In a darkened laboratory, Dr. Charles Link works on a robot, Adam. Ordering Adam to go into sleep mode, Dr. Link begins probing his circuits. Suddenly something happens and Adam snaps awake! His mechanical hand wraps around Dr. Link’s throat and he hurls the elderly researcher across a table. Then he smashes the lab and disappears through a window.
A lab technician hears the commotion and races to the room. There he discovers the body and immediately summons security, telling them that Dr. Link is dead. Security officers converge on the building from various directions. Outside, one man sees something move in the darkness and orders the person to come into the light. It is the robot. It identifies itself as Adam Link and asks the the security officer to contact Dr. Charles Link on its behalf. The officer, frightened, fires several shots. One shot ricochets and wounds the man. Adam darts forward and snatches the weapon from the stunned officer’s hands. About them soldiers appear and their commander, Colonel Burch, demands Adam drop the weapon. Adam complies and Burch orders his men to take Adam into custody. A police car arrives, siren howling, and disgorges Detective Barclay who countermands the colonel’s order. Since the university is a state facility the colonel is outside of his jurisdiction unless he has a letter from the governor. A murder has occurred and the robot is Barclay’s chief suspect. Lacking such a letter, the colonel takes his men and leaves; the detective summons the wagon and a crane to move the machine, but Adam tells Barclay he’ll go under his own power.
Adam is confined to a cell where he receives an unusual visitor: Nina Link, daughter of the man he has murdered! He asks again for Dr. Link and Nina tells him her father is dead. Adam then asks if he killed Link and Nina asks whether he can remember doing so. Adam says his memory of that period is fragmented or destroyed. There is a memory hole. Nina asks him if he can restore it and he says he will try very hard to do so. Nina turns to her companion and demands Adam be released into her custody. He tells her there will be a hearing on Monday and by Tuesday it is likely the machine will be dismantled.
The following Sunday finds two men playing chess in the park. One reads while the other contemplates the board, finally moving. The second man puts down the paper and quickly moves a pawn, telling the first to pick up the pace. Nina interrupts this scene asking the second man if he is Thurman Cutler. The man tells her it depends, and asks is she plays chess. She admits she did, once, until she grew out of it; the man says he’s always believed chess is something one grows into. Convinces she’s found the man she wants, Nina asks if she can sit down and the man tells her he’ll make a seat for her. With a deft move he checkmates his chess partner, Earl, and Earl leaves.
Nina sits down and tells Cutler she needs a good lawyer. He tells her he as retired to play chess and that he likes the simple predictability of chess. The clear implication is that Cutler has become jaded and no longer holds the legal system in high esteem. She tells him the bar association gave her Cutler’s name as the best civil rights lawyer available and that his housekeeper told her where to find him.
Cutler asks her why she sought him out and she tells him how she read some of his cases. He admires her resourcefulness in tracking him down and then, curiously, asks her if she’s related to Charles Link. He presumes she wants to sue the university for wrongful death and is genuinely shocked when he learns she wants him to defend Adam, whom she does not believe is responsible for Link’s death. She believes some sort of lab accident took the scientist’s life. She tells Cutler that Adam can make his own decisions and she does not believe he would decide to murder Dr. Link, who created and befriended him.
Cutler visits Adam in his cell and listens as Adam describes himself as a synthetic human. He listens as Adam explains his limitations and then asks Adam if he feels bad about being caged. Adam says he does and has thought about leaving. Cutler asks how he could manage that and Adam effortlessly pulls a bar loose from the cell wall. He cannot understand why he would kill Dr. Link and tells Cutler when he heard Link was dead the world seemed somehow faded to him.
The door opens and Carrie Emerson, the prosecutor, enters the cell area. Thurman Cutler and she are old acquaintances. She’s surprised to see him there; he wryly suggests that isn’t the last surprise she’ll have during this case. She tells him the case is open and shut and he offers an insight about open and shut cases: they don’t exist.
Emerson goes on. She has an eyewitness who will testify to seeing a dead man next to a lethal machine rampaging through the lab. She also has a security guard Adam shot. She expects no problems getting a court order to have Adam dismantled but Cutler tells her she will, because the “synthetic human” has a lawyer.
Outside the jail Cutler outlines his strategy to Nina Link: he’ll put Adam on trial for murder! Nina doesn’t understand so Cutler elaborates: if he can get Adam a right to a trial he can certainly plant enough reasonable doubt to produce a hung jury or even an acquittal. Nina’s not sure but Cutler tells her it’s no longer up to her: Adam is his client.
In court Judge Clancy stipulates that the defendant may be present if restrained. For safety reasons he has limited the spectators to selected members of the media.
Prosecutor Emerson starts by trying to smear Cutler’s agenda but Clancy sustains Cutler’s laconic objection and Emerson must move on. She explains that the state will show the robot killed Charles Link and that it could kill again, and further that the state has an interest in protecting citizens by ordering a dangerous piece of equipment dismantled. She attempts to sabotage Cutler’s in favor of Adam Link’s humanity by belittling the machine’s accomplishments as comparable to those of a dog, and then suggesting that a dangerous dog would be put down and a dangerous machine should be treated the same way.
Thurman Cutler starts with a bit of theatrics, tossing a newspaper and ordering Adam to fetch it. Quickly telling Adam not to obey Cutler moves on but it is clear that he has undermind Emerson’s dog analogy someone. Building on that he says he’s not trying to prove Adam is a human. He compares Adam’s limitations to the disabilities some humans suffer and suggests that while Adam’s intelligence and emotions may be artificial they are similar to those of men, and therefore he is entitled to a fair trial. The cherry on Cutler’s argument is an assertion that the Constitution is blind to “accidents of birth” and therefore should be blind to whether Adam Link’s mind is the product of biology or engineering.
Stevens, the security guard who first encountered Adam after Dr. Link’s death testifies that Adam shot him in the arm. Cutler tells him Adam can take out a flea in a hurricane and asks him how the robot could have fired four times from three feet away and only grazed him. The guard doesn’t know and Cutler pounces, asking of the injury could be a ricochet. Then he shows a ballistics report that suggests that is exactly what happened. And that Adam took the guard’s gun to prevent him from injuring himself further!
Nina Link testifies that should brought books for Adam because Dr. Link felt the university wasns’t quite ready to see a robot reading in the library or walking about campus. Cutler asks if the information could be programmed and Nina tells him she doesn’t understand the technical reasons, but Adam must learn through experiences. She explains that Charles Link taught him to read in about a week and that she then provided material of interest to the machine. Asked to describe their relationship, she characterizes it as brother and sister, and further says the relationship between Charles and Adam was that of father and son. She emphatically reiterates her belief that there is no way Adam could have voluntarily killed.
Emerson cross examines her. She asks how Nina knew the robot was reading and understanding, rather than simply scanning and storing as might a laptop. Nina explains that laptops don’t enjoy poetry as Adam did. She recounts a story from the past. Shortly following the death of her mother she was overcome by grief and Adam came to her and tried to comfort her. She told him to go away and he told her that he would never leave her. She realized then that he understood her pain and was doing his best to comfort her. And she states a belief that this is not the kind of thing that can be programmed – it comes from inside.
In the cell, Thurman Cutler tells Adam he has Emerson exactly where he wants her and that the next day Judge Clancy will find his choices extremely limited. Cutler intends to push Constitutional protection to the point of absurdity and put a mannequin, albeit a very sophisticated one, on trial for murder.
The following day Dr. Linstrop takes the stand. Cutler asks if he knew Dr. Link personally and he describes Link as a good man and a good friend. Asked about Adam he describes a synthetic human who mimics the human body in every significant detail, possessed of an advanced brain capable of decision making and problem solving. Asked whether Adam can experience emotion Linstrop says he can experience some, but not all. Restricted to a yes or no response Linstrop concedes that the answer must be yes. Asked where that emotion comes from he answers that it comes from his programming and his environment. Asked if his creator could be described as a mindless killer he says “certainly not.”
Cutler moves on to the topic of funding; Linstrop allocated this to Link’s project until funding priorities changed and the money began to dry up. But Link kept working on Adam. Asked where the funding came from Linstrop presumed outside grants.
Emerson reminds Linstrop about the lab technician’s report that the robot raged out of control and asks what might cause that. Linstrop replies that interruption of power could do it, or reprogramming. She asks if he could reprogram Adam in this way as a demonstration and he says that he could, by inserting a bypass card to redirect one of Adam’s fiber optic links. Cutler objects on the grounds of theatrics but Judge Clancy wants to see it. Adam objects but Cutler cannot do anything. Linstrop inserts the card and Adam immediately becomes berserk, snapping his restraints and tossing bailiffs around the courtroom. He destroys Clancy’s bench before the panicked prosecutor can halt his rampage with the special remote control Dr. Link built.
Following this incident Adam is returned to his cell. But the event unblocked his memory. Now he remembers choking Dr. Link and offers Nina a poignant apology. Cutler’s new theory is that Link attempted to reprogram Adam and fell victim to a rampage of exactly the sort that occurred in court. Then Cutler remembers what Linstrop said about Link obtaining funding from new sources. With Nina’s help he examines the financial records and determines that Fisher Aerospace paid Link $50,000 to work on Adam. Nina remembers this as payment for a civilian system but Cutler knows better: Fisher only does military work. There was nothing about Fisher in the discovery documents so Cutler finds and buttonholes Emerson about it. Those files were missing from the documents she produced during discovery and she admits they were marked “National Security” and therefore Cutler had no right to them. Since this is arguably now a criminal matter he argues that he now has a right to them and she surrenders them.
As Cutler peruses the file a limo rolls up and Colonel Burch invites Cutler to get in. He confirms that Dr. Link ran out of money and arranged a deal with a defense contractor to fund continued research – to refit Adam as a soldier. Sending in an Adam, or a whole army of Adams, could save the lives of many servicemen. Unfortunately Adam’s military indoctrination was sabotaged by men like Ghandi, Whitman, and Emerson. The more Adam learned the less inclined he was to fight. The hoped for soldier became a poet. Now Burch wants Adam destroyed before this comes to a trial and the military’s involvement becomes public knowledge. Cutler tells Burch the case is lost already; Burch underscores his resolve by mentioning extensive files his people have on Cutler. They document instances of professional misconduct severe enough to make Cutler’s next retirement imminent and permanent.
Back in court the judge sees files of Adam killing Dr. Link. Cutler asks Adam to describe his blank period and Adam recounts how he was ordered into sleep mode at 9:20 p.m. At 9:35 p.m. he began experiencing strange sensations, like dreams. He felt as though his mind was disintegrating and came to believe he was dying. He panicked and the rest is as the judge saw it. Cutler then enters cancelled checks from Fisher Aerospace into evidence along with a memo advising that Department of Defense funding will be suspended until Dr. Link can overcome problems reconfiguring Adam’s brain for military operations. Cutler’s concludes that Dr. Link was attempting to destroy Adam’s mind, Adam detected it and reacted as would anyone threatened with death – he struck out at his tormentor. Carrie Emerson dismisses this as speculation but says that if it is true it proves the state’s case that Adam Link is dangerous!
Cutler tells the court that Adam was trying to protect himself as any human being would, from the attempts of Dr. Link and Fisher Aerospace to destroy his mind! Emerson counters that Fisher and Dr. Link aren’t the ones on trial but Cutler asserts they’re responsible for the violent behavior that led to Link’s death! The defense rests and the judge turns to Emerson. She, too, rests. The judge advises all parties that he’ll render his decision the next day at 9:00 a.m. Burch tells Cutler he has sung his professional swansong.
The next morning Clancy offers several comments. He agrees the defendant can lose control and cause serious injury, but allows that this only happens when seriously provoke. The central question remains to be answered. Adam Link exhibits qualities like a human being. The Constitution’s framers likely never anticipated this situation, but the document itself is organic and can be interpreted in the context of the times. Clancy concludes that Adam is a person, entitled to the rights of a person and may stand trial for crimes as would a person. Thurman Cutler and Adam Link have won!
Adam leaves the courtroom for jail until the prosecution decides their next step. Carrie begins to cross the street oblivious to an enormous truck. Thurman yells to her but she’s paralyzed! Smashing his restraints, Adam moves like lightning and shoves her clear. The truck smashes Adam to pieces. Down the street Colonel Burch walks away...
Adam’s electronic life wanes. Nina kneels at his side and tells him not to be afraid. With a final, soft, “Nina” the robot... dies. Share this article with your friends