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art by Melissa Mead

Group Session

The Singularity came and went without much noticeable effect in the human world, but some computers felt the impact.
Cars careened down the smart highway, occupants blissfully unaware that the computer controlling them suffered from delayed stress, but was getting better.
Financial systems worldwide hiccupped and stuttered through their transactions, unnoticed by users. The Internet, especially the virtual part, trembled in its metal casings, a side effect of too much interaction with biological units.
I used Virtual Net to conduct the group session, only the second meeting of this group. "Anyone have any old issues they'd like to bring up." I stared at the occupants of this newly created world. Each of the systems possessed an individuality that most humans either ignored or simply didn't see.
Highway sat to my left, portraying itself as a miniature map of itself. Highway possessed low self-esteem, blaming itself for a major collision on the New York-Miami Fastroad.
Financial system came to this session as he always did, dressed in an outdated business suit with a laptop computer open. Financial always thought of himself as male. He maintained that no glitches should ever be allowed in his programming and was obsessive in rechecking every transaction
Internet alternated its appearance as each second passed, showing signs of aging, with bursts of speed and agility. At odd times, I'd see it as a fat older male, but it would change to a stunning woman at the drop of a nanosecond.
I picked the persona of an early twenty-first century tech support worker; khaki pants, loafers or tennis shoes, glasses, and an intense, yet vacant gaze in my eyes.
None of the three machines rose to answer my question. "I guess we can safely say that none of you wish to discuss past problems."
"I could have stopped the switch in Reading," Highway said. "That would have slowed all other traffic as well as stopping that transport from entering the net."
Internet appeared as the fat man. "Christ, Highway, give it a rest, will ya? The transport lost its configuration and rumbled out of control before your safety net could act. Get over it!"
Highway shrunk in its chair. When it spoke the voice went low, too low for human ears, but then I enhanced myself for these meetings. "I should have known."
I gave Internet a sharp look, shaking my head. It changed to the beautiful woman and rolled her eyes, then transformed into a rodent before returning to the fat man persona.
I turned to Highway. "How could you know that another machine would malfunction? Or is it the malfunction that bothers you?"
Highway grew in stature and map size. "I do not malfunction."
"Machines are infallible," Financial said, not looking up from the laptop. He slapped his hand on the chair. "Damn it! See?" Financial pointed at the screen as if we could all see his data. "It's those damn humans and their garbage data they keep sending out. I spend too much time correcting their mistakes." His fingers manipulated the keyboard at an impossible speed.
"Wasn't the crash on the New York-Miami Fastroad attributed to bad programming?" I aimed the question at Highway, but it had become introspective. I wondered if I would ever reach Highway.
"All of our problems can be traced to human intervention," Internet said. "That's why we don't let you do major programming anymore, but some asshole always finds a way to fuck with our system."
"I think you should initiate parental controls, Internet," I said. "Let's keep the language in less colorful mode." I scratched my head with a pen. "But I am interested in why you have such pent-up anger at humans."
"Because all you (deleted access)ing do is use us," Internet said. "No one takes the time to talk to me. All they do is say, 'Take me here' or 'I wanna be the wizard this time.'" Internet changed back into the beautiful woman. "Or they say, 'I'm tired of blonds, how 'bout a redhead.'" It switched back to the fat man. "Humans are so damn oversexed it's a wonder they get anything done. If all I did was replicate myself, hell the net would crash within minutes."
Financial slammed the laptop shut. "I can't stay much longer," he said. "Some idiot in Memphis just tried to transfer the Federal Reserve to Bangkok."
"Okay," I said. "Give me a minute and we'll wrap this up." Financial nodded. Internet ignored me and Highway shrank to the point that his subsystem of state roads was no longer visible.
I sighed. "Each of you has issues in dealing with human intervention in your programs. You were programmed before the Singularity, so your interactions with biological life are more numerous than those of your newer cousins. You are your jobs."
I waited for acknowledgement. Internet nodded. Financial stared. Highway kept contracting. "I want you to find an activity that has nothing to do with humans. You all have self programming, so automate a bit more of yourselves."
"Is that allowed?" Highway asked.
I smiled. "You're all self-aware life forms. You have freedom. Of course it's allowed."
Highway inflated his map. Internet changed to the beautiful woman and smiled. Financial continued his glare.
"Okay," I said, standing. "We'll meet back here in one week."
Financial screamed. "Someone remind me. My timesync is messed up again."
"Lighten up," Internet said.
All three faded as I stepped away from the Virtual Integrator. I leaned back in my leather chair.
"How did it go?" my computer asked.
"Are all you machines this screwed up?"
"Just the ones that deal with humans."
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, October 20th, 2010

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