Unit VPOCR-4 was a robot beachcomber. That is, he was programmed to clean up the beach to make it suitable for human litterbugs. He’d analyzed his job many times and found that he was underutilized, and he constantly ran algorithms to enhance his functions with every upgrade. Other functions that he concluded he could offload from humans—besides cleaning up after themselves—included lotioning sunbathers, collecting shells, and kicking sand into skinny men’s faces.
He was calculating the improved efficiency he could provide to building sandcastles one morning when he picked up an artifact that washed up on the far side of the beach where he always found most of the Pabst Blue Ribbon cans. His local database did not identify it, so he searched the Internet, which indicated it was an oil lamp of oriental design. VPOCR-4’s algorithms categorized it as a potential antique and instructed him to do rudimentary cleaning.
The robot popped open a panel and extended a round brush on a spindle, spinning the brush and rubbing it against the lamp to sweep away surface dirt and sand.
Smoke came from the lamp’s spout. VPOCR-4 analyzed it’s movement and determined it had a complex controller, which furthermore popped his circuits by forming a man dressed like a fancy beach tent.
“Today brings you luck,” said the man. “I will grant you three wishes.”
VPOCR-4 checked his local dictionary and then the online one for a definition of ‘wish,’ which led to the conclusion that it was a purely human phenomenon.
“Impossible,” said VPOCR-4. “Robots do not wish.”
“I don’t care what race you are, you are entitled to three wishes.”
VPOCR-4 engaged a full Internet search in an attempt to find a more specific context, movies and cartoons popping up with the best data. The applicable usage of ‘wish’ seemed closest to the ‘requisition’ in his list of functions, so he programmed a new interface for requisitioning items not already part of his system routines. With the interface built, the only item of reference he had for it was NUL.
“First wish,” said VPOCR-4. “I wish for the database of all possible wishes.”
“What?” asked the man. “What is a database?”
“Structured list of all wishes and their attributes,” said VPOCR-4.
“Very well,” said the man. He spread his arms wide and looked up at the sky. Clouds formed and all went dark so that even VPOCR-4’s infrared sensors could not see anything.
When the smoke cleared, the beach was filled with scrolls stacked like firewood. Piles and piles of them, and VPOCR-4 could not see over them to see how far they went in order to estimate the volume of data. Analysis told him it would require a massive team of data input technicians just to get what he could see populated into a database before the sun burnt out.
“I require this data to be converted to electronic form,” said the robot.
The man’s countenance became mystified, and he went into a trance, holding perfectly still for just short of an hour.
“I see,” he said. “What a strange world this has become.” He bowed abruptly. “I will make the conversion. But this is your second wish.”
He spread his arms again, and everything went dark. When the darkness lifted, the scrolls were gone, and VPOCR-4 had full access to a database of wishes. He scanned and sorted all of them, evaluating every one for it’s utilitarian value.
“Pale and shovel,” said the robot.
“Really?” said the man. He shrugged. “Okay.” A quick swirl of smoke dissipated to reveal an orange pale and a small yellow shovel. The man handed it to VPOCR-4 and vanished.
There was nothing else in the database as useful to a robot on the beach working in his capacity. His most recent upgrade complete, he walked toward a child building a sand castle. He was going to rock that kid’s world.