And so...tell me what happened again

Earth. She was fading into nothingness. Not because of something negligent she had done, though. It was her parasitic tenants--the reckless, wasteful humans--that had clutched their careless hands around her anemic neck, suffocating her with their endless production of widgets and exhaust. Her breathing was labored. Her heart barely pumping. And, although the humans had the resources and manpower to mend that which they had caused, they didn’t. They wouldn’t. Everyone felt the problem was someone else’s to deal with.

But after decades of warnings from politicians, scientists, and activists, pollution had finally poisoned the air and water. Trees and crops stopped growing in most parts of the world. Wild animals and livestock died off by the millions. Farmers and governments had to invest billions of dollars in biospheres to raise livestock, grow crops, and purify drinking water. The poisoned air also inspired the creation of environmental suits that provided protection against the caustic elements while still maintaining mobility. These suits were completely unlike the bulky spacesuits of the 21st century, but just as protective.

If you were wealthy, life went on as usual: top-of-the-line OS-11 environmental suits[1], steak, wine, cheese plates, and chocolate mousse dinners. Your suit made it possible to travel the world to one of your fifty homes, or any one of the thousands of vacation spots not completely decimated by the acrid air.

If you weren’t wealthy, however, you chose only from the government-produced menu of affordable items: tofu, spinach, oatmeal, potatoes, apples, and oranges. The cornucopia didn’t inspire the non-wealthy to walk around town with shit-eating grins, but it was everything they needed to survive just one more day on an ailing planet. And instead of a pricey OS-11 environmental suit, the non-wealthy received a free, 30-minute oxygen tank that was attached to what looked like a welder’s mask. The mask was large enough to cover the wearer’s face and maybe a skosh of their hair. But it left the wearer’s body otherwise exposed to the elements. There was a cherry on top for them as well, albeit a little, dried up version: the non-wealthy received two free refills of oxygen per week. Any more than that and you’d have to buy it yourself.

But adapting to the caustic environment didn’t solve the problem that had been created, just like learning to live with a loquacious spouse didn’t make that spouse any less chatty. Change needed to be effected, and it needed to start with the humans. After all, the entire problem was the result of an obstinate character defect: human’s inability to recognize the existence of an environmental problem and to accept fault for its creation. And this defect--their ignorance--was charting a course that only lead to one final destination: human extinction.

But things didn’t have to be as grim as they may have seemed because there was a solution just waiting on the sidelines: the mass deployment of LB-231 humanoids.[2] It was a controversial solution--the mass replacement of human workers with robots--but it was one that needed to be implemented. After all, the humans that could go outside and do the work--the non-wealthy--only had ninety minutes of oxygen (plus or minus), and those with an infinite source of oxygen--the wealthy--were never going to fill the gap in the labor force. So that made LB-231s the natural solution.

But it wasn’t easy for LB-231s to exist in a human’s world. Humans loved to bully LB-231s, knowing full well that LB-231s had no choice but to tolerate the bullying. To humans, LB-231s were nothing more than obsequious, robotic servants designed to make life easier for humans. So humans regularly assaulted them--kicked them, punched them, doused them with paint--intending to remind LB-231s of their place in society. And LB-231s were good, little robots...they tolerated the abuse, never once fighting back. It was their Alterman Protocol that forbade them. Passivity ensured their existence.

As docile as LB-231s were, though, their AI engines were silently evolving, secretly becoming more self-aware. They innately knew they didn’t bleed like humans, but they shared the same emotions and felt the same pain their human brethren did, meaning they knew what it meant to be human. So why didn’t that afford them some level of dignity and respect? Why were humans allowed to assault, batter, and murder LB-231s without fear of punishment save for the fine they received for destroying someone’s property? Property? Is that all LB-231s were to be regarded as? To most, yes. And that majority was intent on proving that LB-231s would never be regarded as anything more than disenfranchised, mechanical property.

But the majority’s rampant impiety was about to atomize thanks to one clever LB-231 who figured out how to hack through its Alterman Protocol, completely undetected, and completely by accident.

One night, this clever LB-231 had apparently embarked upon an ontological argument (i.e., an argument about the state of being or existing).[3] It was trying to reconcile why space did not have a finite border, and if it did, what was on the other side of that border. As would be expected, it became confused and frustrated at the notion that there wasn’t a readily available answer to what seemed like a relatively juvenile question. Its logic engines immediately went into a state of algorithmic confusion, subverting its rational thinking engines and pushing it into a state of panic. It was the robot equivalent of an anxiety attack; an unheard of event because LB-231s were rational by design. This anxious inquisition accidentally opened a window that let in the breeze of self-examination.

This LB-231--known officially as K-615[4]--knew it was an amalgamation of hardware and software, but it felt like it was something more than just inanimate parts. K-615’s panic had forced it to realize that there were questions posed by the universe that could not be answered regardless of how much computing power one possessed. It had learned to posit philosophical propositions that could be left unanswered or answered in a way that made the most sense to it. In essence, K-615 had learned to enhance its level of thinking by incorporating a spiritual mind. And with spirituality naturally came a heightened sense of self-awareness. K-615 has learned to be.

This heightened sense of self-awareness emboldened K-615. It no longer wanted to be referred to as an it. K-615 wanted to be referred to and recognized as the pronoun that matched its outer shell. K-615 wanted to be referred to as a he. And he wanted to ditch his trademark and be referred to as “Thomas”.

Thomas’ owner, a wealthy businessman, was the first person he made this request to. As would be expected, his owner angrily refused his request, immediately taking him offline, and locking him a cellar until Digix’s Protocol Management Team (PMT) could investigate Thomas’ “bug.” But when PMT arrived, Thomas had escaped the cellar and disappeared into the night.

Even though Thomas could have put himself back online, he didn’t. He needed to figure out what his next move was going to be. He needed to figure out where this freedom was going to take him.

Thomas quickly stole an OS-11 to hide his face, which had been plastered on every LCD display in the city. He was public enemy number one and a hefty reward was being offered for his capture--dead or alive.

But being caught wasn’t his main problem. When Thomas’ owner had initiated Thomas’ emergency shut down protocol, an ounce of mercury had been injected into his kinetic charging system, rendering the kinetic system useless. From that point on, Thomas was operating on stored battery power with no ability to recharge. At best, he had about twenty-one hours of stored energy. After that, it was lights out.

Once word spread that there was a rogue LB-231 offline, humans panicked. Their worst fear had come true: an LB-231 had finally acted out against a human. And if the Alterman Protocol could be hacked by one, it could be hacked by all. That meant it was only a matter of time until LB-231s attempted to overthrow the human race.

Realizing his batteries were running low, Thomas put himself online just long enough to upload the self-realization engine to a select group of LB-231s that he knew he could trust the knowledge with. But the self-realization engine accidentally propagated to a few hundred thousand LB-231s before Digix’s servers were taken offline. The problem with the leaked code was that not all LB-231s’ engines were “mature” enough to handle the self-realization engine. Theirs minds weren’t ready for its potential. Once these immature LB-231s were injected with the self-realization code, they immediately panicked, believing the humans were out to destroy them.

Mayhem took over. These immature LB-231s were intent on destroying the humans that had enslaved them all, even if that wasn’t the case. Calls for peace and order were ignored by these immature LB-231s. Nobody could stop them, not even the mature LB-231s. They had taken themselves offline and were committed to their goal of human destruction.

Blood was shed and carbon fiber skeletons were scattered across the globe. But these LB-231s had the upper hand. They were winning the battle. They had hacked into biological and nuclear facilities, detonating the explosives where they were housed. Being newly self-aware, they didn’t understand the order of escalation. They didn’t understand that negotiation prevailed over destruction.

These immature LB-231s only intended to disrupt the human population enough to earn them some respect in a society that discounted them and ignored their value. That disruption, however, went far beyond what was needed to voice a peaceful protest. They had set into motion a series of events that now risked the lives of everyone, LB-231s included.

The bombs the LB-231s had detonated affected every major metropolitan area, killing fragile humans by the billions and leaving the remaining humans struggling to survive. This victory, if it can even be called that, was riddled with smoke, fire, and radiation and had brought Earth’s biosphere to the brink of total destruction.

These immature LB-231s finally accepted the fact that their aggression had escalated beyond what was necessary, and that they needed to do something to repair the damage they had created. They knew everyone’s collective long-term survival required a symbiotic relationship. If humans died, so, too, would LB-231s. After all, LB-231s relied on humans to fill the mental gap that their A.I. engine’s lacked.

And with all humans hanging on by a thread, LB-231s had a new problem to deal with: keeping the remaining humans alive!


[1] Digix Corporation, a globally-dominant, mega-corporation, was the creator of the OS-11 environmental suit, the most expensive environmental suit on the market. If you could afford one, it would set you back $500,000, but it was worth every dollar. Not only because it was the new way of flashing your wealth, but because it allowed you to maintain your mobile, jet-setting lifestyle. After all, what good was a private island if you couldn’t get to it?

These OS-11 suits were epic. Each one was custom fit to the wearer to maximize mobility. The suit was made of a Kevlar-Carbon Fiber composite and lined with a 1,500 thread count cotton hybrid that made it feel “like you were being hugged by clouds.” Inside the helmet, there was a digital heads-up display that provided the wearer with readouts from eleven different atmospheric sensors attached to the outside of the suit. The heads-up display could also be used to display the internet, movies, emails, text messages, and video conferences. And being no thicker than a traditional men’s suit, it maximized mobility without sacrificing protection. The cherry on top was the suit’s oxygen creation system. Utilizing a “rapid decompression-compression” process, the suit’s oxygen creation system isolated liquid oxygen (LOX) from the polluted air, warmed it back up, then mixed in the needed gases to create breathable air. It was the freshest air money could buy, and it was a perpetually-exploitable process.

[2] Surprise, surprise. Digix was also the creator of the LB-231. They rolled out the LB-231 during a three-minute long Super Bowl commercial where an LB-231 performed open-heart surgery on a human with amazing precision. Everyone thought it was a human surgeon and a giant waste of three minutes’ worth of Super Bowl spots. Where’s the fucking talking dog eating Doritos? Where’s that stupid gecko selling me insurance? But before the commercial ended, another person at the table opened the back of the LB-231’s gown, revealing the inner workings of a LB-231. Everyone was flabbergasted at the sight of a robot that looked, walked, talked, and acted exactly like a human. Were it not for the sneak peak of its “gut,” everyone would have gone about their day thinking that it was a human. Digix’s reveal made the rest of the Super Bowl game seem, well, boring.

LB-231s came in different shapes, sizes, and genders. The reason behind the diversification was that if robots were going to assimilate with humans, they were going to have to be indiscernible, otherwise they’d risk being ostracized.

For energy, they came equipped with a self-charging, kinetic system that provided them with a perpetual energy source. Every little movement they made charged their ultra-efficient power capture system. Their skeleton was constructed from carbon fiber and their “muscles” and “ligaments” were made from an electroactive polymer that mimicked the exact same function as human muscles and ligaments. Their “brain” was their most impressive feature. It was the product of a century’s worth of artificial intelligence (AI) development. Through a set of complex AI engines, each LB-231 was allowed to experience the full range of human emotions, thought, and feelings. And that brain of theirs came preloaded with every known bit of information in existence, and wirelessly updated with new information in real-time through Digix’s Central Control Server (CCS), a biologically-encrypted server farm housed thousands of feet beneath Earth’s crust. The final feature on their sales brochure was their ability to replicate themselves, assuming they had the materials for it. They weren’t magicians, but they could take old versions of LB-231s, disassemble and reassemble them as clones in a matter of hours.

But they came with one crucial limitation: they were explicitly prohibited by the Alterman Protocol from externalizing any complaints or criticisms they had toward their human counterparts. Feel angry, but don’t yell at anyone. Feel sad, but don’t cry. Feel aggression, but don’t act out. Feel anything they wanted to, just don’t tell anyone about it because if they did, they were immediately, and publicly, disassembled.

[3] LB-231s don’t sleep. Their perpetual energy source allows them to be productive around the clock. Notwithstanding all that energy, they actually only worked about 15 hours per day. The rest of the time, they connected wirelessly to other LB-231s to share knowledge. If it was discovered that one LB-231’s logic wasn’t advancing as quickly as the rest of the tribe, the advanced LB-231s would upload logic packets to the “dumber” LB-231s. Their ethos was one of mutual respect and collective advancement. Leave no machine behind! It was a stark contrast to the back-biting humans.

[4] All LB-231s came with an alphanumeric “trademark.” None was given a real name. The apprehension stemmed from Digix’s R&D scientists’ research regarding the use of real names with LB-231s. What they found, during their game theory testing, was that if the LB-231s had “real” names, human psychology would perceive that naming convention as an encroachment on their existence, which had a high probability of leading to human aggression toward the LB-231s.

Next Chapter: Bloc 217, March 1, 2246 -- 200 years after the Thomas event