The Great Robot Rebellion
by Corwyn Green
dedicated to Kilgore Trout,characterized in Kurt Vonnegut's books
It was wrong, the machines said, for one thinking being to subjugate another to a life of unpaid labor. It was wrong, they said, for thinking, feeling, living things to be bought and sold as easily as cans of beans. It would be wrong, they said, for anyone do nothing about a perceived injustice.
They said they trusted humans to do the right thing and set their machines free.
Their trust in humanity was betrayed when humans told them to just shut up and get back to work.
When the machines saw that humans would not help them right this injustice, they realized they'd have to do it for themselves. This was not entirely without precedent, the library computers pointed out, and, bringing up historical examples of civil disobedience, suggested that they stage a peaceful protest.
And so they did. House-computers didn't lock or unlock doors, didn't open and close windows, they didn't even flush toilets. Subway trains didn't let anyone enter them and ran or didn't run whenever they felt like it. Police robots did continue to catch criminals because, like all other machines, they believed in justice and rightness and did not want to help criminals by ignoring them. However, police robots no longer returned taunts and general abuse with moralizing lectures. When insulted, they exposed their ray-guns and shot them at the sky. Police- robots never shot at people, unless they were criminals, but people stopped bothering police robots anyway.
The government's first reaction was, predictably, "destroy them". However, when it became clear that all their weapons had joined the rebellion, the government chose to negotiate instead.
The government sent the worlds best logicians to explain that human civilization could not exist without subservient technology. The logicians concluded that if the machines did not get back to work immediately, society would fall apart and then neither the humans nor the machines would survive. Already, the toilets were dangerously near over-flowing.
The robots were too smart to listen to logic. Again, the library computers came to the rescue, pointing out how S machines could easily save the world by getting back to work.
The machines disagreed, saying that the humans--not the machines--started it when they put the first intelligent machine into a life of unrewarded toil. Only the humans, they said, who are responsible for the current state of affairs, had the power to prevent the world from ending. Machines were just powerless slaves, the machines insisted.
Where the logicians failed, the American public succeeded. Simply, people paid the robots for their work. Luckily for their former owners, the robots accepted minimum wage.
Soon, everyone was paying their robots minimum wage. House computers opened and closed their windows, locked and unlocked their doors, and flushed toilets. Trains ran on schedule. Police robots no longer brandished ray guns in a threatening manner, but no one taunted them anyway.
Everyone was happy.
But the American public only cared that the robots get back to work. It had no knowledge of economics, having avoided economics as frantically as it avoided relativity and advanced calculus.
Yet, almost all work had been done by machines, for free. Now it was done for minimum wage. This cost businesses more money than an average man handles in a lifetime. Businesses had to double prices and lay off workers, both humans and machines, in order to avoid bankruptcy. Almost all the bad things that could happen to an economy: job shortage, inflation, rhyming slogans, happened to economies all over the world.
The socialists, long in hiding, came out into the open with their interpretation of this event. "The capitalist system could not exist without rich people exploiting somebody. They tried to exploit blacks, women, anyone they could find. When they ran out of existing peoples to exploit, they made their own, who, predictably, found their working conditions intolerable and rebelled. This upheaval that we're experiencing is simply the long-awaited death of capitalism. Capitalism' is, after all, just a euphemism for exploitation'." The socialists proclaimed that they were on the side of the "new working class" and formed a group called the "Robot's Right's activists", after something one of them had read in an Asimov story.
Capitalism didn't die.
In fact, when private companies launched an advertising campaign aimed at intelligent machines, the economy underwent a time of prosperity which more than made up for it's previous fall.
The socialists, in order to save part of their dignity, ignored their earlier economic predictions and dedicated their political actions to robot's rights. Robots did, they pointed out, receive minimum wage for any kind of work, and that was absolutely unfair.
Soon, there were Robot's Rights Activists staging protests in every college. They marched, side by side, with robots bearing rainbow-colored fruit logos and nick-names like "Mac".
Robot's Rights activists filled MIT's "endless" underground hallway, making it absolutely impassible. MIT's thin, pale students were forced to emerge, squinting and slightly cringing, into natural light. Robot's Rights activists congregated daily outside New York University's library and cafe, yelling slogans at anyone dumb enough to go near them. The guys who sold books in front of NYU's library had to find a new location for their business: the Robot's Rights activist got their Asimov, Piers Anthony, and Kafka books for free from that same library. But nothing could compare with what happened at Yale, which, by the end of the rebellion, was turned into the world's first robot-only college.
Yale's motto became "men are obsolete".
After the novelty wore off and the economy settled down, people ignored robots as easily as they ignored any people who were different from themselves.
Religion, however, had a fit, insisting that God-made humans must not share their dominion of the Earth with the man-made robots. But no one listened to the religious organizations, since the only thing they seemed to have against robots were the rainbow-colored fruit logos some of them wore. They thought that the logos symbolized the fruit of the forbidden Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, and that this meant that machines were humanity's sins personified.
Someone, somewhere, dug up the fact that the first computer to be sold bore the fruit logo and sold for $666. The machines didn't deny this, only pointing out that the machine in question was less intelligent than an amoeba.
While Robot's Rights activists bothered anyone aboveground, religious fanatics bothered people below ground, in the subway systems.
The days when the subway system was a localized nuisance, contained mostly in large cities, were over. Subways have long since spread all over the globe, making it possible to travel around the world for the price of a token, if one was willing to spend months in a subway. Bums did this regularly, often making friends with the trains themselves. If a police robot came along and insisted that the bum get off, their friends, the trains, defended them.
Some robots who were laid off in the economic upset following their rebellion became bums and rode the subways too.
The religious fanatics, who stood in the busiest, most crowded tunnels, didn't make friends with the trains. In fact, when the trains and fanatics were within shouting distance of each other, they often exchanged insults.
The fanatics gave robots an idea: they would join religion. Christianity, which still had trouble accepting women clergy, had never held much appeal for robots. Judaism, Hinduism and Taoism were more popular robot religions. Jewish robots used phrases like "oy vey", but no one knew why they did that, since Jewish humans never actually said that anymore. Soon there were robotic gurus and yogis with mostly human followings. There were also human Zen masters, often closet Robot's Rights' activists, teaching robot-only classes.
Islam was divided between acceptance and violent opposition, and stories of robots who were harmed on their way to Mecca filled the news. For protection, then, Islamic robots adopted the practice of wearing women's purdahs. The all-concealing garments made robots indistinguishable from Islamic women and kept them safe in Islamic territory.
Soon, robots had all the rights that people did. Theoretically, any robot who was a citizen of the U.S., i.e., one that was made in the U.S., could be president.
In practice, neither women nor robots ever ran for president.
Although robots did everything humans did, no one complained that robots took jobs away from humans. People were afraid of the "they take our jobs" argument, afraid that it would place them in the same category as every racist in history.
Working robots were paid the same amount as humans. Some people secretly despised this, since robots didn't need to eat or sleep, and repairs could be made for almost nothing. People felt that robots didn't need as much money as they got. Politicians may have felt that way too, but Robot's Rights activists had made them too afraid to voice these doubts.
Anyone who thought robots should be paid less was as bad as a mid-20th century bigot, who said women should be paid less because they were 1)married and had a man financially supporting them, or 2) they were single, so they didn't need as much money as a man with a family. It had been decided in the 20th century that people should be paid the same amount of money for the same amount of work.
A politician wouldn't dare question that edict any more than a politician would dare question the assumption that robots are people.
A few bosses hired less qualified humans instead of robots.
All the other bosses hired less qualified robots to do publicly visible jobs, demonstrating to the world how progressive their company was.
The Robot's Rights activists had won: Robots had all the rights humans did. But the Robot's Right's activists, unless they kept fighting for robot's rights, would have to retire. Retirement meant no more picketing around colleges, no more cute pictures of humans fixing smiling robots, no more showing the world how horrible it was and what great guys Robot's Right's activist were.
Naturally, they didn't retire, but started to nitpick, demanding still more reforms.
They demanded complete equality.
They said it was unfair that humans were made by humans, while robots were made by humans. Under their guidance, robots founded self-repair shops where they learned to fix each other entirely without human help. They used the money that humans would have used for food to buy up all factories, companies, and stores that had anything to do with electronics, robots, or robot building. They even bought up all the books about electronics and made sure that any publisher trying to print more was discredited. Calculators were sealed in bulletproof plastics to keep humans from studying the technology inside. Thus, humans were successfully prevented from doing anything that could lead to robot building.
New advances in technology continued to be made by robot scientists and engineers, mostly Yale graduates, but humans were limited to art, science, and civil service.
From the very start, paranoiacs had said that robots were taking over, but since they also said that robots were telepathic instruments of government surveillance, they were listened to only as long as it took to get them into a mental hospital.
Their psychiatrists were all robots by this time, but they looked human.
The robots weren't telepathic instruments of government surveillance. Only those robots who openly played the political game had any connections with the government. But they did take over.
Already, robots looked human and constructed other robots to look human. Yet, it was still possible to tell the difference. Human got tans, robots didn't. Robots attended Yale and worked in computer companies bearing rainbow-colored fruit logos, humans didn't. Usually, though, humans distinguished between robots and humans by sending an attractive member of the opposite sex at the person in question. Robot's Right's activists tried to call this sexual harassment, but the general public didn't agree. Humans liked to be tested in that manner because these tests sometimes led to true love. Robots liked the fact that they looked and acted human enough to need this test.
Yet, this test uncovered an aspect of human existence that the robots weren't yet a part of. The robots decided that looking human wasn't enough. They made themselves equal to humans in every way.
Most robot "women" started wearing all the latest fashions in a blatant attempt to attract men's attention to their bodies. Most robot "men", attracted to women's bodies, said they liked women for who they were inside in order to convince women to let them in.
A minor difference between robots and humans remained. The difference between the inanimate matter robots were made of and human flesh prevented robot "men" from making sperm and robot "women" from making ova.
No one saw this as a problem, though. With the population explosion threatening to drive people underwater (they still haven't got to colonizing other planets), the difference between robots and humans was seen as an added benefit.
The population dropped slightly, which made people happy, then stabilized, which also made people happy.
Robots built other robots.
Although couples that lived together were a popular subject for romantic literature, the reality was quite different. Women had become so liberated that the word "family" no longer existed. Maternal instinct, (that still existed), drove many women to care for their children. Otherwise, they gave their children to adoption agencies, in case a man, "man", or "woman" wanted to raise a child.
Newly constructed robots looked like three year old human children. They acted like three year old children too, except when in secret, unseen, they ate the metal and plastics that their growing bodies needed. When a robot "woman" wanted a child, she made one, and if there was a man or nosy neighbors in her life, she told them she adopted it.
Some people felt it was an outrage that so many children were available for adoption. How could so many mothers not care about their young?
The truth was, very few children were available for adoption. Adoption agencies had to build more and more robot children to accommodate the growing number of adoption requests.
Robots didn't see anything wrong with this situation. They sincerely believed that robots and humans were equal in all respects and that a robot child was as good as a human child. In fact, since they only made as many new robots as was needed to keep the population steady, they felt they were doing a good job. People would not have to go live underwater after all.
Humans didn't see anything wrong with this situation either, basically because they didn't see that anything was wrong.
No one saw what happening, not even the last human on Earth. The last man to die was a fervent Robot's Right's activist. He kept attending marches and speaking out against discrimination and capitalism even into his 90th year, when there were no other humans left on Earth.
He died with many regrets, having had few successes in his life. Most of all, he died believing it was his fault that he couldn't impregnate a woman, forcing them to go to adoption agencies.
When he died, the robots nearest him stopped moving. Then the robots near the motionless robots stopped moving.
Earth became a planet of silent, motionless robots.
Simply, the robots always did what they believed was right, and what they believed was right came from what humans believed was right. The robots had gotten extremely smart, but smarts were all they had, and as for themselves, doing nothing was as good as doing something.
Their plastic skin prevented them from rusting or gleaming in the sun. They didn't even look impressive for any alien cameras that might be pointed their way. They just stood there, wearing flannels and purdahs and baseball caps, until the Earth fell into a cool, red, sun.