“You’ve done a magnificent job with the machine, Doctor.”
Winston Bozworth closed the Doctor’s door and seated himself in a stuffed chair leaving a corner of Doc’s desk between them. He paused a few moments. His smile was clearly genuine. Robey was certain of that, at least, despite the fact that the chairman was quite difficult to read. The machine was the third vertex of this triangular meeting in Doc’s office, and all three had exchanged eye contact, nods, and words of greeting. Winston didn’t appear altogether comfortable yet talking to Robey as if it were sentient and intelligent, but he made a stab:
“And you’ve acquitted yourself very well out in the world… Robey.”
“Thank you, Mr. Bozworth. May I ask you some questions?”
Robey didn’t know the chairman well enough to use its normal familiar, i.e., “Mr. Winston” and, given the man’s position, might not have done so anyway.
“Maynard,” Winston continued, “You all have your hands full with the existing business of TLC and the testing of Robey. Those other issues I brought up earlier about making Robey suitable for commercial and/or industrial jobs would put too great a burden on everyone, but we do need to begin getting better Return-On-Investment. So I’m going to urge you to accept two people on your staff to help handle the new tasks. One is a project manager who will interface with your staff and any consulting firms we may hire, and the second is a technician/programmer who will supply grunt work for the new tasks—analysis, specifications, programming, testing, whatever.”
Doc had received no intelligence about this… generous… offer. Obviously its cost would come out of his recently enhanced budget. Whatever iceberg was next on course for the good ship TLC, this was the visible tip. Everything would depend on which people were hired, and it would do no good to speculate in advance of the facts.
“Whom did you have in mind?” he asked.
“You remember Vincent from your MTM days?”
“Yes,” Little said, the memory bringing up more enthusiasm in his voice than he felt in his gut. “But no; I don’t want anyone new on my team now.”
“But you will need help for this new effort. Yes?”
Doc nodded vague agreement before suggesting, “How about Raj instead? He already knows the ropes, and I think he’s ready for a change.”
Bozworth hesitated. “Actually,” he said after examining a few places on the far wall, “that’s a very good choice. I think he’ll do well, if Turcote will part with him. Now, about the programmer…”
“No. That’s final. Guy is the only programmer I need on this.”
Winston plainly disagreed. “We need to cross-train someone to do Guy’s job in case—God forbid—he should be unable to work.”
“The hard work has been done for some time,” said Doc although it hadn’t quite. He could find a reason to renege later, if necessary.
“As to the machine itself,” Winston said, consulting his e-pad, “it needs an off switch. I understand there’s no way to turn it off.”
Doc was adamant. “For security reasons,” he said, “it can’t have an ‘off’ switch or button. It has charge of TLC security. I’m sure you see why even someone it trusts can’t be able to turn it off.”
“What happens if it goes crazy? Clearly we need a way to turn it off ourselves. How would you turn it off, Doctor? Is it keyed to your voice or something?”
“No, it can’t be keyed to special voices. It has to decide whom to trust, and that’s what makes any voice ‘special’ to it. There’s no way to turn it off unless you either blow it up, or get into its innards and cut all its power connections. I’m sure it would resist that, by the way.”
Before the chairman could re-form his question, Doc decided to answer it: “I’d have to ask Robey’s permission; or rather, I’d have to ask it to agree with my request to stop functioning.”
Vague alarm appeared on the chairman’s face. “And you’re sure it would obey?”
Hmmm. Now that the question had been asked, Doc admitted to himself that he wasn’t sure. But he didn’t say that. He made a reflexive glance at the machine—or rather at its eyes—as if examining a silicon soul behind them. “I’m reasonably sure,” he said.
“Reasonably sure?!” Bozworth muttered as if the word’s meaning had shifted.
“Maynard,” he sighed, “it’s not advisable—or even legal, probably—to sell any of these machines without an off button.”
“I never said we’d sell any without one. You asked me to put one on Robey and I won’t do it. That’s final.”
A Literary historical science fiction mystery
Table of Chapters
Chapter 0. Problems
Chapter 1. Headaches
Chapter 2. Happy Holidays
Chapter 3. Mr. Nice Guy
Chapter 4. The Brainless One
Chapter 5. A Little Crazy
Chapter 6. Grave Consequences
Chapter 7. Core Directives
Chapter 8. Expect Difficulties
Chapter 9. Caveats
Chapter 10. Mister Machine
Chapter 11. Good News, Bad News, El Cheapo
Chapter 12. New Memories
Chapter 13. Little Problems
Chapter 14. Lasers, Language, and Happiness
Chapter 15. Chatterbots
Chapter 16. Ready Or Not
Chapter 17. Not a Turing Test
Chapter 18. Reality Test
Chapter 19. Chess, Anyone?
Chapter 20. FOM
Chapter 21. Chairman of the Board
Chapter 22. The Usual Suspects
Chapter 23. M. God
Chapter 24. Walkabout
Chapter 25. Why
Chapter 26. First Blood
Chapter 27. More Machines?
Chapter 28. POV
Chapter 29. ROI ----------------------------------------->
Chapter 30. Last Blood
Chapter 31. Don’t Want to Talk About It
Chapter 32. Round Table
Chapter 33. A Change of Mind
Chapter 34. Threes
Chapter 35. Knight Moves
Chapter 36. Little Combinations
Chapter 37. Can We Talk?
Chapter 38. Pas de Deux
Chapter 39. The Jig Is Up
Chapter 40. Good, Bad, Ugly Chapter 41. Function Goes On