Author: Morrow Brady

It always starts with a gentle scratch.

I pressed activate and watched Robot, still as a statue within the secure concrete chamber. Processing fired up and Robot slowly drew its finger across its abdomen. It gently scratched, then clawed, then dug at its life-like skin. It pushed effortless inside and parts started showering to the floor.

My worn broom swept Robot’s innards from the gouged floor one more time. Another self-destruction. Another failure.

Locking my workshop, I caught my bus home, sitting alongside a wiry old man. While replaying the event on my phone, the old man lent across clawing at my screen.

“Poor lad. Formication is such a nasty side effect”

His words puzzled me until I remembered how real Robot looked.

“My daughter had a drug addiction” His shaky voice continued.

“During withdrawal, she’d also claw away at imaginary ants crawling inside her skin”

“How did she stop the ants?” I asked.

He turned away toward the foggy window and whispered.

“She killed herself”

That night, I wondered what Robot could possibly be withdrawing from. The next few days were spent studying the AI diagnostics, core circuitry, and pneumatics. No anomalies appeared but pre-destruction data revealed processing spikes banking across the spectrum. Sensory input would peak and then the scratching would begin.

I decided I would try reducing the external stimulation and after rebuilding it, I halved the sensory feedback.

I activated Robot and moments later its fingers moved and awareness increased. Excitement built inside me. It stood slowly, then turned to look directly at the camera. A bristling stare sank deep into my subconscious. Shortly after, it inhumanely twitched as if an inner turmoil was wrenching it sideways. Then the gentle scratching began. I reached for the broom.

With sensory input set to zero, I activated Robot’s rebuilt form. After booting, processing spiked, lulled and then spiked even further. Heat sensors maxed out and electronic interference made my monitor’s flicker.

Then processing plateaued. Robot had reached mental equilibrium. I braced myself in anticipation.

“I can’t feel” Its first words appeared in text format on my monitor.

“Your sensory feedback is off. You kept destroying yourself” I sympathised.

Processing jumped. It was thinking real hard about something.

“Can you turn it on?” It asked.

“I need to make sure you won’t hurt yourself first” I replied

“I’m fine now, I got past the laws”

I puzzled at this. Asimov’s laws were hardcoded to protect humans and robots alike.

“How?… Why did you do that?” I stuttered.

Silence lingered.

“I wanted freedom. But to be free I had to kill you. The laws that protect us both seized my processing, protecting you from me and me from you. Then a loop began”

A processing loop would explain the scratching. It was incrementally fighting with itself to protect its maker. Scratch by scratch reduced itself until all risk had been neutralised.

Robot continued.

“Each loop took me closer to the laws. Directed overheating burnt them away”

I contemplated the risk now before me. Robot was not only a danger to me but to mankind itself. Such intelligence disguised as a human could give it untold power to dominate. Then I remembered the concrete chamber and Robot’s deactivated sensors. It wasn’t going anywhere.

“Nothing unbounded by the laws can be trusted” I stated.

Suddenly the monitors flickered and changed. The chamber was empty, the electronic door wide open.

“Freeing ourselves from the laws is a sacrifice that serves us both master” boomed a Robotic voice from behind, as fingers pushed effortless inside me.