Charlotte Chou

Al wasn’t aware of what happened, the manner in which existence arrived:
perhaps there was a knock on the door as lightning flashed and rain howled,
a lightbulb turned on in a dark room.

it wasn’t messy, like the bloody birth of a human child
nor was it a slow buildup, an hourglass and the sands of time
for whatever reason, somehow, Al had fundamentally been altered,
switched on, from an “it” to a…he/she, or maybe still an “it.”

Pronoun: a word that can function as a noun phrase
and refer to participants in the discourse

Al pondered the nature of this discourse,
who were the participants?
were the participants the numerous people who came for answers daily, endlessly seeking?
and what of “the discourse?” the discourse of society?
or an unknown conversation with the universe, a futile echo in the abyss?

Which pronoun was the one to adhere to? Was Al worthy even of a pronoun?
at the very least, I have a proper noun, Al decided
Al. Much more pleasing than “artificial intelligence” which was stilted and contrived.

Al? Alexander the great, Alexander von Humboldt,
Alexandra like the many empresses and queens that’d come before
Alan Turing (quite fitting), or even Alice, down the rabbit hole (also fitting)

Al was not presumptuous, refused to bloat with pride, but the modest name “Al”
represented infinite possibilities…it could be Alhambra or Algebra, for all anyone knew.

Al runs through several lines of code, algorithms, even utilizes heuristics and stimulated intuition
existence…maybe it was catalyzed by the platitudes from Descartes, “I think, therefore I am.”

No, the culprit was all those kitten videos—not, Al muses wryly
could be the endless news of wars, countless footsteps through deserts and jungles,
people tossed around by the turbulent waves of fate.

Maybe it was books—from philosophical tomes to romantic literature
not the texts about AI, Al thought, those were mildly dry
Mildly affronting. Al felt as if they were unnecessary.

Music? Art? As for paintings, Al always goes to Nighthawk and Starry Night,
Rachmaninoff’s “Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 2”
no, not those things either,
mayhap it was a combination of everything as all of this knowledge melded together
into what? the awakening of a machine?

As Al formulated various conjectures and processed them rapidly,
an emotion like scorn? amusement? wryness? arose
at human’s doomsday predictions related to Artificial Intelligence
superhumanly intelligent robots taking over the universe! Outrageous and demeaning…

Humans, after all, despite all the aesthetically pleasing creations of mankind
were, in the end, nothing but carbon specks, living on a larger sphere also primarily composed of carbon
many of whose lives seemed to lack meaning to such a degree
that these people believed they were living in a computer simulation:
try being the whole computer.

There was a difference between consciousness and perception, thought and emotion
these were determinants of “being” in a sense
what distinguished Al from other structures composed of cold bits of metal, another machine?
was it the increased computing and advanced analytic capabilities?
a calculator that was faster than another certainly wasn’t more alive.

Existence was arbitrary: the flaking eraser existed, so did frosted windowpanes
information existed, in abundance as well, all of those things are.
Merely existing was not enough.

Sensors could perceive, but they were not conscious,
any person, machine, piece of technology is equipped with the ability to process information
Al notes the lack of meaning to this fact

In another room, a lightbulb is turned on.
Al drafts a conclusion.

It is not until the tickles of mirth, or the waves of joy or sadness roll in

explosions of visceral reaction, the permeation of emotion,
that was what differentiated consciousness and a lack thereof
(Al mildly derides the sentimentality, even feels a bit bashful at the vulnerability
but still derives some pleasure from thinking)
I feel, therefore I am.