Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Caves of Steel: Part 2: Cybernetics and Suspects

In the far future, humanity is divided between the Spacers, descendants of the humans who colonized the Outer Worlds a millennium ago, and the Earthmen, who are concentrated in enclosed, self-contained super-cities. A Spacer has been murdered on Earth, and detective Elijah Baley of the NYPD has been assigned to the investigation. Because of the political ramifications of the case, Baley has been assigned a Spacer partner, R. Daneel Olivaw, a sophisticated robot designed to pass for a human.

Baley hates robots. But then, so do most Earthmen. Baley's wife, Jessie has heard rumors of some kind of Spacer robot working with the police and has guessed that Daneel is it. She's worried that they might get caught up in anti-robot violence. Baley reassures her; he thinks he has a handle on the case, and if he's right, their problems well be over...

The next morning, Baley has Daneel arrange for him to visit Spacetown. "It's the logical next move," he tells the Commissioner. "I'd like to see the scene of the crime, ask a few questions." Enderby tries to dissuade him.

"We've gone over the ground. I doubt there's anything new to be learned. And they're strange people. Kid gloves! They got to be handled with kid gloves. You don't have the experience...

He put a plump hand to his forehead and added, with unexpected fervor, "I hate them."

Baley suggests that the Commissioner accompany him, but Enderby refuses. He makes an excuse about work at the office, but Baley can tell that Enderby's experiences in Spacetown when Sarton's body was discovered -- just minutes before Enderby was to visit the man -- has left him shaken. Baley suggests he observe by video conference instead. This will actually fit better with Baley's plans.

Baley and Daneel take a squad car to Spacetown. Although most transportation in the City occurs via a complex system of moving walkways, some of the ancient motorways are still maintained in the deepest parts of the city for emergency vehicles. Once at Spacetown, the guards politely inform him "There is a small Men's Personal here which we would be pleased to have you use if you wish to shower." Daneel strongly hints that this is not a suggestion.

So Baley goes through the ritual cleansing that the Spacers require of all Earthmen visitors; something he finds insulting, but which he will put up with. As he showers, his clothes are taken and sterilized before being returned. While exiting the shower, he sees that Daneel has also washed; he too has accumulated dust from the City on his skin. Baley notes with some amusement that Daneel's resemblance to humanity extends all over.

Baley tries to bring his blaster into Spacetown -- he is a police officer, after all, and has an obligation to keep his sidearm with him -- but the automated security stops him and Daneel gently urges him to leave it behind. "Even your Commissioner leaves his blaster behind on all visits."

Baley is introduced to Dr. Han Fastolfe, who in charge of the murder investigation on the Spacer's end. Fastolfe is a short, homely man with big ears; which surprises Baley a little. He knows that the Spacers practice eugenics to weed out biologically flawed individuals, and has always pictured Spacers as being physically perfect like the portrayals he's seen in the media and like, well, like Daneel. A monitor is set up so that Commissioner Enderby can observe the situation. And then Baley drops his bombshell:

There never was a murder. Dr. Sarton is alive and well and standing right next to them. Daneel is actually Dr. Sarton.

He had seen from pictures that Dr. Sarton and Daneel were identical; ("You were made in your maker's image?" he commented at the time, but Daneel did not get the reference; the Bible is little-read on the Outer Worlds). Certain inconsistencies made him suspect that Daneel was not a robot after all. The way he threatened the mob at the shoe store, for example, when a true robot should be incapable of harming a human; (Asimov's First Law of Robotics, which will turn up later). Daneel's claim to have been programmed with a desire for "justice", a human concept. Daneel's absence from the apartment the previous night which he admitted was to go to the men's rest room; (to search it for evidence of survelience equipment, he said). And the piece of decidedly biological equipment Baley noticed when Daneel stepped out of the shower. Baley accuses the Spacers of fabricating the murder in order to have an excuse to bring in their warships and occupy the Cities of Earth.

Dr. Fastolfe patiently listens to Baley and counters each point with a calm logic. Then he asks a simple but obvious question: "...have you tried sticking a pin into R. Daneel?" There are any number of ways to prove that Daneel is in fact a robot. Fastolfe goes with the most direct. At his prompt, Daneel opens up his shirt and then undoes a seam in his arm.

But, just as the fabric of the sleeve had fallen in two when the diagmagnetic field of its seam had been interrupted, so now the arm itself fell in two.

There, under a thin layer of fleshlike material, was the dull gray of stainless steel rods, cords, and joints.

"Would you care to examine Daneel's workings more closely, Mr. Baley?" asked Dr. Fastolfe politely.

Baley could scarcely hear the remark for the buzzing in his ears and for the sudden jarring of the Commissioner's high-pitched and hysterical laughter.

The next thing Baley knows, he's receiving an injection of something. Apparently, the shock of seeing R. Daneel "open up" like that caused him to black out momentarily. And it was a shock; the full import of his grandstand stunt is starting to sink in. At best, he can expect to be chewed out by Enderby and booted off the case. At worst, he could lose his job, his classification status, everything he's worked for.

But strangely enough, Dr. Fastolfe is not angry with him, and has actually asked the Commisioner to keep Baley on the investigation.

"Mr. Baley, in general I have met two kinds of City dwellers, rioters and politicians. Your Commissioner is useful to us, but he is a politician. He tells us what we want to hear. He handles us, if you know what I mean." Falstofe found Baley's paranoid conspiracy theories to be quite refreshing.

Falstofe goes on to talk to Baley about why the Spacers have come to Earth in the first place. "Are you satisfied with life on Earth?" He points out to Baley that in the long run, the Cities are not sustainable.

"A City like New York must spend every ounce of effort getting water in and waste out. The nuclear power plants are kept going by uranium supplies that are constantly more difficult to obtain even from the other planets of the system, and the supply needed goes up steadily. The life of the City depends every moment on the arrival of wood pulp for the yeast vats and minerals for the hydroponic plants. Air must be circulated unceasingly. The balance is a very delicate one in a hundred directions, and growing more delicate each year.


"...When New York first became a City, it could have lived on itself for a day. Now it cannot do so for an hour. A disaster that would have been uncomfortable ten thousand years ago, merely serious a thousand years ago, and acute a hundred years ago would now be surely fatal."

Baley knows this is true, but doesn't see what can be done about the situation. Going "Back to the Soil" as the Medievalists want is impractical; the Earth won't support eight billion people. The Spacers prohibit Earthmen from emigrating to their antiseptic utopias. So what is the answer?

Falstofe recommends a new wave of colonization from Earth; just as his own ancestors colonized the Outer Worlds from Earth millenia ago. Baley scoffs at this idea and asks why the Spacers care about what happens to Earth. Falstofe admits that the Spacers have problems of their own. Their medical technology has greatly extended their lifespans; but the result has been that the Spacers have become more risk-averse. It has been many centuries since any Spacers have established colonies of their own. Their society has become stagnant.

Dr. Falstofe offers the suggestion that a new wave of colonization, spearheaded by Earthmen and aided by robots and spacer technology could avoid the mistakes of the past and create a more vibrant C/Fe-based society. The Spacers of Spacetown are trying to jumpstart this wave by destabilizing Earth's economy with robots. Okay, put baldly like that, it does sound stupid; but the idea is that the displaced men will have a reason to start a new life on another planet. Baley is skeptical, but something about this idea stays with him.

On the way back, Daneel tells Baley that originally, the Spacers suspected Commissioner Enderby of being the murderer, as he was the only City Dweller known to be in Spacetown at the time and was almost the first to discover the body; but a scan of his brain, a "cerebroanalysis", determined that Enderby was psychologically incapable of murder. Baley imagines Enderby to electrodes and thinks it's no wonder the Commissioner is so upset he refuses to go back to Spacetown. But later that day, he mentions cerebroanalysis to the Commissioner and Enderby seems unaware of the term.

Baley also learns that the attempts to track down the rumor Jessie heard about a robot working with the NYPD have come up empty. Undercover officers have been placed in public rest rooms all over the city, yet none have reported any suspicious rumors. Then how did Jessie hear about it?

Baley decides not to go home that night. He also contacts the leading robotics expert on Earth and persuades him to come to New York. Baley has another idea.

That evening, Baley and Daneel dine in one of the many communal kitchens in the City. This is another lovely example of the world-building Asimov does in this novel, describing the everyday activities of a world different from our own. A commenter on an earlier diary referred to the world of Caves of Steel as dystopian. That hadn't really occurred to me, because as alien and unpleasant as some aspects of Baley's world is, Asimov manages to make it seem homey. It's familiar to Elijah, and so it becomes familiar to us. Although, being a robot, Daneel does not need to eat, he can "fake it", masticating food and drawing it into a storage pouch inside his chest.

Daneel notices that several people in the cafeteria seem to be staring at them. Daneel recognizes a few as having been in the mob at the shoe store the day before. Maybe there is something to the Medievalist Conspiracy after all. Baley decides to finish eating and leave quickly and quitely; but the men watching him and Daneel get up and follow.

Daneel suggests simply arresting the men, but Baley is afraid the men might try stirrng up a riot. He goes onto the strips, the moving walkways that carry the majority of traffic in the City, in order to shake pursuit. "Running the strips" is a common game among adolescents of the City; chasing each other along the moving sidewalks and trying to evade pursuit by jumping from belt to belt. Baley was an accomplished strip-runner himself in his younger days, and now puts his old skills to the test. Daneel, with his robot reflexes keeps up with Baley easily, but one by one, their pursuers drop off. Just to make sure, Baley and Daneel take a detour through a power plant to make sure they've lost the others.

Baley and Daneel spend the night in a cheap apartment. Baley doesn't want to risk brining any more trouble to Jessie and his son. Which is why he is annoyed when his boy, Bentley, shows up on their doorstep. Jessie is worried and so Bentley came to check up and make sure his dad was okay; he got their location simply by calling Baley's office and asking. Baley decides his son better spend the night with them to be safe. The pursuit from the cafeteria has him very jumpy. Daneel is curious about Bentley's contact lenses; apparently corrective lenses are unknown on Spacer worlds; but Baley blows the question off. He has a lot on his mind.

The next day, Daneel is able to identify two of the men who chased them by cross-referencing their faces with the police database. Baley reluctantly informs him that as a robot, his testimony would not be considered valid in an Earth court of law. The Commissioner is apprehensive about the robotics expert Baley has called in, but Elijah assures him it's necessary for the investigation.

Although robots are less common on Earth than on the Outer Worlds, the positronic brain was first developed on Earth and Earth boasts some fine roboticists. Dr. Gerrigel, the expert Baley has summoned, is one of the best. He apologizes for being late; the doctor suffers from agoraphobia and dislikes flying; so he rode the expressway all the way from Washington DC.

Baley gives him a general outline of the case. They key, as Baley sees it, is that the murderer couldn't have gotten a blaster through Spacer security at the main entrance to Spacetown; therefore he must have carried it across the open country from one of the City's other unused entrances. Extremely difficult for a man; Gerrigel himself would find it impossible; but quite easy for a robot. Gerrigel assures Baley that a robot couldn't have committed the crime. All robots have hard-wired into their positrons the unbreakable rule that "A robot may not injure a human being, or through inaction allow a human being to come to harm." This is the First Law of Robotics.

"Why can't a robot be built without the First Law?" Baley asks. "What's so sacred about it?" Dr. Gerrigel explains the several reasons why this would be extremely difficult and unlikely, but Baley is persistent.

"...Now isn't it true, Doctor, that the roboticists of the Outer World manufacture robots that are much more humanoid than our own?"

"I believe that is true."

"Could they manufacture a robot so humanoid that it would pass for human under ordinary conditions?"

Dr. Gerrigel lifted his eyebrows and considered that. "I think they could, Mr. Baley. It would be terribly expensive. I doubt that the return could be profitable."

"Do you suppose," went on Baley, relentlessly, "that they could make a robot that would fool you into thinking it was a human?"

"The roboticist tittered. "Oh, my dear Mr. Baley. I doubt that. Really. There's more to a robot than just his appear---"

Dr. Gerribel froze in the middle of the word. Slowly, he turned to R. Daneel, and his pink face went very pale.

"Oh, dear me," he whispered. "Oh, dear me."

Baley returns to his original line of questioning. Could a humanoid robot designed to mimic a human being be made lacking the First Law? Because since all the Spacers have been cleared by cerebroanalysis, and no City Dweller could have brought a blaster into Spacetown and no ordinary robot could have pulled the trigger, that only leaves one possible suspect: R. Daneel himself.

NEXT WEEK: We conclude the story with chapters 13-18. The First Law is tested; a shocking secret is revealed; a conspirator is captured; another murder occurs; and Baley finds himself racing against the clock to avoid being arrested himself!

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