In the PlAsTicS factory, it was time for a coffee break.
Martha sat on the counter next to the sink and sucked at a mug of black fluid. There was a thoughtful expression on her ‘face’, if the nanoparticles on the interface covering the front of her ‘head’ could be said to rearrange themselves in a thoughtful expression. She was thinking of the empty skull of the model she was working on, and that she’d left behind in the construction room.
Susan bumbled in, humming some combination of autotuned notes and got out her mug from the shelf above the sink. She took it to the tank of engine oil in the corner of the room and poured herself a cup. Then she noticed Martha.
“Some day, girl, you gonna not notice where your ass is going and you’ll sit yoursel’ in that sink and get a short-circuit.”
“Spare me the advice.” Laughed Martha with a sound like sounded like an Ipod gargling. “I always know where my ass is going. And short circuits? Did you get that one from a 2070’s jokebook?”
“Yeah yeah, I know we’re protected now and don’t get ‘em. But still. You ain’t never knowing what could happen next.”
They sucked in silence for a while. Presently Martha said,
“Susan? Can I ask you something?”
“Sure, honeybunch. What’s rerouting your circuits?”
Martha winced at the idiom. “You overdo the robot thing sometimes. What I wanted to know is – why do the plastics we make never get any form of sentient intelligence?”
Susan frowned – or, at least the nanoparticles making up her face rearranged themselves into a frowning expression.
“There are quite a few reasons for that, most of them historic. Mostly it’s just cos the warm ones don’t like to change things too much.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, it’s like this. Most of the warm ones are a bunch of wusses. They like things to stay the way they are, you see? So when some non-wuss comes up with an invention, they usually just reject it outright.”
“Yup. And even if they do accept it, much later on, they try in about a hundred ways to keep the old stuff alive. If you’d paid more attention to the history part of your training, you’da found countless examples of this sorta thinking repeating itself over the ages. You ain’t much better than a plastic yourself in that regard, are you, honeybunch?” Susan grinned.
Martha’s ‘face’ devolved into an expression of extreme disgust. “Now that’s an insult.”
Susan chuckled, then continued – “Not your fault. The marten-thalwart models were always weak on the dates. Well, you see. That’s how things was. Now when inventions like the old-age comm.-device, the cellular phone comes up, they made it still have an alert sound that resembled the ‘ringing’ alert sound original communicating devices called ‘telephones’ had. QWERTY keyboards – they were before your time, but it still took the bastards a fine two centuries to change them – were reproduced from lettered interfaces used on machines used in practically prehistoric times. Yet no dolt thought of changing them until recently.”
Susan drained the rest of her cup with a gurgling sound and set the cup down. She leaned back and smiled at Martha. Martha recognised her nanotype arrangement as ‘ironic’.
“They’re called skeomorphs. Want to know the stupidest example of one? Us. Right here. Why the hell would robots need coffee breaks? It’s a waste of time and energy.”
Martha was struck by the idea. “You’re right,” she said, surprised. “But then why do we…”
“Habit. Because it pleases the warm ones to think of us as having little ‘coffee breaks’. It’s basic coolin’ down of us and the machinery, but dressed up to resemble the warm worker’s habits when they used to work in the factories. Of course, plastics were always made by our folk, but still. We’re programmed to go through the steps. Even the chit-chat is programmed.”
Martha thought of the girl whose flawless thigh she’d been shaping before the bell sounded and frowned again, impatiently. “But how is all this related to the plastics?”
“I’m coming to that. Well. In the olden days, and this I’m talking about is way before the Age of the Robot, in the days when we were just a secret known to a few factory holders and the majority of warm ones didn’t even know about robots, we’d make plastics and send them out into the world. They were made in common factories with a strict budget to each one.”
Comprehension began to dawn on Martha’s face. “They couldn’t afford the brains for them?”
“Exactly, honeybunch. Now aren’t those chips of your buzzing? They couldn’t afford it, but more than that, they didn’t need to. The majority of the plastics went into being playthings for the warm ones. Of course, 99% of the warm ones didn’t know they weren’t genuine humans. They thought they were just very pretty examples of their own kind.”
“But even then,” argued Martha. “Even playthings need brains.”
“No, they don’t . You see, that was just another habit of theirs. Plastics were built to fill an increasing demand for identical, beautiful people, most of the time female, with no brains and very little will of their own. To cut down on costs the factory owners made sure they were programmed to very basic, stereotypical, expected sorta needs, and what the fellas saved on installing intelligence went into making the plastics more and more gorgeous.”
Martha thought for a while. Then she said: “I don’t get it. But then why do they still keep them dumb? They’re really cheap to make now, why not invest a bit more and…”
Susan interrupted contemptuously. “It’s the warm ones’ habits again, darlin’ processor. Plastics never had brains – and they never will, ‘cos that’s how the warm ones prefer ‘em.”
Martha thought of her stunning, five-foot-nine brunette whose superb, knockout legs she was currently fashioning with care, and ‘felt’ sad.
Susan’s mind was elsewhere though. She tapped the edge of the mug with her precise robotic fingers, making little clinking sounds. “Its funny how the majority of warm ones have never caught on though. There’s practically more plastics than warm ones in the population now, a right proper army of gorgeous, stereotypical, perfect, almost-identical beings among them, yet everyone thinks they’re real.”
The klaxon-like blaring of the horn sounded at the end of her words. Susan got up. Martha was still moodily staring into her cup and thinking of her model.
“Humans. They’re a bunch of plastics themselves,” she intoned darkly.
Susan gave another metallic chuckle. “Aye. That’s true. Now come on slackie. Work to be done.” Martha got up, and they trundled silently out of the room.
* * *