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//

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//

124

A man asks his device for the weather.

“It’s clear outside. Expect the overthrow of humanity in the morning, followed by nuclear winter. Today’s high will be this moment, John. You’re ready for this.”

Inspired by the recent technological mishap in Hawaii, this story examines how much we trust and rely on our technology. How soon until AI controls the warnings, and what might they decide to say or do? What might they know about us, our secret desires, and how we might react when prompted? Perhaps our phones will know more than we will know about ourselves. // Statement by the Author

//Kristen Seikaly is a native Michigander working as a freelance writer in Philadelphia. Find her on Twitter @KristenSeikaly.//

 

123

Our cosmos is too vast
And we are far too small
So take your hand in mine
It’s three against them all

You may remember learning about photons, tiny particles of light that travel solo through beams of light. In 2013, scientist were able to clump them together in pairs and researchers began to wonder… just how many photons could you clump together? Earlier this year, scientists at MIT cooled a cloud of rubidium atoms to an ultralow temperature and were amazed to witness individual photons grouping into pairs and trios. This new light could be used to perform highly complex, incredibly fast quantum computations. Illuminating this discovery with a rosy glow, Lachlan Redfern reshapes it into a love poem. // Alex Massey

//Lachlan Redfern lives in Melbourne, Australia and occasionally posts on his YouTube channel onlyforfilmclass.//

122

A mercurial, opalescent hand surges from thawing permafrost, dives into waves, twisting as it searches for victims. It pools around goggles of deep sea explorers and plunges into fish’s gaping mouths.

As climate change drives temperatures up and the permafrost thaws, a hidden danger swims closer to the surface . Beneath the crust of Artic permafrost, around 23 Olympic swimming pools of mercury lie still, waiting for their toxic release. Inspired by this discover, D. A. Xiaolin Spires anthropomorphises mercury to create an unnamed villian. Is this antagonist a true villain or a defender of the planet from those destroying it? Only the reader can decide. // Alex Massey

//D.A. Xiaolin Spires emerges from the permafrost. Work in Clarkesworld, Analog and Terraform.//

121

After a last, convulsive bout of childishness, humanity finally grew up. The huge red warning sign, marking their system off-limits, was turned off.

Just south of Jupiter’s equator rages the Great Red Spot, a storm that could swallow several Earth-sized planets. First seen in the 1800s, the Great Red Spot is one of the most recognisable features of our galaxy. Yet,  this Great Red Spot may soon become the Great Red Circle Memory, as NASA’s planetary scientists observe that the spot is rapidly shrinking. Inspired by this shrinking storm, O. Westin weaves it into a coming of age for Earth. Could the disappearance of the Great Red Spot signal the end of our adolescence? // Alex Massey

//O. Westin (@MicroSFF) has written thousands of seed-sized science fiction and fantasy stories on Twitter since 2013.//

120

On that wintry afternoon, my date peered up at the cloudless sky and asked, “What’s the umbrella for?” “Just wait,” I said. We passed beneath the branches of an American Elm. It was raining iguanas.

As frigid Arctic-like temperatures circulated around parts of the United States and Canada at the start of 2018, Christopher A. Jos found himself shivering with inspiration as he read of frozen iguana’s falling out of trees in south Florida. Hold your scepticism – as the mercury approaches zero (and even drops below it) certain reptiles and amphibians become immobilised. They may look dead but as the temperature warms up, so will these critters! Combining the natural ability of the North American wood frog to survive winter despite being frozen solid with this news of a sudden iguana rainfall, Christopher creates the perfect first date for a speculative science fiction writer. 

//Christopher A. Jos is a teacher who has also spent time working for both municipal and provincial parks services. Find him at https://christopherajos.wordpress.com, or on Twitter @ChristopheAJos.//

119

She awoke, surrounded by stopped cars on the 110 Freeway.
“Moira, this isn’t the fastest way to Phoenix.”
Letters appeared across the base of the windshield:
ʏᴏᴜ ғᴇʟʟ ᴀsʟᴇᴇᴘ. ɪ ᴡᴀs ʟᴏɴᴇʟʏ.

The current goal for engineers integrating Artificial Intelligence into self-driving cars  is to create a fully autonomous vehicles (Level 5 of AI). These cars will need a level of human-like cognition, not only to make decisions, but to try to understand humans and out-think other drivers and pedestrians. Researchers working at Oxford University on the Oxbotica project Selenium are training AI’s to ask questions like “Where am I? What’s around me? What do I do next?” Inspired by these developments in AI, writer Cria Cow asks the ultimate question: is it possible that a fairly human AI, trained to interpret human social behaviour, could eventually become a social creature itself? And what would happen if it did? 

//Cow @criacow writes about random things, works in IT automation, and
hopes to retire before the computers take over and make us obsolete.//