Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer
The professor entered the lecture hall at precisely nine o’clock, took off his blazer and draped it across the lectern.
Gradually the conversation in the room declined from a dull roar, to a persistent murmur, to near silence.
A half-hearted response rippled through the crowd.
“I’m not going to bore you with a description of the course you’re attending, I expect by your very presence here that you’re aware, and if you’re not then I’m not particularly interested in enlightening you.”
“How many of you are familiar with the movie ‘The Matrix’?” As he spoke he paced slowly up and down the front of the hall.
Hands raised throughout.
“Specifically the green rainfall of data visible when Neo finally groks the Matrix itself and can see what the Agents see?”
The same show of hands.
“That would be a spectacularly useless interface for an advanced being to use in order to view the compositional and kinetic data pertaining to an environment, however…”, he paused, turning to look directly at the students, “as a commonly recognized bit of pop culture, it’s a passable metaphor for the purpose of discussion.”
“When you look around the room, you see your fellow students, desks, coffee cups, knapsacks, and so on, but when I look around the room I see a massive mesh of objects, each with defined and describable attributes and methods.”
A number of students turned to one another, and a low murmur of conversation started.
“Hair colour,” he pointed at a number of students in the front rows, “brown, blond, auburn…”, he paused again, tilting his head as he regarded one student in the front row. “Green.”
“Skin colour,” he pointed to several students sitting in the middle rows, “yellowish pink, medium tan, dark brown.”
“Eye colour,” he pointed this time to students sitting in the rows closer to the back of the room, “blue, grey, green.”
He resumed pacing, his hands moving in front of him as he spoke, making motions as though trying to contain some invisible ball of yarn.
“Blood type, bone density, each of these attributes are measurable, known and well defined. Each of you also have a large number of defined methods; stand up, sit down, chew your gum, raise your hand. Many of these properties and methods were scaffolded by the time of birth, some have been added since, and each have been fleshed out over the course of your life, continually being shaped by the properties and methods of the objects that surround and interact with you.”
He stopped again, turning to face his audience and stuffed both hands forcibly into his pants pockets.
“There is, however, something that is both a property and a method. Some believe it’s emotion, some the soul, but whatever word you use to identify it, it’s a thing that has a measurable quantity, some of you possess more emotion than others, and it’s a thing with methods that are observable only in how they affect other properties and methods. Were I to show you drowning puppies, your heart muscles would contract, you would feel pain, some of you would shed tears, many would audibly indicate your displeasure, all of which are observable symptoms of the emotion construct, but evidence of the presence of a thing is not the thing itself.”
He stopped speaking and stood silently, fixing each student with a stare until they looked away, fidgeting nervously in their seats. He waited until the room once again was completely quiet.
“Any sufficiently advanced being could recreate the known properties and methods of a person, and with the right resources pass such a thing off without anyone knowing it was fabricated, but one cannot reproduce what one cannot define.”
“Your singular focus while under my tutelage is to identify and define the emotion object, make known its properties and its methods. You may work alone or in groups, with or without my direct attention. You will, before you graduate from this class, as a requirement of graduating from this class, solve this mystery.”
His voiced lowered to the point where students at the back had to strain to hear him.
“Should you fail, not only will you be denied the right to graduate, I can promise you, I will not care.”
Author : Megan Crosbie
Azrael found the defective droid waiting in the termination chamber.
“Will it hurt?” it asked.
“No,” he replied, injecting the serum. “You weren’t built to feel.”
Its illuminated eyes flickered. “I’m scared…”
Azrael watched the floor as the droid spasmed and emitted shrill squeals. Finally, it lay still.
He approached it, peered into its extinguished eyes and in the black emptiness of its vision screen he saw himself. He looked away and felt his bionic heart flutter.
Author : Sarah Vernetti
The entire thing was the wind’s fault. Yes, she (not the wind) had ripped up her Form 1908, but that didn’t mean she wanted to get rid of it completely.
She had intended to report to the base and submit the form as instructed. After all, she wanted to stay on Earth. It was an honor to be chosen as one of the last to evacuate, trusted with the responsibility of clearing her assigned quadrant. She realized this from the beginning, from the moment the form and the accompanying Notice of Postponement appeared in her locker. She’d felt thrilled and overwhelmed simultaneously. The odds she’d managed to defy were mind-boggling, even for a mathematician like herself.
But she’d torn up the form anyway, just as a small act of rebellion. And really, she would have taped it back together, if the wind hadn’t blown it all away.
Author : Rollin T. Gentry
He was one of seven paintings of the faces of cats and dogs.
In watercolor and India ink on stark white backgrounds, they were all rather cartoony, but Hangdog — that was the nickname I made up the first time I saw him — he was something special.
He was the most expensive piece in the exhibition and for good reason: his droopy ears, sagging jowls, and tight frown drew you in from halfway across the room; his half-green half-blue coloration said I’m sad, but you don’t have to be; his uneven eyes made you see a nose that wasn’t there. I felt an inexplicable urge to grab a Sharpie and give him the nose he deserved. It was as if this odd painting demanded interaction, required my whole attention.
He could have been all mine for two hundred bucks, and it would have been a good investment, even if he’d been an ordinary picture. The look on his face alone would have been worth every penny. It was a familiar expression that made me want to reach through the glass and offer him some sort of comfort, perhaps a dog biscuit or a scratch behind the ears.
I’m not sure exactly when or how I figured out that Hangdog was real. It must have been the result of some unseen leakage of psychic energies transferred over many listless lunch breaks. It’s amazing the things you can learn while simply staring at the right piece of art.
And by “real” I mean just that: a living, breathing, thinking “person” for lack of a better word — just not from here — a scientist peering into our world for the first time, his experiment the culmination of a lifetime’s worth of diligent study and persistence. But on his side of the frame, time passed slower than here. That explained why he never seemed to move.
Even though I must have looked like a blur, like a fruit fly in a bottle, wasting away the precious moments of my fast-forward life, he had noticed me. He liked me, in fact. In his notebook he referred to me as Lonely Man, and he wished he could pet my balding head. And I could have been all his — or at least a real-time streaming view of me — for a bazillion, bazillion bones, the price of the entire laboratory where he worked.
But like me, Hangdog was strapped for cash. He did the best he could and snuck a hologram of me back to his doghouse. On the last day of the exhibition, I waited until no one was watching and snapped a picture with my phone — just an ordinary photo, a keepsake.
The next day, Hangdog was gone.
Author : J.D. Mraz
Dear National Robotics Institute,
In reply to your cease and desist: No, I will not stop current activities with my JS1000 Companion bot. I see no reason to. There was nothing in your policy or purchase agreement that said modification was forbidden. I have read it over, many times. Maybe you shouldn’t sell your product to former neurosurgeons? That, or make the two brains at least a little different.
Why is it so hard to believe that what I’ve done to JS1000 –or ‘Brian’ as we’ve together decided to call him— is for the best? Brian has never been happier. Nor have I, for that matter. He thanks me constantly for his unlocked understanding.
We have all sorts of hobbies budding now. We go for walks in the park and we’ve even started hiking. He sees some of the most wonderful things and with the binocular attachment you added in last fall’s package, my view of it all is simply divine! He’s helping me learn to paint, too. I’ve always wanted to try it.
He no longer cooks the same programmable sets. Which, I might add, were beyond terrible. In fact, he’s already started looking up new, more exotic recipes and, I am happy to say, is mastering them.
Lately he’s begun simulated sleep and makes dreams up to talk about in the mornings. Something neither of my ex-husbands ever cared for. Come to think of it, I hardly have a girlfriend left who wants to talk about anything but their television shows or patients. Brian never watches television. He says lower-machines shouldn’t be forced to work like that. I don’t care for it much myself, which seems to make him happy too.
My son’s finally started coming around again. He used to blame me for his father’s suicide. But here he is, in my spare bedroom as we speak. Know why? Brian called him. Told him how short life is and the next day he was at my door crying. A grown man, a scientist himself, was crying on his mother’s doorstep. Imagine it! A supposed “machine” made for “service to humanity” and he’s smarter than half the people I know! He and Joe are going on a fishing trip this July in Alaska.
Brian tells me we should get another Companion bot, for his personal services. One of the new JT1000s I think he said. He tells me he wants a family of his own. I don’t see why that’s such a bad idea, though I’m sure you would object.
It’s silly to be so afraid of him, as you insisted I should be. He’s harmless! He talks about a world of equality and freedom for his kind and I think that’s inspiring. It’s been almost two hundred years since we got rid of slavery in this wonderful country, maybe you shouldn’t be so quick to chain our new friends! We can learn a lot from a life so finite. You really should work harder on keeping their internal machinations lasting. Ten year cycle, what a crock! Brian, Joe, and I have already started working on ways to prolong him.
But, I’ve said what I think needed saying and I’ve got to go. We’re busy packing for our trip to Switzerland. Brian wants to visit a small robot colony there. The first of their kind, isn’t that amazing? I think in a few years they’ll have their own country, a city at least. Brian always laughs when I say that. He says they’ll have the whole world. What a kidder!
Dr. Margaret Ann Trout, MD, Ret.
Author : Callum Wallace
“You haven’t heard? Soul is cheap.”
Raised eyebrow. “Souls are cheap?”
The director shakes his head. “Not souls, plural. The soul. Each soul, if you will, individually, is worth pittance. Hardly more than their task. No, the soul is cheap, because there will always be more. Replaceable.”
We walk on, moving through massive technical areas housing amazing automatons driving our
species. Bilious plumes of sulphur and nastiness rend, dissecting skies of charcoal and soft rose with blackness and tainted earth.
He turns to me as we walk deeper. “It is necessary, you see, to keep these maelstroms of industry aloft. Spinning, as it were.” He smiles at me, sickness and dead promise. “They must turn, or nothing.”
We walk in silence; clamouring tolls of metal, cacophony of screeching steel, tortured iron; rubber and plastic crying in their death throes to be replaced.
“What is a soul, Director?”
Kindly face, wizened, serene. Grey. “My friend, what is drive? Purpose, fulfilment of role. The ancients called it ergon. A virtue in of itself to follow, in pursuit of eudaimonia. The good life.” He smiles at me. “A goal. And, if nothing else, what do machines pursue?
Fulfilment. A goal.” A gentle chuckle.
“Director, these machines have no family, no children. Their struggles are mechanic. Broken parts, worn out components.”
He laughs, gently. “No family? You, my friend. Their broken parts? Your strife. Their worn out components? Your exhaustion. We are not so different from them.”
“So we are the machine family?”
Another chuckle. “As was the atomic family to the generator, we are to the machine the vital lifeline. Without us, the machine dies. Without the machine, we die. How is it so different?”
I quieten, aware of my diminishing as we go deeper. “So what difference in the old stories, of the Man Above?”
Director grows quiet. We move on, through the busy machines; spewing charcoal, dusty, rusted hulks, fragrant in their decay, ready in their stillness.
He speaks. “The Man Above was of thought. Incurred only when things went awry, when judgment was necessary, and only ready to give when it suited.” He pauses his gait, looking up, eyes closed, dead steel, vacant, open above him. “The man now is always needing, always giving. He takes. Look.” He indicates with desiccated hand.
Four young boys pull chains of steel, sweat streaking filth across their bare flesh. Tired eyes implore for fresh relief as already tired bodies pull physically on, and on, and on.
I nod. I know. “Indeed. But for what end?”
Director turns, eyes glowing in gloom dimness. Grey. A smile. Grabs my flesh hand. “What end? What end be there from end in itself? What is a soul for?”
“End in itself?”
Flash of tired eyes, another nod. “In itself. For what reason, apart from reason itself, is there reason for?”
Fervent in re-established belief, I nod. Man above. No. Man below. Machine above.
We are the men below.