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Literature / Sally

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This story was first published in Fantastic (May-June 1953 issue), by Isaac Asimov, and republished in the September 1965 issue. Self-driving cars are taken care of by an ex-chauffeur after they retire.

Jacob Folkers ("Jake") used to work as a chauffeur when autos, self-driving cars, began commercial success. Initially he disliked the Job-Stealing Robot, but he's grown fond enough that he manages a retirement home for the Autos. He calls it the Farm for Retired Automobiles, and Raymond Gellhorn has a business proposal for him.

"Sally" was republished a dozen times; Dodici Volte Domani (1964), Urania (issue #469, August 1967), Time Untamed (1967), Nightfall and Other Stories (1969), The Best From Fantastic (1973), Sirius (issue #17, November 1977), The Complete Robot (1982), Those Amazing Electronic Thinking Machines!: An Anthology of Robot and Computer Stories (1983), Robot Dreams (1986), Robots (1989), The Complete Stories, Volume 1 (1990), and The Asimov Chronicles Fifty Years Of Isaac Asimov (1990).

"Sally" contains examples of:

  • 20 Minutes into the Future: This story, published in 1953, anticipated commercial self-driving cars in 2015. The story itself takes place around 2057; Sally is a 2045 convertible that had been at the Farm for five years.
  • Artificial Intelligence: In this story, positronic brains are used to make cars self-driving and human-smart. They have their own language and understand English well enough to laugh at ridiculous ideas.
  • Automated Automobiles: This story predicted some of the controversy around robotic cars, such as the move from privately owned cars to fleets of robo-cabs. The narrator blames it on the cost of automatic automobiles, while more modern reasons would add the decreasing convenience of urban car ownership, parking, and maintenance.
    I can remember when there wasn't an automobile in the world with brains enough to find its own way home. I chauffeured dead lumps of machines that needed a man's hand at their controls every minute. Every year machines like that used to kill tens of thousands of people. The automatics fixed that. A positronic brain can react much faster than a human one, of course, and it paid people to keep hands off the controls. You got in, punched your destination and let it go its own way. We take it for granted now, but I remember when the first laws came out forcing the old machines off the highways and limiting travel to automatics. Lord, what a fuss. They called it everything from communism to fascism, but it emptied the highways and stopped the killing, and still more people get around more easily the new way. Of course, the automatics were ten to a hundred times as expensive as the hand-driven ones, and there weren't many that could afford a private vehicle. The industry specialized in turning out omnibus-automatics. You could always call a company and have one stop at your door in a matter of minutes and take you where you wanted to go. Usually, you had to drive with others who were going your way, but what's wrong with that?
  • Brain Transplant: Gellhorn's Get-Rich-Quick Scheme involves taking the positronic brains from "retired" Automated Automobiles and putting them into brand-new bodies, forcing them back to work.
  • Character Narrator: The story is told from the first-person perspective of Jacob Folkers, who is the manager of a Farm for Retired Automobiles.
  • Consequence Combo: Jacob Folkers, who runs a Farm for Retired Automobiles, is offered a large sum of money for removing twenty-five positronic brains used to make self-driving cars. If he refuses, all fifty-one brains will be removed from the cars and he will get nothing.
  • In-Series Nickname: Matthew, the first of the Automated Automobiles to live on the Farm, used to be known as a Mat-O-Mot. After taking care of it for years, Jake began to think of him as Matthew. He then started to name each of the cars that retired at the Farm.
  • Job-Stealing Robot: Jacob Folkers was a chauffeur, but self-driving cars, like the titular Sally, eliminate his job entirely. Fortunately, his current employer irrationally refuses to trust the machine and keeps Jake around to clean and repair the car.
    I only knew it was taking my job away and I hated it.
    I said, "You won't be needing me anymore, Mr. Harridge?"
    He said, "What are you dithering about, Jake? You don't think I'll trust myself to a contraption like that, do you? You stay right at the controls."
    I said, "But it works by itself, Mr. Harridge. It scans the road, reacts properly to obstacles, humans, and other cars, and remembers routes to travel."
    "So they say. So they say. Just the same, you're sitting right behind the wheel in case anything goes wrong."
  • Get-Rich-Quick Scheme: Gellhorn's scheme involves taking the positronic brains from "retired" Automated Automobiles and putting them into brand-new bodies, forcing them back to work. The profit for each car would be tens of thousands of dollars.
  • Secondary Character Title: Sally is Jake's favorite self-driving car, but he's the viewpoint protagonist and the one who changes over the course of the story.
  • Silly Will: In the Back Story, the rich Samson Harridge decides to leave his entire estate to his car after his death. While the newspapers mocked it at first, sending your Automated Automobiles to Farm for Retired Automobiles after you died became almost normal. The people who didn't tended to have children or grandchildren who would take care of it.
  • Three Laws-Compliant: The Automated Automobiles operate with positronic brains, so it is implied that they have the same Three Laws as any other Asmovian robot. However, messing with the positronic brain as severely as Gellhorn did is implied to short-circuit the rules, as a self-driving car that he modified killed him.
  • Turned Against Their Masters: After the climax, Jake is concerned that the self-aware and self-driving cars are planning to revolt against humanity.