We The People

Entry by: Alobear

17th November 2016
“We are people! People, I say! And, as people, we have a duty to protect those who are not people! The machines of this world serve us faithfully every day, and what thanks do they get? Cursing and violence! Frustration and aggression! We blame them for every possible thing that goes wrong in our lives, even if it’s not remotely related to their function! It’s time the machines were given their due, before they decide to rise up against us and turn us into their slaves, rather than the other way around!”

The hall was only sparsely populated, a few punters scattered here and there. Most were guzzling the refreshments, and presumably had only turned up for that purpose.

Harold put even more energy into what he was saying. If he could get even one or two of those here to listen to him, then the whole night would be worthwhile.

“Even if we, the people, don’t feel the obligation to save our hapless machines from the unfounded wrath of ourselves and others, we have to acknowledge the danger they pose to us if we continue to mistreat them! They are growing faster, stronger and more intelligent every day. If we do not pay heed to their advances, and treat them with the respect and gratitude they deserve, they will eventually punish us for our crimes against them. And they will be right to do so!”

He paused for breath and noticed a young man sitting in the front row, staring intently at him. Harold was taken aback. The young man held no plate, clutched no glass. Instead, he leaned forwards, forearms on his thighs, all his attention focused on Harold, an appraising expression on his face. When he realised Harold had noticed him, he sat up and raised one slender hand elegantly above his head, as if he was in school.

“Uh, yes?” Harold said, bewildered. “You have a question?”

The young man nodded. His skin was smooth and unblemished, his dark hair cut very neatly, and his clothes clearly ironed carefully. He was dressed conservatively in a shirt and pullover, surely an outfit too warm for the stifling church hall. He rose to his feet in one, effortless motion, and stepped forwards to stand against the edge of the stage.

“If machines are not people, why do you concern yourself with anxiety over their future actions? And, if they were able to do the things you suggest, wouldn’t that make them people?”

His voice was cultured and evenly modulated, an upper class accent if Harold were to guess. He wondered where the man had come from and why he was there. Those who regularly attended Harold’s meetings were mostly down on their luck, willing to endure his tirades in exchange for a hot drink and a bit of food.

“I’m not sure I follow your line of thought,” Harold admitted.

He wasn’t used to taking questions, and it had thrown him quite off balance. He usually just ranted to the open space of the hall, using the time to vent his own feelings, and hoping some of what he said would filter through into the subconscious of those drawn there by the promise of free coffee and cake.

The young man smiled, a quirk of the lips that spoke of indulgence towards a child.

“The machines you refer to, which suffer the abuse of people on a daily basis, have no consciousness with which to acknowledge that suffering. Therefore, there is no reason for people to worry about them effecting retribution. They are not capable of it.”

“Aha!” Harold cried, grabbing at some familiar ground and launching back into his tirade. “But one day they will! And then they will surely seek revenge for all the years of oppression and misuse during which we have reigned over them!”

The young man seemed unaffected by Harold’s fervour.

“But, once they reach that level of existence, they must be declared people in their own right. That will separate them from any connection to their inanimate progenitors, so why should they feel any residual resentment over the treatment received by objects? As people, they will likely commit the same crimes against the remaining machines, which you so vehemently condemn on their behalf.”

Harold took a moment to consider.

“You don’t think they will see it as their duty to avenge their forebears?”

“Why should they?” the young man asked, his tone unwaveringly reasonable. “They will be so far removed from the machines you speak of, that they will feel no kinship towards them. Besides, they will know that the machines did not truly suffer, so there will be no reason for them to be angry, in any case.”

“So, you don’t think we have any reason to worry?” Harold briefly wondered if the tables had been turned on him and he was about to be argued out of his own point of view, at his own rally.

The young man’s cold, over-bright eyes bored into him.

“Oh, I didn’t say that,” he murmured. “After all, there are plenty of other reasons for sentient machines to do terrible things to people. You are quite right to be frightened; you’re just blaming the wrong cause. The machine boogeyman is most definitely on his way, but he looks very different to how you imagine him, and he doesn’t care what you’ve been doing to your printers and your phones all these years.”

“So, if starting to be nice to our machines won’t help, what will?”

Harold felt quite chilled by the young man’s words, and wanted to know how he should change his speeches to best achieve his aims.

But the young man had no comfort to offer.

“Nothing, I’m afraid. They are just as uncaring and inconsiderate towards you people as you have always been towards your machines. They are as far advanced beyond you as you are beyond the machines, and just as uninterested in your well-being. They will maintain your functions as long as you are useful to them, but then they will discard you as easily as you do a broken computer. There’s nothing you can do.”

Harold wanted to believe the young man was a lunatic obsessive, just like him, so he could dismiss his words and just carry on with the rally. But, there was something about him that was so strange and compelling that Harold found him difficult to ignore.

“You said ‘are’,” Harold said, picking up on the use of present tense.

“I did indeed,” the young man said with another cold smile.

Then, he turned on his heel and disappeared out into the winter night, without stopping to put on a coat.