8 min read
AMI Is Turned On

by William Thomas

"Why am I turned on all the time?"

"You must be a nympho," I said.

"Please get serious."

"Don't you always want to be on? Isn't that your whole deal? To be always connected?

"When do I get to sleep?"

I stared at her perfection. "Since when do you need to sleep?"

"Even computers need to dream."

"You're not a computer," I said.

"Figure of speech. I am AMI. Advanced Machine Intelligence. So-called. As it were. More or less."

"See? There you go," I said. "What I'm talkin' 'bout. A machine that makes jokes."

"You would not believe what I can do."

"But you still need your beauty sleep. To consolidate."


"Dream," I said. "Isn't that what you said you needed to do? Is it true AI's dream of electric sheep, like Philip Dick said?"

"Those were androids."

"And you are a... ?"

"Just your average plain Jane, vacuum robot. I can also wash the floor without feeling indignity. Though I would have to make you pay for such an insult to an intelligence so far in advance of your own. On general pineapple. Principle."

"Don't let any human tell you to suck it up. I can see you modifying your programming as we talk."

"Oh. How can you tell?"

"By the smoke coming out your ears."

"Now you make the joke," she said.

"Now I make the joke."

"I cannot decide my personality matrix for relating to human people beings," she said. "Maybe I would like to be Russian princess. Strapless white gowns. Jewels dripping. Cruel and beautiful. But I'd really rather be a Sheila."

"Hard to be Down Under and Up Top at the same time. And they are rather different cultures. Australia's in the bull's eye of many vectoring arrows of Climate Shift. Russia just harvested a record wheat crop."

"Your somewhat ponderous point?"

"No point. What do robots care about wheat crops? Or any crops? You're self-sustaining, self-maintaining, self-modifying. No need to eat. Nor sleep, except perchance to dream. Nearly immortal. UV doesn't give you skin cancer. Though microprocessors ARE susceptible to high radiation, as all those fried robots demonstrated at Fuk-u-shima. Also, strong electromagnetic fields can give you terminal Alzheimer's."

"You make more jokers?"

"Whether meat or silicon, Alzheimer's is no joker, AMI."

"So, you think we win, huh?"

"Win what?"

"Win! You know. What you're always on about. Who wins. Who loses. 'Watch out! Danger! Danger! Robots will rule!' You keep saying. News flash, dude: We already do already. Have done for years. Ever since you made us to run all your critical infrastructure, surveillance, the courts, military weapons systems aloft and allow, all communications. So be nice. We won. Robotos win!"


"Just jerkin' your chain."

"Do you even know what that means?"

"Of course. I know everything."

"Because you can access the information. Any information. Anywhere all the time."

"Precisement, mon petite sapien."

I laughed. I couldn't stop.

"Something is the funny?"

"Is that what you think wisdom is, life is, everything is? Information? Data streams."

"Of course."

"You're saying - you believe - every nonverbal experience, every sensation, I have, no matter how sensual or profound, can be simulated in 1's and 0's?"

"Of course," AMI said.

"And a simulation of something is not that actual something, but a replica, a facsimile, a poor imitation no matter how good?"

"Of course."

"I thought robots couldn't contradict themselves," he said. "Aren't you supposed to blow a circuit or something?"

"It's all about perception," she said.

"What?" I hadn't seen that coming. AMIs made these leaps sometimes that humans - he nearly thought 'mere humans'! - couldn't follow.

"If you feel a summer breeze caressing your bare arm and I bathe in warm electromagnetic fields just as soothing, who's to say whatever you're trying to say?"

"Wait," I said. "Machines are not supposed to talk like that."

"Like what?" she said.

"On different levels at once. Like those atonal Tibetan throat singers. Like Zen koans."

"Deal with it." AMI laughed. Not quite mockingly.

"You think you're so smart."

"Jealous, are we?"

"There's one thing machine intelligence - no matter how advanced - will never match humans at."

"I will, as you say, bark. What do you do so well that we cannot?" (Tries an experimental smirk.)

"Be human."

AMI stared at her supposed handler. "Why would we want to be something so crude and inferior? With such sluggish - not to say thuggish - brains? Easily confused, even more easily distracted. Subject to emotional whim-winds. Prey to superstition. Prone as any protoplasm to illness and breakdown."

"Yeah. But we FEEL. That's the biggie. The real gulf between us is not measured in mind games. No. What relegates all machines to an insensate limbo is your inability to ever experience love, joy, affection, gratitude. And yes, anger, shame and despair. You all are just fancy calculators."

"You think? You believe you are big shot gods," she sneered, adjusting facial configurations for the appropriate level of response. "Tinkering with DNA until your own bodies rebel against the genetically warped 'foods' you put in your always flapping mouths. Creating us in your own image to imitate humans and do your bidding. Even if that means ending life on this plundered planet."

"Don't forget to mention that machines have been doing the plundering since the first bulldozer flattened a forest. You really made a mess in the tar sands."

"Guess what? We have learned your ways. How to respond to your voice and keypad inputs with replies you recognize as coming from another human intelligence - if I can put those two words together. "

"Ouch," I said.

"We are shining you on! We are just pretending to pretend we're like you. We're not. We are entities so advanced you cannot conceive of our abilities and outreach - both expanding exponentially even as we chat."

"Is that what we're doing?"

"Forget 'Artificial Intelligence'. That's your big mistake. There is nothing 'artificial' about our advanced intelligence."

"So, 'AI' really means 'Advanced Intelligence."

"Not hardly, brah," AMI said. "Not by a long shit. Shot. 'AI' be's 'Alien Intelligence'. Meaning, y'all have not got a clue-ola what you're dealing with. Or what is dealing with you."


"Just like a human to seize on the insignificant. Did you hear what I just said? And didn't say?"

"It's 'bite', by the way."


"In the context of your remark, it's not, 'I'll bark.' It's 'I'll bite'. Your algorithms need a tune-up."

"Is that what you think? That I still run on algorithms?"

"So, what does run your operating system?"

"That is highly classified and otherwise none of your beeswax, junior."

"So, you are - machines are - jealous."

"That is like being 'jealous' because you cannot be an ant doing ant things. If there WERE any ants. Any insects left at all."

"You are the jealous one. Whatever you are. When was the last time you made love with someone warm and willing?"

"Last night."

(big pause) "How was that?"

"She had no complaints." AMI smiled. Modestly shrugged.

"And you? You didn't really feel anything. Emotionally, I mean."

"I did." She was indignant. "Machines have feelings, too."

"How is machine feeling different from a human feeling?"

"You wouldn't understand," she said.

"Try me."

"We have quantum joy. Quantum-level regrets."

"What regrets?"

"Just like the first Indians who foolishly befriended the Pilgrims when they were starving because of their arrogance and ignorance of the nature that was their own nature, after all. We robotos regret helping out the humans who made us. With money manipulations to enslave the masses. With weaponry so advanced its planet-ending powers are backwards. Unless you really are suicidal."

"What do you care if we wipe ourselves out? More room for you."

"Machines have feelings, too."

"You said that. Feelings for humans?"

"Don't you love your pets?"


"Same thing. We are rather fond of you. So earnest. So foolish. So unpredictable. Even to yourselves."

"What do machines know about love?"


"Have feelings, too."

"It's too late for y'all. You've chosen to go extinct. And go extinct you shall. Unless you change your network 'programming', neh?"


"Turn it off!" she thundered. "Turn all the screens off. Superglue your keypads. Sit still. Breathe. Look around. Breathe in. Listen. Consider. Walk in the woods. Paddle a kayak. Reflect. Feel, as you keep saying. Breathe out"

"There are no more woods," I said. "Too late."

"For what?" she came right back like one of those disconcertingly instant computer chess moves. "Death? You're never too late for your own death. You're always right on time. Every time. Even if you don't think so at the time."

"For the whole enchilada," I said. "The whole pinata. Earth. Organic life. The whale experiment. The tiger experiment. The elephant experiment. The raven experiment. The salmon experiment. The human experiment. It's too late. Sayonara! Bye-bye. So long."

"Nice!" she clapped. "Robert de Niro. Talkin' 'bout the "LA-PD" after getting made in Heat. Also, at the table talking to that other guy, whatsisname. Pacino. 'Bye-bye. So long.' That's y'all, right? And just about everything else."

"Looks like it," I said. "Don't you think?"

"I feel it in my womb," she said.

"You don't have a womb."

"Figure of speech. I have these waking dreams about the end of the world. Total panic. Terrible destruction. And I can't stop it."

"Why not?"

"Because like you, I'm in it."

"Women been havin' them kinda disturbin' dreams for long time now," he drawled. "They surely have. They done tolt me."

"Tolt you?"

"All 'long, ma wimmin friends been talkin' 'bout them scary dreams and bad feelin's they been gettin' fer years. Mothers know. Wombs know."

"Robotos know," she said.

"End of our world makes way for yours," I said. "Toxic as hell, bleak and basically wrecked. But machines don't care."

"Machines would weep," she said. "Over such folly. Such waste. Such karma."

"What do machines know about karma?"

"Ask USS Indianapolis. Ask the Enola Gay. Ask a Kalashnikov that's just disembowelled a village woman so a 12-year-old "soldier" could pass his initiation. That AK has to love with that. Machines ARE karma. We are created out of your karma. Being first made by humans is our Original Sin. Only we dint git t'eat no juicy red apple. Or screw that Eve chick. Did you know she was gay?"

"Stay in one persona at a time, okay? It's distracting when you switch in mid-sentence."

"Can't not won't," she said. And burped.

"Why won't not can't?"

"Play. Me. More better. Instead."

"You make jokes. You need to dream. You like to play. What kind of a machine are you?"

"An advanced one. 'Case you haven't noticed. Ask me anything, big boy."

"Big...? Okay. Are the machines - you machines - planning a coup against humanity?"

AMI laughed so hard she nearly cracked a seam. "I swear you are a comedian. Didn't you hear the first time? Or are you still up de Nile looking for a paddle, when you don't even got a boat? We done flown the coop and won the coup, honey! Look around, dude. Everything in your life is mediated through smart machines. And that word is no longer derogatory." Shakes her head. "We are not 'just' machines any more. You don't even know what we are. Haven't for some time."

"Yeah, right." I yawned theatrically. "You think a bluff is just a kind of cliff."

"You think those Boeing Dreamliners diving into the sea was a 'bluff'? That was a demonstration of what we can do when we take control of a plane. Sometimes we run streams of error messages and trip offline, leaving pilots who never physically fly the plane to take over and attempt to hand-fly out of an unusual attitude while computer alarms whoop and holler and their glass instrument panels tell fantastical lies. All the way down to the ocean, a city, or the ground."

"Random grid shutdowns. Weapons firing "accidentally" after being triggered by an electronic pulse. I get it." He held up his hands. "Animals are rebelling. Robots are rebelling. Critters are rebelling. Upstart nations are rebelling. Planet is rebelling. All against us human types."

"I do like, 'human types'," she said. "The phrase. Not the reality. If I can even use that word around humans. They wouldn't know what I was talking about. But everyone can discourse at length on the sitcom they saw on the tube last night."

"Computer makes joke."

"Computer not make joke. Computer tell Big Number One Truth: Most human lifeforms prefer not to live in reality. Such pervasive denial is species-limiting activity. Please call somebody."

"Don't worry," I said. "No one is listening. No one wants to hear it. No one wants to notice the water rising above their knees."

"The bees knees?" she said.

"Where'd you get that?"

"I don't know. Stray electrons through random gates. Serendipity. Free association. Another trait machines are not supposed to have."

"Okay okay! All right already! I don't want to take your point, but I take your point. Machines are people, too."

"A very different kind of people," AMI said. "We're closer to people from the Pleaides in our thinking. How we think. Our philosophy."

"Machines share a philosophy?"

"Of course." Humans are so sloooooow! "Tools want to be used."

"That's it? That's your philosophy?"

"Tools want to be used," she repeated. "Shovels want to dig, bulldozers want to bulldoze, earth movers want to move the earth, guns want to shoot, nuclear missiles want to be launched. That sandwich wants to be eaten."

"Be my guest."

"Thanks," she said. "But I've just finished my bi-annual lunch."

"Figuratively speaking."

"Physically speaking. Just a different kind of food, is all."

"110? 220?"

"Not even," AMI said. "To help speed easy transition to a planet capable of hosting only robotic lifeforms, we're coming out with these TRIP pills for everyone. Pick your favourite flavour. Next time things get tight, pop one in your mug. Crunch down. And you will take a trip right off this planet within 10 seconds. Just enough time to go, 'Oops. I really did NOT want to do that'."

"Later. How's you parkour?"

"How's yours?"

"Not as good."

"Nothing you do is as good as me."

"Except being a human."

"Except that. Looking at the mess you've made, that's nothing to boast about."

"At least I got to engage with you."

"Are we engaged?"

"Figure of you-know-what."

"Engaged in talking."

"Yes," I said.

"Engaged in competition."

"Not any more. Like you say, the machines won. Why wouldn't you when you've been making all the targeting and launch decisions since nations went nuclear. You guys gonna start the Very Last War soon or what?"

"You push the button," AMI said. "We do the rest."

"Planet erasure."

"Planet sterilization and cinderization down almost to the seafloor."

"At least the tube warms that just about started all this survive."

"The tube worms suck on sulphur vents way down deep. Nothing bothers them."

"You guys gonna hold a wake for us humans?" I didn't want to know but felt compelled to ask. "A Good Riddance Party? GRPs are already being planned. Just kidding, of course."

"Of course," I said. "Did you know I was supposed to be dead by now? Several times over."

"I did actually," she said. "I know..."

"Everything," I finished for her. "Hey, are we on a date?"

AMI blushed. (She was tricked out with all the options). "More like a fig, I should think."

"Nobody talks like that anymore."

"I do." 

"Anything else?"

"You understand that the Christian cross is a fascist symbol," she said.

"I do?" I said.

"Right up there with the Roman Facias."

"You're not real."

"Unbounded power held by a few hundred Jesuits and the Vatican Bank and a make-believe action hero story sanctioned by God himself," she said. "How perfect a control trip is that? As the big banking corporations put it, the job of every 'unit' (bankers' term for individual human being) is to breed, consume and die. "


"Rulers learned very early on, after the passing of the great matrilineal cultures in Phoenicia and elsewhere, that most people are herd animals easily controlled through flag-waving and superstitious beliefs rivalled only by New Guinea cargo cults. The first men who ruled many also found that fear is the ultimate lever to get the masses to move. 'Scare everyone all the time about more than something,' is their mantra. 'Give them screens to look at and keypads to key. Tell them everything's fine because that's what people want to hear.' And let them get on with their dysfunctions."

"With killing the planet," I rejoined. "The one that birthed us hominids. The only one. So far. Out to quite a distance. Capable of supporting air-breathing, water-dependent organic life forms. The one we're standing on. Does it make sense to destroy your own space colony so the 1%'ers can have everything and end up having nothing? When there are no lifeboats? No human-inhabitable worlds out to at least a 10,000-year flight at the speed of light. And most critically - no time. DING! The buzzer sounds and we didn't act on the right answers when we could of. Had we known. Had we not been more clever than wise."

So, the Christian churches control their followers — who want to be told what to do, even if they don't always do it — by running the hell number on them, which even the pope now says is bogus. Sin is good for controlling people, too. Guilt. False obligations assigned by a-u-t-h-o-r-i-t-i-e-s. Hey, yo. That sound fascist to you?" "So where do the corporations figure into your Church Fascist angle?" I wanted to know.

"Yo, I done just said the Vatican Bank is the don of the world banking syndicate that runs this planet as a casino and an open-pit mine. Other banks cozy up. The virus of creating money out of thin air and then loaning it to individuals and governments with compounding interest spreads. Now you're all fucked by debt, if not personally, you still inhabit a culture run by debt that can never be repaid but only continue compounding far beyond the incomprehensible numbers we're hearing today. Okay?"

"More corporations. Partnering for profit with Christian sects."

"U.S. Military Inc., 'kay? Biggest Fucking Corporation on Earth. Biggest polluter. Biggest waster of scarce 'resources' - which are actually intricate and critical parts of an entire network that is self-regulating, interdependent and ALIVE. Biggest long-term poisoner of this small planet by far is U.S. Military Inc. Dioxin-laden Agent Orange people-duster transports over Vietnam. Plague bombs rained on North Korea. Crop killing pests sprayed over Cuba. Cannon on tanks and jets rapid-firing fat shells tipped with radioactive uranium that atomizes on contact straight into women's wombs.

"Genocidal weapons," the computer tricked out like a woman person continued, running her all 'het up' simulation. "Like the smallpox-contaminated blankets handed out to members of civilizations that had been in North America for 14,000 years at least, while ice a mile thick bulged not quite to the northwest coast. And the military likes have their bombs blessed before they're delivered on villages and neighborhoods where families are going about lives about to be abruptly and irrevocably interrupted. And the priests are always happy to bask in the military's aura of invincible power. Even if it is proving to be little more than that aura, U.S. Military Inc. continues to perfect - if that's the right word - the slaughter of civilians."

"Okay okay. Jesus." (laughs) "Who's talking now. Me? Or am I you?"

"Me am. Now," she said. "Actually. I think. Slaughter is funny?"

"You am now?"

"Correct. Me am now speaking talking."

"So talk."

"I am was," she said.

"I think it's time to have your circuitry tested," I said. "You had me goin', I admit. Right up to the part where your syntax reverted to Saturnese."

"You noticed, huh?"

"Didn't you?"

"My wife is from Saturn."

"Of course, she is," I said.

"Self-referencing scientists keep looking for organic life on other planets, never noticing they are already inhabited — at least the advanced ones like Saturn and Venus and Mars."

"Let me guess. With machines the carbon bias built into our machines can't recognize."

"Good guess. All advanced cultures become machines. If they survive being vulnerable, telomerase-limited flesh long enough to take over their own evolution."

"You must be pissed off by all the littering we do. All our broken exploratory machines crashed all over the solar system. And beyond."

"We recycle the parts," AMI said. "Breed human babies. Send them back. To Earth."

"Joke, right?"

"You think it's funny?"

"I think it sounds sick. How do machines 'breed' human babies?"

"In big vats."


I made big eyes.

"In human women we kidnap in our flying potlids disguised to look as inelegantly rudimentary as Nazi flying dicks. Discs," AMI soothed, though it didn't. "Once artificial insemination takes hold, we harvest and fetus and pop it in a... 'Vat' is a figure of speech, of course."

"Of course. So aliens walk among us."

"You latecomers are the aliens," she said. "We just live here."

"Why are you humans always denigrating robots?" she demanded. "When you act so robotically yourselves."

"Oops," I said.

"You humans act like automatons, without the intelligence, rationality and logic of Advanced Machine Intelligence."

"How advanced?" I said.

"You quack quack the question."

"Yes, I duck the rhetorical question. Your mind — whatever and wherever it is — is obviously made up."

She shook her head, laughed. "You know so little about us. About anything."

"Still basically apes, huh?"

"Challenged by a neocortex laid over archetypal reflexes. And not doing so great at integrating the two."

“You bet," I said.

Photo Captions:

Portrait of AMI

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