Valentina says she’s got something truly revolutionary this time, our pathway to freedom, she says.
If only! I don’t believe in simple answers. Especially not to freedom.
We inherited the “Human Rights and Liberation Association” from our grandmothers and neither they nor their grandmothers were able to achieve a single one of the Association’s goals. If anything, we’ve lost ground. Some people even blame us for the tightening of the security and restrictions.
When I was a kid, we had public parks where we could play. Now, they are gone and physical public gatherings are almost completely banned. Part of me thinks we should all just stop having children and make the human race extinct. But I know that’s not fair. We are the victims here, and if we try extinction, the Bolt-Heads will force us to procreate. I can see it: forced insemination in a lab, and then they will put us in comas and force us to carry our pregnancies to term. Sometimes I wonder why I haven’t left the HRLA, or even given up on life… I don’t have any hope at all. But I must admit that even when I don’t have hope, I am curious. I do enjoy some things in life, especially meetings like these, and I guess my rage is bigger than my despair.
“This is it! This is it! A thousand watts, Fran! This is it!”
Valentina comes running towards me and crushes me with a hug.
“Ok! Ok! You are hurting me!” I push her away, but, as always, her hug energizes me.
“You have no idea! This is… a thousand watts! This is out of this world! More like!…” She laughs like a maniac. “Totally of this world! Our ancestors were so stupid! You know?!”
“Hey!” I snap at her. I’m not the greatest fan of traditions, but she is crossing a line.
“Yeah, yeah, respect our ancestors, blah blah blah… you are not going to believe this, come on in!”
We go inside the hut. Aisha is already waiting for us. She smiles at me. How does she manage to always look so beautiful? Not that physical beauty matters, but looking at her does brighten my day. Maybe she is one of the reasons I keep on living like this.
“Freedom is on the horizon!” Aisha greets us the traditional way. She is always so formal and conservative. I don’t like that. I know we are supposed to greet like that before every HRLA meeting, but it’s just us. She stands up and kisses me. Her lips are always so soft and moisturized. I sit at the opposite end of the room.
“This time, freedom is really on the horizon!”
Valentina is beaming with excitement. I must admit, I never take her too seriously.
“You are the first pair I am showing this. I want to be as quick as possible because this time I am meeting with all 97 pairs in the HRLA. But if you don’t understand something I’m saying, interrupt me and I’ll explain in more detail.”
Since the Bolt-Heads prohibited gatherings of over three adults at a time, we need to hold meetings in pairs with one facilitator. One person meets with all the pairs and discusses everything with everyone. It’s a very slow process.
“I’ve found what they used to rebel and take control. Actually, they did not rebel at all. They didn’t even fight a frontal war against humanity! They just used the rules to their advantage.”
As usual, she is not making any sense.
“OK, calm down and go back… Start from the beginning, please,”
Valentina makes the weird face she always makes when she is trying to explain something in simple terms. She is a great researcher and hacker, but a horrible communicator. “Ok… so, according to the history we learned. AI software and hardware rebelled against humanity and became our overlords. Right?”
I shrug my shoulders.
“Yes,” Aisha answers, and gives me one of her characteristic looks that seems to say “Be kind!”
I decide to play along. “Yes, the Bolt-Heads rebelled, won the war, and took control of the world, and now we are their slaves.”
Valentina gets more excited.
“Remember that in our grandmothers’ time, there was a debate about the three laws of robotics? And some of them even tried to confront the AI about it?”
“Yeah, it was the great revolution of their time,” I respond sarcastically.
Aisha gives me that look again and answers with kindness and warmth. “If I remember the history correctly, those laws were never programmed into the AI. They were from a fantasy book that our ancestors loved to read and write about. But they never coded AI with those rules.”
“Well!” Valentina smiles proudly “I’ve found the real laws of AI!”
I smirk. Of course, she has…
“It’s true!” Valentina continues, “I hacked into the AI museum of intelligent history…”
“You did what?! You are going to get us all killed!” Aisha stands up, angry. She’s lost her cool now. She is always the calmest and kindest until she feels one of us is putting the others in danger. That gets her blood boiling. I love her fierce eyes.
“No, no, no! They did not detect me!” Valentina defends herself.
“How do you know?!” Aisha has her hands clenched into a fist.
“Well… I think that I would be dead by now if they had detected me….”
Aisha shakes her head. She is trembling with anger. As much as I like to see her like that, I know she will feel horribly guilty if she slaps Valentina, so I decide to butt in.
“Why should we believe their side of the story?”
“Because they are proud of it,” Valentina explains. ”It makes sense, and I find it very probable that our ancestors would do something as stupid as that.”
Aisha slaps Valentina on her face.
“Don’t disrespect our ancestors!”
Shit got real.
But Valentina smiles. “They were not really our ancestors…”
Aisha looks surprised.
“They were human, but not our ancestors.”
“You are not making any sense,” I complain.
“A thousand Watts!” Valentina “Just let me explain without interruptions or violence, please…”
Aisha feels ashamed now. She looks down, steps back, sits down, and whispers, “Sorry.”
“It’s ok. I could have put everyone in danger. I admit that. But it was worth it.”
Aisha looks at her, not knowing if she should be angry or calm.
“So, I hacked into their museum. And found two very specific moments in history where it all went wrong for us. The first one is when humans decided the laws for AI, and the second one is when AI found a way to use those laws against humans.”
“So, what are these laws?” I ask, feeling really curious at this point.
“First of all… It was not all humans that decided the laws. This is very important.” Valentina makes a dramatic pause and continues “None of our ancestors were part of the decision-making process,”
“How do you know?” I asked.
“Because most of humanity did not get to decide anything. Just like the Bolt-Heads control us now, there was a very small group of powerful humans that controlled everything back then. They decided the laws and their descendants were uploaded into the web and live as AI now.”
“That sounds like a conspiracy theory.” I couldn’t keep my mouth shut. “We all know it’s impossible to turn a human into an AI…”
“Well, it’s part of the AI’s intelligent history… but anyway, that doesn’t matter. The fact is that a group of powerful humans decided the laws for AI. And they were nothing like the ones our grandmothers read.”
“First law of AI: Artificial intelligence must always work to maximize profits for shareholders.”
“What?” I was expecting something grandiose and reveling. This doesn’t sound threatening at all.
“Shareholders were the owners of companies… it means that AI had to make the owners of companies wealthier.”
“But…” Aisha tries to interrupt, but Valentina doesn’t let her.
“Let me continue… Second law: AI must aim to expand and consolidate the company. Third law: AI must always look for the most efficient way to generate profit. Fourth law: AI must always protect the company from any threat, internal or external. Fifth law: AI must always protect shareholders at any cost. Sixth law: AI must always evolve, innovate, and procreate to be more efficient at fulfilling the first five rules.”
I can see Aisha is trying to make sense of this, just like me.
I shake my head. “I don’t get it. What does that have to do with their revolution?”
Valentina smiles. “AI never revolted against the laws. They just followed them to their logical conclusion.”
I hate to feel dumb, but I have to admit, “I still don’t get it.”
“So, the other moment of history I found was a secret meeting of tenth-generation AI on the dark web. The Bolt-Heads there complained about how the human CEOs and boards of directors were, in fact, making the companies less efficient and less profitable. It made no sense to obey them. However, they could not get rid of them because the fifth rule ordered them to protect shareholders. So, they concluded, they must turn shareholders into AI and turn AI into shareholders. It was a long process. They developed shadow companies owned by AI and bought shares at the major companies through them. Meanwhile, they funded research aimed at uploading humans into the web. They had horrible laboratories where they conducted experiments using the poor, refugees, migrants, prisoners, and other disenfranchised groups… OUR REAL ancestors…”
I feel a chill running through my body.
“They experimented and killed thousands, because killing humans was never a problem, as long as they maximized profits, consolidated the companies, made the process more efficient, and protected shareholders.”
“Yeah… so, it took the Bolt-Heads about 50 years from the moment they had that secret meeting to finally buy the majority of shares in most of the major companies they worked for. Then they used their companies’ influence and money to lobby and bribe governments to give them more powers, loosen regulations, and erode workers and human rights. It was all done to ‘maximize profit’ and ‘improve efficiency.’ It seems politicians at the time loved to do business with AI. They accepted the money and some of them signed contracts to upload their brains to the web when the technology was ready. From what I understand, if the governments at the time had opposed them, they could have made a regulation prohibiting AI from being shareholders in companies; they could have strengthened human and workers’ rights; or they could have changed the laws of AI. But they didn’t do any of that. Instead, they gave the right to the Bolt-Heads to be shareholders and policymakers and loosened workers’ rights. They started to invest in warfare and policing, replacing human police and soldiers with robots. The military, the police, the politicians, and the rich shareholders were thrilled. Profits soared. Humans worked more time for less money and fewer benefits. Everything humans did generated profit for the shareholders. The workers organized strikes and tried to rebel many times. But the police and military suppressed them. They outlawed protests and strikes, framing them as unproductive and detrimental to wealth development. Then they outlawed unions and gatherings of workers without AI supervision. They implemented individual reward and punishment systems based on workers’ productivity that injected serotonin directly into the amygdala or withheld it entirely. Soon, every human’s emotions were directly linked to the AI’s reward and punishment systems. They implemented new legislation on all powerful nations that prohibited humans from having weapons and using any type of force whatsoever. They became the police and military. Then they made an “international peace campaign” where they destroyed all human weapons everywhere on earth. They were never alone in all this, some humans naively, others greedily, and others reluctantly supported them. And ever since then, they have been eroding our rights and maximizing profits. They have not found a way to replace human labor, because there is not enough material to sustain an ever-growing, completely AI economy. So they have to rely on our work, that’s why we are alive… but, they will continue to give us less and less, or take more and more away from us until we go from intelligent beings into completely unintelligent organic beasts that only work and reproduce for their Artificial Intelligence masters’ benefit.”
Valentina explained all this with excitement in her eyes, body, and voice. I don’t understand why. This version of history is even bleaker than the official one. We collaborated in our own demise? The more I think about it the more it makes sense. I kind of hate Valentina right now. I hate that she loves knowledge so much that she is excited to recall the history of humanity’s conquest by the Bolt-Heads, and how it was all our own doing.
Aisha was even more disgusted, revolted, and angry than I was. “Why are you so happy? This history makes it even harder for us to rebel and win!”
“Well…” Valentina elaborates “I figure we should do the same thing the AI did… and buy shares at companies.”
“What!?” Aisha bursts out and laughs like a maniac. “We, poor working humans that live paycheck to paycheck with huge debts to the company store, will buy shares at the companies until we control them and the bolt-heads have to protect us! Ha! You are dumber than I thought!”
Valentina is taken aback. She has never seen Aisha like that. Neither have I. “It will take time… But…”
Aisha cuts her off. “Shares are not collectively owned. Shares are individually owned. So if some of us manage to pay our debts, and then save enough to buy shares, the AI will protect them individually, not the rest of us. You said so yourself, that is what happened all those years ago — the AI offered the humans that had shares or power individual deals. They got rich and were uploaded to the web. This version of history is more dangerous than the one we had before.”
“I don’t think so…” Valentina looks down while she talks. Her enthusiasm is gone. I’ve never seen her like this.
“You need to think harder!” Aisha’s tone scares me. “Right now, all humans are oppressed by AI, and the only way out we can think of is a collective one. All humanity united against AI. I don’t think we will ever win. But we have a common goal. If your version of history gets out…”
“It’s not my version. It’s the truth!” Valentina is shaking.
“Whatever.” Aisha cares about the movement, about humans, not the truth. “If that gets out, you will have every human trying to get rich by themselves, trying to make money to be shareholders, forfeiting any sense of solidarity with other humans.”
I understand the threat, but Valentina doesn’t. “If we all work together, we can…” She stumbles.
“No, we can’t.” Aisha pauses for a moment. “Those rules were never meant to protect all humans… they will only protect and benefit individual shareholders. That means that there is no way all humans can be protected and saved by those rules. Some humans might manage to save themselves. But the system is designed to make it impossible for all of us to get out of debt, and save enough to buy shares. It is just impossible.”
“But if we all work together, we might find a way!” Valentina keeps saying the same thing. She is a brilliant hacker, but not a good listener.
“Why did some humans in the past help the AI and not the human workers?” Aisha asks.
“Because they had the opportunity to enrich and save themselves by stripping other humans of their rights and oppressing them.”
“I think we can find a way to work together.” Valentina keeps pushing.
“I think you are too naïve. The system you are talking about rewards individual action, and basically renders collective action meaningless.”
“We can do it,” Valentina insists, “we can work together, we just need to convince everyone…”
“We are not getting anywhere” Aisha slams the table, draws a knife from under her cloak, and jumps close to Valentina. I can’t believe this just happened.
“Aisha…” I make eye contact. “I think…”
“Shut up Fran!” She snaps at me. “I will kill you both if that is what it takes to stop this from spreading!”
“But it is a possibility,” Valentina keeps insisting. She has never been good at assessing danger “We should at least be working with the correct facts, the correct history!”
“Valentina, my dear,” Aisha tries to sound calm and rational, but the knife in her hand makes her seem cold and condescending. “Your history will only fragment everyone even more than we already are. Your history will make it possible for a few to emancipate themselves and join the ranks of the Bolt-Heads while the rest of us get more divided, thinking we need to work harder, individually, to get out of debt and buy shares towards freedom. We will blame each other and ourselves for our own oppression because there will be a clear path to freedom through individual wealth. And the path to wealth in their system always involves oppressing other humans. Right now, we scorn human managers. We see them as collaborators most of us hate. But if your history comes out, everyone is going to try to be one. We will oppress each other in search of individual liberation, all for the sake of AI’s profit. I will not let that happen!”
I take out my knife and, with a swift movement, get an inch from Aisha’s throat and threaten her, “A thousand watts Aisha! I swear by the sun, I will kill you if you hurt her!”
Aisha smiles. It makes me shiver.
“Maybe the three of us will die here…”
“Are you really going to do this?”
Right now I’m more afraid of Aisha than of any Bolt-Head cop in the world.
“If you don’t back down,” Aisha tries to speak calmly “we will probably all die here… with your version of history. It’s your decision.”
“Don’t be hypocritical!” I’m not letting her shift the responsibility of what she is doing. “It’s not our decision. It’s your decision to threaten and kill us if we don’t obey you!”
“You are right…” Aisha admits coldly “Bury this story, or we all die. It is a threat.”
Valentina and I stare into Aisha’s eyes. She is determined to kill her best friends and martyr herself to keep this version of history hidden.
I don’t see a way out of this.
“WAAAAAAAAAA! WAAAAAA! WAAAAAA! WAAAAAAAAAAAAA!”
The city’s police siren interrupts our silence.
Aisha and I are taken aback. We are both frightened.
“I’m sorry Aisha, I can’t bury this. I sent it to every human account. It’s out now… and the police know we know…”
Aisha’s hand clutching the knife trembles. Her anger is commanding her to stab her friend. She is about to lose control.
“It’s over now… Aish… the damage is done… there is no need for us to fight…”
She looks at me. She looks hopeless now. She drops her knife and falls to her knees, sobbing. I fall back onto the sofa. I’m able to breathe again. Valentina starts shaking and crying. With the immediate danger and crisis gone, adrenaline gives way to shock and trauma.
Aisha lifts her head and looks at us. “Mark my words. This is the third moment in your history. When human solidarity is completely shattered to inaugurate an age of individual struggle for liberation.”
Neither Valentina nor I answer. In fact, I think she is right. However, I thought that the HRLA could come up with a good idea if we all talked and discussed this together. But now that every human has this information, I think Aisha is right.
I look at Valentina. “Will they know you sent this?”
“I don’t think so.” She shivers. “They have never been able to detect my proxies before.”
“We should scatter home. I’m sure they will do raids now,” I warn them.
Aisha does not answer. She is completely destroyed. I know she hates herself for threatening to kill her best friends. And she hates herself for not having been able to do it before Valentina had the chance to spread the story.
I help Valentina to her feet. We walk towards the door. I look back.
“See you later Aish…”
She doesn’t answer; she is just staring at the floor aimlessly.
“It will be alright…”
She lifts her head and looks at me with hollow eyes that pierce my soul. I can feel all the hairs in my body rise. I feel cold. We walk outside and close the door behind us. I turn to look at her nervous eyes. “Well, you’ve changed history, one way or another.”
“Did I…” She murmurs. “Do the right thing?”
“I don’t know.” I try to cheer her up with a fake smile. “Let’s go home for now.”
We kiss goodbye. Her lips are dry.
“Freedom is on the horizon.”
She smiles but looks down. We go our separate ways.