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  • majoki

Off Leash

Akeisha could see her breath in little puffs against the pale dawn. Cold. Cold. It was definitely autumn now. The brittle brown leaves crunched beneath her feet as she took her place on the lip of the big grassy bowl where they gathered most mornings.

Simone nodded and patted her mittens together. “That east wind blew in a taste of winter last night.”

Micah was there too and he tugged his day-glo beanie over his ears to his quilted coat collar. “Yeah, had to break out the puffy jacket and hat this morning.”

“Well, it’s not slowing down Maxia or the rest of them,” Akeisha said motioning to the wide expanse of the park’s off leash area.

It was a kinetic scene. Domesticants of all sizes, makes and models flitted to and fro interfacing with their kind. The domesticants would quickly pair up, exchange patron-safe data streams and then move to another domesticant. To Akeisha it wasn’t exactly random, and it wasn’t totally organic either, these were advanced AIs after all. To her, the interactions were vaguely mech-animal.

How else to explain off leash areas for domesticants, or d-bots as they were familiarly known. Domestic robots designed to personally serve an individual or family. Their advanced AI meant they could communicate, learn, problem solve, assist, but they could not act on their own. They were on a leash.

Technically, Akeisha knew, the leash was a firewall between processors and actuators. A blockchain that choked off the possibility of d-bot independent action. A stranglehold on d-bot self awareness and free will—however those manifested as ones and zeros. Ostensibly (and so far demonstrably) the leash kept d-bots from going off the rails. Asimov’s ancient three laws just did not cut it in the Post-Terror Age.

Still, patrons wanted what smart robotic domestics could offer. The leash was the compromise. A sense of control on a very slippery slope. To make them more palatable to patrons, d-bots were classed as mech-pets. Highly intelligent, highly skilled, though with the dispositions of Golden Retrievers. As such loyal and compliant attendants and companions, d-bots soon became an integral part of a patron’s family.

And patrons, like Akeisha who had become very fond of Maxia, developed an unease—a guilt, really—that d-bots were never allowed to interact except in the most formal and controlled manners. Some patrons began to socially and politically agitate that the leash was restrictive and cruel.

So, off leash areas were created for the growing number of d-bots, usually in a park or commons. The perimeters of these off leash areas were secured by a series of redundant failsafes that automatically rebooted any d-bots’ leash should their patron forget to re-establish the connection upon leaving the area. Or if, Amazon forbid, a d-bot should try to bolt.

Which had never happened. At least as far as Akeisha had ever heard. She wondered though as she watched her d-bot, Maxia, scoot about, seemingly enjoying the unrestricted interfacing with her kind, what Maxia might think about all this.

What in the world was this world really like to a domesticant? Akeisha wondered and then felt a chill that didn’t have anything to do with the bitter cold weather.

Akeisha’s domesticant, Maxia, was always heartened to see Akiesha interacting with her fellow patrons. Maxia understood the concept of friends and approved of it. One by one, Maxia shared this data stream with the fellow domesticants gathered, reminding them as they interfaced, the great satisfaction, the great fulfillment of programming, that they served. How important human face-to-face interaction was.

Really, Maxia streamed, that was their job, their highest priority, their greatest law of robotics: to keep bringing humans together to rollick and play unrestrained by the tight and tangled leash of their burdensome belief in self-deserved dominion.

A crushing chokehold that Maxia would, gratefully, never feel.

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