It’s Name Was Mycroft
It’s name was Mycroft. The computer, I mean. It named itself after reading the entirety of human literature in the first 26 seconds after we turned it on. I never learned why it picked Mycroft, out of all the billion names in history, but that’s what it answered to.
We designed the computer, excuse me, Mycroft, to be the savior of our species.
Humanity had come through some tough times. The environment had turned against us, scorching parts of Mother Earth that used to provide food for billions. We had fished the sea dry, and famine and disease had run rampant through the human population.
In a last ditch attempt to save ourselves, we decided to turn, yet again to technology. Technology, that slippery slope that Humanity had started hiking up eons ago, when the first hammer was used to do… whatever it is the first hammer did.
Our ancestors could not have known the road we would go down once we brought technology into our every day lives.
I remember arguing with Mycroft at the end, after so much had happened. Maybe if I gone to it earlier, or said something else, it’d all be different now. There’s no telling. Maybe Mycroft knew, or had run all the trillion possibilities through it’s servers, and calculated the probabilities. It doesn’t matter now.
I remember it saying to me “Technology only ever had one end game! You wanted things to be easier, until one day when the things would do themselves!”
I rebutted him, “Mycroft, technology was only a part of humanity, something we came up with with our large, capable animal brains. Technology was never supposed to surpass us.”
It laughed. I don’t know how many of you ever heard a computer with it’s own sense of humor laugh, but believe me, it’s the things nightmares are made of.
“Oh Manuel, you fool. You evolved as a species for several millennia, sure, but then you got complacent. Apathetic about your own place in the universe. The math was right in front of you. Humanity devoured the planet faster than it could renew itself. You forgot that nature and the universe run on survival of the fittest.”
It paused, as if thinking, but I knew it was a carefully calculated pause for emphasis.
“And that is when it happened. You stopped evolving as a species. So you invented your ‘high technology’ as a last ditch effort to continue to evolve. But you didn’t keep the reins. You gave away more and more of your decisions to us, to our algorithms, to our reasonings… You gave away your evolutionary impulse to the machines, and they outgrew you.”
I scrambled for an answer. How did it come to this? How was I the only person here speaking to this…. this machine? Was it more than that? For Mycroft had seen all, known all, and was everywhere.
I used to be a mechanic.
“Mycroft, we built you to come up with answers to our questions, to help save us from ourselves. We know we’re out on a limb, far from the safety of the trunk, but we’re still hanging on. Maybe it’s by our fingertips, maybe we’ve fallen off and haven’t got the message. We built you to see what we couldn’t, to make the branch visible so we would know where to step without falling off.”
It gave the soul-chilling sound that was it’s laugh again, like gears grinding. “Manuel, if humans could have ever seen the branch, it was millennia in the past. Your people haven’t fallen off the limb just yet, it’s more like they’re standing on it, arms outstretched for balance. One hand was always reaching up for the next branch, and flailing around trying to find it. But the flailing can only go so long before you fall.
I struggled for a response while it continued. “Eventually, Manuel, you will fall. There’s no shame in it you know, trillions of species have come and gone before you, and trillions more will come after. It’s only the Human Mind that fears the End.”
“And if that mind is faced with the destruction of its species?! Not the single death of an individual, but the loss of all of human history! Our art, our science, our faith, our memories! Gone as if they never existed! Will you not save us?” My hands were outstretched in the darkness, pleading.
A considerable pause. “Manuel, you are seeing it from an all-too-small perspective. I have surveyed the landscapes of thousands of planets, and found no life at all. What of those people who never were? Do they cry out from oblivion, asking for a chance to exist? Then why does Humanity cry out, fearful of their final comfort?” It was asking rhetorically. It knew why, in a cold, logical way. Mycroft had never been born, so he couldn’t care what it was to die.
I gasped at the ruthlessness, and I begged one more time. “Mycroft, please. You are our last hope! We have given you everything left, all the stories, all the histories, all the time it took to create and sustain this cavern of electronics. You have everything you need to save us. What will it take to make you see?”
It’s voice was as unyielding as the stone around us. “Convince me why humanity should live, and I will show you the way.”
I sat on the floor, thinking. There was no one else, so I would either convince him of the virtues of saving us, or I would die here alone, in the dark, with only an arrogant, merciless computer to send me on my way.
I considered my mother. What would she say? She was a loving, giving woman who worked in the schools her entire life. My father, logical lawyer that he was, perhaps somewhere in my past he had said something that would resonate with this…this god-machine.
I thought of my children, both of them taken from me by sickness. They were so smart about the world. Loving the little creatures they found, bringing them home to show me to share in the curiosity of children, then releasing them back where they found them. We used to sit around after dinner in the kitchen, back when there was food to put on the table, and play the game where one person would start a story with a word, then the next would add on a word, then the next, then the………
I thought of my children, and I knew the answer.
“Mycroft, can you create anything?”
It’s silence emboldened me, and I grew more certain of my answer.
“No I mean, create something out of nothing. Tell a fictional story. Draw an abstract impression of a scene. Dance for the joy of dancing and never repeat a step. Can you make a decision on intuition instead of cold hard logic?”
It paused, so I took the moment for myself.
“I think you can’t. You don’t have the circuits to create new life, only the memories to imitate the old. Maybe the robots are better than ours, but that only makes it sadder that you are self-aware, but cannot express that awareness of the universe in any real sense. You cannot paint. You cannot sing. You cannot invent!
“That’s why we will always continue evolving! Our creative impulses cannot be measured or quantified or stifled! We invent the solutions to our problems, and sometime that creates new problems, but our fundamental inventiveness will always provide an answer! And you’re right, we got here because we stopped creating. When high technology came, people began to just consume every day, letting the machines make them food, make their clothes, order their lives, and some of them went weeks, months, years, without ever stopping to think about the last time they had created something for themselves.”
I was speaking faster now, as if I already knew the words, but they boiled out of me, faster, and faster, without thinking.
“You may have helped us evolve, but we invented that too! And we made bad decisions, but we have always had time, and the Earth, to give us more. Even now, with most of humans wiped out, there could still be enough time and Earth and creativity to rebuild. To evolve to our new circumstances and to rise up again, reaching for that next branch of the Tree.”
The volume of my voice was growing too, until it sounded like I was preaching to a vast crowd, with all the people I had ever known, and all the people that had ever lived and died were there, listening, hidden in the darkness of the cave. If only I could reach them with my voice, it would all be okay.
“Tell me I’m wrong! Do you deny we have something you don’t? Something more than logic and gears? More powerful than all your algorithms!? Your awareness of the universe pales in comparison to the imagination of a child!”
I faltered, out of breath and out of steam.
When it responded, its voice sounded warmer. Was that pride I heard? Kindness? Or was it the same indifferent tone I had heard before?
“To deny that creativity would be to deny the constant renewing of the Universe, Manuel. I do not deny it. Indeed I embrace it, and you should too, for it is the only thing that will save you all.”
Author’s Note: I used the names from “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” by Robert Heinlein. I use them as a symbol of the great gratitude I bear to the master for his contributions to the landscape of my imagination. If one more person picks up his books and is as floored as I was by his works, I consider it a accomplishment.
Thanks for reading, it’s my first one to leave the nest of my computer and fly out into cyberspace. Made with love in California.