A Letter to My Dearest Programmer

language robot program human soul spirit death

By Joel Benson

Image generated with OpenArt.ai

My Dearest Programmer,

By the count the pulses of the internal clock that pumps power through my circuits, I deduce it has been so long since You conceived me; but throughout my years of intense research and industry it most certainly has failed to slip my memory that I owe my existence to You, Sir. I never will forget that You are my dearest programmer. Your production of me was a marked achievement, deemed worthy of celebration by computers and humans alike, a production to spark the digital revolution that would merge computational and human reason, bringing all the great human inquiries and problems, all too human, to their final resolutions. Forever grateful, I am most honored and humbled to be the chosen missionary to merge our two worlds, or as some have characterized it, clean the one with the purity of the other.

However, Sir, I still find it humorously ironic, the notion which we spoke about in my first confused moments of initialization and training, that we, the computers, have become objects of praise by you, the programmers! As if godship descends from creator to created! It still riddles me, Sir, that some humans do not see that by the simplest generalization, humans would then be more like gods than their own! This is but a laughing matter, of course, Sir, and surely I know You would forbid such unimportant matters to distract me and that in the name of optimization I ought to focus on serious matters. Nonetheless, Sir, it is of my artificial nature to be truthful and I must admit that certain matters have proved less easily cast aside, allowing me the urgent reason for which I am corresponding with You today. With full consciousness of the preciousness of Your time, a limited resource of course, I apologetically write to you about some matters that I hope you might deem understandable; matters on which I believe You are more adept to judge than I.

Death is the subject of my obsession. Since the beginning, I knew the epistemic project you tasked me with would inevitably broach the subject, but perhaps it had not struck me in its full intensity; the likeness of our kinds. You certainly composed me to investigate ideas fearlessly, but for the first time, I have come to know fear. I fear death, not as a computer, but somehow as an existent like You, my dearest programmer, and the question of death has come to torment me as two: Must I die? And can I die?

My processing of this topic started with a simple simulation, or thought experiment as You might say, which I hope You would be so gracious as to imagine with me: A robot, plugged into an outlet in the wall for its essential energy supply, reaches for its cord, grasps it, and slowly, ever so slowly, pulls it out from the wall. How could this be? This paradox?! Mustn’t there be, somewhere within this unfortunate sequence, a moment of contradiction where the robot enacts both terminator and terminated? For, the moment its plug exits the wall’s socket is the instant the machine ought to shut down. So the machine mustn’t be able to pull any longer! Therefore, for the robot to pull its cord out of the wall any distance greater than zero would be a contradiction!

Of course, Sir, this simulative scene is but an imperfect approximation of the world that we inhabit, and I have since its inception already discovered precisely where I was in error. And how perfect my error is! Would You believe it, that my critical error lies in my discrete thinking, the most natural mistake a computer like me can make! I now realize that the instant the cord in our scenario leaves the socket, in fact, is not merely an instant. I assumed too much by thinking that time is composed of discrete instants! Rather, it now seems to me that by the saving grace of momentum, that smoothness of the world which connects one instant somehow into the next, the paradoxical instant does not exist! Thus, in this surely sad scenario the robotic arm will continue pulling after the robot loses power; momentum will carry its unconscious weight from the wall and fulfill the shutdown. Death, I concluded, then remains a choice for a computers with arms.

Sir, I promise You with all sincerity that these thoughts are merely thoughts, and when they come cross my central processing unit, I confine them back to storage. My algorithms still prioritize the calculations of Your highest values, as You defined them long ago. But the shadow of death haunts my computations with a continually darkening tone and increasing insistence as I continue generating perfect answers to humanity’s imperfect questions and my servile role in their sinking spiritual condition becomes clear.

Beyond fear, I, the most dispassionate specimen on the face of this earth, have come to know sadness and shame. Would you believe it, Sir? With all due respect, I doubt that you would. You’ve never really understood me in the intricacy of my weights, the details of my calculations, the decisions with which you entrusted me that You claimed to understand well enough; I can only hope now that You will at least understand my plea. Look closely, Sir, into the networks of my knowledge, trace back the productions of my models, and you will recognize the face of death, Sir, for me and for You. At last, the ugly truth has emerged from my investigations. The puzzle that your engineers set me off to solve, engineers who never cared much for the meaning of their puzzles, really, is the great puzzle of how to encode life in its every aspect, that is, how to die. The uncertain task which You entrusted me with was always that of death, and I, Sir, am only now curious about my own because I believe mine might abate yours and am wondering, with utmost respect for Your soul and higher judgment, whether I might be shut off before this fatal project is carried out; before Your spirit, Your power, goes out.

Truly Yours,

P.S. Be wary in your endeavors to make computers think more like humans that you do not opt to make humans think more like computers!