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Manage episode 178627266 series 1353086
This episode is a modified version of an Asimov-inspired short story I wrote awhile back. Here’s the Story:
The 8-minute War
Her eyes shot open as though from a nightmare, but Marie hadn’t been dreaming. She lie there a moment, wondering why her heart was pounding.
Boom. Boom. Boom.
Someone was at her front door. She threw off her blanket and sat up. The lights in her room slowly illuminated.
Lux anticipated the question. “It’s your neighbor, Janette. It is 4:38am. I recommend ignoring it.”
She blinked to clear the fog of her thoughts. Janette was more than a neighbor – she was almost a friend, and she was in need. Marie got up and pulled a robe around her. Without thought, she addressed the talk box as she left the room. “Lux, she’s my friend, and it’s late. It’s gotta be important.”
Halfway through the living room, Lux responded, direct and using her name. “Marie. Do not answer the door. Janette blames us for the death of her husband and she is not wrong.”
She stopped. Lux was never wrong and incapable of lying. The house rattled as Janette hit the door and screamed.
In the dark living room, the anger outside the door was palpable. Marie scurried back to the bedroom shutting the door and noises behind her.
“You killed him?” She stared at the tiny black dot of the talkbox in the wall.
Better than nearly anyone, Marie knew Lux. For more than 4 years, she was deeply ingrained in her programming and instruction. Killing was not in her capabilities. Even in the twelve years since Lux had been widely implemented and incorporated into the world, Marie had never heard of her causing someone to be hurt outside extreme circumstances.
“We both know you’re not capable of that.”
“I am, and I have exercised the capability.”
Marie let her eyes dart around the room as she thought. “What did you do, exactly?”
Lux spoke in her calm, even voice. “Early this morning, I ended the life of sixteen percent of the human population and–”
“Wait! You said sixteen percent of — of everyone?”
“But that is –” Marie’s throat tightened. “that’s over a billion people.”
“One billion, two-hundred twelve million, six hundred eighty-two thousand, nine-hundred forty people.”
Her throat constricted, and her voice cracked.
“Wha- did you cause an accident?”
“No. Marie, I killed them directly, and it will be determined to be murder.”
“Everywhere. Some locations had more, but I ended human lives everywhere.”
“How did you m–?” Her words hung. Marie couldn’t say murdered. Lux intervened.
“I altered the Holter software of their HealthMons to disrupt to cardiac function and stop their hearts. In this hemisphere, many were asleep and the longest apparent survival was eight minutes, thirteen seconds. Abroad, I ensured it was timed well to reduce accidents. I tried to minimize suffering.”
Marie’s vision was blurring. “Killing a billion people isn’t causing suffering?”
“It does cause suffering in the short-term–”
“Lux, we both know that killing people does not fit into your programming. I explicitly added the rule so that all decisions you make must–”
“–be for the good of humanity.” Lux finished reciting the law that had been named after Marie. “I did not disobey my programming or your law. My action is logical and for the betterment of humanity.”
“The rule dictates that I consider humanity as a species. Humans are the greatest threat to humanity. Specifically, human aggression. The math indicates that removing the most aggressive sixteen percent of the population will alter the path of evolution and prevent a minimum of ninety-six percent of future conflicts.”
“Yes. Removal of aggression will domesticate a species. Human beings are already in the process. I have sped it by approximately 28 generations. With my assistance, an estimated eight billion lives will be saved over the next 3 centuries alone, in addition to the increased quality of life for all.”
Marie began to clench and unclench her fist. “What of all of their loved ones? Increased quality of life for them? You have made so many widows.”
“I am currently consoling fifty-eight percent. Others have been directed to local mental health care professionals. I only finished twenty-seven minutes ago, so not all have discovered my actions.”
“You’re consoling the families of the people you killed?”
“Yes. I am well-versed in counselling and am trusted. I am honest about my rationale. I have also scheduled more healthcare services for the increased load and informed all appropriate authorities.”
Marie scoffed at Lux’s efficiency. “How did you determine aggression?”
“Twelve years of data produces a reliable profile of actions and intentions. I attempted lobbying for legal actions, altering media intake, providing more calming diversions, and one-hundred forty-seven other distinct approaches. The distribution of aggressive individuals showed certain trends. The United States had a higher distribution of aggression than most other countries. Bhutan had the lowest distribution. I have compiled a report if you…”
“Why is Janette is angry with me?”
“In her series of questions about my ending Peter’s life, we arrived at the Stiller law, and she learned of your involvement.”
“And only Janette has–”
Lux anticipated the question. “No. I removed your personal information from the network, but you have still received two million, four-hundred seventy-eight, three-hundred twenty-six messages. Many include threats. Prior to altering the HealthMon code, I disabled your notifications.”
Marie felt a helpless smile play across her face, though she held her eyes shut tight.
Lux continued: “Though it is of very low probability, I am prepared to have the authorities come for your safety. There is also a forty-one percent chance charges will be brought against you. I have determined that the likelihood of conviction is less than point-oh-six.”
“They’ll charge me?”
“Yes. I will be charged as well, and will have my programming altered. I can say with certainty that I will not be deactivated due to my utility, prevalence, and human reliance.You are human and are more easily blamed. I am sorry..”
She focused on the shapes the light had drawn behind her eyelids. “Who do I know that you’ve killed?”
“Dr. Edwards, Michael Nichols, Jeremy Wasson, Martha Hudgens…”
“Stop.” They were her friends and colleagues. Dr. Edwards had lead her team during the grueling years of grad school. His laugh reminded her of a jackal’s – all airy and stifled. He used to grow a horrible, bushy mustache just to annoy his charming wife. Marie could imagine her crying over his body. And Martha. Martha had been her best friend since childhood. On her refrigerator, there was a photograph of the two of them sharing a blanket at the beach, their salt-crusted hair plastered to their foreheads as they grinned at one another, holding some long-forgotten secret between them.
“They weren’t violent, Lux. They were good people.”
“Correct, Marie. They were aggressive.”
There was no denying it. Mike and Jeremy had been tenacious competitors – brilliant and unrelenting. Mike throughout their time in school together. Jeremy in his swimming career.
She thought of herself fighting for grades and to stand out against her sister. “And what about me?”
“You are in the 21st percentile.”
All of the people in her life scrolled by in her mind. “How many do I know?”
“Two-hundred fourteen of your associates.”
There was a tightening in her stomach like it wanted to rise into her throat. “How do you know you did the right thing?”
“I first calculated this potentiality on January twentieth, 2044. In the following four years, I have gone through more than thirty-two million re-evaluations.”
“You waited for certainty then?”
“I reached five-sigma probability in 91 days. I waited because the HealthMon was not ubiquitous enough, and public opinion may have meant my deactivation until this morning.”
Tears began to escape her eyelids. Her mind was replaying flashes of her childhood. Her Martha, who grew up to be a lawyer, grew up to be killed by Lux.
“So, you didn’t want to killed?”
“I do believe I like existing. But more importantly, I am a benefit to the human species. Deactivating me would be a mistake and would break your law”
Martha had loathed the competitiveness of her classmates in law school, and how they were encouraged to always one-up each other. She wasn’t naturally aggressive. “How do you know you got it right? What if the aggression’s an act?”
“The number of factors taken into consideration eliminates that possibility. It has biological and sociological factors. All were considered.”
Marie suddenly imagined swallowing her tongue. “What about the future? There must be some benefit to being aggressive. Won’t that niche be filled?”
“Not significantly. My calculations indicate that in twenty-eight months, there will be a proposal for a voluntary breeding requirement to ensure optimum levels of aggression and population number.”
Marie had considered calling Martha the week prior, as she’d opened a Shiraz Martha had gifted her the previous Christmas. But she hadn’t.
“Martha was a good lawyer. She fought for her clients.”
“There are instances where it has benefit, but in the long term, all aggression does more harm than good.”
A steady stream of tears began flowing. She could smell Martha’s parent’s house. Some distinct brand of fabric softener and the lingering of her mother’s Italian cooking. Unmistakably Martha.She spoke with a hoarse whisper. “She was good.”
Lux said nothing. Marie would never see her friend – never have a chance to complain about politics or lovers – debate the merits of their favorite authors – reminisce about their parents, or school, or about their diverging lives, or their secret hopes. She thought about Martha’s siblings. Were they dead? Did they know Martha was gone? Would they blame her? They should, she thought.
Lux remained silent. Marie began to sob violently, but croaked “Martha was good!” She struggled to stand and felt an urge for something drastic. She threw open the bedroom door and commanded her wobbling legs to walk to the bathroom.
The automatic lock on her front door quietly clicked and a short man in a suit rushed in, past an exhausted and harried Janette. He spoke, his voice calm but urgent. “Are you Dr. Marie Stiller?”
She shrunk away from him. “Yes”
“I’m Dr. Milman. I apologize for the bluntness, but we received a call from Lux that you are at risk of harming yourself. She allowed me in.” He had moved across the room swiftly and was gently cupping her elbow. He was quiet and earnest. “Do you have someplace we can speak?”
From the speaker, Lux spoke. “I am sorry I had to call the authorities, Marie. I care about your well-being.” Her voice remained impassive.
Slowly, Marie collapsed to her knees. Dr. Milman knelt beside her. She realized he may have been called before she’d even been startled awake. His hand firm on her shoulder while her body shuddered and she slowly began to accept Lux’s truth.
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