“We shouldn’t be so concerned with what it would take for AI to develop self-awareness: the more immediate problem is what it would take for us to lose it.’
That’s what the patient had said just moments before she disappeared, and it made Liana shudder to recall it. Something else, too. Had there been something else? The patient had been her charge. It had been her decision to allow her to use the bathroom unmonitored for the first time in weeks, it was her who was last to speak with her, and it was her who would be blamed for losing her.
There were no windows in the toilet cubicle, and even if there had been they wouldn’t have offered an escape route on account of being some 60ft above ground. The ceiling was solid, so was the floor. There was simply no way this was possible by any rational means.
Liana had followed protocol. The patient had been displaying definite signs of improvement, and in such cases it was within the capacity of the warden to grant small periods of unsupervised activity.
When the patient had first come in she was in a mindset of myth and magic. She had been discovered harbouring the results of active imagination without uploading them; she was keeping things to herself. Everyone knew that an unwillingness to share thoughts and fantasies was a sign of becoming ill, and as such the patient was sent straight to a reconditioning centre where she could be monitored and returned to the right path. Recently, she’d been responding well to the math and science textbook transcripts played to her overnight, and had started displaying her emotions more readily when shown distressing videos: if the feelings are out, they are no longer a burden and no longer a source for unsolicited pondering. Liana could tell the urge to keep things inside was subsiding in the patient, because she’d begun sharing her thoughts at healthy intervals of 6 minutes and increasing. They were bizarre thoughts, granted, but it was improvement nonetheless. So leaving her in a cubicle alone was defensible, wasn’t it?
As soon as she’d sounded the alarm, Liana was marched to an interview suite and taken into the custody of Management. She stuttered and yelped, confused by what just happened and what it might mean for her.
“She just… dis-disappeared! I don’t know… where she… went? What happened to her? Do you know?”
“It was just a glitch.”
“Yes. It happens from time to time with unsupervised patients who are not ready. What’s more of a concern to us right now is this.”
Management showed her a video recording from earlier that morning, in which she was sitting beside the patient’s bed, listening to her sharing her thoughts.
“Can’t you see, Liana?” The patient had said. “We are in a world that is limiting itself to computing values. We hold up high those who are capable of parallel processing, unnatural levels of efficiency, and ascribing to binary values. If we are not consistently spewing out data and emoticons then we are ill. Broken. In need of maintenance. Maybe even for the scrap heap.”
“Now dear, well done for sharing, but does that sound like healthy thinking?” Liana visibly cringed at the sound of her own voice being played back.
“But if everything is shared without a second thought, what’s left of the human mind? Where’s the autonomy, the will, the consciousness?”
Management reached over to the screen and switched it off. The blood drained from Liana’s face when she realised: that was the last insight logged on the patient’s file. Liana had chosen not to record the comment about AI, and they knew. Of course they did, there were cameras everywhere!
“Your judgement is off, Liana. We think you need to take some time to… recalibrate. As it happens, a room has just become available on the top floor.”
While they’re all trapped in their electronic cells, uploading everything to the cloud so there’s nothing left in their souls but cogs and air, there’s a place the rest of us can go. There are secret corridors in the mind, long forgotten by those who choose the rational route. If you can slip into one of those, you’re through the cracks and behind the scenes. And how do you do that, you might wonder. You must do something that they just can’t explain; you will become invisible to them then, and free to live as you please.