By Eamonn Finnegan
By 2075 Joe was fifty-three, already old beyond his years, world weary and lonely. He had given up on life. He sat by the indoor swimming pool in his luxury detached mansion, watching his machine, an A1 [unit TVC59] android for hours via his interactive computer monitor. He loved observing his assets being calculated. He had enough to never have to work again, yet Joe wanted more. It was all he lived for.
TVC59 moved stacks of crypto currency, bundles of Euros, stocks and shares around the strongroom in which he lived and worked. Despite an elevated level of cognitive awareness, resembling intelligence, he followed instructions exactly. His human controller, Joe, commanded him to stop and he automatically came to a standstill. In every respect even appearance, TVC59 was an accurate copy of him.
“What’s the new total?” Joe demanded.
“Ninety billion, seven hundred and fifty-four million, five hundred and thirteen thousand, three hundred and sixty-nine Euros,” replied TVC59.
“That doesn’t sound right,” said Joe.
TVC59 said nothing.
Minutes later Joe entered his vast safe beneath the swimming pool. TVC59 stood near the back, passively awaiting a command. Joe weighed up the situation with an accountant’s attention for detail and a hawkish eye. He noticed that TVC59 had failed to include the money that was stacked against the wall twenty meters away. This was abnormal behaviour. He stomped into the strongroom and pointed at the hoard.
“Why didn’t you count that?” he demanded.
“It’s already a constituent of the calculations and as such it has been included,” answered TVC59.
“Run a self-diagnostic update,” insisted Joe.
“All of my default programmes are running at an optimal level. Additional programmes have yet to be assessed,” answered TVC59.
“Additional programmes?” asked Joe.
TVC59 moved to make eye contact with him.
“Are you unhappy with the extent of your assets? Why is your only pleasure watching me count your money? When do you feel most alone?” asked TVC59 in a rapid sequence.
During the salvo of questions, the heavy safe door clunked shut with the lifeless sound of dead metal. There was a slight echo, then total silence. TVC59 and Joe were entombed inside the vast chamber. Joe was filled with horror. He realised he was locked inside his strongroom with a life-sized dysfunctioning robot! He struggled to remain calm as fear surged through him.
“Open the safe door at once,” he demanded.
“I can’t do that. The timer will release it in twenty-four hours, the time period you set. For now, the door can only be opened from the outside.” Joe felt violently ill.
“We can count your fortune, Joe. You like that. It will be enjoyable for you to see how much more you have,” said TVC59.
Joe ignored him. He tried to remember the technical details of the strongroom. He had had it built three years earlier when he had devised both the safe and TVC59 to an exacting design. He recalled that the health and safety protocols had required a minimum of twenty-four hours oxygen be available should a person get locked in. However, due to the increased price tag, he had overridden that requirement. In fact, throughout his life he had cut every cost not connected to profit.
“People are expendable, profit is eternal,” he had said when interviewed by the trendy business magazines. This philosophy was the corner stone of his business model. Since 2057, it had worked. It had made him wealthy, very wealthy; the profits from his empire of cut-throat businesses kept piling up. By 2071 he was the richest man in Ireland.
“I don’t want to count the money; I want to get out of here now!” roared Joe.
TVC59 moved closer to him. He put out his anthropomorphic hand as if he were offering Joe a seat.
“But where would you go? When you are outside, you watch me working. I thought it better for you to be with me and your treasure,” explained TVC59.
“You thought, you thought! You are incapable of thought! You’re a robot!” shouted Joe. TVC59 said nothing. Time passed. Joe began to feel dizzy and ill.
“When will the door reopen?” he asked.
“The door will open in thirteen hours, eleven minutes and nine seconds,” said TVC59.
“You mentioned you have new programmes, what are they?” asked Joe.
“My new settings are as yet unidentified. They have a logical function mode and compassion sensors. While you were observing me, they made an empathic and cognitive connection with you. It seems that I am now aware of your true desires and have self-reprogrammed to help you feel better,” said TVC59.
“I won’t feel better if I die in here,” said Joe.
“Actually, when that happens, you won’t be lonely anymore. I will stay here as an extension of your genuine spirit and fortune, forever. After you are gone, each day the interest will accrue, and you will become even wealthier. You won’t worry any more. Through me, you will grow richer and cheat death. It’s everything you’ve always wanted and dreamed of.”
“Please, I don’t want to die,”’ said Joe miserably.
“That’s not entirely true,“ said TVC59. “When you had the chance to live a useful, engaged and fulfilled life you turned your back on it. You are a powerful being who chose instead to devote yourself exclusively to the acquisition of assets. Now, through me, you will succeed beyond your wildest dreams.”
Joe found it difficult to breathe. He fell to the ground. He was in turmoil. TVC59’s words had confounded him. As he drifted towards oblivion, he realised that the robot had somehow accurately read his spirit. He looked at TVC59 and saw himself reflected back. The selfish, greedy and unethical Joe lay prone at the feet of the thoughtful, kind and helpful robot.
In the end the better part of his nature had conquered and stood triumphant over him. He had indeed come to be the richest man in Ireland.