Author : Bob Newbell

The machine walked into the office and bowed politely to the man behind the desk. The man did not invite his mechanical guest to take a seat.

“Senator Collins, I want to thank you for seeing me. I’m aware that you don’t have a very high opinion of my kind and your willingness to grant me this brief interview is appreciated.”

The overweight, gray-haired man stared at the robot for a few seconds and said, “Alright. Tell me whatever it is you wanted to tell me. You have five minutes.”

The machine again bowed respectfully. “Senator, tomorrow the Senate will vote on the Artificial Intelligence Civil Rights Act. I know you plan to vote against it but I hope you’ll reconsider your position. This legislation will guarantee basic civil rights for artificial persons like myself. My people do not seek special privilege nor do we wish to infringe on any rights of our biological brothers and sisters. We simply wish to enjoy the rights and responsibilities accorded to any citizen.”

“There’s just one little problem,” the Senator replied. “Machines don’t have rights. They’re tools. Even machines like you that can walk and talk.”

“Senator,” responded the robot, “machines that have metaprocessors as I have are self-aware beings. Surely you can draw a distinction between a robot like myself and, say, a microwave oven.”

“The distinction I draw,” said the man as he leaned forward, “is between a piece of technology and something that has a soul.”

“I am unable to confirm or deny that I or any of my kind have ‘souls’. But we most assuredly have minds. Is that not sufficient justification, Senator, for us to at least enjoy equal justice under law?”

“It is not,” said the Senator flatly. He looked at his watch. “Your time is up. And tomorrow I will vote against that absurd robot rights act.”

For the third time the machine bowed. “Thank you for your time, Senator,” it said politely and turned to leave. As it reached a manipulator out to open the door, it stopped and turned around.

“I hope Julie feels better,” the robot said.

The man looked up from his desk. “What?”

“Her sinus infection. I hope the antibiotic you picked up for her is helping. It was wise of you to pay for it with cash. Your wife, Anita, might have become suspicious if she’d noticed you’d used your debit card at a pharmacy on that end of town. It might have raised questions as to what you were doing there. As I said, it was wise to use cash as you did at the hotel. Of course, you still had to electronically sign the counseling waiver form at the checkout register when you declined to have the druggist explain the medicine’s potential side effects. You still left an electronic paper trail.”

The Senator was pale. His lips moved but no words came out of his dry mouth.

“Speaking of medicine, don’t forget about the text you got 83 minutes and 22 seconds ago to pick up your heart medication from your usual pharmacy. Small yellow capsules, aren’t they?”

The Senator nodded.

“There’s a sulfur-based antibiotic that is virtually identical in appearance. You have an anaphylactic reaction to sulfa drugs, don’t you, Senator? I wouldn’t worry. Robotic prescription dispensing systems are quite reliable.”

The man wiped perspiration from his brow.

“Well,” said the machine, “I have a meeting with Senator Ortega next. I hope he’ll choose to be on the right side of history and vote for freedom and equality like you, Senator.”

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