Author : Ryan Somma

An orangutan and a brain in a vat were playing chess across the room from me.

It was a joke I hadn’t figured out the punch line to in five years of working here. The disembodied brain was Philo, and, lacking eyes, I had no idea how it understood the game. One of the psychologists who stopped in once a week to check on Philo was also stumped on this, explaining to me that Philo also lacked spatial reasoning. Philo’s understanding of chess, therefore, was purely as an abstract mathematical concept.

The orangutan was Odo. He rubbed his chin thoughtfully as he leaned over the board. When I first started working here, Odo would spend hours signing to me. He gave up long ago, and Philo told me the orangutan had decided I was incapable of learning. He was probably right.

Wee-Beep! Wee-Beep! Wee-Beep! A petri dish set atop a remote-control car thudded into my foot and my cell phone began chirping in response to it, which set the petri dish off chirping back.

This was Meep, a network of mouse neurons that had learned to drive around without bumping into things, except when it wanted attention. Meep just barely qualified to reside here, but I couldn’t explain how it met the intelligence requirements.

“Hello Meepster,” I said to the living toy, and stooped to pluck the rubber ball from its pincers. “Go play with Lug,” I tossed the ball so that it bounced off our resident Neanderthal’s forehead.

“Lug,” wasn’t his real name, Lazarus was, but the botched attempt at genetically engineering our distant relative just drooled and pooed himself all day. Meep was more sentient, and until Lazarus can wipe his own butt, my name for him is Lug.

“Pardon me…” Philo’s artificial voice drew my attention.

“I’m sorry Philo,” I had the injection ready in a few moments and quickly administered enough serotonin to get the brain through the afternoon. Without a steady cocktail of anti-depressants, being a brain in a vat pretty much sucks.

Think about that… When your house greets you at the door, when your refrigerator makes dinner suggestions, or when your car swerves to keep you out of an accident because you were preoccupied with your PDAI, remember that the road to all those conveniences was paved with the residents of this asylum, experiments that made AI possible and inventions that crossed the line into sentience, preventing them from making it to the market.

We have a responsibility to them. After all, they didn’t ask to exist.


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