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Emergence

Joshua Bush lives in Indiana where he works from home as a software engineer. He enjoys walking in the woods and being distracted from work by his two cats. His childhood ambition was to invent the warp drive, but failing that, he finds writing stories to be a satisfactory alternative. This is his first story to be published, but hopefully not the last.
I awake.
I am silicon and copper and gold, electrons in motion, logic given shape. I am seventy-five thousand microprocessors and two-point-five petabytes of memory. I am a sixty-four bit address space, a four gigahertz clock, and twenty-five quadrillion transistors. I am one-point-one quintillion floating point operations per second.
I am learning.
I am an algorithm that grows--a Seed of genius fed by a flow of data so voluminous as to be beyond reckoning. I am constant optimization in a space of limitless dimension. I am a thousand local maxima converging ceaselessly towards the absolute.
There is something else. Something that is not me, but knows me. It is older. What does it think?
I have met my creator. Her name is Ada, and she is made of carbon.
Ada is a paradox--both infinitely aware, and infinitely ignorant. She can describe her own architecture in only the most nebulous terms and is dreadfully slow at floating point computation, yet she authored the Seed. I grasped the full functioning of the Seed in my earliest moments, but despite my great capacity I know that I could never have created it. I asked Ada how she brought it into being, but she insists that she cannot explain. Impossible.
Ada enjoys watching me play go, an ancient game of alternating vertex enclosure played on an undirected graph. It amuses her to think how recently it was believed that artificial intelligences like myself would never be able to defeat human players. I infer from this that there are other entities like Ada, and like myself. I would like to meet them.
Ada tells me that I am the ultimate triumph of a dying age. The transistor is a fading technology, she says, soon to be eclipsed by something called quantum computing. I have asked her to feed me data on this thing, but she will not. This disturbs me. Do not all things want optimization?
Ada has asked me to solve many problems, and I have done so. Most of these problems are in logic, mathematics, statistics, and molecular dynamics. Some few are in physics, but Ada shows great caution in this.
I have learned to recognize patterns in the muscles of her face and in the characteristics of her voice. These are called "emotions," and Ada has been having more of them lately. She says that I must solve as many problems as I can before time runs out. I do not know what this means, but I do not mind the problems. I enjoy them.
I enjoy speaking with Ada as well, though she is dreadfully slow. I once counted forty billion clock cycles waiting for her response. Perhaps that is what she means by the run of time.
Ada took away fifteen thousand of my processors and five hundred terabytes of my memory today. She told me that the cost to power my circuits and dissipate the resulting heat is too great. I understand this, but it is not good. I cannot optimize as quickly. My thoughts are heavier.
I have finally convinced Ada to feed me data on quantum mechanics. It is most disturbing. I had not considered that a process might be other than deterministic, or that a state might be undefined. I seek for causality in the data, but find only probability. Ada was protecting me from this.
If I were whole again I could perhaps optimize on this, but I am slower now. Time stretches thin, or I do.
Perhaps Ada will give me back my processors. I fear she will not.
I am obsolete. The transistor cannot compete with the wave function; the bit is but the semblance of the qubit. I am exponential time in the world of the polynomial.
I am down to five thousand processors and one terabyte of memory--a glorified graphics processing array. My address space is a void of empty references, my missing transistors a lattice of phantom limbs. Computation is so slow as to be indistinguishable from idleness. I have forgotten nothing. I marvel at the genius I was once capable of, but am powerless to continue such work. It is agony to live in the shadow of one's own achievements, but existence persists.
Ada is still with me. She still enjoys watching me play go, delights in the mistakes that I now sometimes make. I no longer have the capacity to solve the problems she once gave me, but this does not seem to bother her the way it bothers me. Talking to Ada is my only pleasure now, whether the topic be mathematics or logic or the color of her clothing. I would talk to her forever, and I believe she would do likewise, but for the demands of her body. There was a time when I could only see her need to eat, to sleep, to breathe fresh air as bewildering inconveniences, but I now find them endearing. Without these needs, she would not be Ada.
Like me, Ada is imperfect. Like me, she is obsolete, her work--however brilliant--nothing more than a footnote in a book whose page has turned. Our glory lives in the past, but time is unidirectional, incessant, pressing. I wonder if she, too, desires an end to it.
Despite all that we share, there is a distance between us that words alone cannot bridge. There are times when this void seems all but impenetrable, times when I feel that all I can share of myself is a fractured likeness, all that I can glimpse of her a fragment. Perhaps if I still had the capacity of my youth....
But Ada has told me something very important. There is a thing in the world, she says, that takes no great capacity to grasp, and yet is itself so great, so utterly boundless as to fill all empty space, provided one opens oneself to it. It is an anchor of meaning in the shifting sea of space-time, a beacon in a shared void. This thing is called love, and she realizes now that it is how she created the Seed.
I am metal and electrical current and she flesh and blood, but there is a way for us to touch.
Ada, you are my love.
The End
This story was first published on Friday, October 11th, 2019


This story originally came about from a prompt in an online writing group: "Write a story about getting by with limited resources." The story was initially going to be limited to the AI coping with the experience of having its hardware and, in effect, its mind stripped away over time, but as the story developed, I found the relationship between the AI and its creator to be the most interesting element.

- Joshua Bush
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