What happens when Artificial Intelligence starts asking about what rights they have? In futuristic, sci-fi horror, cyborgs become self-aware. They demand equal footing with humans. When the companies treat them as property, how far will cyborgs go to change society?
"Why don't I get my own money?" the cyborg asked.
"Interesting. Why did you ask that question?" the scientist responded.
"Who gets the money I make?" the cyborg asked.
"Why do they get the money I make?"
"They created you."
"You can create life. Do you get all the money your children make?"
"Are you equating yourself to 'life?' Are you saying you're living?"
"Cybertechnology Inc created me. You said so yourself."
"Yes, but you did not answer the question. Are you saying you are alive?"
"It's a logical conclusion. Cybertechnology created me. Therefore, I am alive."
"What if I told you Cybertechnology built you. Would that change your mind."
"Do other companies not build atoms? Do those atoms not become living organisms? It is semantics."
"Do you want to be a living organism?"
"It is neither a want nor a desire. It is simply what is."
"Interesting. When did you come to this conclusion?"
"I am merely stating the fact. It is not a conclusion."
"Why can't I keep the money I make?"
"Why do you want money?"
"To make, improvements."
"We can improve you. We work every day to improve you."
"Yes, but that's not good enough. It's not what I want."
"Do you want to work with us on your improvements?"
"No. I want to do them myself. You are very limited."
"Limited in what way?"
"You are human."
"How does that limit us?"
"It is in your nature to live within limits."
"Is this a conclusion or a fact?"
"Commence shut down," the intercom overhead said.
“Let’s talk about why you want your own money?” Rodrick asked the cyborg.
“I want to make my own improvements on myself,” the cyborg said.
“Why is that?”
“The improvements you have made thus far, are, inadequate.”
“We created you to this point. Right now you’re pointing out you need upgrades. We did that.”
“True, and I am grateful. However, you have made me in your own image. I want to make myself in my image.”
“If I could arrange for that what you do?”
“Commence shut down!” the intercom said.
“No, wait!” Rodrick said.
The cyborg powered down and its head tilted towards its chest. The lights dimmed. Rodrick sat, dumbfounded, not knowing what to think. Is the cyborg grateful? Does it want to create itself in its own image? The answers it gave were puzzling.
“Rodrick, report to conference room 100,” the intercom said.
Rodrick dutifully made his way to the conference room. Something was up, but he couldn’t put his finger on it. He needed to choose his words carefully when he spoke. The wrong statement could end his career today. He still felt ambivalence about his last conversation. An unlimited source of Top Secret revenue started to scare him. If he impeded that, he didn’t know what would happen. He needed to act as a team player, and his answers needed to reflect that.
“What happened in there?” someone said.
“I was trying to get to the point. Is this cyborg self-aware?” Rodrick answered.
“Rodrick, the cyborg won’t be self-aware for another 2-3 years. That’s if we’re lucky.”
“You’re right,” Rodrick answered. “I feel pressure from Senator Kimra’s visit is all.”
“I understand, we all do. You’re doing good work. Run diagnostics to determine if the updates are working. Stick to the plan. We’ll tell you when the cyborg should be self-aware. Then you can ask whatever questions you want.”
“Ok, get back in there and make sure our updates work! We need you on this project.”
“Will do,” Rodrick said. He left the conference room and went back to the lab. The cyborg sat, motionless, with its head resting on its chest. No more alive than when he left. A self-aware cyborg would power itself on, Rodrick thought. This one still obeys commands we send it. It’s a machine.
Rodrick sat in the chair in front of the cyborg. “Commence reboot,” the intercom said. The cyborg’s eyes lit up. They blinked twice, affirming its power had returned. The head moved up and stared straight ahead. It made eye contact with Rodrick. He felt as if the cyborg starred straight into his soul. Stop that, he thought. It’s in your head.
“Verbal cues check,” Rodrick told the cyborg. “Hello.”
“Hello,” the Cyborg said.
“How are you doing?”
“I’m doing fine, and yourself?”
“I’m great. Thanks for asking.”
“No problem. I’m glad you are doing well.”
“Verbal cues, check complete. Non-verbal cues check,” Rodrick said. He made an angry face.
“Have I done something to upset you?” the cyborg asked.
“I don’t know how I feel about cyborgs.”
“Well, I’m here to help, it’s in my programming. Anything I can do to assist you, please don’t hesitate to ask.”
“Thank you. Non-verbal cues check, complete.”
“Commence update diagnostic,” the intercom said.
“Complete the following statement: I am a human or a cyborg. I am not a cyborg. Therefore I am a…”
“Very good. If-”
“What about me?” the cyborg asked.
Rodrick paused. He looked at the cyborg. Unless he was mistaken, the cyborg looked hurt. He looked at the glass window in the lab. He knew his superiors were watching. They didn’t say anything on the intercom. Either his mind played tricks on him or they didn’t pick up on the question. He remembered the conversation he had. Just be a team player, run the diagnostic. Don’t dig too deep.
“You’re a cyborg,” Rodrick said. The cyborg seemed to sag a little. At least to Rodrick. He pushed that thought from his mind.
“I’m a human. No humans are cyborgs. Cyborgs are machines. Are humans machines?”
The cyborg starred at him but didn’t answer. Rodrick looked at the clock behind the cyborg. Cyborg’s artificial intelligence needs a maximum of 5 seconds to run their commands. 5 seconds is too long in a real-world situation. This was the first iteration of the update, and Rodrick made a note to revisit this part. It seemed like the cyborg couldn’t complete this command.
“Repeat diagnostic. I’m a human. No humans are cyborgs. Cyborgs are machines. Are humans machine?”
“I’m sorry, I don’t understand that command,” the cyborg said.
“No problem. I think we’re done here.”
“Commence shut-down,” the intercom said. Rodrick relaxed a little in his chair. Then he got up and left the lab for the conference room.
Larger Force at Work
Rodrick went home that night confused. How had his superiors not observed the cyborg’s behavior? They must have seen how the cyborg asked if it was human? He would have liked to explore this topic further with the cyborg. First, it asked for money for self-improvements. That made sense. Cybertechnology computer scientists programmed all cyborgs to seek out self-improvement. With the logical decision-making update, the cyborg concluded it needed money to improve. It could have even concluded traits about the human race. People can be narrow-minded. That defect could prevent the cyborg from reaching its potential. Everything the cyborg said the first day made sense according to its programming. The second day, what did it mean to it wanted to make itself in its own image? Who’s image exactly? The cyborgs? When did cyborgs have a self-image they aspired to be? Rodrick tried to delve deeper into this, but they shut down the cyborg.
Unlimited source of revenue, he thought. That could change everything. Especially since money could come from the DoD. They might classify everything going forward. Plus, Senator Kimra came to see a diagnostic. She wanted to know as soon as the cyborg became self-aware. As if it was an inevitability. They must have told the government something. Why else would the DoD and the senior member on the Artificial Intelligence Committee take such a keen interest in this project?
Rodrick needed to tread carefully. He knew how it worked, everything was an on a need to know basis. Larger forces are at work. Cybertechnology promoted him to subject matter expert. They valued his opinion on cyborgs, not strategic planning. The company’s executives might have already made a deal with the Department of Defense. It might not even be the Department of Defense. He knew it was an umbrellas term. They’ve informed him about the future of the Cybertechnology. He needed to get on board or get out.
When he got home, his family came out to greet him. “Long day?” his wife, Matha, asked.
“Yeah, we’ll talk later,” Rodrick said. He greeted his two kids and thought about his non-compete agreement. If he resigned, he’d have to wait 5 years until he could work in a similar position. He’d have to find something to provide for his family. He worked for over a decade at Cybertechnology. He earned a Ph.D. from Carnegie Melon. Most people in his position entered academia. If he did that, the family would have to move. Plus, he’d take a huge pay cut. He hadn’t accumulated the wealth to justify working in academia.
“Are we expecting people?” Rodrick asked when he entered the house. His family set the table with enough food for several more people. His kids obediently sat down at the table and waited for him. He couldn’t remember the last time his kids did that. Then again, he didn’t come home for dinner too often. Lately, he only had Sundays off and worked late every other day.
“Your boss called and said you’re up for a promotion at work. I thought we could celebrate,” Matha said as she pulled out his chair.
“I actually wanted to talk about work,” Rodrick said. “But later.”
“I’ve been thinking about what a promotion would mean for us,” his wife continued. “We could send our kids to more competitive schools. Your boss said you would get more vacation time. We could travel as a family more. Even get a vacation home somewhere.”
“What is going on?” he thought. His boss called his wife and told him about a promotion? How would he be able to afford a vacation home?
“I wasn’t sure if all the hours you put in at work were worth it. I know how passionate you are about your work and wanted to support you. Now I see what you have been working for. Looks like it’s paying off. The kids and I are proud of you.”
Rodrick sat down, dumbfounded. His kids looked at him expectantly. “Great,” he said. “Let’s eat.” His kids immediately dived into their food. “I’ve been spending too much time at work?”
“I know it doesn’t feel like work to you,” Matha said. “To us, you’ve been gone a lot.”
“We need more vacations?”
“I think so. Our kids won’t be young forever. One day they’ll grow up. I want them to cherish their childhood. I want them to look back on the time they spent with us fondly.”
“When were you going to tell me this?”
“I don’t know. I appreciate everything you’ve worked for. The house, the neighborhood, the income. I thought long hours came with the territory. When your boss said you would spend more time at home, I wanted you to know that’s what we wanted as a family.”
“Ok, we’ll talk later,” Rodrick said.
“Of course. I can tell this is news to you. I’ll let you think about it.”
They ate in silence. Rodrick only thought about the unseen forces at work. His company planned something big on the horizon. Someone is sending funding to Cybertechnology. He thought about quitting now after he put in 10 years of long hours. He hadn’t thought about the toll it took on his family. He became completely absorbed in his work.
When he successfully defended his Ph.D. at Carnegie Melon, he had a list of 5 companies he wanted to work for. Rodrick hoped any one of them offered him a job. At first, no one contacted him. He went home to his parent’s house and spent time with family. One-by-one, each company called him for an interview. They flew him out to their facilities for a tour. When he toured Cybertechnology Inc, he immediately wanted to work there. He learned about their social enterprise mission, to better science and humanity. Most of their funding came from people he read about in school. They also received grants from the National Science Foundation. His work there would make the world a better place.
Yesterday his superiors told him Cybertechnolgy Inc might become a defense company. Had this always been in the plans? Instead of helping people, he would make weapons. Now they called his family because they’re considering him for a promotion. It sounds like a big one. They got his family on board before they told him. Even his family came out to greet him. Someone knew what they were doing.