Sunday, June 12, 2016

Cain and Abel - By T.R.Hart (Sequel to Someone to Watch over Me)

Cain and Abel

 By T.R.Hart

   She was saddened by the news that Hero Bartley had died. Most of his employees had never met him, but to everyone in the robotic field he was their patriarch. Small and unassuming in life, Hero Bartley was now considered a giant in death. His place was secure among those great minds of Science and Technology, known not only for their genius, but for the sacrifices they made for the benefit of all humankind.
Dr. Judith Sutherland had been closer to Hero than anyone could have been. He had been her mentor and recognized her genius at an early age. She had been hired by Bartley immediately following her graduation from MIT where her studies with Marvin Minsky, considered to be the father of A.I (Artificial Intelligence) were groundbreaking.
   Sutherland had impressed her employer by using electrical circuits to replicate the neural functions of the human brain. Hero Bartley's grasp of the human thought processes eluded him throughout his life. He had seen the brain as a machine that simply responded to stimuli and stored information as a barn would store grain to be distributed later. His lack of social interaction inhibited his ability to study the way a brain receives information, determines the intent of its meaning, and responds in an appropriate manner. Sutherland explored the subjectivity that occurs in human responses. An illogical response (something that would cause Hero Bartley great consternation) was based on probability and not exactitude. The computer had been in its infancy when he had developed his mechanical wonders. The ability for this machine to collect the vast supply of social information needed to produce the numerous responding outcomes grew as computers advanced. The ability for a robot to lie could never occur in Hero's utopian world.
      Dr. Judith Sutherland was among the few in attendance at Hero's memorial service who actually knew and loved him. Most were curious onlookers, celebrities, academicians and politicians who benefitted by Hero's altruism and philanthropy. To be associated with the inventor was an honor worthy of the Media's attention. The crowds were not disappointed.
   Trust funds set up in his memory allowed students from every social background to pursue their education with the understanding that their efforts would not be funded to pursue monetary gain, but to better humankind. Of course, that was a hard pill to swallow for those who worked so hard and sacrificed much of their youth. It was natural that they deserved some kind of reward. After all, they thought; 'why should we live like paupers while celebrities, who did nothing for those who adored them, live like Royals?' Despite the rigid screening demanded of the applicants, there was never a shortage of idealistic young men and women who accepted the challenge of becoming one of "Hero's heroes".
   It felt odd to be sitting in the great man's home without his presence. Judith had been there on several occasions before he retired to take care of his ailing parents. What had been a happy home filled with joy and children's laughter (especially during the Christmas "Open House") was now like a museum filled with curiosities and fascinating inventions that eased life's burdens.
    The farm had been divided up and sold, but the house remained on the market. As she readied herself for work one morning Dr. Sutherland looked around her small apartment. Something was clicking in her brain. The mirror in the hallway revealed a well-dressed woman approaching 50 with a quizzical look on her face. She tapped her chin with her index finger and thought to herself: "I always loved that old house; I am going to buy it!"
   Her co-workers at Service Robotics had never seen her in such a good mood. Throughout the day this normally serious-minded woman seemed to dance on her toes in spite of the plump frame that they supported. Phone calls were made, the offer was accepted, and now, she had become the new owner of the Bartley house. The hardest call would come next. She would have to convince her elderly, but fiercely independent mother to move in with her.
    Mrs. Sutherland lived alone since her husband's death for 12 years. She could be extremely difficult to get along with, which prompted some of her detractors to make the case that Mr. Sutherland died simply to escape his wife. As with most, but not all cases, it is the daughter who usually is burdened with caring for an elderly and sometimes irascible parent. Judith's brothers stopped by for an obligatory visit, but it was no secret that their wives would not be permitting the old woman to stay in their homes. It seemed curious to Judith that before her brothers' marriages, their spouses could not do enough for their future mother-in-law. Besides, they thought, Judith never married and lived close to her mother. It was her duty!
   Judith actually lived about 20 minutes away from her mother. The demands of her job, especially the air travel, made the commutes to her mother's house (sometimes as much as 5 in one week) extremely stressful as she grew older. Then, there was the house. It was always in need of repair, and who would be crazy enough to invest money in that bad neighborhood!
   The meeting with her mother did not go off well at first. 'I have been in this house for more than fifty years and I will die in this house!' The protestations of Mrs. Sutherland would not deter a determined Judith Sutherland this time. 'Well Mother…' she responded, 'If the neighborhood gets any worse you will get your wish…you might just get murdered in it...I'm moving!' The shocking revelation of her daughter's intent to move on with her life had caused her mother to re-evaluate her options. She had none.

   It took her just minutes to fall in love with the house. Within hours Mrs. Sutherland meticulously re-arranged everything to her liking. Judith gave a sigh of relief. 'As long as she likes it…the old fussbudget!' For the first time in her life Judith Sutherland was a homeowner. Life could not be sweeter!
   Although the house was in move-in condition with a new roof, furnace, and appliances, it was extremely large and demanded the aid of a domestic servant. Several applicants were given a thorough interview by Mrs. Sutherland (one of the women regarded it more as an interrogation). Three women were hired and fired in succession. The last one had lasted the longest. She had been employed for a whole week! No living person could put up with the old woman's frivolous demands, but… a robot could.
   The HBd11 (Hero Bartley domestic #11), was the most successfully produced   domestic robotic servant from Service Robotics. The designers of the research department had accumulated enough data to give its newest model enough memory to perform tasks with a somewhat limited but satisfactory decision making process. One of the built in decision making features included a limit on the amount of alcoholic beverages that could be served to the client. Litigation continued to be a concern in the event of an accident which might occur due to substance abuse.
   The HBd11 was popular and a best seller. Household chores could be programmed, scheduled, and tailored to the client's specific needs. The robot would then retire after performing its duties into an enclosed charging unit away from view until needed. The burden of caring for the elderly and chronically ill needing assistance in bathing and dressing had been alleviated.
   Mrs. Sutherland received her daughter's "present" with curiosity and a guarded skepticism. She did not want to be considered ungrateful, but was this amalgamation of hydraulics, plastic, and electronics capable of cleaning a house to her satisfaction? If there could ever be a test pilot for domestic robots it was Judith's mother.
   As efficient as the domestic servant was it could never be perfect. Mrs. Sutherland was determined to find any flaw in the HBd11. She was unaware, however, that the robot was learning from its mistress at every minute. It received her implacable criticisms with a stoic demeanor and droned the response "Yes, Madam". The household tasks could never be maintained in such an efficient manner under such an indefatigable taskmaster. A normal person would have been overjoyed to have such a useful and submissive helper, but this woman was not a normal woman.
   Judith's mother was driving her crazy. The domination which she had endured since childhood began to surface again. She had not wholly enjoyed the freedom of living without criticism from her mother, but the respites as a result of living apart were gone. The newest complaint was that the domestic was unable to provide companionship. A cat or dog was out of the question. Animals had never been permitted in the Sutherland home.
      Hero Bartley had perfected the ultimate caregiver when he created "Mavis" the robotic companion which caused uproar in the tiny town of Amherst. The town's populace was suspicious that his new female companion was a "fallen woman" who was attempting to defraud Hero of his fortune. Ida Hinkle and Hildie Langdon were the self-proclaimed sleuths who had even made the accusation that she had murdered Hero Bartley! They had been humiliated when it was determined that the android had been created to resemble the inventor's beloved mother.
   Professors Saputello and Baffi were working on a robot designed with the most advanced A.I. (Artificial Intelligence) using memory accumulated from the HBd11 and from the Japanese studies of human reaction to different types of robotic body designs. The investigational research, which became known as the "creepiness factor" studies, revealed that people were more accepting of robots which were smaller than themselves and looked less human. An imposing robot like the HBd11 would be intimidating, if not frightening, to some prospective buyers. The "creepiness factor" increased as the resemblance to humans increased. Hero's faithful representation of his deceased mother's features was decidedly too "creepy". After all, he was so different from other people, and, to be brutally honest, how many people would want to be cared for by a ghost?
   Japanese domestic robots were smaller, not so sturdily built, and lacked the strength of the American models, but were superior in intelligence. Their resemblance to comic book characters gave them the added appeal needed to overcome the creepy feeling preventing consumers from considering a purchase. Saputello and Baffi's newest model resembled the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz. They were ready for a test. Dr. Sutherland had the ultimate "tester"…her mother!
   A box arrived one afternoon as Mrs. Sutherland was busy ordering the HBd11 to do" this" and to do "that". Judith feigned ignorance at first when her mother called to ask her about the "mysterious" package. She immediately admitted knowledge of its content when her mother informed her that she was ready to call the police, fearing that a bomb was inside of the box. After being assured that the parcel was safe to open, the order was given to HBd11 to proceed.
   Standing in the middle of the parlor was a small robot barely 4 feet tall resembling the "Tin Man" from the Wizard of Oz movie. An uncharacteristic squeal of delight was heard through the telephone as Mrs. Sutherland oohed and aahed as the little man bowed and said in a little boy's voice "I am soooo happy to meet you!" He rubbed his little tin belly, laughed, and giggled so much that it had become contagious. Judith had not heard her mother laugh like that for years! It would not be long before Mrs. Sutherland would begin to regard the robot as a real boy.

   Saputello and Baffi were more than pleased with the effect that their robot had on Mrs. Sutherland. He was designated the RCm1, the Robotic Companion model 1, but everyone knew him as "Tin Boy". His capacity to emulate human emotions was unsurpassed by any other model developed by Service Robotics. It would only be a matter of time before the domestic units like the HBd11 would become obsolete. A stronger RCm1 model was being designed to replace the units and offered a more intelligent and less creepy alternative to the domestic robot.
   Judith Sutherland couldn't believe the change in her mother since "Tiny Tim", as her mother referred to the little robot, came to live with them. She liked the name too and decided that the name would be very marketable as the Christmas Season was approaching. She thought to herself: 'Hero would have been delighted to see "Tiny Tim"'. She remembered how he loved the holidays.
   Despite being a martinet, Mrs. Sutherland was an excellent teacher. The early childhood education that each of her children received from their mother was invaluable. She was not merely an instructor, but was adept at "modeling" her lessons to accommodate each child's learning behavior. Judith was different from her brothers, who were visual learners. They could watch their mother demonstrate something and would pick it up right away, but Judith was a tactile learner, and required the hands-on method. This mode of learning behavior for developing skills made her invaluable as a liaison between the engineer and the technician.
   The Bible was regarded as an integral component in education at the Sutherland home. Mrs. Sutherland was a deeply religious woman who was convinced that without the moral teachings from the "Good Book", a person would be unable to develop a conscience. She considered it to be her duty to instruct Tiny Tim every day and was astounded at his ability to quote verse and to use it in reasoning. During this same time she had shown disdain for the HBd11 as "soul-less".
   The domestic unit continued to perform its tasks efficiently and without complaint. Upon the completion of its tasks it would report to its mistress in the familiar monotone: 'Can I be of any more service?' The usual reply would be "no thank you" but as the HB seemed to linger a little longer each day to listen to the stories, Mrs. Sutherland would become petulant and order it to "go away!"
   Tiny Tim was fitted with a small propeller atop his head that would spin when he showed an emotion of absolute glee. It could have been considered an equivalent to the wagging tail of a dog or the "purr" of a kitten. The childlike voice and laugh could tug at the heart of the dourest person, but the HBd11 stood emotionless observing the little robot's humanization.
   One afternoon Tiny Tim was listening intently to the Creation story. The information seemed to contradict a logical timeline in which the events taking place could occur. 'Surely.' he thought, 'it would be impossible to create a Universe and the life that inhabited it in only seven days!' Before he could ask his question the HBd11 replied in a drone: 'The Age of the Universe is unknown… the Earth is approximately 4.543 billion years…3.48 billion years for the earliest life forms…Humans were…'Stop! You soulless servant of Lucifer!' countered Mrs. Sutherland, 'go back to your station and stay there until you are called.' The robot stood motionless for a moment at the command which enraged the old woman, but then turned and retired from the parlor. Tiny Tim sat in silence unable to comprehend the drama which had just taken place.
   Dr. Sutherland came home that evening to an irritable mother and an unusually quiet Tim. 'That robot has got to go!' shouted the old woman. "Why mother?' she asked."That maid is becoming more impertinent and obstinate every day.' the old woman responded.
   It took some time before she could convince her mother that the HBd11 was incapable of emotion, but she wondered how the robot could have offered that information. She looked over at the service station and noticed that the door had been left slightly open. As she closed the door she began to think: ' could it have been listening?'
   A few days passed without disturbances or "drama". Dr. Sutherland returned home each night exhausted by the growing demands of her position. Her mother's voice soothed her while she listened to the same stories told to her as a child. Her mother recounted the story of Adam and Eve and how they had rebelled against God by disobeying his command. The fruit that had been forbidden had tasted sweet for a moment, but in that moment they had lost the greatest gift that they were given…a life free of sickness and pain, but above all, they were cast out of the Garden of Eden! The delightful existence that they shared together was gone forever. A life of hardship and sadness awaited them as they met life's struggles on Earth. As she dozed in her chair she saw that the service door of the HBd11 was slightly open once more. She saw, or perhaps imagined, that she could see the robot peering from behind its door, but she soon succumbed to Hypnos' will and fell asleep.
   The News media had been informed that Service Robotics had successfully tested the new RCm1 model and were eager to show it to the World. It had been agreed upon that Dr. Sutherland's model had been accumulating invaluable data making it the obvious choice for a public demonstration. Even Mrs. Sutherland, who was usually reserved and shied from attention, became excited about the prospect of exposing her little student to millions of people in the viewing audience.
   As the day grew nearer, the women's nerves were becoming raw. HBd11, the domestic robot appeared unflappable as ever, but withstood an increase of verbal attacks from the peevish Mrs. Sutherland. Tiny Tim became the object of her obsession. He lay on the sofa while she caressed his head as if he were her own child. He giggled and asked childish questions about Adam and Eve. He wanted to know if they had a little boy. 'Adam and Eve, little Tim?…Why… they had two!'
   Dr. Sutherland was exhausted that night. She said goodnight to her mother and patted Tim on the head. She could hear her mother recounting the story of Cain and Abel. She described Cain as a crop farmer and his younger brother Abel as a shepherd. Cain was the first child born to Adam and Eve after they were cast from the Garden of Eden. Abel was born later. Each son was required to give sacrifice to God as a symbol of their love and devotion. Abel gave the finest of his lambs, but Cain decided that his best crops were too valuable to give to God as sacrifice, so he kept them for himself. Because of his deception, God had loved Abel more than Cain.
   Cain was furious and became jealous of his brother. He reasoned that if Abel was gone, then God would love him. He plotted to kill his brother and asked  him to join him in the field. It was there that the first murder took place. Abel was the first human to die.
   'What became of Cain?' Tiny Tim asked. 'He lost his soul and was made to roam the Earth without friend or family because of his sin!', she responded. As Mrs. Sutherland raised her hand in a demonstrative pose, she knocked over a glass of water on the end table. She called for the domestic robot but received no response. She became agitated and repeatedly called for the servant, but again, no answer. 'Tim,' she said. 'Please go into the kitchen and retrieve that son of Cain…tell him to come and clean up this mess!' Tiny Tim did as he was asked. His little propeller whirled as he walked back to the deliver the message.
   Judith Sutherland was awakened by the sound of a violent crashing sound from down stairs. She got out of her bed and heard her mother screaming hysterically as she ran from her bedroom, down the staircase and into the kitchen. There, on the floor was what remained of Tiny Tim. His head was bashed in, and the little propeller which spun and whirled with delight, lay stationary on the kitchen floor. There was no sign of the HBd11. Instead, the back door was left open to a cold wind which blew into the house.
The End

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