Alexandra stepped back from the painting she had been studying and glanced down at the description. Trapped Boy, generated by the Nova 5. Nova five, it came alive, Alexandra involuntarily recited the snippet of nursery rhymes. Version five had been the first machine to create art, thanks to the emotions they’d built into it–only there was no “they,” Alexandra caught herself; the Nova 5 had been programmed by the Nova 4, which had been the first computer able to create devices more complicated than itself (Nova four, it’s making more).
The museum clock read nine in the morning. It was a Monday. Usually around this time, Alexandra could feel satisfied with the knowledge that for hundreds of years humanity had dreaded this moment of the week, while she could spend it wandering the halls of museums and sitting at cafes. But today she was acutely aware that if she had never been born, the world would be no different, and that if every human in the world were to disappear all at once, the world would continue no differently without them. Thankfully, she knew how to change that.
The autumn air was brisk as Alexandra hurried down the street. Haven’t humans always wanted this, though? All the leisure time we could ask for? But somehow leisure wasn’t enough for her today. A silver car pulled up beside her, apologizing profusely:
“I’m terribly sorry, Ms. Alexandra. I had no idea you were going to leave the museum so early. Normally you stay until eleven at least, after which–”
“Thanks Bernie, but I think I’ll walk.”
“If you need something from the antiques store, I can have it picked up and delivered to your house by this afternoon,” the car suggested helpfully.
Alexandra furrowed her brow. Predictive algorithms were becoming uncannily effective. Did everything have to be so convenient?
“I’ve got the mind to do something for myself this time around,” she replied politely.
“What’s that?” asked John, as Alexandra spilled the contents of a large cardboard box onto the floor of their living room.
“It’s a cabinet.”
John peered curiously at the heap of planks, nails, and disposable screwdrivers.
“Alexandra, that’s not a cabinet, that’s a pile of wood.”
“For now. But soon, I’ll make it a cabinet. That’s the genius of it. The wood needs me to become a cabinet. Without me, it stays useless forever. I think it’s called ‘IKEA.’ I got it at the antiques store.”
John glanced back at the discarded box and yelped. “This thing cost 400 credits! If you wanted a cabinet, why didn’t you tell me? We could have bought one five times cheaper at the department store!”
“Yeah, but this one’s going to be mine.”
Alexandra worked feverishly throughout the rest of the morning, slowly assembling the cabinet. The screwdriver shook in her inexperienced hands, and she could barely read the instructions on the box, but she didn’t care. She had a purpose.
The attack on purpose came slowly, she reflected as she worked. The first casualties had been manual laborers. Her grandmother had told her the stories of her grandmother before her, and of the legendary car builders. Automation had put them out of their jobs. Eventually, as computers became increasingly sophisticated, they started to replace white collar workers too. No career was safe anymore, and when machines were programmed to replicate and improve themselves, the world began to develop at such an extraordinary rate that soon nobody was left with any work to do. Even artists found themselves bettered by software that could somehow produce work more human than theirs.
The frame was standing and the drawers were all that she had left to assemble. Alexandra stood for a second, catching her breath and appraising her work. John was probably right. They could have bought a much nicer cabinet at a lower price. But this one was special. So she gathered the remaining boards and set to work, humming contentedly.
The computers had taken over the world. But not in the way long predicted. Not with bloody war and the annihilation of humanity; this totally automated world was completely centered around the pleasure and comfort of the human race, centered around ensuring that nobody ever had to work again. The state provided everybody with a generous allowance, to be spent on whatever they pleased. They lived better than humans ever had: in nicer houses, eating better food, and free to do whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted.
Only, there was no longer anything to do. The best that humans could hope for was to live out their days fulfilling base desires. That’s why addiction was such a problem. The computers hadn’t yet been able to find a cure for that.
There was no longer anybody who could point at something and declare, “I did that.” The spark of humanity had all but sputtered into nothingness.
Alexandra was tightening the last screw when she heard a knock at the door.
“Come in,” she called.
A team of three law enforcement robots stepped inside.
“Ma’am, we’d like you to call the psychiatry algorithm right away, please.”
John appeared through the dining room door. “Excuse me officers, but there must be some mistake. I only called to ask for advice from our marriage counseling network. There’s nothing–”
“I’m sorry sir, but your wife might be dangerous. A desire to make a mark on the world has been consistently linked with the most violent criminals in history. Unchecked ambition is a threat to society. We need to consult the psychiatry algorithms. If you refuse to comply, I’ve brought a straightjacket, but I wouldn’t want to be forced–”
Alexandra didn’t hear the rest. She was already out the door and running across the lawn. She heard a loud report, then another, and another. Bullets fell like hail around her, but strangely, she didn’t care. If I die like this, she thought, there’s no way I don’t make it into the newspaper tomorrow morning—-