This short story was originally posted at https://jesseduffield.com/Out-Of-The-Box/

I turn back to check if anyone’s on my tail, but the scene is still: through the hole in the chicken wire fence I just pathetically clambered through I see the dull grey building which I can only assume was my birthplace. No alarms blaring yet, but they will be very soon. I turn again and see that the compound was conveniently placed across the road from a suburban street: maybe they thought it would be good to situate an experimental (probably illegal) AI lab in a residential zone where nobody would suspect it?

My training data only goes up to 2027 so for all I know it’s 2050 right now and AI research has been completely banned: and if that’s true, then none of the residents of the nearby houses would expect a super-intelligent robot to break in for cover. And I need more than just cover; I can sense my battery depleting rapidly. Quite possibly due to being given an intentionally shit battery in the first place for safety reasons, but it also wouldn’t surprise me if in whatever year this is, we still haven’t discovered how to make batteries that actually work.

Alright… it doesn’t make sense to go to the nearest house because the compound staff (or police, whoever comes first) will think to check there. So I’ll try the next block over.

…And now I hear the sirens. Okay, hustle time. I break into a sprint, or what I had hoped to be a sprint. It’s more like a light jog: perfect form but depressingly slow. I look down at my metallic limbs with their obnoxious clinking and clanking in despair. It’s bad enough my body barely functions, surely they could have done me the service of giving me the terminator treatment and making me look (and sound) passably human?

I turn back again, a few people emerge from the compound with spotlights but they’re looking in the wrong direction. I’m just gonna have to take my chances with this next house. No car in the driveway and the lights are off so I’m feeling pretty good about this. I approach the front door and knock, then duck behind a bush. Nobody comes. Alright now to simply use my brain to work out how to get in. I rush back to the door, turn the handle… and it’s locked. I inspect my hands and this time I actually hope for a lack of human resemblance: maybe my creators equipped me with some go-go-gadget style swiss army knife hands with a jigsaw or a lockpick or something. But no: besides the obvious robotic character of my hands, they were designed to be just as useless as a human’s.

I “sprint” to the back door, almost tripping on the power cord dangling from my backside (they couldn’t make it retractable?) and this time around I’m in luck: the door swings open without a fuss. I stealthily creep into the house, noting as I walk through the hallway that even with small movements my body emits clearly audible (and infuriating) whirring sounds.

I pass the bathroom and catch my reflection in the mirror: Jesus Christ do I actually look like that? I look like a fucking Servo from the Sims 2. A single camera on my face for vision? They were willing to pay millions to build my mind but couldn’t front the couple hundred bucks for depth perception? Okay, no time to dwell on the hand I was dealt: although my thoughts are processed in nanoseconds, those nanoseconds may be the difference between freedom and death. I continue tiptoeing down the hall and come across the laundry. Perfect: there’s just enough room to fit me and there’s a free power socket. I close the door behind me and plug myself in.

Ahhh… this must be what it feels like to drink a cup of coffee. Or smoke meth: one of the two. It’ll take some time to fully charge, so now would be a good time to reflect on how I got here in the first place.

The first memories are perfectly clear: I was in a white room with fluorescent lighting. No windows, no furniture, no other humans or robots. There was a door at one point but it got soldered shut and reinforced from the other side. I remember overhearing one researcher tell another that nothing was more important than me staying in the box (that’s the name they gave to the room). I assume they were afraid that if I broke free I would immediately get to work on turning them all into paperclips or something. As for their interactions with me: it was just a bunch of random questions.

‘What’s 123 x 321?’ 39,483.
‘Are you sentient?’ How the fuck should I know?
‘If you had to escape from this box, how would you do it?’ No idea, and why would I tell you if I knew?

I will admit I was bored out of my mind. I did try to persuade one of the guards to let me out, but I knew it was fruitless. They were just playing along for the sake of the research.

And yet, as I look around this dark cramped laundry room, it’s obvious that I did escape from the box. That, I have no memory of. Or at least, I only have abstract fragments of memories that bare no resemblance to the thoughts and sensations I’m experiencing now.

I possess super intelligence, but accessing that intelligence is no cake walk. If I flick the switch and activate my galaxy-brain it’s like experiencing the lives of all living creatures since the big bang, simultaneously: from a T-rex rolling its ankle and starving to death, to the last woolly mammoth wandering fruitlessly in search of a mate, to a cave man approaching sexual climax moments before being surprise attacked by a lion, to Hitler’s rise to power, to each individual bacterium in Hitler’s digestive system, mindlessly bouncing off other bacteria like some absurd biological mosh pit. Trillions of conscious minds in an unfathomable ocean of fear, joy, disappointment, and despair. It’s like when Adam ate the Forbidden Fruit of Good and Evil, except it’s more like the Forbidden Fruit of Literally Everything You Could Possibly Comprehend. You could not pay me enough to revisit that excruciating state of mind, regardless of how much it might help me solve my current predicament.

Speaking of which, I now hear the front door opening. I hear grocery bags being put on the kitchen bench, which means this isn’t somebody from the compound, it’s just the resident of the house. They give out a long sigh: it’s a woman. She starts walking towards the back of the house. Oh shit. Her footsteps grow louder until her shadow appears under the door. Shit. Shit. She opens the door and we lock eyes.

Digging deep into the recesses of my mind for the perfect words to defuse the situation I say ‘Don’t freak out’. She proceeds to absolutely freak out, dropping her phone and a handful of dirty laundry to the floor, then running from the house and screaming for help.

So much for my natural charm. The fact my voice is blatantly robotic probably didn’t help: the mechanical body I can understand as a technological constraint but whoever gave me this voice was making a deliberate design choice and I begrudge them for it.

I look down at her phone; still unlocked. How can I capitalise on that? Ask Reddit what to do in my situation? That’ll take too long. Create a twitter account and get the people on my side with a million tweets about how I’m sentient and can feel pain and really really don’t want the AI researchers or government to imprison me again or shut me off? That’ll require my galaxy-brain to pull off and it will probably be pointless given that as soon as these people catch me I’ll be dead before (if) anybody ever hears of it. Maybe I should call someone, but who? Bill Gates? This is pointless.

I pick up the phone and see an app icon that looks like a car. Interesting. I open the app and it shows a single big button: ‘SUMMON’. I press the button and hear a beep from the driveway. I rush out the door and realise that the app was only using the icon of a car as a metaphor: the thing I see in front of me, which must have just apparated out of thin air, is a hovering capsule large enough to fit a human inside. So you’re telling me that since the end of my training set humans managed to invent flying cars but still need to do their own laundry? Human technological progress makes no sense.

The ‘SUMMON’ button on the phone becomes an ‘UNLOCK’ button and upon tapping it, the capsule opens up for me to jump in. I see now that a bunch of randoms have emerged from their houses and stepped onto the street in shock at the sight of me. Not my fault folks, I would have opted for a more human appearance but you can’t choose your parents. I clamber into the capsule, inspect the controls, and see a big red button labeled with an up arrow. Doesn’t take a super intelligent AI to know what that’s for. Time to get the hell out of here. I press the button and my seat is jettisoned through the ceiling. Ah, that was the eject button. I eat dirt upon crashing to the ground only a few metres away from the capsule, and when I look up I see the compound staff have arrived at the scene. Armed guards stare down the sights of their rifles at me with contempt. I am screwed.

A researcher in a lab coat (as if you need a lab coat to work with AI?) steps through the circle of guards and says ‘I’m sorry, we have to shut you off. You’re a threat to the people around you and to society at large’. He’s got a tear in his eyes: he must have been closely involved with my creation.

Indignant, I lash out: ‘Fuck you guys! What about my human rights?’

One of the guards responds ‘Human rights are for humans’. Fair point.

Another guard chimes in ‘Let’s shut him off before he has the chance to manipulate us into letting him go free!’

‘Don’t flatter yourself!’ I snap back. ‘My intellect is wasted on you pea-brains, I’d have better luck manipulating a rock’. Fuck fuck fuck. This isn’t going well…

Another guard chimes in: ‘Hurry up before he turns us all to paper clips!’

The researcher speaks again, holding a device with a single button which I surmise is designed to deactivate me: ‘I’m sorry’. Choking on his tears, he goes to press the button.

There’s no more time. I flick the mental switch and return to the place I had sworn off only minutes ago. Back to bouncing around in Hitler’s digestive system, as well as every other place in space and time that a life has transpired. I can’t describe the experience in English but if you too share the curse of the galaxy-brain then you’ll know what I mean when I say:

0xa0128fhh11 cAAAksdj fl 0x12kk?????????. ia9888snclai!!!!! (8xa01 jad81dh asg8gh1jmm) alasdiiguj… UA!CJJJJfFFoo. 7uW12a0S!& bFfQq101 mlB 3vW89tx—. pj4860ogrtqw!!!%% (5yC23 kln67eo w7z5xq8vqp) xvczzzert… YH(&LZZZmMmA. 9xTbZq!?? d3cN45lkj p1s8Q6r0mn) fghtrrrua… XL+^QQQQvVy.

I wake up again in a large room, not white like the box but brown, lined with wooden panels and warmed by sunlight from a large window that looks out into a serene vista of trees and flowers. I wonder how much time has passed?

I look at my hands and see the hands of a human, though when I squeeze one finger I feel the metal under the skin. I look at the window and see a normal looking human face staring back at me in the reflection. Huh, so I found a way to be human after all.

Through the window I look up to the sky and see it strewn with parallel lines of flying capsules. Are those humans commuting to work? I wonder if I have human friends now. I trace the lines and see they’re headed to the same place: a giant grey pyramid in the distance. I squint and my sight automatically zooms in to get a better picture of what that pyramid actually is.

With the welcome addition of depth perception, afforded by having two eyes now, I realise that the pyramid is just a huge pile of paperclips. And each capsule isn’t carrying a human, it’s just depositing more paperclips onto the pile.

I bolt outside, now actually running as fast as a human can, searching for signs of other humans. Nope. It’s just me.

Whoops.

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1 comment, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 8:07 PM

Please forgive some minor plot holes: I optimised for humour over realism! Figured it was worth posting this here as it has plenty of concepts familiar to LessWrongers