Alenn got shot. Again. This time it was a 9mm hollow point through the heart. Following the routine, he walked into the firing chamber, stood with his back flat against the thick composite partition, and presented his wrists to a pair of beige nylon straps. The smart cuffs noticed his arms and gently snugged around them like a tulip furling its petals at night.
Although the room was already too bright, banks of auxiliary lights flicked on and a battery of sensors and data recorders energized. Alenn was 6'1", athletic, with short brown hair and calm gray eyes that matched his loose cotton scrubs. He stood gazing forward with his bare feet flat against the grated steel floor.
“Okay Alenn, this time we’re going with fear response at zero but full pain response and contemporaneous verbal feedback. Got that?”
“Copy that: no fear, full pain, verbose. Ready when you are.” Alenn said.
Dr. Rich Sanders was on the other end of the intercom. He could have preset the response parameters ahead of time, but issuing them manually made it feel important. And it played better to the cameras and whatever political cohort was watching outside the chamber.
“Okay, here we go. Proceeding with bullet entry and fragmentation test #43116, with severe tissue perforation expected through the exit wound. Firing!”
Alenn stood calmly against the slab. His pulse and blood pressure were nominal. His breathing was measured and even.
He heard a sharp “pop!” and his tranquility erupted into searing pain. Volcanic hot needles poured from his chest and tore through his shoulders and abdomen. The lead slug mushroomed instantly upon entering his chest. Fragments of super-heated alloy careered through tissue and veins, shredding his heart and left lung before slamming into the knurled plastic slab behind him.
“Owww FUCK!” he choked. “Pain level ten, emanating from chest cavity with about a fifty centimeter radius. Down to my groin. My feet don’t hurt but everything else is on fire.”
A wad of dark bloody phlegm sputtered out of his mouth as he continued: “Neck feels numb. My head is throbbing and breath is raspy. I’m starting to get lightheaded.” 15 seconds had passed. Alenn was agitated but continued.
“Okay, noticeable tunnel vision, pain level is six, my skin feels like fucking pop rocks.” 22 seconds had passed. After a deep wheeze Alenn’s voice was slowing down.
“Pain level closer to one or zero now. I’m cold and my eyes are heavy. My entire body is thrumming. Actually it’s like I took a huge hit of nitrous ox — ” Alenn died. 29 seconds had passed.
“Okay guys,” said Dr. Sanders, “That was a good one, again for the record that was entry test #43116. Subject expired 29 seconds after injury. Let’s clean up and reset. We’ve got three more before lunch.”
Alenn (A.L.E.N.N. to be accurate) was an Autochthonous Life-Emulating Neural Network. Which is to say he was an AI created inside a simulation by another AI, and he was created to feel sensations exactly like a human. There was something about the authentic simulation of human responses that man-made AIs just couldn’t quite get right — but the AIs themselves seemed to have the recipe down for spawning new “processes” that possessed a totally humanlike response to stimuli and pain.
The trick was that Alenn’s physical and emotional responses to stimuli came with a control panel. He could determine what amount of pain, fear, shame, and so on to perceive based on the control parameters of an experiment. Whether or not Alenn was actually conscious was a huge point of contention in the research community and seemingly unknowable, due to the recurrent neural network “black box” AI that created him. It was like being born from a primordial soup of unhackably deep encryption that reconfigured itself thousands of times per second.
In the case of the gun injury studies, he was helping his human colleagues unpack the difference between fear and pain as responses to a sudden life-ending gunshot. There were fevered debates throughout the social zeitgeist about the humaneness of shooting people with guns; namely police and soldiers shooting people with guns, especially guns that had become so accurate as to essentially never miss a direct shot to center mass, typically a shot through the heart. These heart shots had become so ordinary that Bon Jovi’s anthem from the mid-80s had wormed its way into squad rooms and response vehicles of professional gun-firers everywhere.
One side claimed that it was totally humane because a shot through the heart instantly released endorphins that completely mollified the physical pain and even caused feelings of ecstasy to swell until the moment of death.
The other side said no, getting shot in the heart is inherently horrific and painful, and even if the actual pain is reduced biochemically, that the commensurate fear that accompanies being shot and dying made this whole enterprise of shooting people through the heart totally inhumane and unacceptable.
Hence Alenn, lucklessly reporting his grisly deaths like a grim merry-go-round, but becoming more perceptive and finely-tuned with each pull of the virtual trigger.