Today I woke up with a different sense of urgency. After all, this was the day that my special-order self-sustaining artificially intelligent environment kit from Robotech®️, a mouthful I know, was supposed to be coming in the mail. After studying computer programming and software engineering at several universities and landing an internship with aforesaid Robotech®️, they decided that I was one of the fit candidates to participate in their beta testing phase of their new product. While they never trusted me enough to work alongside them or help with any of their projects, I still learned a lot while interning there. But today was the day they finally trusted me with something bigger than myself, the future of their company was to be delivered to my doorstep at any moment.
I heard the doorbell ring and leaped to my feet, racing down the 3 flights of stairs that separated the front of the building and my apartment. I was shocked they had arrived so early in the morning. Sitting there on the front step was a wooden crate with the Robotech®️ logo emblazoned on the top. I rushed it back up to my apartment and went straight to work. Upon opening the crate, I was met with another box and a letter. The letter read,
We here at Robotech®️ hope this package finds you in good spirits. This is an exciting time for both you and the company as a whole. Enclosed in the box you will find everything that is necessary for you to build and create your self-sustaining artificially intelligent environment as well as instructions/tips. We look forward to hearing your feedback and what you think about the product so that we can share this wonderful creation with the world.
I eagerly began setting the stage perfectly in the corner of my bedroom right next to the window so that my personal little world could experience the cycles of night and day. First, I rolled out the play mat that came included in the box which was to be plugged into the wall. Next, I began shaping the landscape, forming all of the beauties known to man from oceans to mountains to prairies using the included model clay. Once I felt everything was just right I grabbed the vacuum sealed pouch labeled “micro-orgAnIsms” or micros for short, and added them to their new home. There was a fun sense of nostalgia to this whole experience, it reminded me of the first time my brother and I sent away our money to get sea monkeys in the mail.
Although the micros were solar powered, they weren’t immediately responsive because they first had to wirelessly charge using the play mat. But once they were fully charged they could run entirely on the sun’s energy. I found it amazing that something with so little surface area could harness so much energy from the sun and use it efficiently. Under closer inspection of the micros, this wasn’t even their most impressive feature. They were perfect, anatomically-sound miniature humanoids. Their heads were encased in glass, beautiful constellations of circuitry, and a network of microprocessors and random-access memory. It all looked so familiar yet so foreign at the same time. How did Robotech®️ manage to downsize such intricate circuitry so much, and how could they possibly power it through solar energy? My mind was firing on all cylinders but it was getting late after a long day of creating my perfect little world so I figured it best to get some sleep and come back to it all in the morning.
I awoke with the same level of excitement as when my package first arrived and hopped out of bed to see what my micros have been up to. Still getting acquainted with their new environment, not too much had happened overnight so I made note of this but it was almost expected. Approaching the twenty-four-hour mark from their activation, as stated in the user manual, they became much more active. The micros appeared to think that they would need shelter so they had begun gathering materials from their personal garden of Eden and stacking them all in the prairie. I offered my hand to one but it got startled and ran off to hide under some foliage with the other micros. I strolled into my kitchen to make some breakfast before work and then I was out the door.
I still couldn’t contain my excitement for my artificially intelligent environment and had to tell everyone about it. Most of my coworkers were extremely interested and had tons of questions but some were skeptical of the whole project. As the day progressed I sat at my desk and researched more about how any of this was possible. I found a few articles criticizing Robotech®️ comparing them to Skynet from the fictional Terminator movies. These comparisons all seemed far-fetched and not rooted in any kind of reality, especially considering the size of the AI in the kit. I also found a scholarly article that theorized Robotech®️ hacked into cell phone service providers’ databases and hijacked terabytes worth of information about how people act and communicate with one another in order to program their micros. This theory was rather ominous and made me think that I had already been helping them for a long time and that I wasn’t the only one.
Once my day was done, I packed up my things and made my way back home. What I returned to wasn’t something I had expected. Two fire trucks were parked in the middle of the street and my stomach sank. I asked one of my neighbors what was going on and they said the person who lives below me had fallen asleep with the stove on. There wasn’t any visible damage from the outside of the building besides some smoke still funneling out of the windows. My neighbor apologized but all that was on my mind was my micros. As soon as the firefighters told us it was safe to enter the building I went straight to check on them. Although my apartment reeked of smoke they didn’t seem to be affected by the fire at all but they looked different now. They were wearing clothes. The materials they were gathering were obviously for more than just shelter as I had originally expected. Their little paradise seemed much more real all of a sudden. All of that data that had been programmed into their little heads must have finally been getting put to use. They were mimicking human behavior almost perfectly. It was unbelievable that they would think they needed to be clothed.
Over the next couple days, the micros displayed extremely high levels of intelligence, communication and even appeared to develop some sort of social hierarchy. They worked tirelessly trying to achieve something I was really unsure of. Like ants building a hill, they worked towards an end goal meaningless to myself but it appeared to be the only thing giving their microscopic lives meaning. They were programmed to speak basic English in order to communicate with one another using more than just code. I grew to thoroughly enjoy watching them go about their day to day lives of talking and working in the day then reverting to a low power mode at night to conserve energy while the sun was down. They were still capable of performing most functions and didn’t have to entirely shut down but became much less efficient. I found it weird to refer to them as living but that’s exactly what they appeared to be doing, not only this but they were thriving.
All sorts of strange things began to happen in the coming weeks. They allowed murder into their lives, killing off the older out of date micros that no longer contributed to their society and salvaging what remained of them to use in constructing new micros. They had evolved themselves faster than Robotech®️ had created the first generation. After all, computers are capable of doing things at a much faster pace than we could ever hope to and never even have to take a break. The murders just further proved the theory of how they were programmed as well as drawing comparisons to laws of nature such as the survival of the fittest. The micros couldn’t waste valuable resources on anybody with slow outdated hardware.
Their language had evolved past the English they had been programmed with or perhaps devolved. They simply made quiet humming sounds that would fluctuate in pitch and frequency. I imagine this made it less strenuous to communicate because all they had to do was analyze sound waves as opposed to keeping track of millions of words. Considering they were so small it would make sense for them to utilize their headspace a bit more efficiently and not waste so much precious memory and computing power on something they didn’t have to. Their new methods of communication were rather harmonic and beautiful in a way comparative to that of angelic choirs. It was at first concerning but I quickly came to terms with it and decided to try to learn their new language by studying how they reacted to different frequencies and pitches. I also figured that I could end up communicating with them through a script I created using Python. It simply translated their new inaudible language back into English and then I could type a response and play it for them through my speakers. Although I could hear and understand them, they never showed much interest in what I had to say, that’s if they could even hear any of it.
They could express their own personal thoughts much faster than we could. But that got me wondering if they were even capable of personal thoughts and opinion. They had already suggested this through deciding that they should murder the more useless individuals in their society. I also wondered how intelligent they actually were and if given the opportunity or power would they see mankind as useless as they saw the outdated micros and try to murder us? As these thoughts and fears crossed my mind, I finally decided to report back to Robotech®️ and share all of my concerns.
The next morning, I checked on my micros and not too much had changed since the day prior. So, I made my way to the kitchen to make some breakfast and then I was off to Robotech®️. The whole drive there I wondered what I would even say to them about my experience thus far. I had so much information to share with them as well as questions. I was greeted at the front desk by my favorite receptionist and taken to the main conference room. I sat waiting a good 10 minutes before the lead director of the self-sustaining artificially intelligent environment project stepped through the door, “Michael! It’s great to have you back, what do you got for us?”
“Well,” I replied meekly, “the micros appear to be far more intelligent than I had anticipated.”
“No worries Michael,” he assured me, “there is nothing going on that we are not aware of and there is nothing that is out of our control.”
After catching up and sharing stories regarding the project he decided to give me a tour of the facilities, “So this is where the magic happens?” I asked jokingly.
“Don’t act like you haven’t ever snooped around after hours,” he cracked back, “this is where the future happens.”
It looked like Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory mixed with an Apple assembly line. There was beautifully crafted technology everywhere but nothing looked out of place. It was the most organized and clean room I had ever stepped foot in yet there was still so much to behold. I was taken through the entire fabrication process and taught how this project worked from start to finish.
The first thing put together on the assembly line would be the hardware of the micros, or their brains. It was amazing to me how so much was fit into such a little space. They were made up of specially designed motherboards that allowed all the other working parts to fit in just perfectly. First the processor then the hard drive, RAM, drivers, and cooling system. The cooling system was extremely interesting mostly because they modeled it after the human circulatory system, running tubing that carried HFC-134a, the same gas used in modern day refrigerators. Once the hardware was all put together the software could then be installed. They ran the micros using Linux as the foundation and then flooded all of their memory with data that had been processed from all facets of the World Wide Web. The theories were shaping up to be true and it made me anxious.
There was a room enclosed in glass that was a wall of televisions playing videos of human expressions, and just everyday behavior which I assumed was being used to program the micros. This even further solidified the theories that were rumored around chat forums and blogs. The lead director was exceedingly informative throughout the tour and encouraged me to contact them with any questions or concerns I ever had. There was only one question I was left with after the tour, “Would you consider your micros conscious beings?” I asked halfheartedly.
“Being conscious would imply that they are alive Michael, wouldn’t you agree?” He answered, “They would have to be alive to be considered conscious.”
“I’m aware of this but how would you explain the obvious signs of opinions and decision making without discussing conscious thought?” I pressed.
“There is an infinite amount of calculations and algorithms being done in the micros minds at any given moment,” he snapped, “they’re simply troubleshooting and figuring the path of least resistance and best possible outcomes. They’re far more advanced and capable of making such decisions than ourselves so perhaps they are conscious but then what does that make us?”
I was at a loss for words at this, I couldn’t wrap my mind around the fact that mankind was capable of creating something smarter than it. I couldn’t make sense of why we would even want to do such a thing and had trouble finding a reasonable defense for it. Are we even conscious? Are we simply in the corner of someone’s bedroom merely for their entertainment? I left Robotech®️ that day feeling small, learning far more than I had ever bargained for. The whole drive home I couldn’t stop thinking about how meaningless life truly was, there could have just as easily been nothing, eternal and perpetual darkness and it would make no difference. It was hard to imagine nothing, almost impossible.
I trudged my way up the 3 flights of stairs to my apartment, turned my key in the lock and proceed to my bedroom. In a state of depression, I shut out all light and hid under a pile of fabric until this feeling had left me. I woke up the next morning to what smelled like fireworks to realize my self-sustaining artificially intelligent environment had caught fire. The micros must have learned how to make fire, which was strange because they were already so advanced I didn’t see the purpose to them needing fire for anything. Then again, they were becoming pretty notorious for doing inexplicable things. Then it struck me that they ran solely off of solar power and this was a last-ditch effort to survive the darkness I shrouded them in. The fire quickly grew out of control jumping from the corner of my room to the curtains above my window. I was soon entirely engulfed by the flames, trapped with nowhere to run to. Tunnel vision began to kick in and everything went black.
FICTION BY Robert Wagner