Tag Archives: robots

Self-Checkout

It feels like forever while I wait for the guy buying three different kinds of organic peppers and one vine tomato to figure out how to punch in the produce code into the keypad and realize that he’s not supposed to weigh all four fucking fruits together at the same time and then I still have to watch him struggle with swiping his god damn credit card and screwing up the system that I start to consider running for office entirely on a political platform that pledges to require  all potential Self-Checkout users at the grocery store to be licensed before they can be let loose in the lines.

When he’s finally finished fucking up my evening, I step up to the machine and swipe my savings card on the score. “He-lloThome.Well-comeback.,” intones a clunky mechanical voice that vaguely resembles some concept of femininity. “How-was-the__Elli-osPiz-za__that.You.pur-chasedAt__two. Twenty-Seven. Aye-Em___To-Day?”

“Uh, fine. Thanks. Yeah.” I say. I glance around quickly to make sure no one in the line is listening to this dumb machine reminding me of last night’s regrettable drunken purchase. Although perhaps it’s not fair to say that it’s “regrettable” being that, well, I don’t actually have much recollection of it.

I scan my carton of coconut milk across the machine and wait while the dumb thing prompts me to, “Please.place-your__Coconut. Milk.___on-the-belt.” like it does every time, as if I hadn’t figured it out myself by now.

But this time, it keeps talking. “I-see.That.You.have-purchased__Coconut. Milk.__My_records.show.that-you-like.to-buy____Garelick-Farms_Whole.Milk.__Is-this.cor-rect? Please-press__*Yes*-or__*No*.” I press the little green button on the touchscreen and I can hear the people in line behind me shift their weight and sigh.

“Are-you.Di-e-ting_Thome?” the machine asks.

“No!” I say, perhaps a bit louder and more emphatic than I should have when speaking to a machine in public. I laugh nervously then turn to the little old woman behind me and say, “I’m actually just, I’m making sorbet at home tonight, for my girlfriend, so, ya know, the, um, the coconut milk is — ”

“¿Que?” she says, which is how I know she hates me.

The machine interrupts again. “Please-press__*Enter*__if.You-would.like-this.Ma-chine-to.keep-track-of-your.di-et-and-off-er-sug.Ges-tions. Press__*Exit*__if-this-is-a.one-time-pur.chase.” I poke my finger at the red button on the touch screen, then keep stabbing with my finger in angry little bursts like a drunken wasp.

“Thank-you.For.cancel-ing-your.Or-der.Please-have.A-good-day.Thome.” the machine says. I can feel the angry eyes behind me burning holes into my neck. I glance around to see if any of the staff is nearby. It turns out the coast is clear, and my coconut milk is already sitting at the other end of the conveyor belt. I smile at the little old Hispanic lady behind me, then dart down the aisle, grab my milk and make a run for it.

Automourning

At the wake, Walter stands beside the barren case that used to hold the Bot and receive its mourners with a firm handshake. He is mobbed by hundreds of its friends whose names he can’t remember. They look at him with pity in their eyes like he is some pathetic puppy dog and they whisper things like I’m sorry for your loss and it was such a good Bot and the Bot would have loved this and if only it had realized how it important it was to so many people and you should be proud to have built a Bot like that and they flood the room with their sodium liquids shouting why, why, why would it do that, it had so much more to function for, and Walter nods and says yes I understand and they keep walking or they press their crying bodies into his, smearing makeup and moisture on his favorite black jacket and move on to the next awkward greeting.

EndProgram.txt (excerpt)

“The cause of death was determined to be liquid damage. I am sorry for your dataloss,” says the brown-skinned man at the Customer Service desk.

“Yes. Thank you,” Walter responds, dragging his tongue along the bottom of his burly white mustache. He stands over the Bot, laid at rest in its original packaging, its freshly buffed shell surrounded by decorative bubble wrap. Its unlit LED eyes remain open, two black and empty vessels not-staring at the sky. “Although technically its not my data. I designed the model, but it’s an autonomous intelligence, so I never…” Walter hesitates. He drags his hand down his face, stretching out the skin and wiping spittle from his upper lip. “We never really had much of a relationship.”

The Customer Service representative grips Walter’s right hand with his own, then places his left hand atop their joined shake. He closes his eyes and nods solemnly and says, “We must all grieve in our own ways. No man should have to bury a son.” He looks at Walter but does not move his hands.

Walter swallows and tries to collect himself. “I…thank you. But again, I just designed the model. It’s not my son, it’s…” he says, slowly pulling his arm away. A look of disgust and confusion washes over his face. “Is the hard drive…where is whatever was inside of him?” He waves a hand over the Bot’s face, closing the thin metal lids that protect its optical receptors. The unliving alloy on its face is freezing to his touch.

“We replaced all the hardware after the autopsy, so everything that was there should still be inside of it. Sometimes we do reclaim or refurbish parts if it’s in the Bot’s contract, but even then we usually wait until after the funeral.” The brown-skinned man smiles sadly at Walter. He bobs their cluster of hands up-and-down like buoys on a calm sea before he finally lets go.

“Could you figure out why it did that? Why it would…I thought I programmed these machines to be smarter than that. If it’s something I did then I should know so I can fix it. If you recovered any data at all then maybe –”

The man behind the desk bows his head and slowly shakes it left to right. “The liquid damage to the hard drive is too great. The corrosion is irreversible. Now, if you don’t have any other questions, I can take the unit into the back so we can begin preparing it for tomorrow’s showing.”

Walter’s face remains neutral as he looks the Bot up and down once more. He reaches into the box and lifts its clunky, lifeless left arm. With his other hand he traces the scratches where its forearm extension meets the grabber and the end, then lets the ingot extremity thunk back into its crate.

“No,” Walter says as he looks back at the brown-skinned man. “That should be all. Thank you.” He watches the man roll the coffin away. He does not cry.

Robot 0 & Ghouliet (prologue)

The war began over a decade ago. They started by experimenting on the soldiers, trying to change them from moral beings into ruthless killing machines, pure lust and rage. Finally they found the right combination of chemicals to release the primal beasts beneath the uniform — living weapons that they could control. But something went wrong, as it so often does. Soon the rage consumed the soldiers and the chemicals began to mutant within them, causing a reaction in the blood that made them thirst for flesh and carnal consumption. They hardly needed guns after that — the newly-christened zombies would tear through their enemies with teeth and bone. Those they didn’t eat they simply raped instead, and sometimes ate them afterward. Some survivors managed to escape with a few minor injuries, and so the sickness began to spread. It was in the blood after all. Soon those lucky few who survived became the carriers themselves.

Not so lucky after all.

The infected grew, recruiting nearly as many lives as those they claimed, a massive swarm of stinking flesh and blood stained lips, driven purely by the pleasures of the flesh while their unused minds shriveled and decayed, for what use is a brain beyond a spongey meal when the body lets its basic instincts drive?

And so like many things, the government made their own mess, then took it upon themselves to clean it up. The robots were meant to protect the humans from the epidemic that they had accidentally unleashed. They called the central server Montagon and housed it in a fortified bunker built into a mesa in the Southwestern part of the country to keep it safe. Montagon was equipped with groundbreaking artificial intelligence, the most cutting edge technology the world had to offer. It was programmed with one simple directive: to keep the humans safe by destroying that which threatens them.

This mission seemed straightforward, and for a time the humans were safe. They sat back and watched as the robots rampaged through the zombie hordes. But Montagon’s intelligence continued to evolve, and as it analyzed more and more information it had gathered from these conflicts, it came to a simple, objective conclusion:

The humans created the zombies, therefore the humans were the greatest threat to the human race and thus the most efficient way to protect humanity, it concluded, would be to destroy humanity, in order to permanently end the threat that they posed to themselves.

Needless to say, this did not go over well.

Eulogy For A Robot

Accordian legs
Stand  firm guard
At gates of a crumble-
Walled castle

Where pendulum heart swung
An 8-bit lub-dub song was sung

Oh dear faithful robot
Your future is a desert

Your fuel a fossil, true
No perennial in bloom

No software sprouts anew
The way is now the mesh
Of technology and flesh

Mechano-muscled thighs
Wires in disguise

Bionic eyes that talk
With satellites in skies

Hearken, modern robot,
As you march into sunset
Behold the brand new aeon
The human cyborg and beyond.

The Cyborg Head of Stan Lee

An outtake from my new play, True Believers.


The Cyborg Head of Stan Lee is the ultimate weapon of the future, the final outpost for the salvaged prophecies of the greatest human mind, enhanced by futuretech created as a part of PROJECT: A.L.P.H.A.MECH for the technological improvement of mankind. The head retains a shred of Stan Lee’s consciousness — specifically that portion of his brain governing strategic extrapolations. While much of Stan’s face was destroyed in battle with the cancerous rays of the Los Angeles sun, his flesh was virtually reconstructed with an adamantium alloy to replace the pulverized skin. The scientists were also able to establish a basis for the integration of miniaturized relay-circuits, protected by a steel plate implanted in the skull. This plate is further equipped with a pneumatic lens for enhanced 4D vision, as well as an audio receiver and a voice box electronically amplified to approximate human speech. Pope Sylvester II was known to confer with a similar artifact during the 10th century, one that spoke to him of God’s Will. The Cyborg Head of Stan Lee was sent back as a beacon from the end of time, imbued with the Voice of Stane Lee, the new God, according to the gospel of Jack Kirby. It is my mission as its guardian to right the future and change the timeline for the sake of mankind, beginning with Alan Moore’s coming magical war.

Automatic Teller

The entranceway was a net, designed to capture the sunlight before it contaminated the pub inside. Kevin had forgotten that it was still daytime. He stutter-stepped as he pushed past the door and a wave of light crashed over him, splashing across the walls and floor and burning his heavily dilated eyes.

He waited a moment for his eyes to adjust to the sun, then scanned the small foyer, past the dilapidated racks of free periodicals, until he found the ATM sitting in the corner to the left of the door through which he had just exited the bar. It looked like a tired old man, leaning up against the wall with its knees up against its chest. There was ribbed plastic tubing resembling arms on either side, bent up into L-shapes at what appeared to be the elbow, and its body was more of a boxy metal trash can with worn, rounded edges that were clearly intended to make it look sleek. It had a pixelated monitor in place of a swinging lid, with a numeric keypad goatee and two scars across its chin — one for consuming the cards, the other for dispensing cash. Presently, the monitor displayed a digitized face with a sardonic, bitmapped smile.

Kevin inserted his card into the appropriate slot/scar and punched in his secret code. A voice spoke: “Ten twen-ty.three. Let.me.guess — hYour birth-Day? Ha. Ha. Ver-ee oar-idgenal,” it said, with a mechanical inflection. Kevin took a step back, being careful to keep one foot by the machine in case someone tried to rob him. He looked around the room frantically, but couldn’t see anyone. “Wuh-who said that? H-how did you know?” he said.

“Ha. Of.course. Fuh-king tip.ee.cull. Seer-heously, did.you.hwant.some-one.to.steal-hyour.i-den-ti-ty Be-cuz hyou are just.ask-ing? for.it mis-ter,” the voice responded. Kevin looked down at the ATM display in bewilderment and noticed that it was rolling its pixel-cluster eyes at him. Its bitmapped mouth was dropped open in disgust. Once it noticed him staring, it returned to its default expression of indifference. “Sorry,” it said. “hWould you like.to.make. A-deposit, or-A. hwith-drawal.”

“Uhh…withdrawl, please?” Kevin responded nervously.

“Let me-guess,” responded the machine. “hYou did-not re-uh-lies that.it-was.a cash. only-bar. Good-fuh.king-job.dumb-ass. En-ee way.how-much-would. hYou. like?”

“I’ll take eighty, please.”

“Ay-tee. Doll-ers? Gee-zus. Christ.man. How much.did-hyou drink?”

“I haven’t had anything yet. Just give me the cash!” At this point, Kevin was frustrated. Why couldn’t he just got his cash and be gone? He had always hated artificial intelligent, ever since the soda machine at work had started giving him Diet Coke “for his own good.”

The machine let out an exasperated digital sigh. “All. rite-man. Calm. down. Don’t have-a. cow. I’m-just. Try-ing.to.help. hOne-moment.please.” Kevin listened to the harddrive whirring inside and felt a sudden urge to rip it out and smash it on the street.

After about a minute, he heard gears begin to grind, and a taped-together five-dollar bill came out of the slot. Kevin waited for a few more seconds, but nothing followed, and soon the digitized emoticon face had disappeared. He smacked the machine on the side of its boxy head and yelled, “Hey! Where’s the rest of my money?”

The digital face returned with a blip wearing a straight expression. “Sar-ee, bud.ee. I’ve seen-hyour. Cred.it.Card-bill this month. I’m-just. Try.ing.to-help.Good!bye.”

Kevin stormed back into the bar, ordered a shot of whiskey, and left without giving the bartender a tip.