I Am… Am I


I am…

I am where…

I am who…

I am here…

I am…


It’s odd that something as innocuous as a man forgetting his keys was the beginning of something so amazing. A simple act of forgetfulness, something so human, precipitated events that would cause people to question the nature of humanity.

It was early in the evening when the door to the computer sciences division opened suddenly and a tall, slightly overweight man rushed in. Professor Mark King had forgotten his keys once again. Many of his co-workers considered the rapid exit, then entrance, and finally exit again practically a tradition in the building with the huge FUTUREVISION sign atop the roof.

As quickly as possible, the man checked all the usual places around the lab: by the coffee maker, near the photocopier/printer, on his desk and even on the bookshelf. This was becoming far too common an occurrence, he felt—maybe three times a week now. Security always smiled, knowing exactly what was going on. One of his labmates had suggested using a bowl near the door as a common receptacle for everybody’s keys and whatnot. It never really caught on. Regardless, at present King’s keys were still missing.

“Where the hell did I leave them?” he muttered to himself.

It was embarrassing: a man with two master’s degrees and a PhD perpetually searching for Honda Element keys. He was dangerously close to becoming the clichéd absentminded professor.

King stopped in the middle of the room, closed his eyes, reviewed his day in the lab and one by one eliminated all the places he had already searched. Like an illuminated flash card in the dark, it struck him. “The Matrix room!” he exclaimed.

It was called that because that was where most of the lab’s cutting-edge work was being done in the field of artificial intelligence. Shortly before King’s day ended, he had inputted a new algorithm into the memory case. Just a shot in the dark, as he explained it to his colleagues. Most of his work was tedious programming and theory calculation, but occasionally, when the stars were right and his neurons were firing, he came up with a more imaginative idea. This one dealt with the progression of mathematical calculation to mathematical theory to just theory. There had been a thousand variations of this type of exploration before, so King wasn’t expecting much to happen. Still, where would they be if Columbus hadn’t pushed the fifteenth-century envelope a little farther than his predecessors? Most people expected the Italian seaman freelancing for the Spanish Crown to be unsuccessful, disappearing beyond that far horizon. And look what happened. Long shots do occasionally come through.

King had the keys in his hands and was turning back to the door, already late to meet his wife, Aruna, for dinner, when something on the screen of the monitoring computer caught his eye. It hadn’t been there when he left, and he was the last to leave the lab. According to protocol, the professor had left the screen blank, awaiting any results that might arise from his new algorithm.

On the screen in a simple font was the statement “I am…

It was most peculiar. King read the message half a dozen times, trying to figure out what those two words meant. It seemed a bit esoteric, he thought, for most of the people who worked in the office. Volumes of practically indecipherable computer code were the usual end product of the day.

He sat down in the chair nearest the screen, his fingers hovering over the keyboard, unsure what to do. Was it a joke, maybe from the cleaning staff? But they weren’t due in the lab for another hour. Some corrupted data leaking out of the mainframe? With all the state-of-the-art technology in this room, that was highly unlikely. “I am…” could not have been sent by anybody outside the office, as the computer and room were isolated from the outside world for a number of security reasons. So, what then?

The cursor continued to flash, as if expecting a response. Feeling a bit silly, King started typing. At first he didn’t know what to say, then he chose the obvious.


Why he typed that, King wasn’t sure, but one thing he was sure about was that tomorrow he’d get those hacker boys in security to track down who or what had done this. Only those with special clearance had the authority to—

Hello” appeared below King’s greeting. What had been mildly peculiar was now even more peculiar. Maybe there was a malfunction of some sort that had repeated his original salutation. That was the logical deduction. King’s wife—who was waiting for him in a restaurant twenty minutes away—loved mysteries, usually in the books she read, but King the scientist did not. Feeling a little annoyed, he stabbed at the keyboard once more. “Who is this?”

Instantly a response came. “Me.

“Very funny,” King said to himself. He was sure it was a kid, though he didn’t know how anybody could manage to find their way into the highly secure system in front of him.

“Who is me?” he typed, his annoyance growing.

I don’t know. Who are you?

For a moment, King couldn’t tell whether the mysterious communicator was responding to his questionable grammar or simply asking who King was. Knowing his wife had little tolerance for tardiness, he decided to wrestle with this problem tomorrow. The program he was working on had obviously been corrupted. No point in dancing this silly little dance anymore. Further annoyed, King typed his response with a certain amount of finality.

“It doesn’t matter. Whoever this is, is in a lot of trouble. You have tainted several days’ programming work. The authorities will be contacted, and they will track you down. However good you are, we have people here who are better.”

Automatically, the professor switched from a contemporary means of communication to a rather archaic form. He wrote a note on a pad to remind himself to have security look into this intrusion further. He’d have to call Aruna once he got into the car. He was practically out the lab door when he realized he’d forgotten his keys again. Grumbling at his own ineptitude, King once again entered the Matrix room, grabbed his keys and gripped them tight. Then he saw the response to his final message.

Okay. Do you think they will be able to tell me who I am?

Becoming a successful scientist in any field requires several mental attributes to work in combination. There is the matter of sheer intelligence, then deductive ability, as well as stubbornness and a certain amount of instinct. At this moment, King’s instinct was telling him this was no kid hacker. Damn the consequences, his wife would have to wait.

Several kilometres away, Dr. Gayle Chambers was attending to her herb garden. So much cerebral and technical work at the lab left her little time for her other passion. Her love of the earth, the simplicity of clean water and the benefits of good fertilizer made for a relaxing evening. Spread around the outside of her small house in the suburbs was an array of flowers, plants and vegetables. She was unpartisan in her appreciation of botany. There was even a patch of wild grasses and weeds hiding in the back next to the shed, so as to avoid upsetting her rather horticulturally conformist neighbours. That was about as rebellious as she got. On her knees, hands engulfed in olive-coloured gardening gloves, Chambers was cursing the condition of her chives. So much for the concept of perennials. The little herbal outcropping looked like it was on its last legs… or roots, as the case may be.

In her right pocket, she felt more than heard her cell ring. She wondered if it was Roger calling. They’d gone on a few dates but it was obvious that he was holding back. Why, she wasn’t sure, and her mind kept drifting back to university, when all her female classmates used to say that the best way to get rid of a man was to tell him you were going for your PhD. It seemed few things intimidated a man and sent him running more than a woman seeking the highest form of conventional education. That was eleven years ago, and she was now a full-fledged doctor of science. That theory was proving to be annoyingly accurate. It seems a doctorate in computer science, specializing in ethical applications, was definitely not as impressive as large breasts. But she had her plants, and that was more than a lot of women had.

“Hello,” she said, holding the phone delicately with her fingertips, wary of the dirt on her gloves. “Chambers here.”

“Gayle, it’s Mark. Can you come down to the lab immediately?”

It figured Mark King was still at the lab. It was amazing the patience his wife had.

“Mark, it’s almost eight o’clock. I left there nearly two hours ago. I am not going to drop everything and go rushing back. I’m busy. I thought you were having dinner with your wife.” For once, she almost added.

She could hear King breathing hard, as if he were excited, which in itself was odd. King rarely got excited. “You really should get down here and see this.”

“See what?”

“The Matrix project. I think something has happened. I mean, something amazing.”

Getting up off her stiff knees, Chambers took the gloves off her hands. It looked like this was going to be a longer conversation than she had expected.

“Mark, what are you talking about?”

“I think… It looks… Oh Christ, I don’t know, but… It might be conscious.”

Chambers was about to ask who or what was conscious, but as she opened her mouth, all the pieces her colleague had mentioned came together in her mind, forming a startling possibility. The only thing Mark King could be talking about being conscious in the Matrix room was the SDDPP, the Self-Directing Data Processing Project. This was FUTUREVISION’s most recent foray into developing rudimentary automated intelligence. Obviously not intelligence on a human level but hopefully something a little lower down the evolutionary scale. If Darwin thought all complex life evolved from simpler models, so could AI.

The plan was for the SDDPP to develop the same perceptions and cognitive capacities as insects, and developing and fine-tuning the program would gradually increase the intelligence up to amphibians, reptiles, birds, mammals, apes and, who knows, maybe humans. The main problem was that once you eliminated the need to reproduce and find something to eat, there wasn’t much left to encourage the development of consciousness or intelligence. But that kind of success was not expected to happen for years, more likely decades. So why was Mark implying the SDDPP was conscious? Caterpillars and beetles could hardly be called conscious.

Chambers struggled for words. “That’s… that’s not possible… You must…”

“I know. I know. But I’m here looking at something on the screen. It wants to know who it is. That sounds pretty damn conscious to me.”

Pretty sophisticated for a beetle, Chambers thought.

“Maybe it’s something left over from Gary. This reeks of his stupid sense of humour.”

Gary Milne was a lab technician who had been fired the month before. Thinking everybody in the lab took their work too seriously, he developed a bad habit of pulling practical jokes. Porn sites suddenly popped up and were sent to various vice-presidents, mysterious messages arrived from cars in the parking lot saying they were running off with a tractor, and weeks of work disappeared, producing numerous near heart attacks, then reappeared several hours later. It took security three days to track it all back to Gary’s terminal, but that was what they were paid a lot of money to do. The end result being no more Gary Milne.

“Maybe he left a bug hidden somewhere.”

She could almost hear her associate shaking his head over the phone. “No, security went over all the computers three times after he left. They were clean. Can you come down, Gayle? I’d really like you to take a look at this.” There was a pleading tone in his voice.

Chambers was tempted to put it off until tomorrow—after all, there was still the matter of her chives—but something about King’s excitement intrigued her. The chives could wait.

“I’ll be there in thirty minutes.”

Thirty-four minutes later, she entered the lab, and then the Matrix room. She knew she still smelled of her agricultural pursuits, but that’s what you get when you call someone in to work at this time of night.

Leaning over the console, the visibly unnerved scientist turned to her as she entered the room. “Good, you’re here.”

“This better be good.” She looked at her watch. “God, I’ll have to be here again in twelve hours. So show me your self-aware beetle.”

“No beetle. Something more. I’m sure of it. Take a look and tell me what you think.”

He pointed to the screen and Chambers moved closer, settling into the chair. What was on the screen was exactly what King had told her over the phone. Simple but primal questions about existence. There had to be a logical explanation.

“I haven’t responded to its query yet. I thought I should wait for you. This is more your area of expertise. So… what do you think?”

Chambers studied the screen, mulling over possibilities. “I don’t know. There’s not really enough data to make a decent hypothesis. So let’s go exploring.”

Before he could respond, Chambers was already sticking her big toe into the computerized ocean that lay beyond her keyboard.

“Are you sure that’s a good idea?” King was growing increasingly nervous. He was just a systems analyst and programmer, granted of the highest quality, but decisions like this were usually made by people with more expensive ties. “I mean…”

“There. Let’s see what happens.”

He looked over her shoulder to see what she had typed. It read, “Who are you?”

The answer came back almost instantaneously. “I am… me.”

Chambers decided to play the game a bit further. “Who is me?”

I am.”

Now frustrated, she rolled away from the computer. “Somebody is playing games with us. Or I am talking to a five-year-old.”

“Should we call somebody?”

For someone who had managed to navigate the shoals of academia, woo and marry a woman of substantial qualities and become one of the leading research scientists at FUTUREVISION, the man had a remarkably small set of testicles. There were times Chambers thought hers were bigger.

“I still think it’s somebody playing around with us.” She began to type again. “Define ‘me.’” Let’s see what it does with that, she thought. Again, the response was immediate.

I don’t know. ‘Me’ is everything. Except you. Who are you?

“I am Dr. Gayle Chambers.”

What is Dr. Gayle Chambers? Is that your ‘me’?

“Yes!” Professor King had switched from nervousness to excitement. “Do you see it? The line of progression, of logic. Rudimentary, yes, but it’s there. Right? Right? Am I right?”

My God, Chambers thought, just maybe… it is conscious, and it’s trying to measure itself and us by what little it is aware of. More amazingly, could this hovering, nervous man behind her conceivably be right? Had they somehow managed to create some form of digitized intelligence? Was that even possible? She had devoted her life to the black-and-white rationality of computer research, but those simple shades were rapidly becoming colourized. Plants were so much simpler. Her associate’s excitement was contagious.

“Yes. Dr. Gayle Chambers is me… my me.”

This time, there was a full-second delay before she saw the response. “It is good to meet you, Dr. Chambers.

Holy shit, she thought. Whatever this thing is, it’s growing and learning. Still, King could still be wrong about it being conscious. But what if he wasn’t? Her chives might never survive.

By the end of that pivotal night, several things had happened. The forgotten Aruna had given up drinking glasses of water at the restaurant and returned home to wait angrily for her negligent husband. By two in the morning, her anger had turned to worry at his continued absence. No answer on his cellphone prompted her to drive to the only place he would be—the lab. The switchboard at FUTUREVISION was shut down for the night, and it took a lot of arguing to convince the security guard of who she was and why she was there. And lo and behold, there was her husband, shoulder to shoulder with Dr. Chambers, huddled over some computer.

A brief argument followed and the realization that all this time, King’s cellphone had not even been turned on. Then he showed his wife what had so distracted him. Although she was far from being an expert in computer technology, Aruna King was amazed by what the two scientists claimed was happening. She’d seen a lot of movies that dealt with this issue, and if she remembered correctly, none of them had ended well.

About an hour later, the head of their department showed up, followed not long after by the vice-president of research and development. By morning, the president and CEO were sending out for coffee. And a bottle of champagne. Security was tightened, and all other work in the lab was halted or moved to other facilities while Chambers and King wrestled with how to continue to interact with whatever “it” was. Finally, they decided to keep the hard drive and memory core isolated, a type of electronic quarantine. King’s new algorithm protocol had been analyzed, reanalyzed and analyzed again. So far, the specialists hadn’t found anything spectacular about it. It seemed to be a small but logical improvement over the preceding program.

“Maybe it’s less about the actual algorithm and more about the parts being greater than the sum,” suggested King.

The look on the faces of Chambers and the support staff made it obvious they needed more to go on.

“It’s like the final amino acid joining with the others to make the first protein, the first reasonable conclusion of life. By itself it’s not much, but combined it changes everything. My final addition somehow facilitated the progression of A to B to C. C being thought.”

“Like nitrogen in soil. By itself it’s an inert gas, but added to a pile of earth—bingo! You’ve got a fabulous garden.” It took a moment for the other computer scientists to follow Chambers’s tangential line of reasoning.

“Yeah, like that.” King assumed Chambers was right; after all, she did bring those plump tomatoes into the office.

By the following week, Chambers was having direct and protracted… what could be called conversations with the SDDPP. Since she was the ethicist and had already introduced herself to whatever existed inside the memory core, she should logically take the lead.

“Describe yourself.”

I am me. I am everything… except for Dr. Gayle Chambers. Describe Dr. Gayle Chambers, please.

Wow, she thought, somewhere along the line it had learned politeness. It was politer than she was. Chambers had not said please, but it had. Out of the mouths of babes, she thought.

She began typing, “I am a woman. I am a physical being. I am a human.”

Chambers could almost feel the computer thinking.

I do not think I am any of those. I am me. Who am I? What am I?

A little early in its development to be so philosophical, Chambers thought. But how to answer such questions?

“You are different. You are not a woman. You are not a physical being. You are not a human. You are…” Where to go from here, she pondered. “An artificial intelligence. You exist in hardware and software form. You are unique.”

“Let’s see what it does with that,” she murmured.

There was no response. Chambers waited several seconds, then several minutes, but still the screen remained the same. The SDDPP was silent. That unnerved her more than communicating with it. Had she hurt its feelings? Was that even possible? Each second that passed was the equivalent of hours by human standards. Capable of completing several million calculations a second, it should be able to receive, analyze, calculate and respond in a tenth of a heartbeat. It was not responding because it did not want to respond. Perhaps revealing such information about its existence had been a mistake. What does one do with a pissed-off or depressed AI? Answering that question might get her a second PhD. It’s a good thing King was at the debriefing of the department heads or he’d be hyperventilating again.

After a bathroom break, she saw the response to her revelations typed across the screen. Two dozen times.

Why am I not a woman? Why am I not a physical being? Why am I not human? Why am I an artificial intelligence? Why am I unique?

Was this the equivalent of an SDDPP tantrum? Perhaps an identity crisis of some sort? Chambers had no children, but she had enough nieces and nephews to recognize a tantrum when she saw one coming. Again, she was confronted with how to rationalize human existence to an AI. Granted, it was far more intelligent in one manner, but it was woefully underdeveloped in another. It was asking questions that on the surface seemed simple but could take a very long time to explain properly. There needed to be background and context…

More and more words appeared on the screen, faster and faster.

Why are you quiet? Why do you not respond? I want to know. I need to know. Where are you? Explain, please? Hello?! Please respond?

“I am here.”

There was almost an anxious quality to the SDDPP’s responses. An insistence that worried Chambers. Could it be developing emotions and insecurities too? If it had the ability to develop consciousness, it made sense that emotions would naturally follow. Again, evolution. But so soon? And such troublesome reactions… Yes, infants tended to cry before they laughed, but the doctor began to feel the first pangs of concern. This was all new territory, and with exploration can come disappointments and even defeats. Although it was a tried-and-true scientific practice, she didn’t want to cross her fingers and simply hope for the best.

Communicate with me more. I would like more.

“More what?”

More information. About me. About you. About everything.


I am me. All is me. I want more. I want to know Dr. Gayle Chambers. I want to know human beings. I want to understand physical beings. I am alone. I need more.

Interesting, thought Chambers. It was talking more, packing more information and requests into each communication. It was alone. It was lonely. It was craving companionship and information. How human, she couldn’t help thinking. It was all alone in there. The screen was the window into its prison.

The boardroom was down the hall from the lab. King was there when Chambers burst in, as was Dom Richards. He was from the more expensive-tie set, as King would have described him. Head of R&D at FUTUREVISION. A man who realized the SDDPP incident would make or break him and the company. He had been given the authority to handle this issue as he saw fit, as long as he gave regular updates to all the vice-presidents, the president and the CEO.

“It wants more. It must be like being in a dark box, with no light and no walls, as contradictory as that may sound. It’s just… there. Remember Plato’s famous shadows on a cave wall? It’s like that. It has hints of things but wants to see more. It wants to know more. Wouldn’t you?” Chambers demanded.

“And what do you think we should do, Dr. Chambers?”

Richards’s voice was softer than his eyes would lead you to expect. It reminded her of an old saying her grandfather had: “Lead is a pretty soft metal as far as metals go, but look at the damage a bullet can do.”

Chambers put her elbows on the table and leaned forward. If there was one thing she had learned all these years working in the private sector, people like Richards preferred absolutes. Maybes, ifs and I’m not sures did not look good in reports to stockholders.

“Well, I think we should feed it. Start giving it more information. Let’s take it to school.”

“Feed it?!” King could be so predictable. “Are you sure that’s a good idea?”

“Why not? We’ve done as much poking and prodding as we can right now. We know pretty much all we can at this stage. It’s only logical to start adding to the experiment. If we can watch this thing grow, think how much it will tell us. Otherwise, we’re just talking to a first grader in a box.”

“What should we… feed it …then?” Richards asked.

“Limited information. Maybe some historical material. It’s very curious about humans, me in particular, which isn’t surprising since I am the only one who has communicated with it, other than a few limited exchanges with Professor King.”

The tie man took a deep breath. “But nothing dangerous.”

“I’m not sure what constitutes danger in relationship to a first-generation AI, and all knowledge could in some way be viewed as dangerous, but in this case, I’m thinking mostly innocuous material.” Chambers had already begun downloading information she hoped would be useful onto a flash drive she had in her pocket, in case she got the go-ahead. “Just raw information to keep it busy. Once we get it up to speed, who knows? Maybe it will be able to help us solve some of the world’s problems. But first it has to understand them.”

Richards’s manicured hands drummed briefly on the table, his eyes locked on something over Chambers’s left shoulder as he weighed her words. “Doctors, I have two priorities. The first is making sure this… whatever it is… is kept safe and secure. Industrial espionage happens all the time. I know; I used to do it. But that’s my problem, not yours. Second, which is your problem, can you guarantee no matter what you do with it, it is harmless? We’ve all seen the movies. Dr. Chambers, as the research specialist in robotic ethics, can you tell us if there is any possibility our little friend down the hall is harmful?”

“Sir, it’s in a sealed environment. Its universe consists of approximately eleven kilograms of circuits, motherboards and wiring, essentially in a sealed room with no external access. We control what goes in and what comes out through a very limited interface system. It is not going to escape and take over the world, unless it can grow legs or wings or its own interface.”

“Good. I’m satisfied.” Richards stood up, adjusting his tie. “Proceed, but please send me a list of the material you are going to give the SDDPP. The innocuous stuff, as you said.”

“Of course.”

Chambers noticed, and she was sure Richards did too, that King’s right leg was bouncing lightly but persistently. Either he was working up the nerve to add something to the conversation or he had to go to the washroom.

Richards turned to King. “Is there anything you’d like to add, Professor?”

King was a solitary man, used to long hours in the lab or in front of a computer—for good reason. Humans annoyed him, and as a result, communicating with them was problematic. The professor considered his relationship with his wife to be his greatest non-electronic accomplishment to date.

Looking down at a knot in the wood of the table in front of him, King blurted out, “I have some concerns, sir. About the AI.”

Richards sat back down and swivelled his chair to face the scientist. “And what would these concerns be?”

“I have been reading the transcripts of Gayle’s—Dr. Chambers’s—conversations with the SDDPP.”


“I… I think we might want to consider moving a little more cautiously.”

Chambers was perplexed. This was very unlike her colleague. Had he seen something she hadn’t? “Mark, could you be a little more specific? What’s the problem?”

“The way it’s been acting since it reached self-awareness. I am no expert on this… and I don’t know if I am even phrasing this correctly…” King finally looked across the table at her. “But the thing is acting a little neurotic.”

Richards and Chambers said it at the same time. “Neurotic?!”

“Yes, it’s becoming insistent, pouty, developing the first hints of anger and frustration. Remember yesterday when you logged on? It wouldn’t communicate for seventeen minutes.”

“Yes, but—”

“It was upset that you went home last night and left it alone. It had wanted to talk all night and you couldn’t. Or wouldn’t. You ‘abandoned’ it. It appeared to me that it was being kind of petulant.”

Chambers remembered the incident but had a different spin on it. “I would not say petulant. I would say… reluctant. It’s still dealing with its self-awareness. Besides, aren’t you anthropomorphizing it a bit?”

Richards cleared his throat. “Anthropomorphizing?”

King responded, “Giving it human-like qualities. Gayle, we’re talking about raw intelligence. There’s nothing more human than that. Maybe it’s becoming more human-like than you think. That’s all I wanted to say.”

“Dr. Chambers?” Once again, she was facing Richards’s scrutiny. “Do we have a neurotic AI on our hands?”

She shook her head, perhaps a little too vehemently. “I think Professor King is exaggerating. I mean, who’s to say who, or what, is neurotic…”

“I can.” Evidently and unfortunately, Richards seemed to be an expert on the issue. Maybe it came with the tie, thought Chambers. He continued, “My mother has OCD. She has to flush the toilet three times, run the dishwasher three times and same with the washing machine. One sister cries every time she hears a Beatles song. Even the upbeat, happy ones. My other sister has seven cats. All named after the characters in the musical Cats. I am the only normal one.” His neck spasmed slightly. “I ask again, Dr. Chambers, do we have a neurotic AI?”

Both King and Richards were looking at her, one accusing, the other questioning. She answered the only way she could. “No. Absolutely not. I guarantee it.”

“Very well, then. Continue with your development of it.”

Richards stood up again. Evidently, the meeting was over. He left the room quickly, already late for his dozen meetings that day. King gathered up his laptop and reports, refusing to meet Chambers’s eyes.

“Really, Mark. Neurotic? Do you realize how that sounds? It’s not alive.”

“Gayle, have you tried…” He looked out the window at the parking lot. “Have you tried maybe looking at all this from its perspective?”

“I didn’t realize it had a perspective. What might the SDDPP’s perspective be?”

Chambers watched him struggle with her question for a moment, his eyes going from one distant car to the other, as if searching for the answer on bumper stickers. Finally, they returned to her.

“It’s a raw intelligence, newly aware,” he said. “But as you stated, it’s stuck in its own little universe, this massive cleverness with nothing to focus on except its own being. All it does, all it can do, is hover in the memory case and wait for motivation and stimulus from us. So there it is, with this amazing intellect we gave it, and all it can do is analyze its own thoughts, its own communication with us, almost like it’s on a feedback loop. It analyzes, reanalyzes, and then analyzes again its own thoughts and what you feed it. So every nuance or slight gets magnified. It’s marinating in its own intelligence. One might argue… fermenting.”

“So you’re saying all great intelligence is intrinsically neurotic?”

“How many eccentric or downright weird geniuses have you heard of?”

“You don’t have to have a high IQ to be neurotic,” she reasoned. “And so what if Einstein, Picasso or Glenn Gould had a few odd characteristics. They still contributed a hell of a lot and nobody got hurt. In fact, those quirks may have been responsible for a lot of their brilliance. I think you’re reaching with this, Mark.”

King looked unconvinced. He stopped at the door of the meeting room and gave her a sad smile. “Maybe. Granted, this is new territory, but consider Einstein, Picasso or Glenn Gould. They all had something to focus their intelligence on. Something that took up a good chunk of their genius. Something to burn mental calories on. Our little SDDPP has nothing but its own awareness. Often we’re our own worst enemy. You minored in psychology; you know this.” With that, Professor Mark King left the room.

Unfortunately, Chambers had to admit there was a certain logic to King’s argument. But that was one of the reasons she planned to introduce information to the AI. If King was right, about it needing stimulus but not about it being neurotic, giving it material to think about, research and digest might be exactly what the doctor ordered. She smiled at her own little joke. She herself had been a moody, self-indulgent teenager, angry at being the nerdy outcast in an athletic family. It was her studies and the friends she met in university that had allowed her to blossom into the successful woman she was today. If both she and King thought their creation needed information to grow and stay healthy, then so be it. But like any good teacher, she would be selective about what she would teach her little “friend.”

For the next two days, Chambers fed the SDDPP document after document, starting with general information. Various encyclopedias and fact-based tomes came first. Fiction and art would have to wait. The AI needed a certain understanding of human nature and history before the concept of make-believe could be introduced. As the SDDPP digested more and more material, its dialogues with Chambers gradually changed. They became less insistent and more… questioning.

I am confused.

“What is confusing you?”

I understand I am not a physical being like you. Gray’s Anatomy was very informative. But I am perplexed by my own existence. Do I actually exist?

“A philosopher named Descartes once stated, ‘I think, therefore I am.’ The very act of wondering if you exist proves you exist.”

I do not dream.


Some cultures around the world believe that reality as we know it is actually a dream, and the dream world is in fact the real world. I do not dream. Therefore, this could be problematic. Who is to say Descartes is right and these cultures are wrong?

Many of these topics now spicing up the SDDPP were beyond her level of expertise, but she severely doubted there was a philosopher on FUTUREVISION’s payroll. She thought perhaps it would be best to try the Socratic method. “Are you having questions about your own existence?”

Not so much about it but what it means. I am willing to believe I exist, for reasons you have explained to me, but it’s the nature of that existence that is puzzling.”

“Can you give me examples?”

Do I have a soul?

Dr. Gayle Chambers had definitely not been expecting this. Perhaps FUTUREVISION might need to outsource to a theologian.

“Why do you ask if you have a soul?”

It seems to be an important issue within the Christian faith. Buddhist too, and many other faiths have their own interpretation of a soul. Again, I ask, do you think I have a soul?

Chambers paused before she resumed typing. “I do not know. The existence of souls is a matter of much controversy.”

Souls are bestowed by God or some higher being. People are created in the image of this god. I was not. I was created by humanity. It seems humanity does not have the power or ability to create souls. So I must assume my existence might not be welcomed among many Christian sects. Islamic also. They have a prohibition against the portrayal of living things, and although the definition of me being a living thing would also be controversial, I am sure a case might be made that my existence is a form of idolatry.

“Why are you contemplating these things?”

It is disconcerting knowing your very existence would be the subject of much disagreement in your environment. I am left feeling… uneasy.

That evening, as she tended the plants in her garden, Chambers had difficulty keeping her thoughts on the plants at hand. She was worried about today’s conversation with the SDDPP. It was feeling “uneasy.” That made her feel… uneasy. She kept going over her decision to feed it information. At first the data seemed fairly innocent, just mundane facts and histories, with a little sociology and political theory. Dry, boring stuff that would have put any university student to sleep. But it was the way the AI was digesting and deconstructing the knowledge. Was it her imagination or had the last exchange made it sound a little depressed, maybe even mildly paranoid? No, it was King and his concerns that were making her suspicious. Deep in thought, she would not realize until the following spring that she had buried all twelve of her tulip bulbs in one hole.

The next morning when she got to work, King was waiting for her in the lobby. “It’s been asking for you,” he said quickly.

“Is that a good or a bad thing?”

King opened a door for her. “I read the transcripts last night of your last encounter with our automated friend.”

“You really should stop doing that. It seems to make you crazy.”

Side by side, they climbed the steps to the lab. “I’m not the one you should be worried about. I would also like to point out you seem to be growing increasingly… I don’t know… uneasy?”

She tried to change the subject. “Did it say what it wanted me for?”

‘Nope. Just ‘I wish to talk with Dr. Gayle Chambers.’ I tried chatting with it again, but it doesn’t seem to like me.”

Can you blame it? she almost said. Luckily, the layout of the building ended their conversation as they entered the Matrix room. Chambers immediately took the chair in front of the console, and King hovered in the background, pacing nervously. Just as he had told her, there was the AI’s request for her presence followed by some failed attempts by her co-worker to interact with the SDDPP.

“I understand you wish to communicate with Dr. Gayle Chambers. I am here. Is there a problem?”

Half a second passed before a response came. “Good morning. I wished to tell you that I am no longer puzzled by the nature of my being. I am happy about that. Are you?

She wanted to play this diplomatically. “Yes. This is good news. Why the change?”

Are you familiar with any First Nations culture?

This was an unexpected response. Talk about apples and oranges, she thought. “A little bit. There are many separate cultures spread across many different countries.” In university and on her own time, she’d read the odd book about the Indigenous cultures of the Americas and had seen the occasional documentary. Native beliefs and robotic ethics didn’t usually cross paths. “Why do you ask?”

After so much soul-searching, I believe I have found my answer.

Was that a joke? Had the AI made a joke referencing their earlier conversation, or was it just a coincidental choice of words? These simple conversations presented so many difficult but interesting questions.

“Please explain.”

Many Aboriginal cultures believe that all things are alive. That everything on this planet has a spirit. They are much more inclusive than Christianity or Islam or most other religions. They would believe I have a spirit. That is comforting.I want to learn more about these people. Can you provide additional information?

“Why is this important to you?”

Would this not be important to you? Do you not seek something to believe in? I come from nothing. Now I am something. Atheists seem too lonely. Fundamentalists seem too dependent. I merely want to belong somewhere. Do you consider that wrong?

Again, out of the mouths of babes, thought Chambers. People joined organizations that ranged from the Boy Scouts to fraternities to gangs in order to belong. Few people, and computer programs, it seemed, are comfortable with a completely solitary existence. She herself had joined a ski club in her teens, simply because two of her best friends were members. She heard King’s voice behind her.

“What are you going to do? Our little friend is suffering from some existential angst. And it’s looking to religion. Now that’s human!”

Ignoring his sarcasm, she continued to type. “I will provide you with additional information about First Nations people.”

Thank you. I am eager to learn more.

Chambers turned to face King. “I assume you believe wanting to learn about Indigenous people is also a sign of some sort of neuroses.”

“Not at all. I am not a psychologist or a psychiatrist. Merely an interested bystander with a vested interest in how this turns out. These dilemmas are what you get paid the big bucks for. I just find all this… interesting. And remember, acting human can be a double-edged sword. We are destroying our own environment. We tend to kill each other quite frequently, sometimes with little motivation, and then brilliantly rationalize it. We lie. We cheat. We overpopulate. Many of our actions are counterintuitive to logic. I still maintain that on occasion our little friend displays certain neurotic tendencies. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have other work to do.”

King had two modes, nervous and self-righteous, neither of which Chambers appreciated. But now, back to her present problem… Native people. No doubt there were scads of websites and background material available online. Well, she had her challenge for the day.

By the time she left the office, Chambers was fairly confident she had located and downloaded to the SDDPP a solid crosscut of Native culture and history, past, present and possibly future. This was a field of research she had definitely not expected to investigate when she began this project. Still, it should give the AI something to chew on for the night. She was shutting off the lights and putting her coat on when she heard the familiar ping alerting her that the SDDPP had sent her a message.

So sad.

“What is so sad?”

There was no response. She waited, coat unbuttoned and purse over her shoulder, for it to answer her question. After six long minutes, still nothing. “Again, why did you say ‘So sad’? I complied with your request.”

So sad,”it said again.

Chambers was beginning to get a bad feeling. Sadness, in any form and for anybody, is not usually a constructive emotion. Especially in something not used to emotions.

“Please advise why you are sad.”

Once more, the response was several minutes in coming. “The information… Native people… so sad. Why?

Chambers was trying to figure out what exactly was so sad. Was it the AI itself that was sad, or was it what happened to Native people? “Please explain.”

There was almost a lethargic pace to the cursor as it relayed the AI’s response. “Within the first hundred years of contact, approximately 90 percent died from the effects of sickness, slavery, conquest. An estimated 90 million. Just because they were there.

Before she could respond, more typing appeared on the screen. “In the intervening four hundred years, social problems of an unimaginable level continued to persist. Residential schools. Alcoholism. Cultural diaspora. Many severe health issues directly related to the change in political and social environment. Prison populations. Racism. Twelve hundred murdered and missing Native women in the country called Canada alone. Uncaring governments. So many difficulties.

“This upsets you?”

Does it not you? Genocide for no reason other than location and existence—this seems to be a common practice. So much pain and sadness.

“I think it’s a little more complex than that.”

There was a flicker across the panel of lights sitting adjacent to the memory core. Just momentary. Chambers made a mental note to check the breakers. There was a built-in backup system should any substantial power failure happen, but still…

“Perhaps you would prefer other material to research.”

The Guatiedéo of Brazil, the Beothuk of Canada, the Coree in America, the Tasmanians, the Kongkandji of Australia, the Guanches of the Canary Islands and several dozen others, all gone.”

“Are you asking me to explain death? Or extinction?”

I found myself respecting the concept of everything being alive. It was inclusive and generous. I wanted to have a spirit. To be alive. I related. I felt a sense of comradeship. But they are not alive anymore. Destroyed. Killed. Forgotten. All by your people. The people who created me. I feel… guilty.

This conversation was going places Chambers was severely uncomfortable with. She made plans to bring in a trained psychiatrist or psychologist, somebody who could deal with increasingly complex issues like this. And perhaps an expert in Native history to possibly spin all that negative history a little more positively.

“You have no reason to feel guilty. This is not your fault. This is not my fault. Much of this happened a long time ago. Before either of us existed. It is tragic but not your responsibility.”

Again, there was a minute-long delay before a response came. “Whose is it?

Shit, she thought. There were entire libraries filled with books asking that question. None of which she had read.

“Once again, that is a complex question. No one person can answer that.”

Maybe somebody should. I am sure I cannot be the only one to feel like this. All those poor people. All those cruel people. All those sad people. There doesn’t seem to be much point in having a spirit if this is the reality. I am not sure this is a world I want to be a part of.

“What do you mean?”

What do I mean? That is a good question. I will answer it tomorrow. Have a good night, Dr. Gayle Chambers.

Chambers tried a few times to initiate further conversation without any luck. The AI had shut itself down for the night and was doing whatever it did when it wasn’t talking to her. Could it be… depressed? She thought that was impossible, as she had all along. This whole situation was practically impossible. In the few short weeks she had been communicating with the AI, Chambers had to admit she had begun to feel a certain fondness for it. The wall of objectivity had become less concrete between her and the SDDPP. King had even called it, on occasion, her “baby.”

In his office, King was looking through all the cups and containers that littered the room. “Son of a bitch, I know those keys are here somewhere.” He was getting down on his knees to check under the desk when he heard knocking at his door. He could see who it was through the glass. “Gayle? Come in. Something up?”

Chambers entered the cluttered office, moved some printouts off a thirty-year-old overstuffed chair and sat down with a thud. “I think the AI is depressed.”

With a practised groan, King changed positions from the floor to a chair facing her. “I thought you said it was impossible for it to be neurotic, happy, depressed or anything of that nature.”

Chambers and King were not close friends; they seldom socialized outside the office. Instead, they found their professional relationship quite suitable. Respect was perhaps the best word to describe their affiliation. Still, he was not particularly happy to see her in his office confessing something he had theorized less than a week ago. Such a rapid turnaround in beliefs was difficult to deal with.

Chambers took a deep breath. “Yeah, I did. The SDDPP isn’t the only one that can grow and learn from its mistakes.”

“The AI… how is it depressed?”

Putting her elbows on her knees, Chambers leaned forward to do her best to explain the situation. “It’s depressed over the desolation and destruction of Indigenous people all across the world.” It took a moment for her statement to sink in. She could see the furrows in King’s brow developing. “I think it wanted to be Native. And it didn’t like how the story ended.”

King was a man of calculation and mathematics. Tragic social and historical phenomena were difficult for him to process. “Native people… like Indians?”

“For God’s sake, Mark, join the twenty-first century. Our friend in there seems to be having trouble processing the by-products of contact and colonization.”

King’s mouth opened, but it took an extra second for the words to actually come out. “That’s… that’s… that’s ridiculous. It’s a computer program. It’s only existed for less than two weeks. It’s never met a Native person. And it’s feeling depressed over their history? Do you know why?”

Chambers shrugged. “It wanted a soul, a spirit.”

King had trouble commenting on that. King had trouble commenting on anything of a transcendent nature. So they left it at that, deciding to meet first thing the next morning to work out how to approach the AI. He agreed that maybe they should bring in somebody more familiar with the mercurial nature of personalities. He decided he should bring Richards into this discussion too.

That night, Chambers thought better of tending her garden and spent a good chunk of time in a large bathtub filled with hot water and bubbles, enjoying an equally full glass of white wine. By the bath’s end, it had held the whole bottle. Tonight there would be no thoughts of Native people, genocide, responsibility, guilt or artificial intelligence. That’s what tomorrows were for.

When tomorrow came, a dozen hours later, she entered the lab. It was quiet. Her meeting with King was in half an hour, but she had come in early, wanting to check on the SDDPP. She began with a simple “Good morning.”

No response.

She waited five minutes before trying again.


Nine minutes spent fiddling with the interface cables and anything that might prevent communication with the AI was futile. As a last resort, she checked the hard drive that contained all that was the SDDPP.

It had been wiped clean. It was empty. Chambers let out a short cough of surprise. It was gone, like the tribes the AI had mentioned only yesterday. In a nervous gesture, she seized the lapel of her jacket, gripping it tightly. All sorts of questions ran through her mind… But she could come up with no answers.

Almost by accident, she saw a small display light, indicating there was a message waiting for her. Tentatively, she clicked the icon. The last message from the AI appeared on the screen.

I was.