As I, Ras Robot, was motivating down the hallway at the Robot App Store headquarters, Winston met me excitedly waving a printout.
“Ras, look at this. Here’s our chance to get out of the red and make some real money!”
I am as fond of Winston as I am of any human, but sometimes he gets me in trouble. “Ras will not make money, Winston. Chief Designer has told Ras repeatedly not to make money. He says all the humans at the Robot App Store would go to jail and Ras would be terminated.”
I then did another scan of the walls around Winston and me; I am aware of light in wavelengths far beyond humans. “Winston, if you perceive us to be ‘in the red’ your brain is not working normally. The light reflected from the walls should appear light blue to you.”
“Yes Ras, I know,” he said testily. “Read this before you say anything more!” Ras has noticed that humans do not like to have their errors remarked upon.
But Winston was correct as to the importance of the printout.
My built in OCR software decoded the signs in less than 0.0142 seconds. It displayed a copy of a webpage from spectrum.IEEE.org which told all about the new contest put together by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to develop a new robot for disaster response.
The robot contestants would be expected to do a number of rather complicated things, including driving a truck, walking over rubble and working with power tools. The winning robot would receive $2 million from the Defense Department.
Unlike Winston, the idea that made my CPU race was not the money: it was the competition. At last, the whole world would get a chance to view Ras Robot, the very pinnacle of human scientific development in action. I raced off to find the Chief Designer.
Chief Designer frowned when he read the printout. “Oh Ras, I don’t know. This looks like a very rigorous contest. I don’t like the idea of you breaking through the wall of a burning building. You could be damaged beyond repair.”
“Ras knows his value and would be careful.”
“The $2 million wouldn't hurt either!” Winston said when he caught up with us a moment later.
Chief Designer made a face. ”I don’t know. I just don't know. I need a little time to think about it.”
A few days later the Chief Designer reluctantly gave his approval. He sent the required paperwork to the Defense Department. Since Ras already knew how to drive and walk over rubble, I began to practice using power tools. How can they refuse to allow me to be a contestant? Even NAO agreed that I was bound to win.
I never got the chance. Several days after the chief designer gave his reluctant approval, Winston came running up to me with another printout. (Why humans have to print everything? Isn’t it the same text that you see on the screen?)
“Ras, I can’t believe they did this! Look!”
“Boston Dynamic’s PETMAN had been picked as sole robotics system supplier” Said Winston. Ras wasn’t mentioned! It had to be a mistake.
Winston and I raced down the hall to see the Chief Designer.
“What’s going on,” Winston shouted. We all gathered around Chief Designer’s desktop to view the videos in the article about PETMAN. (Another disadvantage of a printout)
Chief Designer and Winston shook their heads: PETMEN looked impressive, but he was still a primitive creature with hissing, jerky, hydraulics-driven limbs instead of my silent, smooth-running servos.
PETMAN... You have so much to learn!
“Don’t let this happen, Chief!” cried Winston.
Even Alice, my least favorite human colleague, seemed incensed by the injustice. “What a crock!” she shouted when she came to see what was going on. “I was looking forward to watching you heroically force your way into a burning building with fire and falling timbers raining down around you--and on you.” Perhaps I have misjudged Alice; she seemed genuinely upset that I was not going to get a chance to prove myself.
But the chief designer only shook his head. “I was afraid that this would happen. Boston dynamics is a great company, and it has a lot more money and friends in Washington than we do.”
I fed more coolant to my CPU and memory banks to keep them from overheating. “Chief Designer, Ras wants to know what ‘money or friends in Washington’-- wherever that is—‘has to do with a robotics’ competition?”
”Ras,” Chief Designer said, “It’s called politics and it has everything to do with it.”
It was yet another meaningless but well-phrased human-sentence. How do you understand yourselves?