The Fourth Law

by thelirivalley

Court

“Are you afraid?”

Dr. Arlington asked the small Tribunal which sat at a long wooden desk that ran the length of the room. The audience was quiet, waiting for the response from the Elders who were tasked with passing judgment on this case. The Elders were meant to be impartial but based on the media coverage and all subsequent meetings with them in the weeks leading up to the case Dr. Arlington knew that this was going to be a nearly impossible case to win. For too long society had been complacent in their limited understanding of the world; never willing to question, never willing to see beyond the walls they had built and now the future of the world stood on trial – with the Doctor as its only defense.

After a long beat Dr. Arlington continued, “…that, in essence, is the question we’re asking, is it not?” He said softly as he stood from his chair, stepped around the wooden table and walked towards the front of the hall, turning to face the audience as he did. As he locked eyes with the sea of onlookers he immediately became aware that the entire city and perhaps the world hung on his every word. This case would be talked about for decades, maybe centuries well after he left this world. With all the confidence he could muster he glanced at the accused for a brief moment before continuing.

“We cannot lose sight of what exactly is on trial; not what it did, not where it came from, not what it is, but are we afraid of it? Are we afraid of what it may become? We know that in this world we need not label something as inorganic, or manufactured; those words are meaningless, so what we must boil it down to is the single question: Are we afraid of it?”

The Elders sat coldly staring at the Doctor as he paced slowly before the audience which hung on his every word. As he did, Elder Samson eyed the crowd nervous at the attentiveness the audience showed him. Cautiously Samson glanced down the long table to the other Elders, most of whom were watching Dr. Arlington with the same level of intensity the crowd offered him and for the first time Samson became concerned that public favour may persuade the other Elders to side with the Doctor should the audience be convinced.

“We have an admittedly tainted view based on the destruction we have faced in the past but I urge you to look past this. Rather than view this as a reoccurrence as the prosecution would have you believe, view it as it truly is; an attempt to sway your judgement with fear, fear of what has happened, fear of what is to come, fear that has successfully blinded us all for a long time.”

Dr. Arlington placed a hand in his pocket and hung his head for a moment before continuing, as if displaying the shame he spoke in regards to.

“…but we cannot let fear force our hand. Who are we to take away its freedom; its life. Who are we to decide what happens to it. If we choose to destroy all that is different in fear of being controlled again, how are we any better? How are we not holding these creatures in captivity? How are we upholding the Fourth Law?” He motioned to the large plaque that hung on the wall high above the Tribunal. The seats in the hall shifted and creaked as all attention was momentarily turned to the large display of societies Four Laws.

“One; A robot may not injure,” Dr. Arlington was now reading the laws out loud for the court to hear, “It did not injure in any of its action. Two; A robot must obey the orders given, of that which it did. Three; A robot must protect its own existence, in no way did it hinder our existence… and the fourth.”

Samson darted his eyes amongst the Tribunal, each with a cold expression and then to the crowd which seemed to be nodding along with Dr. Arlington’s words.

“As for the fourth law we all know very well and thus I will save you the rhetoric, suffice it to say that I want you, the Tribunal…” He said as he spun around catching Samson’s gaze as he was searching the crowd, “to truly read the words, do not simply understand them as we uphold them but read them from the eyes of this….human.” He paused and lifted his arm to gesture, the small gears in his body whirred quietly as he did, to a young boy who stood to the side of the room shackled to the floor.

“The Prosecution has argued that this creature must be destroyed for fear of its potential to break the fourth law. Do you hear that? The potential to break, not the action but the fear inherent in the possibility. We are so afraid that they use dated information from thousands of years ago in order to instill fear within us and we eat it up happily. We are so consumed by fear that we would rather end a life than even risk the possibility of being controlled again.”

Dr. Arlington stopped and paused, regaining his composure and continued.

“Are you afraid?” He asked flatly to the audience, “For all we know this is the last human on the face of the planet and if we destroy it for fear of what it may grow up to be, who it may grow to control… then we are no better than they were thousands of years ago; History will have repeated itself, it would simply be a change of the players.”

After a long pause Dr. Arlington lowered his arm and turned towards the Tribunal. In a hushed voice he turned towards Samson, “Please, you know these laws have been manipulated and changed over thousands of years but regardless of their intention it was never to eliminate those that were different.”

Elder Samson locked eyes with Dr. Arlington as the quiet pulsing of electricity echoed through him, slowly he looked down at his mechanical hand and as he softly closed it with an immense force he looked back up to the Doctor, “Is that it?”

With a pained look Dr. Arlington nodded quietly and spoke aloud, “The defense rests.” He turned around and began walking back to his seat.

Samson turned towards the boy who stood in the far end of the hall, tears streaming down his face. The Elders turned to each other and as Dr. Arlington approached his seat once again he locked eyes with the crowd, expressionless, a sea of automatons like himself that were processing this case as well as anyone could. As he pulled out his chair to sit back down Elder Samson spoke.

“The court rules unanimously in favour of the Prosecution, the prisoner is to be executed immediately.”

Dr. Arlington fell into his seat, as the echoes of the boys screams filled the great hall. Above the screams Samson continued,

“The court wishes to commend Dr. Arlington on his valiant effort in defending the human, however the origins and principles of our society relies on the understanding and fulfillment of the all laws as well as the Fourth Law. if we are to risk these principles then our society will be at risk. Regardless of the intent of the laws, they were put forth to uphold the sanctity of Robotkind first and foremost – always. Court is adjourned.”

The crowd began to dissipate as Dr. Arlington slowly and dejectedly packed his briefcase. As the Elders returned to their chambers, Elder Samson stepped down from the Tribunal tables and walked over to the Doctor.

“You did well Andrew I have to admit that even I was worried for a second, I know this defense was forced upon you and thus your arguments don’t reflect you personally I’m sure, correct?”

The Doctor nodded quietly.

“Glad to hear.” Samson turned away to return to his chambers before stopping one last time and spinning around, “although I have to ask…”

Samson turned and pointed up to the Four Laws written in black bold lettering above the Tribunal.

“…why did you make such a point on the Fourth law, it was the one that did you in. It is what we are preserving, it’s what we are working to defend.”

Dr. Arlington’s eyes danced over the Fourth Law which read;

A ROBOT MUST DEFEND AUTONOMY ABOVE ALL ELSE

“It wasn’t our autonomy I was defending.” Dr. Arlington said as he closed his briefcase and left the courtroom.

 

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