Two vehicles were driving side-by-side down a highway, moving along at the posted speeds on a rain soaked highway. It was a cold fall morning, and in the smaller sedan Mr. Appleton watched the larger truck to his right carefully as he tried to edge passed the box truck. The wipers swished and squeaked across the windshield as the deluge of rain picked up, his hands instinctively gripped the wheel tighter as they approached a curve ahead.
For whatever reason, the truck seemed to be keeping pace with Appleton as he tried to pass. This irked the man in the sedan, and he glanced right to try and see the person driving the truck. He hoped that a momentary glance and a half second of eye contact with the would-be race car driver to his right might shed some light on they kind of driver that was behind the wheel, or even spur the driver into realizing that Appleton was there. His glance, however, was fruitless as the truck was too high, and too close, to see inside. With his eyes back on the road, he saw that traffic ahead at the curve would encourage the truck to slow down, and he breathed easy.
And then the truck merged into his lane, pushing his sedan aside as if it were he were rubbish being swept away by a giant broom. The car lurched violently toward the concrete wall to his left, and Appleton spun the wheel the right so that he would miss. As he did, the truck realized its mistake and did the same, its bulk shifting wildly on the wet road. It began to slide, and the wheels turned to the left, back toward the sedan. Appleton panicked and spun to the wheel left, his feet mashing the pedals. The sedan spun and the red taillights in front of him were replaced by the bright white headlights of those who had a front row seat to the spectacle.
Silence enveloped Appleton, and everything moved slowly as he turned his head and saw the tail end of the truck careening toward the side of his car. It slammed into him, breaking all of the driver side windows as the airbags in the car exploded into existence. The right side of the car exploded next as it met the concrete wall. Appleton’s head continued to spin as the sedan sat lifeless on the side of the highway. After what felt like an eternity, he breathed again. His lungs burned, the powder and smoke of the airbags choked him. His head was heavy and foggy, rain began to pour into the car and he felt it soak his clothes. He was still gripping the wheel.
Seconds had passed and there were already people at this door asking if he was alright. Someone had pried the door open, and after a few minutes Appleton was able to get to his feet and stand on the rainy highway. No broken bones, some blood, and certainly some bruises for later. People kept asking questions, and he gave them the best answers he could as he muddled through his own fog.
What had happened?
A car accident.
Appleton began to look around anxiously, the lights and rain playing with his head. And then he saw it.
The box truck. Across the highway, its rear end in a ditch, nose facing the highway. It had miraculously missed any other cars, but had used a tow-behind construction sign as a buffer to bring it to a stop. Appleton felt another feeling now, and it propelled him across the highway toward the truck. He marched over to it, not thinking to look for cars that might drive down the highway. As he neared, the driver door opened and the driver was emerging.
Questions and anger were bubbling as Appleton reached the door, and as he prepared to make himself known to the driver, finally, he saw its metallic face and the anger became rage.
“A god damn robot. Well isn’t this something! You almost killed me, Speed Racer! Didn’t you see me?!”
The robot had no expression, it just stared and listened. Appleton’s tirade was fierce but it just stood there like a statue, rain streaking down its facepplate. Its indifference made Appleton even angrier, at least human drivers would fight back or chime in, offer apologies. Eventually, Appleton tired and the authorities began arriving.
“Useless bucket of bolts…” Appleton said through gritted teeth.
Then, the robot stirred. Something deep within its circuitry had been triggered by the angry humans yelling. It wasn’t sure what it was nor was it in the machine’s programming to question it, but suddenly a prompt came to the processors, and began to executing a series of calculations. Physics equations, determinations of force, in-depth analysis of human muscular and skeletal assemblies. The robot thought it was odd that the “empathize and apologize” protocol was doing complex math, and surely the “hug” protocol didn’t need to know how compensate balance at high speed in the rain. All of this in a split second, and at the same time another series of commands involving the actuators on its right arm and hand.
Two full seconds after Appleton said “bolts”, the robot executed its command. It would later be determined by engineers at the lab the robot was assembled at, that an intern thought it would be entertaining to adjust this particular models programmed response to human interaction. This change involved adjustments with how the machine handled aggressive human responses to robots, and detailed commands for retaliation if these events ever took place. The intern was promptly fired, but the video of his deed would live on forever in a quick clip of a robot being yelled at on a rainy highway, followed by a robot punching a man in the face, dancing over his body, then powering down forever.
Appleton survived the ordeal with just bruises and a healthy fear of robots.
About this work: This was quickly typed in the space of twenty minutes one morning in an email to my wife and is largely unedited from its original format.
I was driving to the office Monday morning when I saw a car accident happen in my rear view mirror. It was raining and appeared that someone just lost control. Fortunately everyone appears to be alright as it didn’t even make the local news. The incident stuck with me and I found myself wondering how many of these types of accidents could be eliminated by autonomous cars, which became a thought on robot drivers, and finally a funny thought on interns with a malicious sense of humor. If you take anything away from this, please fear poorly paid interns, not robots.