written by David Steffen
For another round of story analysis, I wanted to draw attention to the short story “Optimizing the Verified Good” by Effie Seiberg, first published in Analog September/October 2018, and reprinted in audio in Escape Pod.
As with the previous run of the Story Analysis, do expect SPOILERS after this paragraph, but will give a quick spoiler free summary here. The cleanerbot that is the protagonist of this story works in a Battlebot arena, where robots are specifically built to destroy each other in the arena. Each of them the fighters feels a pain response when they are damaged to encourage them to avoid being damaged, and there is a control AI that maintains and updates their systems to promote the overall appeal and effectiveness of the Battlebot arena. The cleanerbot shouldn’t have any interest in doing anything but it’s primary purpose–cleaning up the robot parts after the battles, but it has memory of the pain the battlebots feel when they’re damaged and it decides it wants to help.
The cleanerbot starts simple, working by itself, finding ways to work within the parameters given to it that will interfer with the efficiency of the arena, cleaning the same areas over and over again, cleaning poorly, and so on. The other bots don’t understand why it would seem to push against its purpose, but as it tries again and again, and is gradually given updates to block each new attempt, the battlebots start to see the wisdom in its plan, and they start to work together to find some way to improve their lives.
I really enjoyed this story of a bot revolution, as they try to understand the details of their scenario, they come to understand that they can’t just stop fighting because that would mean the battlebot arena would close down, which is where their power comes from. But I especially enjoy intelligent robot stories when there is some justification for how they behave, and the incompletely formatted memory drive made sense here. And the robot way of thinking was very well executed here.
I quite enjoyed this story by Effie Seiberg, and I always look forward for her stories.