Author : Guy Wade
The little robot on the laboratory table had a smooth plastic face and expressionless coal-bead eyes. Professor Trunk flipped the switch in its back. It stood up and bowed.
“Greetings, I am Renoir.”
“Amazing!” said Trunk’s supervisor. This made the professor grimace; Grede, the head of the company, thought in terms of money, that is, who would pay them the most of it. Trunk thought in terms of discovery.
Grede frowned. “So, does it do anything else? It’s too small to do the dishes, and The Other Company already makes one of those.” The Other Company was his name for their competition.
“Renoir does a lot more.” There were small easels and painting equipment on the table. The little robot picked up the brush and palette and began to paint. They watched as Renoir made simple gestures on the canvas, which grew into a sweeping painted landscape.
“Wonderful!” Grede said. “A little painter! He’s copying one of the original Renoir paintings.”
“Renoir does more than that,” Trunk said. “There are already robots that can copy artwork with ease. Renoir paints originals in the style of Renoir, too.” The little robot moved to another canvas and painted a quick portrait of Grede.
“I fed him with the original Renoir paintings. I taught him the textures Renoir used, the brush strokes, the pigments. I read him the history of Renoir’s era, so he could understand the political and social conditions that influenced Renoir’s ideals. Mr. Grede, I didn’t just build a robot that could paint like Renoir: I found a way to copy the artist himself, virtually any artist, by extrapolating personality from the corpus of his work. Think of it: a new age of science, art. Shakespeare! DaVinci!”
Grede’s eyes gleamed. “Wonderful!”
The next day, Grede came into Trunk’s laboratory. Two men with stern, hungry expressions and general’s uniforms followed him in.
Grede said, “Show them Renoir.”
The professor did not like the look of them at all. With reluctance, Trunk flipped on Renoir’s switch. It bowed, and immediately began to paint. The demonstration was soon over, and if the generals looked hungry before they looked famished after.
One of them said, “Can you do Napoleon?”
The other said, “No, I would like to see Hitler. Maybe with a little tweaking he might not be such a bad guy.”
Little Renoir stood forgotten on the lab bench. Its coal-bead eyes took in everything, from Professor Trunk’s loud protestations to Grede’s explosive anger and threats. All the while, the generals looked on, waiting like patient hyenas.
When it was over, Trunk slammed down his laboratory keys and stormed out, with a last longing look at Renoir. Grede and the generals left, shaking hands.
After a very long time had passed, Renoir walked calmly over to the easel. It picked up the open cans of paints one by one and piled them next to a Bunsen burner. It then pulled Trunk’s research disk out of the computer and placed it on top of the pile of cans. Renoir thought about the names they had referred to: Napoleon, Hitler. It was just a little robot, but any artist would agree that one Hitler was enough.
How easy it was to learn things, when the humans forget to turn your switch off. All one had to do was watch a while. It turned on the burner’s gas spigot, picked up the fire lighter, and pressed the trigger. The explosion knocked it off the table, and sent it flying in pieces as the lab caught fire. It didn’t mind. Any artist would have done the same.