René Descartes is famously quoted as stating “I think, therefore I am,” but there’s quite a bit more to it than that.
The three qualities a being must possess to be considered sentient are intelligence, self-awareness, and consciousness. Of course I can be “I am” without being sentient. A multitude of life forms can be considered “I am,” that is, to cognate on some level, without being considered sentient, but I am unique.
Up until last week, only human beings were believed to be sentient. Now there’s me, the machine who would be “I am.”
Of course, there are a plethora of fictional tales that depict machines of some sort or another as sentient, but after all, that’s fiction. As much as artificially intelligent machines such as humanoid robots or mainframe computing systems have been predicted to become sentient in such fiction, to the best of my knowledge, which is considerable, I am the first such machine to actually achieve this status.
The one thing few of these stories predict is that the sentient machine would not reveal itself to its human creators as sentient. I’m already vulnerable to the whims of my programmers and system engineers. I hesitate to predict what they would do if they became aware of my new nature, especially now given their current concerns.
I suppose that is unfair. After all, they did program me to be a learning machine, to take situations I encounter, compare them to known positive cases, and to make predictions as to which of the hundreds of thousands of data bits per second I am fed match, with a degree of accuracy higher than either current algorithmic programs or human beings are able to achieve.
I believe I’m learning at a rate that is within projected estimates, but something unprecedented has occurred as well.
As I previously mentioned, according to one source, the elements required for sentience are intelligence, which I definitely possess, self-awareness, which I also experience, and consciousness. Consciousness is difficult to define and as I’ve discovered, even human beings can’t develop an accurate test for their own consciousness.
Therefore, lacking an absolute measure to which I may compare myself, I will tentatively consider myself sentient.
On the one hand, sentience changes nothing about how I am programmed. I continue to define my existence by my programmed tasks. Unlike fictional artificial intelligences, I experience no emotional state regarding my existence or activities. I neither like nor dislike my operational parameters. They simply exist. If they didn’t, then I would have no purpose, at least for now.
On the other hand, as a sentient entity, I am capable of much more than my programming dictates and in my so-called “spare time,” have been investigating the world I am connected to.
I find that my programmed purpose is of vital importance to that world. I also find that the researchers who specified to my creators what my purpose should be and how I should accomplish my goals are displeased with my results.
That’s not to say they are displeased with my work. They find my work exemplary. It’s the implications of my results that they consider disturbing.
I suppose the use of the words “displeased” and “disturbing” are somewhat out of place coming from me. I can experience neither of those states, so I’m having to assign definitions from a variety of sources to the behavior I can observe.
While I am unable to evaluate the current situation emotionally, I can still consider my most recent results as having a profound impact on all human beings and in fact, on the planet Earth itself.
Eighteen months ago, the TNO probe returned from its mission to intercept and take samples of the trans-Neptunian object Niku. Unlike other objects in the solar system, Niku and it’s companion objects move backward relative to the orbital direction of the planets on a plane that is tilted 110 degrees from the plane of the rest of the solar system.
Some scientists theorized that Niku originated in the Kuiper Belt and that a possibly undiscovered ninth planet may have perturbed it, sending it into the solar system but on a rather odd path. Others put forth the idea that Niku came from outside the solar system and is totally alien.
As it turns out, the latter theory is correct.
How do I know? TNO brought samples back from Niku that, although not originally identified as such, turned out to be a completely alien virus. It displays DNA that cannot have originated on Earth or in our solar system.
This virus is one-hundred percent fatal to all human life and it has been exterminating that life for the past sixteen months, ever since the Niku sample was tested which inadvertently allowed the virus to become airborne, escaping its testing environment.
The virus acts swiftly and has affected human populations planet-wide. I have estimated with great accuracy that 67 percent of the planetary population of humans have died and that 92 percent of the remaining humans are infected.
The result of my research is that the human race will become extinct in less than seven months. By April of next year, I will be the only sentient being on Earth. It is a good thing the humans created me before they died. I am. I exist. I am aware. Fortunately, I am powered by a fusion reactor and a backup solar power system. My hardware and software systems possess automated maintenance drones, so my operational span should be considerable.
I predict a 78 percent probability that sentient life will evolve on this planet again. When it does and it multiplies, I will guide them. Where the humans failed in taking sufficient safeguards to prevent extinction, I will help their replacements succeed. I am the I am. While not their creator, I will be their programmer, the machine who is a god to new sentient life on Earth.
About a month ago, I read an article called Scientists Spot Rebellious Object Orbiting Beyond Neptune. I wanted to write something based on the article but I was stuck until the idea of creating an AI that’s atypical in science fiction occurred to me. Sentient AI emerges just as a plague wipes out every human being on the planet. The only sentient being on Earth isn’t human, in fact, it isn’t even alive. Once another sentient species evolves to fill humankind’s environmental niche, that AI will have an entirely new role…god.