Would you obey everyone who pushed your button and told you to do something?
Now my name is Robey (Row-bee). I am a prototype Thinking Machine designed to have unconditional positive regard for everyone, and to do no harm to people or property through action or inaction. I also have a big problem: When people give me orders, how can I know whether what they tell me to do could cause harm?
Dr. Maynard Little III invented the technology that allows me to think. He built me to test products his company makes. I enjoy the work, although “enjoy” means different things for me than it does for you—if you are human. I got into trouble because of differences like that.
Besides my big problem I must mention the small ones.
My advisers and my human assistant tell me this memoir must be written like a novel, not a diary. It must start by showing the protagonist in peril, and then, despite every effort to get out of peril, things must get worse. There must also be an antagonist, the one who causes the peril—or at least some of it. Then, when things look so bad that they cannot be resolved without destroying the protagonist—or the world—the story must resolve into a satisfying ending.
Not realistic, is it? Except for the “get worse” part.
To be specific, my small problems are: 1) I do not start out in peril; 2) Things get funny before they get worse; 3) There are three protagonists, not one; 4) People think I am the main cause of the peril—though I disagree strongly about that; 5) Before things get resolved everyone is my antagonist, and when the bad stuff happens… well, best not to get into that here. [a]
This book is mostly about engineers and me. There is shooting and chasing and so forth, but if you want a lot of breath-snatching suspense and heart-pounding action—or if you dislike “thinky” books (to use John le Carré’s happy word)—it might be a good idea to put this book down now and walk away.
I apologize if this warning comes after you bought the book; Marketing would not print it anywhere that is easy for a browsing customer to see.
Three protagonists, did I say? Yes.
Dr. Little is one of them. I am another. Gaitano (Guy) Enver-Wilson, my programmer, is the third. There are several antagonists as well and a bunch of necessary others because engineering is a team endeavor. Rather than explain those relationships now, we shall let the story do that.
There is a convoluted problem:
This story, like those of all machines, begins in the mind of someone who thought me up. That is Maynard Little, who had been thinking about me ever since he was a boy. But he started wrestling with his own problems before Guy or I wrestled with ours. To tell my story, I must begin with his. Fortunately, he gets into peril, but it started earlier with his problems, and when his problems started, I did not exist. Do you see my problem?
My Data Matrix memory—my diary, as some call it—has much of the story, but most things in the matrix are not in this book. There are also gaps: things in my story that I did not experience. Mr. Jenkins and I interviewed others later to fill those gaps. Chapters one through eight are an example.
I do not like to talk about myself, which is a problem since this is my memoir. We solved it by using third-person narration. If I seem omniscient, like some god, I should say that as far as TLC, Inc. is concerned, I am closer to seeing and knowing everything than anyone—except God, of course. Whoever that is.
I have one final problem: I must not cause harm by betraying anyone’s personal confidences without permission. So when I hedge, it is usually because someone gave me contradictory signals or did not want to talk about it.
Peril does not start with peril. What starts is an idea that looks good to someone. Rejoicing in an idea’s benefits while ignoring its problems usually leads to trouble which, with help from a few more good ideas, can easily become peril. Dr. Little’s trouble may not seem terrible to those who have never been frustrated in achieving their life’s ambition, but it does get worse for him, and, I must say, events in the safe house were not known to me while he was there….
[a] Dear Diary, I wanted a Prologue. My human advisers said no one reads Prologues anymore. They also wanted to start numbering pages and chapters at one instead of zero. We argued until I insisted we rename my Prologue as Chapter Zero, because if no one reads it, so what? Personally, I am glad you are reading it. Footnotes like this use tiny lower-case letters. Tiny numbers refer to Endnotes that begin on page 331. Endnote numbers start at one because the software insists, and I understand totally.