The lander was in the final approach of lunar descent. Touchdown was in one hour. They said it was automatic and I would not have to do anything. Frankly, I could not have done anything, just watch as the surface seemed to speed by with more and more detail of craters and mountains. The thing nobody talks about are the moon’s magnetic anomalies, variations that can throw off orbiting or landing spacecraft. There is a reason the moon does not have its own little moons. They either crashed or wandered off somewhere. This was their first try and I was their guinea pig. I volunteered the way a pirate on the gangplank volunteers to take a dive. They made an offer to a drowning man and I took it. Now I had too much time to think about how all this started.
The sun was setting on Billy Thoreau’s estate, high on a hill overlooking the California coast. Billy was not there to enjoy it. He was considered lost at sea in a ship collision back in 2012. Since then, his family hosted an award ceremony every summer. They used to hold it in August, but it was too hot. The next year they held it in July, but it was still too hot. By the next year they held it in June and with the intense heat, the next event would happen in May. Attending the event was the only time many of its wealthy guests would experience global warming.
Four people stood next to the pool instead of hiding in the big air conditioned wedding reception tent, Tech billionaire Marsha Colton, showbiz legend Aaron Auschmann, the mysterious futurist Ten Kay. And me, reporter Nowah Gye. We knew what the heat meant.
The question was what to do about the heat. The odds were good that climate change would kill everybody on the planet. Even the richest person in the most heavily defended secret bunker with the largest amount of canned extinct tuna would eventually die. Even if a handful of Amazonians survived they would not be able to rebuild civilization. Nothing would be left.
So we decided to not go gently into that good night. We would collect all the knowledge we could and put it in time capsules all over the planet. Maybe surviving humans would find and make use of it.
Ten Kay thought maybe something else, like a digital assistant to explain all the stored information. Network all the time capsules with orbiting satellites and call it Blood Moon.
He looked at me when he said it. Why me? He said because I spent my life explaining technology. The problem of course is that satellites eventually fall to the ground. The moon never does. In fact, it is slowly moving away. But if you put artificial intelligence on the moon it would still be able to communicate or at least observe what was going on Earth.
The moon was getting closer.
Getting turned into artificial intelligence is like filling out the world’s longest social media application. Every kind of personal question you could imagine, every thing you ever said or wrote wound up in what they called Minerva mapping. I asked if this was part of some pre-existing secret government program. They said no, it was part of a routine marketing profile. I was not the customer. I was the guinea pig. The first version of me they built could beat most email filters but they needed more. They wanted the undocumented stories of my life. Most artificial intelligence does fine in structured situations. They wanted to know how I behaved in unusual ones. I was uncomfortable with it, but it seemed like a fair trade for virtual immortality.
Talking To Myself
Alan Turing said if you cannot tell if you are talking to a machine, the machine is artificially intelligent. The early versions of me would give awkward or formal responses. Later versions would still get in some trouble by not getting inside jokes. If your friends could still tell, you had to keep working at it. The oddest test is for you to talk to yourself. Of course you know it is not you, but at some point the artificial version cannot tell if you are real or not. From that point it was a separate person that could learn and adapt its behavior. It is odd to never be tired or hungry.
Thinking In And Out Of The Box
All these years entrepreneurs have been telling people to think outside of the box. Now they have to figure how to get me into a box. It is like trying to fit into an old pair of blue jeans. Even one digitized person takes up a certain amount of storage space. I am told I originally took up a building full of servers. They wanted to get it down to a single server and eventually to a single chip. The chip gets loaded into a time capsule and becomes part of a mesh network with regular updates of the entire Internet. Various capsules will disconnect over random intervals to avoid destructive viruses and then replicate new networks. The idea is to survive almost anything.
The Lander warning light is on. There is a problem as we approach the lunar surface. If there is a crash, will I even feel anything?
As the Lander looks like it is going to crash, I begin to wonder if all this is a good idea. Marsha Colton spent a lot of money on some very cutting edge technology. The semiconductors in Taiwan. The aerospace hardware in Israel. The software in Silicon Valley. Thousands of people and millions of dollars largely out of public view. I checked the onboard telemetry and it looked fine despite the information the Lander was sending home. Then it occurred to me. What if they want people to think the lander crashed?
At this point I do not know what to believe. The warning light is still on but the telemetry is telling me that the lander is on course. What am I worried about? I am an expendable machine at this point. The flesh and blood version of me is watching this at some mission control center. If I am destroyed in the crash, they will send another version. Ultimately they will launch hundreds of versions of me. I’ll have to get used to being destroyed again and again.
Looking at the video I could see we were coming in more like an airplane to a runway rather than an elevator. The thrusters gave one last big burst to slow the lander down and then the airbags deployed. They turned the lander into a giant beachball bouncing over the sand. This went on for awhile and the video would make you motion sick. Eventually it came to a halt on the inside rim of a crater. Gyroscopes rotated the lander to an upright position and the bags jettisoned releasing their air. It looks messy but it worked. I aligned the antennas and sent a message home. Technically, this is now home, possibly for the next billion years.
There was not much of a landing ceremony. Rather than planting a flag I thought of something else. Years ago I saw a couple had carved their initials on a tree. After checking all the lander’s systems I powered up a rover. They are very small and reminded me of radio controlled toy trucks. I set up a pre-programmed path for the rover to spell out my wife’s initials on some open ground. If you had a powerful enough telescope you might see it.
I carved my love for her in stone. My words may still disappear but my love will always be more blood than ink.
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