Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Westworld Meets West Wing

Robots on the loose!  Amusement park officials have had to deal with the escape of the occasional gorilla or tiger, but never before did they have to take action against the mass exodus of thirty-five robots.  The public is by now aware of the facts of this strange crisis.  When the story broke, it was hard for anyone to believe it.  It sounded like a joke or a publicity stunt.  But neither laughs nor profits were ever to be gained from the story.

The incident came as a shock even to those people closest to the exhibit.  It had been exciting news when the UTS amusement park, famed for introducing breakthrough technologies to the entertainment field, first announced plans to showcase robotic clones of the United States presidents.  Jack Gelbert, the director of the exhibit, boasted that his programmers had succeeded in distilling the essence of these legendary statesmen.  The programs were carefully arranged to convey the Presidents' backgrounds, ideological patterns and character traits.   Engineers toiled to capture the quiet strength of George Washington, the joviality of William Howard Taft, the outspokenness of Harry Truman, the fearlessness of Teddy Roosevelt, the charm of John F. Kennedy, the caution of Calvin Coolidge, and the slyness of Martin Van Buren.  It was noted in a brochure that the president models, besides providing an attractive theme for the exhibit, presented "minds molded by vast experience and personalities bonded with great history."

The enterprise started out well as families streamed into the exhibit to meet with the robots.  Playful children bounced on the knee of grandfatherly Chester Arthur and tugged on the whiskers of dour Rutherford B. Hayes.  Men listened eagerly to Dwight Eisenhower's golfing tips while their wives were amused by Harry Truman playing Gershwin on the piano.  But that ended when, after two years of entertaining guests, the robots conspired to slip in among the tourists and exit the park on a series of shuttles.

Staff members said that they had noticed the robots displaying a sense of independence and a growing dissatisfaction with their living situation.  They were plagued by increasing "walkaways," a term used to describe robots engaged in unauthorized outings, and, only weeks before the robots' escape, the Teddy Roosevelt robot coaxed a visiting marine into a boxing match and nearly shattered the man’s jaw.

Inevitably, a controversy arose in regards to the lack of security at the exhibit.  A security camera could alert guards to a 350-pound tiger escaping from its enclosure, but the camera had little effect in this exhibit when the robots were looked so much like real men that they were indistinguishable from park guests.  The exhibit had never been designed to be escape-proof.  Safeguards were designed to only assure that no one could not break into the exhibit as none of the designers ever imagined that the robots would try to break out.  Zoo animals receive a great deal of attention to assure they became well-adjusted to their habitat, but these very human-like robots received little attention or consideration from the staff that maintained the facility.

Glenn Arlington, head of the Barry Corporation's parks and resorts, was quick to reassure the public that the escape of the robots presented no threat to the public.  Still, the news created its own unique brand of hysteria that only worsened in time.

The story of the robots' escape and the daring hunt to recapture them is now the subject of a new book, Life, Liberty. . . and all the rest.

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