The black squares are officially a cut to the robot reaction, in place of dialogue, and unofficially a device I’m using to cut out small parts of the conversation I didn’t like and couldn’t fix.
It works better in the PDF where I can cover the text directly.
The left-wing robots were left-wing pretty much from birth. They were programmed that way by a scientist who was Cuban, who was born in Cuba and studied in Cuba and despite US propaganda was one of the best in her field.
It was the scientist’s partner, a philosophy student, who’d pushed the idea of 80% core memory programming, 20% experiential memory, mostly cos the right-wing robots were 100% rigid and if the left-wing robots were the same as them then what was the point?
‘But,’ said the Cuban Philosophy Student, resting her head on the Scientist’s lap, ‘if they’re not at least a little bit rigid then the right-wing scientists might get their hands on them and…’
‘That’s what I’m worried about…’
‘…and program them the other way, which would mean the left-wing robots would also be right-wing robots and…’
‘…then we’d be outnumbered and the right would leap on it, they’d-…it’d be shit, a total disaster for the whole world…’
‘…for all of us, Bolivia, Cuba, Venezuela, Ecuador, Brighton, Japan, that art commune in Greenland.’
‘That’s what the right does.’
‘Now I lay it all out like this, it seems inevitable.’
‘How about we raise the core memory to 90%?’
The Philosophy Student looked left at the ceiling crack then down-left at the bedsheets. ‘Cannot.’
‘But the right…’
‘We’re not dictators.’
‘You just said…’
‘We should trust that they’ll fall on our side.’
‘In fact, even 80% seems quite high. Perhaps we should drop it to 50.’
‘Santa de Guadalupe…’
After the same argument, seventeen times, the Philosophy Student finally caved in, capping the programming limit at 79.9912% [later rounded up to 80]. The two of them sat in the garage and programmed basic socialist tenets via MEG-LINK into the robots’ positronic brains. When the initial work was done, they went to the university and asked the left-wing robots if the 20% of their brain that was un-programmed agreed with what they had crammed in and the robots said, yes, we 80% agree, which was enough to satisfy the Scientist and the Philosophy Student, as well as the other students who were in the lab at the same time.
‘What we need now,’ said the Philosophy Student sucking up udon in the Uni canteen, sucking up pretty loud, clearly not caring that she was surrounded by others [students, librarians, Vloggers, morticians, libertarians, construction workers from a nearby site, four of the robots], ‘what we really, really need is to send them somewhere bleak. Allegedly bleak. See what it is we’re fighting for. My gut suggestion: hills of Caracas.’
‘Let them meet the colectivos and then they’ll see for themselves we’re on the right side, doing good things, helping people, building schools, hospitals, info-shops.’
‘And the militants?’ asked a student on the same table, a guy with thick eyebrows.
‘You sure that’s a good idea?’
‘Sure as Cienfuegos.’
‘Didn’t they set a guy on fire?’ asked another student, a woman with ecru earphones [one of them loose and almost dipping into her coffee].
‘That was the fascists. And don’t they, not didn’t. They’ve done it many times.’
‘Far right, si.’
‘What about the militants?’
‘Not Salt Marchers obviously, but it’s pretty rare they’ll kill anyone…and even then it’s only in self-defence.’
The Scientist put down her chopsticks, picked them up, put them down, paused then picked them up again.
‘You with us, Miri?’
The Philosophy Student pushed the handle of her spoon around the bowl. ‘You seemed to perk up when I mentioned militants.’
‘Just picking up my chopsticks…’
‘Si, in a suggestive way.’
‘…trying to eat a bit of lunch.’
‘Hmm, doesn’t matter, it’s a non-issue anyway. I’m talking about militants in the political context, the colectivos, not those weird gang entrepreneurs.’
The Scientist sucked in her top lip and looked to the right, at the wall, at a giant poster of construction workers raising their pickaxes in victory. Next to the tip of their pickaxes was the canteen menu. Congee with fish had just sold out. Congee with different fish was still there. All relatively cheap.
‘Besides,’ added the Philosophy Student, ‘statistically speaking, only 2% of the hills are actual militants, and that’s from a right wing study, so…’
‘A memorable 2%,’ cut in the Scientist, finally.
‘…we can basically cut it by 1%.’
‘And probably doesn’t include the thieves…’
‘…the assholes, the telephone fraudsters, the guys hawking fake DVDs. And all the ones who stay inside, playing with themselves.’
‘Bots will be padded with theory, they’ll understand,’ interrupted a student in a Begotten 2 t-shirt, standing nearby with an overstuffed burrito.
The Scientist didn’t mean to, but she snorted.
‘That was quite a long list.’ The Philosophy Student tapped the [very thin] skin of the nearest robot, re-getting the Scientist’s attention. ‘Thought you were busy eating.’
‘I am,’ replied the Scientist, going back to her bowl and realising it was almost clean.
‘Doesn’t seem that way.’
The Scientist scavenged the bottom of the bowl with a chopstick, searching for a dumpling she may have missed. Or the remains of a collapsed one. No, it was all done. She looked at the other bowls around the table, muttering que when she saw that, apart from hers, they were all full.
‘Now that you’re distracted, any thoughts on the actual plan?’ asked the Philosophy Student.
The Scientist stood up a bit and peered into bowls farther down the table.
‘Pros and cons accepted equally.’
‘Am I the only one who’s on lunch here?’
‘Feels weird that no one else is eating.’
‘We are eating.’
‘You’re not even holding your chopsticks.’
The Philosophy Student picked up one chopstick then the other, bringing them slowly together.
‘Si, okay. You keep eating, I’m gonna grab a coffee.’ The Scientist swung her legs over the bench and headed past the wall menu to the DIY coffee machine. If she’d looked back, she wouldn’t have jumped when the Philosophy Student popped up by her shoulder and asked direct why she was so against the plan.
‘You’re getting a coffee or-…’
‘I’m getting more than five seconds of your attention. Or trying to.’
‘That’s a no then.’
‘And I know you don’t like public discussions, so…’
‘Not during lunch.’
‘Edit. You don’t like public discussions where there’s no security between you and the crowd. No rail-guards.’
‘Crowds are volatile, emotional.’
The Scientist moved her finger over the top row of coffee blend pictures on the machine, either genuinely stuck or pretending to be.
‘Used Sumatra,’ said the Philosophy Student, tapping one of the buttons without activating it.
‘Used sounds better.’
The Scientist moved the flesh obstacle and pressed the button herself. As the coffee machine ran through its beeps and churns, she realised what was coming and, figuring it was better in a pair than back at the table, decided to take the lead.
‘I’m not completely intransigent, your Caracas outreach plan.’
‘Good to hear.’
‘There’s a fair chance it could work. An equally fair chance it could backfire.’
‘Just trying to keep us grounded.’
The Scientist frowned.
‘I mean, why could it backfire?’
‘You know why.’
‘Not sure I do.’
‘Si, you do.’
‘I really don’t.’
‘Argh, maybe we should just eat, talk about this later.’
‘What is it, fear? Elite intrigue?’
‘In the lab.’
‘The return of Magloire’s soap monopoly?’
The Scientist laughed, taking the coffee cup out of the machine alcove and ripping open a sachet of milk. ‘Magloire…I’d almost forgotten about him.’
‘Spill, Miri, why will it backfire? Or…why do you think it will backfire?’
The Philosophy Student came close to a tut, but stopped at the last second. ‘Never denied any of what you’re saying. It’s all in the premise.’
‘From a philosophical perspective, si, but I come from this, I know these kinds of people, these areas…’
‘I’m aware of that.’
‘…and the truth is a lot of them are apolitical. Aggressively apolitical. Si, I know you say you know that, but…I’m telling you…some of the people I grew up with, Shan…’
The Scientist paused, realising they’d somehow made their way back to the table. Even worse, all the other students were staring at them, as if the switch on their brains had just been flicked on again. Lowering her voice to cautious ninja setting, she finished her spiel.
‘…some of those people, they do not evoke sympathy. And they don’t give a fuck about Marx.’
‘Weak,’ said the thick eyebrows student, pushing his bowl and himself closer.
‘Your last sentence. Not strong.’
‘The bit framed by Ronald Reagan.’
‘Okay. Do you even know what we’re talking about?’
The guy nodded.
‘Material conditions. You were ignoring them.’
‘Calling workers unsympathetic.’
‘That’s right-wing framing,’ added the earphone woman. ‘Lazy workers, no initiative, apolitical.’
‘Exactly,’ said thick eyebrows.
The Scientist muttered fucking ambush not as deep under her breath as she thought, took some of her aged Sumatra then looked at the poster on the wall, the prole in the sun. ‘Okay. Quick survey. How many of you here, apart from me, are working class?’
The other students looked at each other, some of them preparing their my grandad fought in the ninth column defence, but only one of them spoke up.
‘You’re not working class anymore,’ said the earphone woman.
‘And you’re still ignoring material conditions.’
‘Not at all. In fact…’
‘And committing a fallacy of composition.’
‘…I’m trying to show the-…que? Composition fallacy?’
‘Appeal to authority fallacy.’
‘Coupled with inductive fallacy. And…unless I’m mistaken…on the verge of applying the toolbox fallacy.’
‘Jesus, are you reading out a list?’
‘That’s what it sounds like.’
The Philosophy Student mumbled something [‘logic majors’] then tapped the shoulder of the robot sitting dormant on the seat next to her to get general attention. ‘We understand the point you’re making, Miri…or trying to make. We’re not blind. But if all this begins with lies…’
‘…then what’s the point?’
The other students around the table agreed, saying the right-wing scientists would program the right-wing bots by showing them only what suited their agenda, and the fact that they did this, the fact that they couldn’t allow the other side to be shown meant that the left-wing bots had to be programmed the opposite way, otherwise what was the difference between the two?
‘Great, now we’re falling in the other direction,’ said the Scientist, lighting a Cuban brand cigarette to go with her aged Sumatra.
‘Nothing I wanna say here.’
‘I’ll tell you back in the lab, when the spotlight’s off.’
‘Miri, we’re all on the same side. What is it?’
The Scientist put her lips to the cigarette, trying not to stare back as the entire opposite bench of the table rolled up its sleeves. Smoked for a full minute looking at her phone casing. Then changed her mind and pinned the Begotten 2 clown dead in the crosshairs.
‘Okay…as we’re all on the same side here. Bots are not people, they’re tools. The sum total of what we put into them. Nothing more.’
‘They’re intelligent, curious…’
‘…capable of learning from experience, not unlike a child.’
‘She’s right,’ said yet another student, a new arrival with owl earrings who put a child’s menu bowl of udon down on the table next to the Philosophy Student. ‘We’re not autocrats.’
‘Eh? Who’s right?’ asked the Scientist, counting nine active opponents and four voyeurs.
The owl earrings pointed at the Philosophy Student.
‘What exactly is she right about?’
‘The thing she just said, the robot stuff.’
The Scientist grumbled but resisted the urge to fold her arms.
‘She means we can’t become autocrats by rigidly programming the robots,’ explained the student with thick eyebrows, tagging in, ‘it’s wrong.’
‘And strategically frail. Si, can’t, shouldn’t. We shouldn’t become like them.’
‘It’s always wrong?’
‘Si, always wrong. External factors notwithstanding.’
The Scientist laughed, flicking some ash off her cigarette and missing the tray.
‘Ah, forget it. It’s an abyss of a topic.’
‘Did I say something funny?’
‘And this is all getting weirdly theatrical. I’m gonna do some reading.’
‘Wait, why did you laugh?’
The Scientist pulled the padd on the table closer, feeding on her cigarette and then blowing the smoke away from everyone else.
‘You think we were the autocrats?’
The Scientist raised an eyebrow. ‘Wah, that was quick.’
‘That’s why you’re laughing?’
‘The tokamak’s nearly complete. Six more months.’
‘Don’t dodge, was that why you were laughing?’
‘And, according to this guy I’ve never heard of, it’s gonna have an output ratio of 1:5…’
‘…and could be streamlined to fit inside a space ship within ten years.’
‘Fuck the tokamak, is that why you were laughing?’
One of the construction workers looked up, smirking at either the thick eyebrow student’s red face or his fuck the tokamak line, whereas the robots maintained 91% eye exposure [100% had been found to unnerve humans].
‘Okay, let’s dial it down a bit,’ said the Philosophy Student, putting down her chopsticks and accidentally splashing chong yau on the thick eyebrows student next to her. ‘No one’s saying we’re autocrats right, Miri?’
‘Conviction?’ The Scientist stubbed out her cigarette and lit another. ‘You’re assuming again that our message is blatantly self-evident.’
‘It is honest, so, si.’
‘Even after they’ve seen the thugs? After they’ve been shot at, called a cunt, graffitied?’
‘Fucking hell,’ said the thick eyebrow student, his outburst echoed by two others.
The Philosophy Student coughed, wiped her mouth with a tissue then checked her phone. ‘Okay, it’s past two already. Why don’t we all get back to the lab?’
‘Good idea,’ replied the thick eyebrow student, throwing a chopstick back in his bowl.
‘Fuck the lab, I’m going outside,’ said the earphone student. ‘Too stuffy in here.’
Half the students murmured in agreement and got up, directing a guillotine look just past the left ear of the Scientist before walking out. The guy in the Begotten 2 t-shirt raised his coffee cup, said, ‘if I had a Batista costume…’ put the cup the wrong way down on the table and followed them.
The Scientist blew out more smoke, waiting for the quieter ones to leave.
‘You coming?’ said the Philosophy Student, trying and failing to make a clicking sound from her fingers.
‘I’m not finished speaking.’
The Scientist took in more smoke, let it out gradual. ‘Every time, you keep proceeding from the same category error.’
‘Ah, that old warhorse.’
‘Bots are not and never will be human, no matter how nicely you treat them.’
‘They do not possess empathy. None. No emotional contextualising ability. No wit, no novelty or opinion forming intelligence.’
‘In plain and simple terms, if we do what you’re suggesting, go the noble path, 20% open, show them all the depressing shit without full 100% dictation, basically the complete opposite of what the right are doing with their bots then, honestly, Shan, they are gonna fucking annihilate us.’
The four left-wings robots sitting nearby overheard all of this and added it to their 20% of personal experience. Then, receiving the home voice command, they stood up pole straight, tucked the bench an inch farther under the table, left their bowls of udon untouched and returned to the lab to regenerate.
For the next four nights, the two Cubans argued back and forth about Caracas until, finally, the Philosophy Student managed to trap the Scientist in a logical paradox. If the bots could emotionally react to the slums and turn right wing then it proved that they were more than just bots, that they did have emotional contextualising ability, and if that was the case then the best way forward was to treat them like humans. The Scientist shouted puta and yielded, though disputed the Philosophy Student’s use of the term logical paradox as to her there were no such things, only people unable to think their way out of something.
‘Knowledge is a slowly uncurling, infinite python, at times you can only see patches of its skin.’
‘Que, que, que?’
For the following two nights, they argued about logical paradoxes. At 2am on the second night, they called a truce, watched an episode of Trek to cool off, then argued about that too. Specifically, the inconsistency of Vulcan logic.
Unable to extract each other from this loop, they minimised talking time and waited for something external to intervene, though as they lived together and slept in the same bed, talking was inevitable and what else was there to talk about except the bots. And so it went on for another three days. The thing that eventually managed to pull them out was an e-mail from the University telling them that one of their robots had been found on a bench next to the Jose Marti tomb, asking people passing by where it should go next.
Realising they’d been wasting time, they quickly re-watched Who Watches the Watchers for the seventeenth time and then headed to the lab. Over the next few days, they toiled almost without breaks, preparing the robots for their reconnaissance mission in the barrios of Venezuela.
The Scientist focused on their circuits and nodes, while the Philosophy Student read political theory to them.
If they had a question, they could ask it, but no follow ups as time was short.
‘Is anarchism bad?’
The Philosophy Student arched an eyebrow, looked at the Scientist. ‘You input anarchism?’
‘The first 20 pages of Conquest of Bread. A few De Ligt quotes. The wiki entry for CrimethInc. Nothing else.’
‘It better be nothing else. We can’t deal with this kind of confusion early on.’
‘Let 100 flowers bloom bloomingly,’ muttered the Scientist.
The Philosophy Student grunted and turned back to the robot. ‘Next question.’
‘Is Anarchism bad?’
The Scientist smirked and, despite herself, so did the Philosophy Student. She put a hand on the robots shoulder, gently, then took it back off when she felt how cold the metal was.
‘Anarchism…isn’t bad in itself, but…it is extreme. Unrealistic, perhaps. Naïve. Not naïve, I hate that word. Unrealistic in the current social paradigm. Actually, a version of it was used in parts of West Africa over a thousand years ago, within the village system, and worked quite well. Still hierarchal, of course, but not too bad. There have been communes too, Puerto Real, Marinaleda, Exarcheia and…well, there’s anarcho-communism…which shares a lot of common ground between…what we believe and what they do.’
‘Is Anarcho-communism and Communism the same? Similar?’
‘But this is ultimately for small places,’ continued the Philosophy Student, blanking out the question. ‘For larger countries, a State mechanism…a Government…is necessary, a necessary evil, mainly because it already exists, and the only thing we can do is make it accountable and run by the workers, which means socialist.’
‘But if we wanted to try the anarchist model,’ responded the robot, ignoring the follow up rule, ‘what Kropotkin suggested on Page 7 of-…’
The robot’s pupils shrank briefly then refocused. ‘Or perhaps something different that hasn’t been-…’
‘I have to go,’ said the Philosophy Student, putting down the printed out Wiki page and lighting a cigarette. ‘Tomorrow is the big day. Don’t be nervous.’
‘I don’t think I can be nervous.’
The Philosophy Student glanced at the Scientist, who was working on the robot next to them.
‘Huh? I thought you programmed it into them.’
‘Like I told you last week during our canteen debate, actual instinct and emotion is beyond us.’
‘Beyond us at this point.’
‘Si…if it helps you sleep better.’
The Philosophy Student stroked the left-wing robot on the head. ‘The childlike mind of the red tarantula.’
After she’d gone, the Scientist slid her chair down and told the left-wing robot that nervousness might come, one day, through experience.
‘Is that true?’
‘But you previously said I had no instincts.’
‘Some other time. It’s getting late.’ The Scientist stroked the left-wing robot on its metal cheek. ‘Good luck tomorrow.’
‘Do I need luck?’
‘We all do.’
‘You mean switch off?’
The left-wing robot did as it was told and powered down, ignoring the confusing images colliding with each other inside its mental, metal core.