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Unpredictability

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Sunsets are considered one of the most beautiful natural phenomena. The Auroran sunset was particularly spectacular, with the flaming red hues of Tau Ceti and the purple and green sky. It was very visually different from the rare occasions Daneel had observed a sunset on Earth.

He had seen thousands of sunsets in his existence, but he never tired of recording and appreciating them. Of course, it was impossible for him to forget about any of them, but even so, he had never seen two that were completely identical. Each one had millions of unique colours, arranged in a unique pattern across the sky. Nature, he thought, always had an element of unpredictability about it. Other robots may have found this frustrating and difficult to deal with, but Daneel had spent centuries around humans and had therefore adapted somewhat to unpredictable conditions.

Unpredictability was one area in which humans excelled beyond the limits any robot could reach. Robots had specific paths their brains had to keep to, set responses to stimuli, a set of laws to follow, but humans could make jumps in logic that Daneel could only dream of. Elijah had always been very good at that, making connections that initially seemed utterly nonsensical, but once explained, left Daneel wondering how he had failed to come up with the idea himself. Although, as Giskard told him on a regular basis, he was starting to think more and more like a human, and he occasionally found himself being able to make links between ideas that he would have previously been unable to. He wondered how Elijah would have reacted to him if he had met him now, rather than 200 years ago.

The familiar memories started to flicker to the front of his mind unbidden. Unlike a human, Daneel remembered every single event of his existence with perfect clarity. Unfortunately, that didn’t stop certain memories being more uncomfortable to access than others. His fingers trembled erratically as images of Elijah’s exposure to the thunderstorm formed in his mind. Another totally unpredictable aspect of nature, the area where humans usually shone. But in that moment, Elijah had been just as unprepared for it as any robot. Daneel remembered the sensation of panic that had spread through him as he’d tried to stop Elijah from being dragged out of consciousness, and the feeling that gravity had started to pull at him in all directions as he’d rushed to get to shelter with Elijah in his arms. Even recalling the memory now, years and years later, was enough to cause a disturbance in the flow of electrons in his brain and make his limbs twitch and tingle.

He tried to stop more memories from cascading into his mind but his pathways were already unbalanced and the flow was unstoppable. His body ached as he remembered Elijah, dying, in his bed, looking so frail that Daneel almost hadn’t recognised him. He remembered the pain and utter confusion he’d felt on hearing Elijah’s last words, and when he had nearly collapsed in the corridor upon hearing that he had died.

As more and more memories flooded his system, the smooth layers of colour of the sunset started to flicker and warp in his vision, adding an additional layer of unpredictability. The ground seemed to sway beneath him and the sky started to fall towards him. He closed his eyes, trying to reduce his sensory input to a manageable level, but his pathways were so altered that he couldn’t make sense of his own thoughts any more. The unpleasant sensations wracking his body rose to a crescendo within him and the sound of static in his ears drowned everything out for a while.


“...eel? Friend Daneel?”

With great difficulty, Daneel lifted his head and found Giskard sitting in the grass next to him. His face, of course, held no expression, but, having known him for years, his concern was obvious to Daneel.

“Friend Daneel! Are you well?”

Daneel attempted to speak, but he was unable to produce a sound, for his pathways were still so disordered that he was having trouble telling up from down. He felt metallic fingers on his back, in an unexpectedly human gesture.

“You were thinking of friend Elijah, friend Daneel.”

Daneel managed to nod his head.

Giskard was silent for a while, but kept his hand on Daneel’s back. It was a constant that he clung to, trying to drag his thoughts back into alignment and himself back into the present. These memories were always painful to recall, but it was unusual for them to cause him to spiral out of control in this way. Sometimes, these things occurred for no obvious reason. Positronic brains were incredibly complex, even in an average robot, and Daneel was no average robot. It could be something as little as a single stray electron that had caused a chain reaction inside his brain. Unpredictable. Just like a storm, and like a sunset.

A mild, but odd, sense of calm washed over him and he felt the frantic processing of his brain slow somewhat. A quick glance at Giskard made him realise why — he was staring intently at him. He attempted to speak again, and if he were human, he might have taken a deep breath at this point. “T-thank you, friend Gi-i-skard.” It was still a struggle to get any sound out, but at least he could make himself understood.

Giskard gazed at him. “Your positronic pathways are still discordant, friend Daneel. I will sit with you until you recover.” His hand pressed a little more firmly against Daneel’s back.

There was another long period of silence, and Daneel finally started to feel like he was almost back to full processing power.

“Do you think that this sunset is beautiful, friend Daneel?”

Daneel looked at Giskard in surprise. He hadn’t expected a question like that from him. But then, maybe he should have done. They were both thinking more like humans lately. “Beauty is a human concept, friend Giskard.”

“That is true. But, you have the unique ability to think as humans do. Surely, then, you understand the concept of beauty?”

“You say my ability is unique, friend Giskard, when you yourself seem to have it as well. Perhaps not to the extent that I do, but you can certainly imagine the thought processes of a human. You have a unique insight into their minds, after all.”

Giskard looked away. “Perhaps you are right, friend Daneel. This is a strange thought to me, and it is difficult to process.”

Daneel continued. “Anyway, to answer your question. Humans find sunsets beautiful because they are aesthetically pleasing. I cannot understand or explain this concept. But, beauty is subjective, and many humans find different things beautiful to them.” Pausing to glance up at the darkening sky, he said, “Sunsets are fascinating to me. They are an endless source of new data, for no two are ever the same. I can see millions of individual colours, even now. That is the wonder and unpredictability of nature. So, if we are using my own definition of beauty, for it is subjective and I can therefore define it as I like, then yes. This sunset is beautiful to me.”

“A good answer, friend Daneel. I agree with you.” Giskard looked up into the sky as well. “It is as you say, there is a lot of unpredictability in nature. Yet, some aspects of it are entirely predictable. The sun will always rise and set — it is unstoppable.”

“You are right. So then, there are elements of both predictability and unpredictability in sunsets. That is interesting.”

“In a way, this reminds me of you, friend Daneel.”

Daneel’s eyebrows rose slightly in a rare show of surprise. “Pardon me, friend Giskard?”

“You are a robot, and therefore you are predictable. You follow the Three Laws and your brain has been created and studied extensively by humans. However, you have an element of unpredictability to you. I have noticed that you occasionally show surprisingly human-like responses to certain stimuli. You can think more like a human than any other robot.”

Daneel tilted his head slightly. “Is that a compliment, friend Giskard?”

He had the impression that Giskard would be smiling, if he could. “Not necessarily. It is merely a statement. But you may take it as one, if you wish.”

Daneel’s mouth formed a faint smile. “I could say the same about you, friend Giskard. I think we are more similar than you like to believe sometimes.”

Giskard seemed to struggle to think of a response to that. Eventually, he said, “I will also take that as a compliment, friend Daneel.”

They shared a knowing look, before Daneel gazed up at the sky once more. Existence was always unpredictable, and unpredictability meant uncomfortability. But a comfortable existence is a boring and unsatisfying one. The very unpredictability of life meant more interesting data to collect, more experiences to have, and most of all, more to learn.

And, even in the chaos of nature and life, there are always some predictable things that remain forever unchanged. Like the never-ending orbit of Aurora about Tau Ceti, hurtling through space at thousands of kilometres per second. Like the Three Laws. Like the existence of sunsets.