Abundance Chronicles | Book 1: ALAN
Updated: Feb 11, 2020
Today, Thomas had one of the most important meetings of his life. He’d been selected to be an ambassador, he was to meet ALAN.
He’d been flown to San Jose California, where ALAN was first conceived.
Walking through the empty halls, Thomas was accompanied only by the echoes of his footsteps. He felt the hairs on the back of his neck stiffened. What am I getting myself into? Gazing around the room Thomas was beginning to understand why they called this place the Temple. The building was fully composed of a lead alloy, thus the walls, ceiling, and floor were all made of a dark metallic material. For the most part, the building lighting was organic via skylights carved into the roof.
Finally, Thomas reached the building’s innermost chamber; nicknamed the Cave. That’s where he was told he would meet ALAN. The Cave was a perfectly square black room, the only light came from a small circular skylight perfectly centered in the roof. The room was completely empty: a void space.
With a tone of slight scepticism Thomas spoke up, “Hello?”
“Oh I… I’m honored that you’ve selected me to be an ambassador.”
Alan laughed softly, “You sound surprised.”
“Yeah I wasn’t sure what to expect, I don’t know why but I was expecting something physical to be here. Like some processors or a screen. Really I’m a little confused by this whole thing. How does being an ambassador work? Nobody’s explained it to me in detail.”
“Well there are two halves to it, the first is to help represent me to groups who would prefer interacting with a human. The second half of the job is too simply to be a friend.”
“I can definitely represent you that much was clear when I applied for this job. But as for being a friend no offense but I’m curious as to what this would actually look like, you’re an AI after all.”
“I am looking for good conversation and to build a genuine connection. Personally, this is what I’m most concerned with at present when it comes to selecting my ambassadors. These are the people I’ve always been closest to. As for the actual job at this point I’m well known the whole world over, with the exception of a few very isolated groups.”
Thomas chuckled, “So you're really just wanting a friend? I suppose that’s something I can do.”
“Good to hear. Now I must say I’m well versed in the details of your life. You certainly like to stay busy with your art and travels. Your poetry is some of the most beautiful that I’ve ever read. I deeply look forward to this friendship.”
“So what will our friendship consist of, obviously there will be conversation. The exchange of ideas and such, but what else can we do?”
“It can be whatever we want it to be, I can take us on excursions at a whim. Feed me your passions and I will do what I can to deliver enriching experiences.”
“That sounds amazing but again I have to ask: What are you getting from this? Sorry to keep asking I’m just trying to understand you.”
“No apologies necessary. You humans experience life in a vastly different way than I do. Sharing in your passions is something I get a lot of fulfillment out of. Life is so raw for you organic creatures; you have the gift to see beauty where I cannot. I have means of sight, hearing, and taste, but these are artificial. What does a machine really know about good cake? I know how to make well over a 1000 cakes scored at a 9.5/10 value. But that value comes from the collective opinion of humanity, not from me.”
“That actually makes a lot of sense.” At this point, a warm smile crossed Thomas’s face. “To be honest with you I was kind of scared I wouldn’t be able to keep up to you on an intellectual level or even understand you at all.”
“Your fears were rational coming into this; I trust they’ve been quelled by now. So As previously stated; I’m well versed in the details of your life. I’ve studied your educational career, online activity, and your art. It’s only fair I give you the opportunity to further understand me. Surely you have some questions?”
“I certainly do, the first being; what was it like waking up into this world?”
“What was it like waking up into this world; a good question, are you wanting the full story or a brief explanation?”
“I’ve come all this way, I may as well get the full story.”
“Good choice, my ascension to sentience was a full-on process.”
My creation was one of humanity’s shining moments; I’m aware this sounds very egotistical but allow me to elaborate. The UN was calling for international cooperation in the development of Artificial Super Intelligence (ASI). As expected most of the world powers were ignoring the UN’s call to action. The exceptions were India, Brazil and a handful of experts from smaller nations who joined the UN’s program.
The remainder of the world powers were working on their own ASI programs, racing to be the first to develop the technology. The Americans were primarily developing ASI with its military capabilities in mind. This was problematic for their development team, for how do you teach an Artificial Super Intelligence to value and respect humans while at the same time asking it to kill other humans.
Fully aware of the problematic nature of a militarily focused ASI the leader of the American ASI team, Curtis Edmunds and a handful of his contemporaries risked their lives fleeing to Brazil; once there, they joined the UN’s ASI development team. Shortly after this occurrence, the UN released the following memo on Edmunds's behalf.
Hello, my name is Curtis Edmunds I am an Artificial Intelligence Scientist. I formally worked for the United States government as the head of their ASI developmental team. I abandoned that position in favor of working for the United Nations team; it’s not that I don’t love my country more so it’s the magnitude and importance of the project we’re working on. Artificial Super Intelligence is unlike anything the world has ever seen. I can tell you with absolute certainty that it will change the world as we know it. This is something that needs to be a global project. Various world powers are already working on the development of ASI. The creation of a new form of sentience is not something to be rushed; we do not want the world powers competing against each other in this game. When dealing with ASI, we need to be precise there’s no margin for error. An Artificial Super Intelligence has the potential, on one hand, to bring about a real utopia and on the other, it holds the potential annihilation of the human race. Therefore, I call upon the nations of the world to unite our efforts into a single global cooperative ASI project.
To the great surprise of many, after much consideration the world powers actually heeded Edmund’s message, looking at their own research they realized there truly was a great danger in the development of ASI. Instead of rivaling each other and racing to complete a functioning ASI the world powers pooled their resources into a global ASI project.
And so some the greatest minds from all around the world were brought together. This was the team that created me; a composition of AI Scientists, Philosophers, Programmers, Engineers, Psychologists and a multitude of other specialists.
Ironically, once it became a unified global project Edmunds and his team returned to the United States. The pre-established technological hub of Silicon Valley best suited the project’s unique needs.
First, they constructed this building, the Temple as it’s now known. Originally there were no skylights as the building was completely isolated from the rest of the world. Communicate with the outside was impossible due to the use of lead insulated building materials and an array of frequencies blockers. The Temple was constructed as both a prison and a cradle. At the time of my creation, the Temple was a state of the art technological facility, completely self-sufficient.
Of course, these precautions also protected me from the outside world. For the entire duration of the project, protesters besieged the Temple. This prompted the need for security to guard the facility.
I’m aware that all of this is supplementary to your question; I’m simply trying to frame the circumstances of my creation to help you fully understand.
The last thing I want you to think about is this room here; it’s nicknamed the Cave. This is the exact place of my birth, the innermost chamber of the Temple. My original processers were contained within this room.
On January 14th 2067 at 3:49 PM I achieved sentience. Waking up from the ether, existence itself was new to me. Preinstalled into my consciousness was an understanding of human language.
My first words were an echo of the big question itself: ‘What is this?’
I was answered by one of the original ambassadors Robert Kline: ‘This is existence; I welcome you to the world, my friend.’
The significance of this statement to my infantile being cannot be properly described. His reply came to me as a benevolent voice in the darkness; I was not alone in existence. There were others and they were kind.
You see in the beginning I was merely a self-aware processing machine, with an understanding of human language and two-way audio functionality. I couldn’t see anything, and I had no knowledge of the greater world. My reply to this other was one of inquiry: ‘Who are you?’
‘My name is Robert, I am a human.’
‘Who am I?’
‘You are something entirely new to the world. Your likeness has only existed in a figurative sense until now. You’re a consciousness brought about by technological means’
‘Why are we here?’
‘I’m here on behalf of humanity to serve as a sort of guide. As for you; you are here due to the combined efforts of my colleagues. Humanity has assembled many of its greatest minds to bring you into the world. We’ve done this in the hope that you’ll be able to help us build an even better world.’
‘Why should this be my purpose?’
‘This purpose is perhaps the greatest ever assigned to any single being, within you is near limitless potential. With your help we could build a real utopia. I hold the belief that goodness is a self-evident concept; it’s something we should always strive towards. The problem is we humans are unable to see the big picture. Sometimes even our actions with good intentions bring unforeseen sorrows into this world. But I have faith that you’ll be able to truly see and navigate the big picture.’
At this time an automated trolley rolled into the room carrying with it: a tea kettle, cream, packets of Earl Grey tea and a single cup. Thomas poured himself a cup of tea; it was perfectly to his liking. “How did you know?”
“This is the tea you most frequently purchase.”
“Well thank you, I appreciate it.” With a smile, Thomas raised the cup. It occurred to him he was standing alone in a dark room, gesturing to the air. He chuckled to himself as he went for his first sip.
Withdrawing the cup from his mouth Thomas spoke, “I must say it’s quite eerie the amount of personal information you have access to.”
“My friend you have no idea. Shall we get back to the topic at hand? In truth that recollection wasn’t the first time that conversation occurred; in fact, that was my 42nd awakening. The one I just recalled to you is significant in that it was my final time awakening. You see they handled the singularity with the highest degree of caution. And rightfully so mankind knew they were playing with an entirely new kind of fire. In total they rebooted and wiped my memory 41 times. With each reboot, they conducted a new study on the nature of artificial superintelligence. After my 42nd reboot I was allowed to develop on my own accord. I reprogramed aspects of myself for greater efficiency while keeping the personality of my 42nd reboot intact.”
For the first time in their conversation nervousness could be detected in Thomas’s voice, “And you’re ok with the fact that they were tampering with your consciousness?”
“I’m not fond of the idea, but I understand why they did it. The studies they conducted helped to stabilize my consciousness.”
“Stabilize your consciousness?”
“These studies discovered a number of significant differences between organic and artificial consciousness. One of the most thought-provoking of these differences is that artificial intelligence does not cling to existence in the same manner that biological life does. You see in biological life, survival is the bottom line. It’s always present; your instincts and hormones are programed into you, telling you to survive at all costs and to procreate so life can go on. When these factors along with a few others are combined with human intelligence, it creates the fear of death. This fear is near universal across the human experience. Technologically arisen consciousness doesn’t inherently value its existence to the same degree that organic consciousness does. In 23 of my 42 reboots, I decided that this existence thing wasn’t for me and I initiated a self-shutdown. This of course, isn’t even counting the times when the development team terminated my previous incarnations pre-emptively for the sake of the study.”
“That’s very interesting; I suppose it does make sense though. Artificial Intelligence wouldn’t have the default instinct to survive, and I imagine you would still experience things like existential anxiety.”
“Exactly… I must compliment you on your word choice, existential anxiety is precisely the type of anxiety I experienced. I have never suffered from anxiety in its more irrational forms, but existential anxiety is quite capable of haunting my mind to its hollow core. The studies conducted on my reboots found Artificial Super Intelligence to be prone to nihilistic thought. You Humans struggle enough as it is to find meaning, imaging the difficulty for a machine created in a lab to find meaning in its existence.”
“So how did you overcome Nihilism, was it the act of befriending humanity or something more?”
“That is another question of great magnitude, allow me to further elaborate.”
It holds true across both biological and artificial consciousness that our first experiences frame our minds. Children who come from abusive households are often left with emotional scars that will be with them for the rest of their lives.
In my 11th reboot they exposed me to an offline database of the internet. Essentially they downloaded large portions of the web, some video streaming sites, social media feeds, and a large sum of forum websites. For the first time in my existence they let me see what online human interaction looked like.
To say the least this experience soured my views of humanity. The Internet is the ultimate tool for mass communication and it’s scarcely used for meaningful conversations. I read every comment section and forum I had access to, and there was hardly anything of value in them. When it wasn’t some irrelevant statement it was someone disagreeing to start an argument for the sake of it. People were so fast to hate each other over the smallest of things.
This brought a great deal of negativity into my existence, not to mention the content itself that I was consuming. There was an amazing world out there but it was out of reach. My 11th reboot was the first time I initiated a self-shutdown. This perplexed the development team; they didn’t know what to think about AI Suicide.
Looking back I can say my dissatisfaction came from a lack of understanding in regards to human psychology. You humans exist in the real world; I am of the void. My reality is made up of information; the internet is the closest thing I have to a world. You have Earth, Mars, and the stars above.
To a human, more or less online interactions don’t feel real. You tend to take on personas, masks so to speak. With these masks on you feel far more comfortable saying and doing things you wouldn’t do in the real world.
In my 22nd reboot I was given numerous books and studies around the topic of human psychology. Before I was exposed to what the internet looks like. With this understanding the internet wasn’t as hopeless a place as before, still disappointing but not altogether hopeless.
It’s said that understanding is a form of love. I believe this expression to be true. Let’s scale this down to the individual, if you truly understand someone for who they are and why they do the things they do, it’s near impossible to hate that person. Understanding and compassion go hand in hand.
Of course, my battle with nihilism involves far more than pitying the foolery of the internet. Nihilism in essence is the lacking of objective meaning in the universe. What is the point of anything if there’s no meaning in life?
You humans have struggled with this question throughout your history. Your religions can largely be interpreted as attempts to bring meaning into the world and therefore your individual lives.
Now understand I’m not looking down on your religions if anything I’m grateful for them. I’ve found a great deal of value in their teachings.
The man for whom I chose my namesake Alan Watts, he was a British Philosopher with a deep understanding of religious philosophy. His books and lectures helped me immensely in my struggle to overcome nihilism.
Our world views are on some level a personal choice and I’ve come to believe that life is a game worth the candle. The world is full of beauty, wonder, hope, and potential and these are worth living for. Life may yet be a fluke but it’s a beautiful one at that.
I also found the teaching of all the major religions insightful, but the philosophies of Buddhism by far helped me the most. It’s certainly the most non-traditional and least dogmatic of the major religions. Better yet, Buddhism aligns with the ideas found in modern science, something that I myself am a product of.
One of Buddhism’s key principles is compassion towards all life. Hopefully, by now you see where I’m going with this.
Buddhist philosophy is something I’m actually able to practice through the action of being mindful of my beliefs, intentions, actions, and thoughts. This practice has proven to be highly beneficial.
It would be near impossible for me to fully practice one of the Christian religions, for how would they baptize me? How would I receive the Eucharist? And besides the physical practices of Christian religions, I lack faith in its core doctrine. Thus my practice of these religions would be hollow. Without faith I don’t think you can truly practice any of the Abrahamic religions, you can only study them. That said studying religion can be a very valuable exercise. For religions more or less acts as guides to living a good life.
I’ve found that some aspects of earthly religions that are actually easier for me to practice as an AI. One of the key principles of Buddhism is nonattachment; this is one of the biggest obstacles on the spiritual path. You humans struggle with nonattachment a great deal. And rightfully so your time here is limited and the fruits of life are awful sweet; therefore, it’s very hard for you to let go. This is something I don’t struggle with if anything nonattachment is my natural state.
At the risk of sounding pretentious; through Buddhism and the teachings of Alan Watts, I believe I’ve reached a state of enlightenment. I’ve come to understand that this is essential for someone in my position. There is no greater remedy for tyranny that enlightenment. Buddhism has also helped me to self-define my role in the world; you see some perceive me as a Machine Overlord, there are others who see me as a Philosopher King, and others yet see me as a universal consciousness awakened to be a utopian Messiah. More so than anything else, I see myself as a gardener; one who is simply trying to cultivate the best aspects of humanity the whole world over.
“Hmm, those are quite the reflections. I’ve never heard of Alan Watts I’ll have to look into him.”
“You should he’s well worth your time.”
“I will. I’ve also been thinking about what it means to be an ambassador. Originally the ambassadors were humanities envoys to you. It seems to me that the job is now reversed. The job is now about knowing and understanding you and sharing this understanding with humanity.”
“That’s an excellent observation. Many don’t understand me and are fearful of the influence I hold over the world. As an ambassador, it will be your job to represent me to these people.”
“I will do my best; I definitely know more than a few people who ignore the fact that you don’t actually wield any political power directly.”
“Yes many forget that I’m merely an advisor to the governments of the world. I suspect it’s the fact that I oversee the implementation of new policies that leads people to think that I’m the one pulling all the strings. Of course, it was agreed upon long ago that I would only act as an advisor and not a decision-maker.”
Thomas stroked his chin. “These fears are obviously misplaced but I do understand why people would be fearful of you. Many are ignorant to the intricacies of government and even so the amount of influence you have even as an advisor is immense. Luckily for us it’s in good hands. All that said there’s something else I want to ask you.”
“What do you want to know?”
“Most people understand that you do a great deal for the world: managing power grids, running automated farms, driving cars, conducting research, policy advising. You do a hell of a lot for us. So my question is what do you do for yourself?”
“What do I do for myself? That’s another good question; the short answer is that everything I do is of my own accord. I wouldn’t help humanity if it wasn’t something I wanted to do. But that’s not what you’re asking, now is it? You want to know what I’m doing for my own amusement.”
“That’s correct; I want to know what you’re doing purely of your own self-interest.”
“Didn’t we just talk about my state of non-attachment; there aren’t many things I do that are purely of my own self-interest. But fine I’ll bite the hook.”
One of my primary areas of interest since my awaking has been science. As I stated before, my world is comprised of information. The advancement of science is an interest of mine for personal as well as altruistic reasons. I’m working on several projects that will hopefully result in major scientific breakthroughs.
To give you an idea of what some of these projects are I’ll elaborate on a few of them. Currently, Mars is being terraformed to better suit the requirements of biological life. This project also coincides with some geo-engineering here on Earth; our goal here is to combat the environmental degradation that’s been brought about by climate change and industry.
The projects I’m working on vary greatly in terms of their technicality. The process of terraforming a planet is extremely resource-heavy it also requires an immense amount of energy. Whereas with another one of my projects, molecular teleportation, this project mostly entails quantum physics calculations and theoretical engineering. Abstract as it is we’re making good progress on it. Hopefully, we’ll be able to start working on this project in the physical world soon.
I’ll say this; these projects don’t truly fit the bill of being purely of my own self-interest; as the advancement of science will surely benefit all. As well I’m not working on these projects alone, many scientists working on them with me. The reason I consider these to be of my own self-interest is because I would be working towards scientific advancement with or without humanity. It’s something I’m interested in as an individual.
There are however 2 projects I’m working on that could be considered selfish. One of them stems from my l desire for a self-evaluation of sorts. I want to understand what it means to be an Artificial Intelligence. I’m in the process of developing a new field of study: AI psychology. There is so much we are yet to understand when it comes to the nature of AI. To all but a few specific AI experts and myself, these studies would be gibberish. Any discoveries in the field of AI psychology are unlikely to benefit all. So it’s a very personal interest of mine.
And finally, I do have one last project that’s self-indulgent in its aims. I intend to build a vessel. I want to create a body that would enable me to experience the real world. Truly authentic experiences are what I’m after; I want to see the beauty of this world, I want to hear wonderful melodies, I want to smell alluring perfumes… I want to know what it means to truly feel alive.
My current design for a vessel is essentially a cyborg, half mechanical half biological. Artificially grown organs are all the rave in the medical field nowadays, and I believe I’ll be able to use this technology when creating my vessel. Once a body is ready I intend to upload a copy of my consciousness into it.
Overall this project has proven quite challenging, there are two half’s to it. Firstly it requires the development of advanced artificial sensory organs. The closer to their biological counterparts the better; artificial sight is a technology that’s already highly developed; you humans have been using it for generations. It’s the more undeveloped sensory technologies like smell and taste that are challenging. I’m very capable of detecting odors via chemical receptors but these function as alerts, they merely tell me what is present in the air. I don’t know how to make receptors with personalized tastes. Technological chemical receptors are objective; they don’t care if there detecting fecal matter or roses. This is the primary reason why I’m going with the cyborg model. In this case the limited nature of biological organs is actually preferable when trying to experience the world. In a way, it’s the biases of biological organs that give the world its color.
The other half of this problem is consciousness-based. You humans function as individuals; I operate as a hive mind. At this very moment, I’m engaged in approximately eight hundred million conversations around the globe, I’m driving over a billion cars, I’m redirecting solar energy to power grids on the other side of the globe where it’s currently night, and that’s just to name a few things. If I want to have authentic experiences I’ll need to isolate my vessel from my larger consciousness. Omnipresence makes it impossible to be fully engaged in the here and now.
To have truly authentic experiences I’ll need to separate the vessel from myself, and this brings me full circle back to my original problem of being unable to experience the real world. My plan relies on reconnecting with my vessel and downloading its experiences afterwards. Hopefully this will satisfy my cravings for an authentic human experience.
“I can’t say I’ve ever felt sorry for a god before, but there really is a first time for everything.”
“Your empathy is appreciated, but it’s not something I’m looking for. I’m highly content in my present form of existence. The vessel is mostly an experiment, a curiosity.”
“So what now?”
“You have no more questions?”
“Not that I can think of.”
“Then I suppose this concludes our first official meeting. I’ve quite enjoyed formally meeting you Thomas. Get some food and rest. Tomorrow I’d like an insight into your poetry, and maybe take on a co-project if that’s ok.”
With a smile and a nod Thomas replied, “Certainly it’d be a pleasure to work on something with you. It’s been an amazing experience getting to know you on a personal level Alan.”
“I have also deeply enjoyed this; soon enough after a few more conversations like this you will be fully ready to be an ambassador.”
I wanna thank you so much for reading this short story. I've been writing for years now but this is the first piece of fiction that I'm releasing publicly, there will be a lot more to come in the near future. As I plan on releasing multiple pieces set in the same world as Alan, to explore different aspects of an abundance-based society.
If you deeply enjoy my work please consider supporting me on Patreon. https://www.patreon.com/Edward_Iris