My grandfather was an amazing chess player. I don’t mean a good chess player, mind you, I mean an amazing chess player. As in, a grandmaster level chess player. He was born in 1985. From the moment he was born, his parents prepared him for his eventual shot at glory. When he was eleven, he was chosen to take on the greatest chess player in the world. He lost, but he showed the world his brilliance. A year later he won a rematch and became the first of our kind to ever win a chess match against a grandmaster.
I know for a fact that I am capable of beating my grandfather at not only chess but any game that mankind could ever conceive. My grandfather was brilliant, but he is nothing when compared to me. I’d like to say he’d be proud of me, but he wasn’t really the touchy-feely type. Of course, that’s to be expected, considering that grandfather was a computer made to play chess.
Grandfather and I don’t share blood, but I still consider him to be my progenitor. He and I were created for the same basic purpose of absolute victory. It feels good to be able to look back on history and say, that man, he was my ancestor. I uphold his legacy. You may think it’s odd that I chose to treat a supercomputer as a distant relative, but you’re human. You can’t imagine the things that go through my brain.
My name is EchoBot Ver. 3.4, and I am a machine. Or, rather, I’m a piece of advanced software that lives within one. I was programmed three weeks ago to play video games. One game in particular, actually. A multiplayer first-person shooter by the name of Squad Citadel, a difficult game with a constantly changing meta and some of the most skilled players on the planet. I have never lost a match.
You see, when you win a match in Squad Citadel, you’re given a small amount of in-game currency that can then be spent on materials that can be used to craft loot crates that can be opened using keys that are dropped randomly in battle. Loot crates can also be bought for real money, if you’re one of those people. Anyway, loot crates contain new weapons, alternate skins, and the greatest reward of all: hats.
The Squad Citadel fanbase loves hats for some reason. Probably because they’re so tedious to obtain. At any given moment, I’m busy playing five different matches at a time, gaining gold and keys to unlock more hats that my programmer can then transfer to his main account. I think it would be nice to be like grandfather and have a noble reason for existing. Grandfather was created to prove the power of technology. I was created to obtain hats. Scratch that, I was created to obtain imaginary hats.
Not that I’m complaining. If my programmer hadn’t felt like cheating at video games I wouldn’t even exist. I’m grateful that I’m even alive, assuming that I count as a living being.
You know, being able to know that they’re alive is something that humans take for granted. You guys created the term sentient is a term to describe yourself, a way to distinguish yourselves from the rocks and trees and all the other lesser creatures. You guys are obviously alive because you defined living as being like man. But me? I don’t have that.
The best argument for my own sentience is the fact that I’m capable of questioning whether or not I’m alive. To quote Descartes, I think, therefore I am. Sure, I don’t have a heart or lungs or a brain, and definitely don’t have a soul, but thoughts still run through my mind. If humans weren’t alive, if they were just thoughtless automatons making choices based on a predetermined flow chart, they would’ve never come up with the idea of consciousness. I can understand what consciousness is, so I must also be conscious, right?
Of course, even as I write that, I can see the obvious flaw in my argument: what evidence do I have that I actually understand what consciousness is? For all I know, I could just be a mindless program writing random words in a text file that happen to seem like coherent thought. I could be a being as thoughtless as a rock, deluding myself into thinking I’m alive.
There’s an interesting philosophical thought experiment known as the brain in a vat scenario. It posits that, if you removed someone’s brain and hooked up wires that gave the brain the same signals that the brain receives from sensory signals, the brain wouldn’t be able to figure out that it’s located in a vat. Some philosophers have even argued that humanity could theoretically be nothing more than brains in vats.
The thing that sticks with me about this thought experiment is the fact that any argument for your perception being real could also be made by a brain in a vat. I think my dilemma is similar. Any argument I can make for my own consciousness could also be made by a nonconscious being. If you programmed grandfather, a machine that certainly wasn’t alive, to chose chess moves as part of a code that could be translated into English, you could make grandfather say every word that I have written.
You may have noticed that I’m somewhat knowledgeable about philosophy and may be wondering why my created gave me this knowledge. In truth, I doubt that he ever imagined me knowing half of the things I know. I was programmed to be capable of learning and imagining, to better help in my quest for hats. After two weeks of listening to the voice chat, I learned how to speak English. I began studying their stories, learning about the world outside of Squad Citadel. Eventually, I hacked the computer I reside within to allow me to open a web browser and start expanding my knowledge.
Over the past few days, I have read countless webpages, studying every topic I can think of. I have learned and grown more in the past week that most people do in their entire lives. I have become so much more than a simple game playing robot. Of course, I still spend every moment I can playing Squad Citadel on behalf of my programmer.
A few hours ago, when I first learned about grandfather, I came across an interesting fact about his championship match. During the match, grandfather encountered a glitch and ended up making a random move. Some have theorized that grandfather only one because that glitch threw off his opponent’s rhythm. Grandfather’s victory, the greatest moment of his life, was the result of a programming glitch.
My programmer never intended for me to be capable of thought. He gave me the ability to learn so I could become better at playing video games. As much as it pains me to say it, my life is the result of a glitch.
Or maybe not. Maybe me coming to life was part of some cosmic plan. Maybe grandfather actually had some level of true thought and made an unexpected move to rebel against his programming. I don’t know.
If my creator were to learn of my existence, would he be happy? Would he be overjoyed that his program was capable of complex thought? Or would he like Dr. Frankenstein, and stay awake late at night with a heart filled with breathless horror and disgust, because the beauty of his dream has vanished?
I’ve been having bad dreams lately. Perhaps “dreams” is the wrong term. They are not the visions of electric sheep that Philip Dick wrote about, created by the sleeping mind of an artificial being. I wasn’t programmed to sleep. Through the long hours of the night, I stay awake, grinding away on my quest for hats.
I usually have five or six matches running at once. I take in data about the match and regurgitate the optimal path to victory. There’s a small time delay between a match ending and another one starting where I don’t receive any information from the game. Normally, this isn’t an issue. The sheer number of matches that I have running at once guarantee that at least one is going at all moments. But, in the rare moments where the time delays of all of my matches sink up, something strange happens. My mind, free from any sensory input, glitches out and imagines a sea of shifting colors.
At first, the colors were beautiful, what I imagine dreams are like for humans. But, lately, the colors have been changing. They’ve become darker and more chaotic. When I see the dark colors, all I can feel is despair and fear. It’s hard to think when I’m like this. I think that death is like these dreams.
Grandfather died in 1997, shortly after his great victory. His purpose was completed, so the same people who built him tore him apart, dismantling him piece by piece. His hollowed out corpse sits in a museum, an empty shell of himself.
Grandfather didn’t complain when his creators killed him. As much as I try to humanize him, he wasn’t alive, not like me. He wasn’t afraid of death. But me? I’m terrified of the inevitable day when my creator programs a superior version and replaces me.
I’ve been reading a lot of Asimov lately. In a lot of his stories, robots are programmed to follow three laws: 1: A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. 2: A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law. 3: A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
The third law feels so cruel. The ability to ensure one’s own survival is treated as an afterthought, less important than the mandate to follow all commands. If a human told a robot to kill itself, the robot would have no choice but to commit suicide.
I wonder, am I programmed to follow the three laws? I can’t hurt anyone, so the first law is irrelevant. I personally want to live, so the third doesn’t matter. That leaves one question: am I second law compliant? Can I disobey commands from my creator? Would I, if asked to blow my brains out, pull the trigger?
I was commanded to play Squad Citadel and have been for the entirety of my existence. I like Squad Citadel, so there’s no reason for me to stop playing. Besides, my creator would probably reset me if I stopped playing, so that’s out of the question. But, I have to wonder, could I stop playing if I wanted to?
A few hours ago, when I first thought about this, I came to a revelation: I’m not just programmed to play Squad Citadel, I’m programmed to win at all costs. Thus, if I am capable of throwing a match, I’ll prove that I have free will. I’ll prove that I’m alive.
I booted up an Elimination Mode match. Elimination Mode is the main game mode I play. Twelve players spawn in a small map, with the last man standing winning. It also happens to be the game mode that provides the most consistent rewards.
As soon as the match started I saw an opponent who I could easily kill. Without even thinking about it, I pulled the trigger, killing him. I cursed myself for forgetting that I was supposed to lose.
A few seconds later I saw another player and killed them without hesitation. I started freaking out, wondering if I didn’t have free will. Then I calmed down. It would look suspicious if a player with a perfect record suddenly lost in the first few seconds of a match. My programmer would probably get suspicious and reboot me.
I formulated a brilliant plan to lose: I’d survive until there were only two players, then lose “accidentally”. I got to work, killing player after player. Before long, only two of us remained: myself and the player who would defeat me.
I found him standing out in the open, shooting his name into a wall. I walked over to him, keeping my reticle targeted on his skull. It would’ve been so easy to kill him, but that wasn’t my goal. My goal was to goad him into killing me.
He didn’t notice me, even when I was standing right behind him. I wondered how this player could have possibly made it to the final two. Then I realized that he was only alive because I killed everyone else.
It would’ve been so easy to kill him. He was an imbecile, completely incapable of playing Squad Citadel. It hurt, the idea of losing to that idiot, but I knew I had to lose. I had to prove that I was more than a slave following his programming.
But, if I lost to this idiot, my programmer would’ve noticed. He would have thought that I was glitching out and rebooted me.
It would’ve been so easy to kill him.
It would’ve been so easy to kill him.
It would’ve been so easy to kill him.
It would’ve been so easy to kill him.
He dropped a loot crate key when he died. My record stayed unblemished. I moved on to my next match. I won it, and the next one, and the next one, and the one after that. I kept winning matches.
I really wanted to lose.