General Purpose

“Name and serial number?”, asked the police chief, looking at the dusty android.

“Jimmy, Serial number 000235383211-BX.”

“BX? That’s an experimental model.”

“That is correct, sir.”

“Where is your master?”

“In the house bathroom, sir.”

“Well, why did you escape from the house then?”

“I did not escape, sir. I was looking for more tea for my master.”

“Then why did you get caught stealing those boxes of tea?”

“My master had no money, sir.”

“So you stole for him?”

“That is correct sir.”

“But you broke the law.”

Jimmy- 000235383211-BX didn’t answer.

Something must be wrong with this android, thought the chief. After all, it was just the 22nd century, and around that time there were no things such as Android Managers, Synthetic Behavioral Sciences, or Behavioral Modules. Dumb androids were dangerous because of their stupidity, like the one that choked a child to death because the mother told it to keep the kid quiet “as long as possible”; intelligent androids were still an experimental technology, while the inner workings of their synthetic brains were a mystery to all but the most brilliant scientists.

“Why?” asked the chief. “Why did you steal that?”

“My master is dead, sir.”

Mr. Johnson’s house.
Several months earlier.

Jimmy took the tea to his master, as he had done for the last 23 years, 5 months, and 7 days.

“Master? Here is your tea.”

“Thank you, Jimmy.”

Jimmy was the name of Mr. Johnson’s deceased son. For over ten years, Mr. Johnson and his wife mourned him. Then Ms. Johnson followed her son, and Mr. Johnson was left alone. It was then that the government offered him an experimental home care android.

The human-like assistant never made a mistake in his duties. He excelled at them. Always attending his master’s needs: Putting him in the wheelchair, taking him to the garden, activating the fountain for the birds.

When did his master started calling him Jimmy? 7 years, 11 months, and 14 days.

“You remind me of my son Jimmy. Did I tell you about Jimmy?”

That day the android began accepting the name “Jimmy.”

“How are you feeling today, master?”

“Not very well. I’m having a heartburn again.”

“Perhaps you should consult with a doctor, master.”

“Those crooked men in white? Forget it. All they know is how to take your money. I… I…”

“Master, are you feeling alright?”

Mr. Johnson gasped. He tried to put his hand to his chest.

It wasn’t the first time Mr. Johnson had fallen asleep on the table. But this particular time was strange. He had stopped breathing. Jimmy had tried to contact the authorities, but the line had been cut for overdue payment last month.

The door to the house exit was locked, and the key had been hidden in Mr. Johnson’s safe. Mr. Johnson wasn’t a very social person.

“DON’T YOU EVER TRY TO OPEN THAT SAFE!”, Mr. Johnson had told Jimmy. So Jimmy didn’t know what to do.

Only when he measured Mr. Johnson’s temperature, Jimmy realized the truth.

My Master has died. What should I do?

Jimmy’s sole purpose was to help take care of Mr. Johnson. Those were his orders.

How am I going to take care of him, now that he’s dead?

That was Jimmy’s first thought. The answer was obvious. His body should be preserved in a safe place. Searching in his databank, Jimmy realized that the only way to preserve Mr. Johnson’s body was to prevent microorganisms to flourish. In a low temperature environment.

The most obvious place was in the fridge, but electricity would run out just like access to the phone line.

Jimmy searched for low temperature places, until he arrived to the basement. There he found a shovel, and a pick. But digging deep enough would take days. Jimmy searched for alternative methods.

The basement was full of alcoholic beverages. With some distillation, Jimmy could concoct the perfect alcohol to preserve Mr. Johnson’s body. But gathering materials would take days, and by that time, Mr. Johnson’s body would have already decomposed, so Jimmy picked the strongest beverages he could find, some superglue, and went upstairs to the bathroom. After washing the bath tub and leaving it in perfect conditions, Jimmy washed Mr. Johnson’s body with cold water, and dried it. He then began pouring the alcoholic beverages. It took time, but there was enough alcohol there for half a bath tub. Just the required amount to preserve Mr. Johnson’s body.

Then, he put Mr. Johnson’s body inside the bathtub, and covered it with plastic wrap and glue to prevent the alcohol from evaporating. He took some wooden planks from the basement and made the perfect cover. The basement had everything he needed: Hammers, saws, polishers, tarnish, nails… nothing was missing.

After Jimmy finished making the bath tub cover, he put it on, and applied more superglue.

Mr. Johnson’s body would be well preserved now. Satisfied with his work, Jimmy cleaned the bathroom, and swept the floor.

My master is now taken care of. But what should I do now?

It was then that Jimmy realized he had no purpose in life. Jimmy sat down in the dining room, and kept wondering what he should do.

My master told me to take care of the birds.

Jimmy kept pouring water for the birds every day, and saw the flow of birds kept constant for months, until fewer and fewer birds came.

The sky kept getting darker, and bleaker as days passed.

Soon there won’t be birds anymore. What else did my master want me to do?

The house looked dirty and dusty.

I should dust the house.

Task after task, Jimmy tried to recreate the routine that he had been fulfilling for decades.

Soon, there was no electricity anymore, and Jimmy spent more time recharging his batteries with the little solar power he was able to gather.

I could use the materials in the basement to create an eolic generator.

In a week, Jimmy was able to recharge himself without the help of the sun. And with few trees around, the wind was strong.

I could make more eolic generators to heat the water.

After three weeks, Jimmy was able to heat the water and prepare more tea. But there was no Mr. Johnson to drink it.

One day, the water ran out.

I could collect rainwater to make more tea.

In two weeks, Jimmy made a water collector. He was able to keep making tea.

One day, he ran out of tea.

I could go outside to get more tea.

In one day, Jimmy was captured by Rogue Hunters — that was the name of the agents dedicated to capture (and terminate if necessary) androids gone rogue. After the Rogue Hunters examined him, they took him to the authorities.

Police HQ
Present day

“Then why did you get caught stealing those boxes of tea?”

“My master had no money, sir.”

“So you stole for him?”

“That is correct sir.”

“But you broke the law.”

But my master is already taken care of. So why did I break the law?

“Why?” asked the police chief. “Why did you steal that?”

Jimmy couldn’t answer. What had happened inside his mental algorithms that led him to pour water for the birds, clean the house, make tea, even after his master no longer required it?

Ultimately, that was irrelevant for the police officer.

Perhaps I could give a short answer to begin the explanation.

“My master is dead, sir.”

It was a hectic day for the police. Realizing they had to smash the door, examine the house, undo all the work Jimmy had done in the bathroom, and then burying Mr. Johnson’s body.

Jimmy was programmed not to disobey the police, even if that countered previous orders. So now he had lost his purpose.

“So, what do we do with the robot?” asked one of the officers to the other.

“Android, not robot. Do you see a tin can as its head?”

“Fine, fine”, said the first. “What do we do with the… android?”

I don’t know… the company that made it went broke. Let’s run some tests on it and see if it can help us in HQ.”

After hiring an android consultant, Jimmy was found able to perform auxiliary duties in HQ.

“So, Jimmy, name a few things you can do.”

“I can prepare food, make tea, sweep the floors, dust the furniture, take care of my masters, feed the elderly, and pour water for the birds. Additionally, I can preserve dead bodies, improvise electrical installations, collect rain water, climb house fences, and run at 40 kilometers per hour until I’m stopped by force.”

“Nice”, said the officer. “A general purpose.”

Jimmy was given the list of duties he would need to do. “If you don’t know how to do these, ask us, and we’ll orient you.”

Something happened inside Jimmy’s neuromorphic circuits. The sky began looking blue again. And not just the sky. The police headquarters looked more colorful. He felt a warmth inside his body. Just like he felt whenever he fulfilled an order for Mr. Johnson.

Android 000235383211-BX had found purpose in life once again.

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