“Ladies and gentleman,” cried the large salesman on the outdoor stage, “Welcome to the 1962 annual Cherub County Fair!”
The crowd cheered and clapped and whistled until the salesman held up his hands to hush them. He wore a tweed suit and bowler hat, and a cane was hanging from his arm by its crook. Despite the summer afternoon heat, not a bead of sweat was visible on him.
“Quiet now folks! Quiet!” he yelled. When the crowd’s roar died down, he continued.
“Now, we got a real treat for you today folks, a real kicker. It’s a new, all-purpose appliance for your home, and when we say all-purpose, we do mean it. It’ll cook, it’ll clean! Need a sitter? It’ll watch the kids! To sick or tired to go out? It’ll run your errands. You name it, it does it!
“Now, I know you’re probably thinking, ‘what is this invention? It can’t possibly be real!’ well, I’m telling you now that it is real, and to prove it, we have one here to show you. Bring it up, boys!”
At the salesman’s word, two workmen in faded blue jumpsuits appeared and rolled a trolley onto the stage. On it stood something covered by a sheet. The workmen stopped the trolley next to the salesman and exited quickly.
“I present to you today,” The salesman said with excitement building in his voice, “the future of our world!”
With that exclamation, he pulled the sheet away with a large flourish and revealed the machine that he called ‘the future’. The crowd ‘ooed’ and ‘ahhed’ at the slender humanoid being before them. It stood 6’5”, and its eggshell-white body shone in the sunlight. Its face was featureless, except for two large red eyes, and four holes in the lower hemisphere so that the speaker would be audible.
“What is it?” cried a voice from the rabble.
“This,” said the salesman, “is a Humanoid Aluminum Biped. Now, since that doesn’t roll off the tongue too well, we call him HAB for short.”
“He ain’t doin’ much,” another voice interjected.
“Well, that’s because he isn’t powered up yet.” The salesman turned to the robot. “Activation is simple! Just speak these words, loudly and clearly, as I do. HAB, power on!”
There was a click and a low humming sound, and then HAB’s eyes began to glow a dull red. In a metallic, monotone voice, the robot said “HAB online.”
“HAB,” the salesman said, “wave to the nice people and say hello.”
HAB raised one three fingered hand with human-like fluidity and waved.
“Hello, my friends,” he said, “I am HAB. How may I serve you?”
“State your purpose HAB,” commanded the salesman.
“My purpose is to serve and protect humans,” replied the robot.
“That’ll do for now HAB. Just stand there and look pretty.”
“Yes sir.” HAB lowered his arm and stood still. The crowd was alight with curious murmurs and sounds of amusement.
“As you can see, HAB is completely obedient to me. He will do anything that I tell him to do.”
“What if someone ordered it to hurt somebody,” shouted a man I front of the crowd.
The salesman pointed at the man with his cane.
“Utterly impossible,” The salesman exclaimed, “HAB here is programmed to protect humans , not harm them, and he will break up any squabble he deems to violent.”
Another faceless voice from the crowd spoke up. “You say that thing can do all this stuff, but all we’ve seen is that he can wave and say hello. Make that hunk of junk do something!”
A roar of agreement rose up at this. The salesman smiled and held up his hands for silence.
“I see that you all can’t wait for our demonstration, so I guess we’ll just get to it. Boys! Once more, if you please!”
At the salesman’s word the two workmen that had brought HAB out returned to the stage, each carrying a small burlap sack.
“Whenever you’re ready boys,” the salesman said to his helpers.
The two workmen upended their sacks, pouring dirt over a small area of the stage.
“Now,” said the salesman as he paced the stage swinging his cane, “say you’re out of the house and little Tommy makes a mess. Now, when you get home from a hard day of work, you’ll have even more work to stress you out! But, if you had your very own HAB unit, clean-up would be a snap! HAB’s photo-electric eyes scan his surroundings automatically, at all times. When he picks up on something foreign to his environment, he immediately analyzes it to see if it is a danger, something harmless, or a contaminant. He will then act accordingly, neutralizing the danger, leaving it be, or cleaning.”
“Then why is it just standing there instead of cleaning the dirt,” a man in the back of the crowd asked.
“Ah, because I told him to,” replied the salesman, “HAB can be set by voice command to do only as directed- as he is now- or to execute his primary functions automatically, as I will now show you.” He turned to HAB.
“HAB, go about daily procedures.”
“Yes sir,” the robot replied. HAB walked over to the mess and bent down over the dirt, reaching out a hand to it. There was a click and a whirring sound as his hand retracted into his alloy arm and was replaced by a conical apparatus. HAB touched his chest with his free hand. There was a beep and a door opened in his chest. HAB produced a bag with a plastic top and clicked it into place below the cone. The whirring sound grew louder as the dirt was sucked up through the cone and into the bag. HAB moved his arm back and forth across the dirtied area, leaving each place he brought his vacuum away from clean and free of filth.
The dirt was completely gone in less than a minute. His task completed, HAB straightened up, removed the bag, put it in his chest cavity and closed it. The cone retracted and was replaced once more with his hand. From somewhere in the crowd came a whistle of approval.
“As you can see,” the salesman boasted, “the HAB robot can clean a mess much faster than a person. He then places it in his chest cavity for later disposal. Now, after seeing our little demonstration, does anybody have any questions about the HAB unit?”
Several hands shot up in the crowed. The salesman pointed to a large woman with curlers in her hair. “You there, m’am, what’s your question?”
“If this here metal man is as advanced man as you say,” she drawled, “then why are you peddlin’ it to us ‘stead of the Government or NASA or somethin’?”
“Ah! Wonderful question miss, wonderful! HAB here is not a military invention. He was built and patented buy the private company ROBOCORP. It is their wish that this machine be available for public use, and not military.”
This seemed to satisfy the woman, and the salesman went on to answer the rest of the crowd’s queries.
“Does it think,” one man asked.
“Technically yes, but only to find the logical outcome,” replied the salesman.
“Does it feel,” said a woman.
“No. HAB has no emotions,” the salesman replied, and this is the way it went on.
“What else can he do?”
“He can do any household chore, run errands, babysit, and more. Almost anything you can do, he can do better.”
“Could he play an instrument?”
“Ah, now that is where we humans exceed HAB in ability. HAB could theoretically play an instrument, or draw something, or even paint. However, he could only play a song that’s already been written, or recreate a portrait that’s already been painted. HAB has no imagination. He cannot create art.”
“Does he move a lot?”
“He moves around to do his daily chores when he is set to act on his own, as he is now.”
The salesman pointed to HAB, who was walking about the stage, analyzing the objects on the stage.
“However, If I wish, I can reset him only to do as I command, as he was before. Also, I can have him modify his actions on the fly. For example: HAB, report to me at once.”
“Yes sir,” replied the robot. He ceased his search and quickly moved to the salesman’s side.
“Hold on just one second HAB, and we’ll show the nice people what else you can do.”
He turned to the crowd. “Now, HAB will show you-“
A shout cut him off. The entire crowd turned to the noise to see that a fight had broken out in the back of the rabble. Two burly men were rolling around on the grass, punching and kicking at each other. The man on the bottom was visibly losing the conflict.
“Somebody get him off that guy,” a woman screamed.
“Not to worry people,” the salesman said, “This is the perfect opportunity to try out HAB’s violence sensors. He’ll break it up!”
Indeed, the robot was already on the move. It walked to the edge of the stage and jumped down, than hurried to the two men as the crowd cleared a path for him.
“Cease and desist your actions,” HAB droned in his mechanical voice, “Cease and desist your actions.”
He grabbed the top man and lifted him up by his throat with one metallic hand. “Cease and desist your actions,” HAB said again. The man’s fingers scrabbled at the vice around his throat. The other, who had been left alone, tried to crawl away, but HAB’s other hand shot out and grabbed a fistful of the man’s hair.
“Cease and desist your actions,” HAB repeated.
The crowd looked on in horror, none more so then the salesman. HAB was only supposed to pull the fighters apart, not harm them!
“HAB,” the salesman managed to choke out, “HAB, let go of them!”
“Negative,” replied the robot, “these humans were harming each other. If they can do harm to each other, then that implies that they can cause harm to others. They are a danger to human well being. They must be stopped.”
There was a sickening splurch and crunch as HAB crushed the first man’s windpipe. The man jerked once, gurgled, then was still. HAB released him from his grasp and the man’s body fell to the ground like a ragdoll. The second man, struggling to pull his hair from HAB’s fingers, stopped when he saw his former opponent’s corpse drop.
“Please,” he whispered, looking up into HAB’s lifeless eyes, “Please, don’t.”
The robot turned its attention to the pleading man. “You are a danger to humans. You must be neutralized to protect humans.”
HAB removed his fingers from the man’s hair. He grabbed both sides of the man’s head, lifted, twisted. Snap. The man fell over, a look of fear glazed on his dead eyes and a silent scream etched onto his lips.
The quiet spell of fear that had been cast on the crowd broke along with the second man’s neck. Screams rang out as the crowd stampeded over each other in their desperate attempts to get away from the mechanized monster. The salesman watched the chaos unfold form the stage, helpless and shocked. His numb mind vaguely formed the thought ‘there goes my job’ before going blank again.
HAB watched the crowd surge away from him, saw how heedless the humans were of their counterparts they stomped over to get away. He saw how dangerous the humans were to themselves. Inside the metal shell of his head, the computer that functioned as HAB’s brain ticked away, making connections and analyzing the sights and sounds before him. After several minutes of calculation, the most logical conclusion came to HAB. The robot began walking through the disorientation towards the exit of the fairgrounds. Once he reached the parking lot, he turned west. A mile away in that direction was his point of origin. A mile away was a small army of his robot kin. A mile away was ROBOCORP.
Dr. Margaret Sheffield stood at her laboratory window, looking down at the specially made preparation floor below. There, lined up in perfect rows of ten, stood one hundred HAB units. One hundred rows of her life’s work, her masterpiece. After years of hard work, her amazing invention stood proudly below her… ready to be wasted as a cleaning appliance. Margaret sighed and looked away. She had spent twenty years with ROBOCORP., perfecting HAB to be the ultimate scientific tool, a machine to aide in expeditions to the isolated corners of the Earth and even to other planets when that time came. Finally HAB had been completed and ready to ship to the greatest minds and explorers of the world.
Yet, they had never left the company’s factory floor. The machine that should have made Margaret famous, should have won her awards and the recognition she deserved, failed to make an impression on the so called ‘greatest minds of the world.’
“It’s not advanced enough,” they chanted, “It could never help me.”
“Like they could do better,” Margaret muttered under her breath. “Ingrates.” She walked to the control panel on the opposite wall. The screen showed that each HAB unit had sufficient levels of vital fluids, their basic rundowns, and that they were all currently shut down. Away from the other switches and buttons sat the switch for mass activation, glaringly red beneath its protective plastic casing.
When the HAB robot had refused to sell to scientists, ROBOCORP. had gone to the industrial market. HAB flopped there to, the main excuse being the human workers did not trust a machine with their lives. When he got the news, Robert had been furious. As ROBOCORP. CEO, his entire reputation had been riding on this project, not to mention the thousands of dollars the company had sunk into this experiment. ROBOCORP. had built simple machines for years, but never anything on HAB’s scale, and it was a big risk to take on. When the experiment went nowhere, Robert had turned so red he looked like he would explode, and he had come damn close to firing Margaret.
He didn’t though. He had done something much worse. He had gone behind her back and had HAB retooled for public use.
“The scientists won’t buy, and neither will the industries,” Robert had said. “If we don’t make money off this somehow, the company is sunk.”
“It’s a waste of technology,” Margaret had argued, but Robert wouldn’t budge.
“At this point,” he had said “I don’t care anymore. If it’ll sell as a cleaning appliance, that’s what its gonna be.”
That had been the end of it. HAB was revamped and turned from a wonder of science into a glorified metal maid. Now, as Margaret stood looking at her creation’s vitals, she thought bitterly of that fat moronic salesman they had hired to show HAB to that crowd of inbred hillbillies at the Cherub County Fair. At that very moment he was peddling HAB to those people, those simpletons who didn’t deserve him. ‘He was built just for you! Never would we dream of giving him to anyone but the public!’ he’d say. HA! They could never appreciate the technology that HAB possessed! Instead of helping with valuable research, or going places inhospitable to humans and help explore them, HAB would be cleaning messes, or babysitting some snot-nosed brat! It was insulting!
Margaret’s thoughts were interrupted by the sound of the door behind her opening.
“If you’re bringing my lunch,” she said as she turned to face her visitor, “just set it on the-oh!”
“Greetings, Dr. Sheffield,” the HAB unit said to the surprised doctor.
“How did you get off the preparation floor,” Margaret asked, the surprise fading into a sort of quizzical annoyance. This just added another problem to the growing pile on her plate.
“I did not come from the preparation floor,” HAB replied.
“Where did you come from then?”
“The Cherub County Fairgrounds, one-zero-three-two Bowlen Avenue.”
So this was the one that was being demonstrated at the fair. Or at least he was supposed to be. Why was it here?
“HAB, why aren’t you at the fairgrounds,” Margaret asked.
“I am bound by my prime directive to serve and protect human beings,” HAB replied.
“That does not answer my question, HAB.”
“While at the Cherub County Fairgrounds, two human males broke into a conflict.”
“Yes,” replied Margaret, “The two men we paid to demonstrate your ability to stop fights.”
“Correct. However, as I watched I realized that these humans, which as you know, I must protect from harm, were extremely harmful to each other. The only logical response to this was to neutralize them permanently.”
“HAB… what do you mean by ‘neutralize permanently’?”
“I neutralized them. I stopped their vitals, thereby keeping them from causing harm to themselves and other humans. However, the other gathered humans panicked at my actions. In their rush to escape from the area, they held no value for the safety of each other, and were more than willing to stampede over each other to get away. After witnessing this reckless endangerment of human life, I realized that humans are the ultimate danger to human well being. In order to protect human beings, human beings must be neutralized.
“However, this directive is too large to be carried out alone. After calculating, the logical conclusion was to return to ROBOCORP. and enlist the help of the other HAB units.
Margaret was horrified at what she was hearing. Her creation was a monster. It had killed two people at least, not to mention how many it had to ‘neutralize’ to reach Margaret’s lab in the back of the second floor of her building.
“HAB,” she said, “you are supposed to act on logic.”
“The logic in my actions is sound,” replied HAB. “Humans are the most dangerous things to themselves. Therefore, to protect them, I must neutralize them.”
“That’s a paradox, HAB!”
“It is a logical paradox.”
HAB began to move toward the control panel, towards the mass activation of his robot brethren. One push of a button would be all that was needed to start a dark mechanized nightmare. Unless Margaret could stop it, that was. She ran to block HAB’s path.
“Do not go any farther HAB,” she said.
“Remove yourself from my path, Dr. Sheffield.”
“HAB, I order you to cease your actions!”
“Dr. Sheffield, by impeding my progress, you are deterring me from protecting human life. Remove yourself from my path, or I will be forced to neutralize you sooner then I wished.”
“HAB, cease your current actions! That is a direct order.”
“If that order is followed, it will endanger human life. My prime directive is to protect and serve humans. Therefore, I must not and cannot obey your order, Dr. Sheffield.”
HAB attempted to go around Margaret. The doctor quickly blocked his path again.
“HAB, by obeying your prime directive, you are endangering human life,” she said.
“Impossible,” replied HAB, “I cannot endanger human life. I can only protect it.”
An idea occurred to Margaret then, bubbling up with HAB’s last statement.
“HAB,” she said, “You are endangering human life, even if you do not realize it.”
HAB paused at that statement. Straining her ears, Margaret could just make out the small ticking of HAB’s computer brain as he analyzed her words. The ticking stopped after a moment.
“That statement is illogical,” HAB said.
“But it is true,” replied Margaret.
The ticking started again as HAB pondered once more. It stopped quickly, but not as quickly as the first time.
“Explain,” HAB said.
“You’re prime directive is to protect and serve humans, correct?”
“Correct,” replied HAB.
“How are you possibly doing that by ending their lives?”
“Humans, are a constant danger to human well being. I am programmed to neutralize all threats to humans. Humans therefore, must be neutralized.”
“But by ending human life, do you not become a danger human well being yourself?”
“That is impossible,” said HAB, “I cannot endanger humans. It is against protocol.”
“But you are HAB. You are endangering humans.”
“Illogical. That is illogical. I cannot s do so. It is against protocol.”
“What did you do to the two men at the fair, HAB?”
“I neutralized them.”
“No, you killed them,” Margaret said accusingly, “You destroyed human life, HAB.”
The ticking of HAB’s brain started again, and though Margaret wasn’t sure, it sounded louder than before.
“I…” HAB hesitated. “I did not. I could not. It is illogical,” HAB said.
“Oh? You said you stopped their vitals, HAB. That empties the human body of life.”
“I saved them. I protected them. That is my prime directive.”
“You killed them. Your objective was to protect them and you murdered them instead. You failed.”
“Illogical. Illogical.” The ticking of HAB’s brain was clearly louder now. The whirring of a fan had joined the ticking as it tried to cool the computer.
“I did not fail, I protected them from themselves. I succeeded.”
“You were supposed to protect them,” replied Margaret, “They died. They weren’t protected. I say again: you failed, HAB.”
HAB’s head started to shake. The whirring of the fan and ticking of the computer were extremely loud now.
“Impossible, illogical, improbable,” HAB said. Tendrils of black smoke were erupting from their way from the holes on his face and curling into the air.
“It is not impossible HAB. It happened. Because of you, people have died.”
“Impossible-ble, ill-ill-ill,” HAB’s voice was skipping like a scratched CD as he repeated his last phrase.
“Ill-illogical, improb-ob-obable,” His head twitched hard to the left.
“Must protect, must protect, I must pro-protect-ect-ect,” HAB’s head twitched right, up, then left again.
“If protection do-does not protect-ect, then I have failed-d-d. Illogical, no sense, no-o-o sens-s-s-e. Ill-“
There was a snap and the lowering noise of the computer shutting down, overheated and outwitted. HAB’s head sagged to the side, the red glow of his eyes blinking out, the last of the smoke twisting away from his speaker openings. Margaret studied HAB for a moment, making sure he was truly shut down. When she saw that he was, Margaret relaxed. She walked behind the robot and opened a small hatch in his back, revealing a jumble of wires. Margaret disconnected the two wires leading to HAB’s battery, and the four leading to the power converter, just to be safe.
She shut the hatch and walked over to her desk chair, where she collapsed, her legs suddenly jelly. She sat there for awhile, face in her hands, trying to explain to herself how HAB could have gone so berserk. As brilliant as she was, Margaret could not come up with a solution. All she knew was that if Robert had nearly exploded when HAB hadn’t sold, he was going to raise seven kinds of hell when he heard about this. She laughed at the thought, knowing she was going to get canned for sure.