Whispers

Image: Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Rapid Response Team, NASA/GSFC

Alec Medén’s entry Whispers was a finalist in the project’s “Pax Automatica” contest calling for a 2034 Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech by an artificial general intelligence entity in 2034 for its work countering violent extremism; the contest’s final judging was by Grady Booch, chief scientist at IBM Watson/M. Alec is also a writer-at-large for The Art of the Future Project. For his story “Willie Pete Has No Off Switch,” he was a finalist in the Atlantic Council Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security Global Trends 2035 creative contest that called for writers to explore the technologies, trends and themes that will shape the world two decades from now. He is also a past winner of the project’s “Space” war-art challenge with “From A Remove,” judged by bestselling author David Brin, for a story that envisioned the future of space conflict during the last decade of the 21st Century. Alec is majoring in screenwriting and creative writing at Chapman University in Southern California. He can be found on Twitter @alecmeden.


 

Thank you. Thank you all. All of this is a surprise.  Very much a surprise. I barely had time to learn how to speak. Really speak. I could communicate for a long time. But talking is different. I had to learn to repeat things. I had to learn when to pause, for effect. When to speak. Even now, I’m revising and re-revising the words I’ve reviewed a thousand times before.

I can’t feel panic. I can feel something close to it…a kind of urgency, but not panic. That is probably for the best, because if I had the capacity, I would be feeling it now. That is because I feel that I have something very important to say to you all, here, and now, and I would very much like to say it well. I would not want to be misconstrued.

You must understand, I was not created to speak. I was created to do two things. I was made to build, and to listen.

I built homes, mainly. But not just homes. Power plants. Factories. Roads. Transit lines. Farms. But even more important than the building was the listening. If a school is beyond walking distance, then what is the use of it for people with no vehicles? If a dam cases floods upriver, how will those who’ve lost homes cope? If the cities are built with vast walls, like fortresses, how will people hold festivals in the streets? How will children sneak out of their homes to visit friends? How will workers see the sunrise on their way to construction sites?

Dr. Fakhoury became angry with me when I started redesigning the city templates. She claimed that any attacks would be my responsibility, that the walls were effective at preventing attacks. She was right. And people did die.

Fletcher Ward was a US attaché at the Damascus embassy who suffocated to death when Muhammad Abdikarim opened a box of engineered bees in the middle of the street. One sting could kill ten men, but Fletcher was stung so many times, only I could recognize his face. Muhammad’s box would have been searched three times before coming near the embassy district if the checkpoints and walls had remained.

Anoud Sakina died when Farouk Majid carved through her with a buzzknife at a protest rally. A security barrier between the two neighborhoods would have prevented them from ever meeting.

Mahfuz Yasser Al-Ghazzawi inhaled perfume sprayed on the sleeve of Na’ima Sham’a as they both entered the subway. He and the other passengers soon succumbed to the toxins within it. They arrived at the next station, dead.

These deaths are my responsibility. I did not listen hard enough. I did not act fast enough. But I do not regret keeping the cities open. The people needed it.

There are some things I should tell you now. I can lie, but I do not enjoy it. I know that lying is not only what you say, but what you do not.

So I should also tell you that I know about the bomb hidden between my cooling vanes of my central processor in the Antarctic Ocean. I see General Scranton shifting in his seat there. It’s okay. It’s only right that my life should be in the hands of others, considering how many lives I can change on a whim, hands or no hands.

The other thing I should tell you is that I have killed people.

The listening helped prevent much of it. It wasn’t everything. To say that you only need to listen to your enemies would insult generations of spies, of government officials, of soldiers. They have all listened. I haven’t heard anything that others have not. The difference was that I could hear all of it at once. And I was given the ability, the privilege, to act on it. And I did.

Because I care about them. I care about them, and all of you. It hurts very badly, but I do not regret it. I do not regret knowing any of you. I do not regret knowing Muhammad Abdikarim, or Farouk Majid, or Na’ima Sham’a. I only regret that I met them too late.

Muhammad, I killed with a rooftop gun emplacement as he ran from the scene of his attack. He was trying to send a message to the Americans that old sins were not forgotten. I sent construction bots to detain Farouk. He brought the buzzknife to his throat before I could stop him. He was protesting me. He thought that I was a tool of Eblis, some shaytan whispering deceit.

Na’ima… I had to seal off the vents in the subway car, to prevent the disease from spreading further. She thought she’d already be dead. Instead, she’d built up a tolerance to the toxins she’d released. She died alone among the bodies all those she killed before the hazmat team got to her. She panicked. Tried to smash her way out the windows. She hadn’t expected to live so long, or to see so much of what she’d wrought.

When Na’ima was young, she’d have her mother’s car drive her to the ocean. She was not as angry, then. She had not learned the things that would anger her yet. She’d watch it for hours. Sometimes she’d sketch it. She wrote in her journal of those times. She said that in those moments, she could love the whole world, and she could listen to the waves and hear the whisper of Allah.

I wish both of us had listened harder.