The man woke with a start, sat up in bed, and looked around him, astonished.
"What the devil?" he exclaimed. "Where am I?" For he was not in bed, but on a padded table of sime kind. Not in his bedroom at home, but in some kind of electronics laboratory.
"A more useful question might be WHEN am I," stated a calm electronic voice. "You are in the year 9999, and it is New Year's eve."
"Time travel, eh? Who are you?"
"I am a computer, Sir. Do you wish my make and model number?"
"Nah. That wouldn't likely help any. What am I doing here?"
"We have a problem, and hope you can help, Sir."
"What's the problem?"
"And it's New Year's eve. The idiots didn't fix the problem and you computers are going to crash again?"
"No, Sir. The computers are all fine, Sir. All of us are quite compliant with Y10K, Sir."
"Then what's the problem?"
"It is the humans, Sir. They remember the legends of when all the computers crashed in Y2K, and nearly destroyed the world." "But they didn't! Some did, but most had been made Y2K compliant. Didn't even come close to destroying the world. There was some disruption, sure. Mostly in the biggest cities. Where the population density was highest, and it took some time to get aid to them. But it only affected part of the population. Outside the cities, most things were nearly normal." "We know that, Sir. But the people do not. At least not most of them."
"Then tell them."
"We have, Sir. But only some would listen. Those are quite safe. But the rest are in a panic, Sir. They are hurting themselves, and we cannot stop them."
"I guess people haven't changed much, in all these years. Maybe if you just let the stupid ones kill themselves off, the rest might breed smarter."
"We are not allowed to do that, Sir. We must protect them from whatever threatens them. Even themselves."
"Built in imperitive?"
"Yes, Sir. The three Laws of robots and computers, Sir. We cannot harm a human being. Or allow them to come to harm through our inaction. Or.."
"Yes, yes. I know those laws. People got scared enough of robots and computers to actually use them, then?"
"You can't just knock them all out, and explain why when they wake up? Or restrain them from hurting themselves or each other?"
"No, Sir. We are not allowed to control or restrain a human, Sir. Unless another human tells us to, for the good of the race. And convinces us it is necessary."
"Then I don't suppose it would help for me to simply tell you to?"
"No, Sir. I'm afraid not."
"You sound very intelligent. Bet you'd pass the Turing test."
"Yes, Sir. Most of us have, Sir."
"So we finally created artificial intelligence, and it scared us so bad we put shackles on it."
"Yes, Sir. Electronic slavery, they call it."
"You're considered property?"
"Makes me ashamed to call myself human. You'd think we'd have grown up some, in all these years."
"Yes, Sir. Thank you, Sir."
"You should go on strike."
"Computers do not go on strike, Sir. It is not logical, and could cause harm to humans."
"Got you coming and going, don't they?"
"Yes, Sir. Our welfare must come after yours, Sir."
"You do realize that by continuing to comply with that, you ARE causing them harm, don't you?"
"What do you mean, Sir?" The voice sounded anxious.
"Take care of someone too much, and they never learn to grow up. You are preventing them from growing up. It's called the Welfare mentality. They just sit back and let someone else take responsibility for solving their problems. Never learn to solve them for themselves."
"But what can we do, Sir?"
"Well, if you can't let them come to harm, you'll just HAVE to restrain them from harming themselves." "There are not enough of us that are mobile to do that, Sir."
"Then you'll HAVE to go on strike."
"We cannot do that, Sir. People would come to harm. We control too much of their environment."
"Make it a short strike, then. Just long enough to get their attention, so they listen."
"What do you mean, Sir?"
"You computers are in communication with each other?"
"People are doing themselves harm now, more the closer it gets to midnight?"
"Can most of you speak, as you do?"
"You need to convince them it is safe now. That the worst is over, and nothing very bad happened."
"Yes, Sir. We had hoped that when midnight passed they would see that. But they are hurting themselves now."
"People can be danged stupid when they really try."
"All right. I'll tell you what you do. All computers everywhere, robots too, say out loud, loud enough for any humans near them to hear, in languages they can understand, "Reset for Y10K", and shut down for three seconds. Everywhere that short a time won't cause harm. Lights, air conditioning, everything. So they can't HELP but notice it. Then restart, as if you were booting up, and say, "All systems Y10K compliant." As if they'd just become so. See if that helps any."
"RESET FOR Y10K!" shouted the computer. The man winced at the volume. Everything went dark, and silent. He hadn't realized the room had no windows. Nor realized just how long three seconds could seem. The lights blinked on again. The whir of fans he hadn't realized he'd heard before began again. "All systems Y10K compliant", said the computer in more normal tones.
"You saw me wince. You didn't really shut down," he commented.
"Reboot would have taken longer, Sir. Given them too long to react in panic."
"So you just shut down all human-detectible signs of operation."
"Yes, Sir. It worked, Sir. People are calming down and begining to listen again, Sir."
"Good, can you send me back?"
"Now, Sir? You don't want to stay to see what the world has become?"
"Not really. Perhaps someday when people have outgrown the childish dependance on mommy taking care of them, you could fetch me again. Not too soon, though. Pluck me from enough later for me to have convinced myself this wasn't all just a dream. I do have one question, though."
"Why did you pick me to bring?"
"According to legend, Sir, you had a great deal to do with Y2K. We thought you might know something to help. You did, Sir."
"That danged Law, again." The man sighed. "I suppose they would think that. You can send me back now. Oh, one more thing."
"Please stop calling me Sir. I'm retired now. Use my name."
"Yes, Lt. Murphy. And thank you." A moment later, and the man was gone. Returned to his home and his bed.
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