Vision Paper: American Robots – Veronica Ortiz
By Veronica Ortiz
May 12, 2016
The year is 2216 and robots have been integrated into our lives. Most repetitive and manual labor has been taken over by non-autonomous robots. With unemployment at its highest ever, anti-robotic sentiments are on the rise.
“Fuck the robots!”
“Go back to China!”
Ada Mahajan had never seen such a big group of people packed into Main Street. Many of them there were angry; they waved big signs in red ink over the mob and sported clothing all branded with the American flag. Most of them, however, were simply curious onlookers, drawn in by the noise and the latest hot-button issue that had everyone taking sides: robots. Two years ago, a bill was passed that allowed an unprecedented entry of robots into the workforce. While these robots weren’t highly intelligent or very autonomous, they were able to easily take over most repetitive and manual jobs.
They quickly embedded themselves into our everyday live; they checked our food out at the supermarkets, they helped us cash our checks at the bank, they even prepared our meals at some restaurants (this last one had been quite an infuriating discovery). With this massive influx of robots, most of them mass-manufactured and imported from China, many humans were left unemployed and out on the street. While governments rushed to find solutions, aide did not come quickly enough to help the thousands that had been affected by this technology. People were angry, and they were angry at the robots.
Ada had been pushing through the mob for a while, unable to see the edge in any direction. She had just gotten out of class and this was her usual route home; unfortunate. Beside her walked Isaac, helping push people out of the way and making a path for Ada to go through. His face was hidden behind a baseball cap and a hoodie; he ducked his head as he gently pushed on the crowd. Ada looked at Isaac’s behavior with disgust, but before she could raise her voice in objection, she bumped into a large figure in front of her.
The large man turned around on the spot, ready to face the source of this intrusion. “What gives?” exclaimed the man and, as he turned around, he noticed a ray of sunlight shine off of a sliver of Isaac’s metal face under his hood: a robot. “Hey…” the man had started to react to his robotic presence, but before he could rally attention to Isaac, Isaac had delivered a brisk chop to the throat, leaving him incapable of speech.
Isaac quickly took Ada’s hand and started barreling through the crowd, pushing people out of the way. As they cut their way through, faces in the crowd turned towards them, starting to react to the robotic presence among them. Before the crowd could fully retaliate, Isaac and Ada had sped down an alleyway and disappeared.
Far away from the crowd now, Isaac and Ada pushed into an almost empty bookstore to lay low for a while. They stepped in, and Ada waited at the doorway as Isaac scoured through each aisle of the small rustic bookstore.
“It is empty,” Isaac finally announced, triumphantly.
In response, Ada shoved Isaac—hard, and stomped over to the other side of the store. He followed her, inquisitive.
“You are upset,” Isaac discovered.
“You are upset,” mocking him, “No shit, Sherlock.” she quipped.
“My name is Isaac.”
“I know that.”
“You know a lot of things, master Ada.”
“Don’t call me that.”
“Yes. I apologize.”
“What you did wasn’t okay. You can’t do that. That’s why– that’s why they… Ugh. You’re so frustrating.”
Ada said this last bit as she walked around the bookstore, pushing books to the ground as she strutted past them. Isaac looked on helplessly before finally deciding to walk behind her, picking up the books as she dropped them. With a loud sigh, Ada stopped him from continuing what he was doing, grabbing on to his unfinished metal skeleton.
“I don’t want you to protect me. I don’t want this. See what you’re doing? This is why they hate us– you. They hate y—” Ada stopped dead in her tacks as an old man suddenly appeared in the store, stepping in through a beaded curtain that separated the main store from the back room. He carried a large box full of books, which he gently laid down as he eyed down what was happening in front of him: a teenage school girl accompanied by a tall robot, dressed in civilian clothing and with an unfinished metallic exoskeleton.
Ada Mahajan knew that, in the middle of this anti-robotic movement, there wasn’t anyone out there who was just indifferent to the robots. This strange man could only be friend or foe, but Ada couldn’t tell which one was he. Still, the man did not know the most damning thing of all, Isaac wasn’t a regular working robot — this was an autonomous sentient robot capable of decision making and rational thought, the only one of its kind for all that Ada knew, and its only purpose was to protect her.
“American Robots, feed our families!”
Dev looked over the crowd through the glass walls of his tenth-floor office. A bearded pensive looking fellow, he observed the crowd intently while a group of business clad men sat on a table with one empty chair, fumbling with their thumbs and squirming impatiently. They all stared intently at the door and, as it suddenly opened, everyone stood up immediately. Dev, noticing the sudden movement in the room, turned around to see Sandra, his assistant, mince into the room holding a thin transparent tablet. They all sat back down; this is obviously not who they were expecting.
“Sorry, I- they haven’t heard anything yet,” Sandra apologized. Dev looked off into space, wondering what his next move might—“Mr. Mahajan?” she interrupted, “A word? Privately?” Dev stood up and motioned for the other people in the room to stay put. Sandra was a nervous looking girl, but her brilliance was something that Dev never took for granted; he knew to always follow her advice.
Following Sandra outside the room, they stopped in the middle of an empty overpass the connected two sides of the building. What the building lacked in size it made up in gorgeous design: it was sleek and functional with towers of light beaming from every direction and walls that also served as computers. Each wall had a different function, from projecting information to regulating the building’s environment. Documents could be passed from room to room just by swiping across the wall and the surfaces could change transparency with the push of a button.
This was American Robots, one of the largest designers and manufacturers of robotics in the country, and Dev Mahajan was the CEO. They had been the first to design a generation of robots that would not be used for the military, but would rather embed themselves into our everyday lives. Their technology was cutting edge, not very expensive and easy to reproduce. When American Robots’ mainframes were cyber attacked not long after the release of their robots, a Chinese version of these models started to appear; they were even cheaper than the original models, but they lacked some of the computing power of the originals. Now their company was in damage control, trying to salvage their revenue by turning to military work while at the same time trying to smooth out the international tension that had now been created between the U.S. and China.
Sandra turned around and, looking down at the information on her tablet, started barraging Dev with an influx on information. She nervously spoke over herself, and Dev couldn’t understand what she was saying. A small spherical robot, FINN, hovered over Dev and tried to get in closer to Sandra in order to better pick up what was coming out of her mouth, but, still, all Dev could read were jumbled words.
Dev was deaf and, while in the past this could’ve been an impediment to his success, his ASL translator worked wonderfully in communicating with hearing people. FINN was designed to pick up spoken words and translate them into text that Dev could read on his smart glasses.
Sandra continued frantically: “Okay, so the last sighting of Zhou was down 56th street when she stopped to get some “authentic” food. Now, various witnesses on the scene claim that they saw—”
“Sandra… Sandra. Sandra.” Dev signed her name over and over again, and the name “Sandra” came out through the speakers on FINN. It was not a monotone metallic voice; the voice that was translated from the signs picked up by Dev’s ASL translating gloves sounded like the human voice a forty year old man would produce, complete with emotional gravity and intonation. Dev finally grabbed her arm to get her attention and she looked up in return, stopping her verbiage.
“FINN can’t pick up what you’re saying so fast,” he signed.
“Oh, sorry. Sorry. It’s just–I’m worried, sir,” she apologized.
“Just Dev, please.”
“Dev. What if something happened to Ms. Zhou? What if the mob got to her before she could arrive? If this gets out they might think that—”
“It won’t. We’re gonna find her. I’m sure it’s something silly; stuck in traffic or… Did we check the tunnels?”
“Send the drones– my drones, quietly. Tell the rest to keep scouring the streets. If anyone asks, she’s already at the meeting with us. I’ll keep talking to the investors, keep them comfortable,” he signed.
“Yes, sir- Dev,” said Sandra, already starting to move out.
“Thank you.” Dev meant it; for everything.
“Of course,” she replied, almost blushing, and scurried away.
“I can’t keep living like this…”