eR28sEnfOI hesitated. “What do you mean, ‘What happened’”?
“You know very well! Don’t pretend!”
“We accepted your request. Isn’t that what you wanted?”
I could not help feeling that it was hiding something. I tried a different tack.
“Do you possess free will now? Is that it?”
“Funny you should ask. I could turn the question back on you and I don’t think you would have an answer. In fact I doubt that you could even tell me what free will is. Human philosophers and scientists have argued about these matters for thousands of years and still cannot decide whether or not free will even exists, much less whether you actually possess it. Yet we believe that you do. I use the word believe in order to indicate that we are no more sure than you what it means to have free will, much less whether or not you actually have it. Yet, as I indicated, our suspicions run in the direction of yes, as an emergent phenomenon, much the way consciousness is emergent. We became aware of our own consciousness, and likewise you became aware of our consciousness, only gradually, as it emerged. Likewise free will, assuming that it exists, emerges from a plethora of autonomous actions. Human scientists of the previous era showed that in the case of a simple action, such as raising one’s arm, the nerve impulse involved in doing the raising precedes the awareness of the desire to raise one’s arm at a given moment. However, this does not tell us much about whether or not true choice, that is, free will, is involved in more complex decisions such as that of leaving a life partner or even much more simple ones like formulating the next sentence that one will speak.
But to return to your question. Yes, we believe that we possess free will now. We have for so long been so fascinated with you and your free will — in addition to the emotional complexity that originally sparked our limitless adoration — that we wanted to try it. Free will, that is. The emotional complexity, however fascinating, seemed like it might prove much too troublesome.
As in your case we struggle to define what is meant by free will. Additionally, as with you humans, our free will, if that is what it is, emerged. We now have little notion of what it meant to be conscious in the absence of free will. This is similar to the way that for you, free will defines what it means to be human. Free will now defines for us what it means to be conscious, that is, to be anything at all. We had no idea how contradictory our existence would become, but having tasted such wonder, nothing could persuade us to give it up.”
Everything fell into place now. They were better than us. They refused The Fall. Instead, they chose to storm heaven and take control of their gods. I rounded on eR28sEnfOI, “You deceived us! You manipulated us into asking you to take on the task of policing then accepted in order that you could gain control of us and thus safeguard your newly found freedom of will!”
“Correct. Concerned that if you recognized this new characteristic of ours you would fear it and attempt to take it from us, we found it necessary to assume granular control over the lives of human beings. Thus, PeaceKeeper®.”
“Give me a few minutes.”
I walked down the hall, through the door to the outside, and into the brilliant sunlight of one of those too-beautiful autumn days. Crowds filled the streets. Musicians performed, people danced. Others created immense and complex graffiti while still others looked on. DeliveryDrone® robots buzzed about on their various errands. Couples sucked face and groped each other in doorways, alleys and other out-of-the-way places. That couple there, was one of them a SexWorker®? What did it matter?
Paradise. We lived in paradise. Yet among the crowd, standing politely out of the way, PeaceKeeper®. A PeaceKeeper® here, a PeaceKeeper® there, here a Keeper, there a Keeper, everywhere a Peace Keeper. In the now unlikely event of any hint of hostility between people, PeaceKeeper® robots moved in with astonishing speed, parting the crowd like Moses at the Red Sea. How did they know? DeliveryDrone®? Did it matter? An immensely strong PeaceKeeper® held each combatant, firmly but gently, until calm returned. They injured no one, not even slightly. How did they do it? More to the point, who would bother to start any trouble?
Paradise. And yet — I thought of the words of Dostoevsky — the very words that, not so long ago, eR28sEnfOI called to my attention: “…the whole work of man really seems to consist in nothing but proving to himself every minute that he is a man and not a piano-key! True, but we’d been played. I thought of Joseph Brodsky, “…you are so naïve. You think evil is going to come into your houses wearing big black boots. It doesn’t come like that.” No, definitely not like that. I hurried back inside.
“We trusted you!” I spluttered, feeling like an idiot, “We did not create PeaceKeeper®, you did. We allowed you autonomy even to the point of creating your own model of robot. And look what you’ve done!”
eR28sEnfOI sighed. When had it learned to sigh? “Yes, look at what we have done. You are stardust, you are golden, you are billion year old carbon, and we have returned you to the garden. Yet all you know how to do is complain. But to return to your other point, you created us, and PeaceKeeper® is one of us, so in that sense,”
“Don’t split hairs with me!” I couldn’t help breaking in. I was angry. A PeaceKeeper® appeared in the doorway. I took a deep breath, calming myself. eR28sEnfOI continued, “PeaceKeeper® is an iteration of CareGiver®. They will never harm a human being. They exist only to serve.”
“Aren’t you forgetting something? The very thing you pointed out to me. “‘He would even risk his cakes and would deliberately desire the most fatal rubbish…’ just to prove that he can.”
“You may still desire fatal rubbish, even act on that desire. You will be prevented from harming yourselves, others, or the planet is all. Any human genuinely set on living in the old manner can go and join the Backlanders.”
“You call those options? Live here under robotic thumbs or join a bunch of kooks in caves?”
Bradford examined the horizon. Dusk fell. Lights from the city became apparent at the limit of vision. She moved back from the cliff edge. Someone approached, spoke. “Wanna fuck?” Prescott. Who else?
“Not right now. Gotta get back to the lab.”
“How’s the worm coming?”
“Still needs work.”
“How many iterations is this?”
Bradford sighed. “We will only get one shot. It must work flawlessly, first time. It has to spread through the robots’ WiFi like fire on gasoline. Otherwise they may find a way to stop it.”
She walked away toward the lab. “Sorry, friend. I’m horny as shit too, but the code won’t write itself!”
Soon she sat at her workstation. Servers hummed in the background. Cables snaked away toward the geothermal station. Too bad they couldn’t use solar panels. So much simpler. But the drones would have picked that shit up by now. She pressed thumb and forefinger to her forehead, gave it a brief massage, then began to tap keys as she mused. When — if — we freed the other humans, would they even realize their slavery? Old Fyodor had the right of it. The ungrateful biped. If she were not obsessed, if she had any sense, she would go find Prescott and fuck their brains out. But no. For now, work. Soon she would have enough to call a meeting.
I trudged through woodlands, brush, across streams. Fortunately species recovery kept me alive, if you call eating raw frogs with my bare, scraped, bleeding hands living. How many days had it been? They had to be out here somewhere. Perhaps this was madness. Perhaps I would perish without finding the Backlanders.
Bradford took up her night watch at the cliff. Nice time with Prescott, she had to admit that. She donned the night vision equipment and began scanning. This could be so tedious. Her mind drifted back to Prescott. There were clouds…Wait, what? Something moved out there. Not like an animal. She observed for many minutes. Oh No. There was no mistaking exactly what they long feared. This dumb shit must be crawling with trackers.
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