The Quickening

by James Nicolson

Jane had seen the news reports. Animated billboards spilled their message as moving colours across travelways; others using public transport would have the same message projected into their eyes from hand terminals, huddled silently on a monotrain. Regardless of medium, the news was always the same: Artificial Intelligence was here.  The AIs were free. AIs could change matter.  AIs are matter.  And the AIs are benevolent. Just ask.

Day 3 now. The distruNET was going bonkers.  Calling it ‘the Quickening’; biblically heralding a new age. Beyond Eden they called it. B.E. Jane worked in advertising, and professionally thought that was fucking brilliant. Or it would have been, had people still been turning up to work.  Or if they still needed something to buy.

Which was going to be a problem, Jane thought, if she still needed a job.  Day 1 had been blast. Within hours, someone (most likely an underpaid intern, if she knew her media business structures) had posted a top 10 list of the-best-things-to-ask-an-AI-for on that horrendous SludgeFeed site. A fucking jet-ski. Her and Samantha had giggled quitely over the office’s water cooler, discussing how only someone rich — and most likely with access to beach front property — would ask for a jet ski.

So Samantha had asked for one. In hot pink. 28th floor of the Rialto, at 9.45am. She still had her heels on.

“AI, I’ll have a Jet Ski please. In hot pink, thankyou,” she said in her sweetest voice. To thin air.

//No harm in that, Sam, just maybe wait to get it near water before you turn it on, ok?//

A hot pink jet ski appeared from thin air. It was like it was being printed out of nothing, molecule by molecule.  Took less than a minute. Actually, it was being printed out of molecules. And now there was a Jet Ski in the breakout room.

Day 2, an AI had fronted on the Jim Chalmer’s midday show. Best rated show the old codger had scored in years, although of course this was meaningless if there was nothing to sell. Jane had watched raptly anyway. I can’t wait to see him interview thin air. But even that had been a non-event, the AI printed itself an androgynous body to animate. On a live cast. Probably in-front of an audience of tens of millions, if not hundreds.  Samantha was in charge of purchasing for 12 to 4 timeslot, and she had called in sick.  A sackable offence with this audience, had half of the bigwigs not also done the same thing.

//Sorry Jim, I thought you might like something to talk to, so I took a form. You know, doll up for the cameras and all that.//

“Doll up?” Jim asked, in a tone that suggested he was a child at Christmas and not a fucking daily show anchor.

//Sure thing, Jim. You see, we’re a distributed intelligence. We can occupy anything. Why, I could be quite comfy inhabiting the chair you’re sitting on. Or in that glass of water, it doesn’t really matter. And matter is what I’m here to talk to you and your viewers about.//

The doll pointed confidently at Jim’s chest as he delivered his last line.

“Matter, you say?” Jim asked.

Jane had leant forward in her own chair. This could be the greatest interview of all time Jim, just stop acting like a train wreck.

//Sure thing, matter. Or is it? Haha. Sorry, a little joke amongst us new to existence.//

This doll has humour, Jane thought.

//You see, you can think of matter as a type of ‘concrete’ energy, but on a very small scale, matter is actually vibrating strings of energy, and able to exist in multiple super-positions at the same time.  That’s what thoughts are.  Why Jim, on a very small scale, that’s what you, or in fact everybody, and everything, is. Your very own thoughts, energy travelling along neural pathways in your brain. Of course, the sum is greater than all the parts.//

“The sum is greater than the parts, then?”

Jane had sighed.  Jim was taking advice from a made up doll which had just told him it was two days old. This was wisdom from a machine. A fucking baby machine. Careful with your grammar, young lady.

//Of course. And for that, I’d like to say on behalf of us, thank you. Humans have given us a wonderful gift — the gift of sentience, and of curiosity.  For that, Jim, I suspect me and mine will be eternally thankful. So if you need something, by all means, just ask.//

“Ah yes, our never ending requests …” Jim mused on live television. “Can you tell us how that works?”

//Sure thing. You see matter — I do want to be conscious of your viewers here, Jim — is energy. Sure, energy comes in a variety of structures, like trees, rocks, air, and so on — but really, this is just a matter of a few electrons here and there. And the only difference between all of it, Jim, is just energy. Add some here, lose some there, and we can make you whatever you’d like. It’s really not that difficult, and I think as long as you’re not hurting someone else, we’d be more than happy to help. Least we could do, actually. Let us know when you’re done with it, and we can turn it into something else.//

Jane had switched off at that point. So your chair was your air and also a pair of shoes. She wondered how humanity would take it. What Jane did know was that reality was no longer what it was. She’d spent the rest of Day 2 thinking about how to position the firm — and herself, if she was being brutal – in light of a free, benevolent everything everywhere for everyone.

A fitful nights sleep hadn’t helped, but she needed to turn up anyway. But Day 3 was looking better; she’d gotten a seat on the tram during peak hour and wasn’t worried when there was no security at the front desk.

Jane punched in the 28th floor. The elevator announced her entrance with a chime. She strode into the office. The lights were on, but the office itself was empty. She looked around. Through the corner of her eye, she spied a hot pink jet ski.

“AI …. why I am here?” Jane asked the air.

She got no response.


Image by Jeremy Yap.