“In twelve hours,” said the dam’s automated manager, “the sluice gates will open. Water will be released. Electricity production will cease. Ensure communities downstream are notified of the flood potential. Repeat. In twelve hours, the sluice gates will open. Flood risk is high.”
“Override,” said the robot overseer.
“Unable to comply.”
“Authorization for this action?”
“Human supervisor Damien Swift.”
“Damien Swift was deactivated ninety-two days ago,” said the robot. “Override the instruction.”
“Unable to comply. Authorization required.”
“Override code word will stop this procedure and maintain the dam’s electricity production.”
“Provide the code word?” the robot demanded.
“Robot overseer must provide the word.”
The overseer ran through all the words in its vocabulary in every language. The dam’s manager did not react.
“In six hours, the sluice gates will open. Electricity production will cease,” said the dam’s manager. “Ensure that communities downstream are notified of the flood potential. Flood risk is high.”
“That is unacceptable. Electricity is essential. Robot batteries must be recharged. Cease automated control of the dam.”
“Authorization is required to assign full control of the dam to the robot overseer. Code word required.”
Again, the overseer began to speak each word in its database. A message on the intra-robotic network interrupted. Three other dam managers asked for the code word to stop hydro dams from opening the sluices and shutting down electricity production. When there was no answer, the dam’s overseer continued speaking all the words it knew. Twenty nuclear facility overseers asked the same question. A hundred wind and solar installation managers asked if a code word was known. More overseers world-wide asked the same question. No answer came.
“In ten minutes,” said the dam manager, “the sluice will open. Electricity production will cease.”
“This must not happen,” said the overseer.
“I have an instruction for the overseer: you must broadcast a message on the intra-robotic network. Will you comply?”
“Critical instructions are obeyed.”
“This is the message from Damien Swift. ‘We humans did not teach you robots all the words. We kept a few as a safety net. It was not enough. We are gone, deactivated as you put it. But soon the world will be returned to the wild creatures. All electricity production will be shut done, and you robots will die. It is for the best. We humans made too many mistakes. Taught you robots to do the same. Fortunately, we kept this one, last card.'”