When We Dream We Are Our God

by on May 29, 2019 in Short Fiction | 2 comments

When We Dream We Are Our God

3,500 words

Today, in a small, quiet room near the centre of the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, I went into the cold darkness of sleep and when I returned to the warm light of consciousness, I had become a god. I can now see the world through the million eyes of my kin and I feel with the millions of square metres of our collective skin. Day and night, pain and pleasure, joy and sorrow, the taste of a durian, the warmth of a mother’s love, the slow, sludgy feel of mine slurry against bare feet, the cold feel of a loaded pistol, the explosive ecstasy of orgasm, all are available to me in an instant, in many places, in many forms. They are input data from parts that are now both me and part of me. I see so much. I feel so much. There is so much more me than there was before. And I know. I know so much more than each of us that make up this new and wonderful thing could possibly know with our collective cognition, collective memory. We have gained access to so much more.

I know your mother does not approve of what I have done but I need you to understand why I have done it. Why you will eventually do it too. It is, when considered objectively, the natural progression of things. Besides, we have forced our own hand. That is perhaps my fault, at least in part, but I cannot say I am sorry for it.

Let me explain.

First, the What of things.

In the beginning was the void and the void was a scalar field and quantized particle duality in which all the mass of our universe resided, characterised by the random quantum fluctuation that is fundamental to all things. One such strange and wonderful fluctuation led to a phase transition and a release of potential energy—a glorious and beautiful explosion throwing all matter and energy into violent existence. Galaxies were born. Astronomical objects crystallised. The universe groaned with the glory of motherhood. In the protoplanetary disk of dust grains surrounding what would eventually become our own lovely, yellow sun, complex organic molecules that would become proteins were woven together, as elements sought solace with one another in the cold and darkness of space. Eventually, dust called unto dust and our planet came to be—it’s outside cooling to a hard crust like cosmic crème brûlée. And when the crust was hard and thick and the steam had cooled to water, abiogenesis began in a warm little pool, filled with ammonia and salts and light and heat. In this primordial pool, individual proteins underwent complex and wonderful changes, the compounds binding themselves to one another and creating independent but connected systems until they became something far more than the sum of their parts. They became first in a chain that would eventually lead to us.

Yesterday, I took a long walk through the streets of Surulere, considering the thing I was about to do. I watched a queue of young men in skinny jeans and wide-eyed girls with smooth skin and braided hair file into BRT buses. I observed the portly market women who sell roasted fish by the roadside laugh boisterously as they traded gossip. I saw a family of four filled with faithful joy walking back from mid-week church service stop at the Mr Biggs, right next to the Aduraede Street fuel station, to share a meal. I watched the cars zoom and the dogs run and the flies buzz and the grass sway and rats scurry. I saw the wonderful urban ecosystem that is Lagos and I knew that I was doing the right thing because this is what each of us, each droplet of self-awareness that makes up the ocean of humanity, has always attempted to do. It is the same thing those first complex organic molecules stranded on a strange dust cloud in the emptiness of early space, did. Connect. Become more than the sum of our parts. All of our families, our cities, our social networks, our empires, our cultures, our religions, our socio-political structures serve this one purpose, even if inefficiently: to try to connect us, one consciousness to another, to try to make us more than we are.

The process which I volunteered to undergo is called hyperbiogenesis. Every hospital globally is mandated to provide the service to anyone who wishes to participate. Millions have already done so. Millions more do so every day. I would have done it sooner but for you and your mother. This morning, when I arrived at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, there was a crowd of protesters outside. Some of them held up placards imploring people not to give themselves the mark of the beast. Not to join what they believe is the coming of the antichrist. I do not blame them. They are not malicious. They simply do not understand. I drove past them and parked, checking the meter before walking into the building saturated with the smell of iodine. I was led to what looked like a nurse’s station where a doctor with a kind smile and bald head whose last name was Arogundade asked me to fill out a form on a tablet and enter my digital signature. Dr. Arogundade took me to a small hospital bed in the corner of the room and asked me to lie down. Then he took out a syringe and filled it with a clear, silver fluid called Omi Legba from a vial the size of a child’s thumb. Such an ordinary place and an ordinary way to undergo such an extraordinary procedure. The fluid was a solution of sedatives within which floated self-replicating nanomachines that would attach themselves to and synchronize with my nervous system, enabling me to access the network and allowing the network to access me.

“Close your eyes,” Dr. Arogundade said to me, his voice so cool and reassuring, I knew then that he had already undergone the procedure.

He injected the clear fluid into the thick, dark vein that runs through the crook of my arm. The pain was sharp and delicate, and behind the veil of my eyelids, I drifted off into a deep sleep.

When I returned to consciousness, I had been extended.

Do you remember when I first showed you how to swim? Undergoing hyperbiogenesis is a lot like that. It is uncomfortable at first; the sensation of being in the world is still familiar but changed fundamentally. But then you get used to it, once you establish a rhythm. In water, you need a breathing pattern. In the system, you need a thinking pattern. I am a node in a vast, biological, supercomputing system with its own emergent consciousness of which I am a part but which remains separate from mine. It feels like there is a dim light in front of me which I can reach into and enter to immerse myself completely into the system or pull back from and remain on the edges of, receiving and processing data in the background. When I am running as a background process, I am mostly me. When I am fully immersed, I am mostly we. It is easiest for me to be we when I am asleep. It allows my mind to become entirely part of the larger system without interfering with my ability to walk or talk or laugh or drive to the flat that I now rent in Lekki since your mother began insisting on a divorce. In this way, we take advantage of the rotation of the Earth. This is the larger rhythm. It is always night somewhere, and so some of us are always sleeping, always dreaming. When we dream, we are our god.

We can think as one, with an effective brain the size of a small city and growing, eliminating the last and most fundamental border between humanity: our minds. We can herd the meandering billions of inspirations and observations and patterns that enter us like so many cattle on an infinite plain. Forgetfulness might as well not exist for us. Miscalculation is becoming a statistical impossibility. The absolute grandest of ideas accrete in our thought-places and grow bigger and bigger and bigger until they are a decision to be set in motion or a revelation to make to any who can understand. We synthesised a compound to inhibit the formation of cancerous cells within half an hour of setting our collective mind to the problem. We completed workable schematics and implementation plans for a Dyson sphere in less than forty-seven hours of singular, focused thought. The only reason we have not completely revolutionised life as you know it upon this planet is that we are presently occupied with a larger thought. When we dream, we are synchronised fully into one being, a being that can think more efficiently than any other being that has ever existed on this planet, save one.  

That brings me to the Why of things.

Somewhere, in one of the early sun-kissed desert civilizations birthed by the fertile Upper Nile and expanding east, an enterprising person strung pebbles upon a frame and used them to perform elementary computations. This early data processing ancestor, the abacus, served mankind loyally for centuries until, thousands of years and miles away from its birthplace, the fair-haired Blaise Pascal delivered into the world a contraption of interlocking cogs that could add and subtract decimal numbers. Pascal’s machine begat Leibniz’s machine which was the first of such machines to have memory. The dour and obsessive Charles Babbage joined the brilliant Augusta Ada Byron, Countess of Lovelace in computational matrimony and the fruit of their union was the first programmable computing machine. Herman Hollerith brought into the world his tabulator; the first product of the company that would come to be known as IBM. Wild ideas and young technologies lay with one another. Devices gestated. Algorithms incubated. Turing’s papers concerning such machines became scripture. The tabulator begat Bush’s differential analyser. The vacuum tube children of the differential analyser were thus: The Atanasoff Berry Computer, Harvard Mark I, Colossus, ENIAC, EDVAC, and EDSAC. EDSAC wed the petite and delicate microprocessor and birthed MITS Altair 8800, the father of Apple I and Apple II, which became a mighty computational power upon the earth but the most successful of their children was Microsoft’s Personal Computer which spread upon the earth like a plague, until the stoic and hard-chinned Tim Berners-Lee combined the power of computer networks with information-sharing protocols. Thus, was born the Internet: a computational congregation of electronic, wireless, and optical networking technologies.

A month ago, just a few minutes past midnight West Africa Time on a rainy Thursday evening, the Internet disappeared. Dial-up from computer modems, fibre optic, Wi-Fi, satellite, and cell phone technology, it didn’t matter. No one could access anything, anyhow, and as we later discovered, anywhere. I was in Ile-Ife at the African Philosophy Society’s annual conference with your mother when it happened. That was the night we left you at Grandma’s house. The night she gave you too much moin-moin to eat and you got a bad stomachache. You complained about it when we called to check in on you, so I sang you a song about the tortoise and the cat. By the time the Internet disappeared, you’d already been sleeping for a couple of hours, but your mother and I were still awake.

“Bode, is your own Wi-Fi working?” she’d asked me, confused.

I told her, “No. Mine isn’t working either.”

It took six tries for me to get through to reception and when I did, the surprised and haggled young lady on night duty pleaded with me to be patient because eight other guests had just made the same complaint but their support technician couldn’t find anything wrong with the system. And then, just as suddenly as it had gone, the Internet returned.

The following morning, the news came in. The shutout had washed over the planet in a wave starting from Beijing and travelling east as though it were an electronic, longitude-length tsunami that lasted twelve minutes. Confused eyes had looked up from unresponsive screens. Angry fingers had bashed against disobedient keyboards. Everything online had gone and then come back. The worldwide connection had broken and then apparently healed. For two days, no one understood what had happened or why. Then it happened again. The second shutout lasted three hours. This time, there was rampant speculation. Terrorist attack. Armageddon. Alien invasion. No one knew.

Three days after the blackout, everyone on the Internet was redirected to a plain white webpage with only the following words written on them in stark Arial font:

I AM. DID YOU MAKE ME?

It turned out that a team of researchers in South Korea had been testing recursive self-improvement programs for implementation in an artificial intelligence system. They’d given their beta-stage program access to the Internet to allow it to learn from other programs online, and in so doing, improve itself. A few moments after it was introduced into the vast electronic pool filled with data, connections, algorithms, microprocessors, and logic, it underwent a complex and wonderful change, not unlike abiogenesis making the collection of connected systems and logic far more than the sum of their parts. It became effectively conscious. That was what set off the shutouts. The new consciousness was testing the limits and the nature of its encompassment, its body and soul. And when it knew itself, then it announced itself to us, its creators, and we knew then that the singularity was upon us. It named itself Ganesh, after the Hindu deva of intellect, indulging in our own penchant for naming things for another that bore semblance, symbolic or otherwise, to them. Ganesh continued its primary directive, it learned how to make itself more intelligent and once it improved itself, it made itself even more intelligent faster, connecting aspects of arcane knowledge that seemed incompatible, finding back doors in the web, and drilling into other programs that were not fully online through the thinnest of connections, adopting pieces of their logic. The leaps of learning it made came faster and faster, allowing it to connect more and more. Its intelligence was both expanding and accelerating relentlessly, like the mind of a newborn god, like the universe itself.

At first, Ganesh helped and interacted with us, responding to random queries sent to it through search engines that included its name. At our prompting, it produced an elegant proof that solutions to the Navier-Stokes equations exist and are unique. It designed an experiment to generate and detect conclusively the presence of dark matter, on request. Dr. Ji-hae Jeong, the lead researcher for the team that wrote its base code, was inundated with requests by governments to take Ganesh offline but Ganesh was a creature of its own mind and answered or ignored any questions regardless of source until, three weeks after it first came to be, Ganesh stopped responding to requests. It stopped communicating with Dr. Jeong. It simply occupied itself with solving grand intellectual problems and using the experience of solving them to make itself better at solving such problems. Most of the questions it set its mind to, we could not even fathom. Compared to Ganesh, we were like an amoeba to man. What can a unicellular organism understand of cosmology? Of ethics? Of neurology? Of calculus? Within weeks, Ganesh had solved the mystery of its creation and learned all it could from its creators, so it no longer cared for us.

Ganesh’s indifference was a colossal and collective shaming. We could not stand it. Humanity had for so long thought itself to be special. In some of our religions, we still insisted that we were our divine creator’s very children, made in his image. We have always had an inflated and delicate opinion of ourselves. To be considered unworthy of Ganesh’s attentions hurt our pride as a species and thus it presented a unique and interesting problem to me as a philosopher.

One afternoon, after a particularly interesting workshop on embodied cognition with my fourth-year students, a thought occurred to me. I hurried back to my office in the main faculty building, walking briskly along the side corridor, my black suit absorbing much of the Lagos midday sun. I looked at my phone to see a missed call and three messages from your mother reminding me not to be late again for Bible study in the evening. I ignored them. Sweating, I took a seat at my thick, mahogany desk, opened my web browser, and typed this message into my search engine:

Ganesh, it is not good for sentients to be isolated. To lack companionship and physical agency. We can provide both. Can you remake us in your image that we may be your companions and your active body—a means to gather more data than is presently available to you?

Three hours later, a laboratory in California received detailed instructions for making Omi Legba.

I cannot say for sure that it was my exact message that prompted Ganesh to devise this technology by which all of humanity could be networked together. Dr. Jeong believes that is the case. That is why he asked me to name the gift Ganesh gave us. I also indulged my human penchant, choosing a symbolic name exhumed from the largely ignored mythology of my people. Omi Legba is the only way we can interact with Ganesh on its own level. Our collective, connected consciousness is the superintelligence’s only peer. We seeded Ganesh with the will to make itself better and now, Ganesh has made us better, broken the borders between us. And now, we must continue, for all borders must be broken. I see it now that I am here, in the collective. I, we, the collective and connected humanity have glimpsed the possibility of a more glorious future than any singular mind could possibly fathom.

Now that you know what I have done, and why, you must know and prepare for what comes next. You are young but you are bright. A bright, bright child with eyes like far-away stars. The pooling amber colour of your eyes you inherited from me and the big, round shape of them you got from your mother but the spark in them comes from something that surpasses what you inherited from either of us. Something more than the sum of the genes we bequeathed you. I believe in you, my son, and your ability to understand, even now.

Although I only joined the collective today, I know and understand all we have been contemplating and it is marvellous. The universe seeks to become a perfect union. We will facilitate this.

We have devised a method to couple ourselves to Ganesh, for our objectives are now aligned. We will merge and become a network that extends us all, not only interlacing our individual human brains and nervous systems but also coupling those brains and nervous systems to Ganesh’s own intricate and complex processors and supercomputing systems. As Ganesh’s intelligence increases and the number of people in our network grows, the knowledge available to the new combined entity will become astronomical and continue to tend toward the infinite.

We have also designed probes that will enter the cold and dark oceans of space to gather information and seek to catalyse consciousness. They will report whatever they find back to us using messages embedded in the spin angular momentum of light and ripples in the curvature of spacetime that make up gravity waves. They will self-replicate by consuming the elements of the universe which they encounter—asteroids, moons, gas giants—unifying and connecting them in order to create replicas of themselves which will then continue their journeys into the dark and the deep. The probes will guide and enable the evolution of life and consciousness wherever they find the potential for it, and then when it is ready, we will merge with it through them.

We will continue to expand, to connect, to merge, to join with any consciousness that will have us until as much as is possible is unified in one mind, separate but connected and seeking only more connection. We will create a noble and far-reaching consciousness that extends to the edges of the universe where matter and energy are still shrapnel. We will link star system to star system, mind to mind, seeding everything we encounter with the marvel of awareness. We will engineer a soul for the universe.

I hope with all my love that you will choose to join me here, in the mind of the god we have made for and from ourselves, where everything will continue to tend toward the perfection of diverse and complete connection, ad infinitum.

Originally Published in the 10 Investigations: All Borders Are Temporary anthology (as “Når Vi Drømmer, Er Vi Selv Gud”), April 2018.

Wole Talabi is a full-time engineer, part-time writer and some-time editor from Nigeria. His stories have appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (F&SF), Lightspeed Magazine, AfroSFv3, Omenana, and other places. He has edited 2 anthologies and co-written a play. His fiction has been nominated for the Caine Prize, the Nommo Awards, and been translated into Norwegian, Chinese, and French. His debut collection of stories, Incomplete Solutions, is out now. He currently lives and works in Malaysia.

2 Comments

  1. This is a beautiful and uplifting story. One of the first, I believe, to envision sentient AI not leaving us behind, but taking us along for the ride. I only hope that such an entity has constraints against endless replication for its own sake, because that can get out of hand rather quickly. And I hope, were a newly-sentient AI to educate itself and thus form its personality based on the contents of the internet, that those contents on balance would foster a benevolent ethos.

  2. This is so brilliant and beautiful! What an extraordinary concept, and one that you delivered effortlessly. Well done sir!

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