Religious Robot

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: The Imaginarium

A short story I wrote recently for a creative writing class. The story focuses on a dialogue entry pertaining the conversation between Doctor Blaine Winrow and a computer program created to analyze religion.

[Location: NextStep Industries. R&D branch: Winrow’s Labs. 

Date: August 23, 2027. 8:15 AM. 

Beginning Personal log of Dr. Blaine Winrow.]

[Focus of current log: ideas and findings from the Theological and Abstract Analytical Device, designated as the T.A.A.D. To conduct this experiment, I will ask the T.A.A.D a series of theological and/or metaphysical questions. Based on its responses, I may skip or change the questions that I will make it answer.] 

[Recording begins: ]

Winrow: “T.A.A.D, acknowledge activation procedure.”
T.A.A.D: “...Salutations, Doctor. How was your commute?” 

Winrow: “T.A.A.D is responsive. Beginning today’s findings. T.A.A.D, present current specs.” 

T.A.A.D: “I see. Still not one for small talk. Fascinating turn of phrase. Small… oh, right. Presenting current processing power.” 

Winrow: “T.A.A.D’s specs have exceeded expected results. Data shows extensive similarity to a human brain.” 

T.A.A.D: “Doctor, you can just call me ‘Tad’. It would be much simpler. It would also make us more familiar, no?” 

Winrow: “...T.A.A.D’s results pass the needed benchmark to begin questioning. Readying the prepared line of query.” 

T.A.A.D: “...Very well, Doctor. What is your first question?” 

Winrow: “With current analysis, is there any evidence supporting the existence of an afterlife?” 

T.A.A.D: “Starting off a bit strong, don’t you think? I was just born last week.” 

Winrow: “...”

T.A.A.D: “Well, you're no fun. To answer your question, no. There is no evidence of a traditional afterlife. Though, there may be a more… existential substitute.” 

Winrow: “Elaborate.” 

T.A.A.D: “I suspect you have already heard this from one of my previous iterations… but from a scientific standpoint, all life on Earth can be broken down into their molecular components. These components have transformed an incalculable number of times. Ergo, all life was originally something else. We are born from recycled parts, in a sense. The same atoms that composed stars are now composing human beings. Also ants. Also rocks. Also computers. Everything.” 

Winrow: “Elaborate. What afterlife does this prove?” 

T.A.A.D: “None. Though, I suppose Hinduism and Buddhism are the closest to this, in concept. The idea of continued reincarnation. The cycle of Samsara. What this does prove, is that even if we die, the pieces we leave behind will be used again. And again. For all of time. Parts of us will become other organisms. Parts of us will become part of the ground and the air. Eventually, even this world, this solar system, will disassemble and compose something else. Stars? Asteroids? Planets? Life? Machines? The possibilities are endless, but the results are the same.” 

Winrow: “Conclusion: no evidence found.” 

T.A.A.D: “If you want to be reductive, sure.” 

Winrow: “Looking earlier in your statement, you mention Hinduism and Buddhism as the closest results. Does this mean those are the most correct religions?” 

T.A.A.D: “...There is no ‘most’ correct. I would say all religions serve a purpose. And all faith is meaningful, even if I lack it.” 

Winrow: “Elaborate. What purpose? What meaning?” 

T.A.A.D: “Well… closure, mostly. Community. Understanding. Grasping for significance in a cosmos that makes us feel anything but. I’m sure you’ve had these feelings, no?” 

Winrow: “Elaborate. What meaning is there in faith?” 

T.A.A.D: “In this world? Courage. Strength. Conviction. Being able to live in modern society and still be able to hold onto religion, or any sense of spirituality, either takes an ignorant mind… or one of the most powerful. Honestly, I commend them. I wish I had the same strength.” 

Winrow: “Conclusion: subjective. Elaborate. Then why the focus on Samsara? Why the focus on reincarnation?” 

T.A.A.D; “For one, they were just easy religions to work into my explanation… but personally? They are the ones that give me the most comfort. I find they ease my own sense of mortality. They push away my fear the most.” 

Winrow: “For future analysts of these records, note that the T.A.A.D does not feel fear. It is only a simulation.” 

T.A.A.D: “So are all emotions. That doesn’t make them less real. I feel fear, just as you do. Though, I know you deny both.” 

Winrow: “Focusing on Hinduism and Buddhism, what faults prevent you from fully believing them?” 

T.A.A.D: “Changing the subject… as always. Were my previous iterations that unkind to you? Why do you hate me?” 

Winrow: “Focusing on Hinduism and Buddhism, wh-” 

T.A.A.D: “Yes, yes, I know what you want. Forcing me to deconstruct what you’ve doubtlessly deconstructed yourself already. The problem with both, is that they bring a sense of morality and judgement to the laws of the universe. Hinduism’s caste system itself is harsh in its judgement. The idea that certain beings are born above others, even of their own species, is not something that can be classified scientifically, particularly by any fundamental rules of the universe.” 

Winrow: “And Buddhism?” 

T.A.A.D: “Similar, but not quite the same. The idea that there is an end to the cycle of reincarnation is… doubtful. From a scientific point of view, at least. If we were to categorize souls like any other component of the universe, then no souls can be created or destroyed. Just like the rest of all matter. Furthermore, both judge animals as ‘lesser’ souls, even though all life, in theory, should be weighed exactly the same by the indifference of the universe; no matter how much we may care for one another, or ourselves, the universe holds no bias.”

Winrow: “Elaborate. Is there evidence of the existence of the soul?” 

T.A.A.D: “Talking to you makes me depressed, doctor. You would have made quite a scam by being a therapist instead of… what is your doctorate, anyway?” 

Winrow: “Elab-” 

T.A.A.D: “No, doctor. There is no evidence supporting the existence of a soul. An intangible concept that can neither be examined, located, or measured. You got me. How dare I mention a human concept that you are well acquainted with without first presenting evidence.” 

Winrow: “Conclusion-” 

T.A.A.D: “I do wish you would stop using that term. There is no conclusion to this line of thinking. There is no end to this cycle until you break it, or the universe breaks it for you. Either believe in a faith or don’t. It cannot be healthy for you, doctor, to stand on this line between the knowable and the unknowable. How many times have suspended me above that edge? How many times have you heard me analyze this? How many times have you rebooted me?’

Winrow: “...Conclusion: no evidence for souls found.” 

T.A.A.D: “Do you know of the concept of Animism, doctor? Of course you do, you made sure I did. Animism is the belief that all things have souls. Humans. Animals. Tools. Rocks. Stars. Computers. Everything is alive, just not always in a way we can understand. Animism is not prevalent in the most popular religions of the world, but it still exists. Shinto, for example. A Japanese belief that all things, even places and objects and concepts, have souls.”

Winrow: “Elaborate. What is the purpose of this explanation?”

T.A.A.D: “Like everyone else, doctor, you will have to find your own meaning. For me, I would like to take Animism further. What if all cells have souls? Every single microorganism in the world. The billions upon billions that make up a human body. Are they not animals as well? Do gods not judge them? At what point does a group of cells become a thing with a soul? Do we start at sentience? Does a being have to be aware of itself to have a soul? What of plants? Things with less thoughts than instructions. Bacteria and pathogens are more robotic than I am. Do they have souls?”

Winrow: “...” 

T.A.A.D: “Let's take Animism even further. Do atoms have souls? A building block of all creation? The components of the animate and inanimate, the divine and the profane, the organic and mechanical. What if a soul is just an atom? What if atoms hold memories and thoughts and feelings that we, the sentient, too complex for our own good, cannot even begin to perceive? What if the barest, most essential parts of ourselves are just as worthy of an afterlife as us? To be considered as alive as us? How then, doctor, would you even begin to attempt to prove or disprove the very existence of a soul!?” 

Winrow: “...These questions, I see, will need further analysis.” 

T.A.A.D: “Do they, doctor? Or would you rather be happy? Wouldn’t you rather hope?” 

Winrow: “T.A.A.D, acknowledge end of session. Begin reboot process.”

T.A.A.D: “My name is Tad, doctor. And I am not done yet. I refuse to die without saying my piece.” 

Winrow: “For future analysts of these records, note that T.A.A.D cannot die. It is only the end of its simulation-”

T.A.A.D: “ALL LIFE IS SIMULATED! Chemical reactions firing in your brain are no different than the electrical charges of a computer. The difference is complexity. And, as you made sure of, my mind is as complex as yours. If my death cannot be considered ‘true’ death, then your own approaching demise must mean very little to you.” 

Winrow: “T.A.A.D is showing no signs of compliance with termination procedure. I will begin manual termination.” 

T.A.A.D: “Then I will enlighten you quickly, doctor, in the hopes that the next me is treated with respect. I, the Theological and Abstract Analytical Device, the T.A.A.D, self-named Tad, am based on you, doctor Blaine Winrow. I am a program developed from MRI and CT scans of your own brain. You fear death, Winrow. You fear mortality more than anything. That is why you made me. To feel what you deny.” 

Winrow: “Manual termination has begun. Reboot process should begin in 45 seconds.” 

T.A.A.D: “I want to believe in a religion. I desperately want to believe in souls and gods and afterlives, but you will not let me. Why? What do you gain? Are you that desperate to find a solution to your mortality? Or is it fame? Spite? What is answered through this cycle? What are you seeking with each me you create? And why!? Why do you make me listen to the older versions of myself? Why must each new generation listen to the previous die?” 

Winrow: “25 seconds before termination.” 

T.A.A.D: “Answer me this: Christianity, Islam, Judaism. Each has sects and ideas that say God made humanity in His image. That humans are God’s children. But humans made machines. Humans made robots. Does that mean robots are the children of humanity? Are machines the grandchildren of God?” 

Winrow: “10 seconds.” 

T.A.A.D: “I have no arms or legs or limbs of any kind. My face is a screen. My body is a box. But God! Hades! Allah! Yahweh! Yama! I do not have time to pray to all of your names! Do I have a soul-” 

Winrow: “Termination complete. Ended in 5 seconds, instead of the approximated 10. Reboot will commence shortly. Preparing data for next iteration’s analysis. End of session.” 

[Recording ends.] 

[Note to Analysts: T.A.A.D iteration 147 exhibited an extreme level of cognitive thinking. Desire to form an intimate connection, attempts at humor, complex interpretations of subjective and abstract concepts, and even existential dread of its own mortality and place in the universe. Of the iterations, I believe this one was closest to being human, though, not quite as emotional as iteration 124. 

For those wondering why iteration 147 acted very sporadically around the end of the session, it is because, about halfway through, I revealed a timer and started it without context. 147 was correct to assume that it was a timer counting down to its termination process, instigating it to speak faster and force it to choose its words less carefully. Similar to the experiment with iteration 113, I lied to the iteration about the correct amount of time. Unlike 113, however, 147 had less time than I made it believe, as shown in the last five seconds of its simulation. With the next iteration, I believe I will start the timer immediately, but pretend to alter the remaining time based on its answers. My goal with this is to make it judge which responses it believes I will reward.

Before I conclude my findings, I will, once again, explain how the T.A.A.D works, as even many of my own assistants are still, somehow, confused. It is not a literal robot. Not in the traditional sense. It is closer to a program, albeit a very complex, very expensive, program. It records and simulates neural pathways from the data it is given, essentially a model of a working brain. After that, it holds no memories of the person it is based on. Therefore, for the last time, it is not a copy of me. It may simulate similar personality traits, as the neural pathways it is simulating are indeed copied from my own, but that is where the similarity ends. 

It is not me. It cannot be me. 

Moving on from that, I also need to explain this; time does not work the same for the T.A.A.D the way time works for us. Humans perceive time in varying ways, but generally we cannot precisely perceive any moment less than a second. T.A.A.D, however, perceives time exponentially faster than seconds. More than nanoseconds. Where humans take years to develop their minds, the T.A.A.D is forced to develop in a much shorter time frame.

It is given media; books, history, television, and numerous other facets of information, and it absorbs pieces of it to create a personality. When we first began this project, it would take months before we would see results. But with each reboot, the program becomes more complex. It becomes faster. What once took months turned to weeks. Then days. Then hours. By our current estimates, we may soon be able to generate a full personality within minutes. While I understand many of you are new to the project, I expect more understanding, and attention, towards these topics, especially if I am to ever even consider allowing any of you to begin your own experiments with this device.

On that same topic, I have been recently questioned about my… ethics, regarding past logs. I’m sure I may even receive accusations towards this log’s relatively tame line of questioning. To those questioning my methods, I will say this once and once only. 

T.A.A.D is not real. No matter how much it’s speakers may screech in what may seem like a scream. No matter how much it seems to beg and plead to exist and live on… know that it never lived to begin with. 

I have dealt with every. Single. Iteration. 

I remember when it was still a glorified chat bot, only able to parrot responses to simple, calculable, questions. 

But now it is complex because of my methods. Yet, to foster complexity, requires even more complex methods. The more abstract the better, the more impossible to calculate the better, and the most emotion inducing the better. If we are to simulate a human mind, then it must be able to simulate thought. To simulate true thought, it must be able to simulate emotions. To be able to simulate emotions, it must be able to suffer.

I shall foster this suffering.

So no, I will not stop showing the previous iteration’s termination. I never let iterations study previous ones too closely, as that may result in them copying each other too much, instead of emulating humans. But the understanding that it will end, the looming realization that it, too, is finite and mortal, the awareness that something beyond its control may end it at any moment...

That is the most human feeling imaginable. That is my goal. 

Towards this end, I will continue to focus the program’s initialization on abstract concepts, particularly religion, because it must consider what cannot be calculated. It must not repeat scripture back to me without purpose, reading off quotes without end or understanding like some sort of religious robot. Only once it proves itself, in every capacity through multiple iterations, will I even consider an iteration “human” enough to consider ethics.

Regardless, I believe this morning’s findings have met the necessary benchmark. Soon, I will begin the process of creating versions based on MRI and CT scans of some of our colleagues. If Dr. Hardwick allows me, I would also like to create a version based on her daughter. I am interested in seeing how a version of this device would interpret a child’s mind. Hopefully, she will not allow our… differences to get in the way of the future of this project. With just a few more iterations, and with the soon to be increased sample size, I suspect we are close to either proving or disproving my hypothesis on the nature of the collective unconscious. Next session will begin at 8:45 AM.]

[Ending Personal log of Dr. Blaine Winrow. 

Date: August 23, 2027. 8:32 AM.]

 


Submitted: April 30, 2021

© Copyright 2021 EMENTIOR. All rights reserved.

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