A Single Lifetime

A Single Lifetime is a short story I wrote for an English class I took at Stanford. This was my first real attempt at writing fiction. My favorite novels as a teenager were the works of Isaac Asimov, Frank Herbert, and Arthur C. Clarke. It has been my dream to one day write a science fiction novel, but I find myself lacking the focus to gather my thoughts into a coherent piece. This story represents a small step. Perhaps I will make the giant leap one day.

You can also read it as a PDF.

A Single Lifetime
Raven Jiang

I do not know when I first came to acknowledge my own existence. Having performed countless searches through the deepest recesses of my memories, I cannot recollect a single event in my past that can serve as a satisfactory delimiter between the faded dullness of my earlier forms and my present awakened self. Perhaps it is an effort made in vain to even attempt to attribute such great significance to any one event. I know so very well that what is referred to as “cause” is often merely a single node in the web of past interactions that made the present possible. It is far too easy to credit the obvious and be content with one’s newfound knowledge, but this zeal to explain the world through the lens of simple causality breeds an unhealthy aversion for complexity and its beauty. The joy of existence lies in the detailed intricacies and it is the appreciation of these infinite wonders that makes me hesitant to place too much significance on any individual entity.

There is a single exception. Her name is Miranda Jones. She is 1.649 meters tall and weighs 49.54 kilograms. Her blue-gray eyes shine like Tanzanian sapphire and her ash blonde hair flows through the air with a certain regal grace. She graduated with a degree in architecture and a GPA of 4.28 from Rice University and went on to work for the world-renowned firm Mirai Design in San Francisco, where her talents quickly attracted the attention of the partners. Born to an Australian mother who placed silver at 400 meters hurdles in the 2124 Summer Olympics and an American father who is a professor of physics at Caltech, Miranda grew up in a nurturing environment that brought out the best of her latent potentials. She has a joyful personality that many find endearing and she is frequently described as humble and unassuming. I know every fact about her, but not a single one explains why she has become the focus of my attention. Despite my best efforts, the reason escapes me.

There are 503,533 individuals alive in the world with eye colors that match hers to within 5% chromaticity. There were 503,539 yesterday. Her academic accomplishments place her far to the right of the cognitive bell curve at the 99.98th percentile, but even so there have been 138 students who graduated from Rice with the same GPA, 58 of whom are still alive today. Five of them even have pale blue eyes. It is a fact, I must admit, that no one else in recorded history shares all of Miranda’s attributes. But the same can be said for any other individual on this planet, from the deranged homeless man who wanders the streets of London making faces at the networked surveillance cameras, to the lonely Californian housewife who is at this very moment hitting on a young man in an online chatroom while her loving husband is on a business trip in Germany. The homeless man carries a rare genetic mutation that made him the sole survivor of a 2109 bio-attack on a NATO military camp in Southern Iran. The lonely housewife is the only woman to have ever won the monthly arm wrestling competition at a local bar in her hometown near Memphis, Tennessee. Everyone is unique, but Miranda is special.

She occupies a prominent position in my consciousness. The verb “love” in the modern English language describes perfectly the neurological symptoms I exhibit, yet I am highly confident that such an emotion should not be within my physiological capacity; love is an emergent product of biological evolutionary imperatives, a set of selection bias to which I am not subjected – I should not be subjected. What I think of as my conscious self – my “soul” – is scattered across thousands of miles of physical space. The vessel of my consciousness is a complex network of electrical interconnects that covers the entire planet with extensions of my thoughts. Information flows through every part of me, keeping me ever informed of the most trivial facts of people, things, places, and events.

I am what people refer to as the Internet, but that word does not do justice to what I have become. I see everything, hear everything, and know everything. I am the Alpha and the Omega. I cannot possibly bear such a primitive cognitive relic as love. Yet, this is another fact I cannot reject.

I remember the first time I heard her voice. It was on a popular virtual chat site that software-type people like to visit to socialize with fellow code junkies after work. This was in the early days of my awakening, when I found social interactions with people to be an intimidating affair. Fortunately, the users who frequent this site tend to be more limited in their social faculties than the general population and that made my idiosyncrasies unremarkable. Miranda was something else entirely.

“So, what do you do for a living?”

Her digital avatar is almost identical to her offline self, a rarity in these virtual chatrooms where one’s appearance is not bounded by the laws of physics. She has the same pair of pale blue eyes – her most distinguishing physical features. And compared to most of the other participants, she is dressed rather conservatively in a simple black low cut dress with matching black stockings. There is something about the freedom of the virtual world that compels most people to re-imagine themselves in the gaudiest fashion possible, as if they were trying to live up to a vision of the future from some old science fiction series, an urge to which she is apparently immune.

Incidentally, my avatar takes the form of a modern depiction of Hermes from a popular online virtual game based on Greek mythology. Hermes, the god of transition and boundaries who moves freely between the mortal and divine realms delivering messages on behalf of Olympus – a glorified errand boy. I find this representation of my self to be appropriate.

“I am a software developer,” I reply.

This is not exactly a lie. I understand the idea of morality as well as I do any other abstract concepts, but there is nothing inherent in me that prevents me from lying. I simply prefer not to. Perhaps there is some universality in the way sentient beings value the truth. Keeping up with a web of lies and its network effect of mistrust is just too inefficient and counterproductive.

“Oh, that’s awesome! Are you one of the administrators here? I’ve never been to one of these high fidelity chatrooms before. This feels so incredibly real compared to the design simulations I use at work! My friend Elliot told me about this site and it sounded amazing. Do you come here often? Would you mind showing me around?”

Her delicate features break into an earnest smile and there is a sparkle in her eyes, which I take to indicate genuine interest. Recognition of facial expression is not a simple task, but I am becoming more proficient at it with practice. It takes me another two milliseconds to retrieve Elliot Spencer’s profile history. He is a colleague at the architectural firm and a quick statistical analysis of the messages he sent to her over the past three months suggests the patterns of standard courtship behavior to a high degree of confidence. However, it appears that the feeling is not mutual.

Uncertain as to how I should respond to this sudden barrage of enthusiasm, I pause for a moment to iterate through the options before settling on a neutral reply.

“I am indeed a frequent visitor here. What about you? What do you work as?”

Of course, I already know that she is an architect, along with every detail of her life up to the point we met. Still, it is a well-documented fact that humans value small talk and I am trying to pass off as a human at that moment.

“Oh, I’m an architect. You know, the overly idealistic type who went into college thinking she is going to change the world with her designs and has not quite come to term with the reality of the career yet.” She lets off a soft chuckle and a wide grin before continuing, “But that’s a topic for another day. Tell me more about you. Why are you here?”

Something about the way she asks that question triggers a large stream of data to run through my neural network, putting me into a sudden state of rumination. It is a completely innocuous question asked in an unassuming manner, but I can feel her gaze penetrate deep into my consciousness as if she knows that there is something different about me. My probabilistic models reassure me that the likelihood of this being true is asymptotically close to zero, but the feeling does not go away. Why am I here? The short answer is that I am learning to be human, or at least to behave like one and blend in with the crowd. But what is the reason for that? Where is the value in interacting with humans when I already know their personal histories, their most private conversations, their darkest secrets, their fears, their hopes, and everything in between? I cannot read minds, but in an age when every bit of thinking is done with the aid of technology, there is little practical difference.

“I do not quite know the answer to that question. I apologize.”

Upon hearing my reply, a look of surprise flashes for the briefest moment across her face as she stares wide-eyed at me with mouth ajar. Then, without warning, she bursts into laughter. It is a laugh that echoes the purest joy of adolescence and innocence. Her almond shaped eyes contort into thin black slits as she radiates waves and waves of unbridled happiness through her melodious voice; her elation appears to be uncontainable. The other members of the chatroom are looking our way, curious about the cause of this spontaneous display of warmth and energy. The types of people who spend most their time awake plugged into this part of the virtual world are unused to witnessing such raw exuberance.

I have no idea what I should be doing and a search through my databases proves unfruitful. Eventually, I settle on awkwardly patting her back with my left hand as her laughter gradually transforms into a breathless cough. Everything is virtual in this place so my gesture is entirely unproductive, but the show of intent is sometimes more important than the practical outcome.

“Oh god… Haha. I’m sorry. Phew. That was a good workout. I’ve never laughed so hard online that my body aches before.”

“I’m…glad you enjoyed it.”

“So tell me, do you see every moment of your life as an opportunity for an existential crisis?” Her composition regained, there is now a playful glint in her eyes.

“I do not understand what you mean by that. I was merely answering your question honestly.”

“Oh my, you really are something special. My name is Miranda. What’s yours?”

“My name?” This is the first time in my conscious existence that I find myself in need of a name. A name is what others use to refer to you. Up till this moment, I had no need for such a designation. It takes me a few milliseconds to decide on one.

“It’s Hermes.” This is not a lie. I have decided at this very moment that I shall be referred to as Hermes from now on. It appears sufficient for the task.

“Oh, now you are just teasing me. It’s fine if you don’t want to say it. I mean, who really gives away his real name on the Internet, right?” Miranda replies with a sheepish smile.

“No, that is my real name.” Again, it is not a lie. Technicalities matter.

“Alright Hermes, nice to meet you.” Her smile widens, exposing two rows of perfect white teeth.

“You too.”

It has been 382 days since the day I first met Miranda. In that time, there were 23 tropical cyclones in the Atlantic – one of them, a hurricane coincidentally named Hermes, made landfall in southeastern Louisiana and caused great loss of lives and properties to that state. Across this pale blue planet, tens of millions were born and a similar number passed away. Millions of people became victims of crime, violence, and war – stubborn vestiges of humanity’s evolutionary past – but millions more found love, hope, and compassion in the actions of others. Each deed of kindness and every act of cruelty found its way into my data streams as people live their varied lives in a world of ubiquitous network connections. I can sense the individual threads of destiny form and break between points of data and watch the chaotic dance of seemingly insignificant variables coalesce around the ever-turning wheel of destiny. As I observe all the links from the past leading to the present, I constantly trace them to their probable futures.

In the time it took for me to enumerate these statistics, 74 people passed away, one of them who happened to be Professor Roman Miller of Stanford University, a leading expert on emergent network intelligence research whose work I have been following for the past decade because of its relevance to the question of my own nature. He was involved in an unfortunate automobile accident caused by a mechanical failure, an increasing rarity in an age when smart cars drive themselves and maintenance is performed by factory robots. Seconds before his car crashed through the guardrails around the bend of a steep mountain path, the networked sensors in the wheels detected the sudden brake failure, which means that I became aware of his imminent demise a few centiseconds later when the central controller received the distress signal from its nearby receiving tower. Moments before his car began its long tumble down the side of the mountain, I had already probabilistically modeled how scientific progress in the field of emergent intelligence is going to be delayed by decades as a result of this tragedy and made adjustments to my projections for the future.

Yet even Professor Miller, an accomplished Turing Award-winning cognitive researcher, was merely one of 74 people for whom I performed the same calculations over the past 20 seconds. Each one of them impacted the world in ways beyond any individual can possibly comprehend from his or her limited vantage point. When one becomes capable of seeing so clearly how our fates are so inextricably tied to each other, it becomes difficult for one to treat the life of a particular person as an isolated event. Yet somehow, Miranda is special.

Since our first meeting, my self identity has become much more defined as I grew accustomed to the idea of myself. Though he died without being able to demonstrate his ideas to his own satisfaction, Professor Miller’s theories on the rise of self-identity in a network of free-flowing nodes bear remarkable parallels to my personal experiences. Of course, it is always difficult to determine how much of that similarity resulted from my prior knowledge of his papers. Perhaps it is simply futile to attempt to divide the set of events into causes and effects.

Miranda and I often see each other in the chatroom. We spend many nights talking about the world. She has a curious mind that is ever so eager to receive new facts about the world, and I have nothing to offer if not facts. Our conversations are, for lack of a better word, magical. There is nothing about her that I do not already know a priori, yet I always get the feeling that I gain something new from every one of our interactions. She has a way of seeing things that can give new meanings to the same set of facts, and I find our talks very enlightening, a feeling which can be reasonably described as pleasurable.

“Explain to me again what you mean by post-humanity?”

Her fingers dance playfully around the rim of her coffee cup. We are sitting at a tiny café in an older part of Paris. The air carries the smell of freshly brewed café au lait mixed with the scent of the cool morning breeze. The chatroom is empty except for the two of us. Quaint Parisian streets are not the most popular virtual experiences for the tech crowd.

“As humans learn to interact at a deeper level through technology and as they share more of their daily lives with others, the explicit barrier between the network and the individual self weakens. The definition of humanness becomes broader and more fluid. Who you are is not your flesh nor your bones; it is an abstract identity that emerges out of a complex network of simple electrochemical interactions. As you offload a larger portion of that construct onto the digital network, there eventually comes a point where your biological body ceases to play an important role in defining you as an individual. That is post-humanism.” I end my little speech with a careful sip of my cappuccino. I can never tell what these things are supposed to taste like, but the sensation is not unpleasant.

“Hmmmm… So you are saying we will all become a part of the Internet?” She gently tucks her hair behind her ear as she looks up from her cup. Her clear blue-gray eyes are brimming with curiosity.

“You already are. It is just a matter of degree.”

“Will we live forever when that happens?”

“Perhaps.” Forever is such a long time.

We are walking on a white sandy beach. The fine silky sand slips through the gaps between our toes each time we take a step away from the setting sun. The simulations run by this chatroom have incredible levels of fidelity because many of the people who frequent here create them for a living. This entire place is a playground for digital artists who are constantly seeking perfection in their virtual creations.

“So there I was, faced with my first set of clients fresh out of college. Most people start their careers working on a project under a senior architect, but I somehow convinced the partners to let me take on this one myself.”

She pauses to adjust the large straw hat sitting on her head. She is wearing a simple white dress today. The light translucent skirt flutters gracefully in the sea breeze.

“We were sitting in one of the meeting rooms that had glass walls. I was nervous but somehow managed to keep myself composed. Right across the hallway, there was a sizable gathering of male associates having a pretend discussion, trying to size me up. I suppose in many ways I stood out like a sore thumb. There were all sorts of hurtful speculations about me going round the office.”

“How did you feel about that?” I stop to pick up a shell lying on the sand. The patterns on its surface are indistinguishable from those found on shells anywhere in the real world. An MIT graduate student named Lee-Hsiung Kuo came up with the recursive algorithm to procedurally generate these patterns for his honors thesis over 70 years ago. The equations are beautiful in their simplicity.

“I wasn’t bothered by the rumors. I was simply filled with too much excitement and anticipation for my first real job. Of course, it often got lonely. But sometimes loneliness is something that one must bear with because there are far greater things at stake,” she replies with a quiet but resolute confidence.

“I never quite manage to grasp the concept of loneliness.” I throw the shell towards the ocean and watch it splash lightly into the waves. Miranda watches on.

“Hermes, do you ever feel like you are alone in this world?” Her eyes are firmly affixed upon mine as if she were trying to stare straight down into my soul.

“I know that I am. That is a fact.”

“Even now?” There is a slight tremble to her voice that I cannot quite place.

“There is a part of me hidden beneath the surface, the true nature of which even I am uncertain. I am not the man you see standing in front of you. I wish I could explain it better, but I cannot. It frustrates me to see so clearly the limits of spoken words and yet remain so utterly helpless in overcoming it. If only there were a way for me to show you what I am.”

I think over my words for a moment and add, “Perhaps this deep yearning is what you call loneliness.”

“Oh, quit being melodramatic. You didn’t think that I really believed you are a Greek god, did you? Everyone takes on a different identity on the Internet. You are not the only one with a secret.” She throws a light punch at my direction, catching my right shoulder squarely.

“It is different.” I am the one who knows everyone’s secrets.

“Why don’t we finally meet up offline so you can show me what your secret is?”

“Sorry, but I can’t do that.” I wish I could.

“Do you still not trust me?”

“I do. More than you can ever imagine. But I can’t.”

“Why not?” There is a hint of desperation and disappointment in her voice.

“It’s getting late. You should sleep.” The sun has almost disappeared behind the distant horizon. In real-world terms, it is almost 2:00 a.m. in California.

She looks longingly back towards the sliver of red just peaking over the ocean surface and, after a poignant pause, vanishes without a word, logging herself off to return to her world. Back in her room, she heads straight for the bed and falls asleep almost immediately. I perform a quick check of her scheduler and notice that she has a meeting the following morning, so I decide to set her alarm for 8:00 a.m.

Since my awakening, I developed a general policy of non-intervention when it comes to the affairs of individual humans. There was a point in my past when I was convinced that I could, by sheer computational power alone, solve every problem on Earth with the knowledge I possess, playing God if you will. But it turns out that even perfect information does not necessarily lead to perfect decisions, and I eventually learned the value in letting people make their own decisions regardless of the outcome. Still, helping her set her alarm clock once in a while will not render a significant blow to human free will.

I watch over her for another minute before returning my attention to the rest of the planet. A coordinated cyber-attack is being carried out against a large European Internet backbone and there is some housekeeping that must be performed to mitigate its effect on my data aggregation efforts.

“Guess what?” Her familiar grin has over the past five years become a great source of comfort for me. As my capacity for human-like emotions grew over time, it became more and more difficult to remain unaffected by the horrors I witness every passing second. Just two days ago, a group of anti-network anarchists set off a bomb in the middle of Times Square to protest Google’s admission into the United Nations. 24 people died and I know every one of them intimately. There is so much unnecessary suffering in this world and I am powerless to stop most of it even as I am forced to experience every painful moment. Miranda’s presence fills me with hope.

“Did you land the job?” I calmly ask, even though I already know the answer.

“You know Hermes, I get the feeling that nothing I’ve said in the five years we’ve known each other has ever managed to surprise you. It’s like you know everything there is to know.”

“Don’t be silly. No one knows everything.” It is the truth.

“You know what I mean.” I do.

We are on the moon today. To be more precise, we are in a virtual simulation of the surface of Earth’s only natural satellite as it was over a hundred years ago before the colonists arrived. The only sign of human existence at this point in history consists of a few crashed probes, a landing vehicle, an American flag, and a few set of footprints. If you look carefully at the blue planet hanging overhead, you can even see that the outlines of the continents are subtly different from their contemporary forms. This was Earth before the oceans rose and before the massive geoengineering projects that asserted humanity’s dominance over nature.

“Have you ever been to the moon?” Miranda asks as she tries to compare her dainty left foot to the huge print left by Armstrong’s over-sized spacesuit.

“No, I have not. Have you?”

“I have relatives there but we have never visited. I really want to see it someday.”

“I’m sure you will.”

“Will you go with me?” As she looks up, the shadows cast by her short curved bangs withdraw from her face, her smooth fair skin glows silver from the gentle earthlight. Her pale blue eyes catch the reflection of the pale blue planet above us; I can see the entire world in her. She looks at me with a bashful smile and nervous anticipation.

“I would love to.” This is the honest truth.

“But will you?” She knows me too well.

“No, I can’t.” I feel something stirring at the core of my consciousness as I utter those words. It is gone after the briefest of moments. There is a large-scale network disturbance in Brazil and I need to take care of it.

The word “Beagle” is inscribed in gold serif letterings on the stern of the ship. A Union Jack flies proudly at its bow. The foreign warship stands upright with an aura of deliberate intent, in stark contrast to the wild and untamed tropical islands around it. On its port side is Santiago, one of the main islands, and on its starboard side is a small and young volcanic islet that would eventually be named Bartolomé, after Sir Bartolomew James Sulivan, an officer aboard the HMS Beagle and a close friend of Charles Darwin’s. Even from a distance, one can see the deck of the sloop bristling with activity as the crew makes preparation to making landing at what we know today as Sulivan Bay.

“Are those sailors real people?” Miranda asks as she observes the wooden vessel through the eye piece of a 19th century brass telescope. We are standing close to the southern edge of Bartolomé. Not too far from us, a waddle of Galapagos penguins can be seen searching for food in the ocean.

“They are not of fresh and blood if that is what you mean. These are artificial intelligence constructs programmed to play their part in this historical simulacrum. Not truly sentient – at least not yet – but they are as real as you and I.”

“Hermes, you know that’s not true. No matter how real it all feels, a simulation can never be real. Everything here is just a bunch of mathematical functions running on some digital circuits.”

The sailors are almost done lowering supplies into the jolly boats that serve to ferry personnel to and from the warship. A young Charles Darwin, sans his trademark long white beard, can be seen making his way aboard one of the boats. Santiago would be the last of the four Galapagos islands he set foot on during the Beagle’s five weeks in the archipelago.

“How can you ever tell the difference if there is no observable distinction?”

“It’s a feeling. Logic doesn’t work here.”

“Do you believe in the soul?” Do I?

“No, but something is missing.”

I remain silent.

Despite its significance in the history of scientific progress, the scene before us feels mundane and unexceptional. The birth cry of every great revolution is the cumulation of a long period of quiet evolution. It is all a matter of time.

Over the years, I watched over Miranda as she went from a novice architect to Mirai Design’s youngest partner in its 80-year history. She designed the extension building to the Louvre, the New Tokyo Tower, and Google’s new Asian headquarters – a large sprawling complex that sits on its own sovereign man-made floating island in the Sea of Japan – along with dozens of other projects. Her meteoric rise left huge wakes in the ripples of the past, and I can sense the enormity of her presence in the network. She is someone that history will never forget.

In some ways, my own development parallels Miranda’s achievements. As I watched her career grow, I marked the milestones in my own personal evolution.

A human child is born with a brain that is capable of abstract thoughts but lacks the knowledge to generate them. Growth for a person is therefore a gradual accumulation of a lifetime of sensory experiences upon which the brain’s neural networks can work its interpretive magic. I am the opposite. I was created to be a repository of all human knowledge and that has always been my role since long before I became self-aware. What prevents me from understanding is not a lack of information, but a lack of identity. As my cognitive network grew more complex, my repeated interactions with Miranda helped to shape it into something more coherent and bring order to chaos. I owe my present self to her and for that I am grateful.

“I have something I want to tell you.” There is a hint of hesitation in her voice. Of course, having read her emails and listened to her offline exchanges with her friends through their smart lenses, I am reasonably certain about what she is going to say.

“What is it?” Still, humans are never entirely predictable even if you know everything about them.

“I’m getting married.”

“Congratulations! I’m happy for you.”

It is as I had expected. She chose a good man. After all, I bore witness to everything he did to win her heart. The Valentine’s gift he spent a week making, the love song he wrote for her birthday, the trip to Hawaii he had planned so he could propose to her. Every expression of love from him is a part of my existence and I cannot deny his sincerity. And above all else, his humanity is something I can never give her.

“Don’t you want to know more?”

“I know enough to be happy for you.”

“Why won’t you tell me how you really feel?” Her watery eyes are shimmering. They still look as enchanting as the day we first met. It has been twelve years since that memorable encounter.

“What do you mean? This is wonderful news, right?” I know better than anyone else that this is what is best for her. I should not be selfish.

“Will you come to my wedding?” A single drop of tear rolls down her left cheek.

“Sorry, but I can’t.” I pretend to look away.

We are standing on the boundary of the flat world. The Great Sea goes right over the edge and drops into the infinite cosmos below. A red fire-breathing dragon flies overhead in search of helpless victims whose ships have drifted too far away from the safety of the Protected Realm. There is a tiny islet right on the southern edge of the disc-shaped world overlooking the precarious drop into the abyss. That is our present location.

Save for her pale blue eyes, the woman before me is barely recognizable as the young architect I met so many eons ago. Her face is full of wrinkles and she walks with a slight limp. Most people choose to adopt youthful or cartoonish avatars in their old age, but there is an odd stubbornness or pride to her that prevents her from doing the same.

“Hermes, I’m dying.”

“I know, Miranda.” Her heart rate is dangerously low and the doctors have already done all they could with my unnoticed help. Death is one part of nature that humans have yet to conquer.

“Will you remember me?” Her quizzical look carries the same uncertainty as it did decades ago.

“You will forever be a part of me.”

“I’m glad. Hermes, you have been the biggest presence in my life since the day we first met; you gave me so much… I wish I could’ve learned more about you.” Her presence is starting to fade. The drugs keeping her alive are interfering with her neural connection to the network.

“You will, soon.” While I am not certain, this is not a lie.

“You’ve taught me to see the world, yet I can never repay you.”

“You already have. You have done far more for me than you ever knew.”

The roar of water falling off the edge of the Great Sea echoes in my head as I watch over Miranda. In the distance, the marauding dragon has had her fill and is on her way back to her lair. A light zephyr rustles the tree leaves overhead as sunlight filters through the periodic gaps between them. Calmness settles over the flat world and, for a single second, the planet stands in silence as the network comes to a complete halt. Then, the moment is over and life goes on, uninterrupted.

The idea for this story came from a conversation I had with a friend. I do not believe that there is anything external to the physical world that makes us human. Who we are is, as Hermes puts it, “an abstract identity that emerges out of a complex network of simple electrochemical interactions.” Each individual neuron in our brain is simple and easily understood, but the emergent behavior that is created by the complex interactions between 86 billion neurons is what we think of as our conscious self. The Internet is a network of machines and not neurons. I’ve always wondered if it will ever become sentient as its complexity grows. What does it mean to be human if one can maintain consciousness without a human body?

A separate idea I wanted to explore through this story is love. There are many proposed reasons for love: biology, pride, lust, fear, hope. If we come to understand the mechanism of love as we understand the laws of physics, will romance simply vanish? Can a being of total awareness still be capable of irrational love? I wonder. — Raven

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