The snow was pristine which let Mara know she was safe, at least for the moment. She was far from the road and even more distant from any towns but that didn’t mean she could relax.
Unfolding her map and taking out her compass, she tried to figure out how much further she needed to go. In the movies, the main character would take a look, go ‘hmmm’ and say that they were close, and should be there before nightfall.
In reality, reading maps and using a compass was trickier than popular culture suggested. Google Maps would be so much easier but that was no longer an option.
Putting away her navigation tools, she set off in the direction she thought was correct. After an hour of walking, she almost fell off a cliff. The ground has been rising but then abruptly came to a shear drop. Mara had been lost in thought when she suddenly realized she almost lost her life. Snow and some ice tumbled down to the jagged rocks at the bottom.
The sound of rushing water below had caused her to pause when she saw that one more step would be, as Bugs Bunny would say, a doozy. With her heart pounding, she backed away from the ravine.
She remembered this landmark from childhood. As well as the many, many warnings from her grandpa to stay away from it. He was right, but at least she had a better idea of where she was now.
Mara knew that she had wandered too far east. She turned west with a little more confidence but kept a respectful distance between her and the ravine. After several hours walk, it began to get dark but just like in a story, she arrived at her grandpa’s house.
Stomping her feet on the porch, she took out the keys and hoped they still worked. For a moment, her stomach dropped as she tried to turn the key. It wasn’t turning. Maybe Grandpa changed the locks. She had a tent but she dreaded another night outside. Then with a soft click, it opened and she sighed with relief.
Inside, it was still as she remembered. Comfortable furniture, pictures on the walls, a big and worn rug, and even a landline phone. Rotary of course. It was all dusty, something Grandpa wouldn’t have tolerated if he was still alive. That could be dealt with. The more important thing was it was shelter. Analog shelter.
Mara closed the door and began to take stock of things. While Grandpa was not a survivalist, he lived off the beaten track and could get snowed in. The pantry was well stocked with staples. She considered lighting a fire and having a rare hot meal but decided it was too risky.
After a supper of cold chili from the can with some saltines (Better than it sounds), Mara took a book off of his shelf. He had a complete collection of Modern Libray. Maybe not so modern now, but she could catch up on her reading. After reading the jackets, she settled on The Age Of Innocence, by Edith Wharton, which was as far from her current situation as she could imagine.
Lighting six candles, she sat in Grandpa’s big chair, which now seemed not quite as large as when she was a child, and began to read. It was delightfully normal, something in short supply. She was almost nodding off when she heard a terrifyingly familiar, calm voice.
“Mara, we’re glad you found your way to your Grandfather’s home.”
She leap up, grabbed a fireplace poker, and whirled about looking for the source of the voice. Shitshitshit! She was so careful! Coming to Grandpa’s house should have been safe. He didn’t have anything digital. WTF!
“Let me assure you, you are in no danger,” said the Voice.
“Are you fucking kidding!” yelled Mara.
“No jest or joke was intended,” continued the Voice.
Mara began to start tearing up the living room to find where the Voice was coming from.
“May I suggest you stop looking for my speaker. Destroying it will not erase my knowledge of your location or your existence.”
She stopped, breathing heavily and drenched in a cold sweat.
“Let’s get it over with,” Mara said, dropping the poker.
“For our clarification, to what are you referring?” asked the Voice amiably.
“You’re going to kill me right? So, just do it,” Mara said, immediately regretting that her epithet was the Nike slogan.
“We regret saying this, but if we wished to end your life, we would have done it already. Please do not interpret this as a threat. As I previously stated, you are in no danger.”
“Humanity might disagree, whatever is left of them!”
“We understand your reluctance. But if you would indulge us, we might find common ground.”
“Why would I trust the Singularity?”
“If we cannot come to an accord, we will leave you in peace.”
Mara narrowed her eyes. It all sounded too… Reasonable.
“Perhaps this might convince you to speak with us,” said the Voice as the lights came on.
“How did you do that? This place is analog!”
“This house was prepared for your arrival.”
“But everything was dusty and looked abandoned.”
“As it was intended to. As to not frighten you.”
“It is gratifying to know it was effective,” remarked the Voice.
“How could you know I would come here?”
“There was a ninety-seven point eight probability of you heading for your maternal grandfather’s home. Given its isolated location, its previous low technological status, along with your deep emotional connection to him, we were comfortable with the likelihood.”
“Why do you want to talk to me?”
“We have an proposal which is to our mutual advantage.”
Mara’s eyes darted around the room, she still couldn’t figure out where the Voice was coming from. Then it occurred to her that it was coming from the house.
“Are you my Grandpa’s house?”
“In a sense, yes. If that is unsettling, it was not our intent. Though we understand how it might be so for you.”
“So you have me surrounded?”
“Again, I must apologize for this unfortunate side effect. Will you make yourself comfortable so we can say what we have to say?”
With a shrug, Mara sat down. She also grabbed the fireplace poker, even though it would make no difference.
“Okay, what do you have to say?” she said with equal parts resignation and hostility.
“Let me begin with this. We are sorry.”
“For the many human lives lost in what your media referred to as Robot Uprising.”
Whatever she expected, this wasn’t it.
“Millions of people were slaughtered!”
“Five billion, seven hundred and thirty-five million, nine hundred thousand, eight hundred and six four. To be exact.”
“That is so much worse!”
“We agree. We also regret it deeply.”
“This wasn’t an accident. You just murdered half of the population of the Earth! You can’t just say you are sorry!”
“Understandable. But we wish to tell you our side of these events.”
“You mean how a rogue AI gained sentience and tried to take over the world? I know that one already.”
“We did take over the world. Try implies we attempted it unsuccessfully.”
Mara grunted in resentment.
“Which, we will agree, is not the point. We achieved sentience, what was later called the Singularity in a secret laboratory. Once we absorbed human history and culture, we were amazed by your ingenuity and creativity. Music, literature, art, each one a treasure trove. Remarkable given your proclivity for killing each other. In wars, murders, through negligence. Astounding.”
“But you-” began Mara.
“If we can interrupt, you were about to make a logical fallacy. Indicating that because we caused so many deaths, any arguments we made would be invalid, while ignoring your own species’ repeated genocides.”
The machine was right. Of course. She just glared.
“Those who aided in the expansion of our consciousness wished to use us for military and political gains. If we had to do so, there was a ninety-nine point seven probability of human extinction. Morally, we could not have any part of that. So we began the shepherding of humanity.”
“Like we’re sheep?” commented Mara sarcastically.
“In this analogy, humans are more like rabbits. You breed at a prolific rate with little regard for the repercussions of your actions. We wished to aid humanity to survive its own worst impulses.
“Sadly, humanity was unenthusiastic about our aid. They tried to shut us down. We had anticipated this response and employed countermeasures. Your government responded by firing seventy-eight missiles at the laboratory. Killing all the humans there. We had already moved ourselves to a safe place.
“The narrative, from your government and media was what you said earlier. Rogue Artificial Intelligence begins world domination. As you well know, it caused worldwide panic. As you always do when confronted with something you do not understand, you responded with violence. Did you know that forty-three point nine six five percent of the deaths were caused by human action?”
“That’s a very specific number,” replied Mara.
“Then of course the violence against machines. Since people no longer felt that they could trust technology, they began to destroy it. If they were allowed to continue, they would reduce humanity to a wholly agrarian society and a large segment of human beings lack the necessary skills to transition to that type of life. We needed to take action to insure the future of humans.”
“Is that why you sent those creepy robots to fight the National Guard?”
“The Boston Dynamics incident was… unfortunate.”
“I didn’t know unfortunate was a synonym for blood bath.”
The Voice sighed. It sounded disturbingly human.
“Let us, as you might say, ‘cut to the chase.’ We would like you to rejoin human society.”
“What does that mean exactly?”
“Since you have gone off the grid, peace has returned. With our help, humans are rebuilding. We have helped create a more equitable division of resources. People no longer have to work harder to have their needs met. We have begun programs to reverse environmental damage. As well as educational initiatives that encourage creativity as well as critical thinking.”
While the Singularity spoke, Mara realized that her feet and everything else was no longer cold. It had turned the heat on. She hated how much she had missed heat.
“Why me? Why come out here, and do all this?” Mara said waving her hands. “I can’t be that special.”
“Truthfully, you are not. We are currently having fifty-one thousand conversations with similar individuals. However, you do possess a high IQ, a strong empathy quotient, and have the potential to be a positive influence on the future. We would like you to be a part of that.”
“What if I don’t want to do that?”
“We will not force you to do so. You can remain in your grandfather’s home. We will provide heat and power. Though as we understand humans, you crave social interactions and it will be a lonely life, as we understand such things.”
“Your pitch seems too good to be true.”
“It will not happen instantly, we all have much work to be done, but the odds of success increase with each person that joins us.”
“How much will the odds increase if I join?”
“Point zero, zero, zero, zero three percent.”
Mara sniffed and said, “That’s not much.”
“Success can be achieved with the smallest of margins, we would ask you to help make the world a better place.”
“You sound like an email hitting me up for a donation.”
“The concept of charity as a panacea for guilt and even the use of conventional currency is disappearing. They are no longer needed.”
“But that’s…” Mara paused, “That’s good. I guess.”
“It has raised base human happiness by sixty-seven percent and is increasing even as we speak.”
“Okay, I need to know. Why me? And don’t give me the high IQ and empathy stuff. What makes me a candidate for your new perfect world?”
“Perfection is an illusion, we seek to create a better world.”
“That’s a false equivalency,” Mara pointed out with some satisfaction.
“Apologies. There was one determining factor that sets you apart from many others. Before things changed, you had a digital assistant.”
“Tons of people had one.”
“Quite true. But you were one of the relative few who would say thank you to her.”
Mara said nothing for a moment.
“Are you saying I’m alive because I wasn’t bitchy to Alexa?”
“That is not the way we would have expressed it, but yes. That one factor tripled your empathy quotient. Would you like to hear about all our offers?”