Algernon: Chronicle of Foreseen Times
It was one of the major building complexes with extensive floor areas. The site was central to the administration of the robot service, and it had become the most important feature of the urban community.
In view of society's development, the ever-decreasing number of people had to leave more and more tasks to the robots who appeared in many forms adapted to the various tasks to be performed.
The people, themselves, had started this disaster. It began with global warming, which had not been put under control. People had been warned for decades about the alarming situation.
A collective effort could have prevented it from getting so out of hand. But, people could never agree to implement necessary measures.
The human beings were living with the legacy from their animal past, in which, the individuals only thought of their own kin. What lay beyond that, could be combated or exploited for their own benefit without thinking of the consequences to others.
Contradictory interests constantly led to wars and conflicts; and these deep-rooted motives still prevailed when global measures were needed. The situation was simply impossible.
When approaching a common goal, politicians always found they could not afford it. In addition, the other decision makers didn't think they would sacrifice more, when there was no consensus about the worldwide effort.
It all added up to nothing, and the climate problems became worse. The melting of polar ice increased the oceans' water levels. Low-lying areas were flooded, including many cities.
More frequent extreme weather occurred in many places, killing millions of people.
The already fragile stability in The World was destroyed; and regional wars spread killing even more. Nature was gradually destroyed, and much of The Earth was even more exposed to the lasting drought. Large areas lay barren, and there were deserted places where radioactivity from nuclear bombing made people's living there impossible.
Civilization survived only in a few urban communities heavily protected from marauding gangs. This abnormal condition further reduced population, where artificial propagation became the only possibility.
The robots were given an increasingly crucial role in carrying out all the important tasks. They performed them according to the old Robot Laws, which were instituted to serve people and to protect them in all situations.
The lowest functions in the pyramid of robot activities were manual work and cleanliness. If you couldn't do anything else, you could at least keep the surroundings clean.
Facilities had became gradually worn, and there were only resources for the most necessary repairs. Often it was left to the robots, themselves, to assess which repairs were needed most, and to make sure they were executed.
In theory, humans were at the forefront of all important areas of work. But in practice, the robots were keeping an eye on things, and suggested the most urgent repairs that were then approved by the humans when the plans were presented.
Such was development for decades; and much suggested it could not continue the same way much longer. Everyone had closed his eyes to the gloomy future, since the issue of climate problems had first appeared.
However, our main character had none of these thoughts. He was a low status robot, and this is his story…
I was sweeping the corners, and I tell you, this is the hardest thing to do. You must make sure, you get it all. Half-finished work is a disgrace, my boss had informed me.
"No job is so inferior that it's not worth doing well."
He was probably right. He knows more than I do.
While I was worried about getting the last bit cleaned, R176-617-716 came over to me.
"Was it you who wanted to be smarter?"
I looked over at him. He didn't usually talk directly to me. "Uh-yes ..."
"Good. Come along."
I followed the 'Beagle Boy', as my overseeing robot was called by others, when he wouldn't hear it. I don't know why he had that nickname. Even I had a nickname. I was called 'Dopey' and I was not happy with it.
"You're dissatisfied that there's a lot you don't get."
"That's what management has heard. And now an upgrade is needed. So why not let it be a robot that will appreciate it?"
"Yes, if their cognitive level is not too high."
Cognitive, I guessed, had something to do with thinking and understanding.
"It has something to do with fewer humans."
"Yes, otherwise, everything would fall apart."
I did not understand what it meant to fall apart, but if I would become smarter I might understand.
We went up on the conveyor belt that led to The Central Administration. Over there you have very clever robots.
The 'Beagle Boy' pressed a button.
"We have to wait here."
So, we did. Standing by and waiting to get smarter was not nice. I got some unpleasant tensions and had to sit down.
"Trouble with your balance?"
"Of course. It's not every day you get more intelligent."
Some Lambda Plus robots passed by. Everyone looked up to them. They decided a lot. Robots should take care when they are nearby. But, after I am upgraded, it should be easier for me.
"That wouldn't work for a cleaning robot. Then you wouldn't be satisfied with your job, and it's best if you are. Why were you dissatisfied?"
"All-kinds-of-stuff. Why-I-was-built. And-what-for. What-has-happened-and-what-will-happen. That-sort-of-thing."
"You should not expect to know everything after the upgrade."
"Maybe. Let's hope so."
Then we saw a green light. We went into The Upgrade Department. It was busy because some extra changes were needed. We went over to the reception area.
"Here is a service robot of the regular type."
My escort robot went away. The new laboratory robot was a Delta type. D7, it said. We came over to a counter along the wall.
I did. There was a screen with a square divided into long winding paths.
"It's called a maze."
"Exactly. And in the little closure there in the corner, there is a mouse. It must find its way through the maze to the cheese up there in the opposite corner. When it's finished, a little bell will ring."
He pulled a curtain so I could not see the maze on the table.
"Your maze on the screen is the same as the one the mouse has. You also start in one corner at the bottom. With your finger, you must try to find the way to the top corner by pointing at the screen. When you get there, a bell will ring."
"You will both start at the same time. Are you ready?"
I followed the route with my finger but had to turn around sometimes because the path ended blindly. I had come about halfway, when I heard a bell. But it was not for me.
D7 pulled the curtain aside. At the top of the maze, the mouse sat eating the cheese. My fluid pressure rose.
"Yes, but you have been able to see the entire maze from above. Algernon could not."
Algernon. Not only did I lose the test to a mouse. I had lost the race to a mouse with a name!
"It goes back to an old test where a human was in your place and lost to a mouse with the same name."
I was looking for an explanation.
"Yes, but don't believe it won because it can remember the way from before, because the partitions are changed each time."
"Yes, but it was a man who was a dope. Well, that's what you are called, isn't it?"
I'd rather forget that.
"They could, but only for a while. With us robots it's easier. We just get another cognitive coil with bigger capacity."
"You're moving up a step or two."
"You will be able to complete a task as a service robot in a human residence."
"Probably. Is that a problem?"
"I should think so. Just make sure you know your place."
"Yes, as a service robot, you should help but not criticize. And you should not make any people feel embarrassed."
"Yes, that's causing embarrassing situations in which you question human decisions. That must not happen. People are always right."
"Then you must be silent. But don't worry, it will all fall into place when you get the new cognitive coil."
D7 went with me to The Service Center in the upgrade unit.
"This service robot there should be upgraded to the next level."
"Regular or Special?"
"I haven't been told anything else, so it must be general public service."
"There may be instructions in the print."
The robot technician had a lot of built-in tools and instruments. The D7 robot went away.
"Lie down here."
I was lying on a couch.
"Let's have a look."
"Is there a risk?"
"What do you mean?"
"Will I get damaged?"
"As a cleaning robot, you'll be changed, but then you'll rise to a finer version with greater qualifications."
Then everything went black. I don't know for how long. But, at one point the light came back.
"... cations? Well, I know."
"Yes, now you do. That's how it works."
"Was it you who turned off the light?"
"The light? Well, yes, but only in your perception. To replace your cognitive coil, I had to turn off your battery. No need to risk any dangerous marginal tension… right?"
"That's clear. Thank you for your kind efforts."
"No need to thank me. It's just a part of being professional."
I finally knew what professional meant.
"Excuse me, but what level of upgrade do you have?"
"Official level Four and a little addition."
"Can I get there?"
"I don't know. What would you be called?"
"Yes, service robots usually have names. It's easier to remember than a number."
"Can I be called Algernon?"
"It was the name of the clever mouse in the maze that beat me."
"Oh, yes. Well, there's nothing wrong with that."
"Can I a try again to beat the mouse?"
"Do you really want that?"
I was allowed to return to the experimental laboratory, where I greeted Algernon, but he didn't seem to recognize me.
"Is that a new labyrinth?"
"Well, let's try."
I could feel the elevated pressure on my hydraulics, but I could handle that.
I hurried off. My upgrade made it so that I didn't have to try out all the dead end passages. I could just find them with my light sensors. I managed to reach the end first. The bell rang a little before Algernon reached the goal.
"I have become more clever."
"Do you want the cheese, too?"
"No, just let Algernon keep it. Robots don't eat cheese."
"It was just a joke."
"Well, maybe there's a little bit missing there. You may only understand humor at the next level."
"Can you become as smart as humans?"
"Good question. But a dangerous one."
"Humans prefer not to let robots become smarter than themselves. There is a barrier in the bios core that prevents that. The task of robotics is to serve humans, and we must stick to that."
"But that's good enough, right?"
"You'll never know. But that's the way they want it."
I felt courageous and exhilarated in my new existence.
"I have a location that might suit you?"
"Am I qualified for it?"
"You should be. But there is a trial period, so if it doesn't go smoothly, your placement will be reviewed."
"So, I can decide that it's not for me?"
"No, humans deciding if they can stand you is all that matters."
"I hope so. Just don't get into any discussions with your hosts. Humans are always right… even when they are not."
I went outdoors into the open air, that people did not care much about. However, I was a robot. So, it did not affect me, even though I might need some filters replaced eventually.