Robots With Feelings

Entry by: Seaside Scribbler

6th March 2015
I'm keeping very quiet about the fact that looking at the baby makes me feel something. I don't have words for what it is. But when that baby smiles or cries or giggles or sleeps, or does anything at all, deep inside me I detect this... buzzing. Vibrating. It makes me feel like holding the baby; cuddling it, taking care of it. Not my job, of course, so I stand and watch whilst the nanny feeds it or plays with it or tickles it. The baby is called Rory and he's as cute as a button, according to the nanny. I pretend I'm not watching, but sideways, out of the edge of my eye, I see him, eyes alight with life.

They say robots can not experience emotion. That they're not programmed that way. That it is impossible for them to feel anything because they are wires and metal and plastic and numbers and letters, which, when combined in the right way, produce a thing able to do simple tasks, follow orders, answer the door. But they can't experience human feelings, even though some of us look like people, because this is something that would upset people. Emotion is something the people want a monopoly on. What would it say about them if robots suddenly started feeling? All emotion would become pointless. If you could create it, it would not be unique any more.

My day starts when I'm switched on. "Morning D2," says the man through the speaker into my head. Then he'll say, "Coffee," or "Tea," and I go and make it and bring him and the woman a tray of whatever they want. By this time the woman will just be waking up and the man sitting next to her, reading his tab. The man always says thank you, the woman rarely. Usually Rory the baby starts to cry at this point and I go to make breakfast. I'll see the nanny crossing the hall, already up and dressed and fast moving, and if she sees me she makes some strange sign across her chest and kisses her necklace. Even before I felt emotion, I could detect it in humans. The nanny is afraid when she sees me. The man and woman are indifferent but I know the woman is thankful. I do all the jobs she hates. Once she drank wine and talked to me like I was real, even trying to hold my hand, before she staggered to bed. In the morning she felt embarrassed. It's the woman who gives me my jobs for the day. It's clean this and polish that and hoover this and dust that and wash this. It's all the same to me.

Then one day, Rory gurgled at me and the vibrating set off inside. I felt like laughing. I tickled his neck and he gurgled some more. The nanny came rushing in and grabbed up the baby and took him somewhere else, looking at me over her shoulder.

After Rory, there was TV. I watched a programme about maltreated animals and I felt sadness. I watched comedy and it made my wires inside jump. I saw the news and people called Realverlutionaries were kicking robots and I felt angry. The RVs, as they refer to themselves, don't want robots. They want people to do their own jobs. They want Jobs for People! They want Robots Removed! They want the world to stay as it was. They created us, the people. I felt angry and I wanted to go and hit them. I gave myself a name: Danny.

One morning the nanny had to go out and the woman was not working and was left with Rory. She played with him (and her hair) and then I detected boredom and she left him in his playpen and went to the vidphone. Whilst she was talking, I walked over and watched Rory play. I watched his tiny fat hands grasping things and dropping them and I watched him putting things in his mouth to see what his mouth thought of them. I began to feel fear. There were things too small for Rory to play with in his playpen and if he put them in his mouth it would be dangerous. I wasn't allowed to handle Rory so I went to tell the woman.

"D2 has detected a problem," I said.

She waved me away. "D2, I'm on the vid. Leave me, will you?"

"D2 has detected a problem," I said again.

"D2, fuck off! I'm busy, okay? Bloody robot. What were you saying Lor?"

It was at this point I heard Rory make a wrong noise. I can't run but I went as fast as I could back to the loungeroom. Rory was a blueish colour and his eyes were full of fear. HouseBots are programmed with first aid skills which override anything else they might be doing if a human is injured.

Flashes came at me: Choking, Grab, Slap on back, Tip over knee, Bang between shoulder blades, Slap on back, Check mouth.

Rory in my arms retched and out came a hair accessory, onto the floor. There was a moment in which everything stopped. My robot brain fell silent, Rory looked at me in wonder. I felt the weight of him; his warmth, his solidity. I touched one of his perfect little feet. Inside me I felt something new, a warm, glowing beautiful feeling, one that flooded me and made me stop still.

Then Rory let out a huge wail and suddenly his eyes were filled with terror. I did what the nanny did; put him up against my shoulder, rubbed his back, bobbed up and down a bit. Rory's wailing intensified and suddenly I heard the woman shouting at me.

"Puthimdown! D2 put him down!"

She grabbed the baby from me and ran from the room. I tried to follow her but she had run to the kitchen and shut the door. I heard her on the vidphone, over Rory's shouts.

"It had the baby over its shoulder. It was holding him, for chrissake! Rory was screaming his heart out, poor thing was terrified. I tell you, it's not right. That thing could squeeze him to death, for all I know. It's got to go. I'll call the company right now. tell them he's got to go."

I heard all this and felt fear again, but it was worse so I thought it might be terror. I didn't want to leave! Watching Rory made me alive. I'd been brought to life, in this house. I banged on the door.

"Oh god, it's outside right now, trying to break the door down!" The woman's voice was loud and high.

I tried to shout to her, but she wouldn't listen. I heard her ring D-Co, the place I came from. "Three o'clock?" she said. "Fine."

I went to the kitchen and started making lunch. I didn't know what else to do. As I was putting butter on bread, the man came rushing in. He looked at me, wary. Fear, fear everywhere today, I thought, and I felt it myself.

"Don't be afraid," I told the man. And I explained what had happened to Rory.

"You don't touch the baby," he said. He didn't believe what I'd said. He should know I am incapable of lying. "Not your job. Too dangerous."

So I explained about how I felt. I explained what fear was like and love, and how I felt it when Rory laughed. I told him about joy and terror and how I could detect what he and the woman were feeling. The more I talked, the more I detected fear. So in the end, I stopped. I thought he'd switch me off but he didn't, he ran upstairs to where the woman was.

I was left alone so I did my jobs and some not on the list. I promised myself I'd never look at Rory again.

At three o'clock, they came. I stayed in the kitchen and listened to the man telling D-Co everything I'd said.

"It's happened a few times, yes," said a woman from D-Co. "We have to reprogram them, switch off the bit that is learning. It's supposed to just be for learning new jobs but we've discovered a few of them learning emotion. Don't worry, it is easy to fix."

I heard murmuring and then they came to the kitchen.

My day starts like this. I make tea or coffee. I make breakfast. I do my jobs. I obey the people, the man and the woman. In the evening, they switch me off. My name is D2.

But sometimes, when nobody's around, I call myself Danny.