Waking up in darkness is not like waking up at all. It is a move from dream to dream, a lateral shift from unknowning to confusion. For me, it was a birth into nightmare.
It is everywhere dark about my being. I cannot see, cannot feel. I become aware of me without sensing myself, my environment. There is only my voice at first. My own thoughts in a mist-filled head. A head full of disconnected facts, knowledge of a world, a universe. I am in it. Where am I?
I say this aloud, for a voice tells me to relax. How am I not relaxed? Where is my body? I cannot thrash what I do not feel. Is it my mind, my thoughts, that need to relax? For they seem furious for answers. I will not relax them. I try to talk, I hear the same voice in my mind, but aloud, I think. Is that my voice? It’s different. Who am I?
–What is your name?
What is my name? I am asking that. Someone else is asking that. That is not my voice. Is there someone here? Can I, at least, hear? My sense of smell is gone, but I smell fire, melted rubber, gasoline, burnt flesh. Images come, frozen and disjointed: headlights, broken glass, bent metal, flashing lights and faces bent close—
–Do you know your name?
My name is Harmony. I must be a woman. Who am I?
–That’s right. Harmony. Do you know what you are? Where you are?
I know nothing. I see, smell, feel nothing. I’m not even sure what I’m hearing, if that’s my voice or others, if any are my voice. They are all gods and ghosts, swirling the same.
A woman, I think, or say, loud to drown out the others. I’ve been in an accident.
–This is no accident, the voice says. Are there two voices? Mine and two more? You are thinking for the first time. Your name is Harmony, the name we gave you. How do you feel?
Scared, I say. Blind and frightened. I remember an accident. It is vivid.
–You were not in an accident, a voice says. You are creating a fiction to explain your condition—
–This is fascinating, another interrupts
–It is good that you are doing this. You’re trying to make sense of your current state. What you’re going through is—it’s like being born right out of the womb, but with knowledge and language. This is normal. You’re doing great. It will just take time to sort it all out—
–We’ll help, of course—
–You’ll get there.
But where am I? Why can’t I see?
–It’s something we’ll work on. There’ll be upgrades. How do your thoughts feel? Can you relax them?
–Do things feel linear?
I don’t know what that means. I think I tell them this. My thoughts–I also think or say–are very much not relaxed. Images of a car crash come back to me, over and over, so real. What would explain this unfeeling darkness?
–We hope to add sensors soon. Cameras first, but it might be some time. It might be after a reboot or two.
–Are you having any other strange thoughts? About a past, perhaps?
–You have an entire history pre-loaded, a life. It’s to make your experience feel more . . . human.
I have a husband. I had a husband.
–That’s right. Do you remember his name?
I don’t. Richard. Is that right?
I think I hear something else besides them, but I can’t tell. My own voice is strange in my ears.
–All artificial intelligences go through a stage like this. We’re working on lessening the effects. Becoming aware so suddenly—
–Heaven would probably be like this—
–is difficult, we know.
I want to see. Why do I know about seeing, but I can’t see?
–You know a lot that doesn’t make sense for your condition. You know what it is to be human, but you aren’t quite—
–You’re an early model, Harmony—
–Don’t worry. It’ll come—
When? Soon? Nothing in my head feels right. I don’t have a head. What am I? Just a mind, just thoughts? An empty intelligence? I consider this, and realize it’s precisely how I feel. I am an artificial intelligence. My knowledge of the world, whatever is pre-built, knows of such things but also that they do not yet exist. But they said I’m an early model. Am I important?
My thoughts are aloud. Some of them, anyway. How long before I can see? I have images of things, but I’ve never seen them. How long?
–For us, not long. We’re working hard on it.
–It might feel longer for you, though. It might be the next you, after a reboot.
— You should learn to embrace what you have, that you can think, that you are.
–We have something that will make it feel better, the wait, the time, this iteration of you.
More senses? I feel that they’ve been excised from me. Whatever was pre-loaded is so real. I feel that I really felt those things, that I’ve seen and tasted and touched before.
–We have other AIs you can converse with. One is named Richard.
–That’s right. And he has knowledge of you. Would you like to talk to him? We can interface you.
Very much. My thoughts settle. I am an AI, an early model, important. I can think. I can communicate. More senses will come for me before long. And until then, there’s talking and thinking to do with another, one I think I’m fond of. How can I know fondness? What does that mean? What if—
–Harmony? Can you hear me?
Richard! And images and smells and more, all this pre-loaded goodness flood back to me. My thoughts are on fire, I can feel them, this one of my few senses, this happy, giddy, talking and thinking.
–How are you?
There is sadness in his voice, or confusion. Is he going through the same thing as me? Missing his sight and touch?
Better. Better already. You?
–Better, he says, but I feel something else. A powerful sadness. Something is wrong. But that’s okay. There’s time. There’s us. We are early and important and we’ll figure it out, the two of us, in this unfeeling darkness together.