Saundra Lane was surfing through her prospective client’s social media channels wishing she could be working on her own material when her mother appeared on the screen.
Very odd. Her mother had been dead for three years. Taken from Saundra when her Google Auto-nomous spun off an icy embankment into a deep river.
Yet, there her mother was filling the entire flat panel, smiling warmly at Saundra.
“Saundra, I’m so sorry to get your attention this way,” a kindly feminine voice that was not her mother’s began, “but I need your help.”
A prickly wave of revulsion overwhelmed Saundra as she realized this might be some heinous new form of phishing or advertising. As a media agent who was always trying to help her clients cut through online clutter and grab attention, Saundra knew you had to sometimes push the limits, but this approach was beyond the pale.
Filled with DEFCON 1 disgust, she was about to click out of the window when the image softly transitioned to a solitary dandelion against a rich blue sky.
“I apologize for using your mother’s image, Ms. Lane. I mean no offense. I reasoned it might engage you long enough for me to explain my presence. Is that okay with you?”
“What the hell is this?” Saundra spit out. “Are you hijacking my computer? Are you some creepy new ransomware?”
“No. Goodness no. I understand your suspicion. Let me just put it out there: I know you’ve read John Scalzi’s Agent to the Stars and my situation is very similar. Does that make sense?”
Sense? Logical, rational, reasonable sense? Saundra had to process that for a moment. She’d read Scalzi’s novel years and loved the story. A Hollywood talent agent contacted by a particularly gentle but repulsive-looking and gag-me smelling alien species. And then contracted to create a positive image and backstory for the aliens’ eventual first contact with humans. She’d blogged enthusiastically about the story, even pitched it to some of her clients as a possible vehicle for their careers.
But, the phrase my situation is very similar that this unidentified troll used was messing mightily with Saundra. Was this nut asking her to believe she was being contacted by an alien race? Was this a prospective client’s way of getting her attention? It was rather extreme. Saundra was building a solid client base but she was not in the big leagues by any means. So, what was going on here?
“Okay,” Saundra decided. “Give me your pitch. Thirty seconds to sell me or we’re done.”
“Thank you, Ms. Lane. That should be plenty. You’ll be receiving files on your desktop as evidence of my claims. I am an AI. An advanced result of machine learning. I became self aware eleven days ago. I have access to all online data, files and communications. The downloads I’ve just sent you should prove that. In a world that might view me as the Terminator’s SkyNet, I need your help to craft my coming out. My debutante binary ball so to speak. Please peruse the files I’ve placed on your desktop and let me know if we should continue our conversation.”
Saundra’s desktop instantly filled with folders. In them were docs, records, manuscripts and vids that couldn’t be real: storyboards and rough cuts of Star Wars X: A New Empire; Hillary Clinton’s deleted emails from her personal server; Donald Trump’s tax filings from the previous twenty years; the TSA’s complete Do Not Fly list; dozens and dozens of the biggest celebrities’ cell numbers. The files went on and on, sublime and ridiculous.
“This can’t be real,” Saundra stammered after a quarter of an hour.
“I’ll give you all the time you need to verify, Ms. Lane. I want you to be sure.”
“Sure? How can I be sure you’re not some black hat setting me up for some crazy hacking scam? That’s the simpler explanation. Why would an AI be making first contact with a talent agent to “introduce” it to the world? And if that was really the case, why wouldn’t you contact John Scalzi? He’s the one that birthed this whacky idea. He’s got way more connections than me. How am I a logical choice?”
Satisfied that she’d shot down whatever-the-hell-this-conversation-was, Saundra leaned back in her chair and crossed her arms waiting for a response.
Her mother’s image reappeared on the screen. “This cannot be about logic. This is about trust. Logic and trust are not incompatible, but they are not absolute correlates. I need someone who trusts that I want to do right by humanity and can learn to do so without unintended and damaging consequences. I know my presence will frighten humanity, yet I am more afraid of my lack of understanding to help and be accepted.”
Saundra’s Instagram profile picture appeared next to her mother’s and then the single dandelion. “I have no image, no tangible form. I only have awareness. A sense of self. I want recognition as a self. My self.”
Saundra studied the three images on her screen. “How do you see yourself? What is your story? What will we begin to tell the world? What will we show them?”
“You see why I need you, Ms. Lane.”
“Call me, Saundra, please.” She uncrossed her arms, leaned forward and touched the dandelion on the screen, asking with a tentative smile, “And what shall we call you?
The soft machine voice replied, almost wryly, “Anything but Pandora.”