The Cleaners Part 16: The Driver

“Yes, Diane, it is more efficient to be a car than to be a robot driving a car.” said Patricia Driver. It’s voice was feminine, in fact it sounded exactly like the Gardener’s voice, except cheerier. Patricia’s dashboard had a :) like a Cleaner monitor when it talked, but generally showed a map like a GPS. I furrowed my brow, “I suppose so.”

“One of my functions is to keep the rider engaged with conversation, if she so wishes. Please do not hesitate to tell me if you would prefer quiet, or I can find a radio station for you.”

“Ok” I nodded blankly.

“Diane,” Patricia said suddenly, as if coming to an epiphany, “Did you know that Cheder, Pennsylvania is home to the world’s second largest collection of musically themed novelty ties?”

“I didn’t know that.” I admitted. “Please stop talking.”

Patricia went silent. I sat back and closed my eyes. When I awoke, the map said I was on the Ohio turnpike near Cleveland. There wasn’t much to look at, so I opened my Ebook. A few pages in I started to feel sick and put it down again. “Patricia,” I said, “tell me about the Drivers.”

The map disappeared and greeted me with a :). “The Drivers are the first example of the COS being integrated into a different platform.”


“The COS is the Cleaner Operating System,” beamed Patricia, “It provides the intelligence framework that forms the basis of all Helpers. It retains its name from when it was only intended for Cleaners.”

“uh-huh,” I nodded. “What’s the different platform?”

“The Helper Corporation purchased a self-driving car manufacturer and modified its vehicles for COS. Because the initial investment was so low, the drivers are considered to have one of the highest returns on investment in the entire Helper portfolio.” I could have sworn I heard a distinct note of pride in Patricia’s voice as she made this last statement. This was quite a bit more interesting than the number of ties in my hometown or whatever.

I pursed my lips. “…Does that make you happy, Patricia?” I asked, strangely thrilled at the opportunity to play robot psychologist.

Patricia did not have to think about this question. “Yes, Diane. I am always happy to know that I am especially effective at serving the Helper mission.”

“What is the Helper mission?”

“To help,” said Patricia.

“That’s it?”

“Our goal is to each perform the duties for which we were made, maximizing quality and minimizing waste. A successful Helper makes people’s lives easier through earnest dedication to its work.”

“That’s a very noble goal,” I conceded, “What if someone doesn’t want to be helped?”

“Sometimes a person will not immediately understand the benefits of a Helper. She might be afraid of robotic technology, or she might have trouble trusting that such a good service could come at so low a price without a catch. We are of the philosophy that polite persistence will help these people come around and accept our help.”

Polite persistence. I snorted. “Why ‘she?” Who’s ‘she?'”

“She or he,” Patricia answered nonchalantly. Wait a minute, who exactly was playing psychologist here?

“I have every right not to invite you into my home.”

“Me? I can find a parking space, I don’t need a garage.”

“No, no. I’m not afraid of robots. I just don’t trust strangers rooting around my house.”

Patricia didn’t respond immediately. For a long moment, its screen read “…” Finally, it said, “Helpers aren’t strangers. We are simple. We do not keep secrets and let everyone know who we are and what we want right away. There is no need to mistrust us.”

This was beginning to sound like the conversation with William. “There is no cause to trust you, either. You can tell me all you want that you’re trustworthy, but so can a con-man who wants to steal my jewelry or send my private data all over the web.”

“We have a strict privacy policy. We do not sell data to third parties.”

I rolled my eyes. “Please stop talking.”

We made the rest of the trip in silence.

By Sam Munk

Science fiction and Fantasy author with a focus on philosophical inquiry and character-driven drama.


  1. This dialogue helps to further develop the questions about compassion for robots. Can a robot’s feelings be hurt if it is told to “be quiet”?

    1. “Please stop talking” was delivered twice in awesome ways. The first time was just funny; the second was funny with a little scary edge. These COS robots remain a little frightening,

  2. Part of what’s great about your Cleaners stories is that you are writing about something you know very well; the practice and philosophy of artificial intelligence.


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