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.
Author : David Flynn
Davis was a Flyer. But his wings had been removed surgically. This is no cliché. You know, wings of the heart, and that bullshit. Davis was surgically invested with wings when he was in his twenties, had a thirty year career delivering packages, summonses, overdue bills, whatever. Now though he had to use his legs.
Which had withered to the size of sticks.
“Damn. That hurts,” he said.
He tried to walk across the yard, pushing his garbage bin. Even with four wheels, a Spinner, the concrete yard tilted slightly uphill, and he had to push. He hadn’t pushed in decades.
Davis, in fact, was Poor. Now. While flying, he was part of an elite corps of mangels and womangels, all surgically produced. He was paid well by the company. But he saved nothing. He rented his condo. He rented his furniture. Nobody owned a vehicle anymore. There were apps for all trips. Groceries were delivered by 3-D printer, as were clothes, as were all the crap on the web. In a given week, Davis left the condo and the 72 degree rooms only to fly.
During his decades of work the garbage bins had been replaced by vaporizer boxes in the kitchen. He didn’t know; outside of work he only slept in the Dream Box. He never married, never socialized even, so his personal assistant robot had pushed that bin like some cowboy or knight to the curb. Now the robot had been confiscated by his company, and he had to strain up that concrete hill, a ten percent grade.
“Damn,” he repeated.
Davis locked his legs like the cranes he had seen on his TV wall before that was confiscated decades ago. Nature. He scissored them like stilts. He had seen them on TV then too, Stilt Wars. When he got the bin to the potholed, neglected street he pushed it aimlessly, and turned around.
What he didn’t know was that garbage pickup had ended about 5 years before, even the two trucks that continued for Old Farts. A week later the bin still blocked the street. The garbage rotted in his used-to-be garage. Maggots covered the plastic. He heard a noise.
“Davis, you are under arrest,” said the mangel.
“You are a public nuisance,” said the mangel.
The police mangel sprayed him with Knock-Out, and strapped him to his back rack. The condo door still open, he flapped his wings. They rose into the always-blue sky.
“Old Fart transported,” the mangel said.
“Useless,” a voice said from the air. “The dump.”
“Gotcha. Will do,” the mangel said.
Flap flap flap and in a few minutes he went into Glide. Below stretched a dump of dead human bodies, almost all old, Useless. A few teens, the Stupid, the Rebellious.
The mangel released the rack, and Davis fell. He screamed. They all screamed. By time he smashed into the bodies, clothes rotting, he was dead too. Air Poison in Position.
“Praise Hartmann!” the mangel said.
“3287 Weinerstrasse,” the voice said. “What a dumb address. For that alone the occupant should be Dumped. A Sterile.”
“Gotcha,” the mangel said. He flapped toward a dot blinking on the roof in a row of townhouses below.
Author : Kate Runnels
Tayna skidded on the crumbled mortar, concrete and residual dust, coming to a stop in a hidey hole. She then lay as still as she could within the concealing rubble of the old city. Dust coated the inside of her mouth as she fought to slow her breathing from great heaves to a controlled breath that wouldn’t disturb a feather if it had been on her upper lip.
The SD drone hummed into view if she dared to peek out of her hole and glance into the sky at the matte black drone intent to kill whatever it found. It stood out in this surprisingly sunny spring day. If it had been overcast or night, it would be much harder to spot.
Tayna stilled even more as thrum of the blades slicing through the air as it propelled the drone in it’s programed search pattern.
I’m just rubble. I’m just part of the endless rubble of this once great city.
Destroyed nearly fifty years ago in the greatest war, the survivors had trickled slowly back in looking for safety. What safety there could be anymore.
The humming grew softer but she dare not look up. Even in pale faces the eyes were a giveaway, and more so for her. In spite of herself her leg twitched and a pebble clicked against what once had been a wall. The search drone was back, quick as a wasp – ten times as loud and imminently more dangerous.
-Now- she cursed at them. -Do it now!- Even if it crashed on top of her it would be worth it as it was hovering still and an easy target. There should be a sniper around, one of the fighters of the Portland Coalition. The crack of a rifle sounded even through the concret of her hidey hole, followed by the unmistakeable crash of metal.
Tayna popped up out of the hidey hole with a smile on her face as the drone sparked and gave off a dying buzz from the ground. She headed over to strip it of anything useful. Soon the Supreme Government of the U.S. – what was left of the U.S. anyway- would learn that Portland was a no fly zone.
This was Portland Coalitions city, not the supposed new government out of Philadelphia. A supposed government that was trying to cling to a remnant that didn’t work then and doesn’t work now.
She stood over the drone now and smiled into the camera that trained it’s working lens on her. Let them see her face, confident, proud, she didn’t care.
Author : V.M. Bannon
They came for the treasury first. I talked to somebody who used to work there, and they said that it was like watching a timer tick down, those numbers rapidly falling down to nothing.
Then the banks shut down. They told us that it was for our own protection, but when we couldn’t even get on the website to check our balances, we knew that it was over.
Nobody was angry, I don’t think. We were just too stunned. We thought they’d turn back on. Then the lights went out.
It’s surprising how tenuously your life is actually held together. How little you can do for yourself. I remember being a child, reading history books and marveling at how silly all my ancestors were. Couldn’t they just use matches to light a fire? Or flip a switch?
But that required a whole network of unseen people. The engineers and maintenance workers and truck drivers and the gas station clerks that worked nights.
Normal, though, is what you are used to. We became normal, slowly. Readjusted. Centuries-old instincts resurfaced. We all grew to like the taste of fresh caught meat, although we still dreamed of bacon wrapped in plastic
It was the hipsters that fared the best, ironically. Their seemingly stupid hobbies of basket weaving and potato farming became useful in this new world. It bothered the hell out of them.
Eventually the world moved on enough that people had children. Children who would gather ’round the fire to hear about things like air conditioning and canned food with the kind of awe we had already numbed ourselves to by the time we were their age.
They would sit around, mouths in perfect o’s. Eventually one kid, usually the biggest and bravest, would push forward and say “but it wasn’t really real, was it? If it was really real, you wouldn’t have let it go away, would you?”
And then whoever was telling the story would hold up a finger, dig around in their pockets, and pull out a phone. We’d held onto them, palm sized reminders that it had not all been a dream.
The children would gather round it, clicking the sides. Sometimes there would be just enough battery that it would light up, telling you that it was dead. When that happened, the children would all look at the storyteller as one, faces still lit in the only electricity they would ever see, and know that it was true. It had all happened. We were the ones who let it.
Author : Rollin T. Gentry
Ever since the drone dropped Arnold off on the balcony, his language had been atrocious. He continually dropped the F-bomb, the D-bomb, and the S-bomb, not to mention both C-words and the recently coined Z-word. Mary Ann jacked the children into VR while she tried to deal with the situation.
She knew that she was partially to blame. She should have stopped Arnold from getting the implant. But all the partners at his firm had implants, and Arnold had no hope of making partner without one.
She rushed to the wall in the kitchen and pushed the white button with the red cross.
The hologram appeared in the living room: a doctor in a white coat. He looked down at Arnold, sitting in his favorite chair, swearing at some daytime drama.
“This is a rare side effect,” the doctor said. “One in a million odds. A drone should be here momentarily. Arnold, is it?” Mary Ann nodded. “Arnold hasn’t been physically aggressive has he?”
“Oh, no,” she shook her head, “just the foul language.”
“That’s good. No need for tranquilizers and all.”
A gleaming white drone hovered over the balcony with a man-sized basket hanging below its sturdy frame. Once Arnold was strapped in, the drone lifted off and disappeared behind a nearby high-rise.
“Mrs. Dalton, I’ll contact you when I have more information about Arnold’s condition.” The doctor flickered twice then disappeared.
Mary Ann heard nothing for three weeks.
The only sign that Arnold might still be alive was the regular deposit of his paychecks into their bank account. Then finally, news came. Not in the form of a doctor, but a man in a navy blue suit and striped tie. His hologram appeared without warning.
“Yes?” Who was this man? Why no doctor? She wondered.
“Mrs. Dalton, my name in Clayton Peters. I’m the attorney who represented you and your husband in the lawsuit against the company who manufactured your husband’s implant. Under the new Expedited Legal Initiative, everything has been completed concerning the matter.” He swiped through a holopad projected from his wrist. “The company settled for eight trillion credits, which have already been deposited into your account. And you’ll be happy to know your divorce has been finalized as well. You, of course, were granted sole custody of the children.”
“The doctors were unable to help your husband. If they tried to remove the implant, it would most likely have been fatal. So the courts decided the merciful thing would be to place Arnold in a new line of work more suitable to his condition. The high court ruled that giving both of you a clean slate, allowing you to remarry if you wanted, was the most merciful outcome. Do you have any more questions before I go?”
“Yes!” Mary Ann gasped. She could scarcely keep up with this man’s banter. He must deliver life-altering statements like this all day, every day, she thought. “What new line of work? And where is Arnold, anyway? I’d like to speak to him about all this.”
“Unfortunately, Mrs. Dalton, Arnold departed on a deep-space, asteroid mining vessel three days ago. But don’t worry. I received word from the captain that Arnold is adjusting wonderfully. Supposedly, he already has a nickname, and a tattoo, and a few friends. Any more questions?”
Mary Ann stood with her mouth half open. She blinked once, and the attorney was gone.