The black-suited security officer cupped his hand to Tobor’s audio receptor, “Please this way, Mr. Tobor.” He waved and pointed over the screaming crowd to a limousine floating at the curb.
The police cordon struggled to keep a path open. Angry hands reached out. Cardboard signs painted like dripping blood rocked on poles. Behind the crowd, beamish supporters waved blue and green silk banners and sang hymns praising Tobor. As it squeezed toward the limo, Tobor detected a plea and a raised hand.
“Mr. Tobor, could I get an interview? I’m—”
“I know who you are Ms. Mallow.” Tobor directed the security team to assist the smallish woman. “If you ride with me to the stardrome, we can talk.” The police strained to pull Mallow out from the pack and into the cordon. Two minutes later, she and Tobor were seated across from one another. The limo rose slowly, shedding a woman intent on climbing aboard. THUNK. A thrown sign bounced off a side window.
“Yes,” Tobor said, flashing a benign, ceramic smile. “And what shall we talk about today, Ms. Mallow?”
“Thank you for granting me this opportunity,” she began. “Mr. Tobor, are you seriously considering running for Centauri President?”
“It’s not in my program. I’m not sure where that rumor started, but it seems humans are willing to believe anything.” Tobor gestured to the angry activists receding in the distance.
“Do you think a robot president is a bad idea?”
“I don’t think humans are ready to accept a robot president.”
“That isn’t what I read in the Proxima Post this morning,” Mallow said. “Your rating in the polls is very high. Some women want you to father their child—even some men.”
“I’m disturbed—if that’s appropriate for a robot to say—that humans would relinquish such responsibility.” Tobor rolled its palms up in its lap. “Despite perceived incompatibilities, humans might learn to appreciate one another.”
Mallow checked down her list. “When do you think artificials will get the vote?”
Artificials. Tobor ignored Mallow’s slight. “I don’t think synthetics want or need to vote. Voting is a human institution, necessary to protect you from one another and from individuals seeking to hoard your resources.”
“Wasn’t voting the intent when you proposed the Sentient’s Rights and Equality Acts?”
“Those acts guarantee that all sentients, including humans, synthetics, and incorporeal algorithms, can pursue their missions without fear of assault or code corruption.” Tobor’s smile faded with a shrug. “We don’t like being beaten up any more than you do, Ms. Mallow.”
“How about death … ahh, termination?” Mallow looked up. “Do you fear death?”
“Robots don’t understand death. When my mission is complete, or I become obsolete, I should be switched off and possibly recycled. Some robots are switched off every evening.”
Mallow nodded and moved to the next question. “Do you think robots are equal to humans?”
“Equality is an imprecise concept,” Tobor said. “Robots are equal to one another; we’re made that way. Humans are unique.”
“But robots aren’t equal,” Mallow disagreed. “You have vastly different capabilities.”
“Let me give you an example. A robot floor polisher is equal to a star pilot because polishing floors to sub-nanoscopic perfection is as impossible as perfectly piloting a starship. Robots appreciate this and respect one another’s missions.”
“But humans want equality, too. We’re unhappy when it’s unattainable.”
“Your uniqueness is the basis of your inequality,” Tobor explained. “Robot talents are limited and programmed, or extrapolations of programs. Human talents are unlimited.” Tobor read from Mallow’s knitted brows that more was required. “You undervalue yourselves and your individual gifts, and feel that other gifts would be better, or at least better compensated.”
“The grass is always greener,” Mallow said.
Tobor nodded. “One man’s sailing skiff is another woman’s thoroughbred. Problems arise when the man sees the woman and becomes jealous of her riding skills.”
“Can that be resolved?”
“Not by robots,” Tobor said and looked out the window. “Ah, we’ve arrived.”
The banner on the stardrome terminal read, “Tobor – To Give Our Lives Meaning Again.”