Here's an item from my
second collection of speculative tales, FUTURE UNCERTAIN, and it's also my
tribute to a true master of the genre ...I hope his brilliant intellect, wherever
it is now, will forgive me ...
KILLER (C)2005 Tony Thorne MBE
Grant Brady was a neat, tidy and careful man. He
knew that, since 2026, all intelligent Robot servants have been constructed and
programmed generally in accordance with Asimov's Laws. Fundamentally, this means that they can never
harm a human, must obey all orders given to them by humans, and must not allow
themselves to be harmed. However, it had soon been discovered that, in some
situations, the necessary programming required to precisely effect
the Laws, could be more complicated than originally anticipated. From time to time, a robot's programs
underwent automatic on-line updates as experience with them grew. Grant had
also heard rumours that some situations had resulted
in serious incidents, causing the robots concerned to become totally confused
and their programs and memories to be erased. Apparently, several lawsuits were
One afternoon he summoned his Avram
II butler, the original home entertainer model, and stated that he wanted it to
play a game of Russian roulette with him. The robot had a vast knowledge of all
kinds of games but he knew it wouldn't have the details of that particular
pastime included in its original education. However, Grant had his own version
of the game planned and, he set about describing it to the intelligent machine.
He had his grandfather's old Army six-shooter ready, and handed it to the robot
to get the feel of it. Then he told it what it was and how it was used. He
followed this by telling it about blank cartridges, and how they were used to
start athletic games and other events.
Finally, after he was sure it had absorbed as much
as he wanted it to understand, Grant was ready to proceed with the first part
of his plan. He took a cartridge from the drawer in his desk, and then
explained what he wanted to happen next, choosing his words very carefully.
"I am now selecting a blank cartridge and
loading it into the gun." He said, before turning, with his back towards
the robot. He was sure it could not know
what kind of cartridge he'd used, even if it had been watching him.
"Now we'll begin the game. Take the gun, aim it
at your head and pull the trigger."
The Avram hesitated, but
for hardly a moment and then, as Grant had confidently expected, it stated.
"No sir, I cannot do that."
Grant replied," You must obey the Second Law. I
am ordering you what to do with the gun.
It's the first part of the game."
It hesitated again, "No, I cannot do that sir,
it may violate the Third Law. I am not allowed to harm myself."
"That can only be so if you think the gun is
loaded with a real cartridge." Grant exclaimed. "I am telling you
that I selected a blank."
"I regret I cannot trust you to be telling me
the truth, sir." The robot replied.
"One of the first things we learn, in Robot Training School, is that humans do not
always tell the truth."
Very true Grant thought to himself and proceeded to
carry his plan, craftily designed to confuse the robot, a step further. He took two different cartridges, from the drawer
in his desk and, with one in each hand, showed them together, to the
robot. "Now look at these two
cartridges, what can you tell me about them?"
"They are not the same sir, the left hand one
is different from the right."
"Very good, and what is different about
it?" Grant queried.
"Several things, sir," came the reply,
"It has a pointed end, the other does not and ... "
Grant interrupted it abruptly.
"Never mind the details. I am telling you now
that the pointed one is a blank cartridge and cannot harm me. Neither could the one still in the gun. Now I will take out the one in the gun, and
show it to you."
He did just that, and waited a moment. "Now I'll put this blank, pointed one,
back in again. Now I want you to aim it
at your head and pull the trigger."
To be continued ...