So, Amber, do you like the Lord of the Rings series?” Lucas replayed the earlier scene in the station mart on the screen of his smartglasses as he the Ampere turned in the parking lot of Barry’s apartment complex, imagining things going his way. The question he had posed wasn’t a shot in the dark; he had gone thought Amber’s online profile and had created a smooth-flowing act in his head, where simple conversation led to much bigger things. He barely noticed the car had parked before it notified him, so engrossed he was browsing Amber’s online photos and videos which were so numerous they could have been used to wallpaper a large apartment even if they were postcard-sized. He got out of the car and headed for the entrance carrying the foodstuffs he had bought earlier.

Barry had first moved here as he started University and stayed here ever since. He lived in a tall apartment building which was part of a bigger complex of identical grey concrete slabs that made the area look like a graveyard with giant tombstones in aerial photographs. The edifices were arranged as sides of a square in the middle of which stood a run-down basketball field which didn’t see much use. The rusty chains of the basketball hoops creaked as he cut across the field to the correct building.

I guess muscleheads are dying breed around these parts,” he thought, finding some satisfaction in the thought. Division between those that did sports and those that didn’t had become wider than ever before. Automation had rendered masses of people permanently unemployable, but due to universal income, they could still cover their basic needs and more. Before widespread automation some academics had envisioned how the expendable income and formerly unseen amounts of free time would lead to people improving themselves, taking a more active part in political decision-making and connecting with friends, like the people of ancient Greece had done as all the heavy lifting was handled by slaves. Most of these intellectuals had quietly receded to the background as their noble dreams met reality; a large portion of populace continued their existence with no real purpose or goal whatsoever, spending their time in virtual worlds created for their entertainment, and found their only feelings of personal achievement in buying something new and trendy, mostly to show it off online. The modern ideology was that everything was to be brought to you, and as such people were inundated with constant info and entertainment catered to their interest by advanced analytical tools. Even food and other day-to-day essentials were delivered to your home door by a self-driving delivery truck or a drone. As such, people being found dead in their apartments after months of putrefaction was reaching epidemic proportions. Sometimes the rotting of massively obese bodies caused such damage to the houses that entire rooms had to be renovated.

At the same those doing sports exercised more intensively than ever before; often it was the sole content in their calendars filled with nothing else. Even as manual labor jobs had disappeared, becoming a professional athlete became even more sought after than previously since they were one of the groups least likely to be replaced by machines. Most competitions enjoyed a larger viewership than ever before, and sponsorship deals had become astronomical.

The walls were covered in graffiti on both sides of the building entrance. Most of it was simple, black-and-white tags in exaggerated, snaking letters. Surrounded by them was one larger piece of work which depicted in dark colors a person sitting in a corner, knees drawn to her chest and face resting on the knees, covered by crossed arms. Striking lines of red were drawn across the wrists of the portrayal.

How about instead of a spray can, you get some help,” he thought. Medication for depression and anxiety was easy to get, just fill a questionnaire or two and send it to an online doctor and your description would drop into your letterbox the same day. Apparently, the same applied to euthanasia shots. When you could get anything with the touch of a button, how could anyone be so miserable as to order something like that? He had found there was always something you could use to distract yourself.

He pressed the door buzzer and looked straight at the camera at the ceiling to his right. Few seconds passed before the small red light on the door lock turned green—the video feed had been linked to Barry’s computer screen and he had opened the door—and he walked to the dimly lit hall of the building. He stopped to listen and couldn’t hear a single sound coming from the staircase connecting the dozen floors of the tenement house. He rode the elevator to the 10th floor and was about to ring the doorbell when he noticed Barry had left it open.

If this had been his first visit to Barry’s house, he probably would have thought it was a scene of a violent struggle: piles of clothes littered the ground with paper plates and soda cans, and the sofas and the table between them were unaligned. The pizzas rested on the table, looking cold and unappetizing. The mess was nothing new, Lucas knew, as Barry was known for getting so caught up on some bright idea or sudden whim that he completely ignored his surroundings, barely fulfilling his primary needs, such as food and drink. Their latest project had captivated him like no other. Only the large TV screen hanging from a wall was level and relatively stainless. He walked to Barry’s bedroom door, tiptoeing past the piles of junk and stepped in.

“So, you decided to work today,“ Barry said, turning to look at him, his heavy glasses magnifying his eyes. He had severe squint which made it difficult for him to use smartglasses, so he was forced to use more traditional screens. On the computer screen behind him Lucas could see countless dots of differing colors moving in a three-dimensional space like a school of fish, colored lines connecting some of the dots. He knew the animation represented different data points and their connections, and as he watched he saw new lines being drawn as new data was acquired. The screen was one of four, two others standing next to it and one above it. On these screens he could see different calculations and analyzes Barry was running. As the bedroom was where Barry spent most of his time it was also the most completely furnished room: an unmade bed sat in one corner, flanked by a night desk and a large drawer. The walls were covered with posters of video games and movies, and most available table space was taken by Barry’s collection of figurines ranging from tank-like robots to scantily-clad girls with large eyes. Lucas sat on the one free chair in the room.

“I come bearing gifts,” he declared and lifted the paper bags above his head like one would raise a wrestling championship belt. As he could fit them on a table he put them down on the floor, which wasn’t as cluttered as the floor in the living room.

“The least you could do. Let’s grab a bite while I get you up to speed.” They headed back to the living room.

“Amp! Turn on theater mode, show desktop,” Barry said as they sat down on the sofa facing the TV. Lights dimmed and the screen lit up as it exited power saving mode and showed the animations and calculations Lucas had glimpsed on the computers in the bedroom. They unwrapped their meals and Barry began explaining the progress he had made the last couples of days. He spoke while chewing his food, and Lucas kept his eyes focused on the display.

They had been hired by Ampere as a part of a group working on improving the moral decision-making systems of the different artificial intelligences. Originally developed for self-driving car on-board computers—Ampere’s flagship product—for minimizing damage in road accidents, the ethical considerations the machines could run had evolved far beyond the simple kill-one-to-save-two utilitarianism of the first version that had hit the markets. As the Amperes grew more ubiquitous on roads, so did the accidents. Back then, the media hadn’t cared that most of the incidents could be traced down to human error, with pedestrians and drivers of traditional cars usually being proven the culprit after inspecting the video evidence which was a byproduct of the Ampere navigation systems. Questions were raised whether machine intelligence should even be allowed to make decisions resulting in human deaths and injuries. Of course, the system wasn’t perfect even as a rudimentary solution: the cameras and object recognition software often made errors, resulting in miscalculations and easily avoidable incidents. The debate died down, and while philosophers and thinkers continue to argue about the matter to this day, the masses had long since lost interest in it. However, there was one other group that still wondered about the problem: Ampere’s programmers. Quietly, they set their minds on the task of inventing better, fairer ways for their latest darling creation, the budding Ampere AI to solve these live-or-die moral dilemmas in a way fit for a world of grey instead of black and white. They had already used the AI to improve upon many things, such as the car engineering and structure, system management and recognizing unfilled niches for new products. Using vast amounts of collected data the AI, like other AIs, could model new solutions for the problems it was given, skyrocketing the speed of scientific research in all fields. The programmers thought that if the AI, given the necessary information, could solve scientific problems, why not a philosophical one? So, they input vast amounts of questionnaires from various sources mapping people’s values and convictions, as well as hundreds of thousands of social media reactions to natural deaths, accidents, murders and executions to the AI’s databanks. They had hoped to give the machine intelligence an understanding of the general opinions on value of human life and the current moral structure of society as well as what kind of things were considered to elevate and devaluate someone as a person. They had eagerly awaited the computer’s conclusion, which arrived far faster than they had expected. The answer’s pure logic gave the programmers both the elation of an epiphany as well as the bone-chilling dread of judgment; the AI told them that if it was given access to the massive amounts of data that was collected of all people living in modern society—location, bank card, social media, employment, criminal records, internet searches, housing, family history, school and even medical records which were sold under the counter mainly to insurance companies and the list goes on—it could put a value to a person’s life, and compare that value to other drivers’ and in this way determine who most deserved to live before the accident even began, practically eliminating miscalculations caused by incorrect or insufficient data. Intoxicated by the technological god governing over life and death they had created, the software developers quickly put the machine’s suggestion to the test. And they couldn’t argue with the results; with lonely people and criminals, for example, becoming overrepresented in road incident casualty reports, the public reaction shifted more towards a sense of providence; it was easy to think that the worst hadn’t come to pass as you were shown families crying tears of relief as they embraced their loved ones.

The information of the moral drive was kept under lock and key. A new programmer division, titled Anubis, was created with the sole purpose of expanding and perfecting the autonomous judgment system, the exact nature of their work unknown even to other data jockeys of the company. After thorough background checks and signed contracts of silence, Lucas and Barry had been hired as freelance members of Anubis straight after graduation as they were the top of their class and had impressed Ampere higher-ups with multiple projects and undying passion already.

The moral drive had been quietly running for years now. From time-to-time Anubis updated the system with minor tweaks, but mostly the system was left to improve upon itself, and its inner workings had grown partially incomprehensible to its biological observers, the plethora of data impossible to ever peruse or index by human means, the values it was assigning hard to represent in words of any language. So, a new undertaking was launched to create a way to make the answers and cognitions of the cloud intelligence understandable and manageable by man. This was nothing short of a pivotal moment in human history of unparalleled possibilities: they hoped the AI could finally provide them with answers to age-old philosophical questions at the core of human existence, such as the meaning of life and the best possible system of beliefs. The programmers had started as deities, creating something new out of nothing; now they were 21st century Moses and Muhammed, bringing the word of God to the masses. They only needed the mountaintop or the cave where the divine vision was communicated to them, and the creation of this interface of revelation rested on Anubis’ – including Lucas and Barry’s – shoulders. The work had been arduous, and currently they had little more to show than the simple animations running on the screen, which barely scratched the surface of the synthetic intelligence’s Gospel of Truth.

Just imagining the possibilities lit a rousing fire in Lucas’s chest: this would be humanity’s crowning achievement. He recollected the various times in his life he had been wandering without a goal, questioning if there even was one. The culmination of their work, which was to be called Amun-Ra, would eliminate apathy and uncertainty from mankind by handing them down the answers they had all but given up on finding, laying bare the previously obfuscated road before them with its light of singular knowledge. It would drive people forward, uniting them behind a shared goal, and with modern technology and resources nothing would be unattainable; after all tremendous endeavors, such as Saint Peter’s Church, the Pyramids and the Crusades had been accomplished with nothing but sweat, stone and the firm belief this was the will of God.

Or so he hoped. He once again pushed from his mind the apprehension that the answers they would receive might not be to their liking. If this didn’t work, he—or anybody else for that matter—would never get the testament they needed. After all, mankind’s greatest minds had been puzzling over the very questions since the beginning of recorded history, arriving at no consensus.

Barry’s presentation ended, as did the hot dogs. Wiping the corners of his mouth with the back of his hand, Lucas got to work.


“I’m stumped, so I guess that’s it for today.” Barry’s sudden declaration broke his concentration and Lucas became suddenly aware of his surroundings once again. He got up; he had been working lying down on the bed with his smartglasses on, using a portable keyboard with a touchpad he kept at Barry’s home for such occasions. It took a moment for his eyes to adjust to the dimly lit room after the brightly projected windows he had stared for hours on his lenses. His eyebrows rose as he looked at the window and saw it was already dark outside. He had been in the zone, not realizing as hours flew by.

“Me too. But remember we did not fail, we only found out how not to create a human/divine interface,” Lucas said, alternating his voice to what he imagined a sage person would sound like. It was a deeper, smoother voice than his own.

“Make sure to code these bits of wisdom of yours to the system for all future generations to enjoy, Fortune Cookie, you might be forever remembered as the king Solomon of the Information Age.”

“And you, sir, could be no other than the legendary Hammurabi reborn. Your laws wills rule people for untold eons!” Lucas proclaimed with triumphant waving of arms. They both grinned.

“Luke, stay for a beer or two, let’s order some more pizza.” Lucas gave the suggestion a thumbs-up. It had been a while since he had spent time with anyone outside of work. Before he could even ask, his smartglasses suggested Lucas and Barry’s favorite pizzas from a chain pizzeria close by. He OK’d the order as Barry arrived with the beverages. They sat down on the sofas and cracked their drinks open. They downed their first bottles as they talked about their latest exploits on video game fronts.

“Have you been following the news? Apparently, there’s been a spike in Ampere crashes and hitting pedestrians,” Barry asked as he handed Lucas a second beer.

“Sure. It’s probably just hysteria like all the earlier cases. Glad it’s not my problem thought.” Reports of increased Ampere incidents made the headline from time to time, mostly on networks owned by their employer’s rival corporations. Thus far it had always turned out that the phenomena were blown out of proportion.

“It’s the PR divisions problem anyways,” he continued.

“Speaking of which, have you seen Sandra lately?”

“Who?” Lucas’s glasses immediately portrayed her profile. She seemed familiar, but he could quite place her.

“What about her?”

“There was some gossip going around the office that she was into you. Heard she blurted it out after a few too many toasts in someone’s birthday party.

“Huh.” There was that familiar sinking feeling in his stomach and he took another sip from the bottle to cover his face.

“You really had no idea?” Lucas shook his head once from side to side.

“Dude, you have to start paying attention. Sometimes I feel you just go about either daydreaming or lost in the web. It’s like you’re never really here but there,” he said indicating vaguely above Lucas’ head with his free hand.

“You’re the one to talk. When’s the last time you left your apartment?” he shot back.

“I was at the party in Liam’s house just last week. I’ve been meaning to ask, why didn’t you come?”

Lucas upended the bottle’s contents to his mouth. He had stayed at home, following the party via the many streams. He had always found the loud music and hordes of people packed tightly together oppressive and suffocating and turned up in person less and less. He had begun participating only as on online presence, enjoying the festivities in 8k 144fps real-time video safely from his apartment. A few times he had chatted with his friends online, talking as if they had partied together, reminded of his error as he was told they didn’t remember seeing him.


He was spared from having to come up with excuses by a pop-up window notifying him that the delivery had arrived. He stood up and went to open the window for the drone, which ferried the pizza boxes onto the table and promptly buzzed back out again. Barry had opened even more drinks.

“So why do you do this? The job I mean.” Lucas asked before they returned to the previous subject. “What do you expect to get out of it?” He spun the pizza slice into a roll and stuffed half of it in his mouth in one go.

“Money, fame, movie deals. You know, the usual.”

“No, really. Everyone has some greater reason.” He had noticed that while the project begun for many as any other job, the grand future it promised filled people’s minds with lofty goals, some even considering themselves coming messiahs whose destiny it was to save mankind. Lucas thought he was on his way there.

“I, I just want to be a better person, I guess. Make things better,” he said, slurring the words slightly.

“Better person? You’re plenty good already.” The words felt easier than they did when he was sober.

“No, I could be better. I am becoming better. My value has been going up a lot lately.

You were not supposed to try and find out the value the AI had given your life. Once you were inside, however, it was all too easy and enticing to look and compare it to your friends’ and colleges’ values. Often it drove people to improve upon their lives, donating to charities, signing up at volunteer work or just spending more time with their families. Lucas, like many other, had simply decided that since his worth was deemed higher than the average person’s, he would come out on top in a majority of collision and that was good enough.

“Working on this improves your value? How could that be?”

“Isn’t it obvious?” Barry asked, making what was supposed to be a grand wave with his bottle. “Once we crack the code our findings will change the human species for the better. I mean if what we’re doing isn’t right then nothing is.”

“Couldn’t they just as easily destroy us? I mean what if there is no point to anything, no meaning for anyone?” The doubts he held but often suppressed surfaced, the intoxication softening their edges so they could be handled.

“No way man. When Amun-Ra has enough data, everyone on earth will get an email cataloging who they are, what their purpose is and how they fit in the grand scheme of things. You might want to check your junk mail so you don’t miss the biggest revelation of your life. Just you wait. “

“Wait how long? We can’t even measure or understand the system anymore, we have no way of knowing when the intelligence will be sophisticated enough.”

“The AI just today updated its own estimation on that. It extrapolates it will be ready in ten days and a few hours.”

“So what? Before our work is done, we have can’t verify or possibly even comprehend its results. We can’t just publish claims like these without any review. We’ve barely made any significant progress since we started.” He put the bottle down on the table harder than he meant, the clink it made like a strike of a judge’s gavel. They were quiet for a moment, eyes cast down at the pizza boxes and empty beers between them.

Lucas raised his head first: “I think we need a new approach. You had a point when you said I’m aloof. Maybe that’s exactly what we need to change: not work in some apartment but go straight to the source, try to understand the AI through actual contact and communication with it. Listen to its reasoning instead of trying to explain it. Put ourselves in its shoes.”

Barry looked him in the eye. His eyes squinted harder than ever, so Lucas focused on the one looking at him.

“Might as well give it a go. I mean, men putting themselves in the position of God has never ended badly, right?”


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