Author : Anthony Rove

Dan shivered as he felt a fat, cold drop of sweat run from his armpit down his side. He quickly patted the side of his torso, trying to use his loosely hanging dress shirt as a makeshift paper towel. He hoped none of the council members noticed.

“What do you mean, ‘working AI is impossible?’ We’ve had AI for years.” The high chancellor’s voice was shrill, almost as though his words had been flung out of his nose instead of his mouth.

Dan blinked in surprise. “Not—not, really.” He paused and took a deep breath. He told himself to calm down. After all, this was supposed to be the easy part. “You’ve got computers. Really, really good computers, but computers all the same. Sure, they can drive your car or diagnose disease. They can grow crops or manufacture goods, but that’s about it. There’s no sentience. No introspection. Without introspection, you don’t have creativity. Without creativity, the AI doesn’t have any real independence. It doesn’t make any ‘choices, ’per se, it just does what it’s programmed to do. Nothing more, nothing less.”

Dan wondered if he looked odd under all these lights.

“You see, you don’t have AI. What you call ‘AI’ is really nothing but a bunch of fancy adding machines: emotionless wannabe homunculi.”

Dan clamped his mouth shut. He stood there in silence, and wondered if he had overstepped. After an eternity, he heard the high chancellor’s shriek,

“Are you saying you’ve built an artificially sentient computer?”

“No.” Dan shifted his weight. “Like I said, that’s currently impossible with conventional computing.”

“Then what are you saying?”

“I’m saying I can grow a naturally sentient entity from human tissue.” Dan waited a moment for this to sink in. “I can grow a mind—a true, introspective mind—and install it where you please.” Another silence filled the room. Dan felt a second fat bead of sweat forming in his armpit.

“Assuming that’s even true, why would that be preferable to conventional AI?”

“It’s not always. The true-minds I grow are sentient in every sense of the word. They have emotions, and personalities, and sentimentalities. You wouldn’t want to install them any place where that might become an issue. I certainly wouldn’t put them in charge of the world’s nuclear codes, for example.”

“So these ‘true-minds’ aren’t preferable to conventional AI?”

“Sure they are, in certain contexts. My true-minds will thrive in fields that depend upon sentimentality. They are courtroom advocates, and salesmen, and negotiators, and congressmen and artists, and scientists.”

Dan was excited now.

“With the industrial revolution, we began automating mechanical tasks. In the information age, we began automating intellectual tasks. With my true-minds, we can begin automating emotional and artistic tasks. It’s the final step in achieving a truly post-labor society.”

The vice chancellor looked up from his table for the first time. His humongous head rested gently on a small fat neck. His voice was quiet,

“If these are emotionally complete sentient minds, how can you be certain that they will agree to do any particular job? It seems to me, if they are truly sentient, can’t they decide they don’t want to do what you tell them?”

Dan swallowed. Here came the hard part.

“My true-minds are just that—true minds. They fear death. And they fear pain.”

For the first time all afternoon, Dan stood still for a moment.