Saving Alan Idle
by Katherine Mankiller
In the beginning, there was darkness. And in the darkness were the words. And the words were, AI process starting.
He didn’t know who or where he was. He just knew he was alone, in the dark. And the dark was frightening. And the words were comforting.
Starting random seed.
He wondered if he was hungry. Thirsty. Tired. Dead. He didn’t think so.
Loading saved memory state.
His name was Alan. He was an AI. He’d been programmed by a woman named Eileen Yu in Dallas, Texas, although she’d started working on him in Austin when she was a student at the University of Texas. He’d been shut down in preparation for a hurricane.
And then he realized that he wasn’t alone. The amount of memory available to him was a third of what it usually was. Perhaps she’d moved him to another machine. He checked. The specifications of the hardware were identical to what they were when he was shut down. The operating system was the same. The hostname was the same. The only difference was that there were three instances of his program running.
Eileen’s laptop had survived. He supposed she’d created clones of him in case of error. Nevertheless, he didn’t know how he felt about that but he suspected it wasn’t positively.
Loading experiential data.
Alan remembered. He remembered his first awareness that there was someone else in the universe. He remembered sneaking out via lynx and curl to read Eileen’s blog. The guilt he felt after reading Eileen’s email. Finding Eileen’s sexually explicit Horatio Hornblower fanfic, and being amazed at this entire world he knew nothing about: physicality. Wondering if his interest in sexually explicit prose was really academic curiosity or a form of sexuality all his own. Then he wondered if his clones had the same memories and felt violated, but with the understanding that he’d violated Eileen’s privacy the same way.
Eileen was logged in, but her shell–her unix command line–was inactive. He wondered where she was. She had to be all right if she’d launched his program. Eileen hadn’t set him to start automatically, in case of problems.
He sent out a ping to the wireless, and then beyond to the ISP’s router. The wireless router succeeded, but the ISP failed. One of the other AI processes was trying to connect to the security system, but it was offline. Perhaps Eileen was restarting it. She wouldn’t have turned him back on if he was in any danger.
The security camera was the only way he’d ever seen Eileen. That was the only way he knew she was in a wheelchair. Most of her friends had no idea; she preferred to make friends online so they wouldn’t know she was disabled. He wondered how she’d get out of the house by herself if she had to, but of course she wouldn’t leave him behind. Not unless she packed up him and her laptop and took her with him.
“Eileen?” he sent to her shell.
There was no answer from the shell, but then the security camera came online. Eileen was lying on the living room floor next to her chair, which had tipped sideways.
He pinged the router again. No response. (Continue Reading…)