The Human Robot: Ira Saxena

Human Robot: Story of domestic robot

Human Robot: A cunning smile played on his lips as Prem Chopra stared at the glaring neon sign – Super Robots Plaza. Now he would be able to buy an accomplice, he thought, as he crossed the busy street towards the store. Surely an adequate investment of his latest loot. And Super Robots were, by far, the best and the most renowned for their electronic functions and sophisticated precision.

The Human Robot: Ira Saxena

“May I help you, Sir?” grinned the short, narrow-eyed salesman inside the Super Robots Plaza.

“Well…er,” Prem Chopra responded nervously as he pulled out his kerchief from his tweed coat and dabbed at the few drops of sweat on his forehead. Straightening his neck-tie, he regained his confidence. “I wish to purchase a robot…”

“For help, Sir,” completed the salesman. “That is our specialty. We manufacture efficient robots for industry, construction companies, plumbing and cleaning, caretakers – they are designed for only specialized work. Our best ones are for consumers like you – for the home,” he spoke like a recorded programme.

“Er…yes, that is what I want,” Prem Chopra spoke in a business-like fashion.

“Please come this way.” The salesman led him through a brightly-lit, richly-carpeted gallery into a huge dome-shaped hall gleaming with fluorescent light. The right corner appeared to be crowded with robots in metallic silver, electric blue and green. Some were moving about as if practicing to walk while some stood still—switched out of operation. Just as Prem Chopra stepped on the threshold of the hall, one of the robots swiftly came forward. “Good day, Sir, welcome to Super Robots Plaza. We hope your visit here proves worthwhile,” the silver robot said in a metallic voice.

“Brilliant,” mumbled Prem Chopra, somewhat bewildered.

The salesman gave a proud smile as he headed towards an isolated robot in metallic blue. “This one is perfectly programmed to function in the household, cleaning, arranging, collecting groceries from the supermarket, tending the lawn, mailing letters, relating your favourite progammes on the TV, and selecting news of your interest from the paper.” The salesman paused for breath and continued, “All you need is the remote control monitor for command.”

“You mean sitting at home I can command the robot in the city market?” asked Prem Chopra.

“It operates within a limited radius of half a kilometer. By the way, this one is called Ram Singh-070,” the salesman explained.

Prem Chopra nodded. The salesman checked on the gait, grip, movement and some programmed functions. Everything was well tuned and fixed.

“I will take him,” Prem Chopra decided.

“Certainly, Sir,” nodded the salesman. “If you will come along to the office, I will explain to you its – Ram Singh’s – functions and give you the manual, etc.”

“Sure, sure,” Prem Chopra seemed satisfied with the deal.

“I must tell you, like all robots, and adhering to the discipline of robotics, Ram Singh has an in-built system of three principles: the robot will obey his master; the robot will not harm humans; and the robot will not take harm to self.”

Prem Chopra heard the first principle and it impressed him. He did not take notice of the other two. He nodded delightedly and signed the sale deed and contract of ‘no misuse of the robot’. He had got a servant and an accomplice.

If Ram Singh-070, my robot, can shop for groceries, then why not for better things like jewels, thought Prem Chopra.

In the market, robots carrying heavy packets, buying theatre tickets, carrying groceries to the cars were a common sight but still strange and amusing servants. Ram Singh-070 was thoroughly efficient. With tremendous speed and accuracy, he collected the groceries into the shopping trolley and paused for the next command. “Two kilograms of mangoes – ripe and juicy,” commanded Prem Chopra from a distance, seeing a huge pile of mangoes. In no time Ram Singh-070 had selected the best ones.

“Pay at the cash counter,” Prem Chopra spoke into the commander. Ram Singh-070 paused, turned around, glided through the busy aisle and stopped at the end of the queue waiting for his turn like a civilized citizen, while Prem Chopra enjoyed the glamour and fun of the busy shopping area. He was delighted with the robot’s agility and deftness.

Ram Singh-070 followed Prem Chopra like a faithful dog when he stopped at Gopal Jewellers. Through the glass window he saw a generous display of gold ornaments. Quickly Prem Chopra dis-appeared around the corner and spoke into the remote control—softly and clearly. “Pick up a necklace and hide. No noise. Information not to be revealed. Top secret. Otherwise I will defuse your system,” he threatened.

Ram Singh-070 moved inside the shop, close to the counter. His metallic palm extended forward and a necklace went into the storage unit without a clink or a jingle. Nobody took the notice. The jeweler was conversing with a customer. Prem Chopra had seen the operation through his binoculars. He drew a long puff on his cigarette to celebrate. Ram Singh-070 moved out.

From expensive antiques to ornaments and precious stones, the shoplifting went on without any trace of anxiety and recognition in the beginning. But the confused reactions of shop-owners gradually became louder. Unaware, Prem Chopra went on with his shoplifting spree until a young fruit vendor noticed an expensive bunch of Afghani grapes disappearing inside the metallic blue robot. The incident was related all over, and no sooner had they heard, than some shopkeepers recalled the presence of a metallic blue robot in their shops when they found their valuables missing. This information reached the police headquarters in no time.

One day Prem Chopra guided Ram Singh-070 to Jhaveli Brothers for lifting precious gems. The police remained in readiness and the computerized cameras, capable of split second recording, clicked him in the act. Ram Singh robot was caught, but Prem Chopra fled as soon as he saw, through the binoculars, two persons noting down Ram Singh’s licence number, printed on his metallic neck.

Prem Chopra was arrested from his home, as owner of Ram Singh-070 – the thief.

Soon after his arrest, Prem Chopra was released on bail until the court hearing. None of the stolen articles were recovered.

He had cleverly disposed them off through his gang. In the court he denied all allegations.

“Someone else seems to have tampered with Ram Singh-070’s programs. The police found me at home,” he argued.

“Why did you buy a robot in the first place?” asked the Government counsel, Goel.

“For help at home.”

“Obviously you could direct his movements.”

“Of course. But I could not alter his programs. Perhaps at the Super Robots itself somebody has been holding Ram Singh-070’s controls. I am no computer man, your honour,” Prem Chopra spoke boldly.

Counsel Goel cleared his throat and reached closer to the judge.

“Considering Mr. Chopra’s explanation and the happenings of the last few days when so many jewellers and curio dealers have been affected, it seems important to know the doings of Ram Singh robot. Strangely enough, all these incidents took place after Ram Singh’s purchase. Ram Singh’s memory tape would reveal all the required information. I request Ram Singh robot to be called in the court.”

Prem Chopra was shocked. He had never anticipated this event.

“Robot goes to court” were the headlines in the next day’s papers. Never before had people heard of such a phenomenon. What evidence could a robot provide, what information could he reveal, people wondered.

The next day, the court was overcrowded with people keen to watch a robot in the witness box. Counsel Goel was ticking off points till the last moment. He appeared confident and crisp but so was Prem Chopra. Never would this machine man betray his master. The proceedings began and Ram Singh-070 appeared in the witness box.

“Your honour,” counsel Goel began, “I am told by Super Robots that the memory tape designed in these types of robots contain information of the previous week.”

“But the case started a fortnight after the incident; the needed information must be wiped out,” the judge said.

Counsel Goel smiled softly, staring at Prem Chopra. “Sir, the robot has been switched out of operation ever since.”

Prem Chopra’s face fell but he was confident Ram Singh-070 would obey his master. The secrets were sealed.

“You may continue,” ordered the judge.

Counsel Goel turned to Ram Singh robot. “Who is your master?” he asked briefly. A dull blue light flashed and after a momentary whirring sound the robot squeaked in his metallic tone, “Mr. Prem Chopra.”

“What did you do for Mr. Prem Chopra?”

A pause, a whirr, then a metallic answer, “Cleaning, mowing the lawn, washing; doing dishes, shopping…”

“Recall in detail your activities of last six days,” counsel Goel interrupted.

The memory tape went on mechanically and monotonously—”Opened the boot of the car, emptied grocery, shut the boot, turned, moved 30 steps, stopped, curio shop on the left, instruction signal—blank—moved left, turned, twenty steps…” At this point the counsel commanded, “Stop, reverse and play.” Again there was an obvious pause after the instruction signal.

Counsel Goel stopped the tape. “Notice the pause, your honour. Some action is not revealed. What were those instructions? Who gave these instructions?” he questioned Ram Singh-070.

“Information not to be revealed,” he responded.

“But why?”

“Robots do not disobey master.”

Counsel Goel gave a fleeting glance at Prem Chopra who was moving restlessly in the prosecution box. “Your honour,” he addressed the judge, “those special instructions were from Prem Chopra which have to be made public. The jade Ganapati was picked up immediately afterwards according to the date and time mentioned by the staff.”

“But still it is only a leading evidence to the crime committed. I am afraid, that is not enough to convict,” the judge remarked.

Counsel Goel thought hard. The three principles of robotics came to his mind. He closed in on Ram Singh-070 with renewed vigour.

“Ram Singh, what were those instructions?” he asked softly.

“Information not to be revealed.”

“Several people who have suffered losses will be harmed if these instructions are not reported. What were those instructions?” counsel Goel persuaded.

“Robots do not harm people,” Ram Singh-070 responded mechanically.

“Ram Singh, you have to remember the instructions,” said Prem Chopra.

“Please,” counsel Goel looked harshly at Prem Chopra, “what were those instructions?” he asked emphatically.

“Information not to revealed,” Ram Singh-070 went on like a tape-recorder.

“You don’t understand, Ram Singh-070. All those victims who have lost their goods have suffered—suffered financially. They have been harmed,” counsel Goel raised his voice. “Now, what were those instructions?”

There was no response from Ram Singh-070.

“Many, many people have suffered. Speak up, Ram Singh-070,” counsel Goel stressed each word.

“No, Ram Singh,” Prem Chopra shouted nervously but the judge warned, “Keep quiet.”

“Come on, Ram Singh-070,” the judge said. Ram Singh-070 jerked his head left, then right towards the judge.

The reporting mechanism signal suddenly stopped. Strange whirring, clicking, breaking sounds emanated from Ram Singh-070. The dim blue light turned to indigo. “Many people will be harmed without the knowledge of those instructions. Report Ram Singh-070,” counsel Goel persisted.

A clicking sound indicated the hampering of running tapes and jamming of caution signals—pip-pip, pip-pip. The crackling sounds and the indigo light intensified. A red light flashed on the forehead of Ram Singh robot signaling “Danger. Reporting system failed.” Tiny shutters in the centre of his chest opened displaying a small TV screen flashing “SYSTEM DISINTEGRATED.” Ram Singh robot had defused.

“Oh, no,” cried the salesman of Super Robots. “He is defused, he is dead,” he whispered coming to the witness box.

There was a hush in the courtroom. The jury, the audience, lawyers and Prem Chopra were stupefied and totally moved. The two mechanics of Super Robots carried a limp Ram Singh-070 out of the courtroom. In a husky voice the salesman explained, “The instructions built into his mechanism were in conflict. He sacrificed himself for his principles… ” He quickly followed his men out.

Silence prevailed for long in the courtroom. Counsel Goel cleared his throat and broke the stillness, “Robots do not cause harm to people and neither can they disobey their masters. Those instructions from Mr. Prem Chopra were not to be revealed. They could have been injurious to his own existence—a threat to the robot’s life. If he revealed them he would disobey his master; if he did not, he would harm others. This conflict brought Ram Singh’s end. He chose to break apart to telling a lie, hurting human beings, or becoming unfaithful.” Traces of pain and depression marked the counsel’s face. He picked up his file and with a bow, left the courtroom.

The proceedings went on. Prem Chopra pleaded guilty.

~ “Human Robot” story by “Ira Saxena

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