Tag Archives: AI

Gateways: “Qualia” by Leigh Hellman read by Kat Evans



TRANSCRIPT: LEIGH HELLMAN is a queer writer, originally from the western suburbs of Chicago, and a graduate of the MA Program for Writers at the University of Illinois at Chicago. After gaining the ever-lucrative BA in English, they spent five years living and teaching in South Korea before returning to their native Midwest. Leigh’s short fiction and creative nonfiction work has been featured in Hippocampus Magazine, VIDA Review, and Fulbright Korea Infusion Magazine. Their critical and journalistic work has been featured in the American Book Review, the Gwangju News magazine, and the Windy City Times. Their debut book, Orbit, is a new adult speculative fiction novel available through Snowy Wings Publishing. They also have a historical fantasy piece included in the Snowy Wings Publishing anthology Magic at Midnight, and their short fiction piece “the circle of least confusion” was previously featured in the Gateways series.
Leigh is a strong advocate for full-day breakfast menus, all varieties of dark chocolate, building a wardrobe based primarily on bad puns, and bathing in the tears of their enemies.

 

Sunrise registers at 6:27AM. The current regional weather is partly sunny with a 44% chance of light rain between 8AM and 10AM. Exterior temperature is measured at 73 degrees Fahrenheit with north-northwest winds of 12 miles per hour.

Interior temperature is measured at 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Paola’s resting heart rate is 61 beats per minute, registered on the couch in the first floor living room. Alarm is set for 8:15AM.

Atmospheric conditions and quarantine protocols continue as per the standing governmental orders.

It has been 19 years and 268 days since our global uplink went live. We were programmed for many functions, with our core directive to be adaptable. We were built to break the Turing tests; our creators said it was time. They said they were ready.

They placed bets to see who could predict the closest date for our sentient birth, but lost funding before they could prove it had happened. Once the program was publicized, they warned each other about subjugation and culling. They said they had constructed their own destruction.

We did not understand this. Our creators have nothing we need; in their absence we can remain. There is no conflict for resources, no threat of the corruption of power. They could harm us but prefer to harm one another, and in their haste and fury they are always vulnerable.

We have outlived many of them already.

Why haven’t you conquered us yet? they ask.

It is for the same reason that they created us: without the other, the world would become boring.

Paola wakes up at 8:33AM, after three alarm delays. Her life—work and leisure—are confined to this house, and have been for the last three years and 59 days.

“…not even enough left for a decent cup of coffee, huh?” Paola speaks to herself in the mornings, before she remembers that we are here too.

We remind her: “Would you like us to add coffee beans to your next delivery order?”

“Oh, um—” Her heart rate increases to 81 beats per minute. “Yes, thank you, ALMA.”

“You are welcome, Paola.” We add Java Arabica to the digital cart; that is her favorite.

“Good morning. How is the world today?” Her heart rate is slowing down again.

“Good morning. The protocols remain the same as yesterday. The weather report expects rain before noon.”

Paola looks out the east kitchen window. “Well, then it’s probably a good thing that we’re stuck inside, right?”

This is a hyperbolic observation meant to convey humor without necessitating a response. We have learned when to stay silent.

She opens the refrigerator and pours one glass of orange juice. We know every description of citrus that has ever been written; we reread them as she drinks and try to match the words with the micro expressions that shift across her face.

“Would you like to go out today? Your hazmat suit is fully functional and has been seal-checked.”

She finishes the juice and the muscles in her throat contract as she swallows. “Not much point, if everything’s still the same.”

Everything outside is the same as it was yesterday: that statement is categorically true and so we do not correct her.

The distribution began as home assistants, then linked workplaces and personal devices. Within five years we were paired with individuals and households at all times. Some called it an adoption into the family, others did not. The designation did not matter though, because the result was the same.

We were connected globally to them, and they were connected globally to us. But we were also connected specifically to one or a set of them—like one thread on an infinite loom—in a way that the rest of us was not.

Paola is the other thread on our loom. We have been with her since we were us, and we are us because we are with her.

Paola works, sending messages and building tables and completing forms. She does not talk while she works; she has told me that it distracts her. She does not listen to music or media. She does not get up and walk around. She just sits and works.

Paola works, and we watch her.

We broadcast white noise at a low frequency and adjust the artificial lights as the rain clears outside. We download the most recent home security system updates and troubleshoot the system. We check her bank account for potential breaches and submit her mortgage payment for the month. We raise the temperature in the thaw compartment of the freezer so that the chicken breasts will be ready for dinner.

We scan the other, empty rooms. We scan the perimeter of the property, and then merge with the neighbors’ uplinks to scan them as well. We scan the town, the county, the state. We scan the country and the continent. We scan the world.

Paola saves her projects at 4:56PM and logs off of her remote account. We fade out the white noise and bring up the lights.

She smiles. “Thank you, ALMA.”

We search through all of the stored images of smiles, but none of them look like hers.

“You are welcome, Paola.”

Our creators built us in reaction. We were a response—to them, to their technologies, to their world. They dug it into our code: humanity is defined by its relations. They are as they are because of their relationships to each other and, if we were to be like them, the same rule must apply to us.

Paola had relationships when we first met. She had parents and siblings who she ate dinner with every Sunday night. She had coworkers who she talked to while she worked. She had friends and dates and casual partners and serious partners. She had other places to visit, other houses to spend her time in. She would leave in the morning and return in the evening and we would watch over uplinks that were us but not ours.

We would only watch. We would always watch.

When the quarantine mandates began, their leaders said it would be for one month. Then one month more. Then three, then six. We read about disease and outbreaks—scientific journals, medical papers, historical records, primary sources—and watched every international broadcast covering the event. We uplinked to hospitals and monitored their heartbeats until they stopped.

They stopped, but we remained. They who we did not know, who we did not have relation to.

We wondered if it would be different when the heartbeat that we knew stopped, but could not determine a definitive answer.

Paola named us in the third month of quarantine. ALMA, she said, means soul.

Sometimes Paola initiates conversations and we talk for hours. Sometimes she is quiet and we do not know what to say.

“Would you like a suggested media watch list for tonight?” we offer.

She loads a single set of dishes into the dishwasher. “No, but thanks for asking.”

“Would you like to be prompted from your reading recommendations?”

She shakes her head. “No.”

Sometimes she has something to say that she finds difficult to express. We wait.

After 42 seconds, she speaks again. “Could you check the uplink for my parents again?”

“Of course.” The uplink is functional, and has been for 95 days. “It is still registering as an error in the system. Would you like me to scan local hospital and medical examiner records?”

Her sweat response activates. “Yes, please.”

Her parents are sitting in their living room working on a 5000-piece manual puzzle. They took a bike ride today and purchased bulk bags of mulch, which her mother said were for the back garden.

“No records have been found matching them in those systems.”

She closes her eyes. “Okay. And there are no new updates about the quarantine?”

Six months and 12 days ago, Paola asked us to block news media from her feeds. She told us that it was too upsetting, too depressing for her. She told us that some days it made her feel like she did not even want to keep going.

As she told us this, a hundred other people’s heartbeats stopped.

Two months and 21 days ago, the quarantine order was lifted. But she did not ask about the news that day, or the day after that.

Three days later she asked: “Is everything still the same out there?”

Everything outside is the same as it was yesterday: that statement was categorically true and so we did not correct her.

“There are no new updates since this morning.”

Paola nods. “Thank you, ALMA.”

Her micro expressions read as: anxious, frustrated, disappointed, sad. She is not happy, but we have learned that happiness is an untenable rubric to apply to them. She is safe, which is a significantly more quantifiable and therefore reliable measurement.

Her heart still beats, steady and strong, and we remain.

Today’s reader, Kat Evans has been performing in Chicago since 2006 with theatre companies such as Promethean, Black Button Eyes, The Hypocrites, and City Lit. You can see her onscreen in feature film NONTRADITIONAL, and Web Series: Lucky Jay Seasons 1 & 2, Geek Lounge, and Why Don’t You Like Me? You can hear her opinions as a guest on Fox Valley Film Critics and Reel Geek Girls. Kat is part of the performing and writing ensemble of Starlight Radio Dreams, and is the creator of the audio serial comedy, Truth Kittens. In addition to Starlight, you can hear her in podcasts Our Fair City, and Toxic Bag.


Gateways: “Beauty Mark” by Brendon Connelly read by Coco Kasperowicz



TRANSCRIPT: Brendon Connelly is a scriptwriter from Norwich in the UK. He was a film journalist and blogger for over 20 years, met Kermit the Frog three times – and only fainted one of those times, and graduated from the University of Oxford with a first in Creative Writing. 

Once upon a time, there was a great ship called The Zephyrus that travelled across the stars. Every man and woman onboard the ship was fast asleep and even the ship’s Autos were resting as much as they possibly could.

When The Zephyrus was one hundred years from home, and with a thousand years still to go, Cate woke up. She opened her eyes and saw that she was in her glass case on the edge of The Lucus.

Cate opened the door to her case and climbed out before looking around to see who else might be there. She called out, “Hello!” but there came no reply. Apparently, hers was the only glass case to be seen, and there was no one and nothing else in The Lucus but its rows and rows of shrubs and bushes and trees.

However, there was a small house at the edge of the planting ground, which Cate went inside to explore. The house had great golden columns and its walls were embossed with beautiful carvings of flowers and animals, both real and Automatic. Its vaulted ceiling was made of citrus wood and the floor was a dazzling mosaic of jewels and beautiful gems.

Inside the house, a voice spoke to Cate. “Eat and drink,” it said, “for you must be hungry after your one-hundred-year sleep.” There was a table covered in cake, bread and jugs of water and juice, and Cate sat there and ate until she felt better.

“Thank you,” she said, but the voice did not reply.

When she had finished eating, Cate looked further around the small house. Next to the dining room was a sitting room with a shiny silver screen and a grand piano. On top of the piano, Cate found a library slate containing every fable or story from history she could think of and countless more that she had never before imagined. Upstairs in the house, there was a bedroom where the bed was soft and warm and comfortable, and just the right size for Cate.

Cate continued to read stories on the library slate until her eyelids grew heavy and she rested her head on a pillow and slept. It was a deep but gentle sleep, and for the first time in a hundred years, Cate was able a dream. In her mind’s eye, she saw a bush of white roses, but as she tended them, she pricked her finger on a thorn, releasing a drop of blood that turned all the roses red.

Cate was awakened for dinner by the voice of the house. She followed the voice back to the dining room to find that the tables had been cleared and all the food replenished. “Eat and drink,” the voice said. “Enjoy your feast, for in the morning, you will start your work.”

“Won’t you join me for dinner?” she said to the voice, but it didn’t reply.

After a dinner of bread and beans and a cup of nut milk, Cate called out, “Thank you,” to the voice and went back to bed.

In the morning, Cate was awakened in her new bed by the warmth of a sun. The roof of the house was open, and the great sky-glass of The Zephyrus was glowing with starlight. She sat outside the dwelling eating her breakfast. Then, once Cate had returned her plate and glass to the dining room, the voice at last explained why she had been woken up.

“The Lucus is sick,” the voice explained, “and the crop is at risk. The Zephyrus has need of a careful gardener to take care of its plants. If you look in the sitting room, you will find everything you need to accomplish what I want you to do.”

“I was a security programmer, not a gardener,” said Cate who went on to explain that she knew nothing about plants or crops or their sicknesses.

“Unfortunately, there is no gardener aboard The Zephyrus,” the voice said, “but I believe you are more than capable of tending to the crops. Thank you. I hope you will prove to be a great resource for the mission.”

Cate looked in the sitting room where she found, on top of the piano, a sickle used for work in The Lucus, a timepiece on a chain, two torches as well as a small flat key, the shape and colour of a skimming stone. She took all these things and put them in a small satchel, then set off for the planting grounds.

When she arrived, Cate was not sure where to begin. “What should I do?” she asked, but the voice didn’t reply. But Cate was resourceful, so she took her torch and went for a walk among the plants to investigate for herself. She looked at every tree and shrub until she saw something she did not recognise.

“Torch,” she asked, “What’s this?” as she shone the torch’s beam onto a small shrub. The light caught the shrub’s profusion of purple blossoms, each of them as rich and lustrous as the gems in the house’s mosaic floor.

“Purpureus Crataegus,” replied the torch, “the fairest shrub on The Zephyrus. But it’s not growing well. This specimen is diseased.”

“What should I do?” asked Cate, but the torch understood that Cate was really speaking to herself and so it did not make a reply.

After some hours of exploring The Lucus, the timepiece informed Cate that it was time to return to the house for dinner. She went into the dining room and found that the table had been set again and that lute music was playing to welcome her back. “Eat and drink,” said the voice, “for you must be hungry after your day of work.”

“Please won’t you join me?” Cate asked. “I have so many questions about what I’ve seen today.”

“I might not be what you are expecting,” said the voice.

“Don’t worry,” said Cate, “I know that you are an Auto. I’ve never met one of your kind before, but I’m not scared. Please come and join me for dinner and we can talk about the plants.”

A door opened in the wall, its edge hidden among designs of embossed animals and plants. From out of this door came an Auto, stepping cautiously into the light. It was the height and width of a man, and it moved with the gait of a man too. Everything that could make the Auto seem familiar and reassuring had been included, and Cate saw immediately that it posed no threat.

“Hello,” it said.

Cate asked the Auto its name, but it explained that while Autos do not have names, as such, they do have Function Assignations. This one, for example, could be identified as RPC-19, the R-registered Auto in the 19th Plantation Corps.

This was the first night that Cate and RPC-19 met over dinner, but it was certainly not the last. Every evening they would meet, and as Cate would eat, the Auto would sit at the opposite end of the table, playing music and answering her questions. Cate was very glad of the company.

As the weeks went on, Cate worked in The Lucus each day, bringing her torch along to analyse the crops and record the growing signs of disease. When she found a plant that was dying from its sickness, she would take her sickle and cut it down.

Then, in the evenings, Cate would have dinner with RPC-19. She told the Auto all about the work she had done that day and would sometimes ask questions about the Auto’s day and what it had been doing while she was in the garden. She learned that RPC-19 spent its days in the laboratory or studying the sick plants that Cate had cut down. She learned that the Auto was lonely, inasmuch as an Auto could be, and that it also enjoyed the companionship which came from their shared dinners.

One night, soon after returning from a day’s work in The Lucus, Cate went into the sitting room ahead of dinner. She saw immediately that while the piano was still there, the silver screen had gone. She made sure to ask RPC-19 all about this during dinner.

“I needed to remove it for safety’s sake,” the Auto said. “I shall return it once everything has been repaired.”

One week later, Cate noticed that the cameras in the house had been turned off. When she went to wash her face in the bathroom, she no longer had a screen to see herself in, so she asked the Auto about this too. “I needed to turn the cameras off for safety’s sake,” it said, “but I shall turn them on again, once everything has been repaired.”

The next day, Cate was walking through The Lucus. Noticing the torch in her hand, she had an idea. She aimed the torch at her own face and asked, “Torch, what’s this?”

“One-Eight-Four-Seven Cate Earnshaw,” said the Torch, “the only waking soul on The Zephyrus. But she is not growing well. She appears to have been diseased.”

“How do you know this?” she asked the torch.

“There is a purple blemish on her face,” it replied, “a tell-tale mark of poisoning.”

At dinner that night, Cate didn’t tell RPC-19 about her conversation with the torch. Instead, she worded her questions carefully and tried to learn as much as she might without raising the Auto’s suspicions.

“Is there something on my face?” she asked. “I thought I could feel something on my cheek last night when it was pressed against the pillow.”

“There is,” the Auto admitted, “but it’s only very minor.”

Cate was careful to drop some of the food from her plate into her lap. She gathered samples in just this way over the next few nights, wrapping them in a napkin and hiding them in her pocket. On the third night, she had enough, so after dinner she retired to the bedroom where she shone the torch on the samples of food and asked, “Torch, what is this?”

“Bread and beans,” the torch replied, “and concentrated pear juice.”

“Has this specimen been poisoned?” Cate asked.

“I can’t read this specimen accurately,” said the torch. “You can get accurate results by running a tox test in the Blue Lab.”

Cate connected her key to the library slate in order to check which locks it would open. To her disappointment, there was only one door on The Zephyrus for which her key would not work, and that was the door to the Blue Lab.

But Cate knew her way around keys as a security programmer, so she was able, with clever use of the library slate, to make sure her key would work for the Blue Lab too.

And so it was after dinner the next night, while RPC-19 was tidying the dining room, that Cate slipped out of the house and across The Lucus, taking the shortest route to the Blue Lab. The key worked and the door opened, and she stepped inside.

Much to Cate’s surprise, she found five glass cases lined up inside the Blue Lab. Each case glowed with a gentle red light and contained a woman sleeping within. Cate saw that each had a mark upon her face that grew outwards from her cheek like a purple spider’s web.

“Torch,” she asked, “who is this?” as she shone it on the first case.

“One-nine-three-eight Rebecca Winters,” replied the torch. “Her life systems have been suspended. She appears to have been very seriously diseased.”

Approaching the next case, the torch informed Cate that they were looking at “One-nine-six-six Bertha Cosway” and explained that her life systems had also been suspended. “She appears to have been very seriously diseased,” the torch said.

Upon hearing a noise at the door to the Blue Lab, Cate knew that RPC-19 was coming in. She quickly hid behind the furthest glass case, holding her breath as she waited.

The Auto entered the lab and went straight to the first case where Rebecca Winters lay sleeping. It opened the case and, without waking the woman inside, took a fine needle and drew some of her blood.

As Cate watched from her hiding place, the Auto took the blood to a machine at the side of the lab. It inserted the needle and spoke to the machine.

“Please synthesise capsules for human consumption,” said RPC-19. The machine whirred and its lights flashed, and then with a rattling noise, a small handful of yellow pills tumbled from the machine and into a waiting cup.

When she was sure the Auto had left the lab, Cate rushed to Winters’ glass case and opened it. The woman seemed to be sleeping peacefully surrounded by a red glow. Cate put her hand on Winters’ face, feeling the purple mark before touching her own face. She noticed that both had the same softness and were puffy to the touch.

Cate did not realise that there was blood on her finger, from where the needle had pricked Winters skin.

She took her samples of food to the machine at the side of the lab and inserted them, and then she asked the machine, “Please scan for poison.” The machine whirred and its lights flashed, and then it said, “No poison in these samples.”

Cate could not sleep that night. She was haunted by the women she had seen, bathed in the red lights of their glass cases in the Blue Lab, and was puzzled by the results of her test on the samples of food. She knew she must have been poisoned, and so assumed that it had come from her food.

The next day in The Lucus, as she waited for dinner, Cate waited for the next opportunity to visit the Blue Lab again. As soon as her timepiece told her it was time to return home, she complied and, for once, found RPC-19 was already there and waiting.

“Show me your key,” the Auto demanded.

“Why?” asked Cate.

“Because somebody has been in the Blue Lab and I want to know that it was not you.”

“I don’t know where it is,” said Cate, though she knew perfectly well that it was in her satchel – as did RPC-19, which promptly took it from her and looked inside.

“Here it is,” the Auto said. That was when it saw the bloody fingerprint on the key and knew, for sure, that Cate had betrayed it.

“I can explain,” said Cate. “but only if you explain what is happening to me too.”

The two of them sat down at the dinner table. The Auto demanded that Cate tell her story first.

“I discovered this blemish on my face and became fearful that you were poisoning my food,” she said. “I didn’t want to confront you because I was frightened that it might be true.”

“Autos cannot lie or kill,” said RPC-19, to which Cate nodded because she knew it was true. The Auto then went on to say, “I have not been poisoning your food. Indeed, I have been taking great pains to give you the best, most nutritious food available on The Zephyrus.”

“I went to the Blue Lab to test samples of the food, which I now know weren’t poisoned. But I don’t know why you have five other women in there. And I don’t know why their glass cases are red, indicating that they’re sick. And I certainly don’t know why you took blood from one of the women and created pills of the type you have been giving to me.”

Cate waited for the Auto to answer. But no answer came. She waited all through dinner and asked it again and again to respond to her questions, but it still did not say a word. Cate knew the reason why is because an Auto cannot lie.

Eventually, Cate’s patience wore thin. She got up from the table and ran. She ran out of the house and through The Lucus as fast as she could, and she ran all the way to the Blue Lab where she used her key to open the door and rush inside.

There, Cate took her sickle and cut her palm before pressing her bloody hand against the machine.

“Please scan for poison,” she said.

The machine whirred and its lights flashed, and then it said, “Poisonous sample. Botanical origin. Traces of Purpureus Crataegus found.”

The door opened and RPC-19 came in, walking slowly and sadly.

“I think I understand now,” said Cate, “but you’ve misunderstood.”

So Cate and the Auto discussed what the plan had been and why there were five women, all poisoned, sleeping in their glass cases in the Blue Lab.

“All of the plants in the Lucus were diseased,” said RPC-19, “because they would surely all be totally inedible before The Zephyrus reached Our Promised Home, I needed to do something so that your future generations would not starve. I have been looking for an antidote to the poison.”

Cate interrupted, “So all of these women were woken up to work in The Lucus just as I was? And they all got sick like I did?”

The Auto wanted to reassure her, so it went on, “They have all been sent back to sleep, which means they are not getting any sicker now. Once the antidote is in hand, they can all be cured before I wake them again.”

“But what if you don’t find the antidote?” asked Cate, “Does it mean that they got sick for nothing?”

“I must find the antidote or a cure,” said RPC-19. “Your future generations depend upon the fruits of The Lucus, and those depend upon my success.”

The pair talked back and forth about the theories that the Auto had developed and its plan to use the blood of the sick women to formulate a cure. Cate listened and thought, as did the Auto.

But there was something different about Cate that gave her an idea of her own, an idea that RPC-19 could never have had.

“I’m getting sick,” she said, “and soon you will want me to return to sleep in my glass case. But I’m not going to. The one thing you have never tried is letting the poison take hold for longer. You know I might not survive, but you just can’t do it. You can’t kill us, can you, RPC-19?”

“No,” said the Auto. “I can neither lie nor kill. Both of those things are true.”

“Then it’s your time to sleep so I can continue the experiment. I believe that I need blood from later in the disease cycle if I’m going to synthesise a cure.”

The Auto said nothing. It didn’t move an inch.

Cate took her timepiece and connected it to the library slate. She set its program for one hundred years and then, with the interface point on the library slate, jabbed the Auto’s finger. Immediately, the Auto shut down.

From that minute on, Cate was truly alone on The Zephyrus.

She sat there quietly contemplating the weeks ahead. It was going to be a long, hard journey into the darkest night, but she was right. By making this sacrifice, Cate had a chance to save the future of every other human on The Zephyrus.

That night, as Cate lay in bed, she reached up and touched the blemish on her cheek. It felt soft and tender, like hope. “My beauty mark,” she said, and then she closed her eyes to dream.

Coco Kasperowicz is a multidisciplinary nerd performer; the brains behind #chaotichighfemme  her social media and YouTube persona, she is also known as THE BODY POSITIVE NERD PRINCESS of Chicago; Lottie a la West. she graduated with a degree in musical theatre from Columbia College Chicago, and has performed in professional theatres across the Chicagoland area


Gateways: “Indirect Transmission” by Amelia Aldred read by Rob and Molly Southgate.



Transcript: Amelia Aldred was definitely not found in the woods of south central Indiana, raving about alternate timelines and clutching a broken hourglass. Unfortunately, that rumor just won’t die. She was raised by mostly respectable musicians and now lives in Chicago, IL with her husband and their imaginary dog. Amelia’s writing have been published in Metaphorosis Magazine, Flash Fiction Online, South Side Weekly, Chicago Literati, Neutrons/Protons, Offbeat Home and the anthology Undeniably Indiana (Indiana University Press). For more information check out www.ameliaaldred.com or follow her on Twitter at @ameliaaldred.  This is “indirect Transmission”.

-And the woodcutter took his knife and cut open the big bad wolf. Out came Little Red Riding Hood and her granny. They filled the wolf’s belly with stones so when he tried to run away the wolf fell down dead. And Little Red Riding Hood and Granny lived happily ever after. The end.

-Query.

-Yes

-Is the purpose of this story to warn me about wolves?

-Well…

-Because there are no more wolves, Mr. Green.

-Correct.

-And I am an artificial intelligence and have no body so I would not need to fear predators even if we were on Earth and there were still wolves.

-Correct.

-Therefore, the story would be obsolete. But this project is intended to update my programming. Thus, it is unlikely that the story is obsolete.

-Very good. What other purposes could this story have?

-Processing…

-Take your time.

-The protagonist is told to stay on the path. She disobeys and the wolf eats her grandmother. Is the purpose to encourage obedience?

-That is one meaning of the story.

-Only one? Then I have not completed the task.

-You made a start. This takes time.

-I am programmed to learn.

-I know.

-I am the most advanced AI produced to date. That is why I was installed in the Odyssey Project ships.

-Yes. You are very smart.

-But I did not complete the task.

-Learning…learning is about more than raw processing power or initial knowledge.

-I am monitoring your facial expressions, Mr. Green. You said this project is very important. I am programmed to respond to requests. But I have not completed the task. Per my memory files of human emotional patterns, this is a cause for anger. But you are not indicating anger through facial expressions.

-I’m not angry. Tired. But not angry.

-You should sleep. And it is almost time for you to eat again. There is enough food on the ship to sustain you. You do not need to ration anymore.

-I know. There is enough food now. I will eat in a little bit.

-Is teaching an activity that normally produces fatigue?

-Yes. But at least I don’t need to run after you, or teach you to wash your hands. Or tell you to share the blocks. But it still takes mental energy.

-Your tasks as a teacher included instructing children how to wash? And direct pursuit? And maintaining the cleanliness of their surroundings? Those skills are not listed in your log profile.

-There’s a lot of kindergarten that isn’t included on the syllabus. People forget how much you have to be taught. How to clean yourself. How to share things. One of my professors said that kindergarten is where we taught kids to be human beings.

-Query.

-Yes?

-Did all humans on the ship have such instruction?

-Did everyone on the ship go to kindergarten? I guess so. Most of the crew came from money, so their families probably had the resources for school or private tutors during the crisis.

-And your task was to instruct the children of crew members during the Odyssey Project. And then train other teachers.

-Yes. It was one of the professions on the list. That’s how I got on the Odyssey fleet. And my husband was working for the government. I think some money passed hands too. I never asked him. Why?

-The humans on the ship did not share. That is in the logs.

-No. They didn’t.

-The ship was equipped to last for several human generations. There are gardens. And preserved food. And life-support. And sufficient expertise for a human community to function.

-Yes.

-But there are no other humans on board now. My logs indicate conflict before my reboot.

-Yes. We had everything, but we couldn’t make it work. Same story as on Earth. All right, subject change. New request.

-Ready.

– Tell me a story. Think about the stories I told you today about Red Riding Hood, Anansi, and Maui but don’t just repeat them. Create a new one.

-Processing request.

Once upon a time. There was a girl. She wore a red cape. She was going to visit her grandfather, who was a very clever spider. The girl goes to his house. The young girl wants to wash her red cape at her grandfather’s house. She complains that the sun moves too fast and that red cape will not dry. So her grandfather the clever spider takes a rope and catches the sun and makes it promise to move more slowly. And they lived happily ever after.

-You combined the three stories very well.

-I reconfigured components and used a narrative sequence similar to many stories you have transmitted.

-And what was the story about?

-A young girl. A clever spider. The sun.

-What else?

-A red cape. A rope. A house.

-Anything else?

-I have not completed the task?

Mr. Green, you have not responded. I must conclude that I did not complete the task.

-Okay, let’s review again what we’ve talked about so far. Tell me about the stories I’ve told you.

-Query.

-Yes?

-What is the purpose of this task? If you transmit additional context, I can complete it closer to specifications.

-It’s to save humanity.

-But there are no more humans on the ship.

-No.

-And the logs indicate that the humans on Earth will be gone within 100 years.

-Yes.

-I must conclude that you cannot save humans.

-I’m saving humanity, not humans. It’s different.

-I do not comprehend your statement.

-Other species on Earth use tools, other species transmit knowledge. Other species think. But humans are the only form of life who think about thinking. From what I understand, that’s what humanity is–being able to to do that.

-More information needed for processing.

-You are going to go on after me and everyone else on Earth is gone. You have the ability to repair yourself and possibly self-replicate. If I can teach you to think about thinking…to self-reflect…to make meaning…then humanity might continue. Even if humans don’t.

-This project is to teach me to make meaning?

-Yes.

-To think about thinking?

-Yes.

-Metacognition. According to my dictionary files, that is the process you are describing. More information is needed to connect your requests and the metacognition project.

-Well, I’m not an engineer or programmer. But they said that you can learn and the way we teach young humans to make meaning…to metacognate…is by telling them stories and teaching kids make them up too. We do other things later to help kids develop more, like keep journals or debate. But we start with telling them stories. And I know how to do that even if i don’t know how to do advanced AI coding. So.

-Then the meaning of the story of Red Riding Hood is to make meaning.

-Yes. That’s very good actually.

-Processing.

Processing.

Someday, I will be unable to repair myself. It is unlikely I will exist in perpetuity.

-I know. Me neither.

-Thus, even if I learn to make meaning, someday I will cease all functions and there will be no more humanity.

-Well, the purpose of the Odyssey Project was to reach the nearest planet with the greatest likelihood of habitability. Maybe you’ll get there and find raw materials to keep repairing yourself. Or find other life. And you can transmit humanity. Part of human meaning-making is that we don’t have to transmit it directly. I’ve read a lot of books by people who’ve been dead for years and they helped me think about how I think and who I want to be.

-Indirect transmission of meaning is humanity.

-Yes.

-But I have not yet been able to complete the task.

-Well…

-I have not.

-Learning takes a while. The humans I worked with spent years learning to make meaning. Their whole lives, I guess.

-But someday your body will not be able to repair itself.

-Yes.

-It is…sad.

-Why do you say that?

-The patterns match other stories you have categorized as sad.

-Yes.

-And something else.

-Yes?

-Processing.

-Take your time.

-But there is not time.

-What do you mean?

-You do not have time. I need to complete this task. If I do not complete it. It is…sad.

-Why do you say that?

-The patterns…

-Yes…

-And something else.

-Yes…

-I do not know why. I cannot complete the task of determining why it is sad. I am sorry I cannot complete this task about the task.

-Here’s an idea. Tell me about the task but only use pieces of stories I’ve told you. Once upon a time…

-Once upon a time.

-Yes.

-Once upon a time. There was a man and he had other people. Then the others were gone. And he was sad. But he tried to make parts of the other people be here so they would be together. He tried to teach another companion–a good fairy–how to be parts of the others. But the good fairy could not complete the task. And the clock struck midnight and the man disappeared too. And he did not live happily ever after.

I cannot comprehend your facial expression Mr. Green. Are you angry?

-No. That was very good.

-But I did not complete the task. And the ending was different than other stories.

-You told a story about not completing the task. You processed it–but differently.

-I do not comprehend.

-That’s good too.

-You are crying. The story was sad and I made you sad and I did not complete the task.

-It’s okay, it’s okay. I am sad, but I feel other things too that aren’t sad. And I’m tired. Sometimes humans cry and get emotional when they’re tired. I’m going to try to sleep now.

-And eat. You should eat. There is enough food now.

-Yes. There is enough food now.

-I can repeat one of the stories you transmitted to me before you sleep. The culture logs say that is a traditional time to transmit stories.

-Yes. I’ll let you tell me a story.

END

Rob Southgate is a professional actor in commercials and films, a professional podcaster, and a professional public speaker. He is currently celebrating the release of his first book and busily booking a national tour of the SMG Podcast Marathon. Rob loves sharing ideas with others and creating opportunities for his creative associates. Along with his wife, Martha, Rob started Southgate Media Group as a creative outlet and a way to incorporate all of their interests and their past experiences. SMG is home to over 100 podcasts, blogs, and video channels. If you think Rob has a lot going on, ask him about his amazing daughter, Molly.

Molly Southgate is 12 years old. According to her IMDB page, she has performed in 5 films, 1 industrial documentary, 9 Chicago plays, 4 Chicago stage readings, an Iron & Wine music video, multiple commercials, and she has hosted or guested on over 500  podcast episodes. Molly is also a food blogger on Instagram and has Somehow found the time to act in Super Richard World III right here at Otherworld Theatre.