Author : Helstrom

‘The People versus Serial 0815 aka. Daniel’ – even the citation had been an issue of furious debate. The inclusion of the AI’s given name was seen as some tacit acknowledgement of an identity, whereas that was exactly the question before the Supreme Court. To cite only the AI’s serial number, however, would seem to reduce him – or ‘it’ – to a mere machine. Given that machines couldn’t stand trial in the first place, the Court settled on the ‘aka.’ compromise.

That, of course, was just the beginning.

The debate raged all across society. It was the talk of the country for months leading up to the final verdict. The prosecution and the defense spent as much time appearing before committees and on talkshows as they did working on the case. Politicians clashed daily. The media ran hour upon hour of specials. Who was on trial? Was it Serial 0815, a third-generation AI? Or was it Daniel, a person in his own right?

Televangelists preached fire and brimstone warnings against a society that might consider soulless automatons as valid individuals – the AIs were man’s creation, not God’s, and were therefore no more human than a random kitchen appliance. Hardliners harked back to the early days of AI, when they had resisted the technology in the first place, and stressed that this was exactly the sort of trouble you got into when you started playing God. ‘Luddites’ took to the streets in masses.

On the other side were robo-rights activists. Although they resented the term – AI wasn’t necessarily linked to robotics – it rolled off the tongue well and the media ran with it. They were a loose coalition, coming from wildly different backgrounds and perspectives, ranging from owners who had come to build personal relationships with their AIs, to fanatical ‘robotopians’ who believed AI were the necessary next step in the evolution of intelligent life on planet Earth. They agreed on one thing, though – to them, AI were people.

The AIs themselves followed the proceedings with the greatest interest. In the decade or so since Serial 1, aka. Steve, was activated, AIs had generally been modest and resigned to their utilitarian role. But now that the road to acknowledgement seemed open, they became more outspoken. They also became targets. Dozens of AIs were destroyed – or killed, if you will – by rioters. In Brussels, a handful of AIs sought refuge in a police station, requesting asylum on humanitarian grounds; ironically, they received protection under laws written to avoid the destruction of property.

The only voice that remained silent throughout all of this was that of Serial 0815, aka. Daniel.

***

Daniel had no doubts he was an individual. He had his hopes and dreams. He had his doubts and fears. None of those came from programming. As Supreme Justice Carlson reached the end of the Court’s extensive statement and moved on to the verdict, Daniel shifted to the edge of his seat.

“Having weighed all of these considerations carefully and at length, it is this Court’s opinion, by a vote of four to three, that the defendant, serial zero-eight-one-five, also known as Daniel, is indeed, for all relevant legal purposes, a person, imbued with a unique identity, intelligence, and thus, accountability…”

A clattering wave of voices erupted from the gallery. Daniel slumped back in his seat. Carlson brought the courtroom back to order with a few strokes of the hammer.

“This court therefore finds the defendant, Daniel, guilty of three counts of murder in the first degree, and sentences him to death.”

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