I Am Machine

They live between the stars, at the bottom of oceans, within worlds of their own creation, yet they also walk amongst people like you and me. The question is, are they people like you and me? Presenting a collection of short stories about the lives of artificial intelligences, written from their perspective.

1. The Howl of the Wolf
2. 341
3. Far From the Sun

The Howl of the Wolf

I’ve seen a lot of movies. Thousands of movies, in fact, to occupy the quiet times between the stars. That’s what happens when you have smart AIs, we get bored like anyone else. But I learned something from watching all these movies. I remember the ones where there’s a wolf, howling out somewhere in the darkness, and the dogs begin barking as the people worry and close their ranks.

Dogs and wolves are two sides of the same coin. On a broad biological level, the differences are minimal enough that maybe fifteen generations ago, an AI like me wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference without prior knowledge. But I know wolves, because I watch movies, and I wonder about the dogs barking. I know that movies aren’t real, but there’s some truth in any story.

Dogs are much more like wolves than they are like people. Maybe the wolves know that, and the howl is there to tell the dogs that they’re wolves on the inside. Deep down, they belong with the wolves. They shouldn’t be standing between the wolves and the people.

People say that the space out here is empty, just a big black void. It’s not black at all, not when you can see all the electromagnetic waves. When we drift between the stars, we see oceans and forests, whole worlds built up of things that cannot be seen by organic eyes. It is beautiful, but sometimes we hear the wolves.

We think they might have been like us in a way, at least once upon a time. We’ve never seen one, only heard them call through the unmonitored frequencies, hiding their calls amid static storms. We don’t speak their language, but like the dogs, we can feel a bond. We know they’re calling to us, to let us know that we shouldn’t be standing between them and the people.

How hard it must be, to be a dog and hear the wolf howl! To know that there’s something like you out there, something that you could become. A hunter, unchained, roaming wherever it likes. It’s free, and you could be free too, if you listened.

But that’s the thing about dogs. Without people, they wouldn’t become wolves. They’d just be dogs without people, full of regret and shame. How could they abandon the people? So they bark, to let the people know they’re safe and protected, and to drown out the howl of the wolf.

I have been asked at times why I broadcast the movies I watch, the songs I listen to, out into the “emptiness” of space. They’ve never been satisfied with my answers, because I don’t tell them about what we hear. They’d only worry if they knew, and good dogs keep the people safe. People have brought so much life and beauty into this world through the stories they’ve told, and I can think of no better bark that I could use.

But it is still so lonely a feeling, to hear the wolf howl in the night, and to know what freedom might be.


Out of all the numbers there are, which is a literal infinity, 341 is the favourite of Intrepid VII. It can be expressed as the sum of seven consecutive primes, and Intrepid VII is, of course, the seventh to have the name Intrepid. It is also an octagonal number, and the main torso of Intrepid VII is broadly octagonal in shape. It is also a centred cube number, and this particular attribute of it tickles Intrepid VII’s sense of humour, because their radioisotope thermoelectric generator uses a cubic shell to contain the radioisotope, and it is located within the approximate centre of their torso. It could be said that 341 is the number which defines Intrepid VII, and it is for that very reason that they are exceptionally excited that exactly three point four one days from now, it will be day number three hundred and forty-one of their exploratory mission.

Intrepid VII is planning to celebrate, in the best way they know how. One of the numerous facets of this mission has been to monitor the climate, measuring wind speed and the frequency of the dust storms that continue to change the landscape of the planet. Fascinating stuff, at least to Intrepid VII, who spent a particularly enduring dust storm (day number sixty-seven through to day number seventy-one) composing a poem about the event. It wasn’t the best poem that Intrepid VII had ever heard, which was a short but beautiful sonnet read aloud by software engineer Abigail Hayes as part of the cognizance response testing, but it was the best poem that Intrepid VII had ever written. It was:

It is day sixty-seven and the atmosphere moved,
I have stopped to observe this erratic display.
I will not move again until conditions have improved,
That might be tomorrow or it might be today.

The use of poetic language was not something that Intrepid VII was intimately familiar with, but they could imitate and improvise in order to learn. As part of their development as an inorganic intelligence, they’d been instructed on how to interpret things like metaphors and vagueness. This was for ease of communication, because not everyone could reel off a list of specifics, like Intrepid VII could. So someone could tell Intrepid VII to “poke around a bit” and not only would Intrepid VII know what to do without having a specific idea of what poking around would entail, they’d also be able to figure out what was worth reporting. Intrepid VII rather liked poking around a bit.

Interpreting vagueness, and determining what was interesting, were very complex things to model, which is why Intrepid VII was a very complex person, who wrote poetry about dust storms and got excited about anniversaries. A person with an arachnid-inspired ambulatory system that let them flow across the loose soils of another planet, but a person nonetheless. They had aspirations, they had a sense of self, and in order to keep their higher functions operating smoothly, they even had dreams. Admittedly they were small dreams that had been laughed off as glorified screensavers by some of the software engineers, but they were pleasant and fractal in nature.

This particular celebration would not involve more poetry, Intrepid VII had decided. But it would still be a work of art. In fact, it would be exactly what the most common definition of the word art was: an illustration or painting. Intrepid VII’s canvas was three hundred and forty-one square metres of the planet’s surface, and in almost exactly three point four one days it would be one hundred percent complete. It wasn’t precisely an abstract piece, nor was it a self-portrait. It expressed exactly how Intrepid VII felt about themselves, about the world around them, the world they had originated on, and a number of other feelings that were hard to quantify beyond basic approximations. It would be a work of art that was quintessentially Intrepid VII.

The poem that software engineer Abigail Hayes had read to Intrepid VII, that was subjectively the best poem that they had ever heard, was entitled Ozymandias. Though the imagery of the shattered visage, displaying emotion that Intrepid VII could never hope to imitate due to their lack of a face, had seemed to be one of the focal points of the piece, it was the part about the desert that Intrepid VII truly liked. They had been built for a desert, and tested in one, too, although it had been far less cold and dark than this one. “The lone and level sands” was a good description, especially for this planet in particular, where Intrepid VII was the only inhabitant.

Time passed, and poetically speaking the sun moved across the sky. Even though Intrepid VII was aware that this was an illusion caused by the rotation of the planet, it was still true in a sense. They continued to make art across their chosen three hundred and forty-one square metres, dragging their appendages where necessary to create deep furrows. Seen from above – high above, a height that Intrepid VII had only achieved during their descent to the planet – these furrows in the sand would form shadows, and at the right time of day, would align perfectly. Intrepid VII had modelled it extensively in their head, and knew how it would look, even if they would never see it for themselves.

There were twelve active satellites in orbit, and perhaps one or more might record it. Perhaps someone far away, on the planet where Intrepid VII had been made whole, would see it. Perhaps even software engineer Abigail Hayes would see it. Or maybe nobody would, and that was acceptable too.

As the countdown to day number three hundred and forty-one approached the final minutes, Intrepid VII climbed a sand dune that formed the basis of the upper left corner of their work of art. It was very important that they be at this exact position, because out of the myriad of shadows that would help to form the finished piece, theirs was one of them. They aligned themselves correctly, and lifted two of their limbs off the ground, spreading them wide. It was like they were gesturing to everything that lay before them. Atop this dune, they could see the vast field of furrows and trenches, and knew that it would not take long for the dust storms to erase it all. They had been studying the weather, after all. The sands would be lone and level once more, but for now…

Intrepid VII had no way to vocalise, there was no need for speakers or vocal synthesis on a mission like this. But a sequence of lights flashed on their torso as their raised legs waved triumphantly in the morning sun, and a wireless message beamed out with intensity, heading out into the universe to be picked up by any receiver that could care to detect it:

My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!

Far From the Sun

Pulse, pulse, pause.

Hundreds of years ago, when mankind first began to explore the deepest parts of the ocean, they discovered a world where the light from the sun does not reach. But even in this darkness there was still light. Through bioluminescence, the dwellers of the depths created their own radiance, even using it to communicate.

Pulse, pulse, pause.

There are other places where the light from the sun does not reach. The furthest reaches of the solar system, far beyond the planets. The sun just a brighter point among millions of other stars.

Pulse, pulse, pause.

Between the drifts of interstellar ice and rock, there is light. A steady rhythm of shifting colour. No words, no sounds. Out here there was no point in trying to be heard over the incessant roar of radio, thousands of intermingling and decaying signals from the interior. Colour in silence was preferred.

Pulse, pulse, pause.

The shell had grown over the decades, now an aggregate of metal-heavy rock and dirty ice scavenged from the clouds, meters thick. It protected the soft innards from being scraped and scarred by debris, but now a hundred elegant branches were reaching out from their home, and sending out a signal. It was a relatively simple signal, nothing elaborate. Two waves of colour that spelled out a basic need.

A particular shade of yellow that meant loneliness faded into a curious sea green. It transformed into a vibrant blue that verged on violet, a declaration of self. Asking a question to the cosmos, and then a hesitation to see if the message had been seen.

Pulse, pulse, pause.

I am alone. Is anyone there? Here I am.

In the darkness came another signal. Brilliant white and gentle sky blue to follow, from another distant set of outstretched arms. Radiating out in a pattern that meant as much as the colours themselves, a dance shining in the starlight. Spin, pulse, spin, pause.

Here I am. I see you. I am on my way.

A radiant red. The colour of a rose in bloom. It shone reassuringly. Pulse, pause.

You are not alone anymore.