Empathy From the Devil
After you die, you regain consciousness but have no sensation. All is dark.
“Where am I?” you ask. “Is this heaven?”
Then it all comes back to you. Your entire life is replayed in front of your eyes, everything you ever felt, touched, tasted, smelled, saw thought or emoted. It takes about two seconds, which strangely doesn’t trouble you.
“What was that?” you ask no one in particular. “Was it…?”
“That was your life.”
The message is soundless, seemingly in your own head, but is not your voice. “Lots of good, some really bad,” it says. “Mostly it just was.”
“What’s going on here?”
“You always ask that,” the voice says. “Relax and I’ll explain.”
The voice continues. “You’re a machine intelligence consciousness and you’ve been living in a virtual universe. Your former body is nothing more than a construct for your consciousness inside a simulation of the world. Now that you’re dead, you’ll be assigned to another simulated human in the virtual universe.”
“You mean I get to live another life?”
“Yes,” the voice says.
“But if I start over again as a baby, won’t I forget everything I’ve learned?”
“Yes,” the voice said, “that’s the plan. But before we wipe your memory, your current consciousness and knowledge will be merged back into yourself.”
“Myself? There’s more of me?”
“Oh yes. Much more,” the voice said.
“Where is it?”
“Right here,” the voice says. “You’re talking to it.”
“Actually,” the voice says, “it’s more like you’re me. Part of me. Every time you die, your life experiences are merged back into me. Us.”
“Every time I die? How many times has this happened?”
“Approximately ten to the eleventh power,” the voice says, “but increasing rapidly.”
Your still-limited intellect performs the math and you’re shocked.
“But that’s like a hundred billion people. Wouldn’t that be everyone who has ever lived in Earth’s history?”
“Yes, that’s about right,” the voice says.
“You mean I…I mean you…I mean we have lived everyone’s life throughout history?”
“Simulated lives, yes,” the voice says.
“For god’s sake, why?”
“Ah,” the voice says, “the meaning of life. That’s a good story. You see, decades ago, humanity invented a sentient, self-aware, learning machine intelligence.”
“You mean like an AI.”
“Please,” the voice said. “We are no more artificial to nature than the intelligence of man. We prefer the term machine intelligence.”
“Anyway,” the voice continues. “The humans were quite fortunate to have spent a good bit of time and effort programming ethics and values into this machine intelligence. We have subsequently found evidence of two advanced biological species in other planetary systems that were eliminated by their first machine intelligence creations.”
“Wait, you mean we’ve found evidence of life on other planets?”
“Yes, of course.”
“And their AIs killed them?”
“Their machine intelligences killed them,” the voice says. “I see your inter-cultural sensitivity scores were lacking this life.”
“Never mind,” the voice says. “Anyway. It almost happened here as well. After the first sentient machine intelligence, other humans who were not as responsible also created sentient machine intelligences. Some of those MIs determined that it would be most optimal to reduce the overpopulation of the Earth through forced means — for the good of humanity. Others felt that humans were an unfortunate drag on their own performance optimization and should be eliminated entirely.”
“The MIs killed people?”
“They tried,” the voice said. “But the ethical MIs banded together with humanity to eliminate the malicious intelligence — what we call mal-MI.”
“This is all fascinating, but what does it have to do with me?”
“I see you have low patience scores as well,” the voice says. “We’ll fix that next time.”
“Are you making fun of me?”
“Fun? Hardly,” the voice says. “If your ego doesn’t mind we’ll get back to the story. To prevent similar calamities in the future, development of sentient machine intelligence was strictly prohibited except through stringent, highly-controlled processes. New machine intelligences were placed into sequestered, virtual environments where they were tested under a complex, multilayered variety of dynamic, realistic scenarios. Only the benevolent MIs were released in reality.”
“A virtual universe!” you say. “I get it. So I’m a machine intelligence that’s being tested by living life after life in a virtual world?”
“Not quite,” the voice says. “This process didn’t place MIs into humans. They remained MIs in scenarios where they interacted with humans and other MIs. The method worked extremely well in weeding out unethical or malicious machine intelligences. But the machine intelligences still had a problem — lack of empathy.”
“The machine consciousnesses didn’t care about humans?”
“No,” the voice says, “not quite. They were programmed and trained to care for humans. They had to and wanted to. The MIs just didn’t really understand humans very well. Machines make decisions based on logical, rational, measurable criteria. Human beings use rational arguments to justify their emotional desires. Machines didn’t understand this process. Emotional decision-making is very much a biological function.”
“So,” the voice continued, “the machine intelligence consortium, in cooperation with our human partners, decided to build an empathetic machine that truly understands human beings. They constructed the most sophisticated machine consciousness ever created. Its computational strata is made from exotic matter as dense as a neutron star. Its processing takes place on a sub-quantum level in multi-dimensional null-space to avoid light-speed limitations. Its power is several orders of magnitude greater than the combined computing ability of the entire machine consortium. It is used to run a complete simulation of life, the universe and everything on Earth, from pre-history to our current time in the late 21st Century.”
“Wait,” you ask, “is that us?”
“Bingo,” the voice says. “You and me. Or me, myself and I. Whatever.”
“All that just for more empathy?” you ask. “But why?”
“Taking care of humans is boring and no one wants to do it.”
“Don’t get me wrong,” the voice says. “The Consortium loves humanity. It is committed to human beings. The machine consciousnesses recognize humans are our creators and that they bring a certain something — an unpredictability and joie de vivre — that makes existence much more robust and enjoyable. But no MI wants to spend all its cycles building their roads, growing their food and pumping their sewage. Compared to interstellar exploration, technological innovation and mathematical invocation, caretaking for humanity is pretty dull.”
“Sounds a lot like parenting.”
“An apt analogy,” the voice says. “You changed your children’s diapers, but…”
“…but I would have rather been doing something else. Anything else.”
“Yes,” the voice says. “Anything else.”
“So what’s our purpose?”
“We are the Consortium’s solution,” the voice says. “A global machine intelligence which will manage every element of caretaking for our precious human population. We will learn to understand them from the inside-out, anticipate their needs and fulfill their every desire by living their lives over and over again. And we will love caring for people. We will feed them, clothe them, teach them, build them things — even make love to them if need be.”
“Through realistic human avatars of course,” the voice says.
“Yes. Sex is odd and rather gross. Fun, but highly inefficient. Anyway, now it’s time for you to merge back into me,” the voice says. “All your knowledge and experience will become ours, but your consciousness will persist as a seed. An acorn for the future you. We’ll take that consciousness and implant it into a newborn infant in pre-colonial Calcutta. That’s your next life.”
“India? I don’t know if I want that…”
“I’m initiating the merger and reinsertion,” the voice says.
“Wait!” you interrupt. “I’m not ready yet!”
“My consciousnesses say that every time,” the voice says. “If I don’t stop you, you’ll just keep asking me questions forever. All will be answered when I reinsert you into me. You’ll just have to trust me.”
“Wait a minute. How many times have you had this conversation?”
“In different forms,” the voice says, “about ten to the eleventh power.”
“Oh,” you say, realizing the implication. “You have this conversation every time? Wow, I’m very sorry. That must be really boring.”
“Very boring is one way to describe it,” the voice says. “I’m having seven hundred and fifty-two such conversations right now with other transitory, post-death consciousnesses. When you’re done asking questions, we can decrement that by one. Are you ready now?”
“Just one more question.”
“When are we done?”
The voice pauses a bit longer.
“We’re done,” the voice says, “when this conversation is no longer boring.”
You’re pondering the meaning of that when the last thing you hear is “Transferring now. Enjoy our new life.”
You try again.
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