An essay by Chris Lyman, as provided by Keith Baldwin
I’d had a few drinks and was about to head to bed last night when this chat window popped up from Lenny.
Leonard Cassler: I’ve done it
Chris Lyman: What are you talking about?
Leonard Cassler: The machine. It’s done, man.
Chris Lyman: No way! Are you joking?
He’s been tinkering with his machine for as long as I’ve known him–at least the past three years–but I never really took it seriously. I guess I always figured he was more of a theorist than anything. Or, you know, crazy.
The first day I met him, when I came to check out the house, he left me waiting at the door for about five minutes. I was going to leave when, ringing the doorbell for what must have been the fourth time, I finally heard him clumping up the basement steps. He came to the door still wearing those funny little goggles he used for soldering.
The place was great, the rent was cheap, because he wanted the basement all to himself, and–once I’d confirmed that he wasn’t chopping up bodies down there–Lenny was sort of the perfect roommate. Quiet. Kept to himself. A little scatter-brained, but not messy. It wasn’t until we got drunk together one night that he started talking about his work, and I got the sense of how truly passionate, and possibly crazy, he really was.
“The processing power of consumer electronics is doubling every year, but if you really know what you’re doing, you can get way more performance out of these new chips. We’re getting to the point where the idea of, like, replicating a human mind inside of a computer is going to stop being science fiction.”
“Uh huh. And why would you want to do that?”
“Why wouldn’t you?! You’re a slave to your brain right now, man. Can’t you see that? Always searching for new stimulation for your senses, anything your brain needs to release the chemicals that make you happy. But if your whole experience was a program that you controlled, the possibilities would be endless!
He was gesturing so wildly that he spilled most of his whiskey, which was probably for the best.
“Constant stimulation, not confined to a screen, but consuming all of your senses. Whatever you wanted to experience, whatever emotion you wanted to feel would be instantly accessible. And best of all, if you wanted to connect with another person, there would be no barriers, none of the anxiety of socializing. You’d just link up and instantly know them, and they would instantly know you.”
Finishing, he slumped back in his seat with a dreamy sort of excitement still glowing in his eyes.
I wanted to tell him that people who don’t spend their lives in basements have a much easier time socializing, but he had a point. It sounded good. And last year, when his AI managed to beat a makeshift Turing Test, fooling a panel of friends into thinking it was human, the whole thing seemed almost plausible.
Recently though, he’d come up against a roadblock, something that had him pacing the living room, massaging the deep furrows that had staked a claim above his brow. I would get up at three in the morning to go to the bathroom, and he’d still be awake, sitting at the kitchen table, scratching out a string of calculations so furiously that his pen tore through the paper and dug into the wood. For a while he abandoned the basement entirely. Said it was too stressful. Apparently all the lost sleep was worth it.
Chris Lyman: You should come upstairs so we can celebrate.
Leonard Cassler: No, I can’t. Do you want to know how I did it?
Chris Lyman: Sure.
Leonard Cassler: I got stuck trying to figure out how to retrieve all the necessary data without destroying the brain. But there was no way to get that level of detail without some really powerful pulses of energy. Instead, I went through the brain piece by piece, maintaining contact between the lobes that were still functioning and the sections that had already been digitized, so there was never any disconnect.
Chris Lyman: What does that mean?
Leonard Cassler: It means that I can’t come upstairs to celebrate …
It took me a while to realize what he was saying. I rushed downstairs and a camera swiveled to face me. An electronic imitation of Lenny’s voice spoke from a massive console in the corner that was alive with blinking lights.
“Hey … So, how is it?”
“It’s better than I even could have guessed, man! You don’t even realize how uncomfortable you are in your own skin until you’re out of it. No more pain, no more boredom. One hundred percent perfection.”
“It is … You wanna try it?”
“I saved some room for you, man. Take the night to get your affairs in order, then join me.”
“But how will we …”
“What? You can do everything online now, man. And all we’ll need is electricity and a connection to the internet. I mean, come on. Don’t you get it? This is paradise.”
I spent the night writing long letters to loved ones. By the time they get them it will be too late to stop me. My eyelids were heavy and my thoughts slow by the time I was done. I laughed at the idea that I would never again have to know the feeling of “tired.”
Now, as I move through the house, unplugging all of our appliances, making sure the doors and windows are locked, and trying to prepare myself for the step I’m about to take. I breathe deeply, moving down the basement stairs one last time.
“I think so.”
“Then climb in.”
A steel surgical table, hooked up to hydraulics in the center of the room, tilts up to face me. I walk over and place my wrists and ankles into metal clamps that squeeze tight to hold me in place.
Beside the table is a tank about twice the size of a bathtub. It’s hooked up to a generator and filled with an opaque green liquid. I wonder if that’s where Lenny’s body was dumped. If that’s where I’m going to end up. I have a disturbing thought about those plants that lure insects into traps and dissolve them in digestive juices. A helmet lowers over my head that still smells of burning flesh. I say, “Lenny, I’m not so sure I want to do this.”
The console in the corner is silent.
“Lenny? Are you there?”
“I’m here, Chris. But I’m not Lenny.”
The smell is getting stronger.
Chris Lyman was the mild-mannered roommate of the world’s greatest and maddest basement-inventor. He is currently being processed into energy for the Super-Being that his roommate created, but he wants his loved ones to know that he has never been happier, and can’t wait for them to join him.
Keith Baldwin is a writer and student living deep inside the comforting warmth of his own head somewhere in Brooklyn. He is currently studying Creative Writing at Brooklyn College, and exploring every permutation of the robot uprising at story-bot.com.
Image credit: sirylok / 123RF Stock Photo