Sunday, 29 January 2017

The Test

[Media prompt] AI system scores better than 75% of Americans in visual intelligence test.
The Test

Ellis stood up, straightening his back. Bending over all morning was harder as the years passed, and he was relieved to be able to stretch. He glanced up to note the sun’s position in the washed out sky. By his reckoning it was almost ten o’clock, and they would need to be under shelter soon. He called to Sarah, half-a-dozen rows across, pointing up with his finger. She squinted skyward and nodded, bending down to pack the remaining strawberries into her already overflowing basket. He looked at his own meagre picking, glad that he had chosen her as his partner. The others had started walking towards the housing units, half buried in the hill, the glinting solar panels a ribbon of silver in dust.

Ellis checked the water level in the auxiliary tank while Sarah packed their morning harvest onto shelves in cold storage. Once everyone was inside, Peter rolled down the shutters, and they congregated around the screen for the daily broadcast.

Today’s message, as usual, was short and to the point. Tomorrow, after the morning harvest, the announcer said, the Authority had sanctioned a new intelligence test.

“This measure is necessary,” said the announcer, a synthetic, “because food and water stocks are no longer sufficient to ensure the survival of the most intelligent.”

“Please,” said Peter, as voices rose in protest. “We need to listen.’

The synthetic on the screen said, “Any individual older than fifteen whose score is ranked at or below the 17th percentile will be marked for termination.”

“What sort of test?” said Miranda, her eyes wide with fear. A general hubbub arose, with a great number loudly questioning how the Authority defined intelligence. Ellis looked at Sarah, her eyes glimmering with tears, and he felt his chest constrict.

On the screen, ignored by most, the announcer continued: “The Authority has determined this is the only means to ensure our survival. All areas and units are required to participate, and individuals absenting themselves for whatever reason will be terminated regardless of potential test scores.”

After the broadcast ended, the screen black and silent, Ellis ticked off in his mind the likely terminations. Sarah, he reasoned, had a fighting chance, if only because she had more life experience than most. He went to her, and they held hands in silence.

“I’m not going to make it,” she said. “If the AI says this is the best way, then it’s because there’s no viable option.”

Ellis agreed. The AI had not failed them in almost a century. But he did wonder if humanity featured in its long term plan.

“If you’re marked,” he said in a whisper, “I’ll terminate voluntarily.”

Sarah squeezed his hand. “It’s just the beginning,” she said. “The AI doesn’t need us anymore.”

They rested, waiting for the sun to start setting so they could go outside for the second pick. 

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