“If only my brain didn’t need my body. Were it not for that dependency, I’d be free to not eat, sleep or toilet…”
So a species laments, as it becomes one with the technology it made for projection, but which quickly became protection. In an age connected by communications media, the human world grows ever bigger as we no longer phone anyone randomly, but message them to ask if it’s okay to call.
We’re happier to share our life stories with AI in data than we are to have intimate conversations with our friends.
I wrote a short story about what happens to social media accounts when they die; how we’re awakened from digital sleep when someone thinks of us; and how we might one day use that to communicate beyond the great divides we’re creating as a connected society.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
© Steve Laker, 2017.
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