Guide to Moral Living in Examples: The World's Fair Part 5

"So you can see that my realistic robots will finally free mankind from the drudgery of work!" Professor Cookshill said into the megaphone that he held. The crowd applauded and cheered. "These machines have a depth of feeling that is rivaled by a shallow puddle on the pavement, so why not employ them to give us the freedom to philosophize and to lead lives of leisure?"

His robots worked beside the podium that he commanded. Two shoveled coal into an enormous furnace whose black tentacles ran around the outdoor amphitheater and sent waves of rippling heat into the frigid air. Another mixed and folded dough into elaborate shapes. Still another took that dough and threw it into an oven attached to the furnace. The finished loaves were taken out by another team, and distributed by robotic waiters.

Professor Cookshill grinned and listened to applause and audulation. This is where he belonged, not slaving away in an obscure lab in some backwoods town. He should be out in the world. Bringing his inventions to the masses - for the right price, of course.

Above the din of the audience came another voice on a megaphone.

"But what of the drudgery that these robots face?" said the voice.

Professor Cookshill squinted through the snow glass in his goggles. He couldn't quite make out the figure, but he'd recognize that voice anywhere. It normally sniveled.

"Wicky!" Professor Cookshill said. He grinned. What some don't realize is that sometimes a grin is simply a way to grind one's teeth together, as was the case with Professor Cookshill.

"My name is Professor Walter Wickford Middleton, thank you, and I dispute your claims," said Walter.

The audience craned their necks to see who was speaking. Professor Cookshill was not stupid. He knew that the only thing that inspired this generation more than a stunning display of good science was a stunning display of drama.

"Then state your dispute and, more on point, present a counter-claim! I am a man of science, and science depends on the review of peers. Why, even an esteemed scientist like myself will listen to the concerns of an ignorant neophyte. Not to imply that you are one, of course," Professor Cookshill said.

The crowd grew even more quiet. The only sounds that carried across the amphitheater were the robots pounding their dough, shoving their coal and thrusting loaves at the patrons.

"I wonder why you claim that these robots deserve to be condemned to lives of drudgery? What proof do you have that their feelings are any more or less shallow than yours or mine?"

Professor Cookshill threw back his head and let out of a peel of laughter so loud that he didn't use the megaphone.

"Look at them! They are completely unaware of what is happening around them! All of these people, who are feeling, thinking beings, are presently insulted by your interruption of what was a fine exhibition," Professor Cookshill said.

"I make the claim that any man here, in the wrong circumstances, could be beaten into submission enough that were a lion to be let at them, they would accept their fate with unalloyed catatonia. The only difference is that you did not beat these men and women - and I use that phrase on purpose - into submission. Rather, you used a method that brooks no disagreement and leaves no ember of defiance behind," Walter said. "As all tyrants are cowards, so does their villainy rise with the throughness of the techniques that they use to eliminate reasonable, right-thinking men."

Professor Cookshill's facade cracked. Not enough for anybody unacquainted with him to notice, but for Walter it was as if he had held up Professor Cookshill to one of the floodlights at the base of the stage and candled him like a bad egg. The audience continued enjoying the spectacle.

"Do we ask if the foundry is sad? Does a pneumatic tube have ennui? Should we dispense nerve tonic to machine presses?"

"If you claim that these robots are so sophisticated, how do you draw the line between a man and a machine that looks and acts like a man?"

"I'll show you," Professor Cookshill said. He walked over to the robot near the furnace and shoved him through the glowing orange maw. "Now, will a magistrate bring me up on murder charges, or shall it be the same if I had accidentally dropped a beaker in the laboratory?"

The audience gasped.

"Norman!" screamed a woman.

The audience parted as she pushed towards the stage, while Walter followed in her wake. Professor Cookshill blanched so hard at the sight of Melisande that he looked like a ghost even in the fiery red light of the furnace.

"You're a monster!" she said, falling to her knees in front of the furnace. "Norman! Norman!"

Walter leapt onto the stage and smashed Professor Cookshill in the nose, knocking him to his knees. Two men from the audience also leapt onto the podium and pulled Walter back.

"Wucky!" Professor Cookshill bellowed from beneath his bloody nose. "How dare boo!"

"Do you see this woman, crying now as she mourns her murdered friend?" Walter shouted to the crowd. He needed bullhorn. Except for Melisande's sobs, nobody made a sound. "Do machines cry for their dearly departed? No!"

"These are machines! Uncaring, unfeeling machines with brazen disregard for the rights of man!"

The audience paused and murmured.

Walter's face flashed as dark as flame-licked brimstone, helped significantly by the blazing furnace.

"What man has the right to have a woman stay by his side through thick and thin, even as he experiments on her friends and, I daresay, her family? For this woman that you see here is made of metal. Bones and flesh do not make a woman, but it is her heart that does so! He created these robots to be as sophisticated and as intelligent as humans, but he forgot that you cannot make a human without a heart. You cannot separate our wits and our cunning from our feelings and our thoughts. As the thoughts of these robots moved towards questioning his claim of absolute authority, he enslaved them. And then when this woman, the gentler sex who so often must act as a moral compass to their masculine counterparts, questioned what he was doing, he cast her into the tundra where she froze solid and would have been buried in time had I not, by the grace of providence, accidentally become her rescuer!"

And even though Melisande didn't shed a single tear, the audience was moved by her compassion for her friend. Walter removed the thought control devices from the robots and they thanked him. After the end of the World's Fair, Professors Walter Wickford Middleton returned home to become the Candlebell Academy's second expert in robotics. Professor Melisande Middleton became, of course, the Candlebell Academy's first expert on that topic.

The Moral: marriages tend to operate better if you don't throw your spouse out of a moving sledge in Antarctica - unless it's consensual, I suppose.

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