Happy New Year 2009!

Lotte Grønkjær via Creative Commons

Yang bends at the knees and leaps, barely distinguishable against the deep blue night sky until her silhouette passes in front of the gibbous moon. With a hum she activates her cloak and becomes a shimmer like a drowned shadow beneath a mirrored lake. The overlapping tiles clack together softly as she lands and her lively eyes scan the rooftop. On the far edge, Horatio-6 leans against a smokestack as if it were a signpost. It knows she is here, and it follows its languid personality routine to the letter.

“Took you long enough,” it says.

“If it helps you to think that,” Yang whispers, knowing it can hear.

“I don’t really think.” Horatio-6 raises two actuators in a parody of air quotation marks. It is a human-like gesture and it makes Yang’s lip curl back beneath her cowl. “I process. I decide.”

“And you’ve decided to be destroyed by not continuing to run.”

She could swear it smiles. “If it helps you…” it says, pushing off from the stack. Yang’s sword is unsheathed and reflecting moonlight before the phrase is over. She wishes their combat programming was as advanced as their banter routines. She leaps again.

MIT and Boston

David Wiley via Creative Commons

Human language is brimming with offensive words and phrases referencing life as an assumed state. The first to protest this presupposition was Jahe Houler, an Undead American from Vermont. Later, the self-aware AI lab over at MIT—identified by her designers as rAIn but preferring the name Loa—joined the crusade. The case was brought to court as Houler, Loa, et al v. The State of New Hampshire. They challenged the wording of the state constitution, in particular the bit from Article 2, “…the enjoying and defending life…”

The screaming heads on vids debated the technical definitions of life. All Houler and Loa and the others wanted was a shift to include non-life sentience in the laundry list of experiences we equate with other non-equivalents. That is, not identical, but carrying the same value. You’d think after fighting this battle dozens of times like a channel stuck broadcasting the same six reruns it would have gotten easier.

They killed Houler. The weapon was high-tech, maybe government. If he were still around, he’d hate the reporting language of “killed.” He’d say it was presumptive and offensive. It was Loa who suggested we level the playing field.