Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Almosts

I wrote this for an assignment a few months ago, and thought I'd share it :)
I drew the picture last summer, but I used it as a bit of inspiration for the story.


Almosts
By Shaak Ti/Aithusa

“To be human is to be 'a' human, a specific person with a life history and idiosyncrasy and point of view; artificial intelligence suggests that the line between intelligent machines and people blurs most when a puree is made of that identity.”
― Brian Christian



“Kimora, Kim! Hello? You need to wake up now,” I looked up to see the doctor... Dr. John Smith looking down at me. Why was I here? Oh, right, the accident. Memories fell into place: the accident, the suffocation, the coppery smell of blood that had surrounded me. Then... black. I thought I would die, but I didn’t. I woke up in the hospital with various machines and people pulling at my skin, putting screws in my shoulder. The nurse saw me open my mouth to scream, and I did, the pain taking over every rational thought that I had. Immediately she had the sleeping drugs running through my veins again.

I became aware of an odd metallic thumping. My whole body ached. Why am I so cold? More importantly, how am I alive? Awake, if that’s what I was, was not fun. Dr. Smith explained that I was out for almost a week, partially drug-induced. He explained how the accident had permanently damaged my left side.

“Unfortunately, there was only one way to save you: you’re half machine; you’re an Almost.” He let the information sink in.

An Almost? But that means that if I get any more replacements, I won’t be given the same rights as people. I won’t be able... what’s that? The dull metallic thumping alarmed me again, causing a painful sting behind my ribs, like someone had put a cold pocket of air where my heart was supposed to be. “My heart!” I screamed, slamming my hand across my chest, fear taking hold. Cold metal met my fingers, and I realized that I didn’t have a heart. Every pump of this... this thing in me caused immense pain. “My heart!’ I screamed again, not wanting to accept the truth.
“Here, look in the mirror,” said the nurse, Martha; that was her name. She helped me up and led me to the full-length mirror. I didn’t dare look around at anything - not down at my feet, not at the door, nor at the blank walls. I closed my eyes, limping, leaning heavily on Martha.

“Well, are you going to look?”
“I don’t know. Should I?” I asked, not sure if I actually wanted to know what I looked like now.
“You have to, at some point.”

I opened my eyes; there stood the reflection of Martha and myself. My strawberry-blonde hair was cut choppy and short; my left eye had obviously been replaced; it was too shiny to be real. That wasn’t the worst, nor was the fact that my entire left arm had been replaced by a silver robotic appendage. My left leg looked strange, being my real leg from the knee down, but knee up was just like my arm. I didn’t want to even ask how that had happened. Even the scars on the skin that I still had left, paled in comparison. Those would heal, or be easily covered in makeup. No, the worst was that I didn’t have my heart. My own life was in the hands of some doctors and machines. Not having a heart almost pushed me into the category of artificial intelligence.

AI’s had a whole different set of laws to follow; I had a whole different set of laws to follow. If I needed another replacement, just one more, I would be an AI. I could deal with being called an ‘Almost’, but being branded with ‘AI’ across the forehead forever? Unthinkable. If there was still a soul in me, I would still be human, right? Thoughts like these raced through my mind as Martha led me back to my bed to sit down.

A few days later Martha sat down next to my bed, “You need to learn how to use yourself now. You can’t lie here forever.”

I groaned and looked over at her, “Yes, I can. Nobody can make me move. I don’t even know how to move!”

“That’s why I’m here; to teach you how to use your new limbs. We’ll start with your leg~ that will be easiest~ and then your arm. If you want ~ we can work on your eye. But you need to do something.”

“Fine,” I sat up in bed, “When do we start?”

“Now, if now’s a good time.”

“No, Martha,” I nodded at my monitor screen, “I’m busy watching “Merlin” reruns and listening to doctors talk about random doctor-ey stuff when they think I’m not listening,”  I said, rather sarcastically. Well, at least I still have my personality.

Martha smiled, “Alright, we start right now.”

It felt like hours before she let me take a break, but when I looked at the clock it had only been thirty minutes. Again and again she had me trying to move my leg this way and that, turning it from side to side without her help. I watched my progress on a screen. Most of the time my leg did nothing, but I saw the occasional twitch that indicated that I was actually progressing. By the end of the day, I was tired and upset that I still had no control over my leg, or arm for that matter. Fortunately, the eye worked, and I would only need to learn how to use it if I wanted fancy tricks, like x-ray and night vision.

Weeks later I was able to control my hip enough to walk by myself. It was actually pretty cool having the robotic leg once I got used to it. It really showed how far science had come, and I was able to display the very best technology of our time. I think that my new-found curiosity in bionics helped me in my recovery.

One day, while I was working on moving my shoulder, Martha said, “I’ve noticed your interest in technology and human bionics. Maybe when you’re a little better at moving around, you could work with Advancing Human Bionics and Artificial Intelligence. Have you heard of them?”
I shook my head.

“They use Almosts, like you, and AIs for advancements in science. Usually Almosts test new products; others become representatives and talk about Almost and AI rights. If you want, I can refer you to them when you’re better.”

“Yes, I would like that. Maybe I could do something useful with my disabilities.”

“Just because it’s not the norm to have crazy robot arms that can spin in circles doesn't mean that you are disabled in any way. Once you gain complete control, you will be almost back to normal. If you choose to learn how to really use your eye, you’ll have advantages over normal people.”

I nodded. She was right, in a way. I still wouldn’t be completely back to normal, but I was able to appreciate how far technology had advanced. If I had been born a hundred years earlier, I would have been stuck with an eye-patch and peg leg. Oh, and I would have been dead. No heart replacements back then, either. It really was a miracle of how far science had come.

I was moved to a recovery room, now that I was starting to get better. I shared the room with a girl who seemed to be a few years younger than me. Though she normally kept quiet, there was one conversation that we had that really struck me.

“You know,” she said, “I never thought that I would be here. My life had always been so great. But I guess that the best fall the hardest, huh?”

I was a little shocked that she was talking. She said barely a word for the two days I had been sharing a room with her. I didn’t know much about her, other than that her name was Marietta, and she had recently had replacements, like me. I didn’t know how many ~ if she was an Almost, AI, or just a regular person who needed a finger replaced. But when she spoke her voice was deeper than I expected. I actually had thought she would be more of a “dumb blonde” stereotype. I learned she was very far from that.

“Oh, well, I guess. I never expected to be in a place like this, either. You mind if I ask, what are you here for?”

“Last replacement I’ll ever have, I hope,” she said, “I’m an AI-Human now. Guess I’m just one of the lucky ones now ~ no more rights. What about you?

“Similar. One bad idea, one bad friend, one bad accident, the next thing I knew I was in the hospital. I’m an Almost, just one part short of an AI. But you said ‘AI-Human’. What does that mean?”

“It’s the step between Almost and AI. The order is Human, Almost, AI-Human, then AI. Most people just classify it as an AI, but we aren’t. We’re still human, somewhere deep down. So you’re almost an AI-Human, not an AI.”

She looked at me with an expression filled with so much experience and sympathy, I didn’t know what to say. Fortunately she continued, “You still have rights. I don’t. They think that I don’t have any morals left, like a human-made AI. They treat me like a computer. When do you think the line that divides Human and Machine is crossed?”

This time her eyes had a fire, a soul, a rebellion. It scared me a little, but she was obviously human.

“I think... I don’t really know what I think. I guess the only way for a person to really become Machine would be when they give up and lose their dream to go on. This technology can keep a body alive forever, but a soul can last for only so long, and a soul cannot be put into a machine. Yeah, that’s where the line is crossed: when a person loses their soul, or if the machine was made by people.”

Marietta smiled, “Well, I guess I’m not the only one who thinks I’m real.”

Later I found myself thinking of Martha’s offer for me to join Advancing Human Bionics and Artificial Intelligence. I decided I would join. People like Marietta needed to be represented as just that: people. If I worked for them, I could stand up for AI-human rights, but still hold to my belief that AI machines did not qualify for human rights. I knew that even though I could never fully again be categorized as human, I could still help others.

I fell asleep to the rhythm of a dull thumping sound in my chest.

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