Author : Beck Dacus

“How’s it coming along?” I asked Dowmir, the spindly little ambassador to the Clathalnra species. He was sitting at a computer, constructed in the old-fashioned, desktop way so that he could use it better. He didn’t like holograms. Or tablets.

While looking at the screen, he said in his characteristic high, quavering voice, “What!? Really?”

“What? What is it?” I leaned forward to see what he was looking at. Something about human reflexes.

“Not forty-three minutes ago,” he said, “I was looking at documents on how you don’t want your careers to be taken away by robots and whatnot. And that being hooked up to feeding tubes in hospitals takes away your dignity. And now I’m sitting here, reading this! I mean, I thought human beings were contradictory, but…”

I sighed. “Are you saying what I think you’re saying?”

“That your entire species is automated on some very fundamental levels? Yes! And it scares me!”

I looked at the web page a little closer. All it talked about was how our breathing was usually subconsciously regulated, about the neural signals the heart receives from the brain, how our eyes reflexively adjust their size to the light level. “This… scares you? Your species doesn’t do this?”

“No! ‘Automatically adjusts to light levels’!? There’s no way that your, uh… ‘subconscious’ can get it right every time!”

“Well, it doesn’t. But it does, like, over 99% of the time. And our subconscious isn’t ‘out to get us,’ so there’s really nothing to worry about.”

“Oh, come on. Even you humans know that that’s not the whole issue!”

“Just spit it out, Dowmir.”

“Isn’t doing some of these things yourself part of the… the ‘life experience’? Like, you don’t want to incorporate robots into every laborious aspect of life, because then you would all become obese blobs that watch whatever is fed to you on this so-called ‘public television.’ At least, I read something like that. Don’t you want to be able to consciously regulate how much light enters your eye? You’d have camera vision! You’d be able to see whatever you liked, however you liked! Don’t you want to stop a teacher’s words from blending together and becoming background noise? To be able to focus yourself in general? I guess I just find this whole matter… hypocritical.”

He was starting to get to me, but I still had some points left. “But if we took all that upon ourselves, that would take up an enormous amount of brain space and effort. Having to adjust the size of my pupil every time I entered a different room? And if I hang on to a professor’s every word, *actual* background noise will constantly be at the front of my mind, driving me mad! Honestly, I don’t know how your species has managed to make it into space with such a heavy workload on your brain.”

“It did take us an extra few millennia, but it’s mostly because our brains are bigger. And I realize that, in spite of that, we’re not a whole lot smarter than you, but it’s worth it! We Clathalnra, for the many thousands of years our great civilization has persisted, have actually *lived*!” Abruptly, Dowmir turned back to the screen and skimmed on, shaking his head once every thirty seconds or so. While he did that, I had to think. What do we humans *really* want? Is complete automation and freedom from the mundane our destiny, or manually controlling ourselves completely, achieving the dream of “living in the moment”? To move forward… will we have to choose?