Let’s build a robot. A humanoid robot, one which might integrate. Where do we start? Two arms, two legs, can walk, can speak. It should have the values of an ordinary person. Integration is paramount – the robot’s ours, after all – so we’ll program it with care based on six human motivations:
- Integrity: the robot will always seek its output zenith;
- Discomfort/pain: a mechanism for guidance;
- Grace/graciousness: the study and application of empathy will be in front of its robot mind;
- Duty: the will of its owners will bind it, utterly;
- Shame/anxiety: to ensure all other system parameters function at full power;
- Hedonism – of course we want a happy-appearing robot!
And so, we have our creation. In fact, we have me. Asperger’s Syndrome has made a robot of me. I try so hard to be like you, I learn your systems, your ways, your technology slowly; I’m odd, I’ve gaps in ordinary knowledge, so I’m ever and remain slightly apart. The way a real robot would. But I’m nearly there. So close! Because I’m close, I’m hidden. And not by accident; I’ve hidden my lacks beneath layers of hubris. Integration’s my purpose. I don’t belong to myself, I belong to you. I mask. I camouflage my difficulties, and I reach the age of forty-two before someone officially confirms a neurological difference.
Phew. Now what? There’s still integration. There’s still discomfort, still shame. Stimuli assault my jangly senses, combine with more stimuli; anxiety rules me. But I’ve work to do; you need me for this or that. I must override these painful episodes, meet your aims. I’ll live with discomfort – one gets what we’re born with. But why do I feel like the only one following the rules? We’ve a messy world. We’ve a competitive world, for resources, opportunities, for egoic status. Competition can make us better, but the minute a game begins, we see there are those who’ll cheat, play on their advantages. Parameters then, rules, and in the case of the Game of Life … laws. Now we have a level playing field … or do we? The biggest difference between a robot and a neurotypical person is at the points we’re tethered to our human system parameters. I, as a robot, feel tethered far more tightly.
How is harm defined? Intangibilities, vagaries, playing the game to one’s advantage – no one means any harm … but I am harmed. Added to this is a fatal lack of credibility. Social, moral credibility; credibility of accumulated knowledge and skills; of always seeking my employer’s aims. My slate is wiped, nightly. I must earn my credibility, earn my position anew, tomorrow. Will my next employer empower me to contribute, or will they mine my contributions from me?
Look, I know the rules. I want to contribute, and maybe I can. Here’s an excerpt from my book Citizen.Robot which seeks understanding, common ground between Asperger’s and employers:
… I’d like to tell you what I love about work … I’m defined by my work, I become it. I inhabit my roles totally, so I prefer roles which aren’t shed with my work shirt once I leave the work environment. ‘Lifestyle’ jobs. What I am at work is what I am. It’s what keeps me from floating off into outer space. My tether, my safety line. Guided thought, guided values, guided action, interaction. It’s a chance of integration. My role is a ticket to this or that community. And more, too. So much of what I experience has confusing elements, chaos, shifts, unreliability. Anxiety, shame. But a work environment can be a beautiful environment. Structure orders chaos; stunning equations of connectivity; cause, effect; beauty. Simplification, lines drawn toward aims. Details, details, details. Here, even a robot can become an artist, can view the world like an artist, interact like an artist, express themselves like an artist. They say the Devil is in the details, but if this is true, then God is, too …
… the perfect, invisible lines of hot wax on your customer’s skis; the perfect line guided through a rapid in canoes; the perfect explanatory, instructional line of dialogue; the perfect curved energy line drawn through a managed group adventure. Movement, sound, smell, speech, thought, touch, sight, mystery, imagination, feel – it’s all here. My output zenith lies in these ‘details’…
… Here is my contribution … if you want it. If you have a safe, beautiful place for me to contribute, you can count me in!
But … first, can you show me that it’s safe?”
Grant Beaven has held many different roles throughout over 100 periods of employment. He has three separate CVs depending whether you’re a ski industry, adventure industry, or hospitality employer. In the past, he guided your canoe and mountain adventures, programme-coordinated your outdoor adventure centre, hired you your ski equipment, made your coffee, your food, and much, much more. Recently diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, he now writes sci-fi radio-drama.