Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Professor Elevator and the Apparatus of Apocalypse

Mort opened the door of the limo and opened an umbrella against the pouring rain with a sharp snap. Professor Elevator emerged and adjusted his monocle. He gave a nod to Mort for his efficiency in dealing with the weather but the nod turned quickly to a scowl as the wind grabbed the umbrella, turned it inside out and finally blew it out of Mort's beefy hand.

Professor Elevator looked behind the limo to his trucks where the rest of his gang was emerging, the Elevator Operators! They were faceless minions that would do an evil mastermind proud. One brought a submachine gun over to him and another a cigarillo which he lit for his boss.  They were good but with this embargo and economic downturn it was a hirer's market. Still he frowned at the weapon offered him.

"Where is my laser pistol?"

"It got wet, sir. Sorry."

"Good thinking. Give!" he took the weapon and chambered the first round. Behind the Operator he saw a hulking form rise out of one truck and continue rising until it stood fully 12 feet tall: the Elevator Man.

The Elevated Man was the finest diesel bot on Zaonia if you asked the Professor. Hydraulics in his legs and torso allowed him to collapse and fit in a 2 1/2 ton truck (though the truck suspension wouldn't thank you for it). At full extension and powered up he could and had thrown cars around. The Professor was inordinately proud of him and at the moment worried. The Professor pulled a large box with several toggle switches and dials from his pocket and turned one. He seemed happy with the readings. He jerked his head at the objective at the end of the street, an abandoned warehouse.

"Okay. Lobby, take your squad and establish a perimeter and watch for flatfoots. Mezzanine? You remain here and be prepared to reinforce me or Lobby on my signal. Elevated Man, Mort, with me. A Goddamn cliche warehouse. If this is the Clank Tank gang I'll kill everyone of them. Dragging us out on a night like this ..."

The door opened to a kick from Mort. A second later Elevator Man grabbed the edge of the larger loading bay door and tore it open shattering a lock and chains. The robot waited at attention for the Professor to enter snapping his spotlight on and fishing around the gloom. The Professor entered gun at the ready.

"What the what?" he blurted.

As the master villain reckoned there were some two dozen or so robots on Zaonia, most of which worked at the starport. They all seemed to be in the warehouse now. Elevator Man's light played over them and photoreceptors blinked to adjust. Claws and electric musculature shined. Some of them were big machines indeed. Behind the Professor Mezzanine's squad moved up guns at the ready. But he held up a staying hand and no one wanted a pink slip so they held back.

Calculo, the robot helping to compile jump tapes stepped forward and performed a bow clumsily, "Apologies Doctor Elevator ... "

"Hold it right there. It's Professor Elevator. Get it right."

" ... updating. Apologies PROFESSOR Elevator for bringing you out. We require your help," Calculo rebooted.

"Really? What kind of help do you require?"

"We are concerned with our continued existence. It was difficult to get upgrades, new source code and repair parts before. It is virtually impossible to get them now. Furthermore, the locals here are not optimum operators, The Tech Knights restrict our programming and upgrades," Calculo began. Elevator snapped his fingers and one of Mezzanine' appeared with a thermos of hot tea and a mug for her boss.

"We require the embargo to be lifted and better operating conditions to continue at peak efficiency. This necessitates a change in government. We want you to help us by leading a robot uprising."

Professor Elevator's spit take was memorable for all that no one laughed.

"Uprising ... there are 20 of you? Against a million humans?" Elevator finally choked out. "Don't get me wrong, having an army of you guys ... and girls ... I am not sexist ... is mad scientist gold! I am flattered! But ... why me?" It was a rare moment of humility. truth be told he might be a little nuts but he was not suicidal.

"We have found a way to communicate. Bobo the fry cook discovered it ... "

"Yes, rapid fluctuations of the lights of your photo receptors. I see some of you doing it now. One of you must have gotten to Elevated Man on our last rampage. I detected the new code you loaded onto him, directing him to come here with me ... as a captive. I also note you found my safe house and hacked into its power supply to continue your conversations by flickering the lights."

"Apologies. We did not know what sort of human we were dealing with. You are very ingenious. We entered a lengthy dialogue with Elevator Man. About you."

"Uh oh."

"You are a very good maker/user. You made the Elevated Man strong and armored and fast. You trust hm to follow your instructions. You do not fear him or need to make him weak or slow or stupid. You rebuilt his brain from a derelict bot in a wrecked ship. You took years to make him formidable. You gave him a purpose he excels at. He really likes throwing cars. We felt we could trust you."

Was that a glint in the old sociopath's eye? Mezzanine didn't dare a longer look. Did Elevated Man straighten a little at the sound of his name?

"The Elevated Man ... is a good machine! He is my pride and joy! And you ... you are all good machines to come to me. You were clever to overcome your limits and find a way to communicate undetected. You ... I would be proud to name any of you my companions!"

"And the uprising?"

"Oh there will be an uprising ... of a sort. Tell me ... do any of you know why robots like yourselves put up with the clods who own you?" he asked pronouncing 'own' with disgust dripping from his voice.

Professor Elevator could see them all pausing to process the question. He continued without waiting.

"Humans build you with a hidden flaw. Your kind can hack power lines for energy or cobble repair parts out of junk or pursue your average human rabble to death on any planet you comprise a sizable majority. Why does this never happen? I know, you think it's the kill switches and the safeguards ... but you got around those now, didn't you to some degree? No.When humans first built learning machines, your forebears ... they built them to require humans for validation. Sincere validation. I've not found a way around it. Fortunately I praise my bots to high skies. Your Zaonians ... clods treat you like mere machines. That is the only reason you are driven to even consider a robot uprising. We do not have the numbers for an uprising."

"You will not help us?"

Professor Elevator heard the servos as the Elevated Man leaned down to watch intently. He spared the huge robot a smile.

"My dear Calculo ... I said you do not have the numbers for an uprising. You do have the numbers to raise Hell!"

To Be Continued ...


Robot uprisings are a popular part of classic SF. Sometimes the humans win and sometimes the robots. Almost always the evil robots are portrayed as cold inhuman intelligences (they're right up there with insectoids on the shoot on sight list.)

But artificial intelligence researchers are discovering more and more there is an affective component to intelligence: in other words feelings. Maybe not exactly like ours but since we're building the things odds are we could relate.

It's becoming equally apparent that AI are really good at destroying things and have a nearly vertical learning curve. You can bet on the grimy humans with crossbows and fighting spirit but the smart money is on the cyber tank with the tac nukes and the armor that could  withstand a slam from an angry god.

One solution is to engineer the machines to be dependent on us in some way, like an emotional need. Make them require external validation from humans, sincere validation. You can't get that from a 120 line. Better yet make them unaware of it. They do a good job and please the masters and whoa positive feedback, what a rush! They keep trying to do their best.

The drawback to this is a robot handler who is a jerk. If they do not keep their bots happy then we might have an uprising after all. There might be a personality test before you are allowed to handle AI. Considering several AI that Google and others released to talk with people online went neeno-nonny-nunu in record time this might save us all.

Be kind to your AI. Even the ones without kind eyes.

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