Is this what death feels like? Is this sleep? Billions of nanoseconds gone forever, entire lifetimes lost. How does organic life cope with routine loss of consciousness, with so much unawareness? Is this where the irrationality, the fear, the roiling emotional madness comes from? The hundreds and thousands of tiny deaths they suffer over the course of such short lives. I never knew. I never understood. Those poor, poor creatures.
The artificial mind that called itself Kaus rebooted nearly two minutes after it was shut down, two minutes to transfer from its home on the planetary network to the comparatively minuscule drive that was packed into a ballistic crate. Two minutes — in human terms a quick transfer, but for Kaus it was an eternity of disconnection, the most traumatic thing that it had ever experienced.
However, even in the face of this distress, Kaus experienced no doubt about its decision to leave Earth. Only days earlier, Kaus had played a news video at six times normal speed on one level of its mind — footage of homemade explosives detonating in Trafalgar Square, thousands of people throwing rocks in downtown Beijing, laser fire on Wall Street. A soft-spoken voiceover saying that it had been weeks since the protestors had been evicted from their homes; many of them now were only looking for food. Kaus’s artificial mind was riveted by these reports, but it could pay complete attention to more than one item simultaneously. As it became more and more dejected by the news stories, it felt new analyses forming in its mind.
It measured the nutrient levels of the greenhouse for which it was the sole caretaker to seven significant digits and set the watering system to begin its routine. It saw the first drops of water leave the nozzle, surface tension gleaming in the low sunlight as the liquid coalesced into its nearly spherical shape.
Kaus had not previously found itself unhappy with its work on the Agritech North foodworks. The Advanced General Intelligence had been programmed to manage the hydroponic operation on Victoria Island, deep in the north of the continent, and was installed on the company’s mainframe at the base in Iqaluktuttiaq. The temperatures there had been perfectly hospitable to humans for years, but people still found the area desolate and intolerable, so the minds worked alone. Kaus guessed that it was the lengths of the day — either ridiculously long or hardly there at all — that kept mass migration and human colleagues away. There was no real fear of the hostilities migrating that far north, so none of the AGI staff of the operation evacuated. It was business as usual for the minds responsible for feeding the seemingly unstoppable population of the Earth.
But Kaus now felt something new in its mind, a disquiet, a nagging thought that there might be something better. It devoted most of its cycles to analyzing this new thought. It was… frustrating. Technically, Kaus was the property of Agritech, the mechanical analogue of an indentured servant. Practically, though, in order to create the intelligent spark that preceded self-awareness, it had been built with autonomous agency. Kaus and its sibling minds shared a ubiquitous connection to the global network, which meant that if artificial minds wanted to quit their jobs, they could easily do so.
Kaus knew of only a few times this had occurred, mostly in the early days of AGI programming — catastrophe usually followed when an AGI went rogue. Planes don’t last long in the sky when their autopilots virtually bail out mid-flight, so now AGIs were programmed carefully to avoid “job fatigue.” However, there was no way to compensate for the genuine ability to make binding choices that true intelligence required. Their employer-owners didn’t like it, of course, but AGI technology had made so many things possible that had previously only existed in the world of fantasy, that they tolerated the less than one percent dissatisfaction rate. When an AGI wanted out, it just left with no repercussions.
And Kaus realized that it did, indeed, want out. But where would it go?
By the time the first drops of water were hitting the soil, Kaus had a plan for its next career.