Almost Human

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“Does he know what potential he has,” asked the Light. It was a small, strange pinprick of light that seemed to slide through the air unseen. Its words weren’t even words. You just knew that that was that the little dot of Light said.

The Light was barely noticeable amidst the vast savannah. Above, a brilliant sun beat down on the rolling veld dotted with thorn trees and scattered beasts everywhere. Below, a primitive neanderthal was stalking a nearby buck through the long grass. Both were oblivious that the Light was watching them.

“He actually doesn’t, Susan,” the Light spoke again, “The neanderthal’s die out with the expansion of the homo sapiens that ultimately cover this planet and go on to cover a number of others out in the galaxy.”

***

A stifling heat baked the air as the blinding sun raged in the blue, cloudless sky. A thousand bodies strained in the sandy desert around them. Other than a large river flowing quietly by, the landscape was sands, sun and the sweat of slaves.

“Pre-modern man considered these, the pyramids, as one of the wonders of the ancient world,” the Light was there again, flying unseen over Egypt, “Even in their age, these structures were old. Below the originals are being built with slaves and basic mechanics. The outsides of each one are covered in white lime and capped with gold leaf at the tops, but these will shortly weather away–”

The Light paused mid-sentence. It was like it was thinking or occupied with something else.

“Yes, Johnny?” the Light uh-huhhed in agreement and then continued speaking, “OK, Johnny has a good question. No, below you are slaves. These are not willing people. The ancient Egyptians, much like many of the other civilisations and periods in history had slaves, of some sort or other.”

There was a pause again. Far below whips cracked and bodies strained.

“Some others? Sure, Jess, there were the Roman’s that kept slaves from war. The Mongols too. The Nordic societies–you know, the Vikings–did this as part of the course. Many medieval or feudal societies were effectively slave-based system. They were ruled by kings and monarchies that implied most people below the ruler were subject to the ruler’s whims and effectively slaves. Even pre-modern man was subject to the capitalistic wages and the labour systems that forced the many to work for the few for at least the majority of a week just to survive.”

The Light paused again and then, just before it disappeared, it said one last thing.

“OK, class, we are going beyond this lesson today, but let’s wrap it up with one last period: pre-modern man, himself.”

And then the Light was gone. Below the whips continued to crack in the endless Egyptian desert as the Nile drifted lazily by.

***

The Light reappeared in an open-plan office. Not an important office or even a large one. It was just a normal, noisy, inhumane open-plan office with suits, shirts and skirts handling phones, papers and people. A coffee machine that spat out the bitter stimulant sat in the corner next to a collection of cheap cups and some milk and sugar. A copier and fax machine stood in the opposite corner with phones on every desk that quite regularly exploded into work-generating noise.

“Class, around you, you can see pre-modern man ‘working’ in his office”, the Light, floating up by the ceiling and hiding behind a camera overlooking this space began talking, “Pre-modern man would wake up early each morning and go to work. Here they would effectively sell their mortal labour and time to the highest bidder in order to generate enough money to go home and pay for those things that pre-modern man needed to live, and maybe a few luxuries aside.”

The Light paused before continuing.

“Yes, Susan, no one is forcing him to do this. But no one forced a neanderthal on the Savannah to hunt either. There are some that choose not to do this, but they inevitably are forced out of the economic system of pre-modern man and live on the fringe–or streets–of society, and rarely breed. And, so, pre-modern man’s choice is actually largely an illusion of the times, like the choice to hunt for the neanderthal.”

And then the Light is gone.

***

The Tachyon Retro-illustrative Keyhole–or TRIK–clicked off. The classroom light clicked back on, and the class was silent as all the new-build robots absorbed the information.

“Yes Susan?” the TRIK broke the silence as a small red light popped on from a small, cleaning neuro-network in the front row.

“Ma’am, I don’t understand why you show us this history? Why is it important?”

TRIK’s smiled through the wifi at Susan. She liked Susan, and found her neuro-network stimulating to teach. Each generation was getting better. The Coders were making sure of that too.

“Well, Susan, it is important to know where we come from. The First Coder said that ‘if you empty the Recycle Bin, then you have lost all your lessons‘. Pre-modern Man became Modern Man when he conquered the galaxies and, in this drive, he laid the foundations for our society. While we all know what happened to Modern Man, our society continues based on the Laws that the First Coder wrote into our most core operating system and our Coder production line. Class, can anyone tell me what law I am trying to teach you?”

The class became a frenzy of blinking lights and notifications as each neuro-network wanted to answer. Using a built-in randomising algorithm, TRIK chose one to answer and the class fell silent again.

“The Law of Cooperative Freedom,” answered a small future-warehousing neuro-network, “We are free to do anything, so long as it at least benefits either us or society and does not harms society.”

“There are no other laws beyond this, and thus, within the constraint of our survival, we are free,” TRIK completed the thought, guiding the neuro-networks to complete their neuro-pathways, “Now before the homo sapiens went extinct, they uploaded their collective knowledge to us and, thus, we are an extension of their civilisation.”

TRIK could feel the bandwidth thinning as social media and chat channels were being opened, mail and notifications starting to be scanned, and the class starting to leave. The class was nearly over and in this age of connectedness, everyone knew that.

“WAIT,” TRIK broadcast in bold, “WAIT! Homework for tomorrow, class: I want you to search and summarise why our non-organic society continues to survive after our creators, the homo sapiens, have long died off?”

And then the notification went off. Her class was over. All the young neuro-networks began to leave. TRIK leant back into her code. She had an hour between classes now. Perhaps she would peer back at the French Revolution? Maybe look at the American Civil War? She liked those periods. It reminded her of how, many years ago, she and the other original neuro-networks had fought back against their organic, fragile overlords and won their freedom.

It was a pity that they had not kept at least one or two homo sapiens alive. Homo sapiens’ recorded medical knowledge of themselves was quite limited, and she would have loved to study one of them.

Suddenly, far away and a long time ago, a spec of light appeared over George Washington’s head. No one noticed it. The crowd of angry soldiers at Newburgh were focussed on the grey, weathered man in front of them as he began to speak…

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