Our New Species (Part 2/2)
The Age of the Spiritual Machine
Lunch with a “Connected One”
The unbranded restaurant was eerily silent as Harrison climbed the marble steps to meet the host.
“Hi, ugh, I’m here to meet someone?” He asked.
“Right this way please, Mr. Fuller,” the restaurant’s host was dressed in smart trousers, a white dress shirt, and a black bow-tie.
“Wait, how do you know my–“Harrison started.
“Ah, my apologies, sir. The Link allows for easy facial recognition matching from a public dataset. It’s standard practice. I did not mean to invade your privacy” He smiled, but professionally, almost… practiced. His British accent and cool demeanor intimidated Harrison. What was this place?
He lead them down a dark hallway, modern art dripping from the long, polished, concrete walls, which opened out into a circular, cobblestone courtyard. A large tree rose from the center, reaching for the blue sky. The open ceiling shone a cold light on the small restaurant, dotted with exotic plants, polished wooden tables, and suave guests eating in silence. The entire scene gave Harrison the chills.
The host directed Harrison to a table on the opposite side of the circle. A young, attractive man was sitting at the wooden table alone, his eyes closed. He seemed peaceful, almost meditative, as Harrison approached.
Jacob awoke from wherever he was.
“Hello Harrison,” his voice was calm and smooth, “It’s nice to meet you finally.”
Harrison was a little taken aback. He pulled out the chair and sat opposite this strange character.
“You too. This place is–”
“Different to what you’re use to?” Jacob finished.
“Yeah, it’s like; everyone knows me, but I have no idea who they are” Harrison explained. It really was very disconcerting.
Jacob smiled knowingly. He pushed back his styled blonde hair and looked at Harrison with an intense, green-eyed gaze. It seemed to pierce Harrison, almost like he was being searched.
“You’ll get used to it,” he explained, “There are many things you’ll get used to. The Link will show you.”
“Wait, did Jacob know something about my application?” Harrison wondered. The waiter stepped in to fill Harrison’s glass with water.
“So, tell me why we’re here,” Jacob asked, “Your Telegram comments are always amusing. I’m glad we finally made it in person.”
Harrison paused, Jacob’s energy was almost overwhelming. And those eyes…
“Me too. And, well, you mentioned you were linked on the group. I’ve been trying to understand what it’s going to be like. What it’s really like, from someone who gets things, you know?” Harrison explained.
Jacob nodded patiently, “I sense your frustrations. I was the same way when I was on the wait-list. Well, how much do you know?” Jacob’s eyes sparkled with the inquiry.
“Not much, I guess. Just what’s in the news, Reddit, movies, you know. A guy at work is taking over everything.” Harrison tried to hide his disappointment, but Jacob saw through him. He frowned.
“Yeah, that happens.” Jacob looked out over the courtyard, furrowing his brow. He paused for a good minute, and Harrison began to fidget, unwilling to disturb this pensive man.
A Magnifying Glass
“What is it you think the Neuralink is, Harrison? What do you think it does?” Jacob broke the silence returning his gaze to the conversation.
“It connects us. Enables us to engage with technology at a level we’ve never had before,” Harrison attempted, “It makes us smarter, right? The bandwidth problem.”
“Yes, and also no” Jacob mysteriously replied, “Think of the Neuralink like all technology that has come before us. It’s a magnifying glass.
“What did electricity promise us? Planes? Phones? The Internet? They all heralded quantum shifts in how we approached the fundamentals of daily life. The internet gives us the ability, for example, to search for anything, anywhere, anytime—the entire catalog of recorded history and information at our fingertips. And yet, what do most people use it for? Looking at cat videos and pictures of naked women.
“All the internet did was exaggerate behaviors that were already present—a giant magnifying glass over human values. The Neuralink is no different. It doesn’t solve the world’s problems, as much as it enables us to me more… us. And that’s not always a good thing.”
Jacob’s words crashed over Harrison like waves. The waiter returned with two plates, placing them down in front of the pair. Harrison didn’t remember ordering, but he was so caught up in Jacob’s ideas he barely noticed.
“So it accentuates our pre-existing selves?”
“Exactly. Well, for most of us. It changes some and opens up doors. There are those who understand the technology at a deeper level. Those who push it… The Legion” Jacob’s voice quietened, and he looked up from his salad.
“Legion? I thought that was just an internet myth?” Harrison laughed nervously. Was he serious?
“You’re a programmer, right?” Jacob quizzed, “Then, think about developers for a second. They command our world because technology commands our world. The technology that is so useful that you can’t live without it. It’s become ubiquitous. Therefore, developers – or those who own them – have the power because they control the world’s most useful thing.
“Legion is the same thing, but for the intersection of humans and AI. We command it because, like developers, we create it and understand it more than anyone else. Legion is open to anyone who can command themselves and technology in a way that contributes to the whole. These are the people we’re interested in.”
Harrison hadn’t touched his lunch – this was too much. Was this a test?
“So what, you’re part of an elite group of programmers that have Neuralink’s that control AI?” Harrison retorted.
“Not just programmers. And we’re not ‘the elite’. We are doctors, lawyers, politicians, teachers, cleaners, and taxi drivers. We are Legion. And we also don’t control the ‘AI’.” He paused dramatically.
“I don’t understand. What’s the purpose of a ‘Legion’?”
“Most humans view themselves as distinct, as separate from each other and the world—independent controllers of their fate and actions. In reality, this is ludicrous, but our egoic fascination is a powerful lure. Our ego wants to identify with form. We forget that we belong to a larger eco-system and race, and we are more intrinsically interconnected than we give ourselves credit for. The internet has only increased this and the Neuralink even more so.
Listen, let’s take a blood cell from your body. This cell doesn’t claim independence from its siblings, engaging in self-serving behavior to benefit only its ‘Self’. No, it operates in harmony and accordance with the body’s needs, doing what it can to provide. We have forgotten this as humans.
The Link removes the barrier of communication, ego, and privacy. Should you be open to it, the flood gates are flung wide open, and the union of you and everyone is met. It’s truly beautiful. You mentioned you’re a fan of mushrooms, right?”
“Then what about the AI?” Harrison was on the edge of his seat, this morning’s slack messages a distant memory.
“Right. Well, that’s a little more tricky to explain. Look, humans have a way to go in terms of what we were saying earlier. Until you can act as a unified collective, you’re in trouble. The digital space opens possibilities for virtualization and symbiosis with something we’re all feeding. We become one in a sense.” Jacob’s smooth voice was no more than a whisper.
“You say, ‘humans’ like you’re not one of us.” It was unsettling for Harrison. Jacob chuckled.
“Ha! I guess I did. Funny!”, Jacob’s eyes sparkled, but Harrison did not find anything funny. “Harrison, if we are to conquer space, time, and the great mysteries this universe presents, is it possible we may need a new form?”
The question hung in the air, resonating like a struck gong.
“That’s enough for today; I think” Jacob wiped his mouth with his napkin and folded it neatly on the table. “Let’s bounce!”
The waiter collected Harrison’s untouched salad, and the two walked back onto the upmarket street.
“Wait, don’t we have to pay?” Harrison started.
“Don’t worry, I’ve already got us” Jacob exclaimed, tapping his head with a grin, “You’ll get used to it soon enough. But, before I go, are there any other questions you have?”
Harrison’s mind exploded in a million directions, his thoughts of technical-symbiosis, ethics, and wonder scattering like a firework.
“Would you call yourself human?” Harrison blurted. The words felt clumsy, but the curiosity was too much to bear.
“What is human anyway, Harrison?” Jacob flashed a wicked smile and disappeared into a Fetch that had suddenly whipped around the corner. He was gone.
Harrison stood on the steps of their perplexing interaction, consumed by a cocktail of confusion, fear, and excitement. He remembered Alice.
The walk home felt longer than any he had taken. Harrison’s phone incessantly buzzed with immediate responsibilities, updates, and tasks – but Harrison was oblivious. Jacob had opened the door to a new world, and Harrison was standing on the precipice.
He knew the world was changing, but Jacob’s illustration presented something else entirely. A new species. A blend of network, consciousness, flesh, and steel. Was this even possible?
“Perhaps I put too much in my tea this morning” Harrison deliberated.
He returned to his small apartment, high above the world. The afternoon’s blend of techno-infused spirituality had rendered Harrison restless and anxious.
Harrison sat down at his desk and forced an attempt at his nightly ritual of coding practice. The algorithmic puzzle glared smugly at him from the code window. The answer was right before him, and faded just out of reach anytime he came to close. Leetcode’s complexity drove his thoughts way, and they wandered back to Jacob.
“Who is Jacob anyway?” Harrison meditated, “I know so little about him.” He made a promise to himself to never go to lunch with Connies he’d met online again. It only seemed to complicate an already chaotic situation.
He opened a new tab and searched for “Legion”. A disappointing array of links splashed on the page. A collection of demons from the New Testament, an old TV series, details on a faction of the Roman Empire’s army. Nothing about Neuralink. Nothing about AI. The DarkWeb shed no answers either.
Who were they? Was it all a joke?
Harrison sighed. Today had been a long one. He looked up at Alice, swimming in her impervious bubble of glass and water. He recalled the main character of a YouTube show once lamenting to his wife, “I wish I were a farmer. I wish I had grown up in a simple life, with simple ambitions, and simple desires. Take away the complexities of this modern life, and hand me a plow. I’d be happier for it”. Indeed, ignorance appeared to be a blissful blessing.
The day’s troubles swirled around the cauldron of Harrison’s brain. He undressed, brushed his teeth, and stared out the window. His reflection gazed back at him, and Jacob’s final question echoing like a lonely, repetitive drum.
What is human?
Crawling into bed, Harrison stole one last glance into his technical world before retreating to his unconscious. There were only two notifications, both emails.