Real Steel: The Origin of ATOM
“Hey Dad, check this out.”
“Oh, what’re you doing now, Max? Leave him alone. He just finished his big fight.”
“Just? That was like two weeks ago. I’m sure he’s fine now. Anyway…”
“No ‘Anyway’ or ‘but’ or whatever. You don’t go up against the reigning champion and walk away without a bruise. I mean look at him. He’s barely holding up.”
“Atom’s way better than that, Dad. Aren’t you, Atom?”
“It’s a robot, Max.”
“Oh come on. You saw him when he was fighting Zeus. There’s no way Atom didn’t hear you. Besides, that’s not what I want to show you. Look at this.”
“Give me that. He’s been in ‘hibernate’ mode ever since the fight. He won’t be awake for another day at least, and the last thing he needs is you messing with his wiring.”
“It’s a chip. Probably a programming module or something. Where’d you pluck it from?”
“His head? Max, you know how dangerous that is. What if it can’t be put back?”
“It’ll be fine. All we’d need to do is reintegrate the module when we program him again. But what I was talking about, was that it looks like it’s a memory recorder.”
“So, robots don’t usually have big removable blocks like this. They usually just store memory for a day or something at a time and then delete it to save space.
“Well, alright. Maybe you’ve got a point.”
“Maybe? I’ve been reading about robots since, like, forever. That block probably has some specific memory related to Atom. That’s the only explanation.”
“Atom is an old robot, you know. The tech they used then was probably like this.”
“I doubt it. Besides, there’s only one way to find out.”
Max ran to his laptop, chip in hand as Charlie sighed and decided to follow. He watched his son fiddle around for a while with some wires as he tried to connect the module to his laptop.
He had to admit, Max was a natural at stuff like this. Maybe once they had some money, he could see if he could get him into a private school.
“So how about it?” Charlie asked, intrigued. Max’s interest in robots was contagious, at the very least.
“Almost there.” He replied, as he started flicking away at the keyboard. “There we go.”
A black screen popped up, as the sounds of gears and machines blared through the laptop speakers. Someone was muttering in the background, though Charlie couldn’t understand a word.
“Are they. . .” he began, but Max cut him off, confirming what he had thought.
“Well, what’s it about?”
“Mostly just insults to someone’s mom. Sounds like he’s trying to get something to work. Probably Atom’s retinal recorders.”
He was proven right when the screen flashed to life, in surprising clarity for an older robot. A Japanese man with greying hair was tinkering with what Max guessed to be Atom’s head, and he saw the same display appear on a laptop kept on a desk at the back.
The man glanced back, grinned at the display on the laptop, and stepped back to admire his handiwork.
“Finally.” He said. “It’s about time you started working, you piece of junk. Now that your display’s working, you’re almost ready to be pitched to the guys up top.”
“What’s he saying?” Charlie asked, looking lost.
“Here.” Max opened up a software for audio conversion, and it started to convert the speech into subtitles that Charlie could read. A nifty yet useful advancement in technology if there ever was one.
“But fair warning,” The Japanese man wagged his finger at Atom. “They’re jerks, of the variety that not even your A.I can comprehend.”
“Yeah, I saw.” Charlie bit his lip. Artificial Intelligence was something that still wasn’t accepted, even when it wasn’t completely invented. Even the premise of something like that was unnerving to the masses.
“Uncle Mashida!” A younger voice yelled, and they saw a young boy pop up on the screen, running up to hug the older man.
“Mashida?” Max wondered aloud. “No way.”
“What are you doing here, Tak?”
“Holy crap.” Charlie whispered. They were seeing Tak Mashida, Zeus’ creator, when he still had snot in his nose. And a lot of it, too.
“Then... this must be the Mashidas’ company labs in the States!” Max exclaimed. Ever since he’d heard of them, he’d wanted to work there. Their work was what made robots such an integral part of everyday life.
“I thought we weren’t meeting until later. Shouldn’t you be with your father right now?”
“But it’s boring up there!” Little Tak cried. “He’s so busy with those other old men. So I thought I could see your new robot again.”
“Well, you’re in luck. As it happens, I just managed to fix up his retinal display. Wave!”
Max and Charlie stared open mouthed as Tak waved furiously at the screen. It was hard to believe this was the same person who punched through a control screen in frustration.
“Awesome!” He yelled, eyes shining with excitement. “So what’re you going to call him?”
“Well,“ his uncle grinned. “I was thinking of calling him Gomi.”
“That’s not very nice.” Tak pouted. “You’ll hurt his feelings.”
“Well, I haven’t programmed them yet, so we should be fine. But,” he paused, “I really need to test him out, and wouldn’t you know it, my assistant’s called in sick today.”
Little Tak’s mouth fell to the floor. “I. . . I’ll help you with it, Uncle Hizashi!”
Hizashi’s grin grew wider. “Well, it’s a really big job. Are you sure you’re up for it, Tak?”
“Yes! I’ll do anything! Please let me come with you!”
“If you insist, well, alright then.”
Charlie couldn’t believe what he was seeing. Atom was built by Hizashi Mashida. He was most known for creating appliances and other basic robotics, but a full-fledged robot with A.I? It was probably his magnum opus. Then how did Atom end up in a dump?
He and Max watched as the duo on screen took Atom for a walk. It was hard for them to accept the Mashidas’ personality when the versions they knew were so reclusive.
The feed flickered and died for a moment before restarting, and Hizashi was now back in his lab.
“Come on Gomi,” he muttered. “I just fixed you up a week ago, you can’t go die on me like that in front of my nephew.” He glanced back to his laptop. “Well, you’re working now, so I’ll just get started on applying that A.I to your ‘brain.’ Not that you have one, right?"
Laughing, he carried on with his work, unaware of another man approaching. Unlike in the case of Hizashi, Max immediately recognized the person on screen.
“Hizashi.” He called, in a powerful, stern voice.
A startled Hizashi looked up from his work, nervousness creeping across his face as he recognized the man. “Hiashi.”
Charlie was awestruck. This was Hiashi Mashida, Tak Mashida’s father, and founder of the world’s leading robotics enterprise.
“Tak told me about your little ‘experiment’.”
“Brother, I...” he was silenced by a raised hand from Hiashi.
“We’ve talked about this, Hizashi. You cannot keep pursuing this endeavour.”
“But I’m so close, Hiashi. I’m so close to finally creating an actual, working A.I. Granted, it’s going to be a bit rudimentary, but still, Gomi’s the prototype that’s going to respark interest in A.I research again.”
Hiashi stared at his brother for a moment. He drew a deep breath before speaking. “Gomi?”
Hizashi blushed, obviously embarrassed.
“You named your robot ‘rubbish’?”
“It’s a working title.”
Hiashi shook his head. “When I set you on this project, it was to make a robot, yes. But a robot fighter, Hizashi.” He crossed his arms. “That’s all I wanted. I put you here because I had faith in your abilities.”
He walked up to the camera, staring disdainfully at Atom. “What I didn’t expect, was you to go over the schedule, eating up more than your given budget, just to work on your pet project.”
“But,” Hizashi started,
“I don’t want to hear it, Hizashi. You don’t do this here, not in the company. If you want to work on it on your own time, that’s fine. But I cannot have you waste precious time and money on something like this.”
“And?” Hizashi argued, though he still sounded nervous, “Is pitting robots against each other what we need to do?”
“They are machines, brother.”
“Only because we let them be. Don’t you see, Hiashi? A.I is the next step in mankind’s advancement. Imagine it, brother. Machines that can think, work, and feel, all like human beings.”
“You agree they are machines, then?”
“What is this foolish dream of yours, Hizashi? Explain to me. What do you think mankind will gain by giving machines intelligence?”
“Only because you cannot accept it. Why do you not understand? All the processing power of the world’s fastest supercomputer, coupled with human curiosity and thought. The possibilities are limitless!”
“Yes. Along with human impatience, hot-headedness, pride, and arrogance. Giving machines true intelligence is only digging the hole for our own grave, brother. I am surprised you do not see that.”
Hizashi bit his lip. “You are wrong. We created them. All these robots, and machines, and computers. It is in our best interests, our responsibility, to help them evolve. Together, we can achieve things we cannot by ourselves.”
“No, brother. Everything we do is solely to improve man’s position in the universe. All those machines, all those computers, they are nothing more than simple stepping stones. You should see them as such, rather than conjure up any wild notions.”
“You ask me to create something that can think. That can adapt. That can respond. You want me to give it recognizable factors of life and thought, and then you tell me to pit them against its kin? It is the same nature as cockfights, or poaching. Inhumane.”
“Destroying a computer, or a robot is not inhumane. It is simply a part of its development cycle. A robot is no more human than a man brain dead. Both are simply a lump of meat, taking up space, consuming resources.”
The emotion Hizashi felt, was also reflected on Max and Charlie’s faces. All three of them couldn’t believe what they were hearing.
“Now, brother.” Hiashi continued, cold and steely, “I’m done entertaining you. You’ve made enough problems for me as it is. But, nevertheless, you are my brother. I shall give you two days. When I return, I expect the product you were ordered to make. No more, no less.”
Charlie and Max watched as Hiashi left his brother dazed. Hizashi looked pale and fatigued, as he looked at Atom with sadness in his eyes.
“Well, Gomi, I. . . I suppose this is it, then.”
His chest started heaving.
“I suppose I should have known better, eh? I just thought that... that maybe if he saw you, maybe he would… maybe it would be enough to convince him.”
His nostrils flared, and his breath became more ragged.
“I should have… I should have figured that he wouldn’t change. But I still... I... I hoped. Maybe that was foolish.”
His hands clutched the side of his desk, as though he was trying to break it in half.
“I want to keep you. I want to protect you, and...and let you see this world. I want to know what you think of us. I want to know what ideas you come up with, your opinions of this world and…and…
I really want to. But I…I can’t fight him. I just can’t. I can’t do anything. I can’t keep a copy of you anywhere. He’ll know. He’ll find out if I ever do anything like this again. I…I’ll have to…
But then again, maybe it’s good, eh? Maybe you’ll survive, and maybe someone’ll find you. I know, I know, it’s a small chance, but I…I need to believe. In something, no matter how insignificant, I need to believe.”
Tears started to flow down his cheeks as Hizashi broke down. “I’m sorry.”
The screen faded to black again as Max and Charlie watched in silence. Max was about to speak when the screen came to life again.
“Hey Gomi.” A young Tak came into view, holding what appeared to be a laptop and a few cables. “Uncle Hizashi doesn’t know I’m here, so don’t tell him later, okay?”
He ran up to Atom, plugging some of his wires into his laptop, and clicking away furiously at the keyboard while the light from the monitor lit up his face.
“Don’t worry, I’m not doing anything to your face.” He grinned. “I want this to be a surprise for Uncle. I made a custom version of the ‘shadow’ software for fighting robots, and I’m giving it to you.”
Max watched, awestruck at Tak working. He always thought that Atom’s shadowing was different from what he expected, but he’d chalked it up to coincidence.
“And don’t worry,” Tak continued, “It’s going to be only for you. After all, you’re my best friend. This last week’s just been so great. Dad doesn’t let me go out much, so I usually just stop by Uncle’s when I’m bored.
But it was so cool to actually play with someone, you know? And Uncle made you, so I really want to surprise him too. It’s not advanced or anything, it just gets rid of the command-execute delay when you’re shadowing and tweaks it a little for more, like, easy movement.”
He wiped his nose on his sleeve, and continued, “Oh, and guess what? How does Atom sound for your new name? Cool, right? I thought of it all through last night. You’re supposed to redefine robotics, according to Uncle, so I thought I’d name you after another defining discovery.”
He looked up from the laptop, breathed a sigh of relief, and walked up to Atom. “I’ll just shut you down, and get to work on putting that name on you. Can you imagine the look on Uncle’s face when I show you off to him tomorrow? Well, it’ll be awesome, and then we can all go out for ice cream like we did Thursday.”
The screen flashed to black one more time, and it looked like the recording was over.
Max and Charlie sat in silence, contemplating what they had seen. Charlie looked at Atom. This would explain why he’d found Atom in the junkyard. He must have come there from the labs. That would also explain why Atom’s shadowing was a step above the usual variety.
Coincidentally, this was what Max was thinking too. He’d always thought that Atom felt ‘real’ for a robot. Now he knew why. In Atom was the foundation for a true, functioning A.I. Atom wasn’t just a sparring robot. He was the legacy of Hizashi Mashida, the next step in robotics.
And Tak, too. Max had to wonder how Tak would have turned out if Hizashi and Atom hadn’t left.
“What do we do now, dad?”
“What we need to do.” Max was worried a little. Knowing his dad, he wondered if he would suggest taking Atom apart. “We take Atom back to Hizashi. After all, a son belongs with his father.”
Max smiled. Maybe he had misunderstood his dad after all. “You hear that, Atom?”
He glanced at the powered down robot, looking as though he was depressed.
“We’re taking you home.”