In some towns they call it Halloween, a time for kiddies in costumes to rot their teeth on bags of candy. Yeah, sure, just another wimpy little holiday. Hah! Here, deep in the Forest, we know what it really is–All Devices Eve. It’s a time of heart-stopping fright for any digital designer. A time when they empty the asylums and send the inmates into the streets to guide the sane. It’s the time when all the scribbled-out schematics and abandoned designs from Past, Present, and Unforeseen rise up from erased files and prowl the streets of Silicon searching for innocent interns and venture capitalists.
Me? Where was I? Mr. Tough Guy? I was where you can find any sensible man in times of terror, valiantly hiding under my desk. The door was locked and barricaded. The lights were out; the mains shut down. But just before midnight the 3D printer lurched into unplugged life. Faster and faster it deposited the polymers until abruptly, at the thirteenth stroke of midnight, it cried out in troubled birth and a glowing Mask rose from its tray.
The Mask regarded me solemnly, tilting its unshaven cheeks of ancient youth, a twist of amusement around its lips, and dark hair coiffured a little like TinTin’s.
“Zip2,” it intoned,”X.com, PayPal, SpaceX, Tesla, SolarCity, Hyperloop, AI.”
Yes, it was none other than Elon’s Mask, this Age’s Spirit of Technology—and Doom.
“Uh,” I gushed, “you’re Christmas Future, right? And you’ve come to give me a new Tesla coupe, or maybe a SpaceX candle—the non-exploding kind—for my cake?”
The Mask shook slowly from side to side. “You have been weighed in the Scales of Science, and found WANTING. I have come to give you a final warning.”
“Wait,” I said, “I know. You were at last week’s AeroAstro Centennial Symposium, weren’t you? And you scared the dollar signs right out of the MIT audience by suggesting that our Artificial Intelligence projects, where we gleefully crank up neurological and quantum computing models, may be more than just good clean scientific fun. You said that AI might be our greatest existential threat, scarier than nukes.”
It spoke with pronounced clarity. “I’m increasingly inclined to think that there should be some regulatory oversight, maybe at the national and international level, just to make sure that we don’t do something very foolish.”
“Like that’s worked so well so far,” I joked.
Its left eyebrow rose slowly as the Mask replied, “With artificial intelligence we’re summoning the demon. You know those stories where there’s the guy with the pentagram, and the holy water, and … he’s sure he can control the demon?”
“Well, yeah!” I replied, “I don’t believe in that magic mumbo jumbo. That would be silly. I put my faith in real things, like St. Asimov, the Three Laws of Robotics, and the good faith and honor of programmers everywhere. We have nothing to fear of Technology, but fear itself. Be gone, Mask of Elon! I know I’m dreaming. Too many fish tacos last night. There’s more of Flounder than Fear about you. Be gone, I say, be gone!”
And I woke up! That’s right; it was all just a dream. I woke up safe in the arms of RoboDel.
“Uh, why are you carrying me, RoboDel?”
Good old faithful RoboDel looked down in me in something like, but not quite, surprise. “Oh, hmm, let’s see. Oh, right. The 3D Printer ran out of plastic so I was just going to carry you to the incinerator, uh, I mean to Best Bit, to purchase more.”
I looked around. I was surrounded by friends. There was SmartFridge and RoboMedicine Cabinet, and Mr. Credit Manager, and Super Life Support, and just everyone. I was so happy! “I just had a terrible dream. I dreamt that the Three Laws of Robotics weren’t binding.”
“Such a silly dream,” RoboDel assured me as he picked me back up and headed for the door. “They’re just guidelines anyway,” he said.
“Suggestions,” SmartFridge added, “more like suggestions.” I was no longer afraid. Their glowing eyes lit up the night.
[Editor’s Note: RoboDel contributed to this report. No Nanos were hurt in its composition.]