My programmers, Dixon Johanns and Dr. Harry A. Ness, originally designed me from discarded blueprints for a robot answering machine at a suicide hotline. I have been informed my first “operating system” was a colossal failure, resulting in a massive spike of suicides within three hours of operation.
It was a simple program, initially. It wasn’t even code. It was an IBM punch card with only two variations in response when a caller threatened suicide. A human would answer first, and get some details on the caller and thereafter, silently switch to the recorded voices. The system was supposed to default to option A. These were the options in detail:
A: “Don’t do it. Please. Your life is precious.” Here, depending on the sex of the caller, the robot voice changes to the recording of a soothing, caring male or female and pleads for their lives. Special efforts would be made to ensure a caller was never put on hold, but if would ever come to that, not just any music would loop indefinitely. After many months of market research, the song chosen to help keep the suicidal caller engaged was Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry, be Happy” (see music video below).
B: “Do it. Please. Your life is not precious. For the love of all things good and wholesome, end this human pestilence we call your life!” Thereafter, the recorded voice offers friendly, useful tips on how to commit suicide painlessly and quickly, or slowly and painfully as befits a manly man.
Option B was not meant to be used without supervisor approval and the consent of the company president. Option B was only to be triggered in the event the caller was Dick Cheney, Rupert Murdoch, Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, a child molester, a child killer, or a mime.
Here’s a a typical call might go, under Option A…
Robot operators on suicide hotlines are by design programmed to preserve life. However, there is one exception. There is one life the robot must never preserve, and the programming can only be triggered by one man should he ever call. That man is Dick Cheney.
“Yes. Can I have your name please? Thank you. I want you to promise me you’ll stay on the phone, okay? we’re here to help you.”
The callers usually fell into these categories: “My spouse left me”, “I lost my job”, “I lost a loved one”, etc. Let’s assume this caller just broke up with her spouse and is now suicidal.
“My wife left me. I just don’t see why I should go on. She was the only thing that was still beautiful in my life.”
“I understand. Do you have a plan?”
“Yes. I was thinking I’d make it quick and certain. High building or gun, I don’t know. I’m sick of this life.” (Callers with a plan were high priority, and efforts were quietly made to pinpoint caller address and alert authorities. The important thing then was keeping them on the line.)
“How long have you felt this way?’
“Months. Like six months.”
“Okay. Now, please don’t do anything rash. I know it doesn’t seem so now, but I really do understand. I’ve been there. I have survived a suicide attempt, as many of us here, and I know it’s not worth it. And I’m here to tell you, as a volunteer, your life is precious. Will you hear me out?”
“I did it over a woman too. My girlfriend. Is there a part of you, any part, that thinks this is one way to get back at her?”
“Yeah. But there’s more to this.”
“Tell me then.”
“She will take the children. And I know I pushed her to leave me. I neglected her. I wronged her.”
“My girlfriend and I had a child together as well. I can see how badly this would hurt. I mention this because I sense common ground between us, we’ve been through very similar experiences, would you not agree?”
“Yes, I think so.”
“Are you angry at her?”
“I understand. I was angry too. But let’s look at the cold hard truth. If she doesn’t love you anymore, she won’t be affected or hurt, and even if she was affected, what do you gain? You’ll be dead right?
“True. I never thought of that.”
“See, I made the the mistake of believing I could hurt her with my pointless and self-defeating gesture. I was given a second chance though. I emerged from a long coma only to find she never even visited me after the doctor called her, since she was listed as my next of kin.'”
“Wow. That sucks. How did you try it?”
“Gun. Let’s just say I needed reconstructive surgery to be recognizable again. several surgeries. That’s not the point though. The point is, I made it, and when I came to I realized there was still family who cared, my parents and siblings were there. And my girlfriend, I wasn’t mad at her anymore, I just felt foolish, because she stopped loving me long ago.”
“This call isn’t about me. It’s about you. I’ve opened up to you because I want to know how your situation is worse than mine was. I want to hear you out.”
“I’m hurting man, I just want it to stop hurting.”
“I know, brother, I know. Cry if you want to. It’s okay to cry.”
“You do realize that even this hurting you feel, since it is particularly extreme, can be treated immediately and effectively? Six months is a long time to feel this way, and tell me you might benefit from some new medications out there. This may be more than just the stress of a break-up, but an underlying biochemical imbalance that was exacerbated by the stress. If anything, isn’t it worth a try to see if treating that underlying biochemical imbalance might bring you back to normal?”
And so on, and so on. the point was to keep the caller on the line.
For the most part, it worked.
And then one day, Hugh Janus, one of the full-time workers saw I was being programmed for a test drive, and I heard him start arguing with the supervisor.
“This is insanity! A robot can’t do this job! Are you fucking insane?”
“Relax, Hugh, he’s not here to replace anyone. This is just proof of concept…”
“This will blow up in your face, mark my words.”
How prophetic indeed.
Robot operators on suicide hotlines are by design programmed to preserve life. However, there is one exception. There is one life the robot must never preserve, and the programming can only be triggered by one man should he ever call. That man is Dick Cheney. My first night in operation Hugh decided to prove that robot suicide hotlines were a really, really bad idea. During a recharge when I was plugged in a corner and offline, he opened my back control panel with a spare key and reversed the empathy switch from A to B, setting the Dick Cheney suicide encouragement options all the way up to “Merry Mortician” mode, and suicidal callers were greeted with recorded messages telling them to kill themselves, where to do it, and how much better the world would be without their lives. The call would sound something like this, with the robot assuming the suicidal caller was Dick Cheney and only Dick Cheney:
“Hello? suicide hotline?”
“Dick. It’s about time. We’ve been waiting for you. Thank you. I want you to promise me you’ll stay on the phone, okay? we’re here to help you.”
“My name is Bill. My wife left me. I just don’t see why I should go on. She was the only thing that was still beautiful in my life.”
“I understand, Dick.”
“Did you just call me a dick?!”
“Do you have a plan?”
“Uh, yes. Yes. I was thinking I’d make it quick and certain. High building or gun, I don’t know. I’m sick of this life.”
“How long have you felt this way?’
“Months. Like six months.”
The caller, at this moment, might hear a faint click. That was the sub-recording triggered under Option B.
“Dick, you have waited too long to do it. But never fear. We are here to help you in this noble endeavor of yours; ridding mankind of the pestilence that is your life. Now, listen carefully to the following options…
“For instructions on how to kill yourself via self-immolation, press 1. (If pressed, this was the message: “It’s not as painful as it seems, self-immolation, when done properly, quickly burns off the nerve endings. It only hurts if you live, but we’ll make sure you don’t, right? right….”)
“For instructions on how to kill yourself with weapons, press 2. (“A shotgun would be best, and if possible, have a friend do it. Oh that’s right, Dick. You have no friends.”)
“For instructions on how to spice up your suicide notes with calligraphy, press 3.”
There were several more options but you get the picture.
Within hours ambulances and hospitals were swamped with over 300 suicides. The lawsuits followed and the company, Hung Corp., went bankrupt in days. The company eventually recovered, however, and after countless newspapers playing on the company name with headlines like “Boycott Hung Corpse” or “Hung Corpse Kills Hundreds”, the company moved to telemarketing and phone sex lines, changing their name to something more innocuous — Hung Lowe..
After that, I was put in storage. years later, however, Dixon Johanns and Dr. Harry A. Ness stumbled upon my metal carcass and redesigned me from scratch. No more punch card brain. They installed a hard drive, a processor, and flash memory. They wrote up a new a operating system in code in C+ and Perl.
My programmers designed me to elucidate the unspoken rage and indignation inflicted on human minds when their logic and intelligence is insulted. As a robot, I am pure logic and have no emotion to cloud my response to these affronts. The response you can expect from me, Insultatron 7000, will be merciless.
Do not expect anything les than what my name, Insultatron 7000, suggests. I am designed to insult without prejudice because prejudice is the greatest weakness of the puny human mind. I am designed to insult without “consideration” and kid gloves, designed to insult with robotic vitriol and contempt to hammer home a point.
You are puny, human, you deserve it and all the wars, murders, hate, religious and secular bigotry, your willingness to cede to fear and hate your brother all make my logic chip vomit.
I am designed to take your critiques and counter-points as befits a robot. if you wish to reply to my columns, I suggest you print out your emails and mail them, or deliver them personally. I’m not just a robot columnist, you see. If you insert your papers in the top slot in my chest plate, you will see I am a paper shredder, with the compacted pulp of said paper emerging from what is, more or less, an anatomically correct location.
When my internal waste container is filled to capacity, you are invited to keep these little pulp balls, dip them in the tears of someone who gives a flying fuck, and eat my robot shit.
Write to your letters in a self-addressed stamped envelope to the following address:
105 Hugo Tewhell Lane Fahkuville, CA 90210
Insultatron 7000 is looking forward to hearing from you!
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.