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A Feasting of Thoughts, A Banqueting of Words: Ideas on the Theater of the Future Ray Bradbury _Ä_magine a room with 40 men and women seated with empty chairs on either side of them. Eighty chairs in all, but only 40 occupied. It is a robot's banquet in the year 2010, and I have been invited. I enter and am greeted with a chorus of voices. The men and women at the tables raise their glasses to me and call out. "Here, no here, here, no here!" And I sit now with Plato, now with Aristotle, now with Emily Dickinson, in a great feasting of thoughts and a banqueting of words. "Dear Mr. Bradbury!" Plato seizes my hand briskly. "Sir," I say. "How goes it with your Republic?" "Do you really want to know?" "Of course. How does this whole place work? The company of poets. The room of artists. The museum of philosophy. The corridor of history—?" "Enough! You have asked much, allow me to make a brief response. Not long ago a boy, quite small, but very curious, came here. Hisjourney makes a fine small tale." "I'm ready," I say. "Well then. The boy ran through the Robot Museum of Time and Place and thought and stared in at that door marked, Greece." There, far across a moonlit plain, under a big tree, break­ ing bread and drinking wine, sat three old men in white robes: They waved. The boy approached their table, carefully. He listened to the gentle hum of their hidden machineries, and said: "Shouldn't I be afraid of you? People say: machines dehu­ manize people. Yes?" "People say," Plato laughed gently. "Sit down, boy. Join us in a . . . Dialogue. Do we look as if we might corrupt people with our cogs, wheels, and electric circuits?" "Well.. " Two thousand years ago," said the Aristotle robot, "simple machines stood before our temples. Coins, put in those ma­ chines, dispensed holy water. Even then we said, what other miracles, strange or terrifying, might be born of science." "And," said the third man, Socrates, "new miraculous ma­ chines were born over the years." "And were they bad or good?" asked the boy. "Neither. In between. Like animals, machines know not themselves. So you cannot blame orpraise a machine." 'Yet people do," said Plato. "Men have always feared new ideas arriving, especially when they jump up in three-dimen­ sional forms, devices that move and do things by themselves." "Reconsider, Plato. Are there no machines in the long his­ tory since we were born and died and are reborn again as ro­ bots speaking truths, are there absolutely no machines one can call evil, or saintly?" "None." "None?" asked the boy. "None and more than none. From the time of our Apollo god to the time of your Apollo rockets, boy, no machines de­ served to be tried, found guilty, named murderer and de­ stroyed." "But some folks—" "Yes, some folks revile and loathe, abhor and shudder at the very thought of machines that 'think.' But ours are bor­ rowed thoughts, boy. We do but speak old breakfast truths at lunch. We are electric sparrows that peck at ancient bread crumbs. People ask the wrong questions. Ask not if this ma­ chine is evil or good, but if this machine or that teases some men to do evil or good." "Can machines make men do things?" "Not really, no. Men have free will, do they not?" "I had always supposed so." "Nevertheless, machines tempt men. They are the Snake and the Apple in this modern garden world. By simply exist­ ing, machines provoke." "For example?" "Well, look at those millions of chariot cars, drawn up at the curb. They cloud the air with heavenly vapors. They charge the wind with power. They call all young men to con­ nive in their own destruction. So off they leap and roar away. Is the machine guilty when they die?" "No, man-plus-machine is guilty," said Aristotle. "Sadly true. And the machine, by simply standing as a fair woman stands unknowing in the marketplace, demands ac­ tion. Men give to the machine what it lacks, impulse and will...


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pp. 47-50
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