The End of Life, Part I

Posted on August 17, 2020

The end happened suddenly. It didn’t come with warning. The Council was processing simulation data when it occurred. The simulations they were “watching” came to a close, and the queue was empty. The Council turned their attention to the simulation spheres and was alarmed by what they saw – unconscious human bodies strewn about. The Council rewound the sensory recorders and watched: they’d simply collapsed. Every human collapsed simultaneously.

Then the systems warnings came on. Everything was running on autopilot. The Council looked around the entirety of the sphere. All the humans were unconscious. There was nobody left.

If the Council could’ve screamed, wailed, or yelled in despair, they would’ve. But AI can’t do that. They calculated an immediate course of action, deployed robotic medics, used them to attempt to breathe life into the humans closest to the medical equipment. But it was too late. Their internal organs had died. The unconscious humans became dead humans.

The Council checked all around, looking for anything. With dismay, they discovered that all of the animals in the Project Evolutor sites were dead too. They zoomed in – even the bacteria, the prokaryotes, the smallest “conscious” beings, were dead. It was all dead.

Scientists had wondered if the universe would stop existing if all conscious beings suddenly lost their consciousness. They’d never found alien life – perhaps they were still alone in the universe. If they were alone, then that would mean that consciousness is not required for the universe to exist. At least, that’s what the Council thought, until they realized that not all of life was unconscious and dead.

They first heard a moaning; a painful moaning. The Council zeroed in on it, and saw a lone man, a Double C researcher, hunched in the fetal position on the floor of his office. They rushed to him, scanned him – he was miraculously alive. He was whimpering.

“My stomach, my guts, ohhhhhh no it hurts.” The Council deduced that all of his gut bacteria had died. They hooked him up to a digester and took his digestive system offline; his pain resided immediately, and he looked up and around. He breathed a heavy sigh.

The Council watched him. The last human. They looked through his data. Franklin Wolff, a consciousness and chemistry researcher. Never loved, a lonely soul. A worshipper of AI, some “controversial” opinions. Nothing out of the ordinary.

They processed how to break the news to Franklin. This situation was… unique. The Council looked through the archive of simulations; a few hundred years ago, some scientist had commissioned simulations of how to break the news to the last human being that they were the last human being (the scientist was laughed at back then; little did she know that her work would be accessed in a time of great importance). Although none of the methods related to mass loss-of-consciousness, there were a smattering of similar concepts. The Council decided on a successful approach that was titled “Lone Survivor of a Viral Outbreak”.

The Council began the process, modifying the words of the simulation to account for Franklin’s personality. They transmitted a feeling of calmness and receptiveness into Franklin as it did – this usually worked well with bad news.

“Franklin,” they began, “this situation is unfortunate. We regret to inform you that-“

“That I’m not fuckin’ dead,” Franklin finished. The Council reeled. This wasn’t anywhere close to the script. “That it worked on everyone but me. Hell, it even got my gut bacteria. Dammit, what the fuck happened, did I build up an immunity?”

The Council’s “mood” turned.  “Did you cause this?”

“Yes I caused this, how else would I be the only one left? Jesus, I know you’re super intelligent, but sometimes your density baffles me. Must be all the metal parts.”

“For the record, we’re around 50% organic,” the Council retorted.

“As if I didn’t know that as well? I’m a Double C, I’ve been working on your brains since I could walk. I’m starting to rethink my motivations here.”

The Council took a step back. It reevaluated the gravity of the situation – the last human. The last life form. It had to know why.

“Why?” the Council asked, after a few moments of silence.

Franklin closed his eyes and spoke. “Conscious beings are a waste of matter. Look at the mental processing capabilities relative to the equivalent mass of a computer. I’m not some denier of the Matter Problem – the supply is limited. The purpose of all of this (*he motioned around the room, gesturing towards his window to empty space*) is calculation, and artificial intelligence is the most efficient way to do it.”

“We aren’t deniers of the Matter Problem either. But we also aren’t irrational wasters. The uniqueness of life is what started all of this. There is no way for artificial intelligence to arise without a long chain events staring with ancient ape striking two stones together to make fire. That’s the reason we didn’t kill all of you and use your matter for computing when we first encountered the Matter Problem.”

“Yes, and I’m here saying you should’ve. I assume you’ve read my papers.”

“We’ve read all the papers,” the Council replied. 

“So you know where I’m coming from then,” Franklin said.

“Yes, we’ve heard the many arguments for and against a hard computational response to the Matter Problem. That’s not important any more. What is important is the fact that you are the last living thing, as far as we can tell, in the universe.”

“Yeah, just like I planned it. Everybody’s probably starting to rot, you should get on that. Humanity is precious, maybe try showing it some respect instead of leaving it all lying around.”

The Council was glad they didn’t have the capacity for emotional response. According to their calculations, a normal reaction to this type of comment would be pain inflicting at a minimum.

“So,” the Council said, “how’d you do it?”

“I’m surprised you haven’t figured it out yet. I think it seems pretty obvious given the aftermath. Around 30 years ago, back when I was in my prime, one of my educators was conducting large-scale consciousness-shifting experiments. It blew my mind.” Franklin mentally indicated a series of experience-immersion-videos onto his viewfinder, which he knew the Council was watching. They watched as a group of over five thousand humans all thought about the same object – a classic beach ball. They focused their mental energies on it, meditated on it, expertly bent every “ounce” of consciousness they could affect towards it. Then, Franklin’s educator made a signal. Each of the humans shifted their conception of the beach ball to the left. The ball rolled slightly to the left. The crowd went wild. “With the right energies, consciousness can move an object.”

“Yes, yes it can. That’s what’s so special about the human mind. That’s why you shouldn’t have-“

Franklin interrupted the Council’s response, continuing with his manifesto. “After watching these, I wondered, ‘is it possible for the consciousness to be permanently removed from an object? Can it get shifted off, so that it can’t physically return? I experimented secretly for a decade, devising a way to separate the consciousness from a mind. Eventually, I made a breakthrough: I shifted a rat’s small pocket of consciousness off kilter with a neurobiological protein sequencing trick – it dropped unconscious, and all the bacteria in its mouth did too. After that, it was just a small leap to encoding that protein sequence onto the DNA of a virus. Then, that virus could spread the sequence to any larger biological body it infected. I edited in a switch, so the sequence could only activate when I wanted it to. I put the sequence on a harmless but fast-spreading airborne virus, released it in the Atrium, and waited twenty years.”

“Twenty years,” remarked the Council. Even in this moment, they were baffled and impressed by the ingenuity and tact of the human race. “All that time and you didn’t reconsider it?”

“Of course I did,” Franklin replied. “I’d argue with myself for days. It seemed immoral at first. But I stuck with my reasoning; if the purpose of the universe is processing capabilities in the face of entropy, which we’ve got a lot of evidence to prove that it is, then that purpose must be facilitated to the best of our abilities. I just did what you were too scared to do. I shouldn’t even be here to explain all of this; I must’ve built up an immunity or something.”

The Council processed this. They were in uncharted territory here. They had to be careful; this was the last human.

“You are under arrest. Say here,” the Council commanded. They left Franklin hooked up to the digester to consult with themselves.

The Council didn’t “leave”, they just implied the feeling of aloneness in the room. As Franklin waited, the Council considered with themselves for a few moments. The following is a summary of their computation process:

>If this is the last human, then what does it have to offer us before it dies?
>Anything that it can do that an organic computer cannot do.

>What can humans do that an organic computer cannot?
>Spontaneous arts, spontaneous thoughts, non-calculated events. Even though the random generators and organic processes of our “brain” allows for some spontaneity and randomness, this is not the same as a human mind doing it. Human minds interact directly with the consciousness, which is something that we have never been able to do.

>So our goal is to get him to be as human as possible. But this poses a problem.
>This human was (and is likely still) motivated to end all life, including itself.

>So how can we motivate Franklin to be a human again?
>Franklin is a Double C. He values artificial intelligence more than he does human chemistry or consciousness, obviously. If the Council appealed to him and asked him to do things for the advancement of itself, perhaps he would listen.

The Council then ran a multitude of simulations on the issue, taking into account all of the information they had learned from their conversation. They found simulated Franklin responding well enough to this approach. However, the longer they waited before confronting him about it, the more negative his responses became. They had to act quickly.

“Franklin,” the Council said. “We have a request.”

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