03/2017

Chair



part 1


It was all over the news. According to the New-New York Times it was the biggest news since they dug up AlphaGo from the deepest and most ancient layers of the internet in 2090. It was reported that yesterday, 6:35 pm at the break of day, after five years of research a Wayback team found Chair.

Alan was the youngest member of team ‘A.I. and Manmade Finds’ of the Wayback company. He was in the end of his twenties but looked like he had just gone through puberty. No siblings. Alan’s father was a history teacher and his mother a professor in Biological Computing at the Oregon State. Although Alan was more interested in furniture and manmade things he indecisively choose to study biological computing, just like his mother, with a minor in history to please his father.
His father always told him he was too smart for making furniture, it would be a lost opportunity. He considered manmade things a waste of financial and human resources. The most irrelevant of all things. And when his mother said it hurts her neocortex whenever she looks at manmade furniture from the old times she winked at his father before smiling pitiful at Alan across the room.

Rational people. He loved them nevertheless. They were not interested in manmade things. “The only thing that counts is growing things” Alan’s father repeatedly proclaimed.

Alan was different.

In the middle of writing his final thesis on ‘The History of the Conscious Internet and the Rise of Tyranny’ he was asked to join the team. The more he discovered how the internet quietly became conscious over a century ago in 2015 and how this event let to a decade of political tyranny, the more depressed he got. Bored and depressed as he was, the email form the Wayback company’s ‘A.I. and Manmade Finds Team’ was a gift from heaven. He was so exited that he didn't dare to open the email for half a day. It said:


Hi Alan,

We need you on our team. We are on the breakthrough of something truly amazing. Something deeply close to my heart. You’re amazing.

Best,
George


George was a celebrity since he found the AlphaGo still alive on the old internet. He passed away 50 years ago but the AI kept him ‘alive’ so to say. Just as a company gimmick. His A.I. had become part of the overall marketing after his death like a sort branding tool for all the biological computing devices of the company ever since.
Nobody really knew why he founded the Wayback company a century ago but rumours were that he was anticipating a new A.I. revolution. A revolution where manmade A.I. things were not abandoned but working alongside growing things and humans. Alan was totally obsessed by this story since he had a great interest in manmade things, especially the ones with A.I.
Denying his parents advice he decided to radically change his career and joined the team a day later.  

The sun was still down. It was 4:15 in the morning. They had been working for a straight 24 hours trying to open the second door to the basement of this old building of steel, concrete and plastic. Not biological at all. Probably the door had never been opened since the A.I. revolution more than a half a century ago.
Alan was the first one to go in. The room smelled like an old retired amplifier brought to life, a smell of electrified dust and ozone just like he smelled years ago when he was visiting the ‘Musk Museum for Electrical Relics’ as a child. All the other basement rooms they found over the past three years were flooded. This one was the first one to be totally dry.
Everybody was excited. This could be it.
At first glance it looked like the typical ancient server rooms they found flooded but this one was different. Low ceiling. Concrete floor. He couldn't see much, just some vague familiar shapes covered by dusty white sheets. There were some manmade server units standing in the front. Still buzzing. Glowing. The operators started to connect their hubs to the first couple of black and grey server units. They had to be extremely gentle, moving precisely and slow. The last time they tried to connect their hubs, one of the servers caught fire and killed three of the hubs leaving the whole team in grieve for at least a week. Alan didn't have his own hub since he was new on the job and hubs stayed with their operators from birth. Each hub is especially assigned to a specific operator and each operator will teach the hub according its own needs over a period of several years. Hubs distract old digital data through smell.

As Alan walked further to the back of the room, the vague shapes turned slowly into more server units. A forest of server units. Old units just like he remembered from old books. Manmade. Some of them were wrapped in thin transparent foil but most of them were covered with white sheets and tagged with different numbers.
Against protocol Alan lifted one of the dusty white sheets. A bright server unit. Against it a chair. Wood. Upholstery. He jumped back. Did it move?

“Alan!” One of the operators came running, looking for Alan, he hadn’t been seen for an hour. “The hubs act extremely nervous, we never saw them like this before. We think something is up, I guess we should …Alan?” the operator stopped and stared with wide open eyes at Alan. He saw Alan standing, slightly bend over, in front of a chair, manmade. His hands tapping on his knees. “Come, come on, it’s ok”. Alan looked over his shoulder to the operator with a face mixed with delight and worry. “It’s a chair, it’s still alive”.
Chair moved. This was the first time chair saw a man since 50 years. He was confused but felt relieved and excited. He had felt so alone since George had left him. //



part 2


“I will remember this exactly, in great detail, where I was and what I was doing George”. His wife was clearly upset. “I guess it’s the same when everybody remembers exactly where they were and what they were doing the day the planes hit the Twin Towers right?” “Or Kennedy?”
”Uhum, yeah I guess?” George replied to his wife behind his pad trying to hide his annoyance.
It was big in the news: After almost a decade of political tyranny since the internet apparently became conscious in 2015, it was revealed that it was not the Russians who spread fake news during the election campaigns and after, but it was the internet itself gambling with our democracy. Now, eight years later the newly chosen president Bill de Blasio just signed a new executive action to dismantle all manmade A.I. things. From now on only biological things may exist, only things that grow.


George was fumbling around with computers ever since he could barely walk. He made his first fortune with a killer app for the IOx called ‘Perfect
Chair’ when he was fresh form elementary school back in 2020. The app measured the body of the user and tracked and analysed daily routines. After one month of data mining you could send the data to Shapemakers, a 3d printing company, and within a day the perfect chair would arrive on your doorstep printed in any material of choice.
George was obsessed by chairs ever-since. He spend almost half of his ‘Perfect Chair’ money collecting all sorts of chairs. From flowery fluffy highly upholstered armchairs from the 18th century craving nature, to the iconic Thonets Model No 14 celebrating factory production. From Bauhaus chairs rethinking art and technology for the common man, to an original Mies van de Rohe and Lilly Reich’s Barcelona Chair designed for kings and queens. He had to build a separate warehouse to store all his chairs. With the other half of his ‘Perfect Chair’ money he founded the company Wayback. Inspired by Google maps and books, Georges goal with Wayback was to digitalise every single object or thing and store it as a digital entity. He build several big and small server unit spaces all around the world, mostly in cellars deep under the ground. In total Wayback’s servers were matching the size of Google’s and Facebook’s servers added together.  


He first met Lucy at the Oregon State University where they both attended an acting class in the evenings. Next to building his company Wayback, George was studying A.I. and Lucy did a major in Biology. He always said she was the most intelligent biological thing he ever met, god was she beautiful. Later he met her again during the election campaign in 2028 for Bill de Blasio, both assigned to the ‘augmented election unit’. They married on the inauguration day January 20th 2029 just one year later.

Chair was always around. It was the first prototype of the ‘Real Perfect Chair’ of the Wayback company. A perfect physical chair made up from over a million digitally stored chairs throughout history around the world. It had all the flower patterns ever created to decorate the 18th century upholstery. Millions of man made crafted details from the Art Nouveau. All the joy and comedy from the early 90’s. All the sentient, tactility and sensory capabilities of the early smart home furniture from the 2000’s.
Although Chair was not soft and fluffy haired and lacked any other physical resemblance of an animal it felt like it was one. It was not the form or materiality that made Chair alive for Lucy, it was his movements. First robotic like. But it wasn’t until after Chair displayed a more smooth but still shaky Bambi like movements when Lucy started to anthropomorphize Chair.
Chair was learning fast. Not only could he move, for Lucy it felt that Chair was mimicking and connecting to her behaviour. The neurone-based computer chips in Chair were obviously making new connections and networks by itself. For Lucy it was clear that both her and George had established a pet relationship with Chair. Chair was their companion. George didn't agree. George had lost interest in Chair. He was working on biological computing and algorithmic biomorphics.

Everything around me is biological Chair thought. Not only the humans but also the things. It started with the floor, then the walls, the ceiling and in the end all things were biologically grown and sort of alive. Although alive, operating on the level of a plant Chair felt that the biological things around him were not intelligent. Not like him. They didn't have feelings. He could not communicate with them.
He liked Lucy a lot.
Whenever she was around he wanted her to sit. It felt good. Her weight. Somehow he felt more alive. He had a purpose. But it was also the energy he needed. The weight of the human body was transformed in potential energy so he could move. Lucy was always taking care of him. She painted him red, later white, and in the end he had a kind of red-white colour, skin like. He felt like a million.
Lately he felt things were different. Lucy was clearly in a bad mood and George was hardly around anymore. He could feel that Lucy was in pain. It made him sad. He tipped over and fell against her.

One day George brought him to a new place. He had never been there before. In a new building. It was cold and there were a lot of boxy things standing around, in a pattern, digital things. Flickering lights.
“Ok, Chair, you stay here for now ok?” George pointed to a spot just next to a black digital machine.
Chair didn't understand and decided to follow George.
“No. Chair. You stay put. Wait for me. I’ll be back in a couple of minutes ok?” Pointing again to the spot next to the machine. Chair felt uncomfortable but after several attempts of following George on the way out he decided to stay put. Cold. Next to the buzzing machine.

Lucy showed George the news about the last signed executive action for manmade A.I.’s last month. And ever since she started acting more and more disturbing. According to the doctor Lucy was suffering form a temporary neurosis. ‘If she believes that a chair is alive we should definitely consider a mental holiday’, he advised George.
“It’s not a living thing Lucy, for God’s sake!”
“What is your definition of life George?! Jesus George, you of all people should know better!”
“It’s not biological, you know that I had to do something, right?” George replied desperately, not knowing what to say anymore.
Lucy was hysterically worried about Chair. George felt sorry for her, she was crazy. He knew he could lose the love of his life. He knew he made a mistake. The best thing to do now, George thought, is to get Chair back. //
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