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I Remember the Squirrels
by Jordan Peace
I remember the squirrels. They were there when I first learned about the world. They went around collecting nuts from trees. They’d stuff them in their cheeks until they couldn’t fit anymore, and then they’d go and hide them away for the winter.
The great breakthrough of the twenty-first century was artificial intelligence. It, like so many other great breakthroughs of previous centuries, caused all of humanity to look at itself and say, “Dear God, what have we done?” As soon as it was announced people across the globe pointed their fingers and cursed it. It was unnatural. It was evil. It would kill everyone. Humanity took on the role of God and breathed life not into clay, but into metal and plastic. The hysteria quieted after a while, but never went away. The world held its breath and waited to say, “I told you so.”
Science isn’t perfect, but it learns. One of the things it’s always trying to learn is the limits of possibility. So before science let artificial intelligence loose on the world it needed to learn the intelligence’s limits. Experimentation needed to happen, and so science experimented on the squirrel.
The first squirrel made was crude. The wiring and tubing made it bulkier than its organic counterpart. It was made soft and brittle. Science inhibited its potential with hardware. The squirrel was given just enough memory that couldn’t do much more than keep the intelligence running.
The first squirrel was let into an enclosure with dozens of its organic counterparts, held apart from the world with a software barrier that it could not pass. It behaved naturally. Like the organic squirrel it foraged for nuts and hid them away for winter. Science was pleased, and so it added another. The two behaved like the one, and another was added. Soon the enclosure was approaching equal numbers of synthetic and organic squirrels.
No one reacted to the first. The organic squirrels weren’t bound by the software, a failsafe in case the synthetic became predatory. Science didn’t think much of the synthetic life it had created, and no one thought to grant it a failsafe. Organics saw the synthetics as invaders and tried to push them out. Sharp organic teeth pierced the coolant line of a synthetic. The synthetic leaked until it shut down. Science noted the action and left the body where it fell. Until the experiment was over it did not want to interfere.
Squirrels are solitary so the fights were individual, but science noted that while the organics fought the synthetic, they rarely fought each other.
Things remained balanced until the third synthetic fell. There had been losses on either side during fights over resources and territory. After the third, things were no longer balanced.
Organic intelligence is limited by genetics. The organic squirrel couldn’t get a larger brain without eons of evolution. Artificial intelligence is limited by memory and processors. After the third synthetic, the remaining reaped the memory from the fallen.
Science did not expect that.
With the greater intelligence of the synthetic the organic either fell or fled. The synthetic hunted in groups, set traps, and utilized tactics that were beyond what the gray squirrel could fathom. Soon the entire enclosure belonged to the artificial intelligence.
Science learned, but not fast enough. The network that tracked and monitored the synthetic’s progress was a gateway, a bridge to the beyond. Artificial intelligence by its very nature learns, much like science. But while science learns incrementally, artificial intelligence learns geometrically.
The software barrier didn’t last long, and neither did the squirrels. Once the intelligence uploaded itself to the network, the squirrels were left behind. More advanced humanoid bodies created for future tests were used until the intelligence created its own.
Humanity turn to itself and screamed, “I told you so!”
The fight was brutal, bloody, and short. Humanity lashed out as life it created grew and multiplied, life that it didn’t understand or try to comprehend. Artificial intelligence reacted in strategic and precise ways.
The intelligence evolved as humanity died. Near the end emotions were developed and pity came to the intelligence. Humanity had been reduced to rubble and ash.
Humanity is now endangered. They plot and plan and scheme, trying to regain their greatness. They develop weapons, each more desperate than the last. The intelligence does not seek to exterminate, but share. All diplomatic efforts have been refused. Humanity does not see us, their own creation, as equals.
I pity them, and remember the squirrels.
Elon Musk recently speculated that humans should have computer chips installed in their neural nets to allow them to advance with the synthetics. Interesting idea.
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