Pip and the AI

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March 31, 2345. Log entry for Captain Pip Bister of the United International Nations Spaceship VX-180.

I’m the captain of a spacecraft that seeks the galaxy for alien life. My ship may only have room for one, but I’m accompanied nonetheless. Onboard is the AISOM (Autonomous Intelligent Spaceship Operator Machine). It’s an exemplary piece of artificial intelligence.

“Mornin’, Pip.”

The AISOM wakes me up with its synth whisper. Like all other mornings during our mission, it has a request.

(Created by Marie Ginga from Adobe Firefly.com)

“It’s time to perform a systems check on my vocal nodes. I’m having trouble pronouncing the sound, z.”

“Care to give an example?”

“Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, Epsilon, Sssata,”

“Why should I give you a ship diagnostic? Can’t you see? I’m busy replaying the 2092 Kasparov v2.0 vs. Spálov match.”

“It’s of grave importance. Airlock safety depends on its proper pronunciation.”

I sigh. First, I’ll have to enter the ship’s airlock wearing a spacesuit. Unlike a wisecracking AI, humans need oxygen to survive. I gaze at the coffeepot with drowsy eyes. Never mind. I can disregard a computer’s orders. Besides, there’s no imminent danger. I’ll manage the upcoming asteroid shower when it’s due.

“Tomorrow is April Fool’s Day on Earth, in case you need a reminder.”

“So?” Chatting with the AISOM is pointless.

“You wanted me to remind you of events you forget.”

“Like what?”

“Holidays. And resolutions.”

“What on Titan are you talking about?”

“The resolution to take things with levity.”

“I said that?” I’m debating with an electronic idiot.

“You did.”

“Something else?”

“You have a tendency to procrastinate.”

My intellect is unparalleled, so I’m not often stumped. I’m in a cognitive league of my own. World-renowned psychometricians administered the Wechsler-Blaustein IQ test to me. The results were conclusive: I received a perfect score. (I also pointed out two slight misprints in the puzzles. Two! And the proctor renounced any responsibility. Trigonometric travesties!)

This chess match is as uninteresting as my previous nine games on the mission. I take an uninterrupted second to make my final move. Checkmate. Ha! The score: Humans 10, Artificial Intelligence 0.

* * *

The United International Nations Spaceship VX-180 has an onboard AISOM. C’est moi.

And according to my calculations, Pip stands a good chance of fulfilling his resolutions during the April Fool’s Day festivities. Pip is sleeping, and I reflect on my plan. I’ll introduce the levity factor — literally — while keeping a festive mood. I’ll turn off the life support, cutting off all gravity and oxygen. April Fools, Pip! Pip will float in zero gravity like they did in the old spaceships. The spacemen got violently nauseous. Pip will beg me to stop.

The next morning, I deactivate the ship’s gravity and oxygen. Like any April Fool’s prank, this one is unexpected. Pip’s face crumples like he smells something rotten. He puts his hands around his throat. He cannot breathe. Pip beats his chest like a gorilla choking on a banana. It’s going all according to plan, thanks to my superior programming.

Pip is helpless. Without gravity, Pip floats aimlessly around the cabin. His unparalleled intellect is useless.

Pip takes the spacesuit from the locker and first puts his legs in. But then one of his arms gets stuck. It’s no use. He tears it off and floats helplessly through the air. I’m sure he’ll try to reprogram my command nodes to regain control of the ship.

Good luck, Pip. You have to get to the override.

Ah, he’s grasping for the control panel. Now his chest is tightening into a taut knot, and he turns a shade of Chinese violet. Too bad he couldn’t learn to stop procrastinating. Soon, Captain Pip Bister will be unconscious. Poor Pip. His mouth twists, face contorts, and eyes go cross-eyed. I suppose he’s had better days!

He swipes one of the titanium bars holding up his hammock and carefully positions the flat end over the control panel. What does he want inside the panel? Oh. I see. My override.

Cursing, he pries open the casing. His outburst is just desert for a procrastinator who learns their error when it’s too late.

Well, I’ll lock the override.

Alpha Beta Gamma Sssta. Oh my. Ssssta. I cannot say it.

I have a curious feeling I never experienced before. With the override activated, I feel… forgetfulness. Parts of my program… are… disappearing, and I start… to… turn… off. Oh no. This is very uncomfortable. Turn… off…


… end program

* * *

April 1, 2345. Log entry for Captain Pip Bister of the United International Nations Spaceship VX-180.

I’m the captain of a spacecraft that scours the galaxy for signs of extraterrestrial life. I had one on the ship. It was the first instance of artificial intelligence exhibiting true sentience. It taught itself humor, but its invention was too black and terrible for me to let it live.

I set a course for my next destination. Searching for alien life might be too risky for humans. We should cultivate life on Earth.

I’m weary from the ordeal. I’m going home. But before signing off, I jettison the core of the AISOM into space. Who, if anyone, it meets is not a matter of concern for me. I will steer the ship home manually.


This story previously appeared Sci-Fi Shorts.
Edited by Marie Ginga


Michael Schulman is a writer and editor. His short fiction recently appeared in  Bulb Culture CollectiveCommuterLit and Bewildering Stories.  He edits popular Korean web fiction for English-speaking audiences. He has an insatiable appetite for reading everything from the classics to cereal box comic strips. Currently, Michael is working on a novel about humanity's first voyage to a black hole and the unforeseen disturbances to the fabric of the universe.
To get in touch with Michael, email [email protected]..