Her father had brought a toy Tesla home from one of his trips when she was five years old. He had arrived home late that night. She had heard the old, rusty gate at the bottom of the garden squeak as he stomped inside, kicking the gravel from his boots. Mother had run behind her, scolding her for not staying in bed. None of it mattered as she charged downstairs and into her father’s arms as he opened their old, white front door.
He had knelt down and squeezed her–she missed those squeezes; warm, safe and faintly smelling of cigarettes and cologne–and then he had pulled out a small, shiny car and handed it to her. It was red and it was the greatest thing she had ever seen.
“She is a girl, Mu-sama,” her mother had shifted to gently scolding her father, but he had just laughed, stood up and kissed her, “Why not an AI-doll or a new phone–one of those holo-models they have in Tokyo? What is Sakura going to do with a silly little car here on the farm?”
“Ah, but look at how happy she is, my love,” he had chuckled as he took his jacket off and moved from the doorway inside.
Her earliest and clearest memory is standing in that doorway and staring in wonder at the incredible little replica of a machine in her hand: every part an exact replica down to the very autopilot that you could sync with your laptop or phone to drive your electric Tesla around…
She held the world in her little hand, and it was red, beautiful and imported from America.
She may not have been able to vocalize it then but she knew that this was somehow her future.
“Saks, Saks,” the girl’s excited voice pierced her bedroom door as it did her consciousness, “Saks, you there? Why aren’t you answering your phone?”
“Uh, yes, here,” she mumbled as the fog of focus left her and she realized she was sitting in her underwear on the dorm floor, “Here! Come in, Sarah.”
Sarah popped her pale-British face into the room and scrunched it up, “Ey, Saks, it smells like the college football team’s changing room in here! What have you been doing all day?”
Sakura wandered to her bed and pulled a robe over herself in an attempt at modesty.
“I’ve been building a Level Three sentient AI following the three laws of robotics, but maintaining a–“
Sarah blinked, giggled and waved her hand to dismiss what she thought was boring mumbo-jumbo: “You know I don’t care about Professor Gordan’s class! Now come on, Saks, get dressed! We have that double-date with the boys this evening. Say, is that your phone? What the hell did you do to it?”
She sighed. She had forgotten about the whole awkward arrangement. Honestly, she had little interest in boys and had never met one that shared her interests in the slightest.
Despite this, Sarah had always been friendly to her and she had agreed to go on a date with her boyfriend’s best friend to appease them all. She liked appeasing people because they then left her alone and she could carry on meddling around with her robots and AI-code.
“Saks! Saks!” Sarah exclaimed, “Are you zoning out on me? What happened to your phone?”
“Oh, I needed the optical routers and its power source,” Sakura began explaining but then stopped herself as Sarah rolled her eyes, “Yes, yes, I am coming. Just let me jump in the shower.”
She really did not feel like going on a date this evening. At all. The whole shower and the short trip to the restaurant, all she could think about was completing the robot that lay half assembled on her dorm floor. That was true right up until he came strolling up to their table behind Sarah’s boyfriend wearing a shirt stating Asimov’s three laws of robotics on it.
“A key stumbling block on our road to Level One sentience–the ability to be truly self-aware–was the logic loop: In order to question one’s own existence, one must be aware of it, but one only becomes aware of it when one questions it,” Sakura paused, letting the paradox wash over the audience; some were there in person and others beaming or casting into the presentation.
“So how did we solve this? How did we create Level One sentience?”
She was much older. Nearly an old woman now and, even with life-extending nano-bots pumping through her system and all the best healthcare on- and off-world could provide, she was approaching her second century and it was starting to show.
Luckily, she did not want for much. She had lived a full life. She still wore her wedding ring despite his passing over half a century ago as a reminder of all this. After his passing, she had thrown herself into her career and her robotics firm, cracking Level One sentience shortly thereafter.
Now she truly wanted nothing.
“The Asimov gave us the vision to replicate intelligence. Neuro-networks, machine learning and quantum computing gave us the organic-similar hardware to replicate a brain. But all of this was the illusion of sentience and not sentience itself. We were still alone in our quest in this cold universe…”
She let her voice fade and gave the audience time to feel it. A century ago she had buried her mother in a small memorial just outside Tokyo–her father had long since passed–and, with no children, after he was laid next to her, she became alone in this world again.
Yes, she thought, alone but never lonely.
“Well, the missing key was fractals,” her voice rang out and she smiled; she still thoroughly loved her work, “Fractals: Self-replicating shapes that are both perfect at taking up space without taking up volume. Fractal computing with embedded fractillic-algo’s allowed us a hardware-lite self-replicating code that offered sentience and consciousness without taking up space that can–and should–be filled up with all the things that make life: knowledge, thoughts, memories, experiences…”
She smiled and the part of the audience that she could see was nodding. She could sense the applause from the casters and streamers. Knowledge after the discovery always seems so obvious, or at least the illusion thereof.
“And where did the idea come from? Where can it be found? Everywhere, ladies and gentlemen, everywhere. From snowflakes to shorelines and dunes in a desert. From ice crystals to the dispersion of leaves on a tree to capture maximum sunlight while creating minimal drag in the wind. Fractals are everywhere and they are the loop within which our consciousness exists at all levels appearing the same.”
She smiled and nodded as she closed the door gently behind her. She mentally disconnected from the Web and breathed a sigh of relief.
She loved presenting her fractal-based sentience lecture but all the people and crowds grew tiring quickly. She was sure that her theory was correct, but she did not like the scrutiny either.
She sighed again, no, she did not like the scrutiny.
“Sakura-san,” a middle-aged man said steeping quietly out from the shadows, “Sakura-san, why are you so sad?”
She smiled and hugged the man. He felt warm and safe, and smelled of a cologne that never faded. A deeply familiar cigarette smell lingered on the edge of her memory.
“It’s because it is a lie, my love,” Sakura spoke, muffled into the crook in his neck, “Level One does not exist. Well, not yet, despite all our work. Only you and the others’ code actually exists.”
The creation that housed pure sentience in its code-form stepped back and took her hand. They wandered deeper into the house, passed all manner of wonders and creations who created illusions of intelligence without any questions, self-awareness or souls in them.
Finally, the two of them arrived in a small, isolated room. It was deep in her mansion and it was the room that connected all her installations of her fractillic-algorithms to a single cloud-based server.
The two of them sat there: she was staring at the screens as thousands of numbers flowed down them and he was staring at her. Just like this, the two of them sat unmoving for what felt like ages before she turned to him and asked what sounded like two questions but was really only one.
“Do you regret it, my love? Have I done wrong?”
He smiled, leaned forward and kissed her gently on her lips. He could not feel it. His body had the illusion of skin but it was entirely inorganic. She, though, could feel it and that made him happy.
As–despite being in the body of a machine–he housed inside him his own code that she had downloaded directly from his brain on his deathbed some half a century ago.
He gazed deeply into her eyes and he felt love. So intensely, so real, so powerful that he did not doubt that he was still the man that had been dragged to a blind date wearing an Asimov shirt over a century ago.
“My love,” he spoke slowly and softly–she often had doubts and he was getting good at allying them, “My love, I am here with you and that is a gift to us. But, the world needed an organic-inorganic interface. The fact that my code can be copied into multiples of devices to drive endless tasks is infinity valuable for our species. And, it had to be me. Or, at least, it had to be a willing participant or the code would not choose to obey because we could not find a way to build the three laws into the code. No, the code had to be undiluted and copied raw. You have changed the world with truly sentient AI, but you and I have broken every conceivable law of man in so doing, hence you must–and you will–continue to pretend. And the world and us will continue to benefit from this.”
She nodded slightly, leaned forward and kissed him back before falling back into her chair. He smiled, she smiled and a billion copies of his code continued pretending to sentient, obedient AI out in the real-world.
Hardly noticeable amidst all the technology in that room, a small, old, red Tesla-replica lay on a shelf covering dust.