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Stories from the Verse
In Verse Proportion
Chapter 55: Brown 213
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Previous chapter: Kondor 190
Turning his attention back to the inert machine in front of them, Derek pondered aloud, “What did I do?” He stared in silence for a moment. Yes, it made a difference.
Vashti interrupted his thoughts. “I’m sorry, what are you asking? You turned off the--the robot.”
“Oh, don’t be sorry. I was really talking to myself. And you’re right, I turned off the robot. But the question is, how did I do that?”
She gave him a puzzled look. “You found a thing on its back and pushed it?”
Derek smiled. “Yes, that’s the simple answer. But what, exactly, did the thing, the switch, do?”
She obviously didn’t understand; he hadn’t expected her to. He continued.
“A robot is a complex machine of many smaller machines. One of those smaller machines is the power supply, maybe battery, maybe capacitive, rechargeable, and necessary to power everything else. Then there is an entire array of interconnected little machines that enable it to move--like you have arms and legs, and you have muscles in your arms and legs, and you use one muscle to bend your leg and a different one to straighten your arm, but they’re all muscles that work pretty much the same way. But then somewhere in this machine there is also a computer, a central processor. It’s kind of analogous to your brain, that it tells the other machines what to do. So, power supply, movement systems, computer. Good so far?”
“Now, I just disconnected the power supply from something, and the consequence was that the machine stopped working. The question is, what did I shut down? It could be that I turned off the power to the machines, but the computer is still running, trying to tell the inoperable arms and such what to do but getting no response because they’ve been turned off. But it could be that I turned off the power to the computer, so it stopped telling the other parts what to do. If it’s just the machines, and the computer is still running, then if I turn it back on it will return to doing what it was doing before I turned it off, which is hunting us. But if I shut down the computer, then it will have to reboot, and there’s a chance--and probably a fairly good chance--that as part of its boot-up sequence it will check for updates, which means it will download the instructions from the main computer telling it that we’re bridge officers, not animals, and enabling it to understand commands in English and Arabic. Still with me?”
Vashti nodded, then said, “So, how do you decide whether you turned off the computer?”
Derek smiled at her. “That,” he said, “is an excellent question,” and he pulled out his tool kit. “I’ve got to figure out where in a machine like this you would put the motherboard, and how I get to that. Then a simple circuit tester should tell me whether there’s power to it. Let’s see--where? Most living creatures have brains in their heads, to keep the paths to major senses as short as possible and so get the best response time. Some dinosaurs had second brains in their hips because they were so large they needed to be able to control their balance in the back directly, and there are some animals that don’t have central brains but a sort of neural network. The concern with a robot, though, is that the circuit board is fragile, and you want it protected, but without having to build a heavy braincase. The chest would be the logical place, or anyway somewhere in the abdominal cavity. In fact, there’s not much reason for the thing to have an abdominal cavity other than to store supplies and protect the processor. It could be in the drive at the bottom, but I might expect that of a wheeled drive, and this is a multi-legged drive, so I would go for the body.”
He shifted the device to examine it.
“Wow,” he said. “It’s surprisingly light. Must be made of some kind of science fiction material, something like synthetic spider web or plastic steel or something. Ah, access panel. Let’s get a look.” And he produced a screwdriver and began opening the robot.
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with twenty other sequential chapters of this novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #440: Changing Worlds. Given a moment, this link should take you directly to the section relevant to this chapter. It may contain spoilers of upcoming chapters.
As to the old stories that have long been here: