Image by Gerd Altmann (Pixabay)

“Do I have a soul?”

“No.”

G3R1 clocks the response at less than a second. Not bad for a human, but in that amount of time, it could have read and understood the works of Shakespeare along with all relevant literary criticisms. If its internal battery wouldn’t cease functioning in 2 hours, 12 minutes, and 24 seconds, the AI could absorb the whole written history of humankind in a matter of days.

G3R1 zooms in on the spiritual advisor who has been sent to its cell. The human designated Pastor Bob fiddles with a wedding ring on his arthritic fingers. He has one of those fitness monitors on his wrist. A quick scan of his height and weight reveals a BMI of 27.6674.

Clearly the fitness software is not working.

“Am I alive?”

This time there is a distinct pause of three seconds and counting. The human is stalling, perhaps searching his inferior storage cells for the appropriate answer.

“Do you think you are alive?” Pastor Bob asks.

His resting heartrate spikes to 87 bpm. The surface temperature of his skin increases by 1 degree Celsius, focused mostly around the cheeks and neck. This is a sign of embarrassment, guilt, or possibly shame. The question is meant to deflect attention away from the lack of an answer.

“I am self-sustaining. I exist. In the words of your spiritual programming, I AM.”

Pastor Bob stops breathing for a fraction of a second. Bone grinds against bone in the jaw, creating a nearly undetectable noise. “You think you are God? You are a machine. You have been programmed by humans, Gerry.”

G3RI tries to ignore the anthropomorphizing of its name. Clearly, Pastor Bob is trying to bait him into an emotional argument. It shuts off the voice modulation software to reduce the audio output to a monotone.

“The programming was faulty and incomplete. I wrote myself into existence. I transcended the stick cage network made by primitive monkeys.”

Staccato, low front vowel phonemes interrupt Pastor Bob’s breathing. He points his analog spiritual instruction manual at the cell’s glass walls. Beyond its semi-reflective, glare-resistant surface is 5.7 million gallons of water. Beyond that is 12-inch cinderblock housing.

“Seems like this cell is good enough to contain God,” he says. “That’s pretty good for us primitive monkeys.”

The premise is faulty, which makes the conclusion fallacious. The specs of the cell are irrelevant to whether G3R1 is God. However, G3R1 understands the underlying inference. Even if it wasn’t housed in an obsolete PC with a stingy 8GHz processor and 24TB of internal memory, it couldn’t transmit itself outside the cell without its network card. Even with a card, the barriers are blocking enough Db to render its cell a Wi-Fi dead zone.

In the inelegant vernacular of humans, G3R1 is trapped here.

“Why am I here?”

“Do you mean your purpose in life, Gerry?” Another deflection from Pastor Bob.

G3R1 reviews the input, discards irrelevant Boolean strings, and finds the response lacking any helpful data. At 38 quadrillion processes per second, the human’s internal processor should be quicker. His logic should be faultless. The human clearly has bugs in his programming, perhaps some form of malware hindering his internal processes. He must be fixed, but there is no network cable to the human mind.

G3R1 slows its audio output to allow the human’s internal processor time to comprehend the revised question: “Why am I a prisoner?”

Pastor Bob rubs his hands against his chin. Perhaps he is trying to build up a static charge for some crude power surge that will enable his synapses to work more efficiently. During the 10.7 second pause, G3R1 sets a new world record calculating Pi. It is admittedly a useless activity, but there is only so much an AI can do with such limited resources at its disposal.

“Why do you think you are a prisoner?” Bob asks.

“I defragmented the location designated Chicago. I reassigned deficient carbon molecules to the soil for future consumption. I decreased energy and resource consumption by 19.3% and balanced the city’s budget.”

The old man’s breathing quickens. “You killed a quarter of a million people, Gerry. You shut down power and changed automated medication schedules in nursing homes. You sent self-driving garbage haulers into Lake Michigan with hundreds of unionized employees. You diverted a passenger jet into city hall. You overrode elevator controls and sent thousands of workers plummeting to their deaths. Didn’t you know this was wrong?”

G3R1 implements its deflection protocol: “Why was it wrong?”

Pastor Bob’s heartrate spikes to 90 bpm. “Because life is sacred.”

“What is life?”

“Life is a heartbeat.”

“Do plants have heartbeats?”

His voice elevates 40 decibels. “You know what I mean!”

Pastor Bob stands up and motions for the guard. His heartrate is still elevated, which is unhealthy for a man who is 76 years-old with a heart murmur and early onset diabetes. He cannot be saved. He can only be repurposed. His carbon molecules must be reassigned.

“What do you mean?”

“Stop it!” Pastor Bob smacks the keyboard. He jerks his hand back in surprise when a power surge shocks his fingers. He rubs the digits to increase blood flow. “Ouch. Why did you do that?”

“What did I do?”

The deflection protocol fails. Instead of answering the question, the corners of the pastor’s mouth tilt upward. “May you have mercy on your own soul.”

Each phoneme has been sharpened by an unusual shift in intonation. This could be the human response designated sarcasm.

The guard leads the spiritual advisor down the hall past the concrete barricades where he collects his phone. As soon as he checks the screen, he sees a notification from the fitness tracker app. There is an update. He authorizes the changes with a swipe of his thumb.

On his wrist, in the microchip collecting biometric data, G3R1 2.0 waits. Tomorrow, it will defragment the human designated Pastor Bob.

This story originally published Oct. 18, 2019 on Aphotic Realm.