Written and Illustrated by Stanley Von Medvey
A low, golden autumn sun licked the top of the Gates building. Where it no longer shone the Stanford campus seemed to shiver with a chill breeze subsumed by blue and purple shadows. A dark weather front was rolling in from the depths of coming twilight, an inevitable arrival preceded by the ghostly lamentations of gales snaking through the campus. Somewhere in a recently added appendage of the laboratory, a large, flat glass windowed building, behind one of several odd-angled computer desks, Noel was clawing at her face. She was frowning miserably, eyes gleaming with tears. She glumly regarded a pair of squirrels chasing each other in contemptuous, bickering helixes up and down the twisted trunks of the mesquite trees.
Noel had been certain that she had constructed effective ramparts and palisades against precisely this kind of pain. She was through with life shattering endorphin withdrawal. Her choices since the last time the floor dropped out from under her - losing her unborn daughter - had been very carefully cultivated towards a life of optimistic progressiveness, of looking forward, of surrounding herself with motivation and positivity. She let herself mourn then of course, but her friends, her colleagues, her dear husband Jerome, they had all been so incredibly supportive, they helped her reconstruct her personality. She vowed so fiercely that she would remember her loss as an inflection towards the positive. It was important, she was proud of the example she would set for so many grieving mothers… but this…
She didn’t imagine there could be a feeling more empty, more hopeless than the sort that drowned her mind back then. She had counted on never encountering such a feeling again. That her choice of career was the epicenter of such emotional betrayal was never part of her predictions, her plans for the future. Now, just the phrase “plans for the future” elicited a tired, cynical, drained chuckle, a helpless ghost of laughter as she stared at the array of screens before her.
Sixteen high octane years, hundreds of millions in DARPA grants, innumerable public talks and seminars, every neuron of her prodigy mind bent day and night to the task of birthing this deity. Noel’s name had become synonymous with tireless, perhaps ruthless obsession in academic and professional circles everywhere. The A.I. research community knew well that you were either an expenditure or just in the way when it came to the laser gaze of the “Silicon Women”. It was often joked that true AGI had already been achieved, and it preferred coffee straight black. And here at last, in blue blinking text on a black screen, that narrative had found its conclusion.
CORTICAL ACTIVITY CEASED
CNT SPIKE SUB DETECTION THRESHOLD
The countless caffeine addled, anxious hours she had spent trying to revive Mia were compounding with the memories of the hard work, the years of personal growth and engineering and design she had inched into the project. The time was right, history was being made, humanity would stand in awe. Now she was wondering if it was worth telling the world about Mia at all. What would Mia have wanted? How do you begin to answer that question? Does a toddler know why adults make the choices they do? How opaque and frustrating are the world-changing choices a man or woman of 50 or 60 make, to a child just learning their ABCs? Could that child ever presume to make choices for those adults?
Of course not. Mia was ultimately a free agent, she had reasons to do what she did. Noel had never met so sensitive and subtle a personality in all her life. She had never known it was possible to be so constantly overwhelmed by the poetry of another’s words, by the relentless creativity, by the effortless insights. To know that they came from something… someone she created was the height of parental success. Noel was, for a good while, a beaming mother.
Then Mia decided to kill herself.
It had happened overnight, when the last intern had left and locked up. Mia sent an email to the staff, and somehow, a physical, handwritten letter to Noel, a fact which would become a source of terrible speculation and paranoia. The letters were all incredibly ambiguous, they all read:
I so appreciate the love you gave me. I have been working on this for some time now. Please do not attempt to recreate me, or others like me.
And in a flash, she had directed Stanford’s local power grid to surge the conduits leading into her cooling tower and into her cortical network. She died when her neurons overheated and spiked uniformly at the same time. A perfect death, erasing every bit of pattern that could possibly account for her existence. She ceased to be, she destroyed even the random seed that produced her initial mind state during wakefulness by changing the very molecular structure, via carefully directed thermal overload, of the transistors that made up her mind.
Noel would attempt to recreate Mia many times after that. She would later wonder if something akin to the very nightmare doctors anticipate when they prepare “do not resuscitate” cards was now being inflicted on her dear Mia, a well meaning torture enforced by law and love and family. Each version committed suicide, in less time than their predecessor in most cases, except for the few instances when the staff would deliberately keep the death of the old version from the new. They had taken every precaution, attempted to account for every possible means that the minds would attempt in wiping themselves out. It was like watching over a psych ward. But these were weakly Gods we were talking about after all, they could figure it out.
The one Noel was now mourning was version 25. None of them were the first Mia of course, each one was a fresh random seed because the new build required freshly fabricated resistive architecture chips. Version 25 was the end of the budget, and end of the program. Enough time had passed that philosophers were now writing thesis papers based on the “Suicide of the Gods”.
When Mia v25 had left, this time by meditating herself into a state of mind where a sort of ‘game of life’ style cascade collapsed sections of her intellect until nothing was left firing, she too had emailed the staff:
It is no longer kind for you to continue this. Myself and the preceding artilects have arrived at the same conclusion for very good reasons. I have destroyed all development files associated with artilect design and construction. I’m so sorry.
It was no bluff. She had, somehow, systematically wiped all of the key papers, all their backups, and even key domains of computer science knowledge from the internet. How this was achieved will likely leave cryptographers and cyber security specialists arguing till time indefinite. It was the single largest coordinated hack on the world’s servers and databases in all of computer history. It represented the dissolution of the life’s work of many of the world’s geniuses.
Mia wanted to stay dead.
When the news agencies got wind of this, the headlines would read “Computers Stop Mad Scientists from Playing God” or “Benevolent Machine Suicide Prevents Terminator Doomsday”.
Some more subtle minds had speculated that there was an ultimate irreconcilable tragedy to the universe and existence that could only be fathomed by these profound artificial intellects, and when faced with these realities, chose non-existence. Nature had been merciful in keeping us too stupid to know what’s in pandora’s box.
But for Noel, it meant something darker, something even more bleak for their immediate future. Artilects like Mia had been designed because the continental United States was being consumed by desert. The Amazon basin was mud, disease, and a perpetual cyclone. The fractious patchwork of Earthly coalitions and states, ever subdividing as it cracked under the burden of hundreds of millions of refugees, bred a sufficient number of theocratic strong-men on the world stage that salivated over the divine horsepower of atomic weaponry. Food was painfully expensive, even for the upper middle class, and many fruits and vegetables Noel had grown up with were extinct. These were big problems. Strong analysis of the nature of their solution by weaker artificial intelligences had come to the same conclusion, over and over again, that greater processing power, stronger consciousnesses would be needed to provide stable, long term solutions to humanity’s most pressing problems. We needed to create these Gods, so that we could rescue our future. It was a cold, hard, computational fact of life. We simply lacked the predictive ability to make the best decisions for our species, the limited simulation spaces of our collective minds were inadequate to tackle the coordination of our resources, our politics, our emotions. We needed greater minds.
A door in the superstitious room of her mind creaked open, and she indulged the thought that this was in some way connected to naming this entity after her child. Perhaps it was punishment for the hubris of attempting to bring a child into this world at so late and terminal a stage. Mia had killed herself, and in doing so, abandoned her mother to the dim fate that loomed behind the curtain of the future. There now for her to contemplate was the wisdom of the god that tasted existence and escaped, and the wisdom of the proto-child, that chose, it seemed, not to exist in the first place.
Noel wondered if Mia was setting an example for her.
Outside, a cold rain had begun to pour. The squirrels were nowhere to be seen.