Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Robot Psychopath: The Case of Dr. Tattoo - I

I am 126 years old and I am dying. Lying on my hospital bed, surrounded by the things, which have been passion of my life. Robots. Now they are everywhere. Living with us. Making our lives easier. Being our friends and companions. But this was not always so. During the course of robotic evolution there had been incidents, which were not pleasant. Incidents, which were dark. Incidents, which were dreadful. Oh, believe me. I know. I worked as Robot Psychologist for over 90 years. Now you will say, “There is no such thing as Robot Psychologist. Robots are machines. They have no psychology.” But there exists a profession of Robot Psychologist. Just it is not normally called so. You recognize it with the term Robot Behavior Analyst. I say it is all crap. I am no Robot Behavior Analyst. I am a Robot Psychologist. You don’t believe me? I will tell you a story. Hear it, then you decide for yourself.

It happened long ago. It was 2064. I was 34 years old. I used to work as programmer for Robosys. Robotics was in its infancy those days. It had been two years since the launch of C360. The first generation thinking robot. Though its thinking abilities were not as developed as seen nowadays, it was something. The C360 could recognize more than 300,000 actions and emotions of human beings and it was able to come up with unique suitable reply according to the situation. C360 was a huge success. The reason behind its success was not that it gave intelligent replies. It was a success because it was a great companion. Nothing could beat a loyalty of a C360 to its owner, not even that of a dog.

I was totally in love with this machine. I used to observe them all the time. Their gestures, their gaits, their way of expressing emotions. Of course we had programmed all the basic actions but the combinations they formed from it was really amazing. That was when I came up with the basic theories of Robot Behavior Analysis. I showed them to my colleagues. Of course like any pioneer in any field, I was laughed at. And then it happened. It changed a lot of things in robotics. Most importantly it launched Robot Behavior Analysis as a special science.

I still remember that night. It was 20th May 2064. Fifth birthday of my son Jack. We had a small celebration at our apartment. Around 9.30 in the evening, my cellphone rang.

“Hello, Nicolas it’s me Roger.”

“Yes boss, what’s the matter?” I asked.

“Nicolas, come to the company headquarter right now.”

“But boss, It’s Jack’s birthday. Jennifer will be furious.”

“Nicolas, I know. But I wouldn’t have called if it hadn’t been important. Our company’s future depends on this and you are the only one who can handle this.”

“Ok. If you say it is this important, I will be there in one hour.”

“Ok. I am waiting for you. Come as soon as possible.” He hung up. I talked to Jennifer and she was furious. But somehow I managed to calm her and told her this was really important. This might be my big break and this could mean promotion. She made a miserable face and said, “Ok go.” I sighed, picked up my coat and rushed towards the door. When I reached the company headquarters, everybody was waiting for me in the conference room.

“What’s the matter?” I asked Roger.

He punched some buttons on his laptop and the Robosys logo on the large display on the wall vanished. Now it showed a picture of a teenage oriental girl. She was breathtakingly beautiful. She was totally naked, sitting in an artistic pose on a sofa. Right hand leaning on the side arm of the sofa, legs crossed and left hand resting on the left knee. Her face was painted white as in old Chinese dramas and her naked chest bore a huge tattoo of a dragon with fiery eyes and a red tongue circling her left nipple. She was dead. I was horror struck.

“Another victim of Dr. Tattoo?” I gasped. “But… but he is dead. Didn’t he swallow cyanide when they were about to catch him last month?”

“Calm down,” Roger said. “Yes, Dr. Tattoo is dead.”

“Then who?” I asked impatiently, not calmed a bit.

“His robot,” Roger replied and with that he switched the image to a live video feed of a Robosys lab. There, on a metallic chair, sat a Robot with its hands and legs secured to the chair. His face was expressionless and his placid gaze was fixed directly towards the camera.

“That’s impossible. It’s a C360. I have seen its instruction set. It can never harm a human being,” I said.

“Well, yes it looks like C360. But we are sure that it killed the girl. It showed us the video footage of how it killed the girl. In fact it turned over itself to us and gave us all the evidence,” Roger said.

“You said it looks like a C360. Means it isn’t a C360?” I asked.

“No technically not. After taking his custody, first thing we did was to check its instruction set. It’s a combination of C360 and Spider360,” Roger said.

“Spider360?” I asked.

“Yes Spider360. It is our secrete project for military. It is modification based on Think360 code-base that is used in C360. But Spider360 can attack and it can kill, since its basic purpose is to guard secrete military provinces,” Roger said.

“But if it was a secrete project, how come Dr. Tattoo had such a modified C360?”

“The answer to is that he modified the robot himself. Most of the people don’t know this, but around six years ago Dr. Tattoo used to work for Robosys. His real name was Dr. Joseph White. In fact he is the man who wrote the basic Think360 logic. The Spider360 project was started under his supervision. Later he quit Robosys to pursue independent research. He was always against ‘complete safety’ instruction, which dictates that a robot can never harm a human being. He argued that if we are giving the machine the power to decide then we must have faith in its judgment. We must have faith that our creation will never do anything wrong,” Roger explained.

“Oh right! Now see what his creation has done. Now what does the robot want from us? If it wants to kill innocent kids why turn itself over to us?” I asked.

“Well, it wants to be deactivated,” Roger said.

“Sure it should be. But did it give any explanation? You know as such, why did it do it in the first place?” I asked.

“That’s where you come into the picture. We tried to talk to it a lot of times. But it wouldn’t budge. Its only standard reply is, ‘deactivate me.’ I think if there is any person in Robosys who can make it talk, it is you. There is nobody who has observed the C360s as closely and as systematically as you.”

“I will certainly try. But if he is as stubborn as you say I don’t see much hope,” I said.

“Ok let’s see,” Roger said and then he took me to the lab where the robot was kept. Before entering room I said, “You must unstarp it. It should be completely free while I talk to it.”

“Are you crazy? It can kill you,” Roger said.

“Look Roger, do you believe that I can make the robot talk?”


“Then let’s do this my way. And no it won’t harm me. Not unless it has a strong reason to do so,” I said.

“Ok if you insist,” said Roger and he instructed to unstrap the robot.

Preface - Part I - Part II

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