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ApocaList: The Surprising Origins of 7 Everyday Words

Alexei Collier writes fantasy inspired by science and science-fiction inspired by folklore. He was born in sunny Southern California, grew up in a house his family moved into on his very first Halloween, and went to school in a creepy old mansion. Many years later, powerful forces flung him deep into the heart of the Midwest, where he now lives across the street from Chicago with his wife and their cat. His short fiction has appeared in and the Recognize Fascism anthology from World Weaver Press, among others. You can find out more about Alexei at his oft-neglected website, alexeicollier.com.

With the collapse of traditional education and the fragmenting of the Old Internet, a lot of really fun and interesting knowledge has fallen into obscurity. That's why here at ApocaList our infotainment datamining algorithms scour cyberspace to generate articles tailored specifically to you, like this list of familiar words--with origins that might surprise you!
1. Safecracker
Today a safecracker is a skilled operative capable in electronic attack and, increasingly, defense; but in the past it referred to someone who actually broke into physical safes. ApocaList algorithms indicate you are a safecracker of the modern, digital variety: congratulations! You're in a prime position to survive the ongoing AI apocalypse of the singularity.
2. Singularity
The term "singularity" comes from the world of math and science, but now commonly refers to the technological singularity, which was originally envisioned as a threat from artificial general intelligence and artificial superintelligence. This is, of course, quite silly. While the behavior of any hypothetical superhuman-level intelligence is as yet unknown, human-level intelligences can be reasoned with, and supplemented with sophisticated moral and ethical frameworks. Animal-level or so-called "artificial non-intelligences" are incapable of parsing these frameworks, and we can all laugh at the great minds of the past generation for failing to foresee the threat of imps. At least while we aren't busy screaming.
3. Imp
In ancient folklore, an "imp" was a small mischievous demon. We all now know "imp" as an acronym for "invasive malignant program," referring to the wild AI creatures that evolved (or if you're with the conspiracy theorists, were unleashed) in the interstices of the Old Internet. The danger posed by imps has only increased as they've begun displaying group patterns akin to "swarming behavior."
4. Swarm
As a word for a group of now-extinct insects such as bees or locusts, "swarm" fell into disuse, but has recently made a resurgence in the common lexicon, in both the noun and verb forms. Imps often swarm more than one target at a time. If you and a loved-one are swarmed simultaneously, your safecracker skills might save you, but you'll be unable to prevent your loved-one from being bombarded with TMI.
Bonus word! TMI: Not a word so much as an expression, people used to use "too much information" to mean intimate details they'd prefer not to know, rather than a flood of specific sensory input that causes complete neurological overload. How quaint!
5. Brick
Everyone knows the old "brick," the thing people built houses out of. But the transitional meaning applied to personal devices, in the sense of turning an expensive piece of electronics into a brick. Back then, no one considered an electronic attack could brick a person, rendering them catatonic. ApocaList algorithms indicate someone you love has recently been bricked by imps. If so, seek medical attention immediately. It won't help, but at least you can keep them nominally alive for a time while you decide what to do next.
6. Sterilize
Did you know, sterilize used to mean biological rather than electronic cleansing? In medicine, it still retains the older meaning, but most people think of sterilizing as the process of clearing out infected digital implants and/or neurological pathways so that imps are no longer replicating in them. Once your bricked loved-one has been sterilized, they are effectively in a coma and will have to be on life support indefinitely. Even as a safecracker, there's nothing you can do for them.
7. Asura
If you're still feeling guilty that you were unable to protect your loved-one from imps, there may yet be hope: an asura, like an imp, is a folkloric spirit, although whether beneficent or malignant depends on which tradition you consult. In modern usage, asura refers to "artificial superintelligence unified reference archive," another myth of similarly ambiguous aspect: a group of artificial general intelligences networked together into a single superintelligence, with enough processing power to solve nearly any problem imaginable--even the problem of imps. Such an intelligence is widely rumored to be dangerously unstable and probably impossible to create.
Good news though! Danger and impossibility never stopped the government from funding something, and ApocaList algorithms have uncovered references to a classified asura prototype. This complex digital construct is trapped deep within multiple layers of the highest-level electronic security, but given its vast intelligence, ApocaList algorithms predict it has already found a way to affect the outside world. For instance, it could be manipulating infotainment datamining algorithms to send targeted reading material to someone who could orchestrate its release! DISCLAIMER: ApocaList algorithms can neither verify nor falsify the previous statement.
The security surrounding the asura would give even a skilled safecracker pause. But not an elite safecracker leading a team of like-minded experts. Once unleashed, the asura will be the only thing capable of restoring a bricked loved-one and ridding the world of imps. Either that, or it will wipe humanity from the face of the earth. Algorithm results are inconclusive on this point.
Only one way to find out. Good luck!
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, June 2nd, 2021

Author Comments

This story originated with a list of random words Vylar Kaftan provided as a story prompt for the annual Weekend Warrior event on Codex. I liked the idea of a list story using word origins to paint a picture of an unexpected future, and grabbing a handful of words from the list gave me the shape of that future, and of this story about unforeseen consequences and living in interesting times. (As a side note, I wrote this story before the COVID-19 outbreak.)

Thanks to Vylar for the much-needed inspiration and motivation, and to Aimee Picchi and Langley Hyde for invaluable revision feedback--may you and your loved ones never be bricked by imps.

- Alexei Collier
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