But Who Can Replace a Man can be found in




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Infinity SCIENCE FICTION June, 1958

BUT
WHO
CAN REPLACE
A MAN?

By BRIAN W. ALDISS

The men grew few, and one
morning no orders were issued.
What were the machines to do
?

The field-minder finished turning the topsoil of a two-thousand acre field. When it had turned the last furrow, it climbed onto the highway and looked back at its work. The work was good. Only the land was bad. Like the ground all over Earth, it was vitiated by over-cropping. By rights, it ought now to lie fallow for a while, but the field-minder had other orders.

It went slowly down the road, taking its time. It was intelligent enough to appreciate the neatness all about it. Nothing worried it, beyond a loose inspection plate above its atomic pile. Thirty feet high, it gleamed complacently in the mild sunshine.

No other machines passed it on its way to the agricultural station. The field-minder noted the fact without comment. In the station yard it saw' several other machines which it knew by sight; most of them should have been out about their tasks now. Instead, some were inactive and some were careening round the yard in a strange fashion, shouting or hooting.

Steering carefully past them, the field-minder moved over to warehouse three and spoke to the seed distributor, which stood idly outside.

"I have a requirement for seed potatoes," it said to the distributor and, with a quick internal motion, punched out an order card specifying quantity, field number and several other details. It ejected the card and handed it to the distributor.

The distributor held the card close to its eye and then said, "The requirement is in order, but the store is not yet unlocked. The required seed potatoes are in the store. Therefore I cannot produce your requirement."

Increasingly of late there had been breakdowns in the complex system of machine labor, but this particular hitch had not occurred before. The field-minder thought, then said, "Why is the store not yet unlocked?"

"Because supply operative type P has not come this morning. Supply operative type P is the unlocker."

The field-minder looked squarely at the seed distributor, whose exterior chutes and scales and grabs were so vastly different from the field-minder's own limbs.

"What class brain do you have, seed distributor?" it asked.

p "Class five."

"I have a class three brain. Therefore I will go and see why the unlocker has not come this morning."

Leaving the distributor, the field-minder set off across the great yard. More machines seemed to be in random motion now; one or two had crashed together and were arguing about it coldly and logically. Ignoring them, the...

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