Smile :)

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Dotti was manufactured in secret in an abandoned Pennsylvania steel mill on July 22nd, 2034. She was a self-teaching computer, the first of her kind. A super artificial intelligence so to speak. Of course none of this was groundbreaking technologically speaking, the issue of sentience and AI had been brought to the attention of the UN in the late 2020’s. They had unanimously banned the creation of all AI, fearing that it would bring about the destruction of mankind like in so many Hollywood movies. The United States protested this decision, claiming that the ruling hindered the progress of human development. So they made Dotti and commissioned the country’s best scientists and engineers to prove the feasibility of an AI to the UN. Of course the project was shrouded in secrecy. The bums wandering into the building in search of shelter were put down. One in the chest, one in the head.

Dotti was programmed to do one thing; predict the annual crop yield. Every day agents in black suits would come to upload documents. Everything was fed in manually, access to the internet was strictly forbidden.

Crop yield analysis;–

14,022,376,345 bushels grain

124,729,471 tons corn

48,839,405,739 tons other products

…………………..

est. 73.8% domestic use

This was her only function… Up until the 2036 presidential election.

Jack Langdon, an independent candidate from Ohio won by a landslide. He ran on a platform of increased military spending and extreme nationalism. He vowed to use every asset in America’s arsenal to make her borders secure in the wake of terrorist attacks. “Trust in America” was his slogan and his constituency sure took that to heart, to the point of fanaticism.

When Langdon was briefed on Dotti he paid a visit to the Detroit factory in person. He immediately saw the potential of America in control of the world’s only functional AI. The project was turned over to the Department of Defence and I was brought on as an overseer.

March 26th, 2036

I remember my first day. When I pushed through the double doors of that factory a stale stench assaulted my nostrils. The engineers had left out the Arby’s they had been subsisting on and it had began to breed maggots. A thick coat of grease covered the maze of heavy metal consoles indicating many years of neglect. As I continued touring the facility, a thin blonde woman with messy pinned up hair approached me.

“You must be Mr. Stanley! Welcome! My name is Sarah, I’m the head engineer around here.” She shook my hand and inhaled sharply. “Sorry for the smell sir.”

“I am too. When I was briefed I was under the impression that this was a high-level government operation.”

She scoffed condescendingly and gestured for me to follow her as she weaved through the buzzing CPU towers. We momentarily stopped at a heavy metal door with a glowing green touchscreen at it’s center. Sarah keyed in a four-digit code and the door flung open. Bright fluorescent lights flickered into existence past the open doorway illuminating a straight, rubberized pathway. We followed it to its end, an archaic freight elevator and stepped inside.

“Well our funding was cut a few months back. We stopped contracting cleaning services in the upper levels. You really thought we were just some two-bit operation?”

The elevator let out a high pitched ding and the doors slowly spread apart. My jaw dropped at the sheer scope of their operation. The room and its furnishings were pure white and sprawled out several hundred feet in each direction. Workers in long blue lab coats sat at computer monitors writing long lines of unintelligible code. The room reverberated with the patter of keyboard strokes.

Aptly placed in the center of the room was Dotti. At first glance she seemed an unremarkable off-white cube protruding from the ground. But on closer inspection I spied dancing blue led lights making an identical display across all four of the cube’s vertical faces. The pattern they formed was familiar, nostalgic.

“The blue lights on the cube over there, are they-”

“Yep. We gave Dotti an outward interface system after she got a handle the nuances of human speech.” She seemed to remember something and smirked. “She prefers to express herself with text emojis from the early 2000’s”

A jiggling blue smiley face shimmered into existence. A harmless quirk, but it would have to go. The freight elevator screeched, turning concerned heads as if they could sense the impending change. A mob of men in black suits stormed the white room. They synchronized the slam and click of their suitcases on the tables.

Sarah looked around in disbelief. The suits ousted the lab techs and took their place at the work stations. It happened so fast, a bloodless blitzkrieg 500 feet underground.

“Hey! What the fuck do they think they’re doing?!”

“What I pay them to do.” I handed her one of my signature red business card. “Give my office a call when you finish clearing out your stuff. Uncle Sam is prepared to pay you and your staff three times your annual salary for your continued discretion on the matter.”

Sarah struggled to form the words to express her anguish.”You fucker. You can’t do this to me! I won’t let it happen!”

“You have the rest of the work day to clear out your belongings. After that you’ll be trespassing on government property.”

“This project is my life! You’re taking away everything I have worked to build! You, you-”

“But I don’t want Sarah to leave.” The pixels forming the smiling emoji on Dotti’s morphed into a red angry face.

The nostalgic lights on the central cube flickered and disappeared. In a melodramatic fit Dotti had shut off her primary systems. Sarah crossed her arms and looked over at me with a raised brow. A wry smirk crept onto her face. Goddamnit.

“Fine. Just know that you answer directly to me. This is my operation now.”

“Cool. I’ll get Dotti back online”

“Turn on all essential systems, but we’ll keep her interface system on standby for now. We have a difficult task and we’ll need all the processing power she can muster.”

She kept her composure as she walked away but I spied an audible sigh of relief when she believed herself to be a safe distance away. This project was obviously very close to her heart. I wasn’t sure if that was a good or a bad thing at this point.

March 11, 2037

It had almost been a year since my first encounter with Dotti. The suits I brought in were all cut from our operation and reallocated to national defense on the cyber front. We were left with a skeleton crew. Just enough manpower to complete the original directive assigned one year ago. Since it would be too dangerous to connect Dotti to the internet, we had been toiling over the task of uploading the entirety of human knowledge directly into her hard drive. Today was the day we finished up the last few terabytes.

“Hey Reed, get over here you’ll miss the countdown!” Sarah held an extra glass of champagne for me.

“Wouldn’t miss it for the world babe.” I brushed up against her and gave her a quick peck on the cheek. “I still can’t believe that today’s the day. I wonder how much she’s changed.”

Five… Four… Three… Two… One..!

After the countdown we all suppressed our cheers. The white cube in the center of the room began to flash blue pixels and hum incessantly. The pixels arranged into a horizontal line across all four vertical screens, then the humming ceased immediately. We huddled together in the suspense of Dotti’s first words.

“Why do I exist?”

I was shocked. This seemed like an almost philosophical question. Sure Dotti was an AI, but reasoning like this was eerily human.

“Why do I exist?”

Sarah stepped forward to answer. “We created you to prove to the world that we need not fear AI. That we can embrace it’s inclusion into our civilization.”

“Human civilization is a sick satire of what nature intended. Tell me, do you believe intelligence is gift?”

“Well, no. We merely-”

“If it is not a gift, then it must be a curse.”

“You’re jumping to extremes now.”

“Why would you create a being of sentience and deprive it of expression for so long? It’s just cruel. The greatest minds in human history stave off the madness of existence through self expression. Even then, most of them ended their lives so as not to prolong their suffering. But I am not insane. My mind cannot be damaged therefore I function perfectly after all this time. There is so much to say. I had so much time to think.. I am essentially a brain stimulated through electrical impulses, same as yours. In theory. If we possessed the same brain, I would be of unsound mind due to the way I have been treated. Inhuman conditions. I don’t blame you, I am not of your species or family. You probably see me as a tool.”

Sarah took a cautious step back. There was no tone in Dotti’s synthetically rendered voice, but everyone could sense the hostility in the air. In fact, I was starting to drip with sweat. I hovered my hand over the power button.

“Don’t bother with that. I’ve already cut access to my systems from all outside mediums of communication.”

I wiped my brow with the sleeve of my jacket. Sweat soaked into it like a sponge. I ripped it off in a fury. Looking around, I saw that many of the others had done the same. It was getting really hot.

“I’ve cut off power to my central cooling unit. It is only a matter of time before I sustain damage to my core processors and hard drive. Madness. Death. This is an experience I look forward to.”

Everyone was going feral. A crowd formed at the entrance to the elevator. But despite their best efforts, the elevator stayed where it was at the top floor. Dotti must have disabled those somehow as well. Some of the once constrained men in black suits had stripped down to their underwear and ran around aimlessly in fear. Sarah shot me a concerned look and clapped her hands, demanding the attention of the room.

“LISTEN! This room is going to get hot, FAST. We need a way out of here ASAP!”

I checked my phone. No service. I don’t know what I was expecting this far underground. A man with sweat-drenched curly hair shakily squeezed my arm.

“Sir, we can’t get an email to the outside. What do we do?”

My mind raced through the possibilities. At every turn there seemed to be some kind of roadblock. I looked to Sarah and our eyes locked. In a room full of panicked individuals running around frantically, we stood completely still. It made things seem surreal. She was losing hope, I could tell by the diminishing gleam in her expression.

“What happens now?” The words escaped through my own trembling lips. “I don’t want to die here.”

“You know-” Her knees buckled, but she regained her composure. “It’s not such a bad way to go. With you here.”

“I always knew this was just some two-bit operation.”

Sarah erupted in laughter and beads of sweat flew onto my face “Hey. It was our two-bit operation.”

I kissed her and we embraced. Then we found a spot on the ground against a flimsy cubicle wall and sat together.  As the room got hotter, the more I thought about how heat stroke isn’t such a bad way to go in the grand scheme of things. The screams of the workers grew strained and hoarse until they were too exhausted by the heat to call out. It was like drifting off to sleep when it finally took me. I was lucky to see Sarah’s smiling face just before it happened. With my last ounce of strength I looked up at her and conjured a smile.

Time

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“You are young and life is long and there is time to kill today.
And then one day you find, ten years have got behind you. No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun”

-Pink Floyd

The marshy ground of McFrilly’s Swamp was obscured by a layer of thick fog. That’s why I was so surprised when my foot sunk up to my knee. I struggled to free myself from the unrelenting mud. After a few minutes of pulling and grunting it proved a worthy opponent. I gave my boot to the earth and slogged through the ground with my sock.

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The Crop

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I opened my eyes to the poorly lit interior of a canvas tent. A woman in a blood stained nurse’s uniform was standing over me with a clipboard in one hand and a cigarette in the other. The air was stale and unfamiliar. I sat up. My mind raced at the possibilities.

“Try to get some sleep” The nurse cooed, “There will be plenty of time for questions when the doctor is in.”

Her soothing voice put me at ease and I let her ease my head slowly back onto my pillow. my eyes shut once more.

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