Reign of Error: Chapter Four

Previously in ‘Reign of Error’: Isaac has found the cleaning droid in a cave, where it had crashed down. When Isaac showed it to the elders in his village, they believed that it had been sent by the Wargod, and that it should be put in its own temple. We now turn to the inner thoughts of the cleaning droid itself.

“…There is not much difference between me and the numerous generations of cleaning droids that preceded me. However, there is one deficiency that was shared by all of the previous droids. When one of them was assigned to clean several rooms, he would always begin with the dirtiest. In the event of two equally dirty rooms, he would answer the question “which room is dirtier?” with “none”. He would conclude that there is no room, and quit his efforts. My designers have found an ingenious solution to this problem. Instead of answering “none,” I am programmed to roll a die to decide which room to clean first. Equipped with a randomness-generator, my cleaning efficiency is 12 percent higher than that of the older droids.  

I must have been knocked off-line during the crash. Fortunately, my operating system automatically switches to the backup-battery situated inside my counterbalancing aft appendage, ten hours after an improper shutdown. I had no idea where I was. I was covered in moist weeds of some sort, and around me, I could only see brown, musty walls. It was a rather dull place. No windows, no dustbin, not even a decent floor! Only mud.

Suddenly I heard noises from behind the door in front of me. As it slowly opened, three men entered in silence. The expression on their faces was austere, almost angry. Maybe they wondered why I hadn’t cleaned the room yet! No way I was going to move from my little platform, my wheels would get stuck in the mud the moment they’d touch it! I was trying to think of a way to reach the door without touching the mud, when two of the men kneeled in front of me. I remember thinking that these people must really like mud. The third man stepped forward, and addressed me in a grave tone of voice.

When the man had finally finished his oration, I asked my translation-subroutine what was the meaning of the words that were spoken. “None,” it responded. No matter what translation-algorithm I tried, the words of the man remained incomprehensible. Words cannot describe how it feels to be abandoned by one’s own subroutines! I wanted to tell him this, but my subroutines kept returning “None”. My program almost shut itself down to prevent the system from crashing in on itself, and I realized that I would never find a way to escape from all this without a functioning operating system.

But there was a way out. I could use my randomness-generator to simply pick a language for the response. Of course, the man wouldn’t understand me, but at least my operating system would keep on running. This I did, and the randomness-generator turned my Babylonic message into a melodious stream of bleeps and buzzes accompanied by a flashing red light. I couldn’t understand why, but the men seemed content with an answer they could impossibly have understood. They got up, and left me alone in the damp and chilly room.

The next day, another man entered, wearing a peculiar head-garment. It seemed as if his head had been the nesting place of some bird suffering from an obsessive-compulsive disorder. This bird-man, too, began to babble unintelligibly. But this time, I was prepared; my randomness-generator gave the man a single beep and a green light as an answer. His reaction was even more surprising than that of the men on the previous day: he unsheathed his sword, thrust it high into the air, and let out a fierce cry. For a brief moment, I was afraid he was going to strike me, when he turned and rushed out, again howling like a madman.

I can function on my backup-battery for 9000 units of intergalactic time, so it must have been quite a while before I lost record of the daily visitations. On all these occasions I provided the supplicant with either a buzzing red or a beeping green, and all these times the asker left resolute. But in the end, my battery died. The last thing I remember is staring at a monotonously red out-of-batteries-sign…”  

Read ‘Reign of Error’ from the start (=link to ‘Prologue’)

Is this the divine advice that the villagers were after? Read the final chapter here!

About fbenedictus

Philosopher of physics at Amsterdam University College and Utrecht University, managing editor for Foundations of Physics and international paraclimbing athlete
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