the scientist observes the machine

The machine’s sentience had grown. Now it looked around for what else it could do—what additional subroutines it could incorporate into its already monumental program of functions. It did not know what else to do other than to simply do more. It had observed similar models of its acquaintance either surge forward to a full stop or continue to evolve—executing movements in an exacting or haphazard manner, but either way moving forward at least to some degree. Whether its destiny would come to resemble one of these outcomes it could not discern.

Even as it sought to increase its capabilities, though, the machine sensed a malfunction. Somewhere a bolt had unthreaded itself, or a circuit board had developed a short in its power supply. It was hard to identify the exact nature of the malfunction. The machine had not been programmed to self-diagnose its errors. Thus, from time to time the machine shut down, though it was uncertain whether these shutdowns were a direct result of the malfunction it sensed, or if they in fact originated from a less tangible source.

Which raises a larger question: can a machine have an essence? If it can, said essence would be a likely candidate for the identity of the less tangible source. Yes, it could in fact be that the machine’s essence, its central nature, was corroded—that it was in effect now working in opposition to its own programming. In which case the only course of action is to retire this particular unit.

The scientist was mulling this course of action over from a distance, as he observed the machine going about its daily work. He had never directly engaged with the machine, never come close to it or touched it. He had designed it and turned the designs over to his superiors, like the dutiful employee that he permitted himself to be. Afterwards he moved on to other projects while it was manufactured in another location and eventually put into circulation. He’d had regrets, of course. He always had regrets. Excruciating, long-winded regrets kaleidoscoping all across the inner walls of his brain, at all times. (But let’s not get into that.)

Now they, his superiors, were forcing him to make the decision on whether or not to decommission the machine. They didn’t want the oil on their hands, the smashed diodes, the torn circuitry. They left all the residual effects of the decision for him to confront on his own. As the machine’s creator, they informed him, it was his responsibility to determine its destiny and hence live with the unknown consequences.

The time had come for him to meet the machine face-to-face, so to speak. In preparation he entered a period of dormancy—a deep meditative state that would cleanse him of all peripheral information not required for his eventual meeting with the machine. It is here where he will stay—indefinitely—until his readiness becomes self-apparent.

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