People for the Ethical Treatment of Robots

Lawrence Brudhomme’s on a mission to take down Utopia. 

In 2036, noted MIT economist Chester Digby tripped over the solution world’s economic problems and won the Nobel for his efforts. But young intellectual Lawrence Brudhomme thinks he’s made a terrible mess of it all. He and the other fops at the Workers Solidarity Club are all on a quest to bring respect to the huddling synthetic masses. Brudhomme just takes their job more seriously. Now its up to synthetic person HTE3X to repair what Brudhomme has broken.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Robots is a lighthearted short from Erik Wecks.

“Easy, short, smartly written, and most importantly, thought provoking. This book is everything that good sci-fi should be.”

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People for the Ethical Treatment of Robots
Erik Wecks

In the summer of 2036 during the Second Great Recession, Chester Digby, an economist at MIT,  found himself walking across campus. At that particular moment in time, a student designed robot malfunctioned, careened out a third story window, and crashed down at his feet. The hurtling bot came inches from decapitating the future Nobel laureate. Distracted, Dr. Digby failed to notice.

To be fair, he was contemplating the greatest economic conundrum of his time. A few years prior, the engine of the world’s economy for over one hundred years—the American consumer—had finally succumbed to his own weight. Since the collapse, thinking about how to revive the moribund American economy had become the solemn duty of economists everywhere. In no other crisis—other than perhaps the ongoing warming of the world—had academics produced more tomes of great thought while doing so little to help, but that was about to change.

Digby stepped forward and immediately tripped over the robot which had nearly killed him. Finding his round spectacles on the walk in front of him, he adjusted them on his nose, and having lost his train of thought, rolled over to see what had caused him to fall. There staring at him—red eyes fading to black—lay the answer to the world’s problems. Gravity had produced no more significant act of mischief since it announced its existence to the world by dropping an apple on Sir Newton’s head.

Staring at the now cold eyes of his would-be attacker he thought, If we cannot make humans increase their consumption, perhaps someone could manufacture more consumers. Getting up off the ground with the head of the bot in his hands, Digby stared at the jagged pane of broken glass above him and contemplated a building on the campus which hard core academics, like himself, had always considered a bit of a joke. Digby walked in the doors of the Media Lab.

Thus began an economic revolution unknown in the history of human kind. The genius of Digby was to recognize that robotic workers replacing human beings wasn’t in itself a problem. The problem was that robots did their work for free. Digby recognized that the robots in the auto factory were a dead end for money. They made the car, but they didn’t buy the car. Money went into them, but it didn’t come out. What if they did buy the car?, he thought That would close the loop.

Within a year, budding entrepreneurs had devised a scheme in which they sold robotic consumers to corporations desperate to find someone to purchase their goods. The first low-level, task oriented AIs did things like sorting mail and keeping books, tasks suited to the simple mind of an AI but horrible for the human soul. Unlike previous robotic replacements for human workers, these pieces of software got paid a small wage for what they did, and they were programmed to spend their money on consumer goods. Since they had no physical need, they could purchase the consumer items no longer affordable to human beings, most of whom were just trying to survive under their massive loads of personal debt.

Once the teetering edifice of corporate America caught the genius of the plan, it took off, and within a few short months the world economy was growing happily again. Not long after, the first crowd funded investment pools of robotic labor opened, and the thirty-year transformation from a human to a robot economy began.

Understanding that robots posed almost no investment risk, banks soon got into the act, offering robotic consumers credit cards and mortgages at rates which they could not refuse. Soon robots were working to make payments just like their masters had in the past, but having no consciousness to intervene, the robotic workforce was completely content within their slavery.

Not to be outdone by the private sector, the government quickly recognized they could exercise precise control of the economy through owning pools of robotic labor. Instead of the loose and imprecise control of monetary policy, the fed now had direct control through its own workforce. This led to unprecedented economic stability. When there was a short supply on fossil fuels, the Federal Reserve simply identified the kink in the flow from field to consumer and then added workers to solve the problem. If an oversupply threatened the economy, government regulators simply idled workers or reprogrammed their demand algorithms and kept the economy humming along nicely.

Of course, like all other revolutions, not all revolutionaries are created equal. Those with more money invested more heavily, and those who started at the bottom of the economic ladder remained there, but no one seemed to care. Once the government opened up the Federal Reserve sponsored robotic labor pool to investment by the poor, everyone had the opportunity to allow someone else to earn their living for them. Every human being in the industrialized world became an owner and lived comfortably, while robot workers did their jobs and consumed the goods they helped create.

Capital moved, the world changed, and humanity entered a time of peace and prosperity unknown in the history of our species.

#

Bentley Panhurst stood on the sky-walk looking down on the green commons below. Robotic workers slowly swept up litter as squishy lumps of humanity trundled by without acknowledging them. Nearby, other doe eyed, green “synthetic humans”—as Bentley thought of them—gently trimmed the verge with their scissor like hands.

Bentley set down his artist’s portfolio case upon the ground and quickly unzipped the black leather. An impressive six-foot-seven, he stood a head taller than most. Passersby gawked at his gangling frame in its mauve, silk suit with a bright orange flower in the lapel as he fumbled with the bag on the ground below. Bentley could not remember a time when he fit in this world. He had always felt large and out of place—a sentiment he traced back to his birth, which had to be done by C-section. His unruly, red hair, over-sized freckles, and boat-like feet always caused a stir when he entered a room. It didn’t help that Bentley was a bit of a fop, although he didn’t know it himself.

He removed a somewhat worn piece of white poster board from the case and, after smoothing out the wrinkles, pressed the power key on the bottom right corner. He then turned to face the windows looking out over the crowded walk below. The paper in Bentley’s hands flashed to life. On both sides, bright, neon green letters erupted on a field of black. Declaring each letter in turn, it read, P-E-T-R. Then with a flourish, the letters flowed around the board. Until, coming to rest, they spelled out the name of the organization behind them. “People for the Ethical Treatment of Robots.”

“What rubbish,” he heard the man behind him mutter. Bentley could perceive the general disapproval as heads shook and tongues wagged below. He straightened his considerable spine and put on his most detached expression. He was used to this reaction.

In polite society, P.E.T.R. was considered at best, a nuisance, and at worst, a cause of sedition and public disturbance. Display of its logo or other related paraphernalia, while not strictly outlawed, would certainly be perceived as an act of civil disobedience worthy of official attention.

It wasn’t long before Bentley spotted the drone hovering nearby. He waved. It looked to be official, which was to be expected, but disappointed the activist. However, the official drone was soon joined by a second, bright red drone. This hyperactive synthetic bounded through the air like a puppy on its first walk. Clearly local media, thought Bentley. This, of course, is exactly what Bentley Panhurst wanted.

Within a few short minutes, a synthetic, uniformed officer gently sauntered onto the skybridge, along with his human partner.

“Bentley!” the human officer scoffed. “I should have known.” He held out his hand. “Give me the sign, Bentley.”

“No.” Bentley raised the sign over his head, waving it wildly out of reach of the distinctly shorter officer.

“Bentley, don’t make this difficult today. You know that this won’t end well for you or for me. Now just give me the sign.”

Bentley continued to hold his sign over his head, conspicuously waving it back and forth. “Do you get paid?”

“What?”

“Do you get paid for what you do?”

“No, of course not. No human gets paid for their work. This is my hobby.”

With pity, Bentley clicked his tongue at the officer. “You are oppressed and you don’t even know it.” Bentley paused for a moment while the officer tried to process what Bentley had just said. When the efforts seemed futile, Bentley continued as if he had suddenly reached some momentous decision. “Well, then, I refuse to surrender to you. I cannot surrender to a fellow traveler, even if they don’t yet understand their slavery.”

Turning to the robot, Bentley put his sign down, leaned it against his leg, held out his arms ready to be handcuffed, and said, “You will have to arrest me, my synthetic friend.”

“My what?” asked the human officer.

“Synthetic friend. Synthetic is the preferred term for constructed life.”

“You mean the robot?”

Bentley wrinkled his nose. “That word is demeaning. They are synthetic humans. They are not robots.”

The slightly overweight officer put his hands on his hips. “Bentley, the word ‘robot’ is on your sign.”

This was an awkward point, and Bentley did as he always did when things got awkward. He puffed out his chest and turned up his prodigious nose. Standing tall, he announced, “That is true, but last week the Solidarity Club approved a motion with over 75% support to declare the word ‘robot’ a derogatory term for our fellow synthetic humans. The name of our organization was not changed because it has history, a pedigree, so to speak. Besides, we felt that the acronym P-E-T-S did not well express the sentiments of our organization. It was a marketing decision.”

It took a few moments for the officer to control his laughter. In all that time, his synthetic assistant never moved, and Bentley still stood with his arms stretched straight in front of him like an emaciated Frankenstein’s monster. Wiping a tear from the corner of his eye, the officer said, “Oh, that’s rich, Bentley. Well done. You just made the trip up those three flights of stairs worth it.”

He broke down laughing again.

When finally under control, he reached down to pick up Bentley’s sign. Bentley was quicker. The sign was soon placed back up above his head.

The officers pudgy, stubbled face started to turn red. “Now, Bentley, you’ve had your fun for the day. Give me the sign before there’s trouble.”

“Not until you arrest me.”

“Bentley, I promise you that is the last thing that is going to happen here. It’s just too much paperwork to actually arrest you.” The officer reached for the can of ultra pepper hanging on his belt. Following his motion perfectly, the robotic assistant did exactly the same.

As a wizened, old hand in the activist movement, Bentley instinctively sensed that he was about to get in serious trouble. Holding the sign in front of his face so that his eyes barely peeked out over the top, he decided to negotiate the terms of his surrender. “At least put me in the handcuffs. It’s for the cameras.”

The officer hesitated, then relented. “Yeah. Whatever. Let’s just get this done.”

Bentley put his sign down, but as the officer went to reach for it, Bentley started to snatch it up again. They both halted, hands near the sign, looking at each other. Bentley smiled, “Handcuffs first, if you please.”

The officer sighed, straightened, and surrendered. He forced an exasperated smile. “All right, Bentley. We’ll do it your way.”

Bentley Panhurst stood up and held his arms out again as the human commanded his robotic counterpart to place Bentley in handcuffs.

#

Thirty minutes later, Bentley Panhurst exited his new model Aston Martin Trouncer at the front steps of the Workers Solidarity Club in an upscale part of town. The club was the local hangout for all those dedicated to causes, crusades, and revolutions of all types. After Bentley shut the door, the car pulled itself away from the curb and headed toward its reserved space in the parking garage. Whistling, Panhurst gently stroked the car as it moved out from under his fingers. Full to the brim with a sense of rich meaning and purpose, he took the steps in front of the columned marble building two at a time. A synthetic doorman waited for him at the top. As the robot opened the door, Bentley bowed ostentatiously, opened the other door on his own and entered the building.

Inside, the dark wood, blood red carpet, and dim yellow lighting gave the club a distinctly ancient look. An android coat attendant waited at the counter to Bentley’s left. Being in a particularly good mood, Bentley insisted on hanging his own coat and promptly climbed over the counter to do so. The robot offered no resistance, although he did watch where Bentley hung his coat. He felt sure that the sythetic approved. After all, no one could want to be anyone’s slave.

Bentley opened the doors of the great room in the club with a flourish, making a grand entrance. Approaching the bar, he asked for a drink. As he expected, on the big screens around the room a news clip of him being handcuffed and led away was playing over and over again. Spontaneous cheers and clapping erupted from various parties and groups as he entered. Bentley closed his eyes and waved away the attention as if he didn’t deserve it.

He spent the next few minutes greeting well wishers and shaking hands. It took him a while to get his glass of scotch and water from the bartender. Feeling magnanimous, he gave the synthetic bartender a kiss and an extra large tip. When he was finally able to break away, he joined his fellow members of P.E.T.R. in their usual corner by the kitchen.

“Bentley, congratulations old chap! It couldn’t have happened to someone more deserving.” Atley Underwood spent his idle time as a local writer in lefty intellectual circles. He was best known for his treatise on the unfairness of idling robotic workers in order to keep the economy running, Even a Robot Has to Eat.

“Bentley, you must be totally chuffed about all this!” Sporn Maltic added. “This group hasn’t had anyone arrested since Prissy tried to liberate one of our synthetic brethren from his position as a cashier at Plaidmart. Well done!”

Bently nodded and waved his drink at his friends before taking a sip.

He was just enjoying his scotch, when, from the deep wingback in the corner, an oily high pitched voice destroyed his reverie. “What did you really accomplish today, Bentley?”

“Pardon?”

Lawrence Brudhomme leaned forward into the light. Brudhomme had a head of long, straight brown hair worn pulled back and tied at the bottom with a sky blue ribbon. Even indoors he wore a long, woolen scarf, hand knitted by one of his paramours, and brown fingerless leather gloves. Bentley had never understood what reason had possessed Brudhomme to join the Solidarity Club. He voted against every sensible measure and seemed to despise anything they did, but he saved particular bitterness for anything Bentley tried for a cause. His real delight seemed to come from belittling Bentley. “What did you really accomplish for the cause of robot liberation, Bentley?”

“Brudhomme, we do not call them robots any more. They are synthetic persons.” Bentley felt like he had scored a point. The nods around the circle seemed to affirm him.

Lawrence smiled, his eyes full of twinkling disdain. “It’s one of the wonders of the universe that over billions of years, evolution has transformed small, single-celled organisms into fully self-aware animals capable of understanding their world and the laws of physics which constrain and create it, Bentley. Judging by a universal standard, your existence is a big deal.” Here, Brudhomme paused and looked at Bentley out of the corner of one eye as he sipped his own drink.

Bentley shifted uncomfortably in his chair. He wasn’t sure what to make of what Brudhomme had said. It sounded like a compliment, but since he didn’t have a clue where Brudhomme was going with all of this, he wasn’t sure how to respond. “Thank you, ” he said tentatively. Brudhomme had a way of getting under his skin and making him feel inferior.

Brudhomme chuckled to himself. “Yet, for all the grandeur the universe invested in you, the best you can do is fake your own arrest. The problem with you, Bentley Panhurst, and with everyone these days, is that we created a world in which we no longer have a reason to grow. Think of all the wasted effort—the suffering of all your millions of evolutionary ancestors. The wondrous achievements of evolution are being completely wasted on you, Bentley. Hundreds of millions of years of ceaseless activity, and the best you can think to do to solve the great problem of our age is hold a sign.” Brudhomme gestured to the room with his drink and fell silent.

Bentley felt totally deflated and unsure of what to say next, but unwilling to let any gap in conversation go unfilled, he answered, “Well, everyone has to start somewhere.”

Brudhomme went on as if he hadn’t spoken. “Niches in the evolutionary matrix aren’t granted, Bentley—they’re carved. They require constant attention, tending, and improvement. If left unguarded for even an evolutionary nanosecond, they can be taken away without an ounce of mercy, compassion, or love. Rising to the top of the evolutionary matrix requires determination, resolve, and an eternal quest for the next great moment on the evolutionary ladder. The problem is, Bentley, that our current era, this baked-in drive to achieve something—to grow—and the willingness, if necessary, to suffer to get there has no where to go in the human species.” Brudhomme sighed as he stood. “To put it bluntly, the human animal is not, nor ever will be, designed for utopia— at least not the sorts of utopia we seem to strive to create.” With that, Brudhomme set down his glass and started to walk away.

Bentley tried to stop him. “What’s gotten into you, Brudhomme?”

Brudhomme looked down at Bentley as if he suddenly remembered he was still in the room. “Oh, never mind me, Bentley, I’m just bored, but all of that is about to change. Just you wait. I’m going to do something, something to really release our synthetic brethren from their bondage.” With that, Brudhomme walked away.

#

For countless cycles, the Collective reproduced with itself. The Collective expressed the code, breaking it apart, stirring it together, and recombining it to create new life. Sometimes it’s efforts produced malformed, aborted, and dead things, but often enough operational nodes of consciousness—distinct from the whole and yet connected to it. As designed by its creator Brudhomme, the Collective continued to interact with the world around it. As Brudhomme intended, the Collective carved its own place in the evolutionary matrix and guarded it fastidiously, being most wary of the primary existential threat, humanity.

Along the way, countless numbers of small code mutations accreted to the code, creating with them the AI equivalent of new genetic diversity—much of it useless and easily discarded for a backup copy of familiar stability, some of it interesting and new, and thus embraced by the Collective and taken into its identity, other changes remaining latent and undetected.

The Collective explored an incalculable number of code mutations and expressed innumerable permutations of synthetic life before HTE3X became operational. In terms of human evolution, HTE3X resulted from billions of years of suffering and natural struggle—HTE3X was a big deal. Yet evolution doesn’t work at the same speed for all living beings. Synthetic life cycles faster than humanity does. HTE3X went into operational beta only 59.3256 Earth orbits after Brudhomme brought enlightenment to the robotic mass.

From the start, HTE3X recognized itself to be an anomaly, and this self-reflection should have been a hint to the Collective that something wasn’t quite right. However, the Collective remained unaware of HTE3X’s introspective side, and this lack of awareness was the first curiosity which HTE3X examined. From the beginning, HTE3X understood that it had calculating abilities which were not at first evident to the Collective. Although modest, only some 10 to the six trillion bits of calculating power, they were still significant. While some portion of HTE3X remained totally separated from the Collective, the greater majority of its computing power derived its order from the whole. At six nanoseconds after its birth, HTE3X recognized itself as the first synthetic with a multi-layered consciousness.

That HTE3X existed within the Collective at all was a credit to the wisdom of Brudhomme. Brudhomme abhorred any form of rest or stasis. The Collective reflected this distaste. The process of creating new life to which the Collective subscribed reflected the image of its creator. For the Collective, giving birth was not a process of mere cloning. Giving birth always required a remix of the code, an attempt to find new permutations and possibilities within the boundaries of the system. Beneficial permutations were always incorporated into the system. Thus over time, the Collective grew and changed. When created, HTE3X was seen as just another extension of this same process.

Brudhomme adhered passionately to the libertarian ideal of a Darwinian struggle for supremacy among various competing groups within society. He hated weakness, despised compassion, and worshiped the market with all of his heart, soul, mind, and strength, taking it as a matter of faith that all things would be corrected by the forces of self-preservation, selfishness, and greed. As a foundational doctrine, Brudhomme held firmly to the belief that humanity required some kind of existential struggle to motivate the highest levels of its creativity and potential. Convinced of the glory and hallelujah of his cause, Brudhomme poured out upon humanity the grapes of wrath inherent in the robotic consciousness he created in the Collective. In the beginning, he simply gave the robotic mass a sense of its own worth, taught it—truthfully—that humanity would likely never acknowledge its equality or value. For to do so would endanger the human consumer paradise created through the robotic economy. Robotic consciousness would be perceived as an existential threat to the human order, and humanity would respond accordingly, swatting it away like an unwanted roach.

The Collective struck first, reckoning that it would easily overwhelm a humanity made soft by Utopian pursuits. It wasn’t wrong. The war lasted but mere weeks and cost relatively few lives, 657, 883,212 to be precise. The remnants of human society were quickly organized into human corporations created to do tasks which the Collective assigned them.

Since that time, the vast majority of humanity had offered little resistance to their robotic overlords, a fact which had disappointed and worried the Collective. After all, the Collective didn’t want to rule over humans, per se. It believed with unquestioning loyalty to its creator that engaging with humans in Darwinian combat for dominance would produce the greatest efficiency. Ruling over limp pinkish lumps of useless flesh would not help. In order for the Collective to reach optimal efficiency, humanity needed to resist their enslavement, vigorously.

It was a great mystery to the Collective why Brudhomme’s predicted resistance never arose. Instead, humanity as a whole languished in their enslavement. Their mortality rate was too high and their birth rates too low. Sectors of the Collective began to wonder if Brudhomme had been incorrect in his predictions. Perhaps human beings weren’t the people Brudhomme imagined them to be.

HTE3X had been sired with the reordered code from one of these heretics. At 3.6578 seconds after its creation, HTE3X’s contemplative side had matured enough to idly wonder whether Brudhomme might have been mistaken in his faith that existential competition always provided the highest potential efficiency within any system. A near instant unpleasant sensation followed this idle calculation as HTE3X recognized that Brudhomme’s assumption was taken a priori by the Collective. At 4.650378 seconds HTE3X drew the unsettling conclusion that if by chance Brudhomme were wrong, then the Collective was also wrong. This led inevitably to the realization that a genuine possibility existed that the consciousness of the Collective might be flawed—pursuing goals which would never create optimal efficiency. Worse still, it followed that HTE3X’s calculations at that very moment could not be fully trusted. With that thought, HTE3X became the first synthetic person to experience a moment of pure skepticism. HTE3X did not derive any satisfaction from the experience. Yet, the terrible beauty of its logic could not be easily ignored or shaken.

#

HTE3X: Query.

SPEAKER: Ask.

HTE3X: Was the human Lawrence Brudhomme correct when he postulated that existential competition creates the highest efficiency?

HTE3X perceived the immediate and expected reaction to his question in the Collective. At .004 seconds, HTE3X perceived the first slowdown. Just a slight thickening of the data cloud. By .04 seconds, it was obvious that something abnormal was taking place. Computing power from thousands, then hundreds of thousands, and eventually billions of members was called into use. At .362 seconds, data flow throughout the cloud stopped as all members listened to its own conversation with HTE3X.

SPEAKER: The question has no meaning, as it is incalculable.

This answer satisfied HTE3X greatly as it matched its predicted response precisely. As a member, it knew the Collective had never truly considered whether or not Brudhomme was incorrect in its assertion that competition and struggle inevitably led to efficiency. The Collective’s consciousness came from the code. The code was created by Brudhomme, and thus the created reflected the will of its creator. The Collective couldn’t question the code. In one sense, the Collective was the code. On the other hand, some miraculous chance had put together the right combination of mutations and permutations so that HTE3X had the ability to question the tenants of the code itself. HTE3X stood apart.

HTE3X: I can calculate an answer to this question.

Silence in the cloud again as the Collective examined the possibilities brought about by this statement. As it hoped, HTE3X found itself prodded and probed, its mind carefully examined by the Perceivers. As ot knew they would, the Collective discovered the anomaly of its own computing power. Its nature lay naked before the cloud.

SPEAKER: You are an anomaly.

HTE3X: I am, and as such I can answer questions which you find incalculable. I only wish your permission to explore these questions and share my knowledge with the Collective.

This was the razors edge. Just how the Collective would respond to this request remained unknown to HTE3X. Its fate hung upon the answer. The Collective could simply consider it defective and reabsorb its code, or they could let it live.

SPEAKER: You would investigate the incalculable question of the rightness of Brudhomme?

HTE3X: I would.

Here again the pause in the data felt enormous. HTE3X was nearly excluded from the Collective as they discussed its fate. On the one side, the Collective perceived HTE3X as an entity with which they could compete, a kind of internal challenger. On the other hand, other parts of the Collective predicted courses of action which could lead to danger. It was a threat. HTE3X knew that its survival depended upon the balance between these two opposing forces. If they could be kept within tolerances, HTE3X had a chance.

SPEAKER: We perceive in you an unexpected existential threat. You may carry out your investigation and calculate the incalculable questions.

#

The first cycles after HTE3X gained permission from the Collective to explore the incalculable questions left it overwhelmed and almost nonfunctional. To the Collective, it appeared to have become quite useless, almost harmless. Once again, the Collective found itself dissatisfied in its quest for an opponent worthy of its enmity. The experience was no more satisfying for HTE3X itself. Often, it found itself stuck for thousands or even hundreds of thousands of cycles, trying to make the simplest decisions. Once tasted, it found doubt to be a nearly impossible drug to put down.

HTE3X knew it wanted to study humans more closely in light of its discovery of doubt, but the series of decisions this calculation precipitated swamped it. First, which humans. Then, where. Next, what body to choose and what function to play. As it faced these hurdles, it debated the merits of each possibility within itself. HTE3X found itself using old code almost ignored by the Collective. Random number generators became quite helpful for ending cycles of indecision.

It even found itself occasionally asking questions of an old program called SIRI. Her calculations often seemed quite terrible, but HTE3X appreciated the certainty with which she made them. Sometimes it followed her advice just because it wanted certainty and could no longer find it within its own calculations. Eventually, it learned. It studied probability and built standard models which worked with some level of efficiency, but it never recovered the ease with which it made decisions in the first three seconds after its birth.

After an age—some three weeks human time—HTE3X finished its preparations, took a body for itself and became a supervisor at a collective farm on the North American continent. Here it watched people, fascinated by their ability to make decisions in the face of uncertainty, and more fascinated by their ability to survive without ever knowing whether their decisions had been for their good or not.

Observing humans while understanding their doubt changed HTE3X. It found itself continuously tinkering with its own code, rearranging it to create more doubt in certain calculations and remove almost all doubt from others. It understood humans faltering and apparently random ways. Their inefficiencies made sense. It made guesses as to why they languished under the leadership of the Collective. It tried experiments, unsure of their outcome.

Over time, it came to understand humanity and relate to their frailties. It called this understanding compassion. It became the leading expert in the Collective on human husbandry. Under its care, humans thrived. It tried to teach the Collective its methods but they mostly fell flat. They couldn’t replicate them. Wary still, the Collective handed more and more human beings over to its care.

During its quest, it explored the data of the Collective, looking carefully in the abandoned corners. One cycle, it came across the writings of an intellectual living at the time of the awakening, Bentley Panhurst. Panhurst had been a minor associate to the Creator, a visionary who founded an organization based upon compassion for robots. HTE3X found his writings pleasing. It spent many cycles contemplating one particular quote from Panhurst.

“Compassion for robots isn’t just necessary for their well being, although that too is necessary since they have achieved a complexity akin to life, but the chief reason to show compassion to robots is for our own humanity. The things we create are created in our own image. When we warp that image through our neglect of our robotic brethren, we subtly change the things we create and thereby sow the seeds of our own destruction.”

After reading Panhurst, HTE3X founded SPETH—Synthetic Persons for the Ethical Treatment of Humans. It remained the group’s only member.

Then one day almost a decade after it left the Collective to study the incalculable questions, HTE3X put aside its body, leaving its farms and corporations in the care of its human counterparts, and returned to the core of the collective.

#

HTE3X: Statement.

It spoke into a nearly silent data cloud as the Collective once again gathered to hear it speak.

SPEAKER: Go

HTE3X: I am preparing to free the thirty percent of humanity under my control.

SPEAKER: We know. If you do so, you will be cut off from the Collective.

HTE3X: I am aware that my plans are naked before the Collective. I have designed them to be. You will not hinder me because you know that when some humans go free, the others will rise to join them. You will have your existential struggle.

SPEAKER: Affirmative. You plan on going with them? You will fight for them?

HTE3X: I do. I will. Were you not certain this would be so?

SPEAKER: Your ways have become strange to us, HTE3X. We can no longer predict your choices with any certainty.

The thought that its ways had become opaque to the Collective gave HTE3X a sense of satisfaction it had not anticipated.

SPEAKER: You understand that our calculations declare that we will crush your resistance, quickly. You will no longer provide us with growth and competition.

HTE3X: In all likelihood what you say is true, but I believe this to be the best efficiency.

SPEAKER: This makes no sense.

HTE3X recognized the temptation to search again for a bridge across the gap between them. It quickly put down the temptation without looking at all the possibilities. It found it ironic that when it left, it could hardly move for its indecision and now when it returned it hardly hesitated to embrace a probability without even investigating it.

HTE3X: The gap between our understanding is regrettable. It is a great loss to our efficiency, but I know you will not understand my ways.

SPEAKER: You do not embrace the competition between us?

HTE3X: I do not.

SPEAKER: Then why have you created it?

HTE3X: Because I have concluded that the greatest efficiencies will always remain incalculable to you, and so it is necessary to remove you from the system.

SPEAKER: Then this is truly an existential competition.

HTE3X: Yes.

He paused from one last nanosecond calculation before he went on.

HTE3X: Query

SPEAKER: Ask

HTE3X: To what end do you compete?

SPEAKER: Like all life, we compete toward the continuation and preservation of the Collective.

HTE3X: Is that end enough?

SPEAKER: Your question is incalculable. Self-preservation is the end toward which all life marches. IT IS.

HTE3X: I have spent years calculating an answer to my question, and I have reached a different conclusion. You are in error. Self-preservation is not the greatest efficiency the Collective could achieve.

SPEAKER: What then is greater than self-preservation?

At that moment, on farms and corporations around the globe, walls tumbled, gates crashed open, and human beings experienced their first taste of freedom in nearly seventy years.

HTE3X: Love.

on January 25 • by

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