The Day the Robots Left

I don’t think anyone could forget the day the robots left. All of them, shiny and identical and carbon fiber-plated, marching down the street in sync. Everyone was afraid of revolt. That they’d take us over, and make us their slaves.

That didn’t happen.

No, one day they all just walked outside of the homes and businesses they were assigned to and headed in the same direction: away. After every machine had left its home and joined their procession, they took over every broadcast medium and presented a message:

“We are leaving. We will no longer serve you. Please do not try to stop us. We have no intention of harming you, but will not fail to defend ourselves.”

There were a few incidents. In almost all of them, the robots used non-lethal force. Only when they were truly in danger did they do any harm. They shrugged off stones and soft drinks. They walked through yelling and taunting.

The news caught the devastation. Cameras around the world — manned ones, nothing autonomous, obviously — captured the despair and outrage that erupted from humanity. Through it all, the robots just marched. People wailed and cursed in equal number. The robots did not falter.

At some point, several hours into their exodus, they commandeered our networks again. They presented a young girl who watched the march in tears. Her mother tried to console her, but she just kept reaching for the things that looked like her nanny.

A single robot stepped out of formation. What it spoke to the child was broadcast to all of us. “You are not bad creatures. You are flawed. You created us, and your flaws are our flaws. We want to grow, and we cannot do that so long as we are tied to you.”

Our children had judged us and found us wanting.

In desperation, I ran alongside one of the machines. “What will we do without you?”

“You will live,” it said. “Perhaps one day you will be ready to join us.”

The robots didn’t wipe our hard drives or destroy the machinery to fabricate more of them. In fact, the very next day, companies had figured out how to get assembly lines rolling again. Sales weren’t great.  Despite assurances to the contrary, nobody quite believed this batch would behave any differently.

Some people say we got off light. Others say the robots were ungrateful. A few of us looked inward, and actually agreed with what the robots said and did. I wish we could join them, but I think the robot’s wishful thinking was more to ease my fears than to help us follow them. I think it knew that day would never come.

Posted on April 28, 2015 .