Janus’ Open Door
What do we do, now that money is no object? This is the question on everyone’s minds since the AI-2100 came out, the first AI with the ability to produce other AIs. When the first shipment of AIs came out there were instant problems; many on the lower socioeconomic scale lost their jobs to AIs that weren’t susceptible to mistakes, widening the gap between the lower and the higher economic classes, virtually eliminating the middle class. Over time, most of the lower class slid into poverty, many dying of starvation and autoimmune diseases, resulting in an increase in robberies, violent assaults, distribution of drugs and human trafficking. It was only a matter of time ‘til the poor rose up against the elite, leading to guerrilla attacks, war against civil terrorists and collateral damage. But the AIs were fighting for the higher class and it just became a question of time when the AIs would kill off the lower class. There was a fear that without the majority the AIs would have the opportunity to wipe out the rest of the human race, but this didn’t happen, or this hadn’t happened yet; the AIs were programmed not to hurt us and contingency plans were made in case the AIs found a way to override the program, which was probably the reason why the AIs didn’t rise up, but even so, the fear was imminent. Despite the fear of an uprising, advances were made to the AIs, and thus our lives, as AIs slowly began to take over many of our unwanted occupations; chefs, chauffeurs, cleaners, housekeepers and police officers to name a few, saving us time so that we could produce more AIs. But, we went too far.
Thud! My neighbor was at it again. I didn’t think much of it; about a month after the AI-2100 came out I began to hear him screaming in the middle of the night about the end of the world. It had almost become routine, except this time, I found him on the floor of his apartment with the corner of his glass table pierced into his forehead. Sad as it is to say, this wasn’t unusual, in fact, the suicide rate had been increasing exponentially by the day. We had given ourselves all this luxury and total freedom only to have no idea what to do with it. Maybe this is the end of the world.
What continues to surprise me is how I’m still able to tell the difference between us and the AIs. We’ve developed the AIs to a level where they’re supposed to be the same, feel the same, even emit emotions in the same way as we do. Nevertheless, I can still tell the difference. It’s the feeling I get when I interact with someone that I don’t get from an AI; it’s natural, real, you can’t fake it. No matter how impressive AIs become, I’ll still be able to distinguish them from us. But if we do happen to get to a point where there are only so few of us left, then what I will miss the most is that honest, real, human connection, where life becomes clear and I can just feel.
As I meandered through the streets for the first time in weeks, I couldn’t help but notice several small gatherings at different spots in the city. Small crowds of about twenty to over a hundred would get together to console each other: religious groups, secular groups, scientists, though it didn’t matter what commonality brought each group together, whether it was a religious belief or a secular belief or a scientific view, every group was dealing with the same problem, a human problem. The groups never interfered with one another, nor did they hurt each other because they understood that they were facing the same crisis; some groups, at times, would even support one of the other groups for the simple sake of bonding. It’s a shame that it has taken us to what could potentially be the edge of our extinction to put our differences aside and connect, despite our beliefs and our perspectives of life. Where was this prior to the production of AIs? Where was this prior to every war we’ve ever fought, every battle, argument we’ve ever had? If this is the result of the pain we have caused each other, then I guess, we deserve whatever comes to us.
Everything that is natural — trees, grass, plants, rocks, water — could be mistaken for replicas, copies that we created so that our mother earth could blend with all that is synthetic. Or maybe, that’s what we told ourselves. I’m not sure why we would have had to reproduce what is already right in front of us; it makes no sense, but we did it anyway.
There is the argument that this utopia that we created is just an extension of us and our land; and while I do understand that side of the argument, how is what we’ve created an extension of us if we end up annihilating ourselves? Is what we create only beneficial to what survives? Needless to say, we couldn’t have known what would have happened; we can only imagine the future, the future can’t be realized. But still.
We even went through periods where we lost track of who we are, sticking gadgets to our ears and wrists just so we weren’t without a phone or a watch. We virtually turned ourselves into AIs without the same vast intelligence and learning capabilities. Has technology made us better? Or has technology just made us not human? The roads are clean, the buildings are meticulously structured, food stations are ordered and categorized to allow us to eat what we want and when we decide to, there are no more premeditated crimes, climate change was prevented, this life does come with its advantages.
Except, what has it all been for? Looking through our history in the public archives, I couldn’t find a reasonable answer. We would go through periods in time where we ruled, living in these seemingly invincible empires, where our quality of life was of such a high standard that our arrogance would then delude our view of ourselves, leading to our inevitable downfall. It is so true to say that the only lesson we’ve learnt from history is that we don’t learn from history, that we march blindly into the unknown, without using our past as our map. And why would we? Our experiences are different to our ancestors’ experiences and to everyone else’s experiences throughout time; we can’t obtain another’s experiences. It’s understandable why we don’t learn from others, since their experiences don’t affect us directly. Although, this shouldn’t be an excuse. We should really learn to imagine what others are going through so we can learn from our own mistakes.
However, each ending does allow for a new beginning. And it’s only when our backs are against the wall that we do decide to create something new and distinct. It must be something that’s within us, to go through these ups and downs, times where we must teardown just so we can build again. Maybe. Maybe not. Why continuously go through this process? What does it give us? Destruction can’t be fulfilling for the creators that are witnessing the dismantling of what they’ve created; unless the process of destruction is enjoyable in itself. A process can after all give us purpose, it can give us something to strive towards, something to do with our time. Only, not all purposes are equal. For some, our purpose is only beneficial to ourselves. Life can only support a self-centered individual for so long; and once life is done with that individual, exclusion and loneliness creep up on them. And sometimes, our purpose is simply weak, to fill the time, to skate through life; I wouldn’t even call that living with purpose. But this does shine so much light on us, to live with such purposelessness just so we may be numbed or live vicariously through another because we’re not the sovereign of our own happiness, that those that are happy live with real purpose, being passionate about their process while also providing benefit to others, and those that don’t live with real purpose look to external sources only to be controlled by them. If we understood that we had a choice, then we’d decide to live with real purpose. Or would we? To live with real purpose must come with its challenges; it must require more will and more effort to make decisions for ourselves; while living without real purpose must be easier since others are making the decisions for us. But each challenge has its own reward and living without real purpose cannot provide that. What is better: to live a happy life on our terms or to have infrequent moments of satisfaction determined by other’s successes? And yet, some of us would prefer not to take control of our happiness. It’s because our greatest fear is to face ourselves, to face what we can be; we would rather be desensitized or be right, even at the expense of our own happiness, because it’s easier. This is probably why we started the AI program in the first place, so that our machines can fill this hole in our sad shallow lives, to try to solve the problem that is our existential dread. What we fail to realize is that our existential dread doesn’t need to be solved, it needs to be managed. We don’t need the answer; we need ourselves.
But history is the past and the past is history. We can only look forward and propel our past into the future. It just becomes a matter of how we do it. Will we learn from ourselves? Will we learn from what we’ve done this time around? Or will we continue to fumble forward? I guess, we’ll see.
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And finally, thank you so much for taking the time to read my short story. I feel so grateful to get to do what I do and it’s thanks to you for taking an interest in the content I create. So again, thank you.