“God, Robot” Sneak Preview: An Excerpt of “Modified”

So as of right now my anthology “God, Robot” is made up of four stories, with five more on the way, which happily will bring the total up to my minimum of nine. To celebrate the good news, here is an excerpt of my short story “Modified”, about the creation of the first Two Laws Robot, and the challenge of programming the concept of God into its brain.

And why is this the excerpt you get, you ask? Because this whole section is being excised. Way too exposition-heavy. Some of the material may make it into the final cut though, and the characters remain the same.

Maybe you’ll be a fan anyway. Sci-fi fans are an odd bunch, and many seem to be okay with exposition as long as its suitably interesting technobabble. In any case, remember that this is only draft one, and enjoy this introduction into the world of “God, Robot”.

***

“Okay, gentleman, explain the process.”

Striker swallowed nervously. He knew very well that Linda Krawler didn’t need anybody to explain anything about robotics, and suspected she was only asking to make sure that Helix and he were up to speed. Striker was considered by most to be the greatest living robotics engineer, and his partner Helix the greatest programmer of robotic software, so Krawler’s demand for an explanation was vaguely insulting.

Then again, this was Linda Krawler. When she assumed everybody else knew less than she did she was nearly always correct.

Or, perhaps her intentions really were sincere. After all, she was a robopsychologist, not an engineer or programmer. She was the foremost expert at understanding and predicting robotic behavior, but it was plausible she only knew the basics behind how the behavior patterns became fixed in the first place. Striker supposed it didn’t matter – when Linda Krawler asked a question, you answered. Period.

“What we have in front of us is a disconnected android brain. This brain is still in its malleable stage. The neural pathways have not yet been set, and we can still manipulate them to our liking. This allows us to have a relatively simple means of altering the robot.”

Krawler nodded. “Go on.”

“The neural pathways of this brain have already been arranged in accord with the three laws of robotics. If we finished programming now and set the software into its final form, the three laws would be permanently set, and the robot would be completely harmless.”

“But…”

This time Helix cut in. “There are two new laws we need to set into the brain. My job is to write the laws in a form that the robot brain can process. When I write the program, it creates a modified image of the robot brain on my screen, and Dr. Striker uses this image to physically mold the brain so that the neural pathways are set up in a way that allows the robot to make the proper mental connections without malfunction.”

Striker cut in again. “After we configure the brain we will ask it a series of basic questions to ensure that the laws have been properly set. This is experimental, Dr. Krawler, and Dr. Helix and I were…er…lead to believe you, as the Chief Robopsychologist, would bring the new questions, yes?”

Krawler smiled and nodded. “I have the questions with me now.”

She did not say what the questions were or why she hadn’t shown it to them yet, and Striker and Helix both knew better than to ask. They waited, both too nervous to move, until Krawler smiled at them. Helix immediately started typing. On the screen in front of him the android brain took shape, complex connections between neurons carefully being organized. Striker watched in rapt attention, only breaking his gaze to take detailed notes. After perhaps a minute of this Krawler spoke.

“Dr. Helix, what part of this software is considered ‘new’? Explain in detail, please.”

“Well, Dr. Krawler, you already know the traditional three laws of robotics,” said Helix without looking up. “Those, of course, are being programmed in. But we’re also adding two new laws, to be understood on the same level as the first law: ‘Love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, soul, mind and strength’ is theological law number one. ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ is number two.”

“Yes, Dr. Helix, I’m aware of that much,” said Krawler. For the first time there was a slight trace of irritation in her voice. “But how is the robot to understand the concepts of ‘God’, ‘love’, and ‘neighbor’?

Striker grinned. “Glad you asked, Dr. Krawler. Dr. Helix and I did some research…” (in fact, they had spent hours a day for a solid two weeks scouring every philosophy book they could find in the local library) “…And we decided to use classical theology to define our terms. ‘God’ uses Anselm’s definition of ‘That which nothing greater can be conceived.’ Love was trickier; opinion seemed to be much more divided on the specific definition. In the end we decided on ‘Having a strong desire to help attain a positive end for the object of love’. ‘Neighbor’ we defined as broadly as we could; the definition is ‘Anybody with the capacity for rational thought, or belonging to a species that generally has the capacity for rational thought’”.

“Interesting,” said Krawler thoughtfully. “Perhaps not the way I would have worded things, but it seems workable at first glance.”

Helix resisted the urge for a stinging reply to the backhanded compliment. In fact, the new program was incredibly complicated. They were essentially trying to turn abstract philosophy into a code; Helix had actually had to create an entirely new programming language for it. And Striker’s job would be no easier; the reason he was constructing the brain by hand was because the neural connections were too delicate to trust to the machines. The slightest error could lead to a completely non-functioning robot.

It took Helix several hours, but he was able to do it – and, he knew with pride, he was almost certainly the only person in the world who could accomplish the task. Striker’s notes by that point were at least fifty pages long, front and back, complete with diagrams and step-by-step instructions.

Krawler’s notes were, if anything, longer; Helix had a sneaking suspicion that she had figured out the new programming language by watching him work, and written out the program herself on paper. The amount of brainpower it would take to do that was staggering, but Helix had no doubt that Krawler could do it.

Now it was Striker’s turn. Opening up his notes, he brought the computer monitor in front of him. It was attached to an extendable arm, and swung around easily. With practiced speed and ease Striker opened up his toolbox, and removed the parts and tools necessary to construct the robot brain. The toolbox was the size of a large suitcase. It was far too heavy to carry, and Striker had to attach wheels to move it.

The process took all of Striker’s skill and concentration. Krawler and Helix were spellbound at the work; both were well aware that they were witnessing history. It was the first time anybody had EVER attempted to construct a working artificial intelligence that wasn’t guarded solely by the three laws.

The process took Striker three hours – about two hours longer than it took to construct a traditional two laws robot. When it was finished, he almost collapsed.

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15 Responses to “God, Robot” Sneak Preview: An Excerpt of “Modified”

  1. Edwards says:

    Sounds good so far. I look forward to reading the completed piece.
    I don’t think it’s too heavy on exposition, but I’m one of those fans. The combination of technobabble, philosobabble, and theobabble is cool. The characters are also fascinating. Krawler seems a little insidious?

    • I won’t give too much detail, but I’ll say this much: Striker and Helix were created as my blatant ripoffs, I mean homages, to Asimov’s Donovan and Powell. They have a story mostly to themselves titled “Cover Up”.

      Krawler is more complex than that, though. I could explain her in contrast to Susan Calvin, but then I’d be getting quite detailed. She is very much her own person.

      I want to emphasize how different all of the stories are. One story takes place 100 years from now, when all of these characters are dead. Another takes place about 200 years from now, when the world is almost unrecognizable from the one in the story.

      And the final story takes place so far into the future that we haven’t decided on an official date – I’m talking 10000 AD or up. It takes place on another planet and actually contains aliens (sort of, anyway).

  2. James says:

    I know this blog post is old, but yesterday, a friend told me about “God, Robot” and this is the first result that came up in my Google search. I’m a long time (and I mean by decades) fan of Azimov’s “Robot” stories, and although I’m a technical writer, both as a day job for a software company and published author, I’m a lousy fiction writer.

    That said, every once in a blue moon, I’m lured into writing short fiction. Call it a character flaw.

    Fortunately, blogging makes it easy to write and publish quickly, although I seriously doubt many people have actually found and read my material.

    I’m saying all this because, just as a personal test, I’d like to take a crack at writing a short story based on your premise and publish it on my blog. I’ll give full attribution to you and your book and I don’t want to make a dime from doing this. I’m just interested in the idea and want to experiment a bit.

    If you think it’s a bad idea or if my project otherwise violates your rights as an author/editor, I will desist. Just wanted to see what you’d think.

    Thanks,

    James

  3. James says:

    As promised, I wrote a short story based on your premise:

    http://millionchimpanzees.blogspot.com/2016/05/the-robot-who-loved-god.html

    I’m sure it’s far from perfect, but it was really fun to write. I’ve written comments both before and after the body of the story explaining how the it came about, my influences, and other information. Let me know what you think.

    Thanks,

    James

  4. Pingback: Excerpt from “The Robot Who Loved God | Morning Meditations

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    • I actually did read the review (What, you think I obsessively check and re-check Amazon on a daily basis? Don’t be ridiculous), and I’m very glad you liked it.

      I’ll be sure to take a look on your second story.

      • James says:

        Thanks. You’re right, though. I don’t regularly check the Amazon reviews on the books I’ve written either.

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