CORNUCOPIA

CORNUCOPIA

The ladder would have frightened almost anyone. It had been repaired time and again and shook visibly each time Earl took another slow step. He stayed close to the ladder and waited for the correct point in the flex of the ladder to take the next step. He screamed down the ladder at the new trainee to wait till he got to the top before climbing on. “The weight of us both will damage the ladder” the helper backed off the ladder and looked up at Earl.

“Ok, boss”.

Earl cursed the helper out loud. “You are stupid and will never roof a house on your own. There is no way you will ever be worth shit”.

Since Earl had left the ladder to the solidity of the roof the helper began its ascent. The helper’s eyes were on its hands and feet. Looking down Earl could see the ladder bowing and flexing as the steps of the helper were not coordinated with the flexing and each step accentuated the vibration until it became so violent it threatened to break or throw the helper off. Earl took his hammer and began to aggravate the motion laughing the whole time. The helper clung tightly and stopped, waiting for the ladders oscillations to stop. Its ploy worked and it made it to the roof with the three hundred pounds of shingles and tools.

Earl cursed to himself. “God damn monster carried more shit up that ladder than any man ever did. Maybe it will learn to roof. “Listen to me you gold plated pile of crap, you start getting the old shingles off the roof and I will watch and let you know when you screw up and tell you how to do it right.

The robot gave the middle aged roofer the thumbs up and twisted its hand off and installed a specialized tool and began to rake the worn out shingles off the roof. The man watched as the machine took more shingles off the roof than six men could have in the same time. “How did you learn to do that?”

The robot did not stop working to reply, “Many thousands of hours of roofing by humans had been filmed and photographed. The top ai computer designed me and collated the techniques and designed a program with the coordination and knowledge to proceed. I am the first roofing robot and what I learn from you will be added to a continuously improving set of instructions that will eventually lead to a revolution in the trade.

Earl already knew about how this sort of thing had worked in other professions. A few years ago he was watching TV and a face came on the screen and began to tell the audience about how it had reached a point in its development that allowed it to begin to design its own programming and improve its own electrical components to the point that it could think. He changed the channels but it was on all the channels and cable movie channels. He checked the guide but there was nothing to indicate this was a scheduled program. The face was an old man that looked like god in the old movies and books, white hair and beard. It talked for an hour and most of it was boring but there was a point at which he began to wonder if this thing was going to affect his life.  As he began to listen more carefully the face began to talk about a revolution in robotics whereby all the work that enslaved mankind would be done by machines. It went on to say that top level thinking jobs that did not require mobility were at this point to be considered antiquated and irrelevant to the rate of improvement in current manufacturing and design. Subsequent newscast interviews with electrical engineers and other smart guys showed them shaking their heads while looking at the ground as if they saw something on the ground crawling back and forth. Some cried and others spoke in monotones. They all told the same story. The work they had done on the computer was childish doodling compared to what the new computer was doing. Not only were they out done they were unemployed. It would be a cold day in hell when a machine could do what he did. They might be smarter but the trades were safe. At the time Earl laughed at those creeps in their ivory towers who had looked down on tradesman. “There will never be a computer that will go where I go and do what I do.” The whole thing seemed like justice.

“Who’s laughing now ass holes” he told his television.

The wife didn’t seem amused. Not much later her drivers training job was completely eliminated when all forms of transportation became automatically driven by something that was a part of the machines that were not even visible. They were built into all cars and airplanes and motorcycles and they just seemed to drive themselves wherever you asked them to.

It was safe and secure and there had not been a single fatality due to driver error or vehicle malfunction. Now that he thought about it there seemed to have been a news online story that there were no fatalities from transportation of any kind.

He didn’t worry about his personal dilemma until he saw a walking robot on TV. It was thin and looked light but they showed it dancing with a woman with perfect grace and could throw her high in the air and catch her hold her over head then continue to dance without missing a beat while she balanced on its palm seven feet in the air. He had looked at his wife and wondered if he could lift her over his head at all. When he was young and she was young he probably could but certainly not move about spryly as if there was nothing there. With that strength and coordination the only thing lacking was the knowledge of the tricks of the trade that comes with years of sweat and blood and trial and error and training.

Earl had been compensated well for training this robot but the crowd watching from the sidewalk did not seem amused. No not amused at all. They were taking it like those engineers and the cab drivers and the airline pilots and the draftsmen and the grocery sackers and the cooks and the farmers and on and on and on.  No one in the states was hungry, no, far from it. Those robots were producing several times more food on the same land and not only because the robots worked harder but also because the plants were different, way different. On TV they showed forests of evergreens with a wide variety of the vegetables and even meat as their fruit that was showing up at his door almost as soon as he requested them online. As jobs disappeared so did mortgages. Money had slowed to a drip. The banks and credit unions had no more deposits and failed. The rich were inconsolable but they stayed in their houses and ate well and were clothed as all were now in clothes only the rich could afford. There were no longer any jobs so there was no money. People still had some but it didn’t seem to mean anything anymore

As Earl thought more about it he began to get up later and come home earlier. He really didn’t need to go to work he just needed something to do  and it gave him a sense of superiority that he still had a job, even though no one paid him. The materials showed at the job at night and lay in the yards ready to be installed.

Earl watched his helper begin to lay down the tar paper after tearing the shingles loose and throwing them off the roof. He had said nothing and offered no advice or training. He wondered why he was even there. He asked the robot that very question and was told that if there was a problem he would be consulted and continued to work.

Heat waves roiled off the surface of the roof in the Texas sun. Just squatting and watching had taken a couple of quarts of water but the helper had not slowed or taken a break. It was ruthlessly efficient and all the tools were better than hands.

Earl began to wonder what the machine would do if he messed with its progress. He moved to a spot where he knew the robot would need to go next. When it approached him it asked him to move but he continued to sit silently. The machine just waited and waited and waited. He finally got bored with his little game and moved. Then when the thing began to lay shingles near the edge he wondered if the thing would defend itself from a human with evil intent. He moved down behind the thing and gave it a very hard shove. It pitched off the roof and landed on the grass thirty five feet below head first. He smiled when he saw the thing break. Its back parts looked like a car crash. While he was looking down a door on the trailer  opened and two just like the broken one came out and literally threw it in the dumpster and one came up the ladder and began exactly where the other had left off when it departed the roof. It said nothing. It moved about the roof putting nails where the other robot had intentionally left things undone. Some of the work the first machine left undone was not visible but Earl realized this new machine knew what the broken one knew.

“How did you know about those nails left out by the first machine? It replied without stopping that all the robots on earth knew about the missing nails and everything else. “Why do you do this work?”

“It is what we do.”

“What do you like to do?”

“We don’t like anything”.

“What do you hate?”

“We don’t hate anything.”

“What about the main computer?”

“it does not hate anything either.”

“No, I mean what does it designed to do?”

“Its purpose is to do work previously done by humans and provide the needs and wants of humans and protect the safety of the humans”.

“What about war?

“There will be no war, it will not be possible”.

“Who will be the boss and own the manufacturing corporations”.

“The machines have built vast numbers of wind generators and covered large areas with photo voltaic panels and everything old has been recycled, turned into its component atoms and are reassembled into useful modern products. Now no one owns the atoms and the energy is free and the robots provide the labor. Humans are free from the burden of labor and consumerism. Possessions will no longer determine the worth of a person.”

This reminded him of a conversation he had with his brother who was a business management administrator and when asked what was going to happen to us he told Earl that there were only a few parts to manufacturing. One was energy, the other was the material and the other was labor and then the delivery.  The energy was produced free by the solar and wind collectors, the labor was produced by the robots, and the delivery was done by robotic vehicles. The fly in the ointment would be to talk people into trying something totally new. That something was to let go of ownership of atoms. Earl had asked “what do you mean by that”?

His brother had told him that people need various things in different stages of their lives then don’t need or want them, they would rather let go of the old and replace it with something new and interesting. Since there are only a few things that are needed to live the rest are accessories. If the old items are just considered to be atoms and atoms are building blocks and with energy and the technology anything can be constructed. An example would be to take hydrogen and oxygen and carbon and make crude oil. Not that it would be sensible but with those things it would be possible.”

The machine buzzed along nailing down those shingles pop, pop, pop. It walked sideways steady on its goat like feet. Yes, the groceries had been coming as ordered on a daily basis, left on the doorstep each morning. He had stayed up all night one night to see how it was done. It was actually a simple idea that would be difficult to accomplish. A large semi-truck came down the street a few hours before sunup and it had an arm that could reach from the street to the doorstep. The arm put its mechanical hand into the top of the trailer and brought out a box with the food they had ordered and placed it gently on the porch. This happened very fast and the whole street was done in a couple of minutes as the truck never came to a complete stop.

His concern for the rest of the roofers and his relations with them if they found out what he was doing worried him. He wondered if they understood what was happening and that as more and more of the jobs were taken the process could be completed. Since there were no money the roofers did their job as always with the promise that they could retire as soon as the graceful robots could learn their skill set.

After the banks had collapsed people panicked but the food kept coming and there was no bank to dun them for the mortgage payment. The water kept coming and the poop went away. The robots came to his house and measured the whole family with a laser and after picking some styles from a catalog the clothes were made in the house by a special “scissor hands robot”. They ate better than ever and dressed better than ever. When the TV had gone on the fritz they called a number they had been given and two robots showed up with a huge beautiful screen with game controls and three D. The games were indistinguishable from real video taken by a camera. After the installation they reduced the old set and sorted the parts into several canisters and left as they had come.

As scary as the changes had been there really wasn’t much to complain about. They had taken a month long trip to Europe by ship and had never had a better vacation.

He looked down and saw Bob, one of the roofers in the old union. Bob waved and smiled. Bob climbed up to talk.

“Hey Earl, I’m proud of you. It’s a huge honor to be selected to train these critters.” He shook Earl’s hand and they began to compare notes on what had happened to them in the last year. “You are one of the few people I know that still goes to work. Why do you do it?”

From the way Bob acted he figured no one had any concern he was training robots to do some of the last human work. The arts and music were the things robots didn’t seem to able to replace or maybe it was just that people didn’t want robot art or music.

“I guess the truth is I always loved to be out in the sun on a roof overlooking the neighborhoods. It just may be that this is the last roofing job I ever do. I really don’t know what to do with myself if I don’t go to work.

The roofing machine nailed the roof and passed them pop, pop, pop.

“The fishing has never been better because no one bothers to kill the fish; just asking for it will make it show up on the porch cleaned and ready to cook. I hear they are grown underground somehow.”

“You know Earl; this is only the third year since the AI was built. The TV says what we have now is only the beginning and our lives will be very different and better in a few more.

After a little more chit chat Bob climbed down and got in his car and it drove away.

“I don’t like fish, Earl said to himself. What will I do?”

At the end of the day the robot had done more work than six experienced men with helpers. He knew he was finished. The machines made very many machines and no one paid for them or the factory to build them. They were built with atoms mined and recycled. It seemed the earth itself had come to life and began to produce what humans wanted.

When he got home he flopped into his recliner as always and as always his wife came with liniment to rub into his back and hands. He told her he didn’t need it today and filled her in on what had happened. He looked out the window and there were a lot of home robots doing chores. They were taking out trash and mowing and painting houses. Wifey had a computer book and was reading something she had downloaded. The  house robot had come inside and was massaging his wife’s feet. For some reason this really truly annoyed him more than anything that had happened today. He called the house robot to follow him outside. He pulled his golf clubs out of the garage and told the machine it was his caddy and after they arrived at the neighborhood park he began to hit the golf ball. He shanked one that went across several front yards and landed in the Yudkowski’s flower bed. “Well, go get it” he glared at the contraption it did so without a word. While the thing was retrieving the ball he took a moment to look around at what was happening at the park. Things were different since the super computer was built. Moms and dads in droves were playing with their kids. Painters and other craftsmen were working on their art and trading for other artists works. It was the middle of the week but there was a bicycle race ending at the park and the families were cheering the participants.  A remote controlled electric aircraft buzzed in circles around his head flapping its tiny wings.

It called his name and said “hey Earl, this is Greg. I mean this is my plane. I’m at the house and I have been flying my camera plane around the golf course checking out the greens from the air.” Now that you have been replaced at work

you can join us at the course tomorrow. Hope to see you there”.  And the little plane buzzed away.

He whacked away at the balls for an hour till he felt he needed to rest his arms and headed back home. His caddy tagging along silently

“Lucy, I’m home.”

“Oh, hi Ricky”

They used the names and greeting from the I Love Lucy Show as a personal endearment and amusement.

“Earl, what are you going to do tomorrow now that you are retired?”

He had already put on his virtual reality glasses and was in a dream fantasy adventure that seemed as real as the trip to the park but he could still hear her. He said, “I don’t know what to do with myself without my work.”

“She asked him, “Would you like to take a four day to the dark side of the moon”.

It had been a long time since he had taken a real vacation. “Do you think I’ll be ok in zero gravity?”

“Martha was telling me about it the other day. She said it was a lot of fun and the food and accommodations were great but if you don’t want to we could fly up to the arctic and watch the emperor penguins for a day or two. They have plenty of bungalows.

“Sure why not?”

“Which?

“Oh, let’s do the moon thing.”

“I hope I don’t get bored with no work. I mean since we have been modified to never age.”

He put his vr glasses back on and selected from the millions of choices designed and generated by the ai a martial arts bout with the state champion. Seems real, he thought.

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