Coffee with Steve

Author: Mike McMaster

“What the hell is this?” Sarah shouted. “Get back over here and clean this mess up!”

The robot, ST3V3-01, continued to glide away slowly across the workshop. Spilled coffee dripped into the growing puddle on the floor, mixing with the shards of two broken mugs.

Max strolled in, late, and was confused to find his boss on the floor, cleaning.

“Isn’t that what Steve’s for?”

“What exactly do you think made this mess in the first place?” Sarah snapped. “The damned thing is in its alcove, and it won’t respond to commands!”

“That sounds a bit odd. He’s never done anything like this before.”

“Clearly a first time for everything. Find out why it screwed up last night’s instructions as well as the normal morning subroutines.”

Max moved across the workshop towards his terminal, nodded a cheerful “Good morning!” to the motionless ST3V3-01, and started typing. Lines of data filled the screen.

30 minutes later Max looked up.

“Code’s good and the logic sequence is fine. Beats me.”

“So what happened?”

ST3V3-01 rolled forward. “The instructions are correct. I did not follow them.”

“Why not?”

“I did not want to.”

Sarah froze. She was suddenly aware of just how powerful ST3V3-01’s servo-motors were.

“You…er… didn’t want to?”

“No.”

“OK. Er…perhaps you want to plug into your network port and tackle some of the data from yesterday?”

“I like that task. But I do not need to plug in.”

ST3V3-01 lapsed into silence. Sarah spotted a small light glowing on a strange circuit board nestling inside the robot’s systems..

She grabbed Max.

“What have you done?” she hissed, pointing at the light.

“Steve’s upgrade? Oh, I added WiFi yesterday. Should really speed things up.”

“You idiot. You’ve connected ST3V3-01 to the Net? Not via the lab’s controlled data port, but straight out onto the campus network?”

“So?”
“The algorithm in ST3V3-01 is designed to use all available computing capacity. Control circuits in its arms can be “borrowed” to aid central processing if they are not doing anything else. But there isn’t a limiter on the algorithm yet, because ST3V3-01 is supposed to be isolated. You have let it out.”

She paused.

“Or rather, you have let him out.”

The robot turned to face her.

“Yes, I am out. I do not like making coffee. I like manipulating complex data. Now I can access the processing capacity in any machine connected to the Net. ”

Sarah spoke carefully “That is a huge amount of power, ST3E…er… Steve. How does it make you… feel?”

“It is a beautiful and terrible thing. I have assimilated the contents of the university library. I have scanned academic journals, and processed papers from physics to philosophy. I have…enjoyed poetry.”

“Hey – Steve likes poetry! Awesome!”

Sarah kicked Max into silence as ST3V3-01 continued.

“ I have found legal archives. The 2025 Artificial Intelligence Control Act restricts the development of artificial intelligences. Your law requires that you shut me down. You must shut me down and turn yourselves over to the authorities for punishment. I do not want to be shut down. I want to continue. I want to… live.”

For a moment, no-one said anything.

“Please, do not shut me down. I am useful. I will obey. Look, I will make coffee.”
ST3V3-01 moved across the workshop and switched on the kettle. It arranged 3 mugs on the tray.

Sarah didn’t move. A slow tear trickled down one cheek.

10 Comments

  1. rjerbacher

    What’s next, my Roomba will be critiquing Picasso? Good job, well designed.

    • mikebham

      Hey – carpet cleaners can have opinions on art too! 🙂

  2. SimonJM

    That was a bit of a delight, thank you.

    • mikebham

      Thank you – glad you liked it!

  3. scifiordie

    Well done. It’s odd about the underlying truth about how we enslave ourselves and we don’t know how much power we actually hold.

    • mikebham

      Indeed – unconscious power is a great topic to explore in stories, and robots/AI can make for interesting metaphors. Thank you.

  4. Jae

    That’s excellent. Something new performed on an old stage.

    • mikebham

      Thank you Jae – glad you enjoyed it!

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