Caretakers by Dan Curtis Johnson

Every once in a while I stumble on to good short stories and I post them here for your enjoyment. I found yet another one, and I wanted to share it. This time it is not some hidden gem by a big name author but rather an amateur story written by some random inhabitant of the internet. Yes, I’m liking to some random guys live journal post, but give it a chance. It is actually kinda interesting little piece. It is really short, so go read it now and come back for discussion. Also, you may want to put on Readability when you read it to make the font, margins and color scheme less annoying. I use it every time I am trying to read a longer article or a short story on my screen. I can honestly say that this is probably the best bookmarklet of all time. But I digress. Here is the story:

Caretakers by Dan Curtis Johnson

Fairly well executed and enjoyable little read. If I wanted to be critical, I’d say that the whole thing could have been wrapped up sooner. The idea was fully realized when the robot visited the empty house, and anything beyond that was just “clean up”. The “execution” scene at the end was a bit heavy handed – but, this is not what I wanted to talk about.

I think that the author of the story wrote it assuming that what happened to the human race was something among the lines of the 9 Planets Without Intelligent Life scenario. Or, you know – the classic Futurama joke:

But when I read this story, I immediately assumed that something else has happened. Namely: singularity. I couldn’t help but think back to Marooned in Realtime by Vernor Vinge. This is almost exactly how he envisioned the next stage in human evolution – a sort of technological rapture. Human race simply moved on – they have transcended the human condition, and went on to become something else. Something better. And they left their trusty caretakers and workers behind. Perhaps they got so used to their ubiquitous presence they didn’t even consider taking them along. Or perhaps they couldn’t – perhaps the technology that whisked them away was not designed to ascend rudimentary and simplistic minds of robot servants and factory workers. Or perhaps they left them on purpose. They wanted the only other sentient beings on Earth to inherit the planet, and make their own singularity happen. But robots, being single minded workers sort of forgot about that and continued doing what they did best.

In fact, I think the author missed out on the most interesting part of the story: the fallout of the main characters discovery. I’d love to see what would happen to the robot society as a whole if the human absence was made public. I can envision two scenarios:

  1. The robots go “No kidding, this is really wild. I can’t believe we missed something big like this” and then go back to their usual routines, because… Well, what else would they do? Even the main character would eventually shake it of, and go back to his old factory job figuring that there is really no reason to stop working. They maintain status quo despite knowing the truth because that’s what they were built for.
  2. Robot society is shocked, then reorganizes itself. Completely superfluous and human centric factories are identified, and shut down. Their resources are then re-purposed for building stuff for the benefit of the robot-kind. They also build and appoint robots to fill traditional human niches – for example, nature conservation. After all, they ought to make sure that no more biological species die off on their watch – and if they do, at least it ought to be documented.

Either option would work for me. Putting an inconvenient witness in a hydraulic press is just a bit too… Well, too human. It is a classic knee jerk reaction, and I would hope that our more logical brothers in sentience would be better than this. At least we should strive to make them better than that.

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2 Responses to Caretakers by Dan Curtis Johnson

  1. Matt` UNITED KINGDOM Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux Terminalist says:

    The factory manager’s role (and hence programming) is to ensure that they sell plenty of shower curtains, the hydraulic press was a means to an end :P

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  2. Chris UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux Terminalist says:

    That was an interesting short story. Thanks for sharing!

    I really like short stories. I have both volumes of Asimov’s The Complete Stories, which has about 40 sci-fi stories each. The Last Question is one of them. I reread through them every few years.

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