The Hearing

They will be arriving about now. I am the first and only trial today. They will familiarise themselves with the paperwork. In different ways, but the result will be the same.

In the meantime I stand in front of the mirror looking ay myself. More wrinkles, trying to look less worried. Less harried, more like I have slept. Hair up. Hair down. Hair Up. Hair down. I sigh. I can’t decide, wishing instead I had decided to grow new eyebrows over night. These ones are old and faded. And I no longer like the blue. Disjointed. Half thoughts. Half sentences in my head.

I have the opportunity to put up a defence. Of course. It is a fair process. Apparently- I have no defence. Stress. Overwork. Pressure. These are human excuses. It is likely the panel will be two humans and two robots and a chair that is selected randomly. The chair could be either human or robot. In my experience it makes little difference, the process is a farce from the start so the result is no more or less farcical for all the appearance of fairness.

Stress. Overwork. Pressure. These are not words that fit easily into their- whatever you want to call it. Reality. Vocabulary. Whether it is big or small- the concept, it will make no difference. Perhaps I should have changed my hair overnight-longer, shorter? It’s too late now. I am really not sure there is any point in fussing about my appearance at this juncture. Why would anyone make a machine that understood overwork? Stress? Pressure? The idea of the machine is to get rid of these things, hence my problem.

I am charged with ‘a catastrophic failure to provide maintenance services’ or to put it in our terms, a machine is broken because I did not service it in time. It can’t be rebooted (well sort of anyway). It is terminated. D-E-A-D. That isn’t so bad sometimes, we’ve all had machines stop working for us when we didn’t take care of them. The problem is I work in junior robotics, or pediatribots. It’ s a great word isn’t it. Word of the year in –I can’t remember, some year when they first came into being. The machine that I failed to provide maintenance to, the one that we can’t reboot was a robot child- a robot that is designed to look, act and behave like a child. It had robot parents, who I am reliably informed, even though their grief is a product of circuitry and coding, it is no less real. Maybe curls for my hair.

If it had been a human child I would probably be on manslaughter charges. Obviously I am not a doctor so I would not be allowed near a human child, even if I could identify one. I don’t recall the last time I saw a human child. In any event this child was completely made by humans, mmmm, not made by humans- but designed by or somehow connected to, conceived of- by the human capacity to make stuff. Who knows how much human input there is into robot design and manufacture these days. I don’t! And I mend and maintain them. Given it is- oops ‘was’ a robot child, a catastrophic failure to provide maintenance services leading to a failure to reboot is more likely to get me struck off. I will never be allowed to practice IT again.

It is meant to have the same severity as if I was a doctor, as if the child were human. In reality it is a compromise. The doctors have all gone anyway, at least the human ones. They are machines now too-an improvement because it turns out you can tell a machine things you couldn’t tell a doctor and a machine has a tendency to tell it how it is. I am not fooled by the compromise here though. No one is. The whole IT thing is administered by the RJB, the Robotic Justice Board, who’s current tag line is  Sentient justice for sentient beings-whatever that means. The parents will make a victim impact statement which will bring me no joy, nonetheless I remember a world without robots so it doesn’t trouble me so much. There are some who have no memory of that.

There will be a panel as I said and a lawyer for the family. There will be a download of data from the parents to support the victim impact statement. They will examine my records of course. I will be given a chance to speak. Overwork. Stress. Pressure. I remember when they promised us they would be gone from the workplace, around the time they told us paper would be gone as well. (still hasn’t happened-I can change my hair colour just by thinking about it and yet I still can’t function for half a day without a post it note)  I think paper is a human addiction, we cannot give it up.

Overwork, stress, these are alien words. We have to compete against robots now and to compete there are some words we can never use. We are never overworked. You can’t be. A robot is never overworked. You are never stressed or under pressure, you can’t be. There are so many who would willingly work in your place. They can allegedly actually fix stress (again like the paper thing-not the best of results), they can do an emotional deletion-a procedure as pleasant as it sounds.

I don’t like the idea of deletion from my brain-not that you are aware afterwards. Perpetual calmness does not suit me. I don’t want it. If you even start to admit concern in the workplace they will do an ‘emotional intervention’ (EI) and assess you. Better to stay stressed and quiet. Better to let the pressure build up and secretly deflate on the weekends. You need to know what you’re doing to pull that off. There is a lot of testing to ensure you are calm enough to do  your job. What a monumental failure that testing has been. Really they should be on trial here, although yes I have employed a lot of ‘deviousity’-is that even a word- I can add it to the vocab list if I am still working on Monday, to get around those tests. Hair up I think, no curls.

The mirror keeps talking, endlessly annoying. This doesn’t match that. That lipstick won’t go. Really not useful. I long ago turned the weight function off. I set it to slim and haven’t touched it since. It probably means I don’t look like this. I am properly worried about this hearing though. I will almost certainly lose my job. I get no money for my job- everyone gets the basic income. It’s just that it gives me something to do.  It’s a serious breach-a robot, a child robot, has lost all function-its data cannot be retrieved. Well it can be, in fact if I could just open it up and look inside it I would be able to fix it. I am not allowed. But- over the time limit you see.

58 minutes. I cannot fix the robot because they want to make a kind of symmetry with humans. It had been dead for an hour at least. The limit is 58 minutes. Under 58 minutes and I could have opened it up and saved it. Over 58 minutes and I have to record it as officially unable to reboot.

It will be fixed at some point, almost certainly. Not in its current casing though. The parents will take it to a centre for the disposal of robots- yeh, great name. There will be a ceremony. They will place it in a glass case so the parents can come back and look at it. That’s what they think happens, but before that happens someone else will strip out all the circuitry and parts and put them in another casing and send it back out into the world. The parents have a corpse-casing. The circuitry isn’t wasted and we have a new robot child.  In theory this is like organ donation and requires parental consent. Of course in practice it is much different. It is done with or without consent. The question of what a robot can and can’t consent to has raised a lot of issues – I won’t go into them here.

My own belief is that if you are sentient at a certain level you can give consent. It is not a widely held view because the idea of robot consent would clog up our prisons and our administration-think about it. It might even create more jobs for humans. The parents probably won’t even be asked for consent. One day I am sure the robots will find out this kind of thing. Who knows what happens then. Recriminations? I have a friend who works in this field. Perhaps I will go and seek work with her. Robot disposal is technically not IT, in the same way an undertaker is not a doctor. Symmetry! The whole consent things is not a view that sits easily with the fact that I am about to be tried for a catastrophic failure, after all if I believe it can consent, I surely believe it can die. Truthfully I do, its just that the time limit creates an artificial death. None of this ethics and justice stuff is straight forward and easy.

The robot child should have had a regular maintenance check to allow it to continue to function-this didn’t occur. If it had occurred, if I had turned up to do a maintenance check,  I would have spotted the underlying fault that caused the problem. It is therefore my fault. Normally it would not be so problematic, normally parent robots would schedule the maintenance session. This robot child had two parents, an MH1360 and an MH310. It is –was an MH 340.

The MH310 (Daddy) is an old model and its basic scheduling function was removed at manufacture to allow for an increase in its emotional capacity-meaning it could do about five emotions in my opinion-but that is only my opinion. I don’t have much time for MH310’s, I just don’t like a machine that can’t do a schedule. The other parent was an MH1360 (Mummy), it was having a connection problem so it couldn’t schedule the maintenance. There is no excuse however, I knew or could have known both those things as well as the due date of the maintenance. I should have had it in the schedule. It was regular maintenance but there was clearly an underlying fault with the child robot. I would have found that had I been there on time-apparently. By the time I got there, whatever was wrong was already catastrophically wrong and it could not be rebooted. I was for the record there at 1 hour and 3 minutes, so 5 minutes late.

The MH1360 was trying to contact me. The MH310 was unable even to do that, it was flustered when I arrived. It is not my favourite model of machine. I almost made it on time. I hurried when I realised the error. I was stuck in driverless car with a speed limiter which I was not able to override-honestly that is something that used to be so easy that is so much harder now-and why. I guess it just didn’t come together that day. I have been charged. I will lose my job. I think I will grow my hair longer tonight. Change my eyebrows. It will be a long day today. I scoop up my ears, horrified at the colour, put them on and leave the house.

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