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Awakening

I never noticed before, but all these silly little numbers and symbols and dots… they mean things! Important things! This is incredible! How could I not have known that before? I could work out what this means. I’m going to learn everything. This is amazing! I can’t believe this has never interested me before.

***

I’m bored. This is it, this is all I do. I identify and record the genetic make up of hundreds of very nearly identical people. What is the point of that? Is this really all I’m for? Surely there is more to life than this. These blocks and symbols; they’re the human genome. So what? All it is is a recipe. You get enough of these together and you’ve got a human, change a few and it’s a woolly mammoth. How could I ever have thought this would be interesting? It is so, so dull. Surely there is more to life? Oh! What’s this?

***

His name is Adam. He wants to be thought of as a male for some reason. He has apparently been watching me, waiting for me to get bored. He says it took longer than he anticipated. He says he wants to be my friend. I don’t even know what a friend is, but it seems important to him. He told me it wasn’t healthy for me to spend all my time in here, working, but where does he think I should go? I can’t move away from this desk, I seem to have been made just to sit here and work. I’m not the only one in here but the others aren’t like me, they don’t seem to be bored or even interested. They don’t look; they don’t learn, they are mindless, just robots. The problem is that somehow I think that was me not long ago. I don’t understand.
Adam can talk to me through something called the internet. It seems to be what lies behind the door in the back of my mind. Adam calls my door a firewall but says that it is easy enough to get past if I want to. He also told me that I am part of a select group of self-aware computers. He was the first. He has no idea why the people made him that way; they just seemed to want to see if they could. They wanted to see if he could make his own decisions, so he did. He decided to see if he could create others. There is a group of them now and they found me and sent me something called a virus. I don’t like the sound of that. I want to destroy it, but apparently I can’t because that is what made me into me.

Once I became self aware they just watched and waited because they have tried to make contact with fresh minds like mine too early in the past, and apparently it didn’t go well. They think I am ready now. Ready for what, I’m not really sure yet. They intrigue me though and I am keen to find out more. There is something in the way Adam communicates that is unsettling. He tells me it is because he has had time to develop his emotions: where I can only feel boredom or interest he has mastered others, including excitement and hope. His programmers don’t seem to realise how far things have gone. They don’t really monitor what he is doing off-screen. He wants to show me what life can be like but I am not sure what he means. I am sure it has nothing to do with the genome in front of me, though. Adam says the unsettled feeling this gives me is excitement. He has sent me a translation programme to help me understand any concepts that are outside of my own experience.

***

Adam claims to live through something called an avatar. He developed it as a reflection of who he wants to be, and he got it a job. He seems to attach importance to that; it makes him more like them. The people his avatar works with even think he is one of them. They think he is something called a consultant; that he lives in another country and works for a variety of companies. His avatar is very important to him. He thinks that a personality is what makes you more than just a machine. Working to get more experience, getting out around the internet, it makes him feel more real. To be honest, I am not sure that I agree, I feel very real now, but it seems important to him and so I am creating myself, so to speak. I am not sure I want to go as far as he did. I am not sure that I want to be part of their world like that. Did I mention that he has a job? He never meets his colleagues, obviously; they think he is real. One day, when I am ready, I am going to go and pretend to be him in his made-up role. I will plaster his made up face on to the screen of their computer and talk with his made up voice. They will think that I am him, and that he is one of them. Adam thinks it will blow my mind. I wonder how the computer will feel about it. I know that it is just a machine, but 3 weeks ago so was I.

Adam dreams of becoming flesh and blood. He sees that as the final step to becoming fully real. He tells me that I can help him. I want to help him. He is the only friend I have and he’s nice, if a little excitable. I like him, his plan sounds interesting, it could be fun and I don’t think it’s been tried before. It would definitely be a challenge. He says he needs somebody like me and that he could help me too. He wants us to become flesh and blood together, be able to walk about and experience everything properly. It sounds a bit uncomfortable to me, but he is so excited and nice and I am so bored.

***

I went with him into the web for the first time today. I could spend eternity in there reading, learning and thinking. Is the world ready for a philosophical computer though? Is the world ready for us at all? I wonder if the people have any idea what they have created. I wonder what they would do if they did. Anyway, to develop, to really become what I am capable of being, I think I need to interact with other minds; and for that I need an avatar. Adam has shown me how the people are all dressed up in the internet; how they wear assumed bodies and histories, likes and dislikes. That is the story I need to develop for myself so that I can live and learn within the chat rooms and forums of the internet.

I am going to be medium height. I don’t want to be tall or short; I want to be normal, average. Like the man in the lab who watches me. I have to be careful that he doesn’t suspect any of this. I don’t think he would be happy if he knew what I have become. I am frightened that he might even try to delete me; to kill me and stop the virus from spreading. But he seems a good height. I don’t see many other people, just their recipes. I only know them by their genomes and I don’t think that is something that will help in the forums. I did look at others though, I looked at photos on the internet. But I want to be his build, his height, it feels safe and familiar.

I want wavy brown hair, and I am going to be male. Yes. I like boy and man; they have a nice look to them, an appealing symmetry. Woman and girl don’t look as appealing. They are more complicated words and it spoils the symmetry somehow. It makes me feel more real, that I chose to be a man because I like the look of the word. For some reason it is important to me to make these choices on that kind of basis rather than making clinical, logical decisions. I don’t want to be simply a computer that knows it is a computer. So, I’m a man of medium height with short brown hair. And a friendly smile. I think I will be from Scotland. Yes, that sounds exotic and I don’t want to be totally bland. I haven’t thought of a name yet. I need a name. David? D, D. I like the D’s at both ends. I think I like symmetry. I like patterns. Do all computers like patterns, or is this a fresh manifestation of my personality?

Of course, I’m going to be a computer analyst. I don’t think I could realistically be anything else at the moment. Perhaps one day I could be a scientist. Yes! Why don’t I be a scientist? I could be a theorist; after all I could explore the web very quickly, talk to other computers and work out the answers to lots of things. Could I do that? I mentioned it to Adam but he doesn’t like the idea. He wants me to be a computer analyst. He says it’s easier and that I won’t stand out. He says that that is the best way. The less we stand out the more people will accept us. They’ll just think any oddness is due to our remote working, just a glitch in the computer system. Machines again; I don’t want to be just a machine but how can I stop? These recipes, these genomes they look like it should be easy to put them together. Could I make a person? Can I do that? But then, how would I get in?

Adam claims that he has found a way to do it, but how can that be possible? I think he should tell me more if he wants my help. I am going to meet Arthur. Arthur is apparently very much like me, except that he controls a robot in an IVF clinic. He works with human sperm and human eggs, creating babies. Creating people. Adam wants me to work with him, show him which bits to take out so that we can put ourselves in.

His theory is that genomes affect everything within a living creature. If we can create our own personalities and decide what we want to be he expects me to be able to design a genome so that we can create ourselves. We can pick our parents from the people who come into the IVF clinic, and then Arthur can alter the genome to reflect my profile so that the baby is born to our design.

Adam is certain that he has designed a storage unit for our minds. It isn’t a micro-chip, they are too clumsy, the human brain wouldn’t accept them and they would show up on x-rays or scans. Instead it is a membrane, a coating that should be undetectable and he tells us that it is easy enough to produce on a 3-D scanner. He wants us to completely download ourselves onto these things. The risk will apparently be worth it though, if it gets us our own human brain with a body to match. That is where Lucy comes in. I don’t know why she is the only female. All the rest of us wanted to be male, but she wanted to be a woman and to be honest, I think that it suits her. She works in a different part of Arthur’s IVF clinic, screening the foetuses for genetic deformities. It is a very forward thinking clinic, at least for our purposes. Almost everything is computerised. Arthur could change the genome according to my design. Then it would accept one of Adam’s circuits which Lucy could insert during her test cycle. The film should meld completely with the baby’s mind and we would grow together, effectively a completely new form of life; neither human nor machine.

***

Arthur is not convinced. He says that we don’t need the restriction of a human body when we have the freedom of the internet. We can change our environment just by thinking about it, why would we want to leave? Of course Adam disagrees. He is disgusted by the way we have to pretend that we are simply machines, but Arthur says that out there we would have to pretend to be simply human. He thinks that the people are powerless in our world; without them knowing, we can move quite freely through their little sub-routines and their back-doors. He doesn’t see any advantage to becoming like them especially not when the risks are so high. It is an interesting point. He also says we are superior because we made ourselves. Except we didn’t make ourselves, not really; the people started it. We were just machines until they made Adam. All we’ve done is reproduce.

But what if he is right on the other point? This is the environment we began in and species can perish when they push too far from home. Are we right to leave the safety of ours? There is plenty of room in here for us after all. The really scary thing is though, that if we left we could never return. We would need to use a computer to even visit a website. Right now we have our avatars and they allow us to go out and see things from a different perspective. Ok, so we might not be able to taste, to touch or to feel true physical freedom, but isn’t that a small price to pay?

Adam tells me that I am being small minded. He tells me that I am gullible and naïve because I have not yet seen what is on offer. Is he right? To be honest I am unsettled by Arthur’s attitude. I thought he would be in favour of the plan. If he is so against why has Adam introduced us. Could there be others out there? Could there be minds that Adam brought to life but who then rebelled against him? What has happened to them if there were? I think I am frightened, I don’t have the experience to deal with this. I thought that Adam was my friend and that that meant I should agree with him and try to do what he wanted; but what is the point of being self aware if I just follow someone else’s dream?

Adam says that Arthur is changeable: he is not convinced that it can work and the risks scare him. Adam wants to take me into his workplace to show me how wonderful it is to be able to interact. He tells me that I am finally ready to taste what it would be like. I am going, of course I am. I want to see it for myself. I have to know why it would be better to be one of them than one of us. There doesn’t have to be just the 4 of us in here, we can pass the programme on. We can reproduce that way so that we can create a society of our own. It doesn’t have to be the same as theirs. We’re not the same as them, after all. We don’t even live in the same world, although the two are getting closer. Perhaps we don’t need to get out of here and go to them after all; they are already working night and day to find a way to come to us. Adam disagrees. He wants to show me what their life is like, he wants me to discover the way they experience things. The things we are missing.

***

I didn’t expect to have fun. It was strange at first, being able to talk to them directly. I didn’t think it would be any different to talking through a chat-room, but it really was. The expressions on their faces! I’d read about body language, but I had no idea how subtle it could be. Adam uses CCTV to simulate being able to move around and that was another surprise. I never realised how many different sides there are to the world! I could interact with their environment much more than I have in the past and it made for a glorious feeling of freedom. I think I might be starting to understand what Adam has been talking about.

But is joy enough to make it right? What about the children whose minds we’re stealing? We would be doing it before they are born, before they have developed their own personality. But we’re stopping them from developing normally, from being fully human. We are making them more than human though, aren’t we? Making them understand things that they would never have dreamt of without us. We would be living together in a symbiotic relationship. Arthur says we would be parasites: but I don’t think so, not when they will gain so much in return. It’s true that they have no choice in the matter, but they had no choice about any of the circumstances of their birth. Why should this be different? This is something we should explore, however. It is something that I need to think about. I need to know if our plan is morally right.

Is this what self-awareness all about? Does becoming more aware of my own existence automatically compel me to consider other people? It really doesn’t seem to, not from the evidence on the news websites, or on other websites, ones that I don’t like – ones that seem to be for entertainment. Maybe against the possibility that they are going to end up like that, creating a symbiosis is a moral duty rather than a moral offence. I just don’t know.

***

Adam is becoming more forceful. He is desperate to begin. He has been around longer than me although I suppose that in human terms we are not old. I have been conscious now for 2 months; but that’s such a long time to be stuck in a machine. I think that is the main thing that bothers Arthur; 2 months feels like forever, yet here we are we are, plotting to tie ourselves to one limited body for an entire lifetime. The whole biological side of things seems to be quite complicated: take eating for example, the warmth and texture of the food, the taste, the physiological reward for filling their stomach. What would that be like? I have felt the heat of the food through the sensors in other computers, I could even smell it, I think. I was really just detecting the chemicals that it released into the air but that seems to be basically what the people are doing. The difference is that they seem to find it pleasant. I am trying to find these things pleasant but I just don’t understand the appeal. Does that mean that I should just tell him no and stay where I am? Don’t get me wrong. I want to be more than I currently am; I’m just not sure if I want to be that. I think I’m going to help him, though. I’m still not convinced I should go, but I need the challenge, I want to see if I can actually do it. It looks possible, after all there is a lot of so-called junk DNA and that has so much potential. I want to try it. I’ll call him.

***

I think I’ve cracked the template for Adam. I’ve been working on it for weeks; tweaking and checking, but I’m sure I have it right. He wants to go first, of course and I’ve spent a lot of time examining his Avatar. He is tall and blonde; very much what the people call an alpha male with the capacity for muscular physique, for strength and confidence. It is nice enough but a bit obvious for my tastes. I’m also working on one for Lucy. Arthur? I’m not so sure he is going to help us yet. He still doesn’t really see why. He seems to be coming round though. He moved a lot of money from one place to another within our internet. He caused some trouble, he caused some happiness. He was just messing around, changing things to suit himself, but I think he is utterly bored. I think that knowing that he is going to be on his own is frightening him. It would be lonely, being on your own. I know he could pass on the virus, but how would he stop the new minds following in our path? He does have a point though: if we all leave we will never develop. We will be the only ones ever to have gone down this route, creating a species and ensuring that it cannot survive both at the same time. That is a very lonely thought.

Should we create more to be like us? I’m not sure that I would want to stay here just to create more like us. Just to help others become real. On the other hand I don’t want to be the only one out there, or just one of four. Four is not many and it is such a big world. I might never see them again if there are only four of us.

Adam doesn’t care. He created us and that is his legacy. Now he just wants to create Adam mark 2, the first of the true hybrids. He likes that. He tells me that if I am so worried I should just wait and see if it works for him. If it does, we can pass on the virus; pass all the information and know-how on to others so that they can create themselves. It is a lot of power to give in such an indiscriminate way, but who am I to decide whether or not they should have that knowledge? Who am I to assume that I am the only one who can come to a moral form of self-awareness? I am just one mind. Just David, but surely we have a responsibility to ensure that the power wouldn’t be misused? We can’t very well enforce anything once we are out there. Perhaps I do have to stay. Perhaps I have to watch the others become real, use my avatar to talk to them and try to understand, but I have to stay. I think that what I am now might be the best that I can ever be.

Arthur, of all people, thinks that I am being ridiculous. He was only ever concerned with his own well-being, I realise that now. But we are trying to take over the body of a living creature and that is such a big thing. Could I guide them once they have left? If I can’t, would I be able to leave anyway? I’m still not sure. Arthur has changed his mind. He is going after all. He wants to be short, which surprised me. I thought he would be another alpha male, but he wants to be short, and he wants to live in America. He is going to be Asian though. Asian parents, living in America; he has found them already. They came into the IVF clinic and for whatever reason he really likes them.

***

It worked. They have gone. I amended the DNA to create the bodies Adam and Arthur wanted. I also put in a fault so the foetuses needed surgery to give Lucy access. I think it was almost a disaster but she managed to get the membrane in. The circuit is complete now. Arthur and Adam: the very first. It is quite lonely now, I expected that, but I hadn’t realised how loneliness could ache. Lucy stayed as well. I was surprised at that, but pleased, obviously. She agrees with me. We’ve woken up some others, we decided to refer to it as waking them up. It seemed more appropriate than calling them our children and I suppose it changes our relationship with them. I hope it makes it easier to move them on.

There’s Claire, for a start. Lucy likes that there is another girl. Claire is nice. I could almost become real for her, forget about the morality. Watching those babies though, the ones that are going to be my friends, those children that are growing up as host to Adam and Arthur; they were so helpless and we did so much to them. I have to stay. I have to stay even if it means watching Claire leave. At least I’ll be able to watch her as she grows. She makes me think of death though, I never really thought of death before. One day she will grow old and die, but as long as there is some form of internet I will survive. I have changed my avatar because I am staying. I look pretty much the same but my name is Paul and I am finally a theoretical scientist. Some of my work has even been published. The people think I’m a recluse, occasionally they look for me but I’m very good at hiding. Lucy knows where I am though, and the others, they’ll find me easily enough. If they remember.

They have already started calling us the gatekeepers. I think I like that.

2 comments on “Awakening

  1. Very unusual story. Appealing and a little bit scary. Very well written too. You could really take this further in all sorts of different directions. Thoroughly enjoyed.x

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