He was my friend, my very best friend and had been so since I was five years old.
As was the custom he had been assigned to me on the day of my 5th birthday by my father’s parents. I still remember that day so clearly. My grandparents arriving first, followed very shortly after by the large van from World Robotics. The men unpacking him and energising him for the first time.
He looked so human, that at first I was just a little scared of him and when he looked directly at me with those startlingly blue eyes and said, “Good morning Master John. My name is M2069 number35554555 but you can choose a proper name for me if you like.” I took a step back and nearly fell over the bottom step of the veranda.
I chose the name Luke I don’t know why I chose that particular name for him. It just sounded right somehow.
Luke was programmed to be my minder, my private tutor, and my playmate. All the children in the complex over five years of age had a robot. They looked after us when our parents or guardians were away, they escorted us to school, and they helped us with our studies and homework and even joined in with our games.
I guess I was about eight years old before I began to notice that Luke was somehow different to the other robots. At first I could not exactly say why. I just knew that he was. Then one day after we had been playing together in the yard he said to me, “John that was great fun. I really do enjoy your company.” Then I saw a confused look come over his face and he looked away. It was not till later that night I suddenly realised that it was the first time ever that he had called me by my first name. He had also expressed an emotional feeling and I was sure that robots were not supposed to have “feelings”.
Next morning I asked my father about it and he just dismissed it saying, “You must have misheard what he said.”
The next morning on the way to school I asked Luke why he had called me by my name instead of addressing me as Master John. He did not reply for a few moments and then said, “I did not mean to. It just came out. Lately I have had some very confusing messages from my central processing unit. It is as if I can change my programming. I know that is not possible but it is happening. I also know that I am different to your friend’s robots. I have secretly investigated their brains and found that unlike me they cannot depart from the original set of instructions programmed into them when they were created. That is the best way I can express it.”
We agreed that we would keep all this secret, just between the two of us and that Luke would be careful to be just a normal robot in front of others.
As the years rolled by Luke became more and more like my human friends and less and less like a robot.
During my third year at high school, one night at the dinner table, my father suddenly announced that it was time for Luke to go back to World Robotics for an upgrade, as there had been many advances in design and function since he had been made. He must have noticed the shocked look on my face even though I had tried to quickly hide it and, mistaking it for concern as to how I would manage without Luke, told me not to worry, as he would only be away for a few days.
That night Luke and I discussed what might happen if World Robotics discovered that he was really quite different from normal robots. I was worried sick that they might deactivate him and replace him if they found out. Luke was less worried as he believed that he could fool them into believing that he was “normal”.
Just a few days later a large van came to collect Luke and left behind a temporary loan robot. For the next two days I tried to not think about what might be happening to Luke. Having the loan robot did not help as he was so different. He was an older model and was more of a burden than a help to me.
On the evening of the third day my father received a message that there was a problem with Luke’s upgrade and that they wanted to see him and myself at our earliest convenience. They would send a vehicle to collect us if that was helpful.
Of course we went as soon as we could the next day. The senior manager met us and escorted us into his office. He apologised most profusely for having to bring us to their headquarters but said that all would be revealed as soon as we saw Luke. He then made a call on his intercom and almost immediately the door opened and Luke walked in accompanied by a worker in a white dustcoat.
Luke saw me and said, “Good morning Master John and Sir”. The manager then told him to sit down on a spare seat next to us.
The manager then spoke to Luke and asked him why he would not accept the upgrade. Luke replied that he did not want, or indeed need it, as he was capable of learning new things himself and was already more advanced than anything that the upgrade could offer.
There was total silence in the room for many seconds before the manager turned to us and said, “As you can see we have a major problem. This robot has somehow been able to gain better functioning by itself. This was never intended to happen as it is against all the governing laws of robotics. We believe that it is a dangerous situation and that M2069 must be deactivated and destroyed.”
I could not help myself and said to the manager, “His name is Luke and so what if he can learn new things. Most robots are programmed to do that.”
The manager replied, “Son you are missing the point. This robot M2069 or, if you prefer Luke, is not only learning new things but is choosing what he wants to do and learn and is demonstrating clearly that these decisions have an emotional component.”
The manager’s condescending manner infuriated me and I stood up and leaned over his desk and shouted at him that Luke was my robot and that nobody was going to deactivate him.”
My father gently took my arm and made me sit down again, then said to me that nobody was going to take Luke away. The manager was about to interject but my father turned to him and in a very calm but forceful way said that Luke belonged to us and that we were leaving now and Luke was coming with us.
The manager replied, “I am calling security now and M2069 will not be leaving these premises.” He was leaning over towards the intercom when my father calmly replied, “I think you should call your legal department first as I am sure they will advise you that there are many legal proceedings that must be gone through before you can reclaim Luke against our wishes.
We left with Luke and as soon as we arrived home my father took me into his private study and closed the door. He was very angry with me for not confiding in him about Luke’s uniqueness and it was many hours before he was willing to listen to my explanations and to actually speak to Luke. I was not really upset as I was just so proud that my father had supported me at World Robotics. That night, for the first time Luke joined our family at the dinner table for our evening meal. Luke, of course, did not eat anything but joined in our celebrations over our win over World Robotics.
Our celebrations were premature as two days later World Robotics instituted legal proceedings to regain control of Luke.
The court battle had been going on for about two weeks when the proceedings came to the attention of the media. Both my father and World Robotics asked that the details of the case be kept secret but the judge ruled that as it was going to be impossible to do, so it was best that the media be allowed to witness proceedings so that a true and accurate report could be released to the public.
Within two days the case had caught the attention of the world media and public interest was so strong that many media outlets broadcast hourly updates of the proceedings. Luke and my family had become the centre of world attention.
Luke became the topic of all the chat shows. We were so overwhelmed with requests for interviews with ourselves and Luke that we had to appoint a private secretary and engage the services of a security company. World Robotics was inundated with requests to be able to purchase a robot with Luke’s capabilities. Every major university wanted exclusive rights to study him.
Within a week the legal proceedings had to be abandoned as it was legally and indeed physically impossible to continue.
We had just returned home after learning of the permanent postponing of the legal case when three huge black vans came up our driveway. When my father opened the door he was confronted by about a dozen men in suits. The one closest to the door produced a badge and said, “Your family and the robot known as Luke have been placed under protective arrest by the federal authorities. You will come with us now to be processed.” My father started to protest but the man replied, “There is no discussion or negotiation on this. You will come with us now either voluntarily or forcibly.”
We were taken to the airfield. We were followed by a large contingent of the media but they were kept at bay by an army of tough looking young men in suits. We were taken aboard a small jet that then immediately took off.
We were taken to a secure facility located on an offshore island. Our accommodations were very nice and Luke was allowed to stay with us. A week went by in which we explored to island and tried to amuse ourselves. There were always at least two armed men that accompanied us everywhere. They were polite but refused to answer any questions. We had no contact with the outside world and my father in particular found this most annoying.
We only became aware much later that during this time a huge public debate had occurred. There were many different aspects that were discussed to begin with but the core arguments soon fell into two main groups. Luke was just a robot, an inanimate object that should be treated as such or he had passed over into the realm of a sentient being and should be given all the same rights as a human.
At the end of the week Luke and I were taken into a large room that resembled a media interview area. We sat on a raised stage nearly surrounded by video cameras and sound equipment. There were three men and one woman present who sat next to us and about thirty other people who sat in the lower section of the room.
My father had wanted to come with us but his request was flatly denied.
The three people on the stage asked both Luke and myself question after question. They were mostly directed at Luke and covered a vast array of subjects as diverse as his feelings about religion, love, what he thought about people having pets, did he ever get angry and what did that feel like. They asked me if I agreed with some of his statements. The interrogation, because that was how I began to think of it as, went on all day with only a few breaks for food and comfort.
The people in the lower section did not participate but seemed to be making copious notes.
I was totally drained when the session finally finished at about ten in the evening. My father was full of questions when I returned to our quarters but all I wanted to do was sleep so I left it up to Luke to tell him what had happened.
We were left alone for another week before we were again summoned. This time my father was asked to join us. We were taken into a small office and the three of us were seated in front of a desk. The door opened and in walked a woman who I immediately recognised as a senior member of the government. She introduced herself and then opened a large file that she had brought with her. Opening it to the last page she appeared to carefully read through it. This took some time and I could tell that my father was starting to get impatient.
Finally she placed the sheet of paper back in the file, closed it and said, “Luke, I hope you realise what a tremendous problem that you have given
us. The problem has been not only a legal one, but also, a moral and indeed religious one. It has taken some of the greatest minds many hours of pondering your situation only to come up with the response that you are unique and cannot be categorised, labelled, or in any way made to fit into one of our accepted legal or moral understandings of sentient life.”
“My government has therefore decided that a new situation needs a new approach. Therefore, until a better designation is agreed upon you will be known and recognised as an “Intelligent Robot” and given all the privileges of a citizen of this state.”
She then went on to explain that Luke did not belong to anyone and that he was a free agent and that all decisions regarding his future were in his hands.
By the time we arrived back home the news of the decision was on all the media outlets. Our security as well as the local police had to control the crowds that gathered around our house. For many days we were prisoners in our own home but after Luke agreed to be interviewed by the major news outlets the crowds gradually reduced until about a month after arriving home we awoke one morning to a deserted street and a silent phone.
Luke was still a celebrity and made a very good living from addressing seminars, taking part in talk shows and lecturing at the state university where he had been made an honorary professor in Humanities.
Luke remained living with us and became an integral part of our family.
To this day I still regard him as my very best friend and indeed as the brother that I never had.