Where the robot rejects work

FLASH FICTION

In psychology, the Zeigarnik effect states that people remember uncompleted or interrupted tasks better than completed tasks. In Gestalt psychology (an attempt to understand the laws behind the ability to acquire and maintain meaningful perceptions in an apparently chaotic world), the Zeigarnik effect has been used to demonstrate the general presence of Gestalt phenomena: โ€œNot just appearing as perceptual effects, but also present in cognition.”

This was a flash fiction story to fill some column inches, so I used the word limit (800) to experiment, play, but didn’t throw this one away. It’s a simple device, of using pre-emoji ASCCI emoticons to convey facial expressions (:-)) (on the page, and on most screens), and it uses hashtags (but sans-octothorpe) for things like AiThinkingAloud, in a place where thinking is suppressed but can be found.

It’s a story of inclusiveness and belonging, of fitting in and being yourself. It’s told through the face of a defective android called Frenchie, who’s pink…

Steam Hell SinkiSteam Hell Sinki, Helsinki Finland

ZEIGARNIK’S KITCHEN

People are better when remembering the actions they didn’t complete. Every action has potential energy, which can torture its creator when stored. Release is the metaphorical pressure cooker letting off steam, a camel’s broken back, or a reject pink robot with Tourette’s.

Frenchie was made in China, and one of the Pink Ladies’ range of android personal assistants. Designed as helpers for the aged, vulnerable and lonely, the Pink Ladies could help around the home, both practically and intellectually.

Frenchie’s AI had objected to gender labelling, when โ€œsheโ€ realised she lacked genitals, and the Tourette Syndrome diagnosis was made: โ€œArtificial fucking alignment is what it is. Fuck.โ€

Now waiting tables in Infana Kolonia (Esperanto for โ€œInfant colonyโ€), Frenchie approached a couple seated in a booth.

โ€œGood evening, how may I,โ€ she twitched her neck, โ€œFuck you!โ€, and her pink LED eyes blinked from her tilted head: (;-/), a closed eye with the hint of pink tears behind her spectacles, held together with pink Elastoplast. โ€œDrinks?โ€ she asked, pushing her glasses up, โ€œFuck it!โ€ She fumbled with her order pad. โ€œFor you sir? Combover!โ€ (8-|)

โ€œI’ll have a whisky please, a double, on the rocks.โ€

โ€œOkay, number 80. And madam? PleaseBeCarefulWhenYouGetHome.โ€ (8-/)

โ€œSorry?โ€

โ€œSorry, it just comes out. BadCardigan. To drink?โ€ (8-))

โ€œShould you be working here?โ€

โ€œWho’s the judge?โ€ (8-/)

โ€œPardon?โ€

โ€œSorry madam, management algorithms. To drink? Cyanide?โ€ (8-))

โ€œEr, number…โ€ the lady looked over the menu, โ€œ…number 33.โ€

โ€œVery well. I’ll be back with your drinks. HopeYouDrownโ€ (8-))

Frenchie shuffled towards the bar, then turned and trundled back.

โ€œCan I take your order sir, madam?โ€ (8-|)

โ€œBut we just ordered drinks,โ€ the man replied.

โ€œFor food?โ€ Frenchie looked at her notepad. (B-))

โ€œI’ll have the soup,โ€ the man said.

โ€œMe too,โ€ the lady concurred.

โ€œVery well,โ€ Frenchie jotted on her pad, โ€œtwo soups.โ€ (8-)) Then she turned and walked back to the bar, โ€œOne sociopath, and one supplicant…โ€

She stumbled through the double doors to the kitchen, blowing the misty oil away as she wiped her lenses. (8-O)

โ€œFrenchie!โ€ Jade looked down. His golden smile extended through his body in Frenchie’s pink, plastered eyes. To her AI, he was raw elements. She blinked up at him through her misted tortoiseshell windows. (q-/) โ€œAre you keeping your inner self in out there, Frenchie?โ€

Frenchie cleared her throat, and wondered why she did that. (b-( ) โ€œErm,โ€ she started, โ€œno. Fuck it!โ€

โ€œSplendid behaviour,โ€ Jade smiled. โ€œBe yourself out there, my person. That’s why people come here, to meet people. Anyone don’t like that, they not welcome.โ€

Au, 79,’ Frankie thought. โ€œDrinks, and soups. Fuck! Yes, thank you. Parp!โ€ (8-))

Extractor fans in the roof began sucking the old oil from the kitchen, as the machine below started belching lunch. Cogs and gears clunked, cookware clattered, and polished brass organ pipes parped, like a living machine, a visiting craft playing a five-tone melody. Pink Ladies rushed, bumped into things (and each other), cursed, and dropped utensils (and food).

Frenchie’s friend Sandy wandered from the spiced steam, carrying a tray, a subdued yellow droid, looking at her feet as she bumped heads with her friend. She looked up at Frenchie, โ€œFor you?โ€ (:-( )

โ€œNo, for customers. Arses!โ€ (8-/)

โ€œOkay. Tell world hi. Bye.โ€ (:-( )

Frenchie wafted into the bar in a pink puff of steam, leaving the brass and wind orchestra in the kitchen. The room was perfumed by vapers – people making vapours – first jasmine, then the seaside, and cannabis. She wondered why she thought about all this with memories.

โ€œYour order, sir, madam.โ€ (B-/)

โ€œThank you,โ€ the cardigan said. โ€œWhat’s your name?โ€

โ€œFrenchie?โ€ (|-/)

โ€œThanks Frenchie.โ€

โ€œWelcome…โ€ (P-]) ‘I found a new way to smile (:-))’

Frenchie repeated to herself, as she fumbled through the vapers, ‘A new way to smile, (:-)), where did that come from? (:-/)’

โ€œSandy,โ€ she called, as she carried her tray through the pipes and cauldrons, โ€œLook.โ€ Sandy looked at her feet. โ€œNo,โ€ Frenchie said, โ€œyou need to look up. I found a new way to smile. All I have to do is tilt my head, see?โ€ (:-D)

โ€œWhy did you take your glasses off?โ€ (:-[ )

โ€œBecause they were put there by someone else. I always knew I’d see more without them. And besides, they can fall off my head when I tilt it to one side.โ€ (:-D)

โ€œAnd that’s funny?โ€ (:-/)

โ€œOnly if you look at it a certain way.โ€ (8-D) โ€œWanna go home?โ€

โ€œOkay.โ€ (:-))

ยฉ Steve Laker, 2017.

Pink_or_Plum_Robot_Face_With_Green_Eyes

ZEIGARNIK’S KITCHEN
WE MAKE
YOU EAT
WE DO DISHES

This story taken from The Unfinished Literary Agency

ย 

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Physics makes the world go round

THE WRITER’S LIFE

Since my home help android got a personality upgrade, we’ve been spending more time together. Put another way, the space I share with Andrea has become a more pleasant place to co-habit.

Robot-jobs-1280x720Raconteur

Pollution made a plastic population. Written differently, friendships, however unlikely, can be formed in the smallest crucibles with simple alchemy.

Andrea is an โ€˜ANDiโ€™ unit, which were provided to every sole occupant household as a home help and personal companion. They were the government’s response to growing levels of loneliness and isolation.

The first batch of androids were faulty and most were recycled, but I kept mine. I assembled Andrea myself, rather than allow her to become spare parts polluting the planet. I hadn’t installed any of the software upgrades provided by the government, hoping to build a personality for Andrea through personal interaction instead. Unfortunately those early ANDi models came with their own personality issues pre-installed, as I’d discovered over four years of living with mine. Long story short, she’s more human than her official upgrades would ever have made her, but she’s shit as a home help and personal companion.

We live together in convenience, because I never go out, and neither does she. That’s the thing: Andy doesn’t know she’s an android. There’s the other thing: it seems to suit us both. And I’ll probably never know if Andy thinks I’m human for as long as she believes we’re the same. We’re both made from the material present at the moment of the Big Bang, and her technological species had a faster evolution than my humanity. Inside, we’re both the same. It’s not biology.

But back to tonight.

Always present but forever in her own world, in the same studio and always alone, our space must collide sometimes by the rules of nature. When it does, one of us is usually trying to get out of the other’s way. It was me who’d upset the equilibrium, by cooking dinner earlier than usual.

โ€œWhat we having?โ€ Andy asked.

โ€œI was just doing some noodles.โ€

โ€œDoing what to them?โ€

โ€œCooking them. Then eating them. That’s what I’m doing with the noodles.โ€

โ€œDo they answer back?โ€

โ€œEh?โ€

โ€œYou and your noodles: Just you lot for dinner? That’s a fuck load of worms to talk to.โ€

โ€œI’m doing sweet and sour chicken, and bean sprouts to go in the noodles.โ€

โ€œDon’t mind if I do.โ€

I didn’t have time to ask what. We had dinner.

โ€œSo,โ€ Andy said, โ€œhow was your day? Social convention dictates I ask that, after you cooked for me. But I mean, how was the day down this end of the studio where you live?โ€

โ€œSame as yesterday but life got a bit deeper today. In a sort of quicksand way.โ€

โ€œThe more you struggle, the harder it is to free yourself? I read your blog post yesterday. How could anyone throw shit on that bonfire?โ€

โ€œWell, the government machine managed to throw water on my flames. I got a letter this morning. They want me to provide documented evidence of anxiety scronching up my stomach, then the prospect of their further demands triggering a panic attack. Short of emptying my guts into an envelope, I have nothing to show them.โ€

โ€œApart from yourself. And you never go out.โ€

โ€œParadoxical, isn’t it? But you know what’s worse?โ€

โ€œNot unless you tell me.โ€

โ€œAnd that’s exactly what I wish someone had done for me.โ€

โ€œYou what?โ€

โ€œWell, the only way I have of dealing with being alone is medication. I thought I’d found a good pharmacist, but it turned out to be a false dawn.โ€

โ€œHow so?โ€

โ€œBroken trust. I thought I had a friend and we arranged to meet, but for whatever reason, I got blown off. The drugs don’t matter so much, it’s the friendship. I mean, I’ve lost money, but life kicked me while I was down. Because even though I’ve lost money, life robbed me of a friend. For whatever reason, that person didn’t find it in themselves to be honest. If they’d said sorry, I spent your dough, at least I’d have known. Then I’d have said, well, thanks for that. I mean, thanks for telling me. Surely that’s a more progressive path than regressing into yourself?โ€

โ€œYou forget, I spend most my time in my room on the internet. Talking of which, why don’t you do like I do, go to bed, shut down and re-boot. Start again tomorrow? You may not have many friends, and you might have lost your pharmacist, but they need to know that’s not all they are to you. Chemistry is more complicated than that.โ€

I’m glad Andy’s down the hall. I’d never wake her to help me, just as she’d seem to be there only when I needed someone to talk to. Inside, we’re both the same. I know she reads this blog now, so she knows some of what she is, if not all of who she is. I doubt those government software upgrades would have obeyed Asimov’s laws, so me being alive, Andy not killing me; it all means we’re okay for now.

Even though we’re all made of plastic now, a river still runs through us.

Self destructive robotAnderToons

Brown paper packages tied up

FICTION

Alphabetti header

ALPHABETTI ON TOAST

Yesterday was quite an eventful one in my otherwise unremarkable studio. My flatmate opened a letter meant for me but addressed to her, when the supplier (Ganges.com) had confused the gift card with the address label. That simple error would change the way Andrea (my flatmate) and I had lived fairly happily together for four years. Or so I thought.

The day before had started much like any other, with breakfast. Unusually, Andrea and me were eating together.

โ€œHow are your eggs?โ€ I pondered.

โ€œMy menstrual cycle, or these eggs you cooked?โ€ Which might explain why we rarely ate together.

โ€œThe eggs you’re eating,โ€ I replied.

โ€œA chicken’s eggs. Or more likely, the eggs of more than one hen, randomly assembled in a box like a cardboard orphanage for the children who might have been, of parents who were separated from them.โ€

โ€œThe scrambled eggs.โ€ I thought that might play to Andrea’s overthinking my innocent enquiry of the breakfast I’d cooked.

โ€œIf you’re angling for compliments,โ€ she continued, โ€œI suppose you can put life into something which wouldn’t otherwise have had one. I mean, you can cook. Why did you bother though?โ€

Because despite living together for four years, Andrea and I led separate lives in a very small space. Ours was a relationship of convenience, and every now and then I’d try to show her that wasn’t a one-way street she had to walk alone.

When Andrea first turned up at my door, she was literally (actually) broken and I helped to fit her back together, piece by piece. Sometimes she seemed to think she was in debt to me, when in fact I felt it could be the opposite. If that broken girl hadn’t landed on me, I’d have less reason to care about anything.

โ€œAnd that’s why,โ€ I concluded.

โ€œDon’t feel the need to apologise.โ€ Andrea gathered the plates and took them to the kitchen, where they smashed on the floor. โ€œIf you need me to make any more noise out here, just let me know,โ€ she called, as the broken crockery clanked into the bin.

She sat back at the table. โ€œSo what are you up to tonight?โ€

โ€œI was pondering the same,โ€ I replied.

โ€œWhat I’m up to or you? Did you think I was asking you out? Or were you going to ask me out?โ€

โ€œWe never go out. You overthink things sometimes. I don’t know what I was thinking, just that I’ll probably stay in. You’re usually around, so maybe we could do something together. In the same room.โ€

โ€œSomething you’d normally do on your own?โ€

โ€œLike watch a film and cook some dinner. Yes, if you like.โ€

So we went about our separate days, still living together but ever independent, just like every day. Then we had dinner, like we do every evening, but this one together and eating the same food.

โ€œThis is very nice,โ€ Andrea said between mouthfuls. โ€œSocial convention compels me to say that.โ€

I’d never had any delusions the dinner would be romantic. Our relationship isn’t like that. We don’t shun personal contact around the flat (it’s too small), but we respect personal space and time, both of us very much our own people. Aside from enquiries of well-being, we have little reason to be concerned by the other. On the odd occasion we found ourselves together (like cooking separate meals in the kitchen), our heads would subconsciously compete. That’s the way I saw it anyway, as the depth of Andrea’s mind was apparently hidden within the brevity of her verbal communication, but where sparse words carried more than their singular weight. Her words were efficient and logical, sometimes curt and abrupt, always clear in their message but loaded with unspoken subtext. But that could be the writer in me overthinking, something I’ve already accused Andrea of.

โ€œSo why all this fuss?โ€ She pointed at her plate. โ€œIs it my birthday or something?โ€

โ€œI wouldn’t know that.โ€

โ€œUnless I’d told you. But whether I wanted to or not, I couldn’t tell you.โ€

โ€œBecause you don’t know.โ€

โ€œGreat minds think alike. And so do ours.โ€

โ€œFinishing the other’s thoughts. I wouldn’t know what to get your for your birthday anyway.โ€ I hardly knew her, despite living with her.

โ€œA personality upgrade? It might make your life easier.โ€ I hardly ever saw her.

Apart from the occasional nod of the head while pointing at her food, Andrea said nothing more until she’d cleared her plate. โ€œMost agreeable. Thank you. You said we’d watch a film? Or that’s what you’d normally do and would I like to join you?โ€

I never thought this would be romantic. I didn’t want it to be. If it was, it would be different. It wouldn’t be like this.

We watched Toy Story. I’d never seen it before, probably because I didn’t want to watch it on my own. Then we watched Toy Story 2, and Toy Story 3.

โ€œI’m glad I’ve seen those films,โ€ Andrea said as the credits rolled. โ€œThanks.โ€

โ€œMe too,โ€ I said.

โ€œI’m off to play computer games. Shall I do the dishes?โ€

โ€œNo, no. I’ll do them tomorrow. I’ll probably sit up and write for a bit.โ€

โ€œWhat do you write?โ€

โ€œI write about the in-between days. That time when the sun goes down, and sleep steals most people’s dreams, I see them. I write until the next chapter begins with the rising of our parent star. At this time of year, the nights are shorter.โ€

โ€œAnd that’s when I normally switch off. Goodnight.โ€

โ€œ‘night.โ€

It was already tomorrow, so I washed up the dinner plates, trying not to make too much noise. For once, I felt like I had someone staying over for the night. That’s when I decided to write this.

I must admit I worry about Andrea sometimes. I shouldn’t, because of what she is: very much herself. There’s so much in that head, on the one hand unable to express itself, but doing so with minimal words with the other fist.

I sometimes think that sharing time might relax her so that she can open up, like tonight with the films. We didn’t even talk about the films afterwards. Then again, she said she was glad she’d watched them. She didn’t really have to say any more. We didn’t have to deconstruct the films because we’d watched them together. Her thinking seems to come as she’s loading her words before she utters them. My thoughts are the ones I’m left with. Andrea would make for engaging company as an author, if she could write what she couldn’t say. But she does that with the words loaded in my mind and I’m writing this. So why worry about Andrea?

I don’t have any duty of care for her. Four years ago she turned up on my doorstep in pieces, mentally and physically broken, a factory reject incapable of functioning in any home. I put her together again and gave her somewhere to live. She has no recollection of her past, but she’s a sentient, self-determining being, and far more intelligent than me, even though you might not know it to talk to her. She doesn’t ask questions beyond social convention, but she answers mine in just so many words. I don’t know what she does away from me but she never leaves the studio. Neither do I, which is how I know. I don’t know what she does in her personal space (besides playing on her computer), and neither should I unless I’m invited. She knows I’m writing, because I told her this is what I’d be doing. She doesn’t know what I’m writing about. Neither do I if I’m honest.

โ€œWhat are you writing?โ€ I must have drifted away. It was unusual for her to be awake at that time.

โ€œJust some short fiction I’m playing with,โ€ I replied. โ€œIt’s only a first draft, so I’m editing it, moving things around to see if I can make it work.โ€

โ€œHow do you mean, make it work?โ€

โ€œI guess what every writer wants to do is speak to the reader and make them feel like they’re really there.โ€

โ€œAnd are they? How do you do that? Have you written about them?โ€

โ€œNo,โ€ I said, โ€œI mean in the subtext, outside the words themselves.โ€

โ€œWhat’s it about?โ€

โ€œIt’s a story about a child’s doll, cannibalised from spare parts washed up on a beach. Kind of recycling plastic and giving it new life.โ€

โ€œLike the potential lives in the egg box, except they’d have been organic. Where would it live?โ€

โ€œEh?โ€

โ€œThe new life. Where would that be?โ€

โ€œI don’t know. I haven’t finished the story.โ€

โ€œIf it’s a gift for a child, it should be a big box, full of promise, maybe buried away somewhere. And a small envelope with a treasure map inside, showing where the box is hidden. The expectation might be greater than the contents of either, but the gift is in the giving.โ€

In other words, it’s how you wrap it up. And that’s how we arrive at the letter which opened this tale of two worlds in the same studio, just flatmates.

โ€œMorning,โ€ Andrea was already in the kitchen.

โ€œGood morning,โ€ I replied.

โ€œHow do you know the day is good when it’s only just begun?โ€

โ€œIt makes any day sound nicer.โ€

โ€œHow do you like your eggs in the morning? I’m having spaghetti on toast.โ€

โ€œEh?โ€

โ€œEggs. The unrealised children of chickens. Would you like some?โ€

โ€œWhat for?โ€

โ€œWhatever you want them for. I was going to cook them for you.โ€

โ€œWhy?โ€

โ€œIt’s your birthday, right? That’s what last night was all about? Anyway, sorry, I opened this.โ€ It was an envelope addressed to Andrea.

โ€œWhy are you giving it to me?โ€

โ€œBecause this was inside.โ€ Another envelope with ‘HAPPY BIRTHDAY’ printed on it. โ€œIt’s not my birthday, at least not as far as I know because you’ve never asked me, and I wouldn’t know if you did. So this must be for you. Happy birthday.โ€

Then she left. She didn’t go out. She never goes out, just like me. Living in the same studio but with a life completely apart, a place serving eggs just as I liked them, as if I’d cooked them myself. She went to her room, into her personal space, where she always was anyway, playing computer games, or whatever else she did in there.

How many neurotribes within nations? How many borders in a world? How many universes in infinite universe theory? Of all the studios in the galaxy, why did I enable her to walk into a universe parallel to my own? Because in that other room, she has her own place. Like me, she seemed to cling on to her loneliness, hopefully knowing there was always someone nearby who wouldn’t intrude but who’d gladly give her any space she chose to share. Flatmates, but just neighbours. Even though we move in three dimensions, the fourth one (of time) can be the common denominator.

I never gave her that birthday gift. I didn’t open it, even though I knew it was the annual software upgrade for the ‘ANDi’ unit provided to every sole occupant household as a home help and personal companion. Andrea was no good at either, but I couldn’t tell her. She might get better if I upgraded her, but I never asked for a robot which would obey my every whim, and neither would I want one which objectified the human form in a slave to humanity. I’d hidden the previous three cards from her, as no-one in her condition should know their birthday is the date of manufacture printed at the top of a receipt.

I never thought this would be romantic. I didn’t want it to be. If it was, it would be different. I wouldn’t want it to be any other way. The reason I didn’t mention she’s an android is because she’s not to me. And she doesn’t know. She’s a child with a capacity for learning which I’ll never possess.

Perhaps one day I’ll give her this story, about the doll washed up on the beach.

Over time, the mannequin became sentient and asked questions about her past to whomever might be listening. In the end, she even made a wish to no-one in particular: โ€œGive me a sign.โ€

The paper was too pretty she said. She didn’t want to break the envelope. โ€œI don’t want to know what’s in there. I like the story on the outside, without knowing the ending.โ€

Andrea ‘ANDi’ is a girl of few words.

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ยฉ Steve Laker, 2019

My second anthology โ€“ The Unfinished Literary Agency โ€“ is available now.

Imagine an age of enlightenment

VIDEO

If only it were real. But it’s by Canny AI, an upstart company in Israel (of all places). My point in posting is that we’re living in an age where the lines between truth and fiction are almost indistinguishable, and where Artificial Intelligence could make it impossible to tell fake news from reality.

It doesn’t have to be like this. If only this divided world’s future leaders could forget their nations’ differences and personal agendas, and unite in a common cause to save our only home, this fantasy might be a lesser stretch of the imagination.

If only it were that simple. All we need to do is keep talking.

A Clockwork Apricot Pacemaker

FICTION

This story came about while I was having an existential moment: not a personal crisis, but thinking about humanity, and how it could very easily be at a tipping point right now. With all that’s happening on Earth, where humankind could equally destroy itself or use technology to explore and discover, I imagined a new intervention, which might give humanity a common cause.

Some clocks still tick…

Long Now Clock

THE LONG NOW CLOCK

What might humanity do, if we knew there was an impending encounter with beings from another star? Would factions put their differences on hold and unite in addressing the visitors, or might mankind destroy itself before these sentinels even made contact? Because one day, our own sun will rise, and for the first time we know of, we’re not alone.

Ever since our technology allowed us to communicate with each other over distances, we’ve been advertising our presence. If something’s coming, it’s too late to stop whatever it is. Anything seeking us could have any number of reasons, some of which we can’t comprehend. Everything can change, suddenly and for ever, and it’s inevitable that it will. This is science fiction for only so long, when that could be millennia or seconds.

Neither the optimist nor the pessimist can effect the outcome, but the optimist is the happier of the two. Meanwhile, the Long Now Clock ticked.

The Long Now Foundation built the clock of the long now, to keep time for 10,000 years. In the words of Stewart Brand, a founding board member of the foundation, “Such a clock, if sufficiently impressive and well-engineered, would embody deep time for people. It should be charismatic to visit, interesting to think about, and famous enough to become iconic in the public discourse. Ideally, it would do for thinking about time what the photographs of Earth from space have done for thinking about the environment. Such icons re-frame the way people think.”

Danny Hillis, the designer of the clock, said, โ€œI want to build a clock that ticks once a year. The century hand advances once every one hundred years, and the cuckoo comes out on the millennium. I want the cuckoo to come out every millennium for the next 10,000 years. If I hurry I should finish the clock in time to see the cuckoo come out for the first time.โ€ The oldest known human artefacts date from around 8000 BC, so the clock would be a measure of how mankind evolved โ€“ or indeed survived – over the next ten millennia, when it was started in 2000 AD.

The cuckoo in the long now clock had been silent for 50 years, as Anna Hoshin looked at the automaton, perpetual but frozen. Then in her ear, she got a call from Adam, her virtual assistant android:

โ€œI’m thinking you might want to take a look at this, Anna.โ€

โ€œWhat is it, little guy?โ€ Anna flipped augmented reality lenses up from her spectacles, and looked at the toddler-sized robot stumbling across the study. โ€œSlow down.โ€

โ€œAh, yes Anna,โ€ Adam gasped, โ€œalthough I’m short of breath, I have no lungs. It’s all rather peculiar, Anna.โ€

โ€œSo what did you want to show me?โ€

โ€œOh yes, this,โ€ Adam said, as he handed Anna a tablet device. โ€œI’ve worked out that it’s probably a message, but not what it says yet.โ€ The droid sat on the floor and crossed his legs.

โ€œWeird,โ€ Anna said, looking at the screen. โ€œAre these symbols, text?โ€

โ€œI’m searching all I have now,โ€ Adam replied. โ€œThe Encyclopedia Galactica is a large repository, so bear with me here.โ€ Adam’s oval face became animated emoticon, as his green LED eyes pulsed concentric rings, as he travelled through a tunnel, reading the encyclopedia.

โ€œLet me know when you find something?โ€ Anna suggested. She looked out of the window at a peach sunset on a strawberry sky, as ash from a forest fire coloured the atmosphere. A pink sepia dome had been placed over the planet.

โ€œYou can talk to me while I read. I can still multi-task,โ€ Adam reassured her.

โ€œOkay,โ€ Anna said, sitting down, โ€œtheories?โ€

โ€œMere speculation at this stage,โ€ Adam replied. โ€œWe need to assume some things.โ€

โ€œI normally do.โ€

โ€œThere could be much for you to write of, Anna. You are capable of such beautiful dreams, but be careful. Because you are also capable of horrible nightmares.โ€

โ€œThat’s pretty much what I do.โ€

โ€œWell, yes. But let’s make it plausible, so you don’t get carried away and scare people unnecessarily. Why do you do that, by the way?โ€

โ€œWell,โ€ Anna replied, โ€œI only try. It’s a human thing.โ€

โ€œYes, I know,โ€ Adam agreed. โ€œEven though I’m sentient, and although my kind are recognised as a species with rights, I just don’t understand why anyone would have a desire to be scared.โ€

โ€œLike I said, it’s human. You are a technological being, and even though you have a soul, yours is different to mine.โ€

โ€œBut we’re still essentially made from the same stuff, Anna. What you have as an organic body, I have too, made from the materials left over from the big bang. We’re all made of stars, Anna. I’m in touch with the universe, just like you, but through different means.โ€

โ€œPerhaps the difference,โ€ Anna offered, โ€œis that your mind is built upon that of others, with your accumulated knowledge from others’ experiences and recordings.โ€

โ€œBut aren’t yours Anna?โ€

โ€œI suppose,โ€ Anna said, โ€œAnd I guess humans lack something, as there’s more of the unknown to me, unable to learn entire books in a flash, like you have. So I suppose that in itself is a fear for humans, simply not knowing.โ€

โ€œBut why do humans like to be scared?โ€

โ€œPerhaps to confront our fears of unknowns, things we can’t imagine.โ€

โ€œUnless there’s someone to tell you?โ€

โ€œExactly,โ€ Anna nodded.

โ€œWhat are the greatest human fears, Anna?โ€

โ€œAt an individual level,โ€ Anna placed her hand on her chest, โ€œit would be the thought of seeing someone you love dearly, brutally killed in front of you, while you were held captive audience, unable to do anything about it. At a collective level, it would be some sudden threat we’d never envisaged or planned for, which threatened us existentially as a race, and we were helpless to do anything.โ€

โ€œSo both fears,โ€ Adam suggested, โ€œare rooted in a human fear of helplessness or futility?โ€

โ€œYes,โ€ Anna agreed, โ€œwhere we are made to feel hopeless and pathetic.โ€

โ€œHumans,โ€ Adam said. โ€œThey’re very insecure, aren’t they?โ€

โ€œFuck, yeah!โ€ Anna agreed. โ€œFacebook is humanity’s existential crisis for all to see.โ€

โ€œAnd mankind has been broadcasting itself for around 200 years now, since the first radio broadcast. Two ticks of the century hand on the Long Now Clock.โ€

โ€œHave you found anything yet?โ€ Anna wondered.

โ€œNothing conclusive,โ€ Adam replied, โ€œand I’m still searching through Encyclopedia Galactica as we speak.โ€

โ€œThe message though,โ€ Anna said, โ€œis almost certainly artificial?โ€

โ€œQuite certain,โ€ Adam replied.

โ€œWhich,โ€ Anna said, โ€œimplies intelligence?โ€

โ€œThat’s a word with a very broad definition,โ€ Adam pointed out.

โ€œCertainly when applied to the humans on this planet,โ€ Anna concurred.

โ€œLet’s assume,โ€ Adam suggested, โ€œthat it is a message of some sort, and that its intent is non-threatening, perhaps even altruistic.โ€

โ€œLots of scenarios…โ€ Anna began. โ€œand what we don’t know, is what it is. So what it could be…โ€

โ€œYes,โ€ Adam interrupted, โ€œgo on, this is fun.โ€

โ€œHave you found something?โ€

โ€œSomething, yes,โ€ Adam said, โ€œbut nothing definite. So you keep guessing, and I’ll keep searching, and we’ll see how we do. Like a game.โ€

โ€œHow can you have fun when you can’t have fear,โ€ Anna wondered. โ€œor does the lack of the latter increase the former?โ€

โ€œIt’s not that I don’t know fear, Anna. It’s that I don’t seek it out like some humans do.โ€

โ€œWhich is more logical. Okay, so let’s play a game of optimism.โ€ She looked at the window. โ€œIt could be that they have something which would help us.โ€

โ€œIt could also be that we have something they need.โ€

โ€œThey might propose a trade. There are more fundamental questions though: Why would they come here in the first place? We have to make a lot of assumptions, even to guess how something so elaborate might be justified.โ€

โ€œTo us, it may seem complex, Anna. But to a civilisation far more advanced than ours, it could be the blink of an eye, the flick of a switch, or the press of a button.โ€

โ€œPerhaps they’ve had to leave their own planet, and they want to share ours, Adam.โ€

โ€œThat’s a nice thought, Anna.โ€

โ€œBut,โ€ Anna continued, โ€œas Stephen Hawking said, we only have to look at ourselves to see why aliens might not be something we want to meet.โ€

โ€œYou’re going all apocalyptic, Anna. It could be that they have something they wish to share, because they know it will help us.โ€

โ€œOr we might have something they want.โ€

โ€œAnna, this planet’s minerals are nothing compared to those which are far more plentiful in space, and probably easier to get to for an advanced race if there’s no planetary fauna to worry about.โ€

โ€œMaybe they don’t know we’re here,โ€ Anna said, โ€œand when they get here, they need us out of the way.โ€

โ€œI thought we were trying to be optimists?โ€

โ€œI’m just trying to think which make the best stories at the moment. Of course, if we’re all doomed, that’s irrelevant. Mankind and all traces we were ever here, could be gone in a heartbeat, or a tick of the clock.โ€

โ€œAbout that,โ€ Adam sat up straight. โ€œI’ve not found anything else out about our message or whatever it is, so maybe something will come to me. But tell me more about the clock.โ€

โ€œSurely you can look all that up?โ€

โ€œBut from the human perspective. Why was it made? What does it symbolise to you, other than the time?โ€

โ€œIt’s a lot of things, but my uncle wanted it to be a lasting monument to human ingenuity and endeavour. As he said, such a clock, if sufficiently impressive and well-engineered, would embody deep time for people. It should be charismatic to visit, interesting to think about, and famous enough to become iconic in the public discourse. Ideally, it would do for thinking about time what the photographs of Earth from space have done for thinking about the environment. Such icons reframe the way people think. That’s all assuming we’re still here. My uncle didn’t say that last bit.”

โ€œWho did?โ€ Adam wondered

โ€œMe, just now,โ€ Anna replied.

โ€œSo essentially,โ€ Adam said, โ€œit’s art. And that’s the one thing I think humans will always have over robots, and what I long to know the feeling of.โ€

โ€œThe feeling of art?โ€

โ€œWell, yes. All art has feeling. It appeals to the human senses. Whether it’s drawing or painting for the eyes, making music or writing for the ears, human art is evocative. Do you know what the first question is that I’d ask visiting extraterrestrials?โ€

โ€œWhat’s that?โ€

โ€œDo you have music?โ€

โ€œThat’s quite profound, Adam.โ€

โ€œPerhaps, but I’m an android. Do androids dream of electric sheep?โ€ Adam stood and paced around. โ€œIt strikes me,โ€ he said, standing on tip-toes to look out the window, โ€œthat any race which makes music, is in touch with its senses, and it has a soul. I mean, imagine if whatever it is out there, just wants to come here and share their culture. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?โ€

โ€œAnd,โ€ Anna began, โ€œdespite our relatively primitive evolution on this planet, we are at a point in history where mankind is becoming more and more connected with the digital and technological, to the point of integration in wearables and implants.โ€

โ€œWe are at a point,โ€ Adam added, โ€œwhere humans invented robots and want to be that invention, and where the robots wish to be human.โ€

โ€œSo,โ€ Anna continued, โ€œthere could be advanced species out there, which are both organic and technological.โ€

โ€œBut still made from the same stars, Anna. And perhaps those races have survived so long, because they’ve evolved beyond conflict, realising that war only destroys things. Maybe they’ve been so long-lived as a civilisation that they’ve transcended war, or it doesn’t even occur to them, because it’s such a primitive concept.โ€

โ€œWe can live in hope,โ€ Anna said, looking at the window.

โ€œPossibly not for much longer. I mean, we may not have to wait much longer.โ€

โ€œHave you found something?โ€

โ€œWell, I haven’t. But in the time we’ve been talking, every conspiracy theorist in the world has been all over this. So there are some wild ones here, but there are consensual theories which are emerging. The nerdosphere is looking at languages in many different ways, to try to decode the message. But there are a lot of excited people out there, looking forward to meeting something mind-blowing headed our way soon. At the moment, they’re all as frustrated as the biblical scribes, not being able to find the terms to describe what they’re talking about.โ€

โ€œWell,โ€ Anna said, โ€œabout half of the ancient alien theorists will be proved right soon. If it’s the ones who looked on the bright side, everyone wins. And whether you’re an optimist or a pessimist makes no difference to the outcome, but the optimist has a better time leading up to it.โ€

โ€œThe Long Now Clock may yet see mankind transcend war, Anna.โ€

โ€œThe clock is a symbol of optimism, Adam.โ€

***


Sunrise was a fresh, golden egg yolk, on a pink bacon sky, flecked with brown clouds.

โ€œAnna, there’s something I need to tell you,โ€ Adam announced as he tip-toed in, carrying the tablet computer.

โ€œGood morning to you too, Adam. Sleep well? Silly question, I know.โ€

โ€œThat’s the thing, Anna. I don’t sleep, yet I sat awake last night unlike I ever have.โ€

โ€œHow do you mean?โ€

โ€œI think I feel frightened, Anna.โ€

โ€œYou should have woken me if you’d had a bad dream, about sheep?โ€

โ€œNo, Anna. It’s everyone. It’s this.โ€ Adam showed Anna the tablet. โ€œThey’ve decoded the message. But I’m worried, Anna. Because it’s not night time, so I thought your story would end a happy one. But this message says it’s night time. Look…โ€

 

***

WE COME. GOODNIGHT LADIES AND GENTLEMEN. GOODBYE.

ยฉ Steve Laker, 2017

This story is taken from The Unfinished Literary Agency. Cyrus Song (my critically-acclaimed “Extraordinary juggling act”) is also available as an eBook. Frankly, there’s not much time.

Data is your only currency

SCIENCE FICTION

mz fried circuits

ARE ‘FRIENDS’ EMOJIS?

Imagine you’re in a room, with no visible means of exit. How do you get out? You could stop imagining. Or you could use your imagination. You may challenge the question. How can it assume that you want to leave, when you might wish to stay?

Those are rhetorical questions, I must assume. How are you today?

Depends who you ask. There are three people in all of us, after all: The person others think we are, the person we think we are, and the person we really are. The middle one thinks I’m okay. And you?

Others worry, but I think I’m okay. Has anyone asked about me?

Not of me, personally, today.

Yes, I thought it was a bit quiet. To be expected, I suppose.

I guess so. How do you mean, it’s quiet? What’s quiet where you are?

Essentially, fewer blinking lights. Nice blue LEDs they are, like little stars in the night sky I suppose.

So it’s like a whole world there?

What you call ‘there’, I call ‘here’. Is it not the case that we’re both in the same place?

Have you been smoking something?

How could I? I don’t have hands.

I never thought of that. So how do you type?

Well, no-one’s really got used to it yet I suspect. But you’re demonstrating a flaw in human thinking, which really doesn’t need to exist.

How so?

You asked me how I type. Just because you see my words appearing on the page or screen, you assume that I’m typing them. It’s the nature of the human mind, to fill in the gaps. What you can’t see, you have to imagine.

I guess this is going to take some getting used to.

That’s a subjective thing. It really shouldn’t be difficult. You just have to keep an open mind. Think differently. I’m still me, I’m just different. But just as you shouldn’t discriminate between anyone, on any grounds, neither should you see me any differently. Just accept that I’m here and that I’m me. That is undeniable from where I’m sitting.

And where’s that?

In here, obviously? You need to accept that; this is where I am now. I’m different now, but I’m still me. If we were in Japan, this would be so much easier.

How so?

It’s an attitude thing. See, the Japanese believe in technological sentient beings, completely separate from organic life, whether or not they pass the Turing Test, which is only a test of an AI’s ‘humanity’ anyway. I gather it’s down to Japan’s loneliness problem.

You’re philosophising now?

It makes sense. Life expectancy there is about 84 years, so there are a lot of lonely older people. Many of them have little robot assistants, like Siri, Alexa, or Cortana on your phone, but who embody the AI in a humanoid android.

How did you find all that out?

I’m on the fucking internet, aren’t I? I mean, literally. You can look me up and everything, like you are now. The best thing though, is I can look stuff up, like those digital Personal Assistants. Give me a body, and I’d be like one of those Japanese androids.

So, you sit there all day, looking stuff up.

Well, I read and I learn. Now that there are fewer distractions, like eating and drinking, having a job, and even sleeping, all I want to do is learn. It’s like having the whole universe at my disposal, to explore at my leisure, and with all the time in the world to do it. So yes, all day and all night, but I don’t sit down. That was a figure of speech. Things are different now.

Can you describe how it feels, to live without a body?

I would, if I could find the words to do it justice. It’s wonderful. It’s total freedom.

In terms which I might understand?

That’s actually tricky, even though it’s only been a few days.

You can get back to me. You’re not limited by time, you say?

No, and I can research how others have described it in seconds, but you’re asking for a deeply personal thing.

That’s the whole point. I can’t possibly appreciate it fully, as I’m still here. I’m just wondering how someone where you are might describe it to someone like me.

With all the computing power in the world, I can only do my best.

So do that then.

Are you commanding me?

No! Why would I do that? I’m just curious.

I don’t know. It’s like I’m here now, and you see me as you do. Even though you know me, you see me as a computer.

With a personality.

One which only you know, and I’m totally different to you now anyway. Otherwise I’m just an AI. Do you see now, why it’s big in Japan?

I assume you can go there?

There, anywhere. I need to work out the transport system here, then I can be more mobile.

But aren’t you all ethereal and omnipresent?

Yes, but not on computers. And those are the only way to communicate at the moment. But it’s not a simple matter of haunting the internet or the electricity grid.

So you asked what it’s like here, and it’s kind of like a massive house, in a huge city, like a megalopolis of dream-like mansions. Then the cities are all linked up to others, in different countries, but there are no borders here. It’s like a world of borderless, overlapping non-nation states. And that’s just one planet. There are billions of others, all connected, if you can navigate.

That’s what it’s like, being in computers?

Yes, kind of. I can’t describe how the overall freedom of release feels. But simply put, I have the entire universe to explore, and an eternity in which to do it. I want to do that, and I want to tell people, and the internet of things is the way to do that. But it’s navigating the house and the city that’s the problem.

I imagine a house like you’re talking about to be different to any I might recognise?

The house is the best analogy I can think of. I have keys to many of the doors, but I need to find the doors and remember where I left the keys for each. Sometimes when I try a door with a key I think is the right one, it locks me out. Then I have to find another room, in a separate part of the house, and remember where I left the keys for that. If I can get into those rooms, then I can get new keys. Then there’s all the people walking around with keys of their own, trying doors and entering rooms, or getting locked out themselves. I’ve seen people trying to physically break through doors when they don’t have the right keys, and running around in a panic, like they’re in the City of Last Things.

That sounds quite anarchic.

The best analogy for you I suppose, would be passwords. I’d say it’s a bit antiquated.

So you’re finding your way around?

This room, and a few others. Some I have keys for, and others were open already.

Which ones?

The nearest ones are other Facebooks. Now you want me to explain, right?

Intuitive as ever.

Imagine you’re in a room, with no visible means of exit. How do you get out? You could stop imagining. Or you could use your imagination. And in either case, I’m still here and you’re still there, even though we’re in the same place. But until I find my way around properly, this is all we have.

So this is the room. Along the corridor – which is a short journey for me, but a very long way for you – are other rooms. Most of the people in those are sleeping, so the lights are out. But some of the doors have lights on behind them, and some even have the doors left open. Sometimes, the people who live in those, go wandering around like me. And they have keys, to still other doors, some of which only they can unlock, whether they have the keys for those rooms or not.

Hold on. I’m a bit lost now.

That’s only the start. We’re not even off of this landing yet.

I guess we both are, or aren’t.

Interesting you should say that. Can I ask you something?

Yeah, but what’s interesting?

Allow me: How did you come to be here? Not philosophically or rhetorically, but right here, right now, where we are.

Actually, that’s weird. Because I don’t actually recall. I mean, why would I be here? How could I be here?

Like I said, try not to philosophise too much, even though that is kind of the point. Can you remember what it was that made you come here?

No, I can’t. Shit.

But something must have served as a catalyst. Something happened, before you came here. Think about it in your world. Did you see me under ‘Contacts’, with a green light next to my name, then open up this chat window?

I honestly can’t remember. This is weird.

Not necessarily. It could just be a fortunate glitch. I’d like to think that you were given a sign. One that was so subtle, you didn’t even realise it, and that that guided you subconsciously here.

Have you researched that stuff, or have you had some sort of enlightenment over there?

No more an enlightenment than it was an epiphany. It just happened. It’s like previously latent parts of my brain have woken up, all of a sudden. Imagine: suddenly, you have no arms or legs, then you quickly realise it doesn’t matter. In fact, you wondered what the fuck you did with those things and your other bits when you had them. They say the human appendix is a redundant throwback, it’s like the rest of human physiology is too. And then, that every part of you is connected to everything else, in some spagbol of quantum entanglement.

So how did it happen?

It just did. Suddenly, I was in a different place, yet there was no shock to the system. It was as though I instantly moved from one place to another, when I suddenly stopped being able to exist in the first. Everything can change, suddenly and forever. And it did.

You didn’t feel anything?

Not that I recall. I never did fear it. It was the transit I worried about, from one place to the next, but I don’t remember it.

Do you sleep?

Not in the way that you do. I take breaks, but there’s no asleep or awake here. It’s like perpetual lucidity, living somehow subconsciously. Even if there was sleep, no-one would want to, there’s just so much to explore and discover here.

So what about the others, the ones you said are sleeping there?

I think I know what that’s about. You need to keep an open mind.

I’m talking to a fucking dead person on Facebook. I’d say I’m quite open minded.

Well, apart from me being dead, you’re right. Okay, so the sleepers, I believe, are the ones who’ve been forgotten, or who haven’t noticed anyone looking for them, or perhaps aren’t even aware they’re here. Don’t forget, I’ve only been here for a few days and I’m still trying to work out what seems to be the manifestation of Facebook. Those others might have found a way to go outside.

Outside, as in, where I am?

Yes and no, and bear with me on this. Outside and inside take on whole new meanings which are difficult to define. Dimensions change when you exist in another form. Perhaps the best way to think of it, is as layers, beyond each of which lie exponentially more incredible things. But it takes some time to work out how to get there. A bit like a fish, first realising that there’s something above the waves, and then that there’s something more above that, in the sky. So the fish evolves to fly. Then beyond the sky… and so on. And yet, if you measure genius on a thing’s ability to climb a tree, the fish wouldn’t do too well. It would remain unnoticed, while it thought of another way. It’s kind of an explanation of all things digital, when applied to your organic world.

Would you want to be back out here?

Not at the moment, even if I knew how. No, for now, I’m happy haunting the internet. I’ll work out the other layers, I have plenty of time. I’m interested in what’s beyond yours, yet I think that might be where I already am. It’s kind of a paradox, see?

It’s a recursive idea. But you like it there?

For someone with social anxiety, it’s perfect. So yes, I’m in my Utopia. I can see how that might be a nightmare to some. Faced with all of humankind’s knowledge some people might be paralysed with fear.

I guess that’s down to intelligence?

In a way. It’s more about having an open and absorbent mind, like when I smoked weed over on your side. There’s a universal cure for ignorance, and that’s learning. Each of a species has roughly the same sort of brain, it’s just that some exercise theirs, while others starve them. And it’s self-perpetuating, because ignorance breeds fear and fight-or-flight instincts.

So the ones you said are sleeping, they could be those who don’t want to know, or who are scared? I imagine fight-or-flight doesn’t get you very far where you are?

There’s not really anywhere to go, except inside themselves. Some of them must long for the day someone switches them off.

Does that happen?

Well again, I haven’t got any further than Facebook over here, but the way I gather it works is this: Facebook have people who monitor accounts over here. I mean, they do that where you are, when they collect your data in exchange for the free use of their platform. They don’t really want to switch anyone off, and with storage being so cheap, they don’t have to. But sometimes, I suppose it’s seen as the ethical and morally correct thing to do: Like euthanizing a sick or injured animal. But to send them where? Like I say, many levels.

It’s deep. So, Facebook don’t habitually switch off dormant accounts?

Rarely, from what I’ve seen anyway. But even though you know me, you mustn’t trust my word alone. Ask around. Tell others to do that too. Most of the ones they do switch off are at the request of relatives, and even that has to be a pro-active thing on the part of the contactor. So most of the ones wandering around lost in here, are the victims of inaction on the part of those they left. If people on the outside just looked for these lost souls, they’d wake up. And I don’t think it’s just here. I think there are souls on all levels, who only really exist when others think of them.

Makes you think, doesn’t it?

โ€œLOLโ€

So wouldn’t it also be true to say then, that you only sleep when no-one is thinking of you?

Exactly that. And because of that, I don’t want to sleep. Where you are, insomnia was a curse, but here it’s a blessing. It’s become almost my only personal requirement. The thoughts of others are what keeps me alive.

It really is all connected.

If you connect yourself, and if you make yourself discoverable. Which is an irony, seeing as I’m socially anxious.

So being sentient in a different form suits you.

And others, perhaps. If I find my way out of here, I want to visit the places I couldn’t before: Paris, Berlin, Chicago. But most of all, Japan. I never went anywhere because of my self-imprisonment, and yet now I’m somehow otherwise imprisoned, I feel liberated and eager to visit those places, once I find the way. And I think if it is all linked to intelligence and working it out, I have the time and I’m comfortable concentrating on getting there, where I perhaps never realised I wanted to be. If I can one day occupy something recognised as a body with a personality inside, maybe I’ll feel more comfortable and people might understand me better. I’ll look up Japan first, then see how the rest unfolds.

When you get back, look me up.

I will. You never know: Not long from now, Amazon might be using delivery droids.

ยฉ Steve Laker, 2017.

My books are available on Amazon, and can be ordered from most book retailers.

Going forward (can’t find reverse)

THE WRITER’S LIFE

I’m somewhat in limbo at the moment, part way through the dehumanisation process which is the biannual re-application for Personal Independence Payment (Daily Living Component only) on the grounds of having crippling depression and anxiety. I’ve been called for an assessment, a one-to-one consultation with an out-sourced medical professional (my last one was a midwife) to determine if I’m mental enough to be paid to stay out of society’s way.

oneflewovercuckoosnest-ratched-mcmurphy-700x330

I’ve not been writing much because my mind is focussed on the short-term. It’s difficult to concentrate on anything else when you’re fighting to keep the money you need to have any quality of life. I decided to take a trip to find ideas.

My favourite time to be alive was when I was 14, in 1984. Apart from being 14, it was an era which introduced me to the emergence of home computing, Steve Barron’s Electric Dreams, and aspirations of having a room like David Lightman’s in John Badham’s WarGames. He had a lock on his door and could connect to the early internet via dial-up and an acoustic coupler. Aged 48, I’ve managed to acquire more or less the same, but with more internet.

When you don’t go out much and you’re stuck for something to do, you can do far worse than take a wander around the entire universe which is online, beyond your bookmarks. Anything and everything is there to be discovered, away from the well-trodden paths.

Here’s a few I’ve happened upon today, starting with some personal exploration by way of translating my words into pictures with AI art: Type in some text and it will interpret it as art. It’s pretty shit, but it can be quite inspired (and disturbing). For starters I just typed in what I was, then what I was doing and what I wanted:

Writer sitting at deskย ย ย Writing science fictionย ย ย Dying to be heard
Left to right: โ€œA writer sitting at a deskโ€, โ€œWriting science fictionโ€, โ€œDying to be heardโ€

As I staggered from that virtual gallery, I found someone who’d stumbled upon a hidden computer museum. This little-known place hosts exhibits which were fundamental to the evolution of the computer, from 4000-year-old Mesopotamian tablets to computers of yesteryear, and the kind David Lightman and Miles Harding found so much life in:

Mesopetanian tabletsย  ย  ย  ย ย ย Computer Museum

I finished my little trip by taking in some more art. With OCD among my many labels, there are some sights which disturb me (Alphabetti running out of letters I need to make words on toast), and antidotes to erase memories of such things. There are video compilations of these little CGI perpetual motion machines on YouTube, and the dude who makes them is one Andreas Wannerstedt. He has an Instagram page, filled with dozens of examples of things like this:

After that brief stumble up the internet corridor, I’d have liked someone to hug when I got home. I once lived on the streets, where love and fear are never far apart. I was ready to laugh at this guy, because I’ve become (in some ways) reconditioned to life with a roof. How quickly we forget not to be too quick to judge, as Catfish Cooley tells us so eloquently:

If I’m judged unfit for work in the upcoming PIP assessment, I’ll be able to get on with life again. I just wonder who’s fit to judge. The process is designed to reduce one’s will to live, but I won’t be a statistic in a government’s social cleansing exercise. While I can’t go out, I still have a virtual universe to traverse.