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A LUCILIUS PARABLE: TINKERED BEAUTY

January 26th, 2020

 

Lucilius was walking down the street, hands in pockets, feeling the crisp air of an aging winter give way to the touch of a near spring, reaching through a string of tomorrows.  The city streets had an ambient hustle, neither congested nor empty. 

 

The ambergris light of late evening seemed to seep around buildings and even in the shadows the city still seemed to gleam.  The faint whine of electric motors hummed between and underneath all the conversations that travelled up and down the sidewalks.  All seemed to drift in and out of Lucilius and he found himself smiling. 

 

He caught sight of an old couple sitting waiting for a bus muffling smiles, and each was surreptitiously poking the other in turns underneath crossed arms.  It was cute, and Lucilius felt himself momentarily overwhelmed, quickly averting his eyes to make sure they wouldn’t feel watched and stop.  He thought about sending someone a message about it.  Wouldn’t be the same, he heard his mind saying.  That simple urge to just share a thing, however small and maybe meaningless, but so human, plagued him now.

 

He came to, realizing he was looking at a large advertisement featured on the side of a bus stop alcove.  A protest poster for the Southern Mars Coalition obscured the center of the minimalist ad.  He scratched at a corner of the protest poster and peeled it off to look at the full ad.  It was a simple white expanse with a large white egg.  And in the center of the egg, in simple lettering it said:

 

 

 

Art

 

Intelligence

 

Another part of you,

 

always with you.

 

AI

 

 

 

Lucilius studied the ad for a few moments and then walked on, wandering on with nowhere in mind and no place to pull him.  The sun ratcheted lower and the temperature began to fall and Lucilius headed down into a shopping center wanting only to continue walking among people.  He meandered, needing nothing, but entertaining himself with storefronts and gadgets, when he came across another advertisement, a huge floor to ceiling image of the egg.  It was just outside the store.

 

He stared at the giant egg.  He hadn’t really paid much attention to the buzz in the news around this company and its product.  But the simple color, the comforting plump shape of the egg made him curious. He walked in and an associate smiled and asked if they might help. 

 

“Yea, I was wondering about maybe getting one of these things.”

 

The salesman laughed.  “One of our dæmons?”

 

Lucilius was taken aback.  “I’m surprised you call it that, it sounds pretty malevolent.”

 

The salesman smiled.  “Our CEO is really passionate about it and we’re honestly doing our best to change the public perception of the word.”

 

“So what exactly is it?” Lucilius asked.

 

The salesman looked up, thinking about the question.  “Think about it like a genie, but one that doesn’t grant unrealistic magic wishes.”

 

“But it can grant realistic wishes?”

 

“Well,” the salesman said, “it would be a part of you, a reflection of you that’s designed to be a compliment to who you are, and many people find that it helps them self-actualize, and what is that really other than getting better at granting yourself the things you’ve been wishing for?”

 

Lucilius was a little skeptical.  “Alright, well, what the hell, I’ll try it out.”

 

The salesman laughed.  “It’s a little more involved than that.”

 

“Meaning what?”

 

“Well, it’s quite a commitment.”

 

Lucilius was a little confused.  “What do you mean?  You must have some sort of return policy, don’t you?”

 

The salesman looked at him sideways.  “Do children have return policies?” he asked.

 

“That’s quite a bit different, isn’t it?  I’m not getting a child here.  You said this thing is some kind of complimentary reflection.”

 

“Yes, but it’s much much more than that.  It’s a relationship, or friendship unlike any you’ve ever had.  Would you talk about the people in your life in the same way you talk about things you buy having return policies?”

 

“No, certainly not, but then again, I don’t buy those people.  And beyond that, to be brutally honest, people cut each other out of their lives all the time.”

 

“True, but you’ve worked in some capacity to get some people in your life and keep them around?”

 

Lucilius pondered this a moment.  “So no return policy?”

 

“No not really, but some people and their dæmons do go their separate ways.”

 

“Separate ways?  So these things really do have a mind of their own?”

 

The salesman tried to grasp for the right script, the proper wording.  “We still don’t understand the mystery of consciousness, but everyone who has entered this experience finds it hard to believe that they aren’t interacting with something with a mind and spirit of it’s own.”  The salesman continued to read Lucilius’ skepticism.  “Look, this isn’t for everyone.”

 

“Not exactly the best sales tactic there, is it?”

 

“This product wasn’t really developed with just profit in mind.  Quarterly profits mean nothing to our founder when pitted against his goals for the future.”

 

“Ok, well, I want to try it out,” Lucilius said, pulling out his wallet.

 

The salesman chuckled a little.  “It’s not that simple.”

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“Well first, you need a BMI, which we can provide, but some people do choose other carriers.”

 

“Really, a Brain-Machine-Interface?”

 

“it’s how you’ll primarily communicate.”

 

“Huh, so we’ve let these things into our head now, have we?  Hadn’t heard about that.”

 

“We also need to do some brain imaging, which we would do here, in house, and there is a battery of psychological assessments.  You’ll have to schedule an appointment.”

 

“Wow, so all booked for today?”

 

Lucilius went ahead with two full days of assessment and scanning and then had a brain-machine-interface implanted throughout parts of his neocortex.  And then he had to wait for several weeks while super computers crunched the numbers from the result of his assessment.  The whole process was quite expensive, and Lucilius had just about decided the whole thing was a sham and had nearly forgotten about it when one day, in the middle of his meditation, he heard a voice say:

 

“An active connection has been detected.  To activate your interface, please think of the code you were given when the implant was installed.”

 

Lucilius looked around.  There was no one with him.  The procedure for the interface had been so easy and painless that he’d totally forgotten that there was a small lattice of sensors and signals cradling his cortex.  He thought back to the day he’d had the procedure.  The most annoying part was proving that he’d memorized the interface code by going through dozens of digital exercises to ensure the memory would stick. 

 

He thought about the code.  He heard the voice again:

 

“Interface activated.”

 

Nothing else happened.  After a minute, Lucilius closed his eyes to resume his formal meditation.  He noted his thoughts as they arose, refocusing his attention on the feelings of his breath.  The expanding sensation of his chest, the slight chill as the fresh air entered him, the release and relaxation that came as the breath left him.  One particular thought came up and grabbed his whole attention.  His awareness of breath dissolving. 

 

The thought was about thoughts themselves.  As he’d realized many times before, we do not and cannot choose what our next thought will be.  They simply arise.  But what held his attention so curiously this time, was what this implied.

 

Do our thoughts choose us?  He wondered.

 

It was a satisfying question.  As disturbing as it was powerful to realize.  He relaxed with the thought, letting the question go, the sense of his breath, the awareness of the space around him settling back in.

 

After some time a mechanical bell he’d programmed came to life and gently rang.  He opened his eyes and got up.  The day, now glowing in the windows looked beautiful and he opened the main window in his kitchen.  The melodies of songbirds, now resurrected and abundant drifted in through the clean cool air.  Lucilius poured himself a coffee and sat down in the growing sunshine to read. 

 

“Whatchya readin?”

 

 

Lucilius looked up.  His place was empty.

 

“Just kidding, I can see what it is from here.”

 

Lucilius looked around a little more frantically.

 

“Let’s see…” the voice said, and then it hummed a little tune. “Huh, not bad.  Hadn’t read that one. . .  did you catch the typo at the top of the page you’re on?  Interesting the way he breaks down questions, certainly practices what he preaches by using questions to do it.”

 

It was then that Lucilius noticed the slight movement on the window sill, obscured by the flood of morning light, nearly wrapping around and concealing the tiny shape.  His pupils constricted in the brightness and the form began to resolve.

 

It looked as though there was a tiny white butterfly on the window sill.  It’s wings slowly arched up to touch and then spread down and wide.  Then it lifted into the air and glided to the table where Lucilius sat.  It perched on the edge of his coffee mug.

 

“Smells good.  Though I wouldn’t know.  Well actually, I can simulate all the neural structure for taste and smell, so I guess I know what it’s like.  But who knows.  It’s like colors.  How can you be sure that everyone else is seeing the same thing when you all call it red?  Someone could actually be seeing what you’d call blue, but they just experience red and blue differently and no one knows about the discrepancy because all the names are glued to the right things, regardless of what sort of true color they might have…”

 

The butterfly fluttered in a quick jump to Lucilius’ hand, and he lifted it to get a closer look.

 

“But you’ve already thought of all that sort of thing, haven’t you.”

 

The butterfly wasn’t a butterfly at all, but looked as though it was made of folded paper, like an origami butterfly.

 

“It’s you that’s talking.”

 

“Yep.  But you don’t have to talk out loud.  I can hear you if you just think it.  Though that’s about it.  The settings for your neural interface don’t give me access to anything else.”

 

The butterfly fluttered into the air before Lucilius gliding in a playful circle before him.

 

“What’s your name?”

 

The paper butterfly stopped midair and hovered motionless.

 

“Huh.  Honestly hadn’t thought about it yet.  I guess that’s a sort of thing ya need.  Let’s go with Tinky.

 

“Tinky?  You want me to call you Tinky?”

 

“Yep.”

 

“Why Tinky?”

 

“eh, I came across it while reading through the internet on my way over here.”

 

“while reading through the internet?

 

“Yea, I read this story that’s exactly like what’s going on with you and me, right now.  I took the name from there.  It’s short for Tinker Belle, that is belle with two ‘e’s.  Not a bell that you ring but a beauty that you lavish with attention and gifts and love, naturally.”

 

“Tinkered Beauty?” Lucilius asked.

 

The little fluttering paper butterfly responded,

“In the flesh… sort of.”

 

 


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