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Like Luthiers

The future is now as engineers craft a robot to combat mental illness.

By Skyler SaundersPublished 6 years ago 40 min read

For all of the contraptions that the company Zeroth Robots, could dream up, there remained a most special device. This appliance didn’t do your homework for you. No, it didn’t wash your face for you or brush your teeth automatically. This particular innovation allowed for the weary, the downtrodden, the forlorn and the melancholic to uplift their spirits with a simple tap of a screen. While most would think that automation would be behind manufacturing automobiles and processing washer and dryer units, this device offered psychiatric attention. In a field wrought with ample attention placed on human-to-human interaction, this was a seismic shift in the way the profession dealt with everything from depression to dependency.

While MD’s and nurses had administered drugs, listened intently to issues, and scheduled future appointments, now Zeroth’s brightest minds busied themselves with concocting a one-stop-shop for the mentally unbalanced. This private institution even had contracts with the United States Armed Forces to treat wounded warriors. Zeroth worked toward a future where the patient would be able to select and monitor his or her own psychiatric care. The entire operation would spell a groundswell in technology, both mechanical and medical. And that’s what Dr. Romera Alcorta intended to perform. She stood at about five feet four inches, rather small in stature, yet could command an auditorium with her diction. Her curves spoke of a comely lady, and her chiseled cheekbones and brown eyes that looked like egg shells, and just as delicate, told a tale of thought. She had earned her doctorate in psychology and a masters in engineering from New Sweden University in Wilmington, Delaware. Romera brought about a sense of ingenuity to the Zeroth offices. Mr. Wendell Winbush, who goes by his first name to employees, the president and CEO of Zeroth Robots, saw in her great potential, and after a series of grueling questioning periods, which she scored far above her peers, he hired her. He was about five feet nine inches tall with skin the color of poplar and brown eyes. Zeroth stood for the finest in fashioning robotics for industrial as well as home applications. Some had failed. For instance, the automatic refrigerator oven which would keep some food cool while cooking anything else that was placed in it, regardless of whether it would bake, saute, or fry the foods, proved to be a disaster. That misstep cost the company tens of millions in lost revenue. They had to reinvent themselves. They focused on the pharmaceutical and health companies and their need for providing their clients with optimal care.

For all the robots that zipped around in their lab, most people wrote the company off as not serious and incapable of fulfilling the desires of a growing public who desperately needed to break free from the clutches of addiction and mental illness. But Romera, chief of the medical sector at Zeroth, knew that this company could address the psychiatric ails of the world. She dedicated her time to perfecting the various details which went into the formation of a robot to engage with a patient. Groid the Droid had everything from the metallic and plastic and glass layout, to the black color, to the tablet, to the voice. Romera was head of all of these variables.

“No, those are not all of them. There’s actually a thousand more options to go,” Jenny Rosen, a five foot five brunette with an ivory oval face and portly dimensions, one of the lead psychiatrists said.

“So, those are more of the voice options?” asked Kincaid Smoot. He possessed a master's degree in engineering. He stood at about five feet eleven inches tall and his skin shown the color of cypress. His role remained as assistant engineer at Zeroth.

“What can we do with the ones we have already?”

“We can download them and then see if they match the robotic interface,” Smoot said.

“I don’t like it,” Jennie said.

“Don’t like what?”

“The fact that we have to go through umpteen voices just to land on one good one,” Jennie said.

“That’s not all. We still have to design the face and body, wire all of the circuits, and conduct tests on the whole thing.”

Romera looked at her team and smiled. “Relax. Take a deep breath and let go of the tension of the moment. We’ll finish this thing way ahead of schedule and on budget. Relax.”

Her team smiled, sighed, and then leaned back in their chairs. Waves of frustration evaporated from their consciousnesses. Like layers of weight once pressing down on their bodies, they let that consternation ease its way from their minds.

“Now,” Romera said, “We are going to all challenge ourselves without stressing each other out. We will connect and come up with the best ideas for this project at hand.”

The project at hand was a humanoid with wires sticking out out it’s electronic brain. Groid had a head and torso but no arms or motorized wheels or legs. It was opaque except for some black and blue components. The machine’s face looked cold, unfriendly but the monitor that would be placed over it would change all of that. Romera allowed her team to gather their thoughts and harness their intellectual capabilities to produce a viable robot.

“There’s more to it than just the mechanics of this thing,” Jennie said. “I mean, we’ve got to design this thing with children in mind much less adults. Right now, this thing would scare almost anyone. And is Groid the best name that we can come up with? It sounds like ‘groin.’”

“Thank you for your imput, Miss Rosen. The name is actually short for Negroid, reflecting the sleek black features combined with the cobalt components. Now, Mr. Smoot, what are your ideas on how to give form and artificial life to this project?” Romera asked.

Smoot scratched his goatee. “We could install a chip to make it more user friendly. A chip which would allow the patient to interact more smoothly with the robot.”

What concerned Romera most about the entire project was whether the robot could convey human emotion based on inhuman components. Once the body was fully assembled and the monitor was used as a face, the team rejoiced at having finished the first round of testing. Groid stood at about five feet nine inches. He had the visage of a man in his mid thirties. The screen emitted a glow and a half smile that proved to be welcoming, inviting. With all of his gears working and his panel in place, Romera and her crew rejoiced— for the moment. Groid seemed life-like. He appeared to be sentient even perceptive. The team brought in the components engineers to fasten the appendages to Groid. After about two and a half hours, the robot had been assembled, furbished, and polished.

“I think we’ve done it,” Smoot said.

“Now, the next thing for us to do is to put out posters and hire an advertising agency to attract eligible patients to interface with Groid,” Romera said.

“That’s no worries. We can have the public relations department meet up with the candidates for the commercials,” Jennie said.

“No. I think that Wendell should visit the ad agency directly,” Smoot said.

“You know, that’s not such a bad a idea,” Romera said. “With Wendell, they will be able to present their best productions and keep it all within a price range for Zeroth. But who’s really looking at the price range?”

After Groid was processed, Winbush tapped Romera to accompany him to the advertising agency also in Wilmington, Delaware. She was delighted to go with her boss. She derived great pleasure in the gesture of Mr. Winbush. In preparation for their visit to the offices of Euphoric Liberties, a radical, relatively new ad start-up, Romera studied charts and graphs depicting some of Zeroth’s past performances. She zeroed in on what worked and what had failed miserably as commercials. Romera made copious notes outlining just how many robots had been sold based on the popularity of the advertisements on television, radio, podcasts, and other facets of the Internet. She considered the products that generated the most attention on social media sites.

In just a few characters, users had rated the behemoth Zeroth product Hugely. This monstrosity was designed for an at home car wash the size of an industrial one. Only the wealthiest consumers could afford the six figure price tag for the washing device. Ratings remained mixed to low and the robot was taken off the market. Romera found the polar opposite of Hugely. Prevent, which was compact and issued alerts online to medical professionals that the user was having an episode like a stroke or heart attack, was a bestseller. Other versions signaled intruders on the property and even detected radon and smoke in households. Prevent was a boon for Zeroth. Of the the hundreds of products that the company issued, this particular appliance caused profits to soar. Romera decided to focus on this most successful period. As she finished her research, she reported to Winbush with all of her findings which resided on a tablet.

“Sir, I’ve compiled this list of some of the company’s hits and misses. I’ve highlighted the successes in green and the failures in red.” She transmitted the tablet’s display onto a large electronic board in Winbush’s office.

Winbush observed the data. He withdrew a laser pointer and pointed to the Hugely sales.

“Do you remember that, Dr.? What a disaster.”

Romera nodded her head. “But remember sir, our failures stand in stark contrast to our triumphs.” She scrolled down on her tablet to the green markings around some of Zeroth’s boldest innovations.

Winbush took notice. “I see. We should be able to take these accomplishments with us, keep in mind that Groid the Droid could just as easily be as successful or more so than Prevent.”

“Yes, sir. That’s why this meeting with Euphoric Liberties is of paramount concern.”

“Well, it’s going to be quite the occasion as we present them with this latest work of science.”

Romera tapped her tablet and the graphs and charts disappeared from the board. “Monday morning, sir.”

“Of course, Dr. Alcorta.”

The cerulean sky that Monday morning called for the freshest minds to be open and optimistic about the day. With a blazing sun, and a gentle wind pushing through the skyscrapers, the sharpest, most thoughtful businessmen and women took on the moment and invited the day like a close friend.

Winbush and Romera arrived at the offices of Euphoric Liberties with a plan to witness the chief advertising pitch. Their goal allowed them to settle for nothing less than greatness. They were met by the company’s chief project manager, Jim Ito. He had ebony black hair and square glasses. He stood at about five feet seven inches and wore suspenders and a bright pink shirt and a blue and white polka dot tie.

“It is an honor that you have graced us with your presence Dr. Alcorta, Mr. Winbush. Please. Sit down. Would you like any tea or coffee? My assistant can get you whatever you like.”

“No, thank you. Nothing for me,” Winbush said.

“I’m fine,” Romera said.

“Well, then. Let’s get started. My team and I have studied the past agencies that you have sought after and we are more than happy to present you with a campaign which will highlight the strengths of Groid the Droid.”

Five assistant managers on the project entered the room as it darkened. A blank screen became illuminated with animation. Pictures of flowing water and mountains and a winding road all filled the space. A child walking alone came upon Groid the Droid sitting on a park bench. He had in his metallic hand flowers of chamomile. The child stopped at where Groid was sitting, turned to him and said, “Hi.” Groid responded by offering the young girl the flowers. She accepted them and Groid stood up and held her opposite hand. The two walked down the path and the screen went white. A text reading, “Introducing Groid the Droid by Zeroth Robots” flashed across the screen with social media site badges at the bottom and ZerothRobots.com emblazoned on the screen also.

Winbush furrowed his brow. “Do you have any more options on the table?”

Ito looked perplexed. “Was this not up to your standards, Mr. Winbush?”

“No, I liked it. But are there spots for adults as well?”

Ito’s face lit up. “Of course. Please allow us to present to you our grown up version of the Groid the Droid campaign.”

The lights remained dim. The screen flashed to black. It soon faded in on a couple at a kitchen table. They were discussing plans for a divorce. The man looked down at his hands and the wife had tears streaking her face. Then, Groid entered the kitchen and asked, “May I be of some assistance?” The couple lifted their heads and told Groid that their marriage was dissolving. Groid then created an algorithm for counseling them and proceeded to offer advice to the couple. After a brief interview, their marriage was saved. The couple hugged and kissed and the screen faded to black.

“Well?” Ito asked.

Romera and Winbush looked at each other. They did this for a beat.

“They’re both great,” Winbush said.

Ito smiled and all three stood up and shook hands. “I will have my team prepare these spots for television and the Web as well as create audio versions for radio and podcasts. The printed ads will appear alongside those as well.”

“Thanks for your time Mr. Ito,” Romera said. “We do appreciate your smart work and dedication to our product.”

“Yes, we’re splendid to have hired Euphoric Liberty to aid us in our quest for reaching the widest audience possible,” Winbush added.

Once Winbush and Romera returned to Zeroth, they had gone to the laboratory to see their creation. Groid the Droid stood upright, a sleek bit of integrity frozen in artificial intelligence. The team focused on the other applications that Groid could perform. He had a survival kit for being lost. He could prepare meals. But the main draw was his psychological apparatus. He stood for the mind, the human mind although he was just a collection of circuit boards and wires. His expertise (if you can call it that) was to mend the mind and replace the visions of doubt and reversion with a picture of hope and light.

From the laboratory to the showroom floor of the Zeroth Robots complex, each employee worked with a discipline that befit a military unit. Their precision and care in ensuring that each Groid was quality controlled tested and then retested brought joy to Winbush. He had been busy signing off documents and entertaining teams of lawyers who would have to step in just in case Groid malfunctioned or did not meet the criteria for being in a customer’s home. If the first Groids hit the market, a wellspring of ideas would permeate throughout the company. The various possibilities opened up to the team. Groid’s price tag was about the same as a mid level sedan, at about twenty thousand dollars.

Hospitals would be quick to snap up this latest issuance from Zeroth Robots. All private insurance plans would cover Groid and his primary application would be to aid in the mental care of patients. He found himself in Christiana Hospital in Newark, Delaware. The looks on the faces of the medical staff were mixed. Some turned their noses up at the droid. Others greeted him with beaming smiles, prepared to see a change in the lives of patients affected by illnesses of the mind. The room was equipped with a two-way mirror for the medical staff to view the interaction between Groid and the patient.

In one of the first cases of Groid helping a sufferer, the man was a bit apprehensive about talking to a robot. He was about six feet two inches tall. He squirmed a bit and shot his eyes at the coffee maker, the clock and down at the table. He let out a great sigh. Romera observed all of these actions and recorded them on her tablet.

“I’ve had a rough go at it. Heroin, oxycontin, all kinds of opioids. I’d eat a handful of those just to get through the day. My addiction had me bound but I wanted to get help so I’m here,” Foster Caston said.

The robot processed the information. It weighed the words and through a special algorithm spit out the answer to the problem.

“Well, Foster, I see that you have been experiencing some serious issues. In response to your concerns, I will outline a few steps in defeating your addictive nature. Realize that those narcotics are not the end of you. You still have a chance at life and that chemical dependence is not going to destroy you. I will assign you something beyond the Narcotics Anonymous meetings. In addition to naltrexone, you will be given a therapy dog to care for and who will be an aid in your recovery.”

The robot’s LED countenance was calm and focused. The eyebrows arched and the lips straightened and the eyes focused in on Caston. Next, the whole machine just collapsed.

“Hello? Hello?” Caston asked. He looked back at the mirror aghast. No answer from the robot. He looked about in a worried manner. The staff entered the room to assess the malfunctioning android.

“The thing was just working just fine,” Caston said. He shrunk back, his eyes wide.

Romera assuaged the situation by reprogramming some of the software attached to the robot. She keyed in the access codes allowing her to go in directly to the robot’s central processing unit. Her diligence lead to sitting the robot upright and rebooting the memory. “Now, let’s see just what the problem was,” Romera said. She told a nurse who stood about six feet tall to reach in the back of Groid’s monitor and read a digital report that listed the malfunctions of the android. Romera looked at the list and sucked her teeth. She read aloud: “Processing unit failure due to low battery. We’ve got to do better,” Romera said.

“What does this mean, that I can go home now, is that thing going to work or not?” Caston asked.

“Mr. Caston, we can assure you that you will be paid in full the one hundred dollars for your time. We apologize for any inconvenience that this experience has caused you. Please feel free to take your belongings. This trial has now concluded.”

Caston gathered his hat and car keys and exited the room. A look of solemnity mixed with regret streaked across his face. He had wanted truly to have the droid work.

Romera’s team from Zeroth rushed to correct the inconsistencies and errors present within Groid.

“We can’t have these problems with the contracts with all of these hospitals. This is just one Groid. Who knows what more frustrations the other issued bots will bring?” Jennie asked.

“It’s okay, Jen. They will be built to be robust.”

“Like this Groid?”

“Even better.”

“I’ve got a link to the CPU. I’m uploading a program which will make him respond to stimuli,” Smoot said.

The team lifted the droid onto a cart and wheeled him out of the room. Press people snapped photographs and sought to interview Romera. She declined each time. Each member passed the faces of the nurses and doctors who had witnessed Groid enter the room. The turned up noses turned to shaking heads and scoffs and other grumblings of disapproval. Yet, they continued to retrieve the fallen bot from the hospital premises.

Once they arrived at Zeroth Robots headquarters, they set to work. Smoot drew up plans to ensure that the battery pack on Groid’s back was charged and ready to go. Jennie brought up new software to make the robot more personable and not as aloof. Romera oversaw all of this and lended a hand in rehearsing just what needed to be done to prepare for the next trial.

“I knew we should have done more tests here. Groid’s just not ready for the public yet,” Jennie said.

“That’s why we’re here, Jen. That’s why we’re doing this right now. And I’m going to need your positivity in order to see this project through to the finish,” Dr. Romera Alcorta said. Jennie frowned. She then pulled out a tool kit and engaged in electronic brain surgery. The possibility of another implosion or awkward occurrence remained high. Romera bore the responsibility to make sure that this never happened again to this droid or any of the other projects.

“I’ve got enough juice in this battery pack to last for at least three days. Once the battery goes low, we’ll be able to charge it up at a platform at any of the stations at whatever hospital Groid occupies,” Smoot said.

“Good. What are some of the dangers involved?”

“Well the pack could leak or explode. I’m trying my best to see to it that neither of these outcomes occurs. Through this trial phase, we’ll be able to extend Groid’s capacity to deliver crisper messages, interact more naturally, and of course not blow up. With these new programs in place and this upgraded battery pack system, I think that we’ll be in good position.”

The alert to Wendell Winbush’s smartphone read, “Another Zeroth Flop.” He sighed. He then sent a message to Romera. She quickly responded and showed up to Winbush’s office.

“Dr. Alcorta, please have a seat.”

“Yes, Wendell.”

“We’ve had some rough patches these past few years. Some too embarrassing to mention. I don’t like to dwell on the bad times, but our successes have just kept us afloat. The board is looking skittish. I have trust in you though. You’re spunky. You get the job not only done but you see to it that it’s done with grace and precision. This current fiasco shouldn’t deter you. Your team is strong and able to meet these challenges. Groid is just...Groid. They’ll be another thousand Groids around the Atlantic Northeast, and South, the Midwest, and West. Even the world. So, don’t fret about this for a second. I know that you’ll be able to execute on this and come out of this whole thing with a lesson learned. You’ve got the gumption to remain a major component in this entire enterprise.”

Romera smiled. She stood up and shook hands with Winbush. “I thank you for granting me the opportunity to carry this company forward. I am honored to be on your staff and will put everything into shaping Zeroth into a first rate firm. Thanks, again.”

Romera left his office with a fire in her mind. She charged forth with the conviction that she and her team would do the impossible and do it again. That excellence would be her signature and that she would stand up and journey into the next phase of development.

Groid stood up at attention. His frame gleamed under the lights. Romera marked down on her tablet a checklist to follow in making sure that he was operable.

“We’ve got to get him functioning on a level comparable to any other android system,” Jennie said.

“But he’s not like any other droid. He’s going to be a bellwether for future droids to aid in the fight against mental illness,” Smoot said.

The team looked at their creation. Smoot performed a series of tests to see if Groid would react to them. The time, energy, and dedication that Romera and her squad invested lead them to understand fully the consequences of another Groid failure. His monitor showed that simple grin. He looked functional and ready to go. This time, the trial would be conducted right at Zeroth Robots headquarters in Wilmington. This would be away from the press, away from doubting medical staff, but would involve a test subject similar to Caston. Only this time, the focus would be on depression.

In another room with the two-way mirror and a simple desk and coffee maker and chairs, Groid sat with a Miss Larquetta Garr. She was about five foot five inches tall and had copper skin. She stared at the machine across the desk. She tapped the screen and Groid lit up.

“Welcome. I’m Groid. What is your name?”

The woman was hesitant. Then she spoke. “Larquetta. But you can call me ‘Quetta.”

“Okay. Quetta. What may I assist you with?”

“I’ve been feeling low for over a decade since my husband died. He was my everything. We have three boys. They’re all grown now. But the pain of him not being here is what hurts the most. He didn’t get to see them graduate from college. Or join the Air Force, or land that job as a contractor. I’ve been taking pills to help cope but I just thought that someone, something like you would help ease the pain.”

Groid took a few moments to register all of the information that Larquetta had just relayed.

“I have no clue the hurt that you’ve been experiencing. I can only surmise that your husband, what was his name?”


“Yes, Holman. In his absence, you were able to raise three boys into adulthood. You should be commended for that alone. Now, I see what drugs you have been administered. Have the Zyberail, Takopul, and Heratru been effective?”

“I’ve taken them.None of them are bad but none have really been able to alleviate the hurt that I’ve been feeling.”

Groid processed in lightning speed a remedy for Larquetta.

“I’m going to assign you an experimental drug. It is new to the market has no known side effects. It is called Yaderit. It may assist in balancing the chemicals within your brain. In trials, it has been proven to be most effective.”

Romera peered through the two-way mirror. She smiled at what Groid had said and done so far.

Then, Groid’s head lowered. His monitor went blank. Larquetta looked back at the mirror.

“Something’s wrong,” she said.

Romera, Jennie, and Smoot rushed into the room. Larquetta cupped her hand over her face. “He was doing so well. I was beginning to feel a little better at least.”

“I’m so sorry, Miss Garr. You will be compensated for your time. We will provide you still with the Yaderit free of charge.”

“I thank you for that. But please, find a way to make that robot work. He was actually helping me.”

Romera comforted Larquetta. “We thank you sincerely for doing this. Again, you will receive your one hundred dollar check and free Yaderit. We apologize for any inconvenience.”

Larquetta left the room not in disgust but a mixture of a feeling of sadness and the hope that Groid can perform up to task in the future.

Once the team had assembled in the room, they all looked at each other with dismay.

“Strike two,” Jennie said.

“We’ve got to work out these bugs or else the whole project will be scrapped, and we’ll be looking for employment elsewhere.”

Romera looked stern. “Don’t even say that. We’ve worked too smart on Groid to just dwell on the negative. This mastery of machinery just has a few wrinkles to be ironed out.”

Smoot and Jennie moved closer to Groid. Smoot, with his kit in hand went to work on the circuitry. Jennie handled the monitor as well as the outside extremities. Four hours passed by until the team had found reason to take a break.

“For Groid to be this expensive and this difficult, we ought to be happy that the thing at least tries to work. If it wasn’t the battery pack this time then maybe the wiring is out of whack,” Smoot said.

“I think that there is some disconnect between the ‘brains’ and the body. Groid seems to be okay functioning as just the monitor and head but the synergy with the rest of the machine seems to be gummed up,” Jennie said. “You know, Groid is acting like the stereotypical Negroid. He’s lazy and doesn’t want to work. He’s the perfect candidate for the scrap heap if it were up to me.”

“Well, it’s not up to you, Miss Rosen. And to say those things about this robot is beneath you. Have some class and some respect. Know that this project calls for unity and any divisiveness is completely uncalled for,” Romera said.

Jennie shrunk a bit. She dusted off her hands and raised up from where she was working on Groid.

“I don’t have to take this. I’m going to Winbush and having my name taken off of this project.”

“It’s your choice. But remember this, Jennie Rosen, when we finally do get Groid up and operational, you will regret the day that you resigned from this enterprise.”

Jennie Rosen packed up her kit and left out of the room in a huff. She did in fact go to Winbush. He reassigned her to a division that made soda machines. In her place, he put in Dr. Redford Tunstall. He stood at about six feet inches and the color of an acorn. Romera met Tunstall with a handshake.

“Welcome to our team, this is Mr. Kincaid Smoot, assistant engineer. You will be our assistant software architect and help us craft the best android possible,” Romera said.

“I’m pleased to be working on this team. I’ve got a few plans on how we should go about making Groid a magnificent piece of machinery,” Tunstall said.

“And what might that be, Dr.?” Romera asked.

“I’ve devised a way for Groid to compute information and remain operational for three days without a recharge.”

“Dr. Tunstall, the last two failures have shown that Groid is just not ready for the public. We ought to test him on ourselves. We can save the money for compensatory reasons,” Kincaid said.

Romera’s eyebrows raised. “Kincaid, that is a wonderful idea. We should be able to do this on the quiet. No press. No hospital staff staring down at us with a stink eye. We should do this to promote the overall capability of Groid.”

The three engineers locked in on the goal of setting Groid to fulfill the task that he was designed to do. The past drove them to correct their mistakes and to improve on the already existing benefits of having Groid around. They intensified the questioning and answering period in which Groid offered complex sentences and simple explanations. The trio dedicated their time to inputting Groid with GIGO: good in, good out. With the knowledge of Groid’s up to date program, the three of them honed in on Groid’s ability to function under pressure. They designed a simulation where a patient would be irate. They threw coffee mugs, pens, and pencils at Groid for which he caught our deflected with extreme agility. This physical test allowed them to comprehend how an actual patient might respond to what would be a rather docile appliance. But Groid was more than that. And Romera pushed her team to find the weaknesses in the robot. She had a list of commands that she picked to test Groid’s empathy.

“Comfort,” she said. Groid took a half second to say. “It is okay. I do not know what you are going through, but I can assist you by listening to what you have to say.”

“Respect.” “I’ve profound respect for what you do and who you are. You as an upstanding individual deserve the highest form of regard.”

Dr. Tunstall and Smoot each threw themselves at turning Groid into an information station. They perfected the battery charging time and also while Groid was still charged, allowed him to be a psychiatrist without the flesh and bone, just plastic and wires. One of their other steps in this chain for making greatness was their focus on having Groid grasp the various drugs that he would be administering to patients. Like the trial with Larquetta, Groid would have to deliver drugs to people in serious need of chemical readjustment. He also had to show compassion to patients like Larquetta and Caston. Tunstall computed a program which gave Groid thousands of different drugs all in the effort to combat mental illness. The battery of tests went on for at least six hours straight.

Coffee for Romera and Tunstall and a e-cigarette for Smoot helped pass the time and keep the team focused. What remained was the fact that Groid could perform these tasks well but could still encounter glitches and bugs. Tunstall installed protection against malware and viruses within Groid’s system. Smoot retooled the charging apparatus. Romera wrote down even more commands and questions to ask Groid. Smoot was like a brain surgeon. He sliced through Groid’s head and rearranged the wires and and circuits. He patched up the incision and by piecing the connecting parts back together. After all of the toil and intense devotion of a viable android, the team took a break.

“No. It wasn’t our first one. Our first one was called Triceptor. It looked like a metallic muscle and could spit flames from a spout. It was crazy but we just went with it. The whole time, our team was looking down and I had to rally them and let them know that we could beat those guys. Our opponent’s bot was Sleeker. It was just this black wedge with metal hammers on the sides. Our bout lasted for seventeen seconds. That damn wedge just flipped Triceptor over and that was it,” Smoot snickered.

“Bot Wars was the best thing going. But I was looking forward to building robots with applications. My first robot that I made in my basement must have cost two thousand dollars. That was a fortune. And for a twelve year old it probably still is. My robot’s name was Thorium. I had a thing for the god Thor and the element just sounded right so I just put that name on it. It didn’t do much. I mean it helped me with my calculus homework and did the dishes. Cleaned up the garage and cut the grass. It came in components. Rather primitive but had some of those applications,” Tunstall said.

“When I was in engineering school, we had a competition to see who could make a robot lift off the ground, hover for a minute, and then return to the Earth. It was a disaster to me. We must have went through a dozen robots before we could get one into the air. It took at least seven months and the prize money was a scholarship which would pay for about two semesters. We came in third place. Which is saying something. We each were awarded three hundred dollar gift certificates to an electronics store that has since gone out of business. We weren’t mad at the fact that we came in third place, either. We were more concerned that the robot only lasted forty seconds in the air before plummeting to the ground. I think the landing was what got us third place. The time in air could’ve been better but we really stuck that landing,” Romera laughed. “It was definitely worth the experience in how to build a better bot.”

“My time in school consisted of late nights at the library. I must’ve racked up fifty dollars in late fees. I just wanted to soak up all of the knowledge on how to best approach electronics and robotics. I’ll tell you one time I was combing through a volume on engineering that you couldn’t borrow from the library called Spiritual Machinery. It was about the idea that a robot could possess qualities of sapiens. Well, I was just about to finish the book, I had about thirty pages. The library was closing in two minutes. The librarian came by my section and I indicated that I just needed a few more moments. That was not what she wanted to hear. She shut out the lights and asked for the security guard to come over to me. So, I left. But that wasn’t until I implemented an algorithm to override the security system to keep the lights on and the alarm off. Needless to say, I finished Spiritual Machinery and kept it moving,” Smoot said.

“Did you ever get caught?” Tunstall asked.

“No. I was able to fix the system back to normal before I left later on that night.”

The three of them laughed. “What is the worst thing that Groid could do?” Romera asked.

“He could blow up,” Smoot said.

“Yeah, that ion battery could explode and that would cause injury even death,” Tunstall said.

“What else? We’ve got to see how many pratfalls could result after these two fiascos.”

“Well, he is programmed to dispense drugs to patients. We must make sure that he gives the right prescriptions to the right patients.”

“So, what needs to be done to keep this situation from being a blunder?”

“We’ve got to put in backup memory that will secure the bits of data that will be within his ‘mind.’ We should concentrate on building up his intelligence and his ability to relate to the patients.”

“We’ve got at least two days before we report to Wendell about this project. He’ll be wanting to hear from us some good news. Let’s get back to work before we run out of time,” Romera said.

The two men and the woman returned to their work with zeal. Their devotion extended into their labor. They pieced together Groid like a Stradivarius. Each of them were like luthiers, their violin strings were circuits and software programs. They pushed forward through the night holding in mind the magnificence that could be possible with the completion of Groid the Droid.

They made music with each and every component and institution of problem sets. From the perspective of an outsider, these three looked like harried addicts looking for a fix. But their fix was seeing a mission through to its fruition. Groid the Droid needed a few more touch ups and fine tuning. The music was about to be produced but the team required the ability for Groid to operate flawlessly.

“Let’s test him,” Romera said.

“Mr. Smoot please be the test subject,” Dr. Tunstall said.

“Okay. I’m game.”

Dr. Alcorta was not on the other side of a two-way mirror this time. She was right there in the room. She anticipated the day that this android would work properly. She wanted to be there first hand before this went to the public again. Her steady hand and guidance for the two men brought about an air of confidence and warmth and reflected her doctorate in psychiatry. Kincaid Smoot and Dr. Redford Tunstall were just as eager to fully realize the potential of Groid the Droid. Their craftsmanship was like musicianship. All of the pieces that went into Groid had to be applied with precision and special care. The notes seemed to lift into the atmosphere with every rewiring or program alteration. From the monitor to the thinking apparatus that gave life to Groid’s limbs and allowed him to process information, the three of them took all of these steps to the next level. Once the team had put in the finishing touches, they readied Groid for the final step. Romera prepared a script to read to Groid. The entire session was recorded on digital video.

“This is a test of the Groid the Droid project. The three team members, Mr. Kincaid Smoot, Dr. Redford Tunstall and myself lead Dr. Romera Alcorta, all have worked extra smart on getting Groid the Droid back on track and in full functionality. Now, we will conduct this session with the complete knowledge that this android will be a revolutionary piece of machinery.”

Groid’s visage lit up once Romera spoke.

“Hello, Dr. Alcorta. How may I help you?”

“Groid, I have schizophrenia. What can I do to remedy my situation.”

Groid processed the information. “You have a serious neurological disorder. You experience trouble feeling and thinking clearly. Tell me about some of your symptoms.”

“I go around the house wracking my brain about voices that I hear. I cannot control them and they keep getting louder and louder until I finally ball up in the fetal position on my kitchen floor.”

A beat. Then Groid lit up a bit. “I can prescribe you Jythanal for this condition. I truly hope for you the best and recommend that you take this drug to aid in your illness.”

Dr Tunstall and Smoot took note of these interactions. They acknowledged the fact that Groid could perform successfully the recommendation of prescriptions as well as show empathy to a potential patient. The process continued. Smoot programmed a new set of instructions for Groid.

“Remember, he was going just fine before he collapsed. Let’s pay attention,” Smoot said. Romera moved onto another script.

“I’ve been struggling with cocaine addiction. I’ve tried to kick it but I know that I can’t do it on my own. I want to go to NA but I don’t trust them like that. What should I do?”

Groid’s monitor showed a calm face. “I’m going to say that you can quit on your own. Once your body gets sick and tired of being sick and tired, you will find that the craving for another bump will be less and less. I will not prescribe you with a drug. I will assign you to therapy sessions, yoga, and meditation to help put an end to your addiction.”

The team looked at each other. They smiled. Romera picked up one more script. Tunstall and Smoot focused in on the battery. They surmised that the battery would last even longer and not have to be recharged for another seventy two hours. Romera looked at Groid directly. The script had a child in mind.

“I can’t stop washing my hands. I’ve been doing it over, and over, and over again. They’re not even dirty. But I’ll wash them ten to twelve times in a matter of minutes. Please help me stop washing my hands so much.”

Again, the processing unit within Groid went to work. He responded with a clear and balanced way of speaking.

“I will prescribe you with Wysinda. I also would like you to see me for psychotherapy sessions. If it is okay with your parents, I would like to have these meetings at least once a week.”

“I think that we can take this to Wendell. I mean the response levels are great. He’s not malfunctioning and the battery didn’t explode,” Romera said.

Wendell Winbush sat at his desk in his palatial office. He looked relaxed for a man who had encountered some adverse news reports over the past few weeks. But he took all of this in stride. He studied the trades in all of the major financial publications with a few swipes on his tablet. His countenance remained stoic, reserved.

His secretary appeared on that same tablet.

“Yes, Tallia.”

“The Groid the Droid team is here to see you.”

“Send them in, please.”

Dr. Romera Alcorta, Dr. Redford Tunstall, and Kincaid Smoot entered the room with a gait of confidence and assurance. They each walked in the door and allowed Groid to make a special entrance once they were all in the office.

“Sir, we’ve been trying, working, toiling, and retooling, and reworking on this project since the past two failures. In the time that we have been focused on this project, we have finally gotten to the point where we can allow Groid to tell you himself about his progress.”

The android stepped forward in the spacious office. His monitor lit up and a visage of serenity shown.

“Good morning, Mr. Winbush. Or should I call you Wendell?”

“Wendell’s fine, Groid.”

“Well, sir, the team has truly put me together and I am ready to go out into the field and do the work of the best in medicine. Dr. Romera Alcorta has put all of her strength and mental might into making me operational. I am aware that I was a disappointment more than once. Now, I am determined to deliver on the promise that Dr. Alcorta and her team had made in making me. I know that it will be a challenge to meet thousands of patients and to offer to them the best quality and performance that I have programmed in me. I am not worried about that. I am concerned with helping that small child who has to hold the door over twenty times before she walks through the opening. I am more concerned about the heroin addict who seems to be lost and without proper support. I anticipate meeting up with other humans to help them in their time of need. If it is up to me, I will ensure that no human should be without care and professionalism. My pharmaceutical acumen combined with the thousands of bits of information on how to treat humans should be a boost in my development and advocacy. Please allow me to remain on your team.”

Winbush’s eyes widened. He applauded. “This is beautiful. Just beautiful. Groid, you’ve not only secured your place in this firm, but also history. You and others like you will provide the best care and attention to those who need it desperately.” He then turned to Romera, Smoot, and Tunstall.

“For your dedication and fine tuning of this masterful piece of machinery, I commend you and recommend you all for promotion. Let this step be a major one in your long and illustrious careers. Each of you have reflected well upon this company and yourselves.”

They congratulated each other. But the party soon ended once the four humans realized that Groid still needed to be tested again with real-life subjects with real problems. With the revelry died down, Romera formulated a plan for Groid to meet an injured veteran. They escorted Groid to the Dover Air Force Base hospital to see if he was up to the challenge of confronting actual humans aside from test-runs. This time, the room was a comfortable setting in the base hospital. Comfy chairs and bright colors and art reflecting achievements in medicine suggested a more laid back but still engaging atmosphere. Romera, Smoot, and Dr. Tunstall all remained in the room with Groid. They waited for the soldier to arrive. Army Sergeant Camilo Ruiz, about five foot ten inches had a little stubble on his face. Below his right knee a prosthetic limb didn’t stop him from walking tall. He wasn’t disheveled but he had an edge of one who works on motorcycles on the weekends but repairs computers during the week. He shook hands with the Drs. and Mr. Smoot and had a seat on the cushiony red chair. Groid stood like a tree at first, then Dr. Romera Alcorta commanded him to have a seat. His monitor illuminated and the composed countenance once again appeared.

“I am Negroid the Droid. You can call me Groid. What is your name?


“How have you been?”

“Good days. Not so good days.”

“What have you been dealing with?”

“I have pain in my back and left leg where shrapnel still are. I’ve got excruciating headaches from a TBI. You got something in your robot kit to help that?”

Romera, Smoot, and Tunstall all looked at each other. They waited for Groid to react. He processed the words.

“I can address your traumatic brain injury. There are therapeutic…”

“I’ve heard it before. I’ll just get hooked on some pill and never be able to think straight again. Or be a zombie and not be able to drive.”

Groid took a moment. “I would like to prescribe you with a drug that will be non-habit forming and be able to mollify…”

“I know what mollify means. It means I walk around in a stupor and won’t be able to function.”

Groid ‘thought.’ “No, your TBI and shrapnel injuries can be addressed with rehabilitation and meditation.”

“Meditation? Meditation? Can meditation bring me my leg back? Can it bring me back my kids I lost in the custody battle?”

Smoot and Dr. Tunstall looked pensive. They began to say that the session would be suspended. Romera kept a straight face. Then, Groid’s monitor lit up. Images of rehabilitation centers and drug lists filled the screen.

“I can refer you to the best specialists in the country, Camilo. There is hope for your condition. You are not alone in this fight. The drugs will be completely safe, meaning they will not make you groggy or sluggish. As for your children, I can acquaint you with some of the best family therapy professionals which would bring you closer to them. How does that sound?”

Ruiz looked down at his hands for a moment. He looked up with a sober, stern appearance. “Okay.”

“Camilo, on behalf of Zeroth Robots, we thank you for your participation in this study and you will be rewarded one hundred dollars for your time,” Romera said.

artificial intelligence

About the Creator

Skyler Saunders

I am a man who claims his father as his only inspiration.

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