As in Victor Frankenstein’s monster? From the Mary Shelley novel?”


  Exactly what? Susan tried to put the pieces together. “Some people … are afraid … thinking robots will become … uncontrollably destructive?”

  John Calvin nodded, looking thoughtfully out the window. They lived on the tenth story, overlooking many similar apartment buildings. Walls were all he could see from his angle. “Basically. Too many people worry robots will destroy, dominate, or replace us.”

  Susan supposed it was not a wholly unreasonable fear, especially when it came to replacement. Already, most of the unskilled jobs had been given over to unintelligent machines. If positronic robots ever became cheaper, more reliable labor than humans, businesses would vie for their share.

  “Think media, Susan, where your average person gets most of his or her information. How many movies have you seen where creatures with artificial intelligence set out to topple their human creators? Anything with superhuman, human, or near-human intelligence is presumed to eventually try to slaughter or enslave us, whether it’s machine or organic, golem, android, or alien.”

  Susan had to agree. “Well, it definitely makes for better movies. It’s hard to generate fear and excitement if the bug-eyed monsters come only to hug us. Surely that doesn’t mean everyone —”

  “Not everyone,” John admitted. “But enough people in power do. Then we have to worry about general public perception, political groups, religious affiliates —”

  It was Susan’s turn to interrupt. “And the Society for Humanity.”

  John immediately stopped speaking. “You’re full of surprise information today. How do you know about them?”

  Susan chewed and swallowed completely, washing it down with juice. “They’re a thorn in my side, too. In addition to being antirobot, they have an injunction against treating one of my patients. They’re a powerful group with a megaton of cheek.”

  “Yeah.” The word emerged strained.

  When Susan examined her father closely, she thought she saw trembling fingers and moisture in his eyes. “Isn’t there some way to make robots absolutely safe? Something in their programming?”

  John’s discomfort turned to a shaky smile. “There is. It’s the reason USR has the only legal permit to manufacture robots, at least in the United States.”

  Now he had Susan’s full attention. “What is it?”

  “It’s our patented Three Laws of Robotics. They’re a fundamental part of every robot we manufacture, and we do not continue building or programming until it has become an integral part of them.”

  Susan had to know. “And the three laws are?”

  John cleared his throat. She suspected he knew them forward and backward, that he could recite them in anagram form or even in his sleep. “Law Number One: ‘A robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.’”

  Susan nodded with each word, trying to commit them to memory verbatim. This first law, by itself, seemed like enough to keep the citizenry safe.

  “Law Number Two: ‘A robot must obey all orders given by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.’”

  Susan could understand that one as well. It would keep the robots definitively subservient and ensure humans could not manipulate them into killing other humans.

  “Law Number Three: ‘A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.’”

  “Hmm.” Susan grinned. “That last sounds like it protects your investment more than actually being necessary to keep humans safe.”

  “At face value, yes.” John continued to stare out the window, as if accessing old memories better left buried. “But it can have important human applications. If, for example, a robot witnesses a murder or is asked to participate in a crime, this prevents the killer from ordering its robot witness to destroy itself.”

  It suddenly occurred to Susan that the three laws, though cautiously worded and direct, did have deeper implications well worth exploring. She wondered how humans would behave were they wholly governed by those same three laws. It might make an interesting psychological experiment. She finished the last of her casserole and juice. “Thanks for finally sharing. I’m looking forward to learning more and to talking to Nate now that I know his underlying …” She did not know what to call it. “Governance” seemed closest; but, given his near humanity, “religion” or “moral philosophy” seemed better. She settled for the obvious. “Laws. It’ll be interesting to see how the need to abide by those makes him different from humans.”

  “Different?” John Calvin laughed. “Now you’re psychoanalyzing robots? What’s next, the bookshelves?”

  Susan did not see the humor in it. “What happens, for example, when a robot is given conflicting commands? Or he’s told to take a bath by someone who doesn’t know an electrical appliance has fallen into the tub? That could put laws two and three into conflict.” Several more potential problems came to her mind. “Let’s say a robot impervious to temperature is in the Antarctic with a freezing and comatose human. Can he figure out the human’s life is in danger from something that can’t harm the robot? Or let’s say he’s ordered into a burning building, but he knows everyone inside is already dead? Law Number Three would force him to refuse.”

  John Calvin’s expression gradually changed from one of tolerant humor to interest. “You’ve thought of everything.”

  A thrill of excitement swept through Susan. “Not nearly. There’re thousands of possible scenarios.”

  “None of which have come up.”

  Susan added, “Yet. But when robots become an everyday commodity, they will, and probably quite frequently.”

  John did not seem convinced. “Maybe.” He reached for Susan’s dirty dishes and changed the subject. “Now, tell me about those fascinating patients.”

  Susan rose, shaking her head. “I will. I promise. But, first, I have to do some research on those fascinating patients, or I’m not going to make it through my fascinating residency.” Walking into the main room, she snatched up her palm-pross. “By tomorrow, I have to know how to diagnose subtle abnormalities of the optic disk and their significance. Also, why a child with a normal heart might be in florid cardiac failure, how to treat chronic and resistant mutism, and what to do with a four-year-old homicidal maniac.”

  John Calvin called from the kitchen. “Wow. That does sound interesting.” Dishes rattled. “We can talk when you’re finished. Until then, I won’t bug you.”

  It was a lie, and Susan knew it. At strategic times during the evening, he would interrupt her studies to ascertain her every comfort. She could count on an irresistible dessert at the least. For now, though, she took her palm-pross into her bedroom and began her search.

  Susan Calvin met with the Moores immediately after rounds, in the room between two sets of locked doors installed especially for such meetings. She found them sitting in the plush mauve chairs provided for parental comfort. When the door opened, Mr. Moore rose, and a wan smile appeared on Mrs. Moore’s face. They both appeared exhausted, the father’s short, black hair speckled with gray and the mother’s long and braided into permanent extensions.

  Susan perched on the arm of a chair, meeting their gazes in turn. “I’m Susan Calvin, Dallas’ new resident doctor.”

  They nodded, familiar with the monthly drill. They had met a parade of residents, though usually not this early in the month. Breakthroughs did not often come about this quickly.

  Mrs. Moore sighed. “What did he do this time?”

  Susan smiled reassuringly, though inwardly she cringed. She wondered what it must be like to have people consta
ntly condemning one’s beloved, if difficult, child. “Nothing we wouldn’t expect from someone with his syndrome.”

  “Syndrome?” Mr. Moore repeated. A tall, well-muscled man, he leaned forward in his chair. “Are they calling depression a syndrome now?”

  Susan explained her findings from earlier that morning. “Have you heard of Prader-Willi syndrome?”

  The Moores nodded wearily. “A resident thought Dallas had it a few months ago. Tests showed he didn’t.”

  “Right.” Quailed by the intensity of the parental gazes, Susan wished she had a window on which to focus her attention. She had confronted families before, but always as a medical student observing residents or attendings. She had never held the spotlight, and it unnerved her. The parents hung on her every word, as they should. The future of their child currently rested on her diagnoses. “It’s a rare chromosomal defect that causes, among other things, inadequate development of an area of the brain called the hypothalamus.”

  Susan paused to make sure she still had the parents on board. They stared at her with rapt attention, so she continued. “The hypothalamus is a control center of the brain. One of the many things it handles is hunger and satiety. People with Prader-Willi syndrome almost never feel full; and, even when they do, it’s short-lived. Given free access to food, children with Prader-Willi syndrome will, quite literally, eat themselves to death.”

  The parents nodded. Mr. Moore cleared his throat. “Why are you telling us this? Dallas doesn’t have Prader-Willi syndrome, does he?”

  Susan nodded agreement. “Dallas has a far rarer syndrome. It’s called the syndrome of optic nerve hypoplasia. For short, it’s ONH.” Such a diagnosis might devastate most parents, but Susan saw a hint of relief soften the tightness of Mr. Moore’s features. Mrs. Moore almost smiled. Having a name for Diesel’s behavior, a medical reason for the odd things he did, had to be liberating after the hell he must have put them through.

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