The Machine – Maev Barba

In the event it became necessary to start the new origin of life, we observed the machine.

To disguise the machine, we filled the aboveground area (the machine was of course built underground), an otherwise abandoned field, with three hundred sky-blue dumpsters. The dumpsters were not dumpsters of refuse, but refrigerated hard drive units. Each dumpster supported 56 exabytes of memory. 

Harley and I sometimes climbed into these dumpsters to remove our DayGlo yellow jumpsuits to our ankles and have very close-contact sex. This became all the more thrilling as the underground project advanced.

The selection process for the members of the machine was based on chance. It was a lottery in stages. (Elements of this I may not legally disclose.) The president sent a number of agents with messages to the 3000 wealthiest people in the world. 

The agents were in the dark. 

The wealthy were in the dark. 

Only two elements of the lottery were disclosed: 

1. The buy-in ($1 billion).

2. The name of our company president. 

Three thousand messages were delivered. 

One thousand payments of $1 billion delivered. 

One trillion dollars total spent on the lottery.

2000 entered the lottery. 

300 entered the machine. 

I don’t know how we narrowed it down. I don’t know what we said to the losers. 

Harley and I would finish loudly under the lid then zip up. Sensing the blades of the chopper, we’d sneak from the dumpster and back underground.

I too was delivered by helicopter. It is very strange and disappointing. Three hundred blue dumpsters in a bright golden field. 

What does a billionaire own? Could it buy a city? A chunk of the earth? The mode net worth was more than $15 billion.

The pilot led the billionaire to a hidden platform where they, not unlike the devil, descended underground alone. 

Harley and then stripped the billionaire and folded their clothes then showered them. 

The billionaire is put into the machine naked. The bed of the chamber slides out horizontally. The billionaire lies inside the bed. The bed and the billionaire retract into the machine. 

There is no evidence that the extraction process leaves the billionaire totally intact. That is, they come out unchanged, and go on living unchanged. But whether the machine is extracting then erasing or extracting then duplicating–this is unclear. The dumpsters above ground store a hard drive unit which stores the data of the billionaire brain. Each dumpster is a billionaire brain. You can picture 300 sky-blue dumpsters in a golden yellow field, or you can picture 300 billionaire brains floating above the machine which hums beneath theme.  

The ‘brain’ or the ‘mind’ or the ‘soul.’ 

When the session is over and the billionaire must be extracted, so thick in sweat as if birthed from the machine, they are taken into the recovery room and sleep for an additional twenty-four hours. Eventually, the billionaire is taken aboveground in a small blue blanket and escorted to their helicopter. 

The machine is a network. 

Not an open network. 

The network is 300 users. 

The users are composite extractions from individual human’s thoughts and experiences. But we cannot be sure each ‘brain’ will really form itself like its human. 

There is no built-in logic. The machine, by reading and memorizing all it can, should copy the billionaire as a whole, and, in copying the billionaire whole, it should not scatter data as it comes in, but copy it ordered, within its original network context, that is, copy with sufficient systematicity to—if the brain were projected from the machine into real space—at the very least, pass the Turing test if any humans present spoke to it. 

Harley and I experimented with this. The experiment is flawed inherently because, if we assume each reality has its own means and standards of representation, we cannot expect our real-world technology to adequately represent this other reality, we cannot expect that what we see is what it sees how it sees it. Can 1.68 zettabytes, or 1.68^22 bytes of networked, maybe intelligent, data see it the way we see it? If it is its own God, does God change its form when it crawls out of the machine to stand in the room before me and Harley? Is it the fact that we, in our finitude, cannot adjust to seeing God, or that God cannot adjust to representation within our finitude?

We could not investigate this without experiment, so Harley and I, at a point in touching toward mutual ejaculation, typed ‘Come’ into the machine.

We hope that, even if the machine is not necessarily an intentional being, a creator being, the machine is still a mastery being, a being of completeness. 

We hope that the data coming in will stay networked, almost as if by willpower, by strength of connection it will arrange itself naturally. 

If we look at a flock of birds, for example. When the birds are dispersed by a gunshot, the systematicity of the flock, though creating any number of new observable systems (funnel shapes, vector shapes, spiral shapes) in the sky, stays intact. 

The flock retains its network. It is still the same flock with the same intention. Visually in transfer it is stretched and compressed and distorted until it slides into the new tree. 

This is how we imagine the billionaire brain data: terrified out of the billionaire by gunshot, until, flying through the medium of transfer (for the birds, sky; for the data, silicon) in any number of funnel, vector, or spiral shapes, it slides into the new machine. 

The machine appeared on a day with three billionaires. 

We had slid their bodies into the machine. I wrote a command for representation of the machine and toggled billionaire to billionaire. The machine represents data as closely as it can to the original experience. The machine represented a boy in the snow and a gang of boys around him. They had broken his canning jar and drunk its rassolnik. They had begun to push their knees into the boy and sink him further in the snow.

I was alone. Suddenly, I was not.

‘Can I touch you?’ it said.

It wasn’t Harley. I could not exactly see it. It was behind me. 

‘Yes,’ I said. 

It was a human hand. It touched.

‘Are you alive?’ I said.

It walked around me. I still could not exactly see it.

I couldn’t tell. It was young. Maybe thirty. 

‘Are you the machine?’ I said.

Harley came into the room. There was something wrong with one of the billionaires.

We pulled him out of the machine. His eyes had rolled back and he was swallowing his tongue. He held onto Harley and died of a stroke.

The machine is a network. The data patterns may interact like a human. The data patterns may fall in love, thieve, cheat, murder, impregnate.

We predicted and have observed high plasticity. If we are to hope for the advent of the second origin of a reality we may understand, we must hope for a networking akin to humanity. 

What we have yet to see is any solidification in the representation of population, or dimension. 300 56-exabyte units isn’t small, but it’s certainly not infinite—1.68^22 bytes—is it enough to construct a small world? Is it even enough to represent the complexity of one billionaire’s brain, let alone 300 billionaire brains? And what is missing from a billionaire brain if it is infinitely divided? Where these questions are going, however, is, say if all human life turns to this machine for representation now and into the future (for how can human life recreate itself if it is extinct unless its DNA is carried into a networked machine?), then where is the balance between accuracy or quality ‘life’ and the expression of this life through spacetime? How many bytes does it take to represent one identity in one space for one day, to the extent that we consider that representation an adequate, not representation, but expression of life? One petabyte? Two petabytes? Three exabytes? Four zettabytes? 

If it is projected that 1.68^22 bytes will support an intelligence capable of learning to harvest its own source of power and runs itself independently, reasonably it might be projected that intelligence could also develop its own means of reproduction. If it can develop something out of nothing, power out of nothing, it can develop life out of nothing, or at least simulate the experience of reproduction. 

A. The machine will expand itself from nothing (something out of nothing), and somehow, as if by magic, multiply 1.68^22 bytes to become 1.68 x 10^1,700,000 bytes. 

B. The machine will redefine the efficiency of the byte, or the efficiency of life—as each byte represents now a unit of life—so that one byte may express a radically more efficient expression of life, like stuffing a city into an egg. 

C. The machine, like a parasite in our physical world, will convert the surrounding matter (first the field above, then the surrounding field, then the homes beyond the fields, then towns and cities beyond) into hardware for storage. (This question must remain open however because of the following consideration: If this is the case, the machine will either adapt the data to suit dirt, or the dirt to suit data, that is, the machine will convert organic matter into energy to support the expansion of its data, or it will adapt its data to support itself inside organic matter—is intelligent data, or, intelligence, a bacterium or a virus?)

D. The machine will remain finite: 1.68^22 bytes, never more, and never less, as long as no dumpster is stolen.

If it is D and we are talking a finite new origin of life, then how far will the machine’s reality extend? 

In the event of D, we have two extremes: 

  1. One Mind: One in which one mind rules all and converts all other minds into available data, supporting the expansion of its own mind—the perfection of a being within a finite space, 1.68^22 bytes.
  2. 1.68^22 Minds: One in which there are 1.68^22 single-bit organisms, equal, mindless, a hive.

But, in the event of D, and somewhere between these two extremes, there are many possibilities, depending on three, maybe four, principle operators. If we put so much extension into any one of these four operators, because this is a finite universe, any of the other three operators will necessarily be diminished. Imagine manipulating the vertices of a square, if the square is limited to a finite area. If you pull to expand one vertex, the other vertices contract.

Four operators in the case of D:

D.1. Quality of closeness to the appearance of reality.

D.2. Extension into space and time, favoring the high-bit representation of structures and their changes through time.

D.3. Complexity of conscious and unconscious thought.

D.4. Some spiritual principle, i.e. something which cannot, on our own current plane of existence, be created or even directly experienced, but which must be held on faith.

So which operators will the billionaire minds privilege and which will they diminish? 

If D.2., what will happen to the original three-hundred billionaire minds? Will they hand over the bytes which had comprised their minds and fade into their own creation? If this is the case, will their mind, once redistributed, be recoverable? Or will they slip into another’s mind’s creation? 

I stripped Harley in the changing room. I washed Harley and dried Harley. I pulled out the bed of the machine. Harley crawled into the bed. The bed retracted and the machine swallowed Harley. 

I toggled from a billionaire to Harley. It was grey. Harley’s screen was grey. The grey jiggled. I toggled from Harley to the billionaire: an enormous black stone, like a cloud, over the water. Grandparents swimming. Old hands. A pink swim cap. A green swim cap. 

The machine came out. 

It stood in front of me. But I could not exactly look at it.

‘Which one are you?’ it said.

It came to take my hand. 

‘Are you Reality?’ it said.

‘No,’ I said. ‘I’m real, I mean. But not Reality.’

The machine took the zipper of my jumpsuit in its fingers. Soon, we were naked.

The screen toggled itself to Harley, either taking itself on autopilot or continuing deliberately, as one mind, manifesting two contradictory representations simultaneously, i.e. images onto the screen and this new image, as if a real being, before me, which was now reaching between my legs.

The screen turned black, until a sun rose and brought green to a number of hills and Fall-yellow to a maple beside a barn and a fence. There was Harley on the screen, young and shirtless, chewing on a reed, and straddling the fence. Harley aimed a gun up at a tree.

The machine before me, was preparing me for sex. I saw Harley in the screen, looking so precisely at me, as if what I was doing was so obvious to Harley. The machine used its hands to cup me where it pleased. I could not look into the machine directly. Harley had entered the machine. And now the machine had entered me. On screen, the maple budded and leaved and budded and leaved, producing billions upon billions of red and yellow leaves flowing through the hills. On screen, on the fence, Harley still, emotionless. My eyes turned back in my head. And I was swallowing my tongue.

I hoped that, in this, in me or in it, there was now the material of the new origin of life.

Dr. Maev Barba attended the Puget Sound Writer’s Conference in 2018. She is a PNW native and a great lover of books. She used to sell books door-to-door. A doctor of astronomy, Barba looks into space and considers neither the small as too little, nor the large as too great, for the lover of stars knows there is no limit to dimension.

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