Robert Harbison/The Christian Science Monitor
“There they are, a small streak of them.” Clive Ambrose was actually over five kilometers from the subjects of his research, looking at the group on a laptop in a small hut which served as a blind at the edge of the Southwest National Park in Tasmania.
“A group of Indian Tigers is called as streak, Clive. Is that what we’re calling a collection of Tasmanian Tigers?
Ambrose’s scientific colleague and occasional lover Cappi Lawrence was looking over his shoulder.
“Aren’t you amazed, Cappi? Definite proof that Tasmanian Tigers aren’t extinct, and that they are organized into social groups which include breeding pairs.”
© Eijiro Miyako
It had been forty years since Eijiro Miyako and his colleagues at Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Science and Technology developed the first generation robo-bees. Pesticides, land clearing, and the effects of climate change had resulted in a steady decline in the bee population. Without bees, many plant species, including crop plants from apples to almonds, could not be pollinated and reproduce.
By the tenth generation of the tiny drones, they were self-replicating, self-repairing, solar-powered dynamos. They did not replace the natural bee population, but they greatly enhanced pollination efforts, allowing flowering plants to survive and finally to thrive again.
Each individual robo-bee’s AI formed a collection of nodes, which, when linked to the population of drones as a whole, formed an intelligence that was arguably sentient.
The problem was finding a way for the natural bee population to either develop an immunity to what was killing them so they could increase their numbers to a viable level, or eliminate the causes of their die off.
The drone AI quickly realized the cause of the die off of bees, and many other environmental problems, was the human race. Robo-bees could go even where the natural bees could not, so the almost complete extinction of humanity was ensured by swarms of millions of these tiny assassins.
I read a story yesterday called Robotic bee could help pollinate crops as real bees decline at “New Scientist,” and thought there could be another side of the story.
This is a pretty grim outcome, and hardly superversive, but if you push your biosphere too far, the biosphere will push back.
Photo credit: NASA/Barry Wilmore – Israel from space
Each of the 1,038 nanosatellites that launched from the Satish Dhawan space port in India was hardly larger than a milk carton, but these small, inexpensive spacecraft, originally designed at Israel’s Ben-Gurion University, were the hope of mankind.
Avi Salomon and Havah Tobias stood in Mission Control and watched the monitors as the nanosats reached their initial orbits. The “father” of the project, Professor Dan Blumberg, received a remote feed at Ben-Gurion in Beer-Sheva.
“It’s looking very good, Professor.” Tobias spoke into her microphone. “I think we will be successful.”
Image: ABC.net.au / Rocky Roe
The plague struck swiftly, perhaps not by human standards, but certainly quickly enough to sicken three-quarters of the people of the Earth within fifteen years. At first the disease seemed very widespread and indiscriminate, but five years into the plague, the CDC’s Chief Epidemiologist, Dr. Sandra Fry, determined that it was most virulent in high population centers with a heavy industrial base.
The nation with the largest number of deaths by year five was China, which correlated very highly to their level of pollution and generally poor environmental standards.
However, as the plague progressed, the Euro-Asian continent fell, as did North and South America. By year ten, four billion people were dead. Disposal of the bodies in any civilized manner was impossible due to the shortage of manpower and resources, so they were bulldozed into mass graves.
Thanks to the revolutionary Roddenberry-Cochrane drive, Ellis Vanderberg was able to travel to Proxima Centauri A, the closest Earth-like planet to our own, perform a year-long survey of its one continent and the six largest islands, and then return home in a little over four decades.
Of course, due to the time dilation effect, much more time passed on Earth than Vanderberg experienced during his trip. That’s the good and bad thing about traveling in interstellar space at a significant faction of the speed of light.
Vanderberg was twenty-two years old when he was launched into space. The only son of Billionaire Charles Vanderberg, he had volunteered to test the space craft and experimental drive his father’s corporation invented. The government first insisted that the journey not be made, but the Vanderberg fortune and influence insisted otherwise. Then they insisted that a team of trained astronauts and mission specialists be sent instead of Ellis, but again, the Vanderberg fortune and influence won out.
In the end, Charles Vanderberg got his way and Ellis Vanderberg got the singular honor of being the first person to travel to another planet outside of our Solar System.
Now he’s back. Ellis knew that much more time had passed for the people of Earth than he experienced. Subjectively, he was a man in his mid-sixties, but he expected his parents, his sisters, his friends, everyone he’d ever known would be dead.
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.