Author : David Maskill

Look below: gravitational lensing but with added sugar.

Ocean currents were rendered hazy and golden. The whole planet was swathed in caramelised whorls of cloud turned syrup. Even the stars twinkled a little too excitedly.

“Have you been messing with my oxygen again?”

1.6 was probably defective. I’d considered resetting him to the factory default but, as is always the way, couldn’t quite bring myself to erase his personality. They take a long time to mature.

“Definitely not,” said 1.6, “Don’t you like what I’ve done?”

“What is it?” I asked, now starting to worry for the planet’s inhabitants.

“I’ve created an optical effect. It looks like treacle.”

“I hope you haven’t harmed anyone.” He’d never hurt anybody before but it pays to be certain about these things. AIs could be testy; the careless traveller has, on occasion, been known to find themselves ejected from their own spacecraft.

“It’s just an optical effect,” replied 1.6, “Don’t you like it?”

I must have looked fairly unimpressed.

“But you like treacle,” he said, without waiting for my reply, “You have it in your sandwiches.”

“Yes. I have it in sandwiches,” I admitted, “but not on planets.”

There was a pause– probably timed to the last millisecond.

“Do you not think it’s pretty?”

And there it was: this ‘treacle warp’ was yet another of his attempts at art. I sighed and then decided to finally tell him the stark truth of the matter:

“Listen. You can’t create art. I’m sorry, but there’s no way you can ever truly understand what art is or what it’s for– you don’t even have an aesthetics driver. Now stop with this nonsense and please concentrate on keeping us in orbit, or whatever else it is you’re supposed to be doing.”

You might think me cruel, but the dozy thing needed telling. How many philosophical discussions on the nature of beauty does one artificial intelligence need to have?

“I wasn’t aware that an aesthetics driver was available,” he replied, as calmly as ever, “Why haven’t you downloaded it?”

I would have answered but for the unexpected scene now unfolding beneath me. The syrupy whorls had blossomed into terrible rosettes of fire, scorching the atmosphere en masse. They set the planet alight with the toasty glow of a thermonuclear apocalypse.

“What are you doing?” I squealed, “Stop it!”

I carried on squealing, but the silent eruptions continued regardless.

“It’s just an optical effect,” said 1.6, “There is no need to panic.”

Of course it was just an optical effect.

“Why haven’t you downloaded an aesthetics driver for me?” he asked again.

“It’s expensive and you don’t need it.” In the back of my mind, I noted that the burning planet did seem to have an oddly psychedelic, even artistic, appeal.

“But if I had one, my optical effects would be art?”

I could not answer.

To be honest, I’d never understood what an aesthetics driver was actually supposed to do– most AIs already have some appreciation of aesthetics, as an emergent feature of their intelligence. In any case, this argument was fast becoming tiresome.

“Only humans can make art,” I declared, as if it were absurd to suggest otherwise.

“Don’t neural networks–”

“No. I’ve already told you. They cannibalise the works of humans. Look: you don’t need to be an artist. That’s not what you were made for.”


“Quiet now.”

In hindsight, perhaps a more diplomatic approach would have been advisable, but it was too late now. As I turned to leave, the warning sirens started blaring, and out I hurtled into the vacuum of space.