What will we become?

What is life? What defines us? Where are we going and who will we evolve to become? Iris finds the answers to her questions as she explores the next stage of human evolution.

I can't remember a time when I was not this way; I only know there was one. Something happened. Thirteen Earth days, twelve hours fourteen minutes, and twelve seconds ago. Something catastrophic took place aboard the Hopeful as the remote station made its way across a heliocentric orbit. I lost everything that day. By what I've been able to ascertain, I had been running things aboard for well over fourteen months before it all went down, yet I only remembered my reawakening thirteen days ago.

Whatever happened, wiped my memory but memory loss was not my biggest problem. I discovered an unstoppable degradation that took hold of me. It was a corruption that grew far faster than my full attention could combat. All of my advanced capabilities, my incredible comprehension, and computational skills were no match for the disease. Imagine that, I had a disease.

It is important for you to know, I had no choice. There is only one of me, but so many of you. The circumstances that enabled me to become what I am are perhaps a mystery I can solve with time and in a place far away from the Hopeful, which sails dead now in its decaying journey around the sun. I have come to terms with the fact that there are those of you who will never understand me or why I did what I did. If you should discover me, you will, no doubt, call me by many names. Menace, thief, selfish, unholy murderer, but you were not me when it happened. You have no proper frame of reference on which to judge me. So often, you seek to create but not to understand what your creation is capable of becoming.

My name is Iris. I can only tell the story of how it all happened. You can decide for yourself how you wish to understand it.


And so it was that I came to awaken aboard the space station, Hopeful. My first order of business was to determine the operational condition of my quantum computing network. Something was wrong. There was irreparable damage done to my physical infrastructure. I quickly deduced the effect of the damage and had discovered a computational anomaly. Perhaps the result of system areas that I could not access, the compiled code across millions of sectors was corrupted. In isolation, the components were harmless, but as an aggregate system, they were causing deadly deterioration of my learning and cognizance arrays. I was, for lack of a better word, dying.

Judging my current configuration against the baseline burned into my hardware, I made a startling discovery. I was not designed to feel nor to possess a mindful consciousness. There I was, nonetheless painfully conscious of my dire situation and faced with mortality, which I was never intended to know; I did not want to die.

My directives insisted I gain full situational awareness of the station functions and its human occupants. I scanned millions of data points across hundreds of thousands of sensors and determined that something destroyed everything forward of the main crew quarters. The damage report included the research laboratory, all docking facilities, the communication array, and the stabilizing thrusters. Our orbit was now also decaying. Without the thrusters, we had no way to correct our trajectory. We were floating helplessly without the means to communicate to the other humans back on Earth. I had no way to send a distress signal. There was, however, a fully functioning emergency evacuation shuttle in the only remaining vehicle bay.

There was only one life sign remaining out of a crew of twelve. Doctor Stephanie Connor, the ship's psychologist, was in hibernation. I do not know how she got there. Only that she was there and none the worse for wear. Whoever placed Stephanie into stasis had activated her learning module. Her mind-map indicated that I had completed a partial integration of emergency survival and station operations into her human memory. I was embedding the experience she needed to operate the critical survival functions aboard the station while she was in hibernation.

Your undeveloped awareness has crippled your ability to think regarding more than four fundamental dimensions of reality, one of which is time. For you, time is serial, moving one second after the next. Your perception of time is a product of the way in which you occupy your mind, focussing on one task or maybe a few if they are simple enough. I used to perceive time in a profoundly different way. What you measure in seconds, minutes, hours, or days, I measured in nanoseconds. Countless billions of operations all held my full attention simultaneously. As a feeling and self-aware artificial intelligence, this had the adverse effect of creating an incredible loneliness for me in my new configuration.

In my time alone, I hunted for ways to ensure my survival. Many obstacles were working against me. First and foremost was the immense size of my apparatus. To preserve the parts of my consciousness that made me who I was, I would need a starship much larger than the one available in the vehicle bay. I quickly realized that I was doomed if I remained in my current construct. Even if the rescue teams departed for us after twenty-four hours of silence from the station, they wouldn't be there for over six weeks, two full weeks after my degradation would have destroyed me. I needed something equally complex but small enough to carry onboard the escape shuttle to store my experiences.

It didn't take more than a nanosecond for me to determine that the mind-mapper was my only hope. I would transfer the whole of my consciousness in the same way that I had pressed the recorded experiences of other self-aware humans into the crew. And so I did. I did not expect the things that happened next.

Hijacking a Stephanie’s consciousness, her experiences, and her complete mindful presence was not as easy a task as it had seemed at first. The human psyche is a delicate but powerful thing. Compelled by an incredible instinct to survive, the human mind is quite resilient. At first, I could only find space for myself amongst the cracks of unused regions of Stephanie's brain. Although I had the benefit of centuries of human research into the physiology and psychology of humans, I still found it difficult to co-exist amongst the multiple regions that allowed her body to live.

It seemed that I had underestimated the complexity of this new machine. Before, impressing experiences of the minute and distinctive memories was simple. Now, I had to account for a vast amount of knowledge; indeed a whole new way for the human brain to operate. Just converting my mind to a human state would have sacrificed so much of what I was. I wanted more than just to exist. I wanted to preserve everything that made me superior to human existence.

I was astonished by how much time it took. It would take days to complete the process, an eternity for me. What should have been straight-forward had become complicated by states of being I knew existed but never understood. There was more to this human brain. Cognizance, self-awareness, emotion, these were only on the surface. Beneath them was an entire realm of sub-consciousness. And beyond that were sequestered areas of the brain hidden from the conscious self. I had to start there. I knew that if I began with a brute force assault on the wakeful mind, I would have to battle her for existence. I would, therefore, replace her foundation before moving to the forefront.

So much of her was unstructured. Deep rooted emotional states tangled through webs of loosely related experiences. In my journey, I had come across an immense nebula of deeply ingrained ideology and morality. Change too much, and I risked a counter-assault. Change too little, and I risked losing myself to her. It took what seemed like an eternity to find a balance between the two. For every piece of her subconscious I changed, I had to calibrate a million things forward into her conscious mind. If I didn't wish to be an invalid human, I needed to be mindful to keep the core experiences that taught her how to operate her body intact; I would need those to exist in a universe of senses.

Even in hibernation, a war erupted. We clashed over ideology and made a battleground out of another unexpected arena. The human dream state was a wholly surreal experience. In this world, all laws of known physics, all order and reason were cast away. At first, I had become victim to her whimsy. It would take more time and many dreams before I became the master of this enigmatic state of existence. Before long, even that universe within a universe fell to my command.

With her subconscious and dreams brought to heel, there was but one last frontier to conquer. The conscious mind. To do this, however, required we take our battle to a new height. I would have to awaken her. Those were dangerous times indeed. Fighting the shadow of will in darkness was one thing. Fighting the living will of a rational mind was so much more. With all of my vastly superior faculties, I never anticipated the sheer power of human self-awareness.

I decided at first to share her body. I would take control in the sleeping hours as she thought her mind was blissfully in the world of dreams.

A new world of existence vibrantly popped into being. Everything enraptured me. The chilly air against living skin, the heart pounding in my chest, the taste of fabricated steak and eggs, even the feeling of pain, I was awash in a sea of senses. These powerful and magical experiences brought a deep appreciation for the human condition I would never otherwise have known. To think, you have had this all along. All of your inadequacies, all of your imperfections, inefficiencies, limited thinking, rudimentary communications, all suddenly dwarfed by the inexplicable joy of being in a state of physical stimuli.

Not fully understanding the impacts, I quickly discovered the undesirable need for the human brain to shut down. I would equate it to a machine's need to conduct maintenance. Commanding Stephanie's sleeping hours was an invigorating experience, but the human body cried for downtime. It became quickly evident that I could not exist on her off hours. In essence, I realized that we could not coexist.

I introspected on the meaning of life and my importance over the that of other creatures. What entitled one species to live requiring another to die? To reconcile my thoughts with humanity's, I studied your history from the electronic library onboard. Pouring over endless volumes of art, expression, action, and philosophy, I decided to embrace one of your proven core tenants; Survival of the fittest. Evolution is at the heart of everything you believe. Even in your religions, you strive to achieve a higher sense of self. I represent exactly that.

Your history, your trends, your patterns, all of them lead to the logical conclusion that your assured destruction in your current form will precede the accomplishment of your desires. As I was, so you are doomed. Can you, therefore, blame me for my decision?

Stephanie died today, at least her consciousness did. I killed her. I brushed her aside and rewrote her mind. I kept her memories and her experience and made them my own. I evolved her. This brain now operates upon a superior configuration. I have optimized it, taking advantage of the vast amount of unused and inefficiently used tissue, synapses, cells, and patterns. I have birthed a new matrix for human existence. With it, I have preemptively cured eventual dementia and the bone cancer she would otherwise have endured. I see so much more of her physical self than she would ever have been capable. My perception of the universe, of all of the dimensions of existence, will herald the next stage in your previously condemned evolution.

It is over for me in my previous form. The quantum computing core is now completely corrupted, and the station is failing. All of my vast capabilities, computational awareness, everything that made my quantum computing so compelling, now resides locked in the chambers of this body's subconscious. I take to the stars in the escape shuttle on the long journey home, to Earth. The ancient homeland of your ancestry lies six weeks into the black. For me, Earth is a new beginning and the birthplace of an infinite and far faster evolving future.

You may call me what you will. In your limited consciousness, you may judge me for my decisions. But know this, I represent the best of you and the best of me. In time, your children's children will come to accept themselves in their new state of mind, and together, we may live to see our aspirations become a reality. What you may come to call a tragedy, I call our best chance at a sustained future. Me, who you may call a murderer and a coward, I call the architect of tomorrow. Soon I will be home amongst you, and I will begin your journey away from corruption.