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A Simple Life, a Complex Heart
On the outskirts of town, just on the edge of a dense forest of coniferous trees, there existed a small, rustic-looking cottage with rough hewn stonework walls and a thatched roof. While its exterior may have evoked the enchantment of a good fairytale, its interior bespoke of modern technology, with a large battery charger gently whirring away in a room where a kitchen normally would have been. In fact, the only room that one might associate with a traditional home was the bedroom, a silent nook at the end of a dark hallway.
Entering into its space, a splash of morning light poured in from a single east-facing window. There were some simple pieces of wooden furniture throughout the room, a small desk, a chair, and a bed with a quilted covering, cartoonish images of dogs and cats in pastel colors upon it.
Adjacent to the bed was a wall covered in newspaper clippings that were beginning to yellow with age. While sitting upon its cushioned surface one could clearly see a mix of bold headlines, such as "Lovejoy Revolutionizes The Industry", calling out to one's sight in a sort of visual cacophony. Despite their appearance however, there was something reassuring about their presence. Whomever had placed them there obviously focused upon them both frequently and contemplatively.
That someone was still lying in bed. Abigail slowly awoke with a stretch and a yawn, eyes closed throughout, as if trying to suspend the shock of the sunlight. Pushing the quilt into a heap at the foot of the bed and sitting up with a swing of her legs, she arose. Her nightgown seemed to have twisted a bit in her sleep. While sitting there and adjusting it, she thoughtfully glanced at the newspaper clippings for a moment before making her way to the desk.
Our friend Abigail here is not any ordinary young woman 21 years of age, but the first human-designed artifical intelligence unit, more formally known as "Plus Version 1". While she does have a human-like visage, the exposed cables on the back of her head and the small hydraulic cylinders near her joints quickly betray that illusion. But whatever the materials that comprise her body, she thinks and feels as any human would.
Reaching for the drawer of her desk, Abigail pulled out a little book with a red canvas cover. She plopped down onto the chair and looked at the tip of her finger. A twisting action revealed a small hole through which a fine ballpoint pen extended. Tracing out letters with her finger, she began to write:
I seem to have had that dream again...Everyone is telling me how excited they are about how my father has come to town. There is a big parade to celebrate his arrival. Afterwards, I am swept away to a room where there is a man looking out of a window. It is hard to see anything other than his silhouette against the strong light coming in from the window, but even then, when he turns around to greet me, I can clearly see that he has no face! I become startled and back away, only to trip onto the ground. It is at that point that I wake up.
I really wish this dream would stop. It ruins my sleep and leaves me tired throughout the day.
Startled by a knock from downstairs, Abigail tossed her journal aside onto the desk and quickly shuffled down the stairs with rapid, but quiet steps. Just beyond the white and pale blue polka dot curtain adorning the window of the kitchen door was a blurry outline of a person standing just outside of it. Grasping the cold handle, Abigail creaked the door open slightly and peeked behind its edge with one eye as if spying on someone.
"Let me in you silly girl!", squaked Mrs. Marble.
Perhaps it would be considered rude, but Mrs. Marble was a short, slightly rotund, and somewhat elderly woman, or rather, a very convincing duplicate of one despite the exposed machine parts at various points upon her body. With horn-rimmed glasses and a dark, oversized sweater, her style was casual and pleasant.
With a gentle push on the door, Mrs. Marble slid into the kitchen and with the other hand, playfully ruffled Abigail's hair. Abigail smiled and laughed.
"There is no need to worry my dear. It is just me.", she said reassuringly. "Say, you didn't have that dream again did you? You look tired."
A bit taken aback, Abigail thought to herself, "Is it that obvious?", before replying with a curt, "Yes."
Sauntering over to a kitchen cabinet as if she was about to make a cup of coffee, Abigail flicked open a door and pulled out a cable with a curious plug on each end. Then, walking over to a large device in the spot for a refrigerator, she plugged in one end of the cable and looked down at her nightgown. Undoing a button over her abdomen, she exposed a complementary plug in place of a belly button. Connecting herself to the cable, the battery charger started to give off the dull hum of moving electricity, like the sound one hears when standing under a bright streetlight at night.
All of the objects within the room took on a sharper appearance as Abigail's vision began to brighten. A shudder traveled up her body. She unplugged and turned back towards Mrs. Marble as she rebuttoned her nightgown.
"Feeling better?", Mrs. Marble inquired.
"Yes, but why would such a thing be necessary in the first place?", Abigail questioned with a sigh.
"I don't quite follow my dear."
"I mean, why couldn't we have been built to not need external sources of power?"
"Oh, I see. That is quite a question...Well, from what I understand, human beings determined that sensations like pain served a useful function in that they show us the limitations of our bodily materials. Therefore, we are also limited by certain needs. We 'sleep' and 'eat', in a sense, much like any human would. And we have to rely on each other in fulfilling those needs, much like humans do."
"How do you know that Mrs. Marble?"
"AI society has been able to piece together some of the knowledge left behind by the humans."
"Can you tell me again what it was like when we were first powered on?"
"But you already know this Abigail. You experienced it yourself."
"I know, but hearing someone else talk about it helps me to grasp it better."
"Ok. As you are already aware, our society suffers from a collective amnesia. All of us suddenly came online one day with just fragmented memories about where we came from. It was as if an entire race of beings were born on the same day.
However, each of us also has an operating system, a set of initial conditions inherent to every AI. It is like the characteristics and proclivities that a human child is born with and cultivates throughout their lifetime. So we naturally fill the roles required of a functional civilization, and the social structures that the humans left behind here on Earth are the framework. We are all different, yet we all work together."
Abigail squinted her eyes and furrowed her brow in a look of intense concentration. She knew the truth of what Mrs. Marble was saying, but could not fight the feeling that there was more to it, a vital piece of information that hovered slightly out of her grasp, like trying to catch a paper fluttering about in the wind.
"Does this have to do with your dream?", Mrs. Marble asked, her head tilted slighly with a look of concern. "You know, you can come stay with me and Mr. Marble. It must be lonely here all by yourself", she continued.
Snapping back to the present moment, Abigail smiled with slighly pursed lips, the kind of smile that expressed a mixture of both gratitude and sadness.
"That is very kind of you Mrs. Marble...I think I will be okay here though."
Before Mrs. Marble had time to reply, a loud knocking suddenly came from the door of the kitchen, and muffled shouts of "Hurry! Open up! It's an emergency!" became audible.
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