Strange Horizons, 4 April 2005

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"The Diogenes Robot" by Mark Rich

"Diogenes" from Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary: circa 320 B.C. Greek Cynic philosopher; advocated asceticism, self-sufficiency, freedom from convention, moral zeal.

"The Diogenes Robot" by Mark Rich is a surreal slip of a story.  Justin Abling is a salesman for the Truth Institute, a company developing a human-machine interface such that each person has a "Personal Expert" implanted into their head.  These devices log into the network system wired into the walls and provide a "truth template," a profile which measures their diligence, honesty, and integrity–an analytical computation of their work ethic and morality.

Their competition (of sorts), is a robot, the Diogenes Robot.  Instead of high-tech implants, it is a simple mechanical man that has a simple function.  It walks the streets, office buildings, and homes making a single statement: "I am looking for an honest man" (or woman or person or child). 

But while the goal of implants and robot appear to be the same, the method is not.  The robot’s purpose is to get people to behave in an upright, moral fashion purely upon the dictates of their conscience, perhaps with the occasional timely reminder of a roving metal man.  The Truth Institute engenders a police state of external assessment and conclusion. 

Overall, while deftly written, I can’t say I enjoyed this tale. I’m as much of a fan of a cerebral story as the next reader, but the  theme overshadowed the storytelling in this case.  Also, the general premise was somewhat hard on my suspension of disbelief.  Call me a cynic, but I just can’t envision corporations clamoring to pay money to ensure that everyone, from employee to CEO, behave well.  Although I do admit, the idea of installing Personal Experts in the chairmen and board of directors of various leading corporations in order to gauge their honesty is an amusing prospect.