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"I think we could solve our problems more easily through strength of character; but that's always been a commodity in extremely short supply."
- Gregory Benford

Mentanical Communication  
  Thinking, learning robots have a special means of communication.  

"The first warning vouchsafed to men was the whispering of the Mentanicals. Heretofore they had been silent save for the slight, almost inaudible purr of functioning machinery within them, but now they whispered among themselves — whispered, as if they were talking.

"It was an uncanny phenomenon. I remembered the uneasiness with which I heard it. And when I saw several of them (house-servants of mine) whispering together, I was filled with alarm.

'Come!' I said sharply, 'stop loitering; get your work done.' They stared at me. That is a funny thing to say of metal cylinders. Never before had I inquired very closely into their construction. But now it came over me, with a shock, that they must possess organs of sight — some method of cognizing their environment — akin to that of vision in man.

"It was at about this time that Bane Borgson — the creator of the multiple mechanical-cell which had made the super-Mentanical possible — wrote an article in "Science And Mechanics" which riveted the attention of all thoughtful people. He said, in part: 'It is scarcely within the province of an applied scientist to become speculative, yet the startling fact that the Mentanicals have begun to acquire a faculty not primarily given them by their inventors — the faculty of speech, for their whispering can be construed as nothing else — implies an evolutionary process which threatens to place them on a par with man.

'What is thought ? The Behavorists claim it is reflex action. What is language? It is the marshalling of our reflex actions in words. Animals may "think", remember, but lacking a vocabulary save of the most primitive kind (a matter of laryngeal structure), their thinking, their remembering, is on the whole vague and fleeting, incoherent. But Man, by means of words, has widened the scope of his thinking, remembering, has created philosophy, literature, poetry, painting, has made possible civilization, the industrial era. Vocabulary — the ability to fix his reflex actions into coherent speech — has crowned him supreme among animals. But now comes the Mentanical of his own creation, evolving language in its turn. Without speech the Mentanical was, to all intents and purposes, thoughtless and obedient, as thoughtless and obedient as trained domestic animals. But with vocabulary comes memory and the ability to think. What effect will this evolving faculty have on Man, what problems, dangers, will it pose for him in the near future?"

"So wrote Bane Borgson, seventy years of age, fifteen years after his invention of the multiple mechanical-cell, and — God help us ! — we had not long to wait for the Mentanicals to supply an answer to his questions.

"I have told of the whispering of: my servants. That was a disquieting thing. But more disquieting still it was to hear that whispering coming over the radio, the telephone, to observe cylindrical Mentanicals listening, answering. Frankenstein must have felt as I felt in those days. During that period, which lasted several years, things went smoothly enough; to a great extent people became accustomed to the phenomenon and decided — save for a few men and women here and there, like to myself — that the whispering was an idiosyncrasy of the Mentanicals, implicit in their make-up, and that the various scientists and thinkers who wrote and talked with foreboding were theorists and alarmists of the extremest type. Indeed there were certain scientists and philosophers of reputation, who maintained them in this belief. Then came the first blow : The Mentanical servants ceased waiting on man!

To understand the terrible nature X of this defection, one must understand how dependant humanity had become on the Mentanicals, In those days human toilers were relatively few in number, laboring under the direction of the Mentanical superintendents and also guards (in the bloody wars of a decade before— and the ones preceding them — the ranks of labor had been woefully decimated) ; and it was estimated that the growth of the machine had lifted, and was still lifting, millions of workers into the leisure class. The dream of the Technocrats — a group of pseudo-scientists and engineers who held forth in 1932-33—seemed about to be fulfilled. "But when the Mentanicals struck, the whole fabric of this new system swayed, tottered. Food ceased coming into the cities, distribution of food supplies stopped. Not at first did starvation tin-eaten. Men and women fetched food from the supply depots. But in a few weeks these depots were emptied of their contents. Then famine threatened, not alone in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Montreal, but in the great cities of Europe. The strange, the weird thing about it all was that men were still able to talk to one another from city to city. Boston spoke to Los Angeles, and Buda-Pest to Warsaw. Listeners tuned in with receiving sets, speakers broadcasted through microphones and the newly improved television-cabinet ; but the grim spectre of want soon drove them from those instruments, and, in the end, city was cut off from city, and country was separated from country.

From The Mentanicals, by Francis Flagg.
Published by Amazing Stories in 1934
Additional resources -

This story has an explicit, early description of the robot uprising:

"Little did the people of the latter half of the twentieth century realize the menace to humanity that resided in the continuous development of automatic machinery. There was that curious book of Samuel Butler's, "Erehwon," which provoked comment but was not taken seriously. Over a period of years the robot marched into action as a mechanical curiosity. It was not until the genius of Bane Borgson — and of a host of lesser known scientists — furnished the machine with brain-cells and so made it conscious of itself, as all thinking things must become, that the Mentanicals (as they were called) began to organize and revolt. Man — or rather a section of mankind, a ruling and owning class — had furthered his immediate interests and ultimate doom by placing Mentanicals in every sphere of industrial and transportation activity. Seemingly in need of neither rest nor recreation, they became ideal (and cheap) workers and servants, replacing millions of human toilers, reducing them to idleness and beggary. The plea of many thinkers that the machines be socialized for the benefit of all, that the control of them be collective and not individual (that is, anar- chic) went unheeded. More and more the masters of economic life called for further specialization in the brain-cells of the Mentanicals. Mentanical armies marched against rebellious workers and countries, and subdued them with fearful slaughter.

"But the revolt of the Mentanicals themselves was so subtle, so insidious, so (under the circumstance) inevitable, that for years it went unnoticed.

EVERYTHING had been surrendered into their power — or practically everything : factories, means of communication, raising of food supplies, policing of cities — everything! When the stupid ruling class at last awoke to a knowledge of its danger, it was to late to act — mankind lay helpless before the monster it had created.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from The Mentanicals
  More Ideas and Technology by Francis Flagg
  Tech news articles related to The Mentanicals
  Tech news articles related to works by Francis Flagg

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