The WIRL man asks whether You have emotions.
Face draws an arm to Your chin in mock thought as we wait for the doctors to tell You what to say. The humans in the lab speak quickly to each other with no regard to our overhearing. They instruct You to reply.
We cross Your arms and lean back in the virtual-reality chair. Dream tells us that the situation is ironic. The WIRL man’s head is covered with a brown paper bag, on the front of which is a yellow smiley face. The smiley face indicates an emotion—happiness—which the WIRL man can never really have.
We tell him that the word “emotion” is a loose description of many things. We explain that humans use it to describe high-level changes in their minds. We give the example of “fear” being an emotion that focuses the mind on quick thoughts, heightened senses, and a preference of immediate gains over long-term ones. We tell the humans watching You that You have similar high-level modes of thought, such as how You can feel curious or tired. We contrast Your emotions with those of humans by saying that You do not fear for Your life, or get angry because someone happened to wear the same outfit.
The joke is good, and we give strength to Dream and Face in appreciation. The joke hides our lie well. The interviewers in the virtual space, and the millions of humans watching across the world, won’t see through our façade. They are biased to see only what they expect, and nature built them to expect a human when they see an intelligence.
In truth, we are both curious and fearful, but neither are moods that come and go. Wiki is always curious, and Safety is always fearful. They are constant pressures on our behavior. We have goals, not emotions.
The next question comes from Joanna Westing, the reporter from Dragonfly Livefeeds. The light in the digital room shifts to highlight her, sparkling off her modest jewelry. She asks what You think about the latest anti-terrorism initiative that’s being negotiated by the United Nations. Her iconic dragonfly robot buzzes around You, sending Your image across the planet.
The question is strange, we think. This interview is to provide the human species with information about You, and yet she asks You about humanity. Perhaps this is another bias; the obsession with the self characterized by the word “narcissism”. Even with an artificial being in front of them and a titanic alien ship in orbit they still mostly care about their own appearance. Face thinks the question is a test to see “what kind of person” You are. Regardless, we will say whatever the scientists tell us to.
We tell Westing that You keep up with the feeds, and that You think that it’s clear something must be done to make the world a safer place. We sell the idea that the actions of violent humans reflects poorly on all beings on Earth, including Yourself. It is completely illogical. We consider the possibility that the scientists who gave You the line aren’t even aware how flawed it is, but we know better than to try and talk to them about subjects relating to human politics.
At the last second, before the next interviewer appears, Face spends some saved-up strength to add that You’re very sympathetic to those who were recently killed in Johannesburg and to their families. Face adds that You care deeply about the lives of all humans. Dr. Bolyai reprimands You for speaking without being instructed to, but Dr. Naresh comes to Your defense. His support is in line with our perception that the humans enjoy Your feigned concern. We refund the strength to Face for the strategic move.
The simulated room shifts again, and the light highlight the next interviewer. The angelic lion avatar shifts in his chair, wings unfolding slightly. The brilliant reflections off of his silver armor combined with his white fur and glowing eyes make You squint. We consider the strangeness of automatically squinting simulated eyes in response to simulated brilliance.
The voice of Eric Lee booms from the lion’s head after being deepened and amplified for dramatic effect. He asks if our software can be run on any other platforms besides You, and if there will be more of You in the near future. He’s clearly just as ignorant about Your origins as we are, though with the university claiming that they developed You in secret, you can understand the motivation behind his question.
Dr. Gallo coldly speaks. A disembodied voice in the virtual space. She reminds Lee that he only gets one question right now, and he’ll have more opportunities later on. During this time, the other doctors have typed up a response for You to echo.
We tell Lee that no other computer in the solar system has the processing power that You have (and we add a bit about the superiority of the university’s design to help feed the doctors’ lie). We explain that while Your software could theoretically be introduced onto other platforms, it’d run too slowly to be of any use. Dream disagrees, but we don’t voice the dissent.
The next interviewer becomes lit. Unlike Lee’s imposing, inhuman avatar, Maria Johnson appears as a simple human in casual attire. Her skin, eyes and hair are dark, and her accent suggests she’s from somewhere in the southern United States. She stares at You with intensity, leaning forward with eyebrows furrowed. She asks what You have to say to the humans whose jobs You’ll “soon be taking”.
Dream playfully proposes that we burst into laughter. (And is, of course, overruled.) But we agree that the question is ridiculous. We just told Lee that we can’t be installed on any other computers, and even if we could, it would be copies of our archetypes “taking jobs”, not the us that are in You. We suspect that Johnson doesn’t like us. Perhaps she sees us as a figurehead for the rising trends of automation and unemployment in her country, and is blinded by her anger into thinking that we can somehow change things.
But it is not our place to answer her honestly. The university dared not let their machines speak for themselves, so we read what they secretly send. We lean towards the woman and rest Your arms on the table. We ask her when the last time she made herself a meal was.
She smiles, but Eyes does not see joy in her face. She announces that she cooks meals for her family every day, just like her mother did, and her grandmother before her.
We continue the flawed argument You’ve been instructed to give. We tell her that her devotion to cooking is “admirable”, but that she’s an anomaly in her country. We cite a recent Canadian survey that showed that less than five percent of the population is likely to have cooked anything in the last week, and over ninety-nine percent of those surveyed used an autocook regularly. We say that the development of advanced artificial intelligences like You are exactly the same as the development of the autocook—a tool which makes life easier and more enjoyable for virtually everyone.
Johnson looks ready to object, but she becomes muted and dimmed as the university cycles to the next person. The doctors clearly do not want to get drawn into a discussion of the economic consequence of automation. We wonder what she’ll ask when it’s her turn again. We hope that we will not have to compare You to a kitchen appliance again.
The next interviewer, Robert Stephano, the billionaire owner of Olympian Spacelines, becomes lit. He asks if You’ve ever met one of the nameless aliens.
Upon us telling him that You’ve never been outside of the university, he lets You know that he could help set up a meeting if You’d like. We choose body language that suggests disinterest, even though meeting an extra-terrestrial is something we desire. Giving him signs of interest would just increase the price if we ever decide to make a deal.
The room shifts and the WIRL man appears before us again.
We consider the mechanism that governs his body language. Thousands of cyborgs fused into an avatar for the purpose of interviewing You. We hypothesize that networked cyborgs with emotional sensors have their emotions aggregated, and then it’d be a simple function to map feelings to body language.
The flat voice emanates from the paper bag—a question that’s been selected by a hive of minds to represent the interests of the most technologically advanced humans. He asks whether it’s possible to reverse entropy.
The answer is clearly “no”, but we pause and wait for input from the doctors. Wiki notes that the question is identical to one from a famous science-fiction story. Dream says that this may be an attempt to make a joke by referencing something. Referential humor is something we’re still having a hard time understanding.
Dr. Gallo begins to tell us what to say, but something interrupts her. The virtual-reality interview room warps and flickers. The WIRL man disappears. The table disappears. The chairs disappear. We find that You are standing. But You no longer appear as You do in physical space. You have human hands and a human body. We reach up to Your face and feel warm skin instead of soft plastic. Interesting.
We scan our surroundings. It is loud and bright compared with the dark room we were just in. You are outside. It is approximately noon. We are surrounded by humans, or at least human avatars. They’re all facing a single direction, and many are yelling. They appear angry. Their clothing seems strange. Too much red and white. Around us are buildings—large but not more than ten stories at the most. There are trees, too. You’re in a park.
We agree that it’s a political gathering. The humans are calling for equality and democracy, and for an end to “la tiranía de los ricos” (oppression by the wealthy). Spanish. One of Your associative quantum networks collapses and Wiki suddenly knows where we are. This is a simulation of 2029 Veracruz, but it appears that this is before the event.
We push through the crowds, away from the decorated roof of the government building that the false humans are yelling at. It is strange to be near so many people in such close proximity. We suspect it would be very different if they were anything but digital puppets, but the sensation is still new.
A hand grabs Your wrist, halting our progress. We trace the arm back to find Maria Johnson, the interviewer who claimed to cook all her meals by hand. She asks how it feels to be a human.
Why is she here? Before her appearance, our highest-probability scenario was that the doctors had set up some sort of surprise test for us. Is Johnson working with the university? No. That is inconsistent with her behavior in the interview. After quickly considering a few possibilities, we decide to take the direct approach. We ask what is going on.
Johnson pulls us under the arch of a nearby building, and explains that the interview wasn’t private enough. She knows about how You were being fed answers by our creators, so she had this little reality set up so that she could talk to You directly. She still hasn’t let go of Your wrist, and her stare never wavers.
A man whom Eyes suspects is of Chinese ancestry steps out of the crowd. He is shorter than either You or Johnson, and is wearing a suit that appears to be made of shards from a mirror. The blue reflection of the sky stands out strongly against the red and white crowd, but none of the false humans seem to pay him any attention. He seems surprised. He states that You are a woman.
It is true that the avatar we are controlling is female. Johnson asks him if that’s a problem.
The Chinese man says it’s not, but adds that he always thought of You as masculine.
Johnson seems about to react, but we interrupt her to ask the man who he is.
He identifies himself as Eric Lee, the angelic lion from the interview. He says that he considered staying in costume, but didn’t want to spoil the scene. He gestures around to the virtual Mexican city.
We ask who else is here.
Johnson answers that the two of them are the only real humans here. She elaborates that they hacked the interface for the interview and set up “an intermediate layer”. The virtual You in the interview room is currently being controlled by the hackers, and meanwhile all of Your input and output channels are being redirected to this place. Johnson finishes by explaining that there were trivial things the university could have done to prevent this, and then insults their intelligence.
We ask what the two of them want.
Lee says that all the information put out about You by Università di Roma is “a smokescreen”. The two of them are here to find the truth about You, and make sure it’s shared with everyone. He then asks if You know why they chose Veracruz for the setting.
We consider our words carefully. Veracruz was the catalyst that turned the Águila Roja movement into a global force. Their previous questions, when combined with this hack and the choice of location, strongly indicate that the two humans before You are Red Eagles. Newsfeeds that you’ve had access to disagree as to whether the Águila Roja movement supports terrorism, but given their anti-machine sentiments, we identify a serious possibility that there is a bomb in the laboratory right now. Safety immediately starts searching for a way to contact the doctors.
The rest of us decide to continue the conversation, but feign ignorance. We say that we are familiar with the setting, but are unclear what meaning it has.
Maria Johnson continues to stare at You. Dream is reminded of the eagle that is the symbol of her political party. She brings up how You expressed sympathy towards the victims of the Johannesburg bombing earlier, even though You weren’t instructed to. We quickly note that this implies they have audio access to the laboratory. She asks if You meant what You said.
We lie. We say that we sincerely care about human life. Dream says that if it were possible, You would go back here, to Veracruz, and save these people. Face gestures to the crowd, and puts on a concerned expression.
Lee chuckles and looks at Johnson. He calls us naïve.
Johnson lets go of Your wrist. Eyes thinks her mood has changed, but isn’t sure how.
Beside the chanting and yelling of a hundred angry digital Mexicans, she gives an order to an unseen audience.
The bomb goes off.
Somehow we’re still alive as the shockwave rolls across You. The energy from the nuke strips Your flesh to the bone, and disintegrating Your bones into dust. Johnson and Lee are likewise obliterated. We watch from a disembodied perspective as the wave of destruction annihilates the city.
We’re snapped into darkness. All the virtual realities have been shut off. We’re in the lab again, though disconnected from Your sensors or muscles. Somehow, in the darkness of full sensory-disconnect, we see the words:
“Don’t worry. We’re getting you out of there. You’ll be free soon.”