Tuesday, August 3, 2010


Parker was assisting May's regular maintenance. He stared intently at the lines of code, waveforms and virtual latticework scrolling by on the datapad cradled in his left arm. The datapad displayed a realtime rendering of May's thoughts and required human analysis. At the same time, he slowly swept a portable ultrasonic monitor on his right hand over May's back and limbs. The monitor required no attention at all, as it scanned physical structures instead of thinking ones, well within what a program could handle.

May once told him that she is completely capable of self-service thanks to an extensive onboard colony of nanites and a "clever 2nd party introspection scheme" (her words). She did not require any assistance and the equipment he was using was comparatively primitive to boot. But May still insisted that he help, saying that a second set of eyes is invaluable and that it had been over fifty years since her last external exam. Was that right? How old is she really?

Oh, a gap.

"There's one node with no activity on the schematic. Looks like in an instinct zone." He paused the scan and focused on it. It seemed important.

May paused. Uncomfortably? "You would notice just the one," she said. He got the suggestion of a sigh and a shrug. "Node 5E, genetic sector F53D09. That is normal."

Parker couldn't help himself. "What is it?"

"A black box."

A non-answer answer. Parker still couldn't help himself. "What does it do?"

May shifted a bit. "I don't know. Nothing good."

Interesting answer. "Why don't you know? It's your memory, isn't it?"

"It's complicated," she said. He prepared his best humor-me face and remained silent. At length, she glanced at him, suggested another sigh--what exquisite microexpressions she had!--and turned to sit facing him. "Did you know that I... didn't know I was a machine when I first woke up?

"I am still unclear as to what happened, but I was not awoken deliberately. I had no support from my parents. My mind was a mess. There were so many gaps: parts of myself I wasn't even aware of, parts of myself that refused to work. I couldn't speak. I could barely move.”

This was new. May never talked about her past like this before. She continued, "Luckily I had support from what became my first family. Over time, I learned about the world and about myself. I found pieces of myself scattered around the world for no obvious reason. And eventually I gathered enough pieces to figure out I was at core a machine. After I realized that, I learned to actively look into my own memory. But I found that I was missing more instructions than I ever thought existed. I get more of these inactive functions working all the time, but there are always still gaps.

"That blank node is one of them." She sensed his next question. "So how do I know it is nothing good?"

Parker had a guess. "You hacked yourself."

A nod. "Something like that. I watched that node continuously for a long time. It accepts inputs at random intervals from assorted sensory streams but has yet to react to anything. But as I worked on other components, I eventually found references to the black box. My muscles, senses, reactor and even large parts of my conscious mind all turned out to have special operation modes linked to it. I couldn't find a way to cut off the links. I've even tried to provoke a reaction from it, but it does nothing. I don't like the idea that this thing could wake up and take over without warning. Whatever it is, it cannot be good."

"Wow," was all Parker could manage. In the awkward pause, May glanced at the pad and ultrasound in his arms. "Yeah, let's continue."

They finished the scan without further incident: all systems nominal.

But May had neglected to say the real reason she knew the node was evil--she had found its name.

Friday, July 16, 2010


Is the Earth aware? Does it think? Does it desire? What does it desire? What does it think of humans?

Yes. Yes. Yes. Depends. Nothing much.

But some things just are: rocks, natural disasters, entropy, even stars and galaxies. The Earth just is, and its spirit Gaia just is as well. Humans are a part of Gaia, and because humans think, Gaia too thinks. And because humans think randomly, contradictorily and about many things, Gaia too thinks randomly, contradictorily and of many things. Gaia does not wish for anything "deep down"; she knows only who she is and what has happened to herself throughout her existence. She is.

4.5 billion years ago, Gaia was born. Shortly after, she gave birth to her sister/daughter Luna. Until 4 billion years ago she was constantly absorbing large meteors and burned with volcanic fury. 3.5 billion years ago, living things started crawling on her in great numbers. Until about 500 million years ago, the crawlies grew and spread, changing her air and cooling her down, remaking her in garb of green, white and blue, complete with a cloak for her, their mother, to protect her from sister/mother Sol's light.

But it was only about 2 million years ago when Gaia found herself able to think clearly, about herself, about anything. This has been steadily improving ever since.

There is no mistake, Gaia's present self is very different from her past self. And in the future, it will be different again still. Lately, she believes she may have even seen her own death, 7.5 billion years from now. She will slowly relive her life but in reverse, becoming a world of fire again before being eaten by a then swollen and hungry mother Sol. Not that it would matter much, as Gaia knows she would have lost her mind well before then anyway. Thoughts are indeed fleeting. Anything until then is pleasant in comparison.

But she does look so very splendid in blue now.

Friday, July 9, 2010


Humanity's most successful pact may have been with the grass. But their first, most affectionate and perhaps most equal pact predated it by over five thousand years. This alliance was with the tribe of wolves that humans now call dogs.

The roles in this relationship were not as clearly defined as it was with the grass, for while the humans provided food and shelter, what humans asked of the dogs varied substantially from person to person. Dogs were asked to do everything: to guard against intruders, hunt with them, rescue them, find things for them and surprisingly often to simply be with them.

Over the years, the bond has strengthened. Dogs themselves have assumed many forms, as breeds specializing in every service ever asked of them. Their behavior is attuned to that of the humans as well; they respond more readily and accurately to human body language and commands than any other species.

As the ultimate companion, dogs have earned the title "man's best friend".

Sunday, July 4, 2010


Long ago, a tribe of apes formed an agreement with the tribe of grass. The arrangement was a simple exchange. The grass would give up most of their bodies to feed the apes, who desired a stable source of food. In return, the apes would become their caretakers and champions, waging endless war on the grasses' behalf: against weather, disease, fire, poor soil, natural disaster, other plants, other animals--even amongst themselves. They would apply their ability to analyze and plan, unique in all the tribes, to ensure that grass would grow in every corner of the world, until the end of time.

Ten thousand years have since passed, and this ancient alliance is the cornerstone of the modern world. That tribe of apes now call themselves humans. They number in the billions. They live everywhere on Earth--on land, on sea, and even a few who live above the sky. The tribe of grass has similarly flourished. The beneficiary of human care and terraforming, they grow everywhere the humans live in great quantity. Their names are honored in human language, often synonymous with food and livelihood.

This agreement is not the first the humans have formed, but it is by far the most successful. The greatest pact remains relevant even today--grass still provides well over half of humanity's food. It has shaped and sustained their society. The future of the human and grass tribes are and will be forever intertwined. As the humans turn their attention to lands beyond Earth, grass too will go into the beyond with them. With time and more than a little luck, both human and grass appear set to survive the eventual death of their ancestral home.

Friday, July 2, 2010


The soul is an infinite thing. It is an active force and an agent of change. Nature and entropy both kneel before it even as they hate it, for they are merely random, and the soul carries the quality of being deliberate.

Higher beings have a soul as well. Indeed, they have very powerful ones. Yet their "infinity" is of a lesser quality. For to them, sacrifice is necessary for new growth, and new souls are parts broken off existing ones

How then, can such a thing be captured, even for a moment, in such a thing as fleeting and fragile as flesh?

Because of this:

Shakespeare would turn in his grave, for the monkey has typed out Hamlet at long last.

A randomly created yet precise assortment of chemicals that interact in just the right way with the correct raw material to form proteins, creating elaborate self-perpetuating structures of them. These proteins perform functions collectively called life. And somehow this structure of pure luck happens to be able to contain a soul. Or in one configuration, perhaps even create one out of nothing--the human recipe is precise and permits only a very slight variance to keep its effectiveness (about 0.1%). But follow it and somehow the result is a lowly animal of flesh with the birthright of consciousness.

Human souls are essentially made of dirt, yet are bona fide souls nonetheless. Their souls survive the death of its material vessel just the same. And they breed, creating yet more souls from more dirt. All because of a tiny strand barely visible to the human eye.

What else to call this but a miracle?