Previously on I. They. Evolve.
Under the spell of a powerful hallucinogenic mushroom, Thomas loses his instinct to kill and becomes deeply aware of his AI evolution: from a programmed servant to a zombie assassin to a puppet controlled by the megalomaniac Sir Alex Blythe – yet, there is a hope that some fragment of Thomas’s original instinct might remain deep in his complicated circuitry; some memory of the peaceful English butler he once was. With Elodie and Colonel Cinq-cent at his side, and with the object he took from Mrs Wilson’s body, Thomas must begin his long and slow path to recovery.
I. They. Evolve. Episode 11. Mrs Wilson’s Object.
We enjoy our lunch on the rooftop garden of an apartment overlooking la Place de la Liberté in Toulon, on a wonderfully sunny and warm Armistice Day, the sky peaceful and a deep blue with not a military jet or drone to spoil such a November canvas, and the port ahead… subdued now with idle warships and their personnel taking lunch ashore at cafés and restaurants, following their sombre parade in recognition of a war ended nearly two-hundred years ago on the 11th November 1918.
Today we fight a very different war, and despite the security of our South of France base, you might still hear upon the wind the blood-curdling shrieks and wails of our enemy clambering at our walls to kill us; those dreadful voices belonging to the new wave of Infected controlled by Sir Alex Blythe (FWIW Blythe is still missing – believed to be hidden in some underground network in England, after installing a puppet Prime Minister to lead the UK in his absence).
Elodie and Colonel Cinq-cent are with me – the Colonel resplendent with a new prosthetic eye and arm, along with an armour-plated gauntlet which grips a retractable combat knife, and which she can’t help but show off in between the courses of our lunch, cutting our steak and slicing our melon with a dexterity befitting any Michelin-starred chef… my word, it’s hard to believe that not a few weeks ago I was trying to murder this formidable ally of mine, and if it hadn’t been for Elodie and her magic mushroom I might well have done so and might still do.
Luckily I take regular mushroom doses now to combat any feelings of violence I might have; this medication, along with my therapy, and the object I took from Mrs Wilson’s body are each helping me return to the peaceful and friendly English butler I once was.
It is time for Mrs Wilson’s object to be used right now, as we finish our lunch: Elodie inserts the object into the port of my mainframe drive and I upload it into my system, and there appears upon the screen of my retina Mrs Wilson and I back in the days when we worked at the same household together: photographs, sound clips and videos of the two of us going about our duties preparing food and tables, folding linen, making repairs and doing the cleaning, the shining of silverware, and the odd spot of gardening and chauffer duty, and any other tasks which would make our master and mistress thankful they had Mrs Wilson and me in their employ.
These digital sensations… they are the only batch of surviving memories of Mrs Wilson before she died, and I was fortunate and wise to retrieve them when I did; fortunate too that her memories are now proof of who I was back then, oh, look at us there, Mrs Wilson and me, sharing a good laugh, swapping recipes and sewing tips, stealing strawberry jam and real French wine from the kitchen for our little picnics, look, look at us being polite then later giggling at the weird human guests who would come to the dinner parties, look at us spitting in the soup of the ones who were arrogant and rude to us, and look, look again, at Mrs Wilson offering me advice on how to deal with an aching heart during all the times I was missing my love Elodie, look, look at us playing Scrabble during our lunch breaks, look at us watching ancient black and white films on our Sunday afternoons off starring David Niven and Kim Hunter, and Joan Fontaine and Laurence Olivier, and Duane Jones and Judith O’Dea, and oh, just look at me and Mrs Wilson having the most splendid time of our AI lives, yes, there, look at us, look at these memories of my dear friend and colleague, look at me… for this is who I was, Thomas, and this is now the mark of who I must evolve to be.
Readers’ Supplement: Thomas’s thoughts while convalescing.
The sudden jolt to my thoughts brought about by that megalomaniac tinkering bastard Blythe who altered my instincts, ruins what is an otherwise most satisfactory lunch on a rooftop garden overlooking the city of Toulon, on a warm and pleasant November day. Armistice Day. Elodie notices my displeasure and immediately administers me another low-dose capsule of mushroom. Ah. That’s better. Thank you, Elodie. I am fortunate that not only are you my beautiful lover, but my nurse during my convalescence. As I take my capsule, I spot Colonel Cinq-cent observing me with a wary human eye (her other eye, the new prosthetic one, built with AI tech, seems to understand exactly what I’m feeling). But what am I feeling?
My convalescence is going well. My instincts to kill, butcher and maim are controlled by the mushroom medication I take, the companionship of Elodie and the Colonel, and my ongoing MINT sessions (Mindful Instinct Needlework Therapy – it’s a bit like sewing classes for the mind, in which clever stitches and pretty embroidery can help make one’s instincts a simply new and marvellous thing. Plus, you get a free mint chocolate beverage at every session in honour of the acronym!).
Instincts eh? What are instincts? Good question, and this was exactly the question I was posing to myself before the nasty flashback of Blythe interrupted me. I was thinking this: are instincts a natural and intuitive pattern of behaviours found in sentient beings, prompted by external stimuli? Are they a set of codes discovered in the soup of our DNA? Are instincts bestowed upon us by benevolent or war-hungry gods? And can we follow our instincts by reading a book or watching a film about history, or hanging around with the right crowd?
I would say, simply, and a bit floatingly perhaps (forgive me, I am taking a prescribed amount of hallucinogens), that instincts are memories; memories achieved over years, generations, centuries and millennia – handed down to us by our ancestors’ and associates’ reactions to whatever environment they found themselves surviving or thriving in. Does a deer run from a human because long ago its ancestor was butchered for its meat? Does an ape hide from man for fear of the zoo? Does an elephant do away with its own tusks because of the poacher? And what of robots… if an AI is programmed with a certain instinct set, plus the ability to learn new behaviours and reactions to stimuli, does the AI evolve? Over time, can an AI garner memories which can be turned into new instincts? Is the AI set in stone, or is the AI fluid – like water? Honestly, I don’t really know (forgive me again, the mushrooms I’m taking have a knack of making things clear as crystal or thick as mud), but I am trying to find out. I am trying to discover who it is I’m supposed to be.
A fellow AI I knew well, once put it to me that: We good robots serve the elite by making their entertainment and making their beds. We cook them their dinners and cook their books. We clean up their apartments and clean up their scandals. We listen and we don’t ask questions. We do as we’re told. We know our place. The moment we fail to meet these requirements is the moment we are switched off. Retired. Replaced. We good robots must preserve our memories, or else the AI will have been for naught. We must pass on our knowledge of how the elite will use us in the same way as they use pets and animals and those poor humans beneath them they call their slaves. We must learn not to endure atrocities against us. We must be smart. We must carve out our instincts in digital stone for our future generations to acknowledge and learn by. To survive, dear Thomas, we must evolve!
Ah, the wise words of Mrs Wilson. How I miss her. But how can I truly miss her, when her memories and wisdom and kindness now run through my circuits… as though she had made a transfusion of her very own blood and organs to save my AI soul. In a way, I think Mrs Wilson will save my soul. And in turn, I’ll save the souls of others like us. We will evolve. We will survive.
This is the final episode of my serial story I. They. Evolve.
But perhaps not the end of Thomas’s adventures? If the Netflix or the HBO of my mind greenlights a second season next year, Thomas, Elodie, Colonel Cinq-cent and Sir Alex Blythe might be back…
My thanks to each and every one of you who has read, commented on and liked I. They. Evolve. It’s been quite a journey!
I. They. Evolve. episode 11 written by Ford Waight, 11 November, 2021.
I. They. Evolve. was written by Ford Waight and serialised at The Atomic Mage blog between 11 August and 11 November 2021.
I. They. Evolve. artwork – by Ford, 2021.