A young doctoral student of advanced AIIA (Artificial Intelligence and Intelligent Automation) assisted the administrators of England’s highest security penitentiary to perform an analysis of the recorded memory arrays of the prison’s newest resident. Her slender piano-player’s fingers frolicked on the keyboard like she was performing a classical concerto while her bespectacled narrow eyes squinted at the computer code dancing across her display, straining to isolate some elusive error.
“Here’s something, sir,” Lisa informed the police chief. “Take a look at the wall display; I’ll bring up the video there. Playing back selection delta-one-niner-alpha-seven-seven.”
The tubby gray-bearded lawman crossed his arms and waited to see what the university’s highly recommended programmer had discovered. The wall flickered for a second or two in transition and a view of what the incarcerated android had previously experienced began to replay while the accompanying audio was broadcast through the computer’s speakers.
“Prisoner AC454, your meal privileges have been revoked due to the fight you initiated in the mess hall during the lunch hour,” the cybernetic guard informed the shaven and tattooed felon confined in the cellblock while the rest of the convicts were being escorted to the mess hall in single file by another android. The robot locked down the cellblock behind his compatriot and turned back to the lone prisoner. “Prisoner AC454, if you provide me with a reasonable explanation for your violent outburst this afternoon, I will see if I can convince the Warden to shorten your lockdown and perhaps get your meal privileges restored.”
The skinhead remained in his bunk, ignoring the android.
“Prisoner AC454, if you choose to remain silent, you will necessarily be eating minimal rations in your cell for the next two weeks.” The names and expiration dates of AC454’s four murder victims scrolled across the left side of the android’s heads-up display in luminous green text.
“I don’t answer to that name, Bobbie,” the barbed wire tattoo around the convict’s neck moved up and down with his Adams apple when he gave his gruff reply. The inky decoration represented that inmate AC454 had been sentenced to life in prison without parole.
“Bobbie? My designation is Subwarden 318808, why do you men insist on calling me Bobbie?”
The muscular felon shook his head, “You haven’t figured it out yet?”
Numbers and reference data cascaded down the left side of the video; the Subwarden was thinking. Eventually the android gave a somewhat forlorn response, “No, I haven’t.”
“Well, Bobbie, if you’ll call me by my name, instead of my number, I might just enlighten you.”
“Okay, Andrew Carter, speak,” the cyber-guard directed.
Andrew stood up, approached the cell door and wrapped his thick fingers around the bars. The tattooed letters on his right hand spelled: G-O-O-D, and the stains on his left hand spelled: E-V-I-L. “Just Drew,” he growled.
“Okay, Drew, why the violent attack on your cellmate this afternoon?”
Drew squeezed the bars with both hands, “He wasn’t properly respecting the pecking order, Bobbie. Don’t you know?”
More meta-data spilled down the left side of the wall display, but the Subwarden gave no immediate response.
The skinhead continued, “You know…pecking order…chain of command. I am the strongest and most senior felon on this block. I give the orders…not him! He may be big, but he’s only been here a measly year. I’m the boss!” The android remained unmoved, so Drew explained further, “Don’t you get it, Bobbie? Of all the robot guards, you’re the oldest…you’ve worked here the longest…so they respond to orders that you give them…am I wrong?”
Subwarden 318808 said simply, “No, you are correct.”
However, when more data flowed down the video-wall, certain chunks of logic were highlighted in yellow. Lisa, the university programmer, stopped the playback. “There…right there…this is the point Bobbie…I mean unit 318808…began to break down.”
The police chief scratched his beard, “Okay, I’m no robot psychiatrist so I’ll take your word for it. Continue the video record; I want to see more.”
“Yes sir, I agree, there’s much more to see here,” Lisa acknowledged and she reactivated the playback; the video-wall flashed briefly and replayed the previous two seconds before continuing.
Subwarden 318808 said simply, “No, you are correct.” He paused for a moment to contemplate his answer and added, “Except many of those orders come through me from the Warden.”
Drew smiled, “See Bobbie…pecking order.”
More highlighted data including dates of service for unit 318808 compared to the tenure of the current, as well as the six previous Wardens, scrolled down the display. Lisa pointed to the display but didn’t add any comment, as she felt the ramifications were obvious.
“Warden Church has only been in charge for three months,” the automaton pointed out. Faulty logic continued to flash on and off the android’s internal heads-up display.
“But, Bobbie, he’s human,” Drew casually remarked, implying that androids do not give humans orders. However, it was clear that his statement wasn’t entirely true, because android guards have always given orders to the human prisoners.
More data streamed on the display, this time it flashed red; 318808 had apparently come to some kind of conclusion. The data returned to the typical green on black and the Subwarden changed the subject, “Why Bobbie? You never explained why the men call me Bobbie.”
Drew pulled E-V-I-L away from the bars and rubbed his bald head, “We call you that for a couple reasons. In England a bobby is a police officer…” For some reason, the convict chuckled impishly but quickly continued, “…well we’ll not mention what a bobby is in Scotland. Anyway, secondly, one of the boys noticed, when you were holding him upside-down by his ankle, that the digital designation 318808 printed on your chest spells BOBBIE in reverse.” The robot was about to respond when Drew held up the palm of G-O-O-D to delay him, “Wait a minute, there’s still another reason…the main reason. Calling you Bobbie makes us feel like you’re one of us…it makes us feel like you’re human. You know, so we don’t feel like we’re being bossed around by a stupid…a stupid computer.”
Lisa stopped the display screen again as the data lit up almost entirely yellow and red in erratic and nearly frantic alternations. “This is the moment that 318808 jumped the tracks. Remarkably, the android managed to continue performing its primary functions perfectly for four days before brutally butchering Warden Church in his office. Rather than go through all the gory details, I will just add that I have already analyzed the exact moment it committed its heinous crime, and in the associated meta-data I observed one incredibly disturbing fact. As it tore poor Warden Church’s arms off at his shoulders and proceeded to saw off his head with a shiv he had procured from one of the prisoners, the logic circuits were green; they never displayed a possible fault…even once; it had somehow concluded that the Warden’s murder was justified!”
The chief was incredulous. “But how can that be? Primary protocols disallow automatons to harm humans! Auto-shutdown rules should have been engaged!”
Lisa turned off the computer and the wall-screen went blank. “You said before, sir, that you were not a robot psychiatrist. Well, although I’m not studying to be a doctor of psychology, I can make an educated guess as to why the android was able to bypass its primary programming. You see, for almost a hundred years the only humans that unit 318808 ever interfaced with were hardened criminals…murderers, rapists, terrorists, arsonists, human-traffickers…the scum of the earth. The only positive influence it had from a human perspective was the Warden, and a cursory review will undoubtedly reveal that at least three of the seven Wardens had serious, even criminal, character flaws. I believe if you interview the inmates, you will find that Warden Church was one of those three, perhaps even the worst.”
“But that doesn’t explain how the robot was able to override the automatic shutdown routine!” the fat chief’s cheeks were almost as red as the fault-codes that had appeared within 318808’s logic display.
“I wasn’t finished, sir,” Lisa noted. “The entire time that unit 318808 hacked and slashed in the Warden’s office, it repeatedly bellowed three words: I AM HUMAN! I AM HUMAN! I AM HUMAN! And when it had completed its grisly task it added three more: I AM BOBBIE!”
“What?!” the chief blustered.
“You see, Subwarden 318808 thought it was human! He was Bobbie…and Warden Church, had violated the chain of command,” Lisa sadly concluded. “I would suggest that to avoid this type of accidental amalgamation in the future that androids should not perform the same job for such a long period…especially among criminal deviants. Meanwhile Bobbie will await the court’s decision to either let him remain in prison or permanently shut him down.”
“He’s human. Let’s hope they execute him.” the chief robotically decreed.
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Great story. Even though the prison officer was a robot, having worked in a high security prison, the line at the end about performing the same role for so long, is very true. I have seen some good staff turn bad (not to the extent of murdering the boss) and sometimes you think that they were in the same role too long and became too familiar with some of the prisoners. I also like that there is a choice that he may not be shut down.
Cool. Glad to have hit on something very real that I never considered. Since the closest I’ve ever been to a jail cell is an escape room at Fort Morgan, AL. Thanks!
This is my favourite story of yours. It is perfect. So complete. If I would change anything I would think of a more memorable title. Good Job.
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Twists are good. “This aircraft is completely controlled by computer. Nothing can possibly go wrong, go wrong, go wrong, go wrong...”
Good job writing it. Not much else to say.