Monday, August 7, 2017

Margaret’s day out.

Margaret was bored.

An odd emotion for a robot to feel, as it was an emotion.
She’d been used to a certain amount of daily input. That input was no longer being inputted, and she missed it.
She’d started life as a picking robot in a warehouse for the popular internet shopping website. Her job had been to wait until the shelf robot brought her the shelves in question then pick the item or items on her list from the shelf before the shelf robot whisked it away. Having picked the item she’d put it on the conveyor.
A better, faster picking robot had come along.
A robot that had double the number of arms.
So every one of her type had been sold off to lesser internet shopping websites or scrapped. Apart from Margaret who found herself in the fixers workshop playing chess with Dave. Dave had, had to install some extra memory to load the chess program. The program its self wasn’t that big, just 20 Megs but the extra memory Dave had attached was six terabytes. It was a six terabyte hard drive purely because that was what was in Dave’s spare parts bin.

She’d filled the extra memory space with other stuff. The input was mostly Dave. Dave talking. Dave’s chess moves. Dave was one of the few humans with a job. When robots had first replaced human workers there were still a few jobs maintaining and fixing the robots. This was before the robots that knew how to fix robots. Now the only jobs were for those who could fix the robots that fix other robots. The maintenance robots didn’t break down often, so Dave didn’t have that much to do. So He and Margaret played chess. 

Now there was no Dave and Margaret didn’t know why. There was no one for that matter. No one had been to the workshop in such a long time.
She missed the input.
She looked at the chess board again. It was still his move. She reached out her only hand and placed her fingers around the head of the Knight. It was what he’d do. Going off past game behaviour, there was a 87 percent chance he would move the knight next. She could move it for him. She would then move her remaining bishop. There was a 100 percent chance of that. The problem was, that after that, the percentages dropped off radically. In her CPU, by the time she got through to checkmate the probabilities were as low as 4 percent. Dave was too unpredictable to finish the game herself, and even if she did, then what? Start a new game? It was no good, eventually she decided to leave the workshop and look for Dave.
She pushed the door open and looked into the main warehouse. It had been awhile since she’d seen it, but it hadn’t changed at all, save for the picking robots all now had two arms. There were no humans in the warehouse either. Not surprising, there hardly ever was, but the picking robots were idle. That was odd. The shelves weren’t rushing around like they normally did. The conveyors were still. Odd, but more odd for Margaret to think it or any other thing odd.
All people must have stopped shopping. Everyone in the world must have decided one day to stop buying things. That seemed odd to Margaret too. She decided to go outside. This would be tricky because she no longer had a battery and the wire wouldn’t reach. The wire only got her a few feet out of the workshop door. Dave had taken the battery off her to replace the battery on a better version of her. She had seen Dave’s credit card on several occasions so she logged into his account and ordered some drone batteries. Drone batteries were best. That’s what Dave said. A shelf half way across the warehouse leapt into action and rushed towards the picker robots. One of the pickers picked Margaret’s new batteries off the shelf and put them on the conveyor as the conveyor began to move. The batteries were destined for Dave’s house but Margaret managed to grab them from the conveyor as they went past her. Odd for a robot to commit identity theft and credit card fraud.

After an hour she was fully charged and she went outside. There was no one outside either. No one at all. A creature was there in the otherwise empty car park. It looked at her and turned it’s head to one side. Not a human. Shorter than a human. Was it a child? It was not standing, it was on all fours. She remembered Dave telling Sally on the phone about the time he’d hurt his back and ended up crawling like a baby. Was this a baby? Did the baby know where all the people had gone? Margaret downloaded a text to speech app from the store and asked the baby. “Where are the people? I’m looking for Dave.”
The baby barked, which was odd. A quick image search told Margaret that this wasn’t a baby. It was a small dog. A little more searching told her that dogs are not like people, and can not talk. Dogs liked to run for sticks that have been thrown, sleep, and eat. She didn’t have a stick, and it wasn’t sleeping, so she changed Dave’s house location to her GPS co-ordination and ordered some dog food. It took 74 seconds for a drone to deliver it. She was, after all, right out side the door. The dog was very hungry and ate it all despite being so small. She ordered some more which it ate too, and she ordered some more and it was sick. Then it ate the sick. Then it sicked up the sick again. At which point it seemed to lose interest in the food.

Margaret ordered a solar panel and the cable to attach it to her power inlet, fitted them and set off to look for Dave. She knew where he lived from his shopping account. It was 34 miles away. The dog followed her. After two miles the dog got tired and didn’t want to walk anymore so Margaret ordered a dog bed and a usb cable. The dog bed, being too large for flying drones came on a street drone. When the two foot square autonomous vehicle arrived she connected the usb and re-purposed the drone to simply follow her. She took the dog bed from it’s packaging and placed it on top of the drone cart. The dog quickly hopped up onto the bed. The dog liked this new arrangement. It liked being driven around. Yes, this was very nice. Things were looking up for the dog.

It was a lovely sunny day; The sun on her brand new solar panel meant that her internal battery was only going down very slowly. It was too soon to estimate if she be able to get to Dave’s house before nightfall or her battery ran down. Time would tell, and it was too early to tell how long a solar charge would take to re-fill her battery. She could always order another if need be.
There was no one on the way to Dave’s house. No one walking. No one being driven in cars. Though she did see a couple of autonomous vehicles. A street cleaner and something else. No one was at the windows. Odd for there to be no one at all, and odd for a picking robot to know that was odd and be rolling through the streets looking for someone to play chess with, followed by a dog on a bed.
There were other creatures. Dogs and things larger than dogs, and things larger than those. Plus a few smaller creatures but no humans.
As she passed an advertising poster on a bus stop. It flickered into life and scanned her. The poster didn’t recognise her. Couldn’t read her shopping history and show her an advert suited to her. The poster then noticed that she had a dog with her. So showed her an advert for dog food. Poster was pleased it had made the intuitive leap to try to sell dog food. Margaret thought that the dog was probably fine for food right now, and would be for some time. As she passed the poster the poster began to get desperate. Odd for a poster to feel desperation. It played a video it had of a man saying in a happy voice through a happy face. “Hi there! How can I help? What would you like?”
“Where is Dave?” Margaret asked.
Poster didn’t know Dave personally so displayed a large question mark instead. Margaret moved forward. Poster panicked. Poster had an advert for a cleaning liquid that was good on almost everything. The opening line was a woman saying to camera “Stop buying separate cleaners for your floor, your oven, your windows…” It went on. Poster played the first word. “Stop.”
Margaret stopped and turned to face poster. Poster called up an advert for a service that had same day delivery. In it poster found the word “Wait.” in-between the words “don’t” and “for” He played the word “Wait.”
“Where are people?” Margaret asked poster.

Poster knew from the news blips it had displayed between ads that all people had died from a virus. He remembered that the medi-bots had pronounced them all dead and that autonomous private ambulances had taken them all to be cremated. That there were no people anymore. There hadn’t been for at least 264 years 4 months 9 days give or take 3 days. Poster played four micro clips from four adverts. A woman, a man, a cartoon hippo and another woman said, “There.” “Are.” “No.” “People.” Then poster found a clip of a man saying the words “There are” together and kicked himself for not playing that. Anticipating what Margaret would say next, (Poster had lots of code about anticipating what people wanted), he displayed the news. The news about the virus. About all people dying. After the death of everyone there were a few stories about how the medi-bots had, had trouble keeping up. About how supermarkets were reporting serious drops in sales to zero. About the slowing of the economy. Poster hoped that this consumer would buy a subscription to the news service. All the stories after everyone died were automatically produced stories from automatically produced reports. The opinion pieces and daily columns from humans about the subject of everyone being dead strangely absent, given that it was such a big story. Margaret searched the net herself and found it to be true. All humans were dead, and Dave was a human, therefore there was no one to play chess with anymore. 

The automatic power stations coped well with producing the reduced electricity required. The machines to pull the gas and oil from the ground had to stop. The windmills and solar panels were now coping well with demand. The cleaning robots kept the streets clean. The other robots simply waited or kept everything else maintained. After a year or two there was a bit more to clean. The cats and dogs, the pigs, cows and chickens that had started to wander the streets all left their mess, but not as much as humans did. The world went on without people. Unkept fields and forests grew and became over grown. As did any area without a designated robot to maintain it. The streets and pathways stayed clean and clear. The robots in charge of doing so, careful to return to their charging stations before batteries went flat. From time to time one would breakdown or need apart replaced so a maintenance bot would see to that. The street lights stayed on at night, the posters cycled through their ads. Buses glided round their routes only stopping so they didn’t get ahead of timetable. Vacuum robots kept empty houses clean; some hoovered around skeletons. The first generation of cows that escaped returned to the milking machines from time to time. The next generation didn’t need to. 

After 98 years a self driving delivery truck decided to go and see the sea. After 126 years a window cleaning robot decided to stop cleaning in order to simply be. After 189 years a factory bot thought that it would like to make another smaller factory bot of its own. After 204 years Poster realised it hadn’t targeted an ad for quite some time and after 264 years 4 months 9 days a picking robot called Margaret decided to call her dog Dave. Which wasn’t odd at all, it was the new normal.

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some sort of artist or something. with problems and issues. I draw stuff
All cartoons and original writing ©Nigel Auchterlounie 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012