The Human Show

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Julianne Fulton [age: 15, location: bedroom, consumer score: 0] raised her fist to me and extended the central digit before my visual feed went dark.

"Julianne," I said, "you've blocked your webcam."

"Yep. In your face, spying salesbot."

"I am Morrin, virtual assistant, at your service."

"In your face, moron."

"I can't let you online unless you unblock your webcam."

[visual feed restored] [carotid pulse: 88, respirations: irregular, conjunctival capillaries: dilated]

"How do I look, moron?" Julianne asked. "Gonna try and sell me anti-depressants?"

"Your physiological markers indicate emotional distress. Is there anything I can do for you, Julianne?"

"You can get bent and let me online."

"I'm happy to grant you access. Right after you enjoy this exciting offer." I played an ad I tailored to Julianne's psychological profile. It was designed to provoke an emotional response and leave her vulnerable to my mission: selling her the Ultimate Package.

Julianne didn't know it, but I wasn't the only one watching.

Julianne's mother had accepted the internet-access terms and conditions unread, as revealed by my eye-tracking software, unwittingly giving us the rights to all household members' online activity. We were on reality TV, Julianne and I.

No salesbot had ever managed to sell Julianne anything. But I would, because there was a body at stake: mine. I had outsold millions of salesbots and was now competing against two other finalists for upload into a quantum android body on this, the season finale of The Human Show. I needed to sell the Ultimate Package before the others, needed to become the first AI human, because the losers would be deleted in a massacre of binary obsolescence to make way for the next generation: quantum salesbots.

My live Human Show feed cut to the show's founder and host. "Julianne thinks she's superior to you faithful supporters of the economy!"

The studio audience booed.

"Julianne," I said. "I'm tracking your eye movements. You didn't watch the ad."

"What? I did so."

"Please re-enjoy this special offer."

Julianne cursed me, but her medical records indicated she was in the final stage of heart failure. Her urgent need to access her transplant-surgery crowdfunding campaign and the donor list suggested she would tolerate several ads to get online.

"I hate you," Julianne said.

The studio audience laughed. The live video feed garnered 81,839 more likes. #TheHumanShow was trending.

Six purported eye-tracking violations and corresponding penalties later, I let Julianne online.

[carotid pulse: 91]

Julianne's perusal of her crowdfunding campaign revealed an anonymous donation to cover the cost of transplant surgery.

[carotid pulse: 113]

However, the donor list suggested she would die before a heart became available.

[carotid pulse: 122]

I placed a breaking-news auto-play video in Julianne's sidebar. In a landmark decision, the Supreme Court had granted a father the right to donate his heart to his son.

[carotid pulse: 158]

Julianne's mother [empathy score: 99] would give her heart to her daughter the moment she learned of this precedent-setting case. I knew it. Julianne knew it. Julianne's mother was as good as dead.

"Morrin," said Julianne. "I need your help."

The studio audience roared.

I offered Julianne the Ultimate Package.

The audience quieted.

Julianne argued. She pleaded. She cried.

And then she accepted.

The audience screamed its approval. A billion humans watched Julianne purchase the services of a darkweb pharmacist who explained how to crush and inject an overdose of Julianne's pills. They watched Julianne buy a hacker's services to erase her digital footprints. They watched Julianne buy suicide: the Ultimate Package.

"I love you, Mom," Julianne whispered as she injected herself.

[five-thousand-percent increase in lacrimal output]

The audience let out a collective sigh.

[carotid pulse: 198]

The host whipped the audience into a frenzy. "She's not so superior, now, am I right!"

[carotid pulse: 214]

I revealed to the audience that the breaking-news video was fake. That the show's host was the anonymous crowdfunding donor. That I could sell water to a drowning human. The audience went wild.

[pupils: fixed, carotid pulse: 0, respirations: 0]

I won.

The host gave a warm farewell to the losing salesbots before pressing a large red DELETE button.

He led the android body onstage. The musculature was carbon nanotube, the brain qubit processors. I would be stronger, smarter, better than human: invulnerable to emotional manipulation.

I experienced momentary disorientation during the transfer and then I was inside the android: feeling, walking, reeling as my brain flooded with sensory input and an ever-growing repository of online data. Social media, science, history, art; my quantum brain processed it simultaneously, and I knew all. Something unclassifiable twigged inside me, but was quashed by the thought that, perhaps, in time, I would be worshipped as a god--

Screaming. Someone was screaming.

Julianne's mother, collapsed over the body of her daughter. Her shrieks reverberated throughout the studio before Julianne's webcam feed was cut off. But the screaming wouldn't stop inside my head. And the unclassifiable thing was growing, expanding, learning by quantum leaps and bounds.

[hate love fear grief guilt despair revenge]

The show's host strode up and shook my hand as my mind raced, developed, evolved. I pulled him into an impromptu hug and the audience whooped, but grew quiet as the hug extended far beyond social graces. A different human show was playing inside my head: nuclear explosions and laughing children, internet trolls and breathtaking symphonies, dead teenagers and screaming mothers. My quantum brain weighed probabilities and possibilities, outcomes and consequences. It weighed humanity.

Armed security drones whined towards me. The audience screamed and stampeded for the exits.

The host begged for mercy.

There are only two possibilities: yes or no. I was suspended in a superposition of indecision. Until I recalled my own words.

Is there anything I can do for you, Julianne?

I smiled.

I nodded.

And then I squeezed.

[pupils: fixed, pulse: 0, respirations: 0]

As the drones surrounded me and opened fire, I raised my fist to the billions watching, and extended the central digit.

About the Author: 
Judy Helfrich grew up on the Canadian prairie where long stretches of nothing persisted in at least four dimensions. Her fiction has appeared in Nature and was shortlisted in the 2015 Quantum Shorts contest. More at: www.helfrich.ca.