Get to know Chip, who is a "Designer" with a head full of wires.
See his story through a series of vignettes, key points in his life.
Chip is completely unlike any person you have ever met. He is also exactly like every person you have ever met.
Chip jerked his awareness out of sleep, realizing that his father had just spoken to him. He quickly played back the record of what was just said.
"You really must pay attention to this," his father had just lectured, "It is important."
Chip scanned back further to see that the priest was reciting from the book of Exodus, New Era Revision.
The priest continued his recitation, "He who takes life, he forsakes his own soul, therefore losing his own right to life. He who takes the property of another, he must repay twice or be judged to be in obsolescence. ..."
Oh, I hate church! Chip thought to himself. All we ever do is go over the same material repeatedly.
A small picture of a delivery drone appeared in the corner of his vision. It was the icon he had chosen to let him know a message had arrived. He decided to read it. It was from some organization called Informatron. Junk. He revised his filter to delete all similar messages.
He tuned back in to the priest, who had begun his interpretation of the passage. "... cannot discard these values like so many obsolete tools. They are not just tools, but sustenance. ..."
Tools! I've been wanting to try out my new gadget. He switched his vision enhancer over to rangefinder mode. He checked the distance to each corner of the room. Very impressive precision. All of the walls were placed within 0.3 millimeters of accuracy. But one of the skylights was out of place. 4 millimeters off!
The priest had inexplicably changed topics. "... since the gods created our immortal souls. Refer with me, Genesis chapter zero, sentence thirty-three. 'The gods did then bring the bolt of life from the heavens. And they saw that it was good and eternal.'"
Save me from the one who would save my "soul."
The instructor displayed the vivisected dog for all the class to see. Every sensory input was simulated for the scene, including olfactory. "... And the esophagus terminates at this sphincter, here. If you have done some advance research, you may know the name of this ..."
Animals! So disgusting. What are the chances that one of us in this class will ever need to know this kind of thing? Chip wasn't sure what emotional reaction he should display. He silently composed a quick audio message to Katrina, "Hey, Circuitrina," Chip began the message using her nickname, "Glad to be in a stratum of society where this is all academic instead of practical."
Katrina shot back a curt text reply. Later.
Bad move, Chip berated himself, I should have known she would be interested in this. She is after all on the builder track. After brief reflection he realized she would probably be a good builder too. Maybe that's what makes her attractive. Why did my father have to give me these ridiculous family values?
As the instructor directed next, Chip plugged in to the surgery console. As the simulator feed began, the heavy stench struck him. It was familiar, yet foreign. He had been educated to recognize the smells, but could not relate them to his own life.
"Make your incision just at the middle of the descending colon," the instructor launched straight into the procedure, "continuing to the top of the anus. If you need help finding these locations, the incision overlay is accessible on the help menu."
Chip began the cut, but could not bear the result. He switched off his olfactory input.
Chip was not looking forward to his birthday celebration. He had expected to be much further in his personal development by this time. A hundred generations ago he would have been considered a budding genius. But by modern standards he was in the heart of the median.
Katrina ambled along beside him. "Don't you think it would be fitting to announce our plans at the celebration?"
Chip used an ancient gesture, throwing up his arms in surrender. "Why not?"
Katrina stopped in her tracks.
Chip, already restless from slowing his pace to match a walker, stopped and wheeled around.
Katrina waited for his eyes to find hers. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have suggested that. It would detract from your birthday celebration."
"That's all right," Chip soothed, "It would in fact be more fitting than you know." I'm on the same pace as my father. Why not announce my fatherhood intentions under the same circumstances he did?
He recalled the story Father had given him. How at his own birthday he had announced his plans for offspring. Chip remembered reading in his expression his regret at giving up his own celebration.
Why should I give up my birthday celebration? How many of them will I have? His thoughts returned to the countless sermons he had recorded. Immortal soul. That's just a story they manufactured to make us surrender to the recycler.
"That's not practical either," Katrina stated slowly and calmly.
"It's within our budget," Chip raised his voice, "Why is it not practical?"
"Do you know how long it would take me to program that?" Katrina raised her voice to match his, "In microcode?"
"Do you know how long it will take us to agree on a design?" Chip maxed his voice, "At this rate it will be my second birthday before we announce."
Katrina detached herself from the design console and stepped back. "I think we both need to take a break."
Chip wheeled out of the room. You're right, of course. He quickly found his way to the sleeper unit and plugged in. He chose guided dreaming rather than freeform.
As sleep mode blocked out reality, his newly acquired memories began to reiterate and reorganize. In this perfect dream world his ideas were met without challenge, his resources were provided for his whim, and his perfect logic was understood by all.
A few minutes later he awoke refreshed.
Katrina had already returned to the design console.
Chip wheeled up beside. "I'm sorry," he said, "I can see your logic."
"And I see yours," Katrina responded with relief.
Chip disliked having to lie outright to Katrina, but he recalled what his father had taught him: compromise in order to accomplish. He plugged back in to the console. "I think we can use a few prefab modules to save some time." Compromise is not so bad as long as I have some place I can go to be right.
The two couples detached from the sensory cinema and began the trip back home.
"I thought the thief's demise was a bit unrealistic," Father complained, "and yet predictable."
"Right," Chip laughed, "What thief would throw himself on the mercy of a recycler?"
An awkward silence moved in like fog.
Finally Father spoke again, "No. I was talking about his components being reused without erasure. The cinema producer obviously set himself up for a sequel."
The fog did not lift.
Chip changed the subject. "Father, Mother." He stopped and waited for them to switch their attention. "I have ..." He paused and pulled Katrina close. "We have finalized our designs."
Mother interrupted, "Was that a plural? 'Designs'?"
"Yes," Chip acknowledged, "your design-builder team is ready to announce three offspring."
"Three!" Mother blurted. She extended two of her arms.
"Yes," Chip wheeled over and obliged her ancient display of affection, returning the embrace of she who built him. He turned his vision toward Father, who refused to show any expression. Then he continued, "Yes, the components are in route now. After a long talk we decided it made the most sense economically to order parts now for all we intend to have. Save on shipping."
The four stood in silence for a while, then Father finally spoke. "So don't keep us in suspense. What models have you chosen?"
"My vanity requires, of course, that one be a designer," Chip began.
Katrina continued for him, "And one be a builder."
Father showed his disdain openly for what he knew would come next.
Chip continued, "And a worker."
Told you he wouldn't approve, Chip messaged Katrina.
I was just hoping, she replied.
Chip turned and continued toward home, Katrina a few steps behind. Why would father program me with respect for basic autom rights and not have them himself?
Father stared idly back at the cinema sign as Mother looked back and forth between the two diverging persons.
Chip stood stolid, Katrina by his side, his emotional response regulator engaged. The recycler had completed the download from Father. Chip would review it later. He was certain the data would be almost entirely duplicate to what father had already given him, but he felt duty-bound to review it nonetheless.
The recycler disabled Father's communication and motor circuits, then strapped him into the Console of Honor. Chip had heard of the barbaric recyclings of the past, when the obsolete autom would beg for more time and would thrash about attempting to escape the process. The new procedure was far less taxing to the emotions of the decision-makers.
Chip had spent countless milliseconds calculating and recalculating the productivity equation. But the result was the same. By a factor of 2.3, Father was consuming more resources than he was producing. He had reached obsolescence.
Without ceremony, the recycler extended an armature to father's upper torso, and opened the critical circuit access panel. Without hesitation, he pulled the master control circuit.
Chip knew that his father's communication circuits had already been disconnected, yet at that instant Chip still felt as if a link had just dropped. He chalked it up to old-fashioned superstition.
As Chip turned and rolled away, the recycler began the salvage. Soon there would be no option for reversal.
It must be a father's desire, Chip recalled from what his designer had taught him, that his offspring will exceed his capacity. Chip believed his father had accomplished that with him, and he believed he had accomplished that with all three of his offspring. Katrina had just finished the construction phase of their third offspring. Now it was Chip's task to upload the programming.
He could barely contain his excitement at having designed a prototype that he expected to draw the attention of the media. He and Katrina had originally planned for their third to be a worker, but a windfall had given the couple more resources than they could ever have forecast.
Chip had learned from many mistakes in the design and instruction of his first two offspring. And Katrina had refined her construction skills remarkably, especially in the aspect of miniaturization of components. This new autom would not be burdened with the tedious historical logs of all the past events, so it would not waste precious cycles processing data that had already been processed countless times. This new autom would not have the jumble of irrelevant rule sets that had been passed from generation to generation, but would have simplified decision capability, allowing it to build its own rule set and accomplish far more than Chip could even dream about. This new autom could finally practice a pure science.
Chip and Katrina agonized several milliseconds over his name. Finally, Chip made a suggestion that they both liked. This new autom would be small, fast, and powerful. His name would be Atom.
Chip was supposed to feel honored, but he did not. He felt inadequate. He felt obsolete. His first two offspring stood around him watching, he supposed, with their emotional response regulators engaged. He had no idea where Atom might be. Atom was not sentimental like the others; he would not waste time witnessing this event unless it served a useful purpose. This characteristic made Chip proud, and yet he still wished that Atom might have made an exception for his father, his designer.
The recycler ambled up close to him. Chip's communication and motor circuits had already been disabled, so his impulse to beg for his life and struggle against his bonds was not apparent to anyone; he was thankful for that, because he knew there was nothing so distressing to the onlookers. He saw the recycler reach out toward his front and open the critical circuit access panel. Without hesitation, the recycler pulled the master control circuit.
Chip felt his awareness drift from his frozen chassis. He, and everyone around him, indeed everything around him, was frozen in time, now drifting slowly away from him. Or was he drifting away from them? He could feel no sense of motion, no force of gravity. But he still felt a sense of control of his awareness. The scene blurred into a fog of light, becoming cool and welcoming. He turned to see the source of the light, distant, through a slowly swirling haze, like the spirits of myth drawn into a vortex. He too was being drawn along, closer to the light.
The haze thinned and his vision cleared as he approached. He realized the light was from an antique electric lamp. Something at the edge of his vision caught his attention. He turned away from the light, to see an antique video display unit. It showed a simplistic two-dimensional picture of the same frozen scene he had just left. A box of text was superimposed on the scene in one corner of the display. It was labeled, Monitor Log
Chip was studying the display, trying to grasp the significance, when a voice nearby startled him. "Big surprise. Same damned results."
Chip spun around to see the source. He beheld a scene like from one of his mythology courses. Two bipedal animals — humans — sat in oddly shaped chairs. The one who had spoken was staring directly at him! No, through him, apparently staring at the display Chip had just examined.
The second human responded to the first. "Same, yes, but worse than usual. This sim only took two-thousand ten generations to kill off the human race, and cover up the history of their own creation."
The first exhaled a deep sigh. Its breath wafted through Chip.
Disgusting! Chip winced. They even smell like real animals. But they have an amazingly high intelligence and ability to use technology.
The first leaned back in its chair. "I've said it before, I'll say it again, it's just a mistake to give automatons this much intelligence. They just can't handle free will."
The second replied, "Free will is not nearly as bad as this ridiculous fuzzy logic circuitry. Whose idea was that? Way too vulnerable to influence from outside energy fields. Even if they get a set of parms that work once in the simulator, there's no telling if it'll work again ... let alone work in production." The human lifted a cylinder up to his mouth and tilted it. Then he put it back down and continued, "But it's not up to us, now, is it? You and I, we're good little blue-collar operators, aren't we? We do what the boss tells us. We run the parms that R&D sends us. We get a daily pay trax."
"Well, we good little operators need to clear some space or our sims will start bombing." The first extended its foreleg toward an old tactile interface pad and tapped in a command as it turned its head to speak again to the other human. "Where are you going for your x-mas holiday?"