The Economic Laws of Robotics

The robot was white, angular, and roughly waist-high. At least, it was waist-high for Jack, but Jack had always been a tall man thanks to the synthetic hormones he’d been given at a young age. It was a diminutive thing, like most personal assistants, and if one were terribly nearsighted and unfamiliar with modern robots, it might look like a human child. Jack was neither nearsighted nor unfamiliar with modern robots. The robot stood in the center of the cell, making a low whirring sound, while Jack sprawled on his bunk and read a yellow-paged scifi novel he’d picked up at the prison library.

For several minutes, the robot stood in relative silence, and Jack turned a couple more pages. It didn’t show much interest in cleaning. It didn’t show much interest in doing anything. It was a fairly ineffective device. Eventually, Jack placed the book beside his pillow and propped himself on his elbows to get a better look at the shape.

“What’s your deal?” he asked.

“I am a Class B personal assistant produced within the United States from United States material. My operating system is Windows 2060. My serial number is 376-2678,” the robot recited. “My uses include, but are not limited to, cleaning, cooking, washing dishes, walking dogs, and playing MP3s currently licensed by the RIAA.”

“Huh,” Jack said.

“Under the Right-to-Work Act, I am incompatible with products manufactured overseas or those manufactured from overseas parts.”

“So, are you going to clean, or what?”

“I have been incarcerated because of a conflict between the legal system and my programming.”

This was news. Jack had never heard of a robot in prison before.

“I will be decommissioned and my parts will be used to build other personal assistants. I am scheduled for decommissioning in seventeen minutes.”

“Did you roll over a cat or something?”

Before the robot could answer, the door opened with a musical bleeping and a gray-clad officer typed a code into an outside panel to lower the electrical containment field. “Okay, mechboy,” he said. “The family of the victim wants to hear your statement.”

The robot moved forward, its gears whirring and clunking towards the door.

“Wait, wait,” Jack said. “You killed a person?”

“His place of manufacture was incompatible with my programming,” the robot answered as it disappeared into the opening. The door beeped shut, and Jack was once again alone in the cell.

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