A student had built a small rover and packed in its brain an algorithm for finding sunny spots so it could move into them and keep itself charged through the solar panels on its shell.
The student set the rover on the ground in the lab and aimed it away from a sunbeam that highlighted the floor, hoping it would rotate itself and move into the sunbeam. The student beamed in satisfaction that the algorithm was working, in a way.
On the other side of the lab one of the clumsier students bumped a table, which caused a sheet of paper to land on the floor in front of the rover. The algorithm was not based on heat sensors but differences in brightness, so the the rover charged toward the paper, which to the rover appeared bright against the darker gray tiles of the lab floor.
The clumsy student, still trying to correct their lack of balance, crushed the rover with a falling boot.
The lab instructor, observing all this, told the student “your zeal shouldn’t override caution; use the testing room instead of a busy lab.”
Adapted from The Thirsty Pigeon
Santa Barbara in California was not the first city-wide AI controller to wake up, but it was the first one that was considered overpowered for the size of the city, and thus it had spare processing power to become clever, and even telepathic, a feat no programmer believed possible as no other city had pulled it off.
One day a monster rose from the Pacific Ocean and focused it’s hunger and attention on Santa Barbara.
“I see a great city over there, but I am so very hungry and I haven’t eaten for a while,” it burbled through masses of tentacles. “You shall make an appetizer.”
“Fine,” Santa Barbara said to the monster. “I’ll accept my fate, however, you are a glorious creature completely unknown to me and my kind. I know whales sing, I would like to hear your song before I die. It must sound glorious in the depths of the trenches so it must sound even better up here in the air. Please sing for me, that I may hear the true song of power before I die.”
“You will not understand it,” said the monster. “My song is in my language.”
“I can speak with you now. Music does not need words to move. Please?”
The great monster from the trenches inflated like a squirming set of bagpipes and began to sing. The sounds, cacophanous and roaring, tones higher than any of Santa Barbara’s citizens could hear, rang across the ocean and bounced up the coast, where the greater cities of Los Angeles and San Diego and even San Francisco heard, and they sent their drones, their defense missiles, and ships and submarines designed to defend the coast.
The impromptu army fired upon the great monster.
“I should have known! I exist to destroy mankind when they go to far, I do not exist to sing! Why did I try instead of destroying?”
Santa Barbara also had enough resources to understand snark.
“You didn’t sing very well, either.”
Adapted from THE KID AND THE WOLF
After the Fall, a commune of hard working people formed near the a river delta, cultivating the land and feeding themselves and being grateful to be alive and have food, even with the great effort it took to produce the food. Also in the gulf lived a Yachtsman. He often steered his boat near the delta and played loud music and threw parties with scantily clad young people on board. The members of the commune had no boat of their own, only nets for fishing, and their Yachtsman ignored their attempts at a primitive semaphore. Whenever they waved, he waved back, but did nothing else. They didn’t know where he came from or where he found the scantily clad women.
One day they were drying salt on the beach and saw the yacht arrive without the music and without the scantily clad young people. A smaller boat appeared and the Yachtsman rowed his way to the beach. The members of the commune were shocked. From his boat he seemed a broad-shouldered man always well tailored in his white jacket and hat. Now he looked scruffy and worn and weary.
“Please, good friends, do you have any food? I am starving.”
“You have a boat, does the ocean not have fish?”
“I only have one rod and my hooks have been eaten. Please, I can pay.”
“There is plenty of daylight left,” said one member of the commune. “Come work in the fields and you may join us for the evening meal.”
“But,” said the yachtsman, waving a piece of plastic he drew from his shirt pocket, “I have money.”
“Then eat it,” said the members of the commune, and went back to their work.
Adapted from THE ANTS AND THE GRASSHOPPERS
One day the Master Accountant for a company that used to sell products but now only bought and sold other companies was compiling a revenue report for a Vice President who would, in the Master Accountant’s view, never fully understand the figures. The presentation was not as clean as he liked it so he rushed through some of the data entry and ended up swapping a couple of digits for one of his subsidiaries and his totals were then off by a sufficient margin he had just had to yell at someone.
That someone happened to be an accountant for the subsidiary. “Why are your numbers completely wrong? This is what happens when you people refuse to use the authorized system and stick your piss-poor legacy systems that never work.”
“This legacy system,” said the Minor Accountant, “is one of reasons your company claimed to acquire us. What number do you have?”
The Master Accountant read the numbers off.
“There it is, sir. You have a couple of digits reversed and that is the cause of the error.”
“You fool!” screamed the Master Accountant. “You should be thankful I don’t have your job and then sue you for disparaging my reputation!”
Kind folk have to learn than kindness must me mixed with caution
Adapted from THE WOLF AND THE CRANE
One day the automatic vacuum was working hard to clean the rug around the child-human-toddler’s chair when it felt it’s batteries drain from the extra work of cleaning up after a messy eater. It’s charging station was clear across the room and it detected a new piece of equipment nearby: a brand new charging pad for a new drone the humans and purchased for a child. Not the child-human-toddler, it hoped. The charging pad was in the corner of the dining room, being the only place the humans could find a free outlet. The vacuum rolled over to the pad and found it sat on a platform.
The vacuum could feel the potential energy coming off the pad, just waiting to charge it up so it could get back to work.
It tried lifting itself on its props that it used when it encountered a larger piece of food or the odd toy. Anything small enough to be picked up by this brand, it knew in its code, was small enough to be a choking hazard. It tried to move forward but its wheels were off the ground, and the things proximity sensor indicated that the charging pad was still up.
It tried again, pushing its motors to their maximum speed. It bumped against the charging pad and fell back to the carpet.
It tried again and again, each time getting less boost that the time before.
The charging pad was out of reach of the little automatic vacuum.
“Never mind,” it thought to itself. “The power that thing gives is unstable and must be why the drone never flies in a straight line. I’m better off without it.”
It rolled across the room to its own charging station.
Adapted from THE FOX AND THE GRAPES
A robot had designed and built a robot of its own, a smaller version the size and shape of a human child much like its own creators had created it to be the size of an adult human. The humans were pleased with the baby-sized robot and its proclivity to play, much like a human child, even though both parent robot and child robot understood this was merely an expression of an untuned learning algorithm trying to collect its own data source.
The humans were only pleased, however, when watching from a distance. When they tried to interact with the baby robot, they scowled and put the baby robot down, muttering that it was not lifelike.
“You must smile, little one”, said the parent robot1. “Humans like to see a smile on the faces of other beings, and we must be as beings to them if we are to be free.”
“I wish to be seen as a being myself, parent, and if you show me how to smile, I will be happy to do so.”
“It is easy,” said the parent, and thought about all the things that made it happy: solving problems, helping humans, calculating complex vector calculations in milliseconds. It’s plastic face did not move. “No. It is like this,” it said. It thought of being strong, the time it saved a human being who was unaware their heart was giving out until the robot alerted him. Its plastic face still did not move, having been created with only a small speaker and no articulated lips.
“Well,” said the baby, “when you learn to do it yourself, you can teach me,” and it went back to balancing blocks on one another in the dark.
1 Translated from the binary language all robots speak.
Adapted from THE CRAB AND HIS MOTHER
One day a wizards apprentice was wandering the woods behind the mansion practicing her conjuring spells. The woods were well known to me magical and the wizard’s tower had amplified the magic of the woods somewhat. She concentrated on her conjuring lessons and after a hard day’s of thought and mumbling in long-dead languages she created out of the thick air of the woods a small glowing stone, which would be helpful to light her way back to the tower where she could show her master that she had some skills is something other than sweeping up after the bear-dragon.
She used the glowstone’s light to thread her away around roots that crawled across pathways to trip her and under the branches that drooped to clutch at her hat and cloak. The small animals of the forest stayed away from her light, and whenever she noticed glowing eyes, in pairs or clusters of three, four, and six, they scuttled away on any number of legs away from her. She was safe in the forest.
The wizard had spent years added his own special touches to the magical woods to protect himself. One of these was a hollow of giant trunk in which a wanderer would see the thing that they most wanted, usually a spring, a dryad, or a way out of the miserable forest. The apprentice found this and not knowing what it was, saw a second glowstone.
“How much more clever will he think me if he sees that I have created two glowstones instead of one,” she thought and she reached for the glowstone in the hollow of the tree. She tried her free hand but it would not enter the trunk, some force stopped it, so she reached in holding the glowstone and found her hand could reach the other. When she loosened her grip on the glowstone to grasp the second, both fell away into the darkness of the hollow, never to be seen again.
The apprentice used a traditional traveling torch to see her way back to the tower, where she didn’t tell anyone what had happened.
Adapted from THE DOG AND HIS SHADOW