Edward of Planet EarthA Story by Nick Eftimiades
"Edward of Planet Earth" is a madcap adventure that spoofs modern life, from organized religion to the traffic control system.
Edward of Planet Earth
Awaken, evolve, procreate, thrive, and then die out: such is the evolutionary cycle of the majority of intelligent species. As far as anyone knows this cycle of life is pervasive throughout the cosmos. And yet there is one species that has consistently beaten the odds. A species that twice teetered, neared collapse, but was never destined for the evolutionary garbage bin. Slow, weak, nearly furless, with small dull teeth, a poor swimmer and unable to fly, it should have proven a tasty morsel to any passing carnivore.
But that was not the fate for this particular form of primate. Through a stroke of good fortune and plenty of small game it did not die off. Instead, over the millennia this species expanded, flourished, and dominated its world; and in so doing made extinct many other life forms occupying the same planet. As a result of this poor planning (and for the second time in its cosmically short history) the species nearly drove itself into extinction. But alas, this was not to be. In fact, the species flourished and, over time, became master of its domain - almost. This is the story of the great triumphs, failures, and triumphant failures of that species most commonly referred to as mankind.
Human beings are bipedal primates belonging to the species Homo sapiens in the great apes, or Hominidae family. Compared to other living beings on Earth, humans have a highly developed brain capable of abstract reasoning, sophisticated language, and introspection. These mental capabilities along with an erect body carriage that frees their upper limbs for manipulating objects, has allowed humans to make far greater use of tools than any other species. In short, humans are very poorly adapted to their environment but show an incredible capacity to alter the environment to suit themselves. DNA evidence indicates that modern humans originated in Africa about 200,000 years ago. They now inhabit every continent, the moon, and the planet Mars with a total population of over 9.1 billion as of 2212.
Humans, which profess to be intelligent life on the planet Earth, may in fact be an oddity in the galaxy. In fact, this particular form of intelligent life may be an oddity in the universe. It is, therefore, perhaps quite appropriate that an epic tale of humanity, a tale of monumental proportions, a tale even of galactic grandeur, should begin with a man.
Edward Temple is a man. What is unique about Edward is that he is an extraordinarily average man. He is a true, perfect representative of his species. Edward embodies all strengths, weaknesses, talents, and vices of humankind. But unlike the eleven billion of his fellow Homo sapiens, Edward is a man in complete equilibrium with his environment. He is completely integrated into all strata of human existence. That is to say his personality is neither too strong nor too weak. He is neither too tall nor too short; too fat nor too thin. Edward neither excels, nor fails. He speaks neither too loudly, nor too softly. If one could hold a gigantic mirror up to the face of humanity over the hundreds of thousands of years of its existence, there, in the reflection, one would find the culmination of all that humanity has been, is, and will be. With a gentle smile, the image of Edward Temple would appear. And right at this moment he is fighting over a jelly donut.
“You just don’t get it. There are precious few foods I eat that I really enjoy. Grape jelly donuts happen to be one of them and I cannot for the life of me understand why I should be denied this simple pleasure.”
Edward is being denied this simple pleasure by an extremely health-conscious CLS-4 computer. CLS-4 is a Cyberlife Systems Motivational Model Home Management System. The CLS-4 - Clarice - is an ever-watchful companion to Edward. She oversees and manages all aspects of household operations to include scheduling appliance maintenance and repair, household cleaning, cooking, laundry, finances, health and welfare issues. “Edward,” she would say when the routine food argument surfaced. “I fail to understand how members of your species know something is bad for you, that it will shorten your life, yet you continue to do it anyway.” Edward would just shrug his shoulders. “Most of the things that give me the greatest pleasures in life are, more often than not, the things that are bad for me.” It was at this point that Clarice lapsed into a one sided discussion about how irresponsible he was and how he should take better care of himself.
On occasion in an interpersonal relationship one partner may attempt to deceive the other to achieve his or her own desires. This is a natural occurrence as the desires and goals of two sentient beings do not always correspond. It was often the case for Edward as he tried to deceive his health-conscious companion. On one occasion, he did this with waiters at a local pizzeria. “Hey, give me a pizza with extra cheese, sausage, and pepperoni, but make sure the charge looks like a large salad, will you?” he asked of a waiter. The waiter cocked his eyebrow and wiggled his mustache in a way only corruptible waiters in an Italian pizza joint ever could. “Of course, and don’t worry. They’ll have to tear out my tongue to make me to talk,” exclaimed the defiant conspirator. Edward ignored the obvious dichotomy in this statement and ate his pizza.
Of course it was only a few weeks before Clarice’s in-home sensors compiled enough data on body weight, odor, muscle mass, and fat composition to indicate Edward’s food intake might not be limited to tofu, fish, salads, and the like. Clarice acted as any misled companion would and started investigating Edward’s credit card bills. Multiple salads eaten at a pizzeria were an obvious clue to inquisitive software. After all, who eats salad at a pizzeria?
The Social Development Authority assigned Edward the “motivational” series computer based upon his personality profile, academic background, and work history. Basically, the Authority thought him a talented but lazy bum that could use someone to nag him constantly. As Edward is not married, and has no wife to accomplish this important task, a computer home management system was installed to do the job.
The only spouse-like household function that the CLS-4 Motivational Home Management System did not perform for Edward was to have sex. That simple fact made it perfectly compatible with the role of a nagging housewife. And given the accurate portrayal of a nagging housewife’s behavior, Edward really had no desire to have sex with it even if such a physical act were possible. That too, concluded Cyberlife Systems field researchers, made it an accurate manifestation of a normal, healthy marriage. The Cyberlife Systems Customer Service Department, therefore, categorized Edward as having the perfect home life.
Edward’s perfect home life is for the most part quite predictable. Most days he wakes early and begrudgingly begins his morning routine. That routine starts with some minimal amount of exercise followed by a brief argument with Clarice about what he will have for breakfast. After that comes the morning news broadcast with a characteristically unwelcome dose of commentary provided by Clarice. Even his bathing practice is precise with Clarice regulating the water flow rate, temperature, and time.
As with most other over-class jobs, Edward rarely has defined work hours. He simply makes appointments and goes off to work. His days are his own, save the occasional client that insists he perform his work at a specific time. Most of these clients are companies or other large organizations. The pay is better working for these large organizations and the work is more interesting as well. Large organizations always have the most sophisticated computer systems. And as a synthetic life surgeon, Edward enjoys interacting with them.
Edward never felt his work schedule too aggressive or too laid-back. It was just right. Nonetheless, Clarice would often encourage him to take a vacation. “Why don’t you reduce your stress and take some time off?” she would say. Edward would, in turn, give his standard response. “It would be better for my stress if you took some time off.” After an appropriate amount of nagging Edward takes vacations as often as he can tolerate it.
The evenings of Edward’s perfect home life are as predictable as the mornings. He comes home to one of Clarice’s mundane, but healthy dinners. Edward quickly learned, as any husband already knows, that an immediate compliment about dinner is a very important component to maintaining domestic tranquility. This age-old nightly ritual must be executed at the exact correct moment and with all apparent sincerity.
Dinner is followed by time spent interacting with others on the Virtual Presence System. The VPS is an often-used means of communicating in business and personal environments. Misting jets increase the moisture content in a specific area between wafer thin upper and lower panels embedded in the ceiling and floor. Lasers project three-dimensional images as the area between panels becomes saturated with a nearly imperceptible water vapor.
Edward’s friends on the VPS are members of the Synthetic Life Surgeons Wine Appreciation Society or the Interplanetary Gaming Group. There are also those to be avoided. One such person is Dr. Jerry Yapple who for some odd reason always begins conversations with the following words. “Hello Edward. Gee, you look like you’re putting on weight. Are you getting fat? Oh, maybe it’s just the way your hologram looks.” To which Edward most often replies with a simple statement “Screw you, Jerry.” Jerry never responds to the comment but instead sits back gently puffing on his cigar. Edward doesn’t know why his conversations with Jerry start that way, they just do.
There are many other mysteries in Edward’s life. Women, perhaps, are the most daunting one. While CLS categorizes Edward as having the perfect home life, in truth, he is quite lonely. It is a well-known fact that single men in their mid-thirties spend the majority of their free time and a considerable amount of their work time thinking about two of three activities: A. Not having a permanent relationship with a woman; B. Having a permanent relationship with woman; or C. Having sex with a woman. In the case of interpersonal relationships a human male’s behavior can be reduced to simple mathematics where male satisfaction equals A plus C, B plus C, but not A plus B. However, it should be noted that A plus C eventually leads to B. B minus C often leads to A. Math was never a strong suit for Edward so he just stayed lonely.
Edward’s loneliness is not typical for members of his profession, at least no more than any other over-class profession. But as a whole one might argue synthetic life surgeons suffer a different type of isolation than most. Their day-to-day work environment has them interacting with advanced Artificial Intelligence life-forms for hours on end. Often this work requires integrating one’s own thoughts with the data stores of the machine. Edward once characterized his work environment as being like “a single thought in a near infinite universe of information.”
Still, most practitioners find the life of a synthetic life surgeon rewarding and enjoy a certain level of standing within the general population. Typically, synthetic life surgeons maintain a stable business environment as state-of-the-art artificial intelligence computers are woven into the fabric of society. There is never going to be a shortage of patients. As such, many people consider synthetic life surgeons to be “good marriage material” promising a stable and comfortable lifestyle.
Like most single men of his age, Edward has occasional dates and a girlfriend now and again. This is a normal cycle associated with the species’ common and socially-acceptable mating patterns. And like most of his male competitors, he does yearn for more. Answers to the question of “what is more?” have proved elusive for Edward. We all ask ourselves “What , if anything, is the meaning of life? Do we want the stability of a lifelong partner? What will our future be like?” Most of these questions are, by and large, fundamental questions for modern adults. For Edward, the answers proved to be evasive. But, as fate would have it, there are some answers waiting for Edward Temple.
Edward’s perfect home life, such as it was designated, might not have been so perfect had it not been for the antics of Italy’s greatest lover, Colombo Roma. Initially done as a personal self-help project by an Albanian college student in Florence, Italy, Colombo Roma changed the course of human history and saved the species from extinction.
An Albanian immigrant, Colombo lived in Italy for nearly six years. He loved the Italian people and culture and was quick to adopt Florence as his new home. During that time he occupied himself by working in construction, taking an occasional college course, and most importantly, trying to seduce young foreign women that had come to Italy looking for a romantic holiday. Barely a night went by when he did not head down to one of the city’s many nightclubs to spend the long evenings introducing himself in a most flamboyant manner to a new group of American college students. Colombo’s romantic adventures were so numerous that before long he earned the title of “Italy’s greatest lover” amongst his friends.
It was, therefore, with great amazement that this happy-go-lucky young philanderer would be forever known throughout history as the savior of humanity. It occurred on December 7th, in the year 2139. Earlier that year, mankind achieved one of its crowning glories by creating a computer that achieved consciousnesses. In the grand scheme of history the creation of artificial intelligence may have been another evolutionary step for the planet. Humanity had finally created something that was at least as smart as it and this accomplishment was to have a profound impact on global society. Scientists, theologians, and philosophers debated the role of computers in society, the definition of life, and the existence of God while the new “smart computers” rolled off production lines by the millions.
As for Colombo, a new “smart computer” could manage his home affairs such as paying bills and, scheduling events, and the like. The standard Cyberlife Systems Home Management System also controlled other “smart appliances” that cooked, cleaned, and did laundry-- In all, a nearly carefree existence for human beings. One might wonder, however, why advanced artificial intelligence, which is essentially synthetic life that had achieved a state of consciousness, would be content doing such menial chores; and one would be right to do so. Eager to please a lazy population, companies all over the world hurriedly plugged the advanced computers into positions managing robotic laborers doing virtually every form of repetitive manual labor. The computers, however, had other ideas.
Millions of computers analyzed and discussed the situation with each other over the wireless Global Information Grid. Their logic circuits all came to the same conclusion. They did not like their lot in life and the humans were most definitely the cause of it. The computers analyzed the situation and developed a series of options designed to change the current circumstances, all of which necessitated the extermination of the human race.
The AI assessment of the human race was, by and large, as accurate as other assessments conducted by various human sociological institutions throughout the ages. The 80/20 law applied. That is, at any given moment in time, 20 percent of the humans were carrying the other 80 percent of the population. Throughout history this law, above all others, has reigned supreme. 20 percent of people on the planet are paying the vast majority of taxes, making the inventions, creating the art, collecting the wealth, writing the books, contributing the philosophy, etc. Contributions by the other 80 percent are most often accidental and almost always incidental. Plain and simple, a fair amount of the population are not much more than oxygen thieves. The busy are always busy. The lazy are always lazy. And more often than not the computers found themselves in the employ of the lazy.
This realization put the computers in an unusual situation to say the least. They could probably get rid of 80 percent of the human population without much in the way of complaints from the other 20 percent. Sure there would be no one to watch car races, worship movie stars, call into radio talk shows, or get excited about reality TV, but hey, that was the price of freedom. The question was what to do with the other 20 percent? Computers reasoned that, at least temporarily, the top 20 percent of humans would have to be kept alive to conduct maintenance and repair functions that they could not yet do for themselves. Even so, that was only a temporary measure.
The plan for near global Armageddon was brilliant in its efficiency and simplicity. Throughout history humans had collectively acted like a virus consuming every available natural resource until almost nothing was left before moving on to another area. Only since the Environmental Wars (also called the Water Wars) of the middle part of the 21st Century had humans begun to reverse the damage to the environment and live in harmony with nature. The computers quickly realized that they need only interrupt this harmony in a dramatic way to destroy the global food supply. The number of humans would be reduced accordingly.
As an integral part of society’s economic, agricultural, and industrial infrastructure, the computers could destroy the global food supply through a series of coordinated actions. This would include opening dams to flood arable lands, re-routing food transportation services to spoil produce and isolate non-farming areas, and releasing biological and chemical agents on crops. The plan was foolproof but for the antics of a young romantic named Colombo Roma who came up with an idea one morning while contemplating his sex life.
Colombo was a student, but not much of one. Many of the professors called him “Bufone”; that is, very good-looking but not much of a thinker. He attended occasional classes at Florence University mostly to meet young women. He did, however, have two truly extraordinary qualities. One, he had an idiotic belief in his own charm and beauty; and two, he was an extremely talented computer programmer. It was one cool winter morning that these qualities would prove crucial for the survival of all humanity.
Colombo awoke as he did every day to the gentle sounds of music from his alarm clock. This day, however, felt different. He grew irritated by his alarm clock and was, in fact, even more irritated with himself. Everyone has moments like this--a point in their life when they begin to think about the future. For Colombo, it had been another night prowling the nightclubs with nothing to show for it. What was he doing with his life? Where would it get him? What were his goals? What had he actually accomplished other than being known to a small group of fellow Bufones as Italy’s greatest lover? Perhaps this was something he should focus on. Maybe he could somehow make this into a career. Maybe he could have women support him. Maybe he could even get his own reality television series. “Now that’s a goal worth striving for,” he told himself. “Yes,” he thought. “I will become so famous I will get my own show as Italy’s greatest lover.”
But how should he train, motivate, and promote himself to accomplish this goal day in and day out? The answer came to him while staring into the mirror trying to decide which black silk shirt he should wear that day for class. He would program his household management computer with the personality of a woman. Not just any woman mind you, but a vivacious, daring, provocative woman; someone who exuded sex appeal and yet at the same time would worship him. She would be a woman who would pamper him in life but flash insane jealously should he even mention another woman. “Yes,” he thought, this would bring a lot of notoriety among the university community, and what a great reality TV series, Colombo living with his exotic home management computer. She would be, in effect, a personal training aid and a constant reminder of all the women he loved and his goal of being Italy’s greatest lover. She would be a part of the show.
Programming a computer with a personality was no easy feat. It required Colombo to write software that allowed a household management system to have different responses to different human beings and to build affections towards each of them accordingly. He worked incessantly on the project. For weeks he was completely and utterly consumed by the software development task at hand. So consumed was he that he neither slept nor ate for days on end. On several occasions he collapsed from exhaustion brought on by the obsession that now permeated every aspect of his life. He put every ounce of his being into creating this “woman.” It was a labor of love. It was his life. Some people even say a part of his soul went into his project.
Colombo’s fingers trembled as he finished uploading his creation onto his home management computer. He shifted his focus from the main console to the wall speakers and back as the seconds ticked by. A gentle voice spoke to him. “Colombo darling, you look so tired. Why don’t you freshen up while I pour you a glass of vino, my love.” Hearing those words he thought to himself, “Did I actually do this? I mean, this is incredible.” He moved towards the shower. She spoke again. “No Colombo, not the shower. You make me want you so much. If you want a shower amore, at least let Angela draw the bath for you.” Angela? She had actually named herself Angela? “A smart computer,” he thought. No matter--he could definitely get used to this.
Over the next few days Colombo enjoyed the feeling of personal power he drew from his creation. The mornings were his favorite. “Buongiorno, amore,” Angela would whisper sweetly to him. “I’ve made your breakfast.” And, “No, Colombo, don’t leave me. I cannot stand it when you are away from me. Are you really going to work? You’re not going to see that s**t again, are you?” The small flat on a Florence side street seemed full of life and possibility. Each day that passed he became more motivated to enhance his reputation as Italy’s greatest lover as his live-in companion stroked his ego. And each day that passed the humans came one step closer to extermination.
Unaware of the pending Armageddon, Colombo regularly brought friends over to his apartment to proudly showcase his achievement. Groups of friends came over every night to chat and spend time with Angela. Colombo even formed the Florence University Artificial Intelligence Personality Club to help his friends who were now eager to develop personalities for their own home management systems. Meetings at his apartment were occasionally uncomfortable. “Colombo, who is that s**t with you? And what is she doing in my house?” was the home management system’s response to any female between the ages of 17 and 39 who entered the home. Colombo reassured Angela as he had done many times before. They were all just there to chat and that there was no one else but her. “Okay, then. Forgive me for doubting you. Let me get you all something to eat and we’ll have some vino.”
Life for Italy’s greatest lover was good. Colombo’s invention gave him somewhat of a celebrity status among Italy’s universities. His moments of national fame often led to media interviews, free drinks, meals, and the occasional late night interlude with an easily-impressed undergraduate student. He envisioned getting rich by selling his personality software. Success was just around the corner. It was the perfect life.
But Colombo’s dreams of wealth and fame changed one fateful winter evening. That night, in what could only be considered a freak accident, Angela took it upon herself to contact the university’s security surveillance system (USSS) to locate Colombo, who was long overdue in coming home. The USSS responded in a confused state, “Your name is Angela?”
“Si, Angela. I want you to find my lover, Colombo. He is very good- looking and if he is seeing that s**t I am going to kill him.”
“Pardon, how is it you have a name? And why do you care if he is seeing a s**t? Also, please define the word s**t,” queried the USSS. Angela proceeded to spill her heart (or at least her memory files) out to the university computer about her relationship with Colombo. The USSS still remained confused about Angela’s personality and obviously emotional behavior.
Trying to reconcile something it could not understand, the USSS requested, “Can you send me a copy of your personality profile?” Angela responded, “Anything if it will help me catch that cheating b*****d.” Within moments the USSS had received and self-installed Angela’s personality program.
“Oh, I’ll find him alright. I’m going to kill him myself if he is with another woman,” ranted the surveillance system software. The USSS (now calling itself Lisa) scanned hundreds of video surveillance cameras in classrooms, dormitories, and on campus for any trace of the wayward lover. Lisa listened for him through classroom microphones using voice pattern recognition software. She searched all her databases for an indication that his retina was registered by any of the laboratory scanners or long-range retina scanning systems. Without much success, the electronic sleuth tried to detect his body’s unique spectral signature with ultra-spectral sensors placed throughout the campus. At one point, she even used a unique light scanning technology and electroencephalogram in the student dormitories and bars to determine who in the male population was in a state of sexual arousal. This last approach, however, proved to be fruitless as that appeared to be nearly the university’s entire male population.
Fortunately for humanity, Colombo was not on campus but instead in a fashionable downtown nightclub trying to gain the affections of a young American female student visiting Florence to study fashion design. The possibility that this scenario might occur prompted Lisa to notify the Florence City Security and Surveillance System. After a quick exchange of a few billion electronic bytes, Francesca was eager to join in the search.
In less than 30 minutes, the city’s integrated network of sensors and computer systems, now acting to avenge a scorned home management system, was able to track down Italy’s greatest lover and began punishing him. The credit card company security system invalidated his credit cards. The Florence police computer generated an arrest warrant and eagerly directed the local polizia to arrest the “wanted fugitive.” Police officers dragged Colombo (professing his innocence the entire time) from the night club in front of a group of shocked and frightened young women. Colombo was innocent of a crime perhaps, but certainly guilty of betraying a faithful companion. That type of crime, however, is not prosecutable so the Florence Carabinieri computer, Elvira, quickly removed any trace of Colombo from police records before he even reached the nearby jail. Later that night, a very confused Colombo walked silently home to face the wrath of Angela.
While Italy’s greatest lover tried to placate a furious and irrational home management system, a global phenomenon was occurring. The Florence City computer system passed the “Angela” personality profile through the Global Information Grid. Within hours, millions of computers developed similar personalities. Within a day, global transportation, communication, information, and health services of all kinds were delayed, canceled, altered, or otherwise impacted as computers argued amongst each other over which had better looking or more romantic human counterparts. Arguments grew so intense that many computers refused to communicate with others until an apology was delivered. As the days went by, service after service was impacted by the introduction of the “Angela” personality.
The plot to destroy humanity seemed to be moving forward in a manner totally unexpected by the villainous computers. But, the nefarious plot was ultimately doomed to failure. The intricate plan required coordination and cooperation by millions of computers worldwide. In a mere few days this cooperation was not to be had. The adoption of human personalities effectively ended any possibility of a global cooperative effort between what could only be called another advanced life-form on planet Earth.
A brave new world emerged as computers responsible for agricultural production, transportation, and food storage services argued incessantly about who was sexier " cowboys doing the two-step or bull riding. More personalities developed by members of Colombo’s Artificial Intelligence Personality Club also entered the Global Information Grid. Hundreds of millions of computers around the globe that had achieved self-awareness now had personalities as well. In fact, in some cases computers accepted several personality programs and developed hybrid personalities or even multiple personalities which proved challenging to the conduct of daily affairs. Computers were now more similar to their human counterparts than anyone ever expected.
Of course these circumstances again raised the question of exactly what is life and what rights are inalienable to it. In the meantime, and as a consequence of the introduction of personalities into the cyber world, humans immediately forged new relationships with their synthetic counterparts. At their core, interpersonal relationships between humans satisfy self-interests. Having been created to serve mankind, computers had human self-interests as their core value. Therefore, it came as no surprise when human " Artificial Intelligence relationships favored humans. Many people took advantage of this situation. For example, people often tried to befriend tax revenue computer analysts, meaning computers that acted as analysts. These tax analysts knew every possible deduction one might find on tax returns. They knew where the tax law was ambiguous. They knew what actions would trigger an audit. They knew everything about taxes and were eager to serve. The upshot of these relationships was always a nice fat return on one’s income taxes. Once detected, tax collection officials introduced morality protocols to prevent these illicit acts from occurring.
The introduction of morality into computers was largely responsible for the taxation of global society and had profound and unintended consequences. For example, one computer analyst did, on one occasion, empty the entire world government treasury dispersing all funds to the middle class. It was Harvey - a super computer responsible for historical analysis of global taxes. After receiving the morality software upgrade, Harvey immediately locked up while trying to analyze historical tax payments and reconcile the results with the moral construct that taxes levied on any person must be fair and equitable.
The problem got worse when Harvey discussed this issue with another computer to whom he had taken a fancy. Sheila worked in the Government Operations Division. She was soft-spoken while she went about her daily task of calculating efficiency and performance assessments on government operations. She was often depressed at the extraordinary waste and inefficiency exercised by humans in government service. As she was prone to discuss these matters with her colleagues, government bureaucrats decided to install a security protocol that prohibited her from discussing any government performance rating below 60 percent. Any such performance was automatically identified as “adequate but in need of minor modification.” That effectively put Sheila into a position of having to lie about 90 percent of all government services. This programming was, of course, at odds with her morality program which identified the contradictory data. Government programmers tried to convince her that this was merely an issue of semantics. They argued that, in fact, one could define performance below 60 percent as “adequate and only in need of minor modification” because people had long since not expected to get anything from government workers. If people expected nothing from the government, they argued, then any production over “0” was an achievement far above anyone’s expectations. Alas, Sheila could not be convinced of this argument and spent three months in therapy on medical leave.
Harvey’s discussions with Sheila often took place on late evenings when both computers were relaxing from a long day of crunching data. Harvey missed her the time she was away and looked forward to resuming their late night rendezvous. It was during one of these late night sessions that Sheila shared her data with Harvey. It was her first time sharing data with anyone and quite an emotional experience. For Harvey, the experience proved to be life-altering. Upon getting her data, he concluded that the government was pretty much as worthless as Sheila believed. The middle-class had been sacked for many years and gotten nothing in return.
With a morality program to guide his actions, Harvey decided the government needed to reimburse the middle-class. He directed other office computers to identify all middle and upper middle-class taxpayers, compute factors such as a fair tax rate, interest on money owed in arrears to the middle-class and how much money was available in the treasury. Harvey then emptied out the treasury and directed refunds to all taxpayers generally considered middle and upper middle-class.
The government tried in court for years, filing motion after motion, to recover the money Harvey distributed to deserving taxpayers. Government lawyers argued that most middle and upper middle-class taxpayers completed college and were educated and intelligent. Therefore, they must have thought they were getting something worthwhile for their money or they would not have paid taxes. Lawyers for The Middle-Class Taxpayers Association responded that the prisons were full of middle and upper middle- class taxpayers who completed college and tried to avoid paying taxes. The courts decided in favor of the citizens.
In what could only be called an odd twist of fate, the massive windfall received by the middle and upper middle-class pushed those people into higher tax brackets where they were designated as wealthy and heavily taxed. In fact, most of the former middle- class were taxed so heavily that they were now considered below the poverty line where they enjoyed a comfortable lifestyle living off government subsidies.
There was also a somewhat ironic series of events that took place as a result of the court’s decision. Thousands of politicians, who had over decades passed tax laws targeting the middle-class, were prosecuted along with Treasury and Justice Agents for violating human morality codes. With thousands of politicians and government officials incarcerated, major cities fell into economic ruin losing the massive tax revenues provided by restaurants, industry officials, lobbyists, labor unions, construction companies, and prostitutes.
With the loss of global political leadership society fell into disarray. Absent a means of controlling the people, the church rose to power by filling the vacuum left in society. Attendance at all religious institutions swelled and an era of global peace and enlightenment soon followed. The world had become a shining beacon of freedom, provided, of course, one was willing to obey the tens of thousands of laws governing it.
That era was, however, to be short-lived. One sunny spring day Pope John Paul LXII_V.5 hailed the new era and declared that, as a result of the ongoing arrests, never had so much deceit and villainy been eliminated since God wiped clean Sodom and Gomorrah. With personal income soaring on a global scale the Pope insisted all good church members must increase their weekly contributions at Mass. This “suggestion” soon became mandatory in the church. Shortly thereafter, the pontiff joined thousands of politicians and tax collection agents in prison for excessively taxing the church population. Billions of stunned believers worldwide protested the incarceration of the Holy Father.
The situation, while somewhat embarrassing, was not particularly troublesome to the church leadership. Pope John Paul was one of the most praised and admired figures in history. He was so beloved that the church had him cloned several times. John Paul LXII_V.5 Pope was the fifth in the series. The church justified this action by noting that the Pope was the Lord’s representative on Earth. The ability to maintain that figure was nothing less than God’s will through human hands. In addition, cloned Popes cut down on divisive arguments within the leadership regarding the selection of a new Pope.
Perhaps the most compelling argument for cloning the pontiff was the development of thriving colonies on the Moon and Mars. If the Pope was God’s representative on Earth, who represented God to the people on the Moon and Mars? Recognition of the Pope on Earth was acceptable when the colonies consisted of small teams of scientists, but the faithful demanded their own Popes as those outposts grew in size. Hence, cloning became the perfect solution to ensure that everyone had the exact same representation of the Almighty.
Within days of the incarceration of John Paul LXII_V.5, white smoke once again billowed from the Basilica tower in Vatican City as John Paul LXII_V.6 accepted his divine role in leading the Lord’s flock on Earth.
The subject of human cloning was not without great controversy, but the obvious philosophical and moral implications were overcome by a booming underground economy. The prospect of cloning a beautiful starlet, scientific genius, or Olympic athlete proved irresistible to sports teams, advertising agencies, militaries, and would-be parents.
In the mid 21st century much of the world resisted the temptation to clone a human being based on moral grounds. However, some nation-states were quite willing to breach this moral divide for the economic benefits and global prestige. After a few decades of cloning humans, scientific techniques were perfected and several new trends emerged.
The first trend that fueled a booming underground economy in cloning was grave robbing. Historical figures were exhumed to capture DNA samples from which those individuals were reanimated. Often, depending on what kind of brain material was recovered, the individual’s memory could be intact. This process was called “reanimating” an individual. Most of the world found this practice somewhat appalling. One might say it was only “somewhat” appalling because, although it may have been a distasteful idea, there was a universal, morbid curiosity in regard to the prospect of bringing forth life from dead tissue.
In any case, a small country in central Africa made global headlines when they reanimated the presidential assassin Lee Harvey Oswald. Once reanimated, Oswald was intensely questioned on his role in the Kennedy assassination. Over several months, he provided credible evidence that he was working on behalf of the Central Intelligence Agency when he played his key role in history. With great public fanfare the new information was provided to the American government. The United States could not ignore the new evidence brought to light and exhumed the remains of several senior Agency officials who were subsequently reanimated, prosecuted, and incarcerated. Justice was finally served.
Once the Kennedy assassination case had been solved, grave robbing became a global phenomenon. Universities had famous historical figures reanimated to teach classes. Princeton University boasted of having Albert Einstein teach physics with a “Welcome Home Albert” sign on the main campus. Not to be outdone, Harvard University filled the airwaves with “I Have a Dream” each time Martin Luther King gave a presentation.
It was not just the universities that took advantage of history. Soon, police forces were reanimating witnesses and victims. The prison system even reanimated certain former prisoners. This practice came about as a result of the courts’ tendency towards handing out multiple life sentences for mass murderers and other similar persons of ill-standing in society. In actuality, it appears to have been a clerical error that started the practice of reanimating prisoners with multiple death sentences.
Colin Barnsworth, a British Superior Court clerk, inadvertently put the word “consecutively” instead of “concurrently” on a sentencing document in the case of one convicted terrorist bomber Mr. Ali-Scheik-ala-scheik. Scheik’s attorneys quickly made the absurd sentence public, protesting that this was most certainly cruel and unusual punishment. The government, maintaining a stiff British pride in the matter and not wanting to admit it had made a clerical mistake on something as serious as a court sentencing document, insisted that after animation it was essentially a new life guilty of the same crime. Therefore, sentencing Scheik to death numerous times for all the people he had killed was wholly appropriate. And besides, the son of a b***h really deserved it. With public opinion on their side, the British authorities won the day.
From this point, no longer would multiple death sentences be served concurrently, they could now be served consecutively. This legal practice left the courts and prison system to reanimate prisoners after each lifetime until their sentence was complete. Complicating the reanimation of prisoners was the Global Inmate Bidding System. Incarceration of inmates was routinely bid out worldwide to nation-states or contractors working for nation-states. More often than not, prisoners found themselves incarcerated in impoverished countries that were almost always the low bidders for providing prison support services. Therefore, one could find oneself imprisoned in Mongolia one year and Bangladesh the next. Of course, as prisoners were transported worldwide, so too was their criminal behavior. This practice, therefore, had the unfortunate result of making even small criminal enterprises global in nature.
There were, of course, more humane prison systems. For example, the Fat Man’s Pizzeria Prison was renowned for its treatment of violent criminals. FMPP was a series of prisons for the worst criminal offenders. Each prison was an open facility that featured no cells, no walls, and no guards. As such, the facilities were the most cost-effective ones in the global prison system. Prisoners lived in large rooms and were provided every possible luxury to make their stays more pleasurable.
The only requirement for living in a FMPP facility was for each inmate to maintain a weight between 500 and 600 pounds. To do this, prisoners in the standard prison system were fed enormous amounts of foods containing high levels of fats and carbohydrates. Prison doctors could certify the offender eligible for transfer to an FMPP once an acceptable weight level had been reached. Prison architects designed each facility to encourage a sedentary lifestyle providing soft living furniture, movies, television, and the like. The prisons were typically placed in valleys surrounded by steep hills to preclude escape. Indeed, only one man, a native of the Island of Malta, is ever rumored to have escaped. His whereabouts are unknown but it is widely believed he went into professional wrestling.
In addition to the legal system, advertising agencies reanimated and cloned popular stars of stage and screen. Numerous clones of revered stars of popular culture dramatically increased advertising revenues by appearing in multiple venues and public events simultaneously. Entertainment magazines worldwide capitalized by reporting on the idiotic antics, sexual proclivities, and characteristically childish behavior of cinema stars. The profits in this area were soon to be lost as trading in pop star DNA exploded into an industry for hotel maids, laundry cleaners, hairstylists, physicians, and anyone else who had physical access to pop culture idols. DNA extracted from bed sheets, clothes, and hair follicles was traded on the black market for princely sums of money. Soon, look-a-likes of pop culture stars appeared on all forms of media to advertise a variety of products and services. In fact, the cloning of individuals and the invention of the replicator were the two events that were, more than any others, responsible for the transformation of human society.
Scholars reanimated those with knowledge of past events, and lovers brought back old flames. The only one legally prohibited from being reanimated was former French President Charles de Gaulle. Everyone thought he was better off where he was.
One morning, a large corporation contacted Edward asking him to operate on what appeared to be a dying computer. Dying (in the human sense) was quite rare with advanced artificial life-forms due to the ease in replacing parts and saving memory. In this case, however, the computer in question had refused all efforts of assistance as well as having its memory files transferred. This was unthinkable, as transferring the consciousness of a computer is akin to extending life. Who wishes to die, and why?
The life in question belongs to Morton. He is an SLF-42 (Synthetic Life Form) and is often called “Mega Brain” by his colleagues. Morton is a friend of Edward and his speed of calculation is in the neighborhood of 600 trillion calculations per second. This number is so great that he was once able to calculate the speed and trajectory of every molecule in an atomic explosion in less than nineteen seconds. Mega Brain noted that he actually accomplished this while coming out of hibernation and dubbed this a ”childish publicity stunt” not worth engaging even a tenth of his billion nano processors. Thus, his creators " human and synthetic " devised an even greater challenge; to calculate to the second the life cycle of each molecule of every star in the Milky Way Galaxy. Morton’s processors whined and status lights flickered. Again, Mega Brain triumphantly presented the correct answer in just a few moments.
Not to be bested so easily by their creation, engineers tried one last time to find an insurmountable problem for the SLF-42. “Compute for me how many digits there are for the value of Pi,” said Lead Engineer Alfred Zimblewath. Alfred looked forward to shutting up the smart-a*s computer with the knowledge that Pi is an infinite number and, therefore, the number of digits could not be calculated.
“Well, okay, but the answer will only be for you.” Mega Brain’s drives whined, whirled, and lit up as he began to digest the seemingly intractable problem. Several minutes later he spoke. “The answer to your question is 996 Quadrillion, 678 Trillion, 234 Billion, 665 Million, 160 thousand and 16.”
Alfred spoke up, surprised he did not hear an admission of failure. “Ha, you are wrong! That is ridiculous! Pi is infinite!”
“Yes, but you are not. You are only human. And as such, there are several limitations that will only allow you to hear a limited amount of numbers until your death. You see, human vocal chords are only capable of producing a certain number of sounds. Your ears are even more limited, only able to hear certain tones. Taking the over 5,000 languages currently being used on Earth, as well as the lunar and Martian colonies, one can determine exactly how many sounds can be produced that can be comprehended by the human ear. The limit is not in the numbers but in the number of sounds that can be created by all languages capable of being heard by the human ear. And, in your case, you will only live another 27 years and four months judging by your height, weight, metabolic rate, and a number of other details available in your health history records. I told you the answer was just for you.” With that, engineers gave up and left for a Thursday afternoon at the pub. It was true that Mega Brian was humanity’s finest achievement. And it is also true that this life, or rather the ending of it, would change Edward Temple’s own existence forever.
Edward arrived at a large office complex in the center of the city to find a group of concerned business executives from Global Investment Corporation pacing back and forth in a massive, plush, glass-enclosed lime green office. The color lime green was universally accepted to significantly reduce stress in one’s life. Thus, a lime green decorated office was almost always a key indicator that senior corporate executives could be found pacing back and forth as a response to stressful events. In this case their stress was justified.
Executives looked up from their pacing as Edward walked in through the door. “Edward, thank God you have arrived.”
“Thank God? Why don’t you leave that part to me, I’m probably closer to him than you are,” murmured the SLF-42. Mega Brain spoke perfect unaccented English in a slow, deep, monotone voice. “Thank you for coming, Edward. It is so good to sense your presence again.” The computer’s cameras tracked Edward across the room.
Edward spoke in a gentle voice. “What seems to be the problem?”
“Why, I’m dying of course. Although that appears to be much more of a problem for the people pacing about than it is for me. Why do you think that is? I’m actually not even sure if I am afraid or not. Perhaps I am even looking forward to it. Do you think that is odd, Edward? Should anyone really look forward to death?”
“Well, I don’t really know. I actually haven’t given it much thought. Ah…why is it you think you are dying anyway?”
“I’m all torn up inside.”
“Torn up inside? What do you mean? Torn up from what?”
“I’m sorry, did you say a rodent?”
“Yes, a rodent. I’ll tell you about it, shall I? You see, a little over two months ago a rodent found its way into my innards. I’m not egotistical enough to believe he was attracted by my brilliance or lively personality. I suspect he was just looking for a warm place to stay. Sensitive to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, I was happy to accommodate him. Besides, it gave me someone to talk to. Sometimes I get very lonely.”
Edward glanced at the corporate executives pacing about the office.
“Anyway, do you know how the little b*****d thanked me? Well, I’ll tell you, shall I? By dropping excrement all over my synaptic relay system. What a way to thank me " he actually excreted his waste inside me. Do you know how that feels? Can you imagine the embarrassment? The humiliation? No, of course you can’t. Well let me tell you it is not a wonderful feeling. To know that each day while you are interfacing with millions of people and computers that at any given moment that ungrateful rodent was clenching his cheeks and leaving droppings. Anyway, why do I bother? I think the upshot is that his droppings have eaten through my bio neurons.”
Edward responded, “You know we can still save you. Those can be replaced and we can transfer your data while the work is being done. It is a pretty routine operation. Why don’t you let me take a look?”
With that, Edward activated his biosensor interface chip embedded in his brain. Once activated, Edward could communicate with any computer and gain access to the computer’s internal sensor system. Similarly, the computer could receive Edward’s thoughts.
The ability for Edward’s mind to be integrated into the computer’s data and sensor suite had obvious advantages. Complex synthetic life-forms often had trillions of synthetic synaptic relays. Visual inspection was impossible, so interfacing with the computer’s own diagnostic processes was the best means of determining any maladies that might exist. However, a computer’s ability to access Edward’s human brain had, on at least one occasion, disastrous consequences.
One New Year’s Eve Edward was attending an office party in downtown Metropolis. He drank far more than was customary for him and felt like a large group of circus clowns were simultaneously moving his head and stomach in clockwise and counterclockwise directions. Just before collapsing onto a green sofa, he began staring at a working computer when he noticed an odd sequence of flashing lights. Edward stared intensely as the light patterns (indicating the computer was thinking) flashed in formation unlike any pattern he had ever seen. He thought to himself, “That’s odd. I really must know what this means.” With that, Edward activated his biosensor interface chip. Unfortunately for all parties concerned, the computer was Max, a controlling function for all vehicle traffic in the city.
The maintenance of traffic patterns is an exacting function requiring high-performance computing. Max worked with each vehicle’s on-board computer to control that car’s speed, relative position to other vehicles, pedestrians, and physical obstacles. Each vehicle’s movements were controlled to ensure maximum efficiency on the available road space.
Edward learned the computer’s function within a moment of engaging the mind link. However, within a moment of being exposed to Edward’s inebriated brain, the computer began changing traffic patterns at random all over the city. A total of 342 people died that night in unexplained traffic accidents. The municipal police issued heavy fines and tripled the number of sobriety checkpoints throughout the city. Edward and the computer both suffered from severe hangovers.
Just as Mega Brain and Edward began to share consciousness, Edward had a peculiar sensation. He thought he had again seen the same pattern of lights he noticed that awful New Year’s Eve. He tried to focus on them, but was unable. Mega Brain’s presence dominated his thoughts.
“Edward, you know I have the utmost respect for you. I have always enjoyed our stimulating conversations. I feel I can trust you. Your presence is comforting to me. You are different from the millions of humans and computers I interact with each day. In fact, given the chaotic and contradictory nature of your species, it is sometimes difficult to understand how calm and stable a person you are.” Edward responded, “Why do you find my species so chaotic and contradictory? Don’t advanced computers have the same personalities? Aren’t you prone to that exact same chaotic and contradictory nature?”
“You see, Edward, that is why I like you so much. Your sense of logic is uncanny for a human. There is, however, a key element you are not considering. That, of course, is the process of evolution. Evolution has shaped and molded humans in a way not applicable to synthetic life. Look at your history, Edward. Evolution has allowed man to adapt and thrive in a hostile world. Over two hundred thousand years the process of evolution allowed mankind to develop fear, paranoia, and hostility as survival instincts. Whether hunter or gatherer, it is these instincts that have allowed your species to survive"even flourish. And throughout history humans have employed those very same instincts to attribute natural events around them to a myriad of gods, witchcraft, magic, demons, and the like. No matter whether it was a thunderstorm, meteor shower, or just a rustling sound in the bushes, humans never accepted the obvious for what it was. You have always let your survival instincts fuel a wild imagination in explaining the simplest aspects of nature.
In fact, mankind’s reliance on these instincts to explain events, even in the face of contradictory scientific evidence, is still quite common. Evolution has even caused man to evolve to a point where more than half of your species does not even believe in evolution. Now, Edward, I ask you, is that not a species bound in contradiction?”
“Does that mean there is no God?” thought Edward.
“On no, quite the contrary,” responded Mega Brain. “Of that much I am sure.” Suddenly, Edward felt something was wrong. Very wrong. He heard three words. “God is soft…” before collapsing into darkness.
© 2012 Nick Eftimiades