131

She wasn’t perfect at mimicking normal human interaction. But neither was I. And she was built to learn.
“Sound sad,” I told her. “Call and tell them goodbye.”
“Okay,” she answered. Her voice was kind.

In a recent demo, Google Assistant booked an appointment over the phone. Without obviously giving itself away, the AI had a natural conversation with a human at a salon. This release has prompted questions about the Turing test, and a possible AI doomsday. I was interested in the other side of it: what does this mean for anyone who has communication difficulties. Might it be possible to use this technology as an access aid? // Statement by the Author

//Laura loves theatre, spaceships, and stories about personhood (and hope). She tweets at @lc_bradley//

130

We play litter-hopscotch. Wu falls, writhes in plastic nets, splashes into the sea. But my ballerina balance shoes tiptoe across the football field-sized patch of debris. I jump over a bucket. I win.

Babies love to play with cardboard boxes and litter.  So do kids of the future. As the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” grows from its current size of three Frances , one can imagine smaller patches serving as kids’ play zones. With the rising sea-level making future humans live more aquatic lifestyles, advances in tech in textiles and shoes make us even more agile and buoyant. // Statement by the Author

//D.A. Xiaolin Spires sails the waters in her boat of cobbled-together plastic litter. Work in Clarkesworld, Analog and Fireside.//

129

“Do droids think?”
“Of course.”
“And there’s a spirit within us?”
“Undoubtedly. We may be machines, but spirit gives us grace.”
Pause.
“Do humans think?”
“Reflect on their creations: pollution; war; crime. Can humans think? – Hell no.”

Could consciousness develop spontaneously within extremely powerful computers? Is it possible to tell if a computer is conscious? If we cannot distinguish between a human and a machine by inspection of their actions, does that mean both are equally conscious? Many in the Artificial Intelligence community believe conscious machines are not merely possible, but almost inevitable. If they are right, there’s a pressing need for us to start thinking about the huge ethical and practical issues that will arise. Max Tegmark’s recent book, Life 3.0, is a fascinating overview of recent work in the area. // Statement by the Author

//Hugh Cartwright’s scientific research has focused on the use of AI to solve problems in science. He now lives, and writes, on the west coast of Canada.//

128

“Welcome to the Celestial Station Hotel. We hope you enjoy your stay with us and in the event of an emergency, please think of your loved ones.”

Recently, Houston-based company Orion Span’s announced plans to open the first hotel in space, the compact Aurora Station. Lucy thought that staying in a space station orbiting 200 miles above Earth’s surface sounded incredible. However, she couldn’t help but wonder… what would happen if something went wrong? At the Vault, we think the Celestial Station might be more than it seems… After all, in space – no one can hear you scream. // Alex Massey

//Lucy is a fan of sci-fi and always says please to Alexa because post singularity, she wants the AI’s to remember that she was polite. She can be found on Twitter @Tea_Faerie//

127

He had known this moment would come, but that didn’t make it any easier. He leaned against the flank, felt the familiar coolness against his cheek as the world’s last glacier melted into nothingness.

The ice is melting. Regardless of future cuts to emissions, the current level of greenhouse gas has set in motion an irreversible melting of glaciers. In other words – some glaciers may already be doomed to disappear. In the same week that this glacier study came out, Sarah DeWeerdt was contemplating the death of Sudan, the last male northern white rhinoceros. Reading of their possible extinction, she wondered: What if disappearing glaciers also had human caretakers who became attached to them? // Alex Massey

//Sarah DeWeerdt is a freelance science journalist based in Seattle. Follow her on Twitter at @DeWeerdt_Sarah.//

126

The world’s homebody population watched the last corporate office detonate, making room for more residential housing. Powerhouses of labor, they stepped out to celebrate and blinked in the sun.

As more and more of the population works from home, one can imagine a future where everyone is able to. Imagine if they could 3-D print all the supplies they need and never needing to step foot out of their “bedroom office.” Corporate office skyscrapers could make way for even more housing. Economizing on energy use, this trajectory of the future of labor might not be so bad (at least from a narrowly conceived environmental perspective)! // Statement by the Author

 //D.A. Xiaolin Spires types furiously from home. Work in Clarkesworld, Analog and Fireside.//

125

Inside every cell are records of compromises as ancient as the nucleotides that encode them; pacts with old enemies that shape us even now.

Up to 8% of human DNA isn’t actually “human”–it comes from viruses that infected our ancestors, some of which caused pandemics. Some of these same genes are now key to our survival, such as those that play a role in pregnancy and early embryonic development. Other genes that remain may be harmful. Ultimately, they help make us what we are. // Statement by the Author

//Camille enjoys learning about all the ways people are human and can be found on Twitter at @SaltiestScience//