Art Pact 250 - In Rebellion
"If there's an end to this in sight," said Mantell, "I must be facing in the wrong direction, because I certainly cannot see it."
"It's inevitable, though. A fire that burns this fast must burn itself out."
Mantell gave me a sympathetic look, shook his head sadly.
"I do appreciate your attempt to make sociology one of the more exacting physical sciences," he said, "but I fear that rebellion and conflict do not work entirely the same way that fluid mechanics does. This, my friend, is a potential disaster. You can say what you like about it coming to a natural end, but I fear that the only natural end it is likely to come to is one where we all die, making it impossible to continue conflict."
Latto grunted from the other end of the room. He had been sitting on the ottoman by the window, staring down into the chaos below. He still had the bandages on his leg from an injury he had sustained last week, run down by a cavalry charge while attempting to extricate himself from one of the mobs. He raised an accusing finger and pointed it in my direction.
"They'll find a way to carry on fighting even when we're all dead," he said. "That one will help them, with his accursed machines."
I stepped slightly to my left, placing myself in between Latto and the prototype in the corner as though to protect my work from all such curses. He simply laughed, and turned back to his morbid observations.
"Baxter's machines have no application in war," Mantell told him. Latto waved an arm as if to swat away Mantell's argument. "They are irrelevant to the current problem, and your anti-technological bent is well understood, Mister Latto. I should hardly expect you to be an unbiased observer of the automatonoid's prospects."
"Bah!" said Latto, turning back to us again. "Isn't it the case that Baxter is always prattling on about the machine's omnipotential? That it can do anything that a man can do, and many things that he cannot? Well step up to this window, Mister Mantell, I beg you." He shifted to sitting upright, freeing up space on the ottoman. "Or if that is too much effort, I pray you take a seat beside me. Observe with your unbiased eye what exactly it is that men can do, and I dare you not to shiver at the thought of it being done with greater and greater efficiency by Baxter's mechanical man."
"To what purpose?"
"I beg your pardon?"
"To what purpose would the automatoid prosecute the violence that you watch with such apparent delectation?"
"Oh," Latto said, a grim set to his jaw. "Oh, you think to paint me as some form of carrion crow, do you? This is a wound got by hovering too close to the object of my affection, is it? Mister Mantell, you would do very well to watch your tongue in such accusations, lest by accident or design you are forced to shut your mouth to prevent more embarrassing truths from escaping. The more widely your tongue ranges, the more likely it is to be caught outside and severed from its natural attachment. I think you might consider that very carefully."
"I apologise if you thought I was impugning your tastes," Mantell said stiffly.
"In which case I pray you believe that I have forgiven you."
There were a few moments tense silence, then Latto turned back to the scene outside and Mantell took a few steps towards my prototype. The prototype itself had said nothing during the altercation, although I had given it enough motive in the subject of peacemaking that I would have expected it to step in somehow to defuse the argument. I began to examine it, then noticed with some embarrassment that I had left it disconnected from its power-line, so that it was operating from the small acid-pile in its back, just enough electrical energy to keep its brain working and memories stable, not enough to work any of the mechanical parts that would be required for speech. When I plugged it into the power supplied by the great batteries in the basement, it rolled its eyes towards me and nodded its thanks.
"I have no particular desire to see your machines turned to war," Latto said suddenly. "Do not think that of me, please." When I turned I could see that he was looking directly at me, rather earnestly, ignoring Mantell as if the older man simply were not there. "But I think that it is the inevitable end of such scientific pursuits. No matter how well-intentioned a technology might have been in the first place, inevitably the intelligence of man will find a way to turn it to the disadvantage of his fellow men, either by swindling them more efficiently or by depriving them of their lives more quickly. It is not your fault, Baxter, just a simple but horrible truth. I believe you when you say that your machine is designed for the promotion of a peaceful world, to lift the yoke of toil off our backs. All fine words. But there are parts of it that I can already see have the potential for murderousness. And if I, of all people, can see that potential, surely there are those who are far more capable of spotting it than me! There are idiot-savants of the martial kind, unable to perform a simple computation or to grasp the workings of a water-wheel, but who would nonetheless be able to tell you in an instant the great properties of your inventions in the prosecution of war or torture."
"I would endeavour to prevent my automatoids from falling into those sorts of hands," I objected.
"You would, of course, but would everyone? When there are hundreds of automatoids in every factory, thousands lining the streets, a handful in each home? Who are you then to stop them falling into - as you say - the wrong hands? Would it even be possible for you to determine which hands those wrong hands are?"
"If the glove fits," said Mantell dryly, but Latto ignored him.
"You should have to be the most energetic inventor ever," he said. "To continue your studies and simultaneously police their application. I believe if any man can do it then it is you, Baxter, but I also believe that no man can do it, you included. You should have to personally vet everyone who bought one of your machines. Your business model should resemble a recording star's, in which you simply sit back and collect royalties on your designs. Instead you wish to turn it into an adoption agency, in which you calmly interview prospective customers as if they were taking charge of a newborn. Can you not see how your two desires are at odds with each other here? You cannot spread the automatoids far and wide enough for them to transform society for the better without also spreading them wide enough for them to fall into the hands of the world's natural oppressors. Not," he added with chuckle, "without in addition spreading yourself so thin that you would be in grievous danger of snapping."
I looked back at my prototype, to discover that it was subjecting Latto to an intense scrutiny. I recognised the expression on its metal face as one of concentration, but there seemed more to it than that. I got the strange notion that it was having an idea.