THE VIRTUAL HISTORY OF ARTIFICIAL BEINGS
by robot soldiers in a human conflict that devastates the planet and leads to the death of his fiancée. Out of guilt, he creates a race of near- perfect humanoid robots to rebuild his world and implants them with a Prime Directive:To Serve and Obey, and Guard Men from Harm.
This is similar to Asimov’s Three Laws, but Sledge’s robots inter- pret the Directive to mean that they should bring their benefits to humans everywhere. Small, black, and sleek, linked through a central computer, they spread over Wing IV and throughout the galaxy like an army of ants.At first Sledge is pleased:“I thought I had found the end of war and crime, of poverty and inequality, of human blundering and resulting human pain.” But he soon sees that his robots—“stron- ger than men, better at everything”—are reducing humanity to a state of bitter futility, as the Prime Directive drives them to debase all hu- man worth and pleasure.Activities, from scientific experimentation to sports to drinking and sex, are banned or closely supervised lest they cause injury.With the tang taken out of life, art as an expression of the human spirit degenerates. Even escape by suicide is not allowed, be- cause that would violate the Prime Directive.All that is left is to “take up some inane hobby, play a pointless game of cards, or go for a harmless walk in the park—with always the humanoids watching.”
Sledge flees to Earth, where he boards with the Underhill family and works feverishly to complete a weapon to destroy his creatures. Meanwhile, the robots arrive in town, and Mr. Underhill sees first- hand how the Prime Directive limits people.The robots build a gleam- ing new home for the Underhills, but to relieve them of physical effort, its doors respond only to a robotic touch. Mrs. Underhill loves to cook, but is banned from the kitchen with its dangerous knives. Underhill’s daughter abruptly drops her ambition to become a con- cert violinist because she can never be as good as the robots.
Sledge completes his weapon but finds that the robots have shielded themselves against it and have allowed Sledge to complete the device only so that they can take over its new principles. Devas- tated, Sledge collapses, and in desperation accepts medical care from the robots. Later, Underhill finds a lobotomized Sledge who now thinks the robots are “pretty wonderful.” On the way home,