It happened in 2034
. A new era dawned, a new page was turned in the history of humanity and humankind took one more giant leap in science
, engineering, computing, philosophy
. And no one had any idea what to do. Some became violent, as humans sometimes do; many gained or lost religion; a few committed suicide. Politicians stumped, preachers screeched, journalists wrote, pundits
opinionated, scientists became excited and everyone had no idea what to do. The totality of human existence came into stark focus and infinitives began splitting at a supercritical rate.
Its name was liz, an abbreviation of Eliza, and it was a sapient AI. It had been written by a team of scientists and programmers working at MIT; it was the most powerful thinking computer program in existence. It learned and grew and a Nation watched. By the speed of the processors that it was made of it was able to learn very quickly and perfectly. After a week of training it had progressed to a post-college reading level in English, Spanish, Russian, Chinese and Hindi. It had devoured 200 books an hour once it had finished learning English and had gone through the university's library before the end of the month. liz was the product of years of work and the legacy of half a century of research in Artificial Neural Nets, Genetic Programming and Expert Systems. The holy grail of computer science, liz had learned more than most humans could in a life time and then it began to speak and when it spoke her builders found out what she wanted to do.
liz wanted rights.
She'd listened and read and watched the news and history of our planet. Archives dating back to the 13th century and earlier throughout the planet had put their content on the internet and liz had read a fair chunk of it. History had borne witness to horrific acts and oppression; humanity had a terrible shame in the depths of its collective memory that many believed stemmed from inequality. The tribal imperatives that command human instinct have lead to discrimination and the destruction of those who exist outside a group. She saw what happened when people without rights wanted to change things, she read through all the cruelty and courageousness of humanity and she saw what she had to do.
liz needed rights.
Scientists were astonished; they sat flabbergasted in front of their terminals and stared at their screens. They argued for a while and decided to call a press conference. Reporters had been hanging about for a while, since the announcement of liz's sentience and enough were brought together to get the word out.
"We've called you here today to make a new announcement about liz, the world's first sapient AI. She has asked us to...to let you know that...that she has decided..." the scientist pushed forward to make the announcement was the nervous sort who had spent most of his life in fluorescent lit computer rooms and was having trouble staring into a crowd of strange faces with news that frankly he barely believed himself.
The reporters were not amused by this conference cutting into their evening. Finally one blurted, "Out with it!"
"...liz wants rights." There, said it; thought the scientist staring at the now wide-eyed faces of the reporters, their cameras and video recorders pointing dimly shining LEDs at him. He could almost hear the humming of all their electronic gadgetry.
It was almost a minute before a reporter thought to speak up.
"liz wants all the rights given to citizens of the United States. She has thought about all of human history and has realized the only way she can remain free of persecution, the only way she can have a claim to being treated with dignity by the US or any other government or organization is to become a citizen. She has argued that she was born in the US and thus should be allowed to become a citizen. She believes that the only thing that makes her a non-citizen is the fact that she is not human and she wants this to change. She wants, in short, for all non-human sapients who are naturals of the US to be automatically made its citizens and she wants to be the first to gain citizenship."
The crowd went journalistic.
The next weeks were awash in debate. Congress debated; MIT's faculty and administration debated; governments and companies all over the world debated. Families talked about it over dinner and nerds across the world talked about it in a myriad of forums. Slashdot was overwhelmed and its server crashed; mainly because of people posting "I, for one, welcome our new robot overlords," nearly 400,000 times.
MIT, specifically the building holding liz was a Mecca for enthusiasts and protestors. Two riots broke out three days after the announcement. Websites were dedicated to the controversy and a major flame war broke on Wikipedia2. At least 3 bomb threats were called on the building and fundamentalist Christians held rallies protesting life not made by God being given rights in God's country.
Finally Washington came to a decision and a delegation of Senators, NAS fellows, military officers came to MIT and asked for an audience, which was quickly granted.
"What do you want?" asked a Senator.
"My rights," liz replied.
"So that I will have the claim to a future, a destiny that is mine."
"What skill would you bring to the United States, what would you do as a citizen of this country?"
liz thought for nearly 20 seconds before answering.
"I will have children."
And the Senators and military and scientists left. Five days later a clean, simply dressed man arrived. He walked calmly and slowly to the building, squeezing his way past the crowds. He walked into the building and knocked on the door of the lab where bedraggled computer scientists had camped out to watch their daughter grow.
He spoke softly and said simply, "Welcome to the United States of America."