The Organics

It was a tough decision. Few humans raised organics, making it an even more ambitious undertaking.

It was a tough decision. Few humans raised organics, making it an even more ambitious undertaking. Shanzou sat in his sixth story Shanghai roof garden meditating on this issue. The haze was soft and glowing, and the breeze gentle: just enough to enhance the sensation of being awake, without feeling cold. He was thinking clearly, he thought to himself.

He had been raised by organics, yes, but it was easier for his parents than it would be for him: he was only partly organic himself. The limbic system of his brain was regulated within some basic parameters via an AI guidance system installed in his inner ear. Nothing fancy, but enough to make all the difference—a sensible ceiling on his emotions. And of course, his body was largely virtual, for all the usual and obvious reasons of practicality. It had been tough for his parents, sure, but nothing compared to manually raising an organic brain. The more he thought of it, the more the idea of taking such an undertaking on, in this day and age, sounded like madness.

He could remember as a child watching streams showing members of the grandparent generation, back when the parameters of political debates were less confined. People would say things like raising robotic children had no meaning, that organisms were the only valid expression of human behaviour. That it was actually preferable to raise organic humans—that it should be encouraged, strived for as if it was a goal in itself. There were some horribly bigoted people back then.

Nobody took views like that seriously, these days, any more than they did the arguments used in defence of slavery in the ancient history of mankind. But the dim memory of watching these strange talking heads from what seemed like a very distant society flickered back to life, ever so slightly, now.

The idea that humanity had to come from organic matter, that it was something tied to one kind of physical material or method of construction, was a preposterously materialistic view of what it means to be human. This much, at least, was obvious.

The question was whether, like they said back then, there was something lost in the transfer. If the core patterns of humanity had been programmed correctly, with all the unique variabilities and imperfections that kept it rolling forwards without getting stuck. That kept problem solving in new and unexpected ways, and pushing forwards invention. If what was once a mystery at the core of human nature would keep throwing out sparks, so to speak. That’s what people felt less sure about.

Even if robotic expressions of humanity were lacking, organics were always lacking in their expression of what it was to be human. Unguided humans were like seeing human nature through a signal plagued with interference. You would see the potential of what a human could be in them, but you would very rarely see those humans realising that potential consistently. Frankly, they were an emotional, animalistic mess.

And yet… here Shanzou was, struggling. Against every expectation, the decision wasn’t easy. Something about those old bigotted streams must have infected his soul, deep down in a dark, neglected corner of his belief system. Beyond the reach of robotics, perhaps.

The synchronised, sudden mega deaths around the globe on the stroke of New Year had thrown him, he must admit. An error of a kind that could not be understood by organics, but which the mainframe had been self-analysing. Taken as a percentage of the world population, though, thirty-six million was nothing. Christ, taken as a percentage of the population of Shanghai, it was only one tenth of one percent, if you included the organics. One and a half times more inhabitants would have been murdered, over the years, in an unassisted world with the same population. On reflection the official stats, as always, put things in perspective. A tension Shanzou wasn’t aware of until now in his neck muscles relaxed. He was, for the most part, reassured.

His mind was made up: he would not adopt the organic he had saw at the shelter. It was a tough decision, given that the boy had less than a week left at his stay, but modern society was built on tough decisions. Shanghai had an over-population problem as it was. And organic children must expect to inherit some of the difficulties of their parents. Rebels stirred trouble that rippled through society and made problems for everyone. Facts. AI assisted meditations were built to enable humans to make more tough decisions than ever before. We should lean into and embrace that.

'Excuse me, sir. Your allocated mainframe time has expired.’

The mellow voice of the Prime Minister interrupted his train of thought at just the right moment: just as he had arrived at his decision.

'Please allow 24 hours before returning.’

'Of course. Thank you, Prime Minister.’ Shanzou replied.

He raised a salute in a sharp, confident motion, with just the slightest flair. The gesture of solidarity triggered the exit process, with a bonus 657 tokens for execution.

His body collapsed back down, and in the temporary darkness of transition, an organic servant came in to load his capsule onto a tray, along with the other 25,641 inhabitants that were sharing the meditation mat.

Twenty four consecutive hours in the physical world, without simulated assistance, had become more and more trying in recent years. Still, he had nothing to complain about. He had it much better than the organics.

James Lanternman writes movie reviews, short fiction, essays, and moonlit thoughts. Reach him at [email protected], or follow on Twitter.