Theoretically, the ‘bots in the competition that were patterned after race cars had the advan­tage of speed, and therefore were most likely to win. But more than speed, the contest was meant to encourage design, engineering, and manufacturing skills. One by one, the race cars either crashed, broke down, or helplessly spun their wheels when they encountered unexpected hazards on the race course.

Only Big Red, blue Geri, the multi-legged ‘bots, and the crawler remained in the race.

With the race car ‘bots out of commission, the multi-legged robots either galloped, hopped, or ran ahead. Of the multi-legged robots, the quadrupeds did best since their builders could model them after animals they were familiar with. But those ‘bots were still subject to errors in design, engineering, or manufacture. Of the quadrupeds, the prancing pony design pulled ahead, bounding nimbly over hurdles, water hazards, overhangs, and hairpin turns in the course. 

The prancing pony advanced, but with each leap, it increasingly tipped either forward or backward until it was twisting wildly in midair to land safely on its feet. It was obvious to Joey Today what the problem was: The programmers of the pony ‘bot had not properly taken into account the Coriolis effect caused by Hawking colony’s rotation. With each galloping bound, the prancing pony struggled harder and harder to land on its metal hooves, until finally it couldn’t compensate and made a critical misstep. The prancing pony ‘bot slipped down a hill, into a water hazard, and out of the running.

Only Big Red, blue Geri, and the crawler remained in the race.

The crawling ‘bot was neither beautiful nor swift, but like the Tortoise who raced the Hare, the crawler was slow but steady. The crawling robot waddled like a centipede. Four or five of its ten shiny piston-legs extended forward to solid footing; then its torso slid forward to catch up; then its remaining legs crept forward and the process repeated. The crawler didn’t stumble over uneven terrain, and it shuffled through water as easily as it crept through air. 

But as marvelous as were the crawler’s piston-legs, they did have one flaw. In a pristine laboratory, over a short test track, the legs worked perfectly. But in the gritty, muddy, rough-and-tumble environment of the steeplechase, microscopic shards of debris were destined to eventually jam the crawler’s mirror-finished piston-legs.

Only Big Red and blue Geri remained in the race. 

“How are we doing?” the members of Bear pack asked Tommy, who was tracking the overall race status. Because the two remaining robots were the same make and model, neither could easily outrun the other. “Big Red is running neck and neck with the Wolf ‘bot,” Tommy said, “but time is what matters. Because Bruno balked at the beginning of the race, Big Red is ahead on time by 1.5 seconds.”

Computer programming is an art, not a science, because the programmer’s style of coding reflects their values and view of the world. Virtually every computing device in Tommy Tomorrow’s world, no matter how simple or mundane, used artificial intelligence for an operating system. And the way to program an artificial intelligence was not, as in olden days, to specify the individual steps to accomplish a task, but rather to specify a set of goals; that is, “intents”, and then let the artificial intelligence itself choose the appropriate steps to accomplish that task from libraries of coded abilities. If a programmer wanted a device to evaluate complex mathematical equations, the programmer would specify that intent as well as an appropriate mathematical library. Or, if the programmer wanted a computer to compose a concerto, he or she would specify the appropriate capability libraries for musical theory, composition, instrumental sounds, and human psychological theory about the nature of beauty. 

Bruno Cardellini was a bully at heart; and his father, Pack Master Sergei Cardellini, had taught his son to do whatever it takes to win, even if it meant bending the rules. So it should come as no surprise that when Bruno Forever helped program Wolf pack’s robot, it was second nature for him to specify a few extra intents and libraries.

Down in the pit area, Pack Master Dimbleby arrived out of breath from yet another pack masters’ meeting, just in time to poke his head under the awning of the Bear pack’s canopy tent and exclaim, “Gosh darn it, kids, get your eyes off your monitors and look outside—at real life! Big Red’s almost at the finish line. He’s going to win!” 

Joey Today and Becky Yesterday lifted their heads up, stared at each like turtles popping their heads out of their shell for the first time, then grabbed their monitor tablets and scrambled out of the tent to join Tommy, Milo, and Mr. Dimbleby on the apron of the pit area. All around them, the bleachers of the stadium resounded with cheering voices as the robot racers thundered neck and neck toward the finish.

It is worth noting that a programmer can code any kind of intent they want into a robot, including if the robot is in a race and seems about to lose, then it should do whatever it was capable of doing to win. With the finish line in sight, the Wolf pack ‘bot hunkered down and shouldered Big Red aside. There was a thunderous clang, and then the Bear pack ‘bot fell and cartwheeled across the track. The crowd gasped. 

Tommy Tomorrow had felt foolishly overcautious when he helped program his pack’s robot. But despite his doubts, he thought it might come in handy someday if he added an acrobatics library to Big Red’s agility capabilities. That’s why his team’s robot somersaulted with spectacular grace, rose to a running stance, and then chased after the Wolf ‘bot’s heels.

The finish line was just ahead, but Big Red’s tumble had taken its toll. Above the stadium, the holographic projection of each contestant’s time showed that Bear pack’s ‘bot was no longer leading by a second and a half, but was trailing blue Geri by half a second.

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