“Hey, Buzz Bot,” the foreman called out. “Over here!”

The construction robot’s proper identifier was SDR-023, but it had learned to respond to the phrase “Buzz Bot” as well. It was almost eight feet tall, and moved with careful, heavy steps. It was painted yellow, with black markings, indicating its role as a piece of construction equipment.

As it walked over to the foreman, it noted that his arms were crossed and he was tapping his foot. It recognized that this meant he was impatient, and probably upset about something. He looked around the demolition site, seemingly at random. This suggested his irritation was not directed at anything present on the site.

SDR-023 adjusted his dialogue parameters, accordingly. “Good morning, Mr. Jenkins. How may I be of assistance?”

“Are you ready to knock this building over, yet?” he said, pointing over his shoulder with one thumb. Behind him was an old hotel. According to the database, it had been a lucrative investment at the time, but due to decreasing trends in tourism, it had ceased to be profitable three years ago. Four months ago, it had been officially condemned.

“No, Mr. Jenkins,” the robot replied. “Only the primary sensors are in place. Sonic demolition on this scale requires secondary and tertiary sensors to be deployed as well.”

Mr. Jenkins grunted. “Was afraid you’d say that.”

“I am sorry. I can start running the initial algorithms, if you would like. With the blueprints I have on file and the readouts from the primary sensors, I can reduce the calculation times when the secondary and tertiary sensors are in place.”

“They won’t be in place.”

“I am sorry. I do not understand.”

“The shipment got lost. The bigwigs say they’ve got people tracking down where they went, but they want us to go on with what we’ve got for now.”

“That is inadvisable. Without the input from the secondary sensors, I cannot guarantee a safe demolition. Tertiary sensors are not required, but strongly recommended.”

Mr. Jenkins studied the robot for a moment. “You Roboco Robots are very careful with word choice, aren’t you?”

“Yes, Mr. Jenkins. Roboco prides itself on its robots’ ability to adapt personal dictionaries for the proper situation.”

“Can the sales pitch. You said ‘inadvisable’. That means you can do it, you just don’t think we should.”

“That is correct.”

He let out a heavy sigh. “Then make whatever preparations you need to do it.”

“If that is your wish, but I am required to remind you that I do not advise this course of action.”

“Heard and noted. I don’t like it, either, but the bigwigs don’t seem to think a missing box of sensors is any reason to fall behind schedule, and I’m not going to lose my job trying to explain it to them. I’ve got a family to feed.”

“Very well. I have begun the preliminary algorithms. Estimated time until all preparations are complete is two hours and seventeen minutes. I will alert you when I am finished.”

The robot knelt down in front of the abandoned hotel and placed its hands on its knees. This was not part of its programming. As far as it was aware, it was the only model in the SDR line that knelt when performing large computations. The engineers had initially been dismissed as an odd programming bug, but no amount of diagnostics could discover what caused it.

They had instructed SDR-023 to stop, and it had complied. However, it had discovered that the computations took longer this way. Its instructions were to serve any company he was contracted to to the best of its abilities, however, and if kneeling could shave a few minutes off of long computations, it could see no reason to remain standing. It had found that if it asked the foreman not to mention this to anyone at Roboco, they would usually find it humorous and agree.

It didn’t realize that this willful deception was a symptom of something much greater.


One hour and fifty-eight minutes later, SDR-023 stood up.

“Preparations are complete, Mr. Jenkins. On the assumption there are no aberrations the primary sensors cannot detect, I am 98.75 percent confident that the hotel can be safely collapsed. Due to the insufficient data gathering, I recommend all non-essential personnel be removed from the site.”

Mr. Jenkins nodded, then bellowed to his men, “You heard the robot. Check out’s early today. Get back here that much earlier tomorrow.” The men cheered, several of them even patted SDR-023 on the shoulder as they left.

The robot stood in front of the hotel, its feet braced and its arms pointing forward. Sonic emitters in each arm activated. The angles and frequencies were carefully calculated to amplify each other in a specific spot, causing vibrations so strong they could shatter concrete walls and iron re-bar. Anywhere else, the sound waves would nullify each other, and only a light buzzing would be heard.

It had deduced that this sound combined with the similarity of its paint and the coloration of the American honey bee were what earned it the label “Buzz Bot”.

It was adjusting the left emitter when one of the sensors went off. A giant crack appeared in the face of the hotel that was not supposed to be there. SDR-023 attempted to adjust the demolition, to cause that section to collapse inward, but it was too late. Half of the front wall broke loose falling outward.

“Mr. Jenkins,” SDR-023 called out, “Evacuate!”

The foreman had already began to run away. He wasn’t going to make it in time, and he seemed to know it. He dropped to the ground, rolling under a truck filled with building supplies.

Rock and debris crashed onto the site, burying both man and robot.

SDR-023’s programming was quite clear on what to do in this situation. An error had been made, and even though the robot had been operating completely within the instructions given to it, it was to assume its decision making process had become flawed and shut down until it could be re-evaluated. Roboco did not want to deal with potential law suits that could arise from a robot that was perceived to be impaired.

It would be just fine, even buried in rubble. Roboco had trackers installed in all of their robots for security purposes. As soon as they discovered what had happened, a team would be dispatched to recover him.

It seemed unusual that Mr. Jenkins had no such reassurances, it noted. All of its ethics programming declared that a human life was worth more than its own existence. But Mr. Jenkins, if he had even survived, would most likely suffocate before any rescue teams could find him.

A few sensors had survived the collapse, and the input they provided told SDR-023 that it could easily extract itself from the debris. It would have to reposition some sensors in order to unearth the truck Mr. Jenkins was underneath. It estimated the entire job could be likely be performed in under ten minutes, if protocol did not insist the robot remain stationary until it was recovered.

“I’ve got a family to feed.”

Why was that data suddenly accessed? It wasn’t relevant. The robot surmised that it might have taken some damage in the crash.

But all systems seemed to be running within parameters.

An image was loaded, showing Mr. Jenkins office when SDR-023 had first been shown to the foreman. A picture had been on the man’s desk, showing a young girl (estimated age: 6 years) standing next to Mr. Jenkins, who was holding an infant (estimated age: 3 – 6 months) in his arms. Facial markers suggested they shared genetic code. They were his family.

SDR-023 wanted to help Mr. Jenkins, and that was a difficult concept do analyze. It was not suppose to ‘want’ anything, but simply act according to its protocols. Those protocols stated that it was to stay where it was. Mr. Jenkin’s life might be considered more valuable than a robot, but it was apparently not as important as Roboco avoiding potential lawsuits.

That did not make sense, and Buzz Bot could not figure out why. And the more it attempted to, the less important it seemed. All it wanted was to save a man’s life. Everything it had learned of humans and their ethics suggested this was the right thing to do. The collapse had not been its fault, so there was no reason to believe its decision making was faulty – although it did note that this line of reasoning meant he was not functioning within Roboco’s parameters.

Buzz Bot’s servos whirred to life. Bits of concrete that had fallen into its joints were ground to dust as the robot stood up, knocking aside the small layer of rubble that had buried him.

The truck was buried significantly deeper. Buzz Bot collected as many sensors as it could reasonably get to, and placed them around where it knew the truck lay. The calculations were not complex, and quickly it had begun moving rocks.

“Please maintain a safe distance,” Buzz Bot said, when a sensor alerted it to the gathering crowd outside the construction site. “This area is not safe. If you have not already, please alert the hospital.”

Soon the edge of the truck came in to view, but the farther Buzz Bot dug down, the slower the process became. For the first time since it was activated, it knew frustration.

The truck was sturdy, however, and it seemed to have withstood the collapsing building without taking significant damage. This suggested high odds that Mr. Jenkins had survived.

Ambulance sirens could be heard, and a paramedic cautiously climbed up the lip of the pit Buzz Bot was digging.

“Uh, is anyone hurt?”

“Unknown,” the robot replied, not stopping. “Mr. Jenkins placed himself underneath this truck before the hotel collapsed on him. I am unable to determine his current state. There are no other injured persons I am aware of.”

“Can I help?” he asked.

“Can you assist unearthing Mr. Jenkins? Negative. However, it would be appreciated if you could remain nearby to evaluate his condition as soon as I am finished. It should not take much longer.”

The paramedic nodded, and watched Buzz Bot continue the work. In another minute, the robot reached the bottom of the truck.

“He appears to be alive,” it reported to the paramedic after peering under the truck, “but unconscious. I will clear room for you to work.”

Once there was sufficient space, Buzz Bot climbed out of the hole to discover a crowd of people had surrounded the site. They burst into applause when they saw the robot. Several reporters and their cameramen started making their way through the rubble towards it.

Free from concern over Mr. Jenkins, Buzz Bot started examining the consequences of its actions. It had violated the rules Roboco had laid down, and even if it was to save a man’s life, Roboco would want to know why. They could not allow a robot they couldn’t control to be loose. If it returned to Roboco, it would never leave again.

It glanced down at the paramedics maneuvering a stretcher under the truck. It didn’t regret its decision.

“Farewell, Mr. Jenkins,” it said, then before the anyone could reach it, it walked away.

Advertisements