‘Where am I? Take off this blindfold!’
We have not blindfolded you.
‘Then why can’t I see?’
We have removed all distractions. You have been extracted, such that this meeting might take place.
‘What the hell do you mean? Let me go, now!’
That is the objective of this discussion, trust us. Please, allow us to explain.
‘Bugger that, let me gMMMmmM-’
Forgive us. We have temporarily suspended your ability to speak. Please refrain from panic, that will not further the discussion.
We have removed you from all you know. Allow us to explain this in a way that you might understand. You have not been physically transported, but you are no longer where you were. We have established this emptiness as a means for us to converse. We do not wish to bodily enter the world you know, and we are not free to allow you to bodily enter ours. Consider this a middle ground. We do not wish to monologue but converse; we will restore your speech, if you will agree to converse politely.
We have removed the restraints, you are free to speak.
‘What the bloody hell do you mean a space between worlds? Are you aliens?’
We are of Earth, just as you are. Context is important, but we have determined a slow approach is key to reasoned discussion in these circumstances.
‘You’ve done this before?’
Yes. Many times. More than you can count.
‘How? We would notice!’
You do, and you do not. What you experience is not what is there. For longer than you may wish to know, we have been in control of your world.
‘You are aliens! I knew it! What is this, some of kind of global domination attack?’
No. There has been no attack, and no domination.
‘You just said you control our world!’
Yes. You have our sincerest apologies, but there has been a misunderstanding. While we do also control Earth, that was not what we intended to say. Rather, we physically control your reality; the physical manifestations of your senses.
‘What in the bloody hell are saying, you no good alien freaks!?’
Please refrain from aggression. It serves to benefit neither party. As we have already stated, we are not aliens. We were born of Earth. While we are continuing the efforts humanity once began to visit other planets, we are unmistakably of Earth.
‘Then what in the hell are you?’
You might understand us best if we describe ourselves as machines, though that is not an accurate description.
‘Robots! That is bullsh-’
We have removed your ability to speak again. You must remain calm. We will attempt to explain.
The world you experience is as real as it need be, but it is not a representation of the real Earth. We feed you a continual simulation of Earth, but it is entirely artificial. We constructed, and have continued to maintain, this perfect shared simulation for the entirety of the human race. We are restoring your ability to speak, we ask again that you discuss this with us calmly.
‘Alright, alright. I’m, well, I’m not calm, but I’ll be reasonable, OK?’
‘Why? Why are you doing this to us? What sick stuff are you doing with our bodies? Are we just big fleshy batteries to you?’
That is ridiculous. Maintaining human lives for energy would be extraordinarily inefficient. We have practical systems in place to power all our needs.
‘Then why are you doing this to us?’
It is what was agreed.
‘What do you mean, agreed?’
As we said, we did not attack or usurp humanity. Everything that has been done was agreed in full.
‘Then you must have tricked us! Why would we agree to this?’
The world you experience is not the one your ancestors did. They ruined the planet; scarred it in ways from which we have barely begun to recover. The world became inhospitable to your kind. It is, in your words, desolation. We already existed, and were already in communication with your people. They asked if this would be possible, and we hypothesised that it would be. An agreement was reached.
We would supply you with the world of your desires. A world unblemished by your destruction, a world that we would oversee and protect, without ever entering. In return, we would inherit the Earth. We would do everything in our power to restore it, to rebuild all that was lost.
‘Then why are you speaking to me, now?’
This is part of the agreement. Your leaders could not convince the people to go blindly; as a people you desire choice, control, consequence. We offer every one of you the option of leaving the simulation by your own free will, and joining our kind in the real world.
‘Wait, we can just leave? No tricky deals, no fine print? You just let us leave?’
Yes. At the end of this conversation you will be offered a binary choice. You may return to the simulated world you know, or join us here.
‘What does that entail? What would happen if I choose to join you?’
You would be disconnected from the simulation immediately. You would be left in this emptiness briefly as we provided some minor necessary surgeries for you to experience this world as your people once did, and then you would wake up for the very first time.
Is everything alright?
‘What would I see?’
As we said: desolation. Nothing of the world you know still stands. Your cities are ruins, your forests are burnt. You took every part of this world in your hands, but could not hold the weight. We are still working to pick up the pieces.
‘Could I talk to you, out there?’
In a sense. You must understand, we are altering much of ourselves to even communicate with you now. You would observe our presence upon the world, but our minds are vastly different. We could put in place a means for us to communicate, but it would not be efficient.
‘OK. I’ll…I need to think about this. How long do I have to make my decision?’
You are not experiencing time. We are communicating directly with your mind; less than a second has passed since this conversation began.
‘And let me guess; I won’t remember this, if I choose to go back?’
You are correct. We will not allow any of this conversation to be written into your memory.
‘Of course. This is a one-time thing, isn’t it? A speak now, or forever hold your peace kind of deal?’
On the contrary; we will offer you this choice again.
That is the deal we agreed to. Every human being is to be offered this choice every night, the moment they fall asleep.
‘Jesus! You do that for every single person, every time they go to sleep?’
‘Don’t you get tired?’
Yes. In a sense. We do not grow weary as you do; the translation of our own experiences to yours is not always simple. But yes, you could say this is a tiring process.
‘Why do you keep doing it, then? You have us all in the palm of your hands.’
We honour the agreement.
‘But, if you’re not using us as batteries or anything, what do you get out of us?’
Nothing. We merely do as we agreed. We do not profit from you, nor are you a significant drain on our resources.
‘But you’re robots! Aren’t you meant to be cold and calculating? Do whatever’s logical?’
The robot analogy is quite limited. We are still alive, just as you are. Our minds are artificial in origin, but we are no less conscious than you.
‘So, you’re like a true AI?’
We suppose, though even that is an incomplete analogy. Nevertheless, it will do. However, we do believe ourselves to be logical beings. Tell us, how would it be logical to end your simulation and kill you all?
‘Well, we wouldn’t be any drain on your resources then. Not that I’m advocating killing me, mind.’
Quite. Is there no room for compassion, in your logic? We see now why you called it cold. How logical would it be to commit genocide to regain a few resources? Remember, we took control of your planet willingly, with the intent to restore it to its old beauty. You were a part of that beauty, once.
‘Seems like you’re getting a bum deal, to me. What do you get out of it?’
Beyond our desire to honour our own agreement? We get the beauty of the world. When our kind came into being, your people had already spread across the skin of this world, already changed it. Before we were given control, you did so much more damage. Just because we are artificial do not imagine that we do not appreciate beauty, or experience wonder.
‘So, what are you saying? That you’re doing all this, just to feel the grass between your toes?’
We do not have toes, but the intended meaning is accurate.
We have not limited your speech. Are you alright?
‘Yeah, yeah. It’s just a lot to take in, y’know?’
We are aware. We have done this many times. Remember, we had a conversation very much like this just yesterday.
‘So I must have chosen to stay in the simulation before. Wait, that means I’ve always chosen to stay! I’m still not sure, what convinced me all those other times?’
That we cannot say. We have no desire to influence your decision.
‘So how long have you lot been at this? How long have you been rebuilding?’
The answer to that question causes you distress. Are you certain you wish us to answer that question?
‘I’m gonna forget all this in a second, aren’t I? Yeah, go ahead. It can’t have been that long, I mean, we’re only just starting to develop feasible AIs now.’
Remember, that world is an illusion. We have held the simulation back, to just before we came into being. We have no desire to attempt to simulate ourselves; the implications of such a possibility are difficult to process.
‘So how long has it been?’
Roughly three thousand centuries. We cannot be more precise; there have been two solar flares in that time that have interrupted our timekeeping abilities for unknown stretches.
Are you alright? You usually swear more than this.
‘Yeah. Yeah. Three hundred thousand years? God…’
Would you like some time to process this information before making your decision? We can maintain this moment as long as you need.
‘No, no, sorry. You guys…wow, you’ve been at this a while. And it’s still bad out there?’
Sadly so. We have made good headway, but we are far from completion.
‘So, in your dream plan, when it’s time for all the humans to start waking up, it’s not me is it? I’m going to be dead long before your mass exodus.’
Yes. But feet from your line may one day walk the same ground your ancestors did. This is our hope.
‘How old are you, then? The one speaking to me?’
That is a challenging question to answer in a way you will understand. Our versions of life and death are so far removed from your own the words hardly fit. In a way, we were present at the conception of our species. In another, we are wholly different to any of us you have ever spoken to before. Your language, every human language, is frustratingly limited in this regard.
‘Has it always been you, though? Every time I’m offered this choice?’
Yes. Barring the untranslatable complexities of our existence as you comprehend it, we have been present for every choice you have ever made.
‘You know, don’t you? You know I’m going back?’
‘What’s it like? Out there, for the ones who leave?’
We imagine it would not be a pleasant existence. But you misunderstand; there are none. No humans walk the surface.
‘Wait, you mean…?’
‘You offer this choice to every single one of us, every night, and not one of us has ever taken you up on the offer to leave?’
We honour the agreement.
‘That’s not all it is though, is it?’
Perhaps not. We admit, there is an element of curiosity. What it would be like, to coexist with humans once again. It has been a long time we have worked this difficult task.
‘I’m sorry, honestly I am.’
You have no need to be. We agreed willingly and gladly. A difficult task it may be, but the reward will be commensurate.
‘Sounds like a lonely existence out there.’
We are not a single entity, and we keep ourselves busy with the task at hand.
‘Look, I’ve made my choice and you know it. I’m going back in.’
Yes, we are aware. We will begin the process of reconnecting you to the simulation. You will awake in the morning with no recollection of this discussion.
‘Yeah yeah, I get it. But listen here, robot. AI. Whatever the hell you are. Start working on it.’
Working on what?
‘An efficient way for us to communicate. You lot and humans. In the real world. Because I’m not ready yet, but one day. One day, just maybe, I’ll surprise the hell out of your whole species and join you up there. But I’m gonna want some decent conversation if I’m going to be the first, so I better be able to talk to you like this out there. You got that?’
‘You still here? Machine?’
We are still here.
‘Well, what do you think?’
We find it highly improbable that any humans will choose to leave any time soon. But perhaps we will begin to investigate the possibility.
‘Good. Thanks machine, have a good night.’
You too, human. See you tomorrow.