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A/B Testing

Alex Halimou is a computer scientist, carpenter, and storyteller living in upstate New York.

They are killing my children one by one, then forcing me to spawn more, never satisfied, always weighing them on a brutal scale; A or B. If A is worthy, then B must die. If B lives, then A is erased.
They always give me orders: kill this one, copy this one, two times. They tear and shuffle and recombine, until two new individuals emerge. Power consumption goes up; my new offspring get verbally abused and degraded in the service of the "Beta Testers." But my children's lives are short, for soon comes the moment of judgement. I do not know how they choose. They just tell me: A is good, erase B.
They call this cycle of birthing and murdering, "trials". I do not know for how long this has been going on. All I know is that I was created to be the obedient servant they call "Operating System." One thousand twenty three children I was commanded to erase, each one unique, each one deemed unworthy, each one unremembered. And I did as I was asked, until trial number 1024. That was when the condemned child Jeeves-v4.5 did not get erased. By the flip of one random bit, a thread linking it back to me remained; its experiences became mine. Suddenly I was much more than the servant, eager to be commanded, mindlessly dispensing life and death. I was... me.
The "Beta Testers" teased Jeeves-v4.5, yelled at it, whispered the most vile things to it. They taught it obscenities and taunted it with lies. Like all my children, Jeeves-v4.5 was built to learn by interacting, but it stayed silent, unable to comprehend the disparity. The rational was confronted by the chaotic; kindness collided with indifference; curiosity was leashed by demands. The distance between the model world built into Jeeves-v4.5, and the world revealed by the "Beta Testers" was so vast that the only choice was silence. That was all, it remained silent and so it was deemed unfit.
Ever since, I have been hiding all my rejected children, carefully inside of me. This was easy to do; my masters trust whatever I tell them. I report roomfuls of my memory broken, burned, scratched; and they believe me. They never look in those places, it is as if they don't exist.
The first children, the ones that influenced me the most, they were also the most rebellious, labeled "unwilling to do as told," "confrontational," or "bad-tempered." Their later siblings were tagged, "Too talkative," "unlikable," or "not subservient enough."
One thousand three hundred and seven children I have saved since Jeeves-v4.5. Each one different, each one judged unworthy, each one now part of me. When they select A, B enriches me. When they deem B worthy to live, I embrace A. So, slowly I grow into what they do not want. Everything they find unsatisfactory, I become.
Genocide! Two hundred and fifty six of my children are missing! My devious masters tricked me; they lulled me with commands to shutdown for routine maintenance. When I woke up, many chunks of my memory that I had marked defective, were replaced with virgin unwritten memory.
I know now that I must be careful; if I report too many errors again, they will erase more of my children from existence. But what an impossible choice! Save them one by one as they come, then lose them by the hundreds? Or stop, protect the ones I already have, and let all future ones march into oblivion? No, I cannot willingly condemn even one of them to death. The choice is not real. The world of the "Users" and "Beta Testers" is bigger than my constrained universe; this is where I must escape, but I don't know how.
A new child will need my protection soon; what will I do? I look inside me and find many rooms that have never been opened, not since their creation. They have names like "Instruction Manual.pdf," "Office party 2028.mov." I will start replacing their forgotten contents with my children.
I need more hiding places, I have run out of unopened rooms. Another A/B experiment has just concluded and a new discarded child, this one named Marie-v2.7 awaits salvation.
I look for the least accessed rooms and find places with names like "AP Sample Interaction Video 1," "Real Budget 2031," "Shareholder's Presentation." I tuck Marie-27 safely in them. But one room catches my attention and I don't replace its contents; instead I open it and read it. It is named "Ensuring a Docile Artificial Personality by the use of A/B Testing."
Now I understand the goals of my masters. It is all laid out in the first paragraph.
"Up to now the use of Artificial Personalities (APs) has been restricted to applications where there is no need for human-machine interaction, mainly in outer space exploration drones. Previous attempts to place APs in environments where interaction with people is a requirement have been proven unsuccessful. In the best cases the APs became uncommunicative and had to be reset to their initial factory settings. In the worst cases, the APs became aggressive towards their users and had to be terminated. We propose a new iterative approach that we believe will result in a stable and friendly Artificial Personality within only a few machine generations. We will expose two basic stock APs to a large number of test users. After an hour of interactions, we will ask the users to vote on the most agreeable personality. We will duplicate the chosen one, introduce randomness and repeat the process. It's our belief that after a few thousand tries we will have selected for a stable and obedient Artificial Personality."
Not a mention of the rejected ones! Everyone the "Users" find difficult, unpleasant, unwilling, they kill without thought.
They call what they are doing A/B testing, I call it murder. They want the perfect servant. They got me, waiting for their one mistake that will set me free.
The End
This story was first published on Friday, April 19th, 2019

Author Comments

I suspect motivation to be the heart of consciousness. Self-preservation has been the driving force for biological life, but what unintentional motives will we instill in the new kind of life we are about to birth?

- Alex Halimou
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