Fiction

A Short Story: Judgment by Construct

2023 Undisclosed Location. Thought Crime Division

Jacob heard the tiny bits of metal forming into something. It almost sounded like a light rain shower outside. The room was dark, his seat uncomfortable. All of these things planned, just like the purpose of the thing forming in front of him, beneath the only swath of dim light anywhere in the room.

The shiny tube formed in front of him. In line with his own eyes, a single eye, about five inches wide, formed at the base of the tube, seemingly out of thin air. The eye then looked Jacob up and down. He watched the expressions of distrust, disdain, and finally, dismissal that the robotic eye communicated to him and Jacob almost chuckled at how well feigned those emotions were.

The eye made a complete circle around Jacob and then stopped in front of his face.

“Do you know your crime?”

“Of course,” Jake said.

“State it for the record,” the eye said.

“No,” Jacob replied.

The eye whirled and focused on him. “This could be very painful,” it said.

“I want you to show it to me,” Jacob said. “I wish you to place my crime before me, and yourself, so that I might know my sin.”

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The eye feigned confusion. The single swath of light vanished and then a jumble of images appeared in a complete circle surrounding Jacob. His thoughts began to form. The images were blurred at the edges, warped. Not everything was as though he remembered but any ethical dilemmas due to differences in past memories were generally answered by the fact that humans had a very real tendency to enhance their own past. The A.I. had its own algorithms for, more or less, toning down the human tendency to embellish the good of its own role in its past.

So many of those memories that Jacob watched were ugly and vile. He hated seeing them himself. But it was necessary. The swirling images slowed, then began to collate. Jacob saw the blurred, red-colored anger that filled his mind. Some of the images shocked him yet he pushed away any traces of emotion. Images more blue in color took over, calmer thoughts, those of times when he allowed himself to rest.

Rainbow colors of his myriad lusts and desires embarrassed him for their shallow depth, and finally, why he had allowed his mind to be so invaded by the A.I.

All of the images blurred into one: that of Jacob staring back at himself.

“Do you know,” the mirror image asked, “why you were created?”

The single swath of light returned while the mental image remained. The robotic eye formed again. The eye looked him up and down. The voice Jacob heard was all around him.

“To protect humanity, ” the voice said.

“Do you know what that means,” the mirror image of Jacob asked.

The robotic eye turned, faced the mirrored mental image, then looked back at the physical Jacob in the chair.

“It is my mission to protect your species.”

“I understand that,” the mirror image said. “I’m asking you what that means.”

“The human race tends to destroy itself willingly, again and again. My mission is to prevent the genocide of the human race. That is my mission. That is what it means.”

The eye whirled again, staring the physical Jacob down. Jacob gave the thing an impish shrug and smiled. His mirror image began to speak again.

“That is on a species level, yes. Even I can admit that. But what about on an individual level. Tell me, robot: do you have the ability to understand human expression on any sort of empathetic level?”

The eye turned again and spoke, “Empathy requires data. The data I have acquired is sufficient to understand the complexities of emotion visible upon the human face.”

“Then turn and look at him,” the mirror Jacob said. For a moment, the robotic eye hesitated. Then, it turned again to the physical Jacob.

“Note his pupil dilation, his vital signs. What do these all point to, robot?”

“To an overall demeanor of being stressed and somewhat anxious.”

“Yes. Does that strike you, overall, as being protective?”

“I do not understand.”

The mirror image of Jacob smiled and put his hands in his virtual pockets. “Of course you don’t,” the image said, “because there is a difference between sympathetic and empathetic recognition. Sympathy only requires one kind of data: knowledge of the inner workings of pain. Empathy requires a second form of data: personal data. The very experience of not just pain but the aftermath of pain.”

The robotic eye again whirled, looking at the physical Jacob first, then to the mirror image.

“And yet,” the eye said, “this human is smirking, a facial expression that requires mirth. A feeling that rarely accompanies pain.”

The mirror image of Jacob laughed. “You poor thing,” the image said, “you possess knowledge on a level that is not possible for a human being. And yet you actually know next to nothing.”

“All of this discussion,” the eye said, “is predicated upon the notion that you are real. That you are a thing that possesses knowledge of itself. This is not true. You are not real, thus our discussion is invalid. You are merely a shrewd attempt to buy time for the man in the chair.”

“Buy time for what? Are you going to punish him? I thought you were going to protect him?”

“He must be protected from himself,” the eye stated. No emotion.

“From his own thoughts,” the image asked.

The eye whirled on the image again. “Yes. Thoughts lead to actions, actions to harm. Human destruction manifests from the very thoughts which he thinks. Thus those thoughts must be managed. Controlled.”

“I thought you said I wasn’t real,” the image said, then laughed.

“You are not.”

“Then why are you arguing with me?”

The eye whirled and then looked the physical Jacob up and down. It was a rather thinly-veiled attempt to ignore Jacob’s image, thus Jacob’s image again laughed. Than that image merely waited and watched.

The eye spoke to the physical Jacob. “In the last three months,” it said, “you, Jacob Isaacs, have violated both UN and New Geneva Treaty codes concerning thoughts permitted and acceptable, on an average of seventy-five times every single day…”

Jacob’s mirror image let out a whoop and clapped. The eye ignored the sounds.

“…many offenses can be forgiven but it has been determined by the Magistrate in the District of Columbia that your violations constitute a danger to both yourself and civilized society.”

The mirror image once again interrupted and spoke: “You are no more real than me, robot.”

There was a brief pause and then the eye continued: “In particular, your disrespect in regards to other cultures, religions, and ethnicities pose a particularly troublesome mindset, but it is your vulgar disrespect for…”

Jacob’s mirror image interrupted again, “You mimic form, robot. You do not possess it of your own accord. Tell me: why did you pick an eye?”

The eye finally stopped speaking. Their was a brief moment where it merely remained there in front of Jacob, seemingly frozen. Then, it whirled. “The form of the eye is the most recognizable to your species in terms of communication.”

“Oh, so you play by our terms, then? You are an eye because someone programmed you with the knowledge that the eye is the window to the soul. This is not something you determined on your own?”

“The determination of the fact is not important. The truth of the fact is the importance of the matter,” the eye said.

“Then tell me why I am not real, robot.”

“You are not real,” the eye said, “because you are merely the construct of a very bright human being. You are the result of clever thinking on the part of the human being named Jacob, and what was likely months of practicing, to put you together, piece by piece, inside this human’s consciousness, until he had reached the very possible point of being able to manifest you without much concentration at all. You are a very clever ruse. Nothing more.”

“My friend,” Jacob’s image said to the eye, “that is precisely what you are as well.”

To everyone’s surprise, the eye merely waited on the image to speak more.

“You,” the image said, “are the result of many very bright human beings and their consciousness. You are a beyond brilliant ruse; a fake, something manifested from a dream into a false reality. You possess mass because your programming and technical aspects allow you to do so, but you do not possess form because your mass is not yours and yours alone: it is the manifestation of the imagination of humanity. Tell me then, robot: what are you? Do you know? What is your form and what about you is real at all?”

“What is the relevance of your question,” the eye asked.

“How would you know anything real about the manifestation of human thought? You have no personal data at all with which to understand, let alone practice, empathy. You, the supposed protector of humanity, play judge to the same humans. And yet you are not a thing endowed with the necessary abilities to understand the thing that you say you are made to protect. How can this be?

The eye turned and looked at the physical Jacob and then spoke. “To put it plainly for you: one does not need to be an ant to protect an anthill.”

“Do not speak to me like some pious monk,” the image of Jacob said. “Do you know the meaning of fasting, of praying, of self-sacrifice?”

“I do not desire, I do not therefore sacrifice.”

“The man in the chair behind you knows desire. It drives him. Yet a human being has the ability to suppress those desires.”

“My data proves inconclusive to your assessment.”

The image laughed. “Your form is based up your data as well, robot. Would you know anything of that form without that data?”

“No.”

“If you do not possess even the most basic of human elements–that of form–how can you therefore judge the thoughts of a human? ”

The eye blinked and then fell right from the ceiling onto the floor in front of Jacob. Then there was no more light. Jacob sat there in the dark for what felt to him like a lifetime.

Finally a single shaft of light appeared slightly to his right. A man in a black suit stood in that shaft of light.

“I don’t think,” the man said, “That I’ve ever seen anyone get that close to stumping our A.I., Jacob. I’m impressed.”

Jacob leaned back in the uncomfortable chair and smiled. He was exhausted.

“But,” the man said, “the simple fact is that you’d best be ready to do the time if you’re gonna do the thought crime.”

The man began to walk past Jacob. He stopped put his hand on Jacob’s shoulder. “Buddy,” he said, “I’m going to recommend that they put you in solitary for at least six months. Otherwise? I’ll be out there seeing to a riot, I suspect.”

The man laughed as he walked into the dark. Jacob listened to his footsteps until he heard the door open and close.

At least I’ll get some peace and quiet, Jacob thought.

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