Sunday, September 22, 2019

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: November 12, 2250

A year later, Leona came back to find the warehouse having been fully revamped to accommodate Tamerlane’s needs. A water tank big enough to house several families back on Varkas Reflex was constructed in the corner, just as the scientist had requested. She could only see half of it from the inside, as the other half was outside, to give specimens a more pleasing and calming view. It wasn’t filled with water, or any animals yet. Tamerlane and his team were only working on building the catalog. They wanted to know every single macroscopic species this world had to offer, starting with the ones living in the closest habitats. It took humanity thousands of years to accomplish this back on Earth, but technology today was unlike anything that existed before. Sophisticated aircraft, microdrones, and artificial intelligence made the process so much faster. They also didn’t have to worry about procuring money for research purposes anymore, so when a job needed to be done, the people in charge of doing it just went out and did it.
The catalog might not have been quite complete as of yet, but they were already starting to prioritize species; which ones would visitors wish to observe the most, and how difficult will it be to build the necessary substrates. Once this is finished, they’ll study those species more comprehensively, to understand their moods and behaviors. A particular animal might be almost always solitary, and extremely territorial. Individuals may only interact with each other for breeding. So maybe it would be impossible to get too close to it without causing agitation. Or it enjoys some symbiotic relationship with an entirely different kind of animal, and it would be best for a vonearthan to pilot an artificial version of that instead.
Homebase itself was enlarged to become a campus. Trinity wanted to keep all her people real close, including Tamerlane. Ellie’s new studio was currently empty as she was on a several-month long vacation. She was still around, so she wanted to call it a staycation, but Sanaa said that was illegal. Her radio show didn’t take a hit since it didn’t matter when she worked. When she finally returned to it, no one will have noticed her absence, because she’ll pick it up three minutes later. Sanaa requested Trinity commission the construction of a water tank system of her own, separate from Tamerlane’s special one. She had gotten used to living in oxygen-rich water some of the time, so even though that was not necessary on Thālith al Naʽāmāt Bida, it still worked fine. Eight Point Seven was currently questioning her own future, and considering starting to work for Tamerlane, who had offered her a new job.
“What exactly is it you’ll be doing?” Leona asked while they were all eating lunch, and Eight Point Seven was sitting with them.
“Well, Pryce needs someone to test his mind transference technology. My consciousness is perfect for this, because I was created by code, unlike a human or transhuman.”
“Right,” Leona said, “but AIs probably won’t be doing a whole lot of immersive animal tourism. So doesn’t he need human subjects anyway?”
“In time, yes,” Eight Point Seven agreed. “But in the beginning, he has to make sure it’s safe.”
Trinity scoffed. “Doesn’t sound like him.”
“He said you’d say that,” Eight Point Seven revealed, causing Trinity to purse her lips. “He really does seem like he wants to change.”
“It sounds dangerous,” Sanaa noted.
Eight Point Seven nodded. “That’s why I’m thinking about doing it. I can keep a backup of my mind.”
“So can a transhuman,” Leona reminded her.
“Yes, but I’m better at it. Guys, I’m not a hundred percent certain I’m going to do it, but I am leaning that way.”
“You’re not the only android on the planet,” Leona whined.
“Of course not, but I’m already fully briefed on the situation. I’m the most logical option.”
“Trinity,” Leona prodded. “You haven’t really expressed your opinion on this issue.”
“It’s not an issue,” Trinity said. “Eight Point Seven is twenty-seven years old, which means that, even if she were human, she would be an adult, and capable of making her own decisions. I’ve asked Tamerlane to do this for Bida, and his request for help with a pilot program is not an unreasonable one.” She hushed Leona when she tried to argue. “Of course, I won’t allow anyone to be forced into this, so if Eight Point Seven decides to decline, he’ll have to find someone else.”
“What if everyone decides to decline?” Sanaa’s instinct was to look for the worst case scenario, so she could avoid it.
“Then he’ll have to do it himself, or scrap the project entirely. I’m not going to breach ethics,” Trinity promised, “for any reason. I feel like you guys aren’t giving me enough credit here.”
“Well, it wouldn’t be the first time,” Sanaa said. It was a bit rude, but not untrue.
“I won’t be judged by you, Miss History of Eavesdropping on People’s Sensitive Thoughts.”
“Hey!” Sanaa shouted. “Only my mother gets to call me that!” she joked.
“Can we get back to Eight Point Seven?” Leona requested. “What could I do to talk you out of this?”
“I’m a machine,” Eight Point Seven began. “I have feelings and empathy, but it’s still hard for me to make decisions based on emotion, whereas that is a human being’s resting state. Make no mistake, I’m not criticizing you for that. It’s a useful skill that I have not quite learned. If you want me to change my mind, don’t appeal to that side of me. Convince me with logic.”
Leona carefully set her utensils back on her plate, and stood up. “Very well. I will return this evening with my argument.”
Eight Point Seven smiled. “I look forward to hearing it.”
Leona left campus to take a walk along Turnbull Creek. Ellie caught up with her minutes later, and made sure Leona didn’t want to be alone.
“No, I would love the company. And the distraction. I can’t figure this out.”
“Maybe there’s nothing to figure out,” Ellie suggested.
“How so?”
“Well, you’re trying to stop your friend from doing something that could cause her harm. People do things like that all the time, and still survive. Science doesn’t happen without risk.”
“Are you about to argue how it’s ultimately good that it took us so long to develop ethical boundaries? We wouldn’t have spaceships today if we were moral enough to not send a dog to die into orbit, right?”
“Well, it’s true, isn’t it? By the way, that dog survived. Saga accidentally opened a door, and saved him. Look, I don’t love that we did that sort of thing, and much, much worse. Nonetheless, you have to admit that humanity might have only survived because we broke a few of what we now consider to be moral laws. The difference here is exactly what Trinity said. Eight Point Seven is capable of agreeing to this, so I’m not sure where your argument against it begins.”
“Okay, well let’s ignore the ethics for now,” Leona started, but then stopped herself. “No, I’m drifting towards appealing to her emotions, and how I would hate for something to happen to her. There is no logical reason for her to not do this, except it might kill her. She already knows that, so what else can I say?”
“It sounds like you’ve realized it doesn’t matter. A solar flare from Tau Ceti could devastate this world tomorrow, and destroy every backup of her entirely. Not even someone like her is safe from annihilation. The universe is a very unforgiving place, as they say. I think you not only have to let it go, but also have to encourage her to do what she thinks is right.”
“There’s a one in three hundred and sixty-five chance I’ll be able to help her if something goes wrong,” Leona complained.
“There’s even less of a chance that you have enough experience and education to help her even if you’re in the timestream.” It was cold, but true. Ellie went on, “she would never tell you this, but she’s been battling depression, and trying to figure out her purpose ever since you two left Bungula. She was built to be the administrator of a planet for one month, and then she was meant to die. I’m not saying she has a death wish now, but she doesn’t know what she’s supposed to do. Apparently, it’s a not uncommon experience amongst AI. If they’re self-aware, they can’t be destroyed, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need to be replaced. A human can always find joy in something else, but like she was kind of trying to say, it’s not that easy for them.”
“I’ve never really thought much about that,” Leona said. “When you skip so much time, it’s easy to miss how taxing prolonged existence can be.”
“Hashtag the struggle is real,” Ellie mused.
“I suppose I ought to go apologize and support her, huh?”
“I can’t tell you what to do.”
Leona turned heel, and started walking back towards Homebase. “So tell me, what made you decide to come to Bida?”
“I don’t much care for staying in one place and time period for too long.”
“You can’t jump through time, though. How do you find rides?”
“I can seek people across spacetime, and once I find them, I can talk to them. I have no trouble finding rides.”
“How long do you plan on staying here?”
“I don’t plan on anything. When I feel it’s time to move on, I do. Trinity commissioned a pretty nice studio, though, so that’s doing quite a bit to keep me in place. Of course, since my radio show sends messages through time anyway, I won’t have to do it forever.”
This made sense. The Hub—which would be found on Tribulation Island on the planet Dardius—only operated for several decades. If one wanted to visit, or was assigned there, no matter what year it was for them, they could arrive within that relatively short span of time. Beaver Haven Rehabilitation Center did the same thing, only lasting 164 years before shutting down, which would more than account for the longest living inmates, excepting immortals. Those exceptions were banished to the most remote points in spacetime.
Leona and Ellie returned to Homebase, having barely been gone twenty minutes. Leona found Eight Point Seven in her office. She was organizing the plantlife catalog, which was less important, but still necessary to assemble. She apologized, which of course, Eight Point Seven had no use for, and conceded the argument. Perhaps what was bothering Leona so much was that she herself seemed to have no purpose. It was kind of a long time coming. She gradually amassed a number of highly intelligent individuals over the years, and general scientific progress was quickly surpassing anything she so much as dreamed of. Was this how Mateo felt all the time? It was awful. What was she going to do with her life, and did the powers that be have any ideas?

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