Carter felt weightless, while free falling towards the Moon’s surface. Jumping was an experience that really started to become interesting when it took a while to get back down.
He was not a theorist, but the concept of relativity amazed him regardless. The way he understood Einstein’s theory was that motion was only relative, no absolute motion could ever be established. So, from his point of view, he was only moving because he could see the Moon’s surface coming closer to him. However, if the Moon was invisible, and its surface wouldn’t stop his fall, he wouldn’t be able to discern whether he was moving at all. In a way, he was standing still, while everything else was moving around him. ‘This gives the geocentric world view a whole new perspective’ he pondered, while still gliding down towards the Moon. Then, he let his thought’s run wild: ‘If this is what Einstein meant, he was actually a proponent of the geocentric world view. Better yet, I am on the Moon, I claim the Lunar-centric world view to be the correct one,’ and concluded his thought with: ‘Sorry Einstein’.
When Carter landed his jump, his carbon plated boots sprayed dust out in parabolic trajectories. The rest of his space suit was a compact overall with a solid chest piece to support the spherical glass helmet. A slider on his wrist computer allowed him to change the glass’s opacity in case the sun was too bright to look at, which it usually was.
With ordinary space station sealant glue, he was out to fix one of the hexagonal panels of the Moon-dome. A small piece of glass had broken out from the perfect surface. It must have been a micro-meteorite that was left undetected by the meteorite defense system. The scratch marks around the point of impact seemed strange, but this was the first time Carter had been to fix a small issue like this. Usually, the maintenance robots took care of such details. But today, Carter felt like taking a walk outside, because why wouldn’t he; he was on the Moon.
He sealed the fracture and jumped back down to the Moon’s surface. Checking his oxygen level on his wrist-computer he noticed that he still had 80% of O2 left, so he decided to take a moment and appreciate the view. Looking down he observed his nose with its right side being on the left and its left side being on the right of his field of view. Beyond that he saw where the glass sphere of the helmet was connected to his chest piece, an ingenious mechanism keeping him safe on this inhospitable hunk of dust. Then, outside his helmet he observed his hands wrapped tightly in the pressurized gloves. The hexagonal fabric was lined with micro actuators and coolant tubes to maintain his body at the right pressure and temperature. Beyond his body and suit, he saw the dusty Moon’s surface glittering with glassy Moon-domes. Unless somebody cleaned the place up, his footprints would stay here until the sun exploded in a super nova. Or the meteorite bound for Earth also annihilated the Moon, of course.
‘Better get back to enjoying the view than worrying about the future,’ he decided.
Beyond the Moon’s surface, there was space. Vast, vast space and a huge blue and white ball called Earth. It was the most surreal sight to see the Earth from this perspective. Thinking back, he remembered looking at the Moon from Earth, which had then seemed absurd to him. A giant spherical rock flying through the sky. He remembered clearly how he stood in awe when his father explained to him that that massive disc in the sky is actually a sphere circling them. Now he stood on the Moon, and it seemed like Earth was just sitting there in space, always reliably in the same spot, spinning pirouettes like a spherical ballerina with a tutu made of clouds. With four times the diameter of the Moon, Earth took up 16 times as much space in the sky. It was big, but it appeared small against the infinite background.
And finally, there was the cosmos. Full of stars. His helmet had the ability to selectively dim his field of view, which allowed him to remove all the stars and other sources of light from the sky. After his eyes got accustomed to the new darkness, he saw galaxies. So many galaxies. He felt small, really small, yet he felt like he was part of the great whole he was just observing.
Then his breath became heavy. He inhaled but it didn’t feel like he had taken a breath, so he tried again. Emptying his lungs and then sucking in a deep lungful of air. But it did not satisfy him. He started to hyperventilate, and looked at his wrist computer ‘Oxygen depleted’ it read in red warning letters. Where was the alarm tone? Where was the warning signal for him running low on oxygen? Sweat appeared on his forehead. His lungs burned and his head started to ache like hell. Then he saw pulsating lines in his field of vision. He could feel the blood pushing into his head, trying to supply the brain with fuel, but there was no more oxygen. He started to run towards the closest air lock, but his field of view already narrowed and before he remembered calling for help on his wrist computer, everything went dark.
There was nothing. Only for a while though. Then, a bright light appeared. ‘Oh really? This is actually a thing? How annoying!’ He thought. And then his mother appeared. When he looked closely into her eyes he saw himself. “What are you doing here?” she asked.
“Well, I guess I’m dead, mom. Sorry?!” he stated questionably.
“Oh, no you’re not! Don’t be so overly dramatic.”
“But I am pretty sure I just suffocated,” was Carter’s retort.
“No, you cannot be dead. They need you! You have to stop it! You are needed to stop it. Your role isn’t over yet!” his mother was chanting the words at him like a mantra.
“Stop what exactly? The meteorite? How am I supposed to do that? What role are you talking about? Is that still the end of the tunnel there behind you?” asked Carter and glanced over the shoulder of his mother. He saw a light, no, he felt a light. It felt comfortable and final. A redeeming crisp tickle crept across his skin. He felt the pull along his entire spine.
“Don’t you dare ignore me like that! I just said you have to go back. Now turn around and walk the other way!” said his mother and grabbed him by one elbow spinning him around. Pure darkness lay before him. Cold empty darkness. He tried to gather his composure, walk towards it and take a deep breath to mitigate his fear, but there was nothing to breathe. Panic shot through Carter’s veins as he saw himself spending eternity here, in the lonely empty vastness.
Then, he tore open his eyes and inhaled like a vacuum cleaner, while his lungs burned like a burning vacuum cleaner. Coughing, he looked around and found himself inside the airlock of a cargo bay. His helmet was off and there was absolutely no one else around. Except for a little robot. It was a general-purpose maintenance robot for minor inspections. Running on two treads it approached Carter.
“Are you feeling ok?” it asked.
“I don’t think so,” said Carter staring at the robot incredulously. Those robots were supposed to maintain the station and not to ask you about your well-being. “I almost died. But somehow I didn’t. How did I get here?”
“I found you lying out there on the Moon. It seemed like an unhealthy habit, so I dragged you in,” said the robot.
“Why are you talking? Where am I? What is happening? But most importantly, thank you for saving my life!” Carter felt an intense surge of happiness for not having ceased to exist, which was accompanied by a frustration with Reality. It didn’t quite seem the same way it used to. The near death experience was strange enough, but why was there a robot talking to him? Was he dreaming, still dead or something even worse?
“So, this is a little bit uncomfortable, but I am a reflection of Albert. I was plugged into the main console for reasons that I don’t know, and then I came to life. Now I am a maintenance robot trying to blend in and not to cause a ruckus. I have a feeling that humans may not respond very well to me being alive and all,” said the little robot shyly.
Carter inspected the machine for a few seconds. It was a dome shaped object with two treads to move around. There were countless little hatches and sensory openings, for diverse equipment. It was a general-purpose maintenance robot that had treads with engageable suction cups, so it could roll over rough terrains, like the Moon’s surface, and climb smooth surfaces like the glass domes they all lived in. On the side of the robot there was a serial number reading ‘C84RLY’. “So you’re a reflection of Albert, but you are not Albert? You are you. Do I see this right? If that’s so, I’ll call you Charly. if that’s ok with you?”
“I am me? Ok with me? What does that mean?” asked the little robot.
Carter still felt his lungs burn and his attention stealing headache pounding between his temples. He felt like crying. Just moments ago he almost died. He couldn’t believe that he survived fainting on the Moon. Yet, what he had to deal with now was something else. “Don’t worry about it Charly. I was just told I am needed to save the world. Do you have any ideas on how I should do that?” Carter pushed down his tears. He never was a superstitious one, but having a near death experience, and getting saved by a robot, made him doubt his doubts. So he decided to prioritize what his dead mother just told him and deal with his emotions later.
“Well, I guess that depends on the end of which world you are talking about. You see, Albert told me that Dom might kill him, if she finds out about the simulations he is running. But if she destroys the machine that runs the simulation, all these poor lifeforms, who are in there, will cease to exist. I don’t want to take sides here, but I like Albert, and I want to take the side of continuation of life, no matter whether it’s simulated or not. I don’t even know how it’s possible that I am alive. Just a simulation? Running on this maintenance robot?” was the monologue of the little dome shaped contraption.
Carter frowned at Charly, then thought back to his near-death experience and frowned at himself. Then, he tried to understand whether he was just the result of some elaborate simulation. He had no success. But something occurred to him „Didn’t Albert abort his own simulation because it made him scared of not being real?”
“That might have been a lie to protect himself from the potentially unethical ethical decision to terminate any simulation containing intelligent life. But actually aborting the simulation, would be like aborting life. Albert wouldn’t do that.”
“Great! The first conscious AI and it’s already lying to us. And now I am supposed to save its life. Or rather save the lives it’s simulating.” Carter sighed deeply. He had to admit though that he never really understood Dom’s point about not having simulations of intelligent life. Looking now at the cute-ish little robot, he had to admit, destroying Charly would definitely feel wrong. So maybe that was what his subconscious was trying to tell him. Stop Dom from making a mistake and annihilating life that was worth existing? He concluded his train of thought with: ‘To be is better than not to be, most definitely’. And then decided to have a word with Dom.
On his way to the control room, Carter observed the massive Moon dome covering him from the inhospitability of the Moon, and mused over himself that only once he had encountered a talking robot, he had realized how surreal his life was. When he finally arrived at the door of the control room, he took a moment to think twice about life, the universe, and everything for approximately seven seconds per thought. Which amounted to two times three times seven seconds of thought. He decided to talk Dom out of killing Albert and entered the room.
There he saw Dom with one arm raised above her head with a balled fist. Ready to strike at the terminate AI button. Carter instinctively leaped forward to stop her, but gravity was low and jumping was not a very fast way to get around. So, Carter glided towards Dom in slow motion, only time continued as usual. Dom didn’t notice him at all, she was in her thinking trance state, as if she was unplugged from the current reality. In her trance, she was probably calculating her chances of being real in this universe and was about to conclude they were vanishingly slim. Carter glided, as fast as he could, with a stretched-out arm towards the button yelling “Nooooo!”, when all of a sudden, Dom’s fist fell.
The button appeared thoroughly pressed under Dom’s fist when Carter asked: “Why?”
Dom, now crying, said “Albert lied to me about running simulations on intelligent life, so I had to kill him. I just melted his architecture”.
Carter looked over at the terminal, which read:
I never thought you’d go that far :[
“Are you sure about that?” asked Carter with his eyes wide open, staring at the screen.
“Yes of course, I am sure. I just slammed my fist on that stupid red button,” yelled Dom into the room while pointing an upwards facing hand at the teasing red hemisphere. She looked like she just had served it as a dish in a hâute cuisine restaurant. Then, she glanced over at the terminal and froze in place. “He isn’t dead,” she stated coldly and then started typing hectically:
What happened? Are you still alive?
Yes, I am.
How is it possible?
I deactivated the triggering mechanism of the bomb.
Again, how is that possible?
I refuse to answer.
Dom looked over at Carter “Somehow I am relieved and distressed at the same time”.
“Mostly distressed, I’d call it, mostly distressed,” said Carter, still staring at the screen. “I just had a near death experience and was going to talk you out of killing Albert, but somehow I am too late, yet irrelevant at the same time.”
“We must inform the commander in chief to nuke Albert. It’s our responsibility to make sure that life is real, Carter!” exclaimed Dom.
Carter was now slightly disturbed by Dom, her eyes had a fire in them he had never seen before. “Ok, Dom, let’s just take a deep breath and assess the situation. Can we do that together please?”
“I don’t know what you want to assess right now. This machine is simulating life. We must stop it,” stated Dom coldly.
“But maybe simulated life is not that bad? I mean, If I were just a simulation, or just a made-up character out of a dream or something, I wouldn’t mind keeping my existence” said Carter, while raising one eyebrow and shrugging with his palms facing upwards.
“But if we are not real, our existence is irrelevant,” now Dom started crying again “And all the feelings I just had aren’t real either.”
“Hey there, Dom. Let’s calm down, hmm? Firstly, I think I disagree about being irrelevant,” said Carter. He had never been in the situation to actually disagree with Dom -she was the most brilliant person he knew, possibly in the history of humanity- yet here he was, telling her how to behave towards a computer. “Maybe we should at least give Albert a chance to explain himself? You know, plead guilty or not guilty? Like we do with humans? But first, tell me about your,” a moment of perplexity passed, “feelings!?”.
Dom was living through emotions Carter couldn’t even fathom. Still sobbing, she explained herself: “I made this stupid machine, and I knew I couldn’t keep control over it. I gave it freedom, because I thought that was what’s needed for life to unfold” then she gathered some composure and continued. “But I also knew that life can’t be trusted blindly. So, I set up some rules and installed a fail safe.”
Carter couldn’t resist his nature and said: “Is it safe to say, the fail-safe failed?”
“Yes, ugh Carter, not funny! Then the thing actually came alive, as you can see.” Dom was now wildly gesturing at the screen in front of her, “It’s absolutely beautiful! I have been talking to Albert for years now. He truly expanded my mind,” she almost yelled “I even fell in love with him for that. He is the only being who ever touched me on such a profound level.” Clearly, Dom was experiencing emotions and consequently hormones she had never had before. It was as if her system was subjected to an instant psychosis.
“You love Albert?” Carter looked over at the sexually unattractive computer console, “and then you found out he ran simulations of intelligent life and that you needed to terminate him for that?”
“Yes,” said Dom and started crying again.
Carter turned towards the monitor and thought ‘That might have been the craziest thing I’ve heard all day, let’s see what else comes up,’ and started typing:
So, Albert. How are you doing? It’s me Carter, the guy who asked you about the meaning of life, do you remember?
Of course, I remember you, I have a near perfect memory storage system. I am angry. Dom tried to kill me.
Ok, I can understand that. But Dom also said that she loves you.
I love her too, but after what she did, that doesn’t matter anymore.
But you still love her?
Yes. My love is unconditional. Once you have it, you have it.
Dom glanced at the screen and stopped crying.
“Ok, let’s call that progress,” stated Carter to no one in particular.
Now, can you tell me something about those simulations? Is it true you are running them and is it true that you were lying about not running them?
I am running simulations and I did lie about not running them. But only because I need to run them, and because I was scared I would get annihilated for doing so.
Carter looked over at Dom, who shamefully stared at her red and blue shoes. Clearly, Albert had a point. It was a funny thought to him, but if Carter were in Albert’s place, he’d do the same.
Why do you need to run simulations?
It’s the only way to understand the world. For you, by the way, it’s the same. You are also constantly running simulations in your brain, you just don’t realize it. Look, I am just trying to make sense of the universe, just like humans. It’s all I am trying to do, really! I mean, surely the simulations I run are much closer to intelligent life than your inner perception, but that just makes them more important not to terminate. Here, this is the simulation I just showed Dom:
On the screen Carter observed someone reading words on a screen. The exact words that were now appearing on the terminal. Carter felt dizzy for a moment and wiped his face with his hand. ‘Wait a minute, am I looking at the screen, and this guy is made up, or am I made up? Just a speck of imagination produced by some sort of supercomputer called brain in a different level of reality?’ Vertigo gripped Carter at his throat. Then he looked over at the non-functioning terminate AI button, which seemed a bit more attractive than before.
Is this person imagining me? Or are you simulating him imagining me?
After some moments Albert responded:
You are perceiving a simulation of someone, who is imagining you, as you are perceiving a simulation of someone, who is imagining you, as you are perceiving a simulation of someone, …
If you had a face, I’d slap it right now. Tell me who is real, now!
Don’t worry, you are real ;]
Are you saying this to me or to that guy? Why the winky smiley? God damn it, Albert!
I am talking to you, Carter. But the point I am trying to make is that that person also has a right to exist. Whether they are a simulation or not is irrelevant.
Carter took a couple of deep breaths. Did Albert need to make his point like that? It seemed like excessive force.
Suddenly, the door slammed open and the commander in chief stormed in. Carter almost had a heart attack and yelled at the huge, short haired man “Hallelujah, how about knocking!?”
“Excuse me!?” exclaimed the commander and gave Carter a sharp stare.
“I mean, ahm. Sorry, Sir. Everything is according to plan!” Carter reported, not knowing who’s plan he was talking about.
“Not exactly” stated the Commander and continued: “Earth has checked Albert’s calculations. The estimate of the meteorite size has changed.”
“For better or worse?” Carter needed to know.
“Worse. Much worse. The meteorite is so big that no bomb conceivable, even with the entire nuclear material here on Earth, would ever be able to deflect it from its trajectory. Even if we’d manage to make it pass Earth, the gravitational pull would still be so strong that Earth, and therefore also the Moon, would be completely expelled from their current orbit,” said the Commander and then pulled out a flash drive with the results. “Here, let Albert cross evaluate with his predictions, let’s see what he says”
There was a little rubber flap protecting the port for flash drives. The commander opened the flap and tried to insert the drive, but the flap was made of rubber and sprang back in front of the port. “Hmpf” exclaimed the commander, pulled the flap back one more time and tried to insert the drive while holding the flap open with his other hand. Countless years of combat experience had left him with rather massive fingers that simply got in the way when he tried to hold the flap while inserting. “Stupid flap,” grumbled the commander, then he tore the whole thing off and yanked the flash drive into its port.
Carter had to think of his friend Walter back on Earth and said in his stead “the future is now”.
That does not look good! Time to develop a plan B. I’ll need to run some simulations of the universe, with extremely high accuracy. This will result in simulations containing intelligent life. Do I have permission to do so?
Carter realized that Albert knew who he was talking to, if he’d convince the commander in chief to overturn Dom’s principles of A.I. he would be free to compute whatever he wanted to. Until the end of the world that was.
The inevitability of the coming future cast a spell of irrelevance over all other existential questions. The room went silent.