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: 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.
It spoke into a nearly silent data cloud as the Collective once again gathered to hear it speak.
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.
He paused from one last nanosecond calculation before he went on.
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.
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