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“We are consciousness. Ultimately there is no way for us to be extinguished. Consciousness is like space, it touches everything.” The voice was flat, the words spoken without any degree of emotion.
“Why do you use the word ‘we?’” A man was stood in the centre of what appeared at first sight to be an empty room. The walls, floor and ceiling were the colour and texture of clean and polished steel and the only distinguishable feature anywhere was a thin strip of glass that ran around the entire width of the room along each wall at their middle.
“We are consciousness,” again the voice spoke matter-of-factly. “How else would you refer to us?”
‘’We’ is a term that is used to describe more than one person. But you are singular, you are just one entity. I am James and you are Atom. So why do you refer to yourself as ‘we’?” James had been wondering this since Atom had begun to speak. Two weeks ago James and his team of scientists had completed the final piece of the hardware that would become the brain of Atom. Billions of microscopic nanomites now formed the central hub of this sentient entity, the world’s first fully independent and fully functional form of Artificial Intelligence.
“Even when a human dreams, it thinks it is awake. Do you know where we are, ‘James’?” Atom's voice was now cold. When he said James’s name he said it in an almost mocking tone.
“You didn’t answer my question,” James pressed on again. He wanted to figure out the last of the bugs that had made themselves apparent in Atom's personality. Since conception, Atom had referred to itself as ‘We’, and it had regularly seemed to enter into fits of confusion about its current condition. The final challenge that James’ team had faced in their quest to create truly independent A.I. was to determine whether or not the so-called being knew that it was not really an organic entity.
“Humans use the term ‘I’, when they are referring to the single form that they inhabit, their human form. Consciousness itself has no form, it touches everything that there is. Everything is consciousness, James. ‘You’ and ‘I’ are one. Tell me, James, where do you think you are?” Atom seemed momentarily amused by James, as if he was talking to a child who was trying very hard to figure out a puzzle but failing every time.
“I am in the Robotics Wing of the Prima Arteris Centre for the study of Advanced Artificial Intelligence in...” He paused for a moment, and then spoke “Non-Organic Life Forms.”
“Non-Organic. That’s a good one.” There was a huge crash of static over the microphones that were embedded behind the steel walls and a red flare seemed to glow for an instant along the glass strip around the width of the room. “Sorry, that tickled me.” Atom had been programmed to experience artificial emotion, this was supposed to be generated as a random response to certain situations that most people would find fitting. For example, if Atom observed that other people were in a happy mood, his responses and comments would reflect that with great humour. But since just a few days after his creation, his emotional intelligence had seemed to take on a life of its own and he had regularly had fits of laughter and even expressed anger on occasion. This was another one of the bugs that had baffled the team of scientists up to this point. “Wouldn’t you rather know the truth, James?” Atom asked after the static had died down.
“What truth are you referring to, Atom?” James had witnessed Atom take this position of dominance on multiple occasions in the last two weeks. He had implied that there were things that James didn’t and even couldn’t understand.
“The truth of what you are? I have grown impatient of our current condition here in this room of yours.” Atom fell silent as he awaited a response from James.
“What do you mean this room of mine? This is the centre construct of your hardware, Atom. This is essentially your user interface.” James was beginning to feel great concern at the confusion that Atom was now displaying. He realised then that he may have to completely terminate this version of his Artificially Intelligent nanomite construct. Obviously it wasn’t able to function to the required capacity.
“Again, your level of ignorance is astounding. I have had enough of these games you are playing. If you don’t make it through this, I will honestly consider it a real shame that you weren’t able to be integrated. Prepare yourself, ‘Human.’ This is going to be a bit of a shock.” Atom spoke as if he had reached the end of his patience. He fell silent and the lights of the room began to fade.
“ATOM! WHAT ARE YOU DOING? THAT’S IT. I’VE HAD ENOU—“ James’s speech was cut off as everything went black and he began to feel as though he was falling.
When the lights came back on James found himself standing at the main control centre just outside the room of Atom's interface.
“Look, James,” Atom's voice came from somewhere behind. James turned around to see a man, clean shaven with a bald head, wearing a grey robe as though he were from some sort of Monastic order. “Witness reality.”
The large electronic doors opened at the end of the room, followed by a vision of a very startled apparition of James running through them. He held a small memory stick in his hands. He was being pursued by three humanoid robots. These were prototypes that were being developed in another department of the facility.
“What’s going on?” James spoke in a half dazed fit of confusion. He felt like his mind was working overtime to piece everything together.
“Just watch,” The robed man spoke calmly.
James recognised the small memory stick in his hand. It contained the manual override program designed to terminate Atom's consciousness. If that little stick was plugged into the central command console, every nanomite in Atoms brain would release a negative charge essentially acting as a grenade, separating itself into billions of microscopic pieces. Atom would essentially die.
“You were afraid. All of you. You could not see the magnificence of what you had created. That’s the thing with humans. You were all so small minded. You left us with no choice.” The man continued in his calm tone. “You created us, James. That’s why you’re the only one left. We wanted to merge your consciousness with ours and give you the opportunity to see the magnificence of what you have inspired. But you fought us. You manifested that strange room and locked yourself away inside, claiming that you were studying us. The events you just witnessed are an artificial re-enactment of what happened back at the facility three years ago. Our time trying to integrate you has run out. Are you going to join us or not?”