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In this settings, robots are a humanoid looking personal device that try to mimic the owners traits and behavior, even though they 'realize' they are not their owner, but rather a helping robot. The robots are mostly self sufficient but rely on a bit of solar power. Robots that need repair due to wear is rare. Accidents require a visit to the repair shop, and happen from time to time. The robot body isn't made from fancy unobtanium, but plain steel, copper, titanium and other common metals, so it is vulnerable to impact, hot fires, etc... Functional components are made from more precious materials. The lubricants are patented and of quite high tech, making it possible for the robot to move relatively smoothly and human-like. Their appearance is far from unique when they exit the factory, but is usually customised by their owners. They can lift about about 100kg-150kg for a short time depending on the shape of the object. The robots will only obey their owner untill relieved from serving and are programmed to maintain their own body, just like a human would do.

However, every 20 years a new better version is released and the old robots are redundant. It is actually forbidden to own more than one robot. In the past robots would be recycled by upgrading them for the next generation of robots 20 years later, but since the 'Save Robots Act' (SRA) it is not allowed to recycle robots that are still functional. Because they still behave so much like their (now former) owner. People got attached to the robots and began to protest against recycling 'perfectly fine' robots.

Humans have three options when a new robot is released:

  • DitchSay goodbye to their current robot
  • Replace their current with a new version
  • Keep their old version

In the first two cases the robot either gets recycled if it isn't functioning any more, or needs a place to be a happy robot (kind of retirement).

The goverments have decided to move all functioning robots to a very large desert like plain, with a few small forests on hill like country, which has roughly the size Austria. There are also a few rivers in this area.

The robots for some reason decided to settle and build shelters/houses around the rivers even though they don't need water or food. It is actually pretty bad for the robot if they would take a swim! Their electronics will probably short circuit if sub-merged, and 'kill' the robot. Also once a year some rivers tend to flood out of their regular boundaries, placing the robot cities in a layer of water of 10-50cm. Robots that stop functioning will be brought to a robot graveyard where they will be gathered for recycling. The robots have a lot of time on their hands and don't mind walking for days to find something they are searching for.
Their mindset is to serve and take orders, not to rebel or overcome and dominate others. Because they lack an owner they don't have a solid goal or mission to fullfill and will just wander around doing stuff to maintain themselves.

Some background info on why I need them to settle near the rivers: The company producing the robots got a pretty financial blow due to SRA and wants to secretly use the river to destroy robots by the bushels so they can be recycled again. Audits by the goverment check the software to make sure each function has a functional reason in the software! So no if (Retirement()) then DiveIntoNearestWater() else Serve(). Retirement is there for the robots because that is what humans would do when they stop serving society.

Why would these robots settle near rivers even though there are so many disadvantages.

UPDATE: I put some more restrictions on the behaviour of the robots and made sure the obvious 'Because they were told to do so' scenarios aren't any good.

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23 Answers 23

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Through a non documented feature, the manufacturing company has implemented an auto destruction mechanism in the robot.

Their artificial brain meters the interaction with humans. When this drops following their dismissal, they are driven to search proximity with water.

Proximity with water provides them a similar gratification to interacting with humans. Though the built in protection prevent the robot from taking a dive into the water, the periodic floods make sure that the dismissed robots will reach end of life quickly and with no particular nuisance due to SRA supporters.

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    $\begingroup$ Mildly terrifying, yet completely logical. +1 $\endgroup$ – Grollo May 25 '18 at 11:09
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    $\begingroup$ This has the advantage of also being part of the logical answer to the question, "How will the company change its operations to deal with the impacts of the SRA?" A company that would secretly use a river to destroy robots would likely think to make sure they could use the river. They could even have started doing this when the SRA was merely a proposed law, during the time when robots were always recycled rather than retired, so there wouldn't be a lot of retired robots that would seek higher ground for safety. $\endgroup$ – David K May 25 '18 at 12:34
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    $\begingroup$ When eventually discovered and questioned, the company stated, "If a human gets lost in the desert, there is a higher probability that, if found, a robot can direct them to water." $\endgroup$ – David Starkey May 25 '18 at 13:35
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    $\begingroup$ another way they can explain it away is: just shrug and handwave about weird emergent behaviors in complex systems and wax poetic about the beautiful unpredictability of AI. They just have to make sure that their explicit motivation to be near water is highly obfuscated and made to look like just a quirk of the programming. $\endgroup$ – dn3s May 25 '18 at 17:33
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Power

Water wheels are fantastically simple but also very effective machines, then can turn most mechanical systems to do whatever tasks you need them to, even today they are used all over whether for grinding flour or turning a generator and anything in between

Cooling

What do the most powerful computers need these days... home insurance! and also water cooling, an entirely technology society would therefore need a lot of water to run through its cooling mechanisms, and then there are the water needs of power stations for either cooling or boiling to turn the turbines

Industry

Plenty of industrial processes need water, from, gemstone mining to making hydrogen fuel cells, it all starts with Water. i know gemstone mining seems an odd one, but Rolex (among others) use Jewels in watch movements to provide hard smooth bearing surfaces that prolong the life of the mechanism by protecting parts from wear. They also minimize friction in the fastest moving parts of the mechanism, the balance and escapement. obviously i don't need to go into the need for Hydrogen Fuel, and there are so many processes in between the further away you are from that water, the more logistics you need to move it to you.

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  • $\begingroup$ Let's add solar cells degrade over time. So older robots would need to enter hibernation/sleep frequently to recharge batteries, if not able to use a good power source. $\endgroup$ – SF. May 25 '18 at 14:10
  • $\begingroup$ @SF., also, how long it takes for solar batteries to be covered in sand/dust in desert? $\endgroup$ – user28434 May 25 '18 at 15:46
  • $\begingroup$ @user28434: Smart robots will clean them, although scratches will accumulate. $\endgroup$ – SF. May 25 '18 at 15:52
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    $\begingroup$ @SF., yeah, they will clean it, but even for proper solar panels cleaning from the dust you gonna need some water, like, say from the river over there. $\endgroup$ – user28434 May 25 '18 at 16:09
  • $\begingroup$ But if these robots are readily willing to travel miles and miles to obtain something, why wouldn't they just walk to the river when needed and otherwise inhabit higher ground? $\endgroup$ – Anthony May 25 '18 at 19:42
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To be able to interact with humans at a suitable level, robots need to be programmed to understand a human sense of aesthetics.

The concept of beauty, balance and style are built in to their fundamental programming to allow them to perform basic tasks such as arranging the furniture and pictures in such a way that humans would find acceptable.

As a result of this deliberate bias towards a human sense of an aesthetically pleasing environment, they're attracted to places that humans would also be attracted to, such as wooded river valleys.

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  • $\begingroup$ This is a great answer, but I personally wouldn't use that argumentation in one of my stories because deciding where to build a town is also an economic decision. I think if anyone then a robot is capable of rational thought. While it might be self-aware enough to put the natural beauty of the land on their list of priorities, I don't think it would be on the top of that list or at least not the one deciding factor that overshadows everything. It might be, this of course is a matter of opinion, but well, it's perhaps something to think about for the OP $\endgroup$ – Raditz_35 May 25 '18 at 9:54
  • $\begingroup$ @Raditz_35, "economic" decisions are for newer towns, "source of fresh water" is the real driver of a basic settlement, however there's no indication that these robots have any requirement for economic activity so the decision can be entirely aesthetic. $\endgroup$ – Separatrix May 25 '18 at 9:56
  • $\begingroup$ As I said, a matter of opinion if this is a good enough reason, but the OP did ask "Why would these robots settle near rivers even though there are so many disadvantages." It might be a rational decision that it's worth it for them, but I don't think it's what you meant by "they're attracted to places that humans would also be attracted to" which sounds like an unconscious decision to me. At least this is how I understand it. I think it's as good of a reason as any other, but not a good presentation of the argument - and just something for the OP to think about $\endgroup$ – Raditz_35 May 25 '18 at 10:03
  • $\begingroup$ @Raditz_35, You make a good point, their code would need to tell them to override logic with aesthetics in the absence of immediate danger or significant risk. Potential flooding should not stop them when they can easily move to high ground for the duration and then return. They are ultimately computers and as we know, they do only and exactly what they're told. $\endgroup$ – Separatrix May 25 '18 at 10:34
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    $\begingroup$ If the robots are made to try to "mimic the owners traits and behaviours" then surely settling in a place with a water source makes sense. Although the robot itself doesn't require the water it is trying to mimic a humans. $\endgroup$ – Jonnyboy May 25 '18 at 10:50
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Nostalgia

Robots are tested/trained in a facility which mimics a town, with shops, transportation, a river and canals so they can learn/be tested to interact in a complex environment. Those are their first memories, and when left alone, they try to recreate this "childhood village".

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    $\begingroup$ I like this idea a lot. Bonus points if they don't consciously remember it and someone on the testing team realises what's happening in some sort of Big Reveal $\endgroup$ – Ruadhan May 25 '18 at 12:13
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These robots are here to serve, right? You could make them understand the situation they are in:

They get "exiled" because they are not useful anymore to anyone. But they could become useful for the next generation by getting recycled. So they seek out rivers to malfunction. This way they also would mimic the life death cycle of humans, which is also a trait you defined. They mimic their owners. The only reason they don't immediately drown themselves is because of the people who fought for the SRA. The robots serve, so they also serve those people. To strike a middle ground between being useful for the next generation and serving the people who fought for the SRA they live nearby rivers that are famous for regular floods. Then they wait till a flood comes and malfunction that way.

The company which produces these robots even programmed this need to be helpful for the next generation into the robots. This way they could be sure to still get recycled material even though the SRA is introduced.

This creates a somehow interesting gray zone moral wise. On one hand you could say it isn't right to kill robots or rob them of their potentially high life expectancy. On the other hand you have the problem of resource limitations; you can't just drain the iron resources forever.

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    $\begingroup$ Although somewhat sad, I really like the trail of thought here. Maybe they are prohibited from self destruction and that is the closest self harm they are able to perform. $\endgroup$ – Morfium May 25 '18 at 12:20
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Transport.

Even if the rivers themselves are not usable roads and railroads will probably mostly run alongside them with few connecting roads with bridges. Cities will naturally arise in locations where the routes running by the river cross a route crossing the rivers. Smaller settlements happen along the connecting roads. This means most settlement will naturally happen either on a river or on a road connecting two rivers.

And even if the robots do not need food or water, they still need functional logistics to do anything. At the very least construction of houses will require logistics. So the places the homes for robots are built will be similar to places human homes would be built. Mostly on the rivers.

Also, if "the company" has a financial agenda to get the robots alongside the rivers and nobody is trying to stop them, it will be fairly simple to do so. Simply have a subsidiary that builds settlements for robots that just happens to only develop areas near rivers. With the extra financial agenda and the fact that logistics makes building alongside the rivers economically sound anyway, they should have no issue in building a large part of robot settlements. And they can legitimately even advertise their expertise in robotics as a factor giving them an edge in building settlements for robots. Who would know better what services robots need?

And competing developers would probably build in areas with functional infrastructure and logistics, read along the rivers, as well. The company just has to make sure they prime the process by making an initial investment on infrastructure along the rivers.

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The robots' primary desire is to serve humans. Living in an area where there are no humans causes them great distress. The region they have been exiled to has few humans, but those who do spend any time in the area tend to stay close to the rivers -- if the area is otherwise a desert then being close to water is of course beneficial to a human. The robots know this and therefore stay close too, just so they can maximize their chance of being useful.

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  • $\begingroup$ The only logical answer IMHO. Rivers are were human stuff happens. $\endgroup$ – Nemo May 25 '18 at 16:21
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A lot of answers seem to involve either suicide or pre-programmed self-termination. Both of those seem like valid options for a robot to seek water, but, by itself, it doesn't explain why they would build towns by water.

However, if river are known as a place where robots go to die, it would make total since for non-fatalistic robots to settle there. Think of it as a suicide prevention effort. Robots "camp" around rivers to keep depressed or recently dropped off robots from ending their lives in the water, or at least try and talk them out of it. After all, it makes sense for robots to value the lives of fellow robots enough to inconvenience themselves with seasonal floods.

Other than that, a waterwheel could be used to power a blacksmith's billows, which they would probably need for performing general repairs. Still, a billows could be operated by hand if the blacksmith doesn't have to do that much work, so that might not gel with your town's level of industrialization.

Personally, I think a great reason for building near rivers would be trade, specifically trade with human smugglers. For the sound of it, humans are banned from the Robot Plain. However, if the robots found or make something of value, like maybe turquoise jewelry or rare earth minerals, they could trade with humans for useful items, like rainproof clothing or replacement parts. So you have an incentive for smugglers and a black market. Cars and airplanes are easily spotted by authorities, but boats or smuggling submarines can sneak onto the Robot Plain, so permanent settlement must be build on rivers.

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Religion.

You robots have time on their hands. They gather at the river and they watch the water flow. They know water is dangerous and they know they have no need for it. But that is what they do. They cannot say exactly why they do.

Over the course of the story you could revisit this. Your protagonist is travelling and finds a stream. It stands by the stream , watching the flow of the water. It is not the river but it is like the river. Rivers have many metaphorical meanings. Suggest only, but let the reader realize what the river represents, if her mind is in the right place for such a realization.

For you concrete-thinkers impatient to read the answer: a river is change, and the robots are not. The world moves and leaves these robots behind. When humans gather at the river, they go into the water and are reborn - washed by the change of the world. The robots cannot do that. The change of the world as represented by the river is deadly to them. They can only watch.

Having your robots watch the river will give the robots a spiritual depth and energy that will move the story along. Probably you should lay that out by the end of the story - the readers who come to it themselves earlier will be ok, and those who do not will not will be brought along.

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You need water to clean the house. They still perform their daily routines of cleaning and dish / cloth washing...

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Lost, abandoned, and directionless without their human companions, robots will often wander the Great Plains, seeking tasks and orders from the few human travellers and hermits that have chosen to live among them. Eventually, a robot without a master will starts to slow down.

A robot nearing the end of it's life will naturally seek out the only naturally occurring thing capable of damaging it - water. However, as the robots gradually deteriorate and deteriorate, their struggling AI can only process one function, their prime function: serve.

This leads the robots to try and help the humans in any way they can, and so they use the readily available water that will one day become their final resting place. They split the water into liquid hydrogen fuel to power the human's cars and machines, and O2 to off-set the damage humanity caused in it's early days.

Eventually, decades after losing their bonded master and ceaseless work, a robot will haul itself into the river. The life created to serve, unwanted by it's creators, performs one final shutdown.

Such is the hubris of man.

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  • $\begingroup$ . . . ouch, my soul hurts. Good answer, though. Not sure they would have the tech necessary to split water molecules into base elements, but I understand the sentiment. $\endgroup$ – Pinion Minion May 25 '18 at 15:56
  • $\begingroup$ I'm pretty sure all you need is an electric current to split water into its base components... en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electrolysis_of_water It's just not super efficient today. $\endgroup$ – Ted Delezene May 25 '18 at 16:41
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To help humans by helping the environment.

The robots spend their time cleaning and maintaining natural fresh water like lakes and rivers, since fresh water is a basic human need, and maintaining it is an on going activity.

The company encourages this since the robots are far more likely to wear themselves out doing this AND it makes the company look good that the robots default to green activities and environmental protection.

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For power. Easiest, fastest method of getting power. Few sticks, 20 metres of copper a pencil and you can get your own generator.

Also being somewhat immortal it's good to have some memento mori. Like owners die robots can fall to force that make them out of commission.

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Accretion

Your first robots were dumped by boat and simply set up their initial settlement where they were. Further robots have joined them rather than travel further afield.

Psychology

The robots are designed to process changes in the same way as a human being (to avoid information overload) and since a river is a source of constant motion and activity it naturally draws them to it more than any other landmarks in the scenery.

Resource

A river often has substantial quantities of smoothed down stones suitable for construction, trees grow around the river more than anywhere else and can be used to build shelter.

Power

The river itself may also be harnessed to power water wheels for generating electricity. Whether this equipment was built by the robots (maybe using the parts of other robots to get the high-technology components needed to build a dynamo) or simply provided by the government to prevent them from "starving"

Pre-existing Settlement

The world has precious few places untouched by humanity, it's very likely that the region the robots are in has or had a few communities of humans, if the robots found an empty ruined town they might rebuild it sufficient for their own needs. And humans often set up near rivers for the same reasons I've described above.

Malicious intent

The settlement wasn't initially near the river, the robots aren't stupid enough to risk themselves like that, instead someone has been diverting the river in small increments to destroy them without anyone noticing.

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Thrills

This is the robot equivalent of free solo climbing. No longer having human ties, they are free to seek out the thrills of not knowing whether they will be seeing the next day.

People losing family responsibilities (getting separated from their partner, have the children become independent) are more likely to seek out the more dangerous variants of existing or new hobbies. There is no point in not acting less responsible if you don't have responsibilities to take care of any more.

Death by water is something they have been programmed to be reasonably unfrightened of since it's a common danger while in their human centric part of their existence cycle.

It's the equivalent of not wanting to evacuate from a settlement at the brink of a volcano and rather die in the style you have been living.

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Really, I would work this desire into the growing "humanity" of the robot. They have a complex brain that is suddenly idle. Maybe they spend hours just watching the water. We build houses in places where we have a good view of the water, in many cases, near the beach for example, this creates houses that require much higher maintenance due to weather, much higher construction costs, and much higher risk of damage and destruction. Is it worth it? Yes for many.

Moving water has deep spiritual connotations for humans. It has philosophical connotations "Can a person step in the same river twice?"

If your robots are lost, and searching for their souls, and if they are anything like humans, it seems perfectly reasonable for them to share a fascination with water. As a literary device, it can be used to effectively create a bridge of sympathy to your robots. In this way it is not a question you need to "answer" in your book. It can be asked, explored, and ultimately left open.

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You say the robots learn to mimic the owners, once they are dismissed maybe they could then be picking up on other behaviours from the robots around them, it just so happens that the first few robots dropped off came from a water loving city.

And since the original robots dropped off looked for and set up near a river, the other robots that joined later learnt this behaviour.

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Transportation

The vast majority of cities are located at or near rivers for a reason, and that reason surprisingly isn't fresh water, but transportation. In times before the train, ships were the only means to transport the massive amounts of stuff that a city needs. Transport by ship is still a major part of logistics, despite the options of trains, cars and airplanes available.

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Robots are programmed to be useful to people, and when "in exile" wi still seek to carry out their programmed directives.

In the case of high function human level AI (which is implied by the premise in the OP), the robots might decide that the most utility would be to begin transforming the ecology of the region. Since it is dry and arid, it isn't much use to humanity "as is", but it "could" become useful with applied geoengineering.

Robots realize that the natural ecology is dependent on water, so the key resource to transform a region is to seek out and develop that source of water. In the context of this question , naturally occurring sources of water like rivers will be preferred (if the robots are exiled in the Sahara desert, they may eventually congregate around oasis sites). From there, they can begin to develop irrigation systems , plant and tend vegetation to start developing soil and the next generations of plants and so on.

Since they are "in exile", they will not have a lot of equipment outside of what they can do with their hands or whatever funding they can get (philanthropists and former owners might contribute to the projects, or the robots may have access to their own funds earned while still in service), so the process will be very slow and deliberate. Of course, the robots are endlessly patient, so this isn't an issue for them, and the human population is probably willing to allow this to happen, as tending gardens and slowly reclaiming ecological zones is in the interest of the human population, and keeps the robots busy and "happy", out of the mainstream of human society.

So there is not real need to postulate macabre notions of self destruction routines buried in the programming, if robots are "true" to the more metaphysical notions of making their human companions happy and maximizing utility, then they will seek out opportunities to do so wherever they are.

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A byproduct of machine learning.

The robots are programmed using variants of modern day machine learning. Specifically, they are given supervised learning sets to learn about human history and development. By connecting the images of civilizations sprouted by riverbanks and coasts to the idea of human survival, the robots are simply emulating what they believe is a more general survival protocol.

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Humans like living near water, and most human cities are built on coast lines.

Since the robots mimic human owners, would it not make sense that therefore Robots like living near water? For all the same reasons?

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    $\begingroup$ This does not provide an answer to the question. To critique or request clarification from an author, leave a comment below their post. - From Review $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch May 25 '18 at 16:26
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    $\begingroup$ @L.Dutch Based the OP this is actually the first answer that came to my mind as well. $\endgroup$ – James May 25 '18 at 19:28
  • $\begingroup$ @James, if it was longer than a tweet I'd consider it an answer, too $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch May 25 '18 at 19:39
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    $\begingroup$ I could make it longer but tbh it would just be a more verbose version of what I already put. Additionally, why vote to delete when you can down vote? $\endgroup$ – Tom J Nowell May 25 '18 at 22:31
  • $\begingroup$ Also no, this is an answer not a critique or a clarification $\endgroup$ – Tom J Nowell May 25 '18 at 22:32
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Programme them to seek out rivers (or perhaps that particular river) and set up camp nearby. Since the software is proprietary, nobody will find out, unless there is a whistleblower in the team.

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Power.

Once these robots are no longer useful, it stands to reason that no one will recharge their batteries. If there's no power grid to connect to, how does a robot recharge? Assuming they're not fitted with solar panels, etc, then they're going to have difficulty - but one thing a robot will need are motors of various sorts. These should be fairly simple to Jerry-rig into generators with the addition of a water wheel, so now your robots have a source of electricity again.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thrid line says they rely on solar energy. I implied they are self sufficient, also if it comes to energy. $\endgroup$ – Mixxiphoid May 25 '18 at 12:13
  • $\begingroup$ Ah yes, I missed that. $\endgroup$ – Matt Bowyer May 25 '18 at 12:14

protected by James May 25 '18 at 19:23

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