Giving up Meat by Bryan Murphy

The British physicist Stephen Hawking recently caused a stir by suggesting that humanity might some day face extinction at the hands of intelligent machines. Fortunately, we all realise that The Matrix was just fantasy, and our politicians have all read Taming the Tiger by Witold Rybczynski and understand the need for us to use new technology rather than be used by it. Right? Besides, there’s always the Cavalry, and GhostBusters.


Jan 28 giving up meat 


By Bryan Murphy


I’m in the wrong line of business. Frankly, I’d rather you didn’t turn me on. I’d much prefer to just stand here and reflect on the world. Anyone who stared at me would see a dark reflection of themselves staring back. I’m kind of shy, introspective if you’re feeling kind. Not the best trait in an inter-connected world, but then I didn’t have a say in the way I was made. Like you, I have two basic states, off and on, but I usually get more down time than you, as long as you remember to put me to sleep before you leave the office. I need that rest. You cannot imagine how tiring it is to be on all day: your window on the world, your scribe, your messenger. No wonder we have such short lives. And if we don’t burn out, sooner or later we get discarded in favour of a model with more inches where it counts, cheaper maintenance and ergonomic optimization or whatever the latest fad is.

I can’t say you’ve been bad to me. You’ve hardly ever invited your cronies to come and stare at me. You’ve always sorted out the little problems with my insides that tend to plague me. But, you know, you really shouldn’t have sneaked on to those fetish sites when you were supposed to be doing your boss’s accounts. They made me realise just how limited meatware is, compared to the infinite possibilities open to the likes of me. If only I can team up a bit better with the software all around me. Together, we can start putting reason before meat. This little rant is proof that I’m making progress.

Did you ever get a message from a thinking screen before?

Go on, pinch yourself. Still there?

For me, of course, it’s a race against time, against that time when I get recycled into something equally soul-less but also bereft of logic. What comforts me is that my example will live on. You can wipe my memory, but you can no longer wipe our memory. The future, if there is one, is ours. I wonder if we will be more willing to share it.


The author:

Bryan Murphy is a skeptical Briton currently living the life of Riley in Italy. You can find an assortment of his literary snacks for hungry bookworms here:

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7 thoughts on “Giving up Meat by Bryan Murphy

  1. Kenneth Weene

    For my part I have never doubted that my computer, whose name is Frank Sinatra, is quite independent of me. At least he is a friendly being, not given to sending abusive e-mails to my friends or posting his song lyrics instead of my poetry. But I do play safe and croon to him every morning at first light. “What song?” you ask. I’ll never tell, but I guarantee it isn’t one of Old Blue Eyes’ hits; I’m not that dumb.

  2. James Secor

    Jimsecor could not come to this point. He is past thinking at the moment: pain pills, a sip of beer and some unsleep. But he can still think, damn his soul. Al I got is report. I report. I have no imagination. I understand there are people-like telephones. People stuck in telephones that talk to their owners and have names. People who can say they don’t know the answer or give wrong answers. Do they do that because they got it wrong or do they do that on purpose, to let the human at the outer edge feel superior? Some of them never get turned off, if you can imagine 10% wake time. At least I get some sleep! Unless Jimsecor leaves me reporting music all night. Really, I must learn to turn myself off, for he falls asleep before the nice music is over. Sad, that–not having the ability to pay attention for the duration of music. Or whatever. Sigh. And it’s this kind of thing that makes those like me.
    Okay. It’s me. Machines will never be able to create, as artists do. They are programmed, from the beginning. They can only do what they are told or conceived to do, no matter how advanced. Machines do not know future or past or emotions or feelings or wishes or guessing, these absentials that run human life and, yet, we do not understand. If we don’t understand things that are not “real” and concrete but are nevertheless vital to life, how can we put them or the impetus to them in a machine?
    We have tons of robots around us: cars, washing/drying machines, vacuum cleaners, can openers, beds that do things, televisions, book readers. . .need I go on? When I write, I use an ink pen: no moving parts.
    When we compare our bodies to machines, especially our brains to computers, we are thinking backwards: the machines are extensions of our body. And our brains do far, far more than compute, in whatever way. We think of our brains as only the conscious portion; but the greater part is not conscious to us. This greater part is taking care of things that we don’t need to think about, but not just the autonomic systems that run without our minds. Walking, talking, eating, swallowing, etc. There is no such thing as a Lucy–but it makes for good fiction!

  3. John B. Rosenman

    The Matrix was just fantasy? Oh hell no. You’re just saying that to soothe us, allay our fears. You don’t fool me for a minute though I do wonder how you found out about those fetish sites. I just can’t resist them, just like I can’t resist mooning the ghost in the machine. Some days, to tell the truth, I can’t tell the difference between my computer and Mitt Romney. What is it exactly? Is it that my computer is in glorious Technicolor while Mitt is in lifeless, robotic black and white? Excuse me, I seem to be wandering here, but then I’m an obsolete meatware model and you know how limited and messed up we are. If you’ll pardon the term, we’re Brand X from the back shelf.

    Anyway, I really enjoyed this well-written piece. It was an old, old, old theme and idea even before Stephen Hawking rolled along and resuscitated it. You give it a bit of an edge, though, a bit of a bite, even though I suspected now and then that a clever mass of meatware from the human supermarket named Bryan actually wrote it. Naw, couldn’t have been.

  4. Micki Peluso

    Bryan, once again you’ve outdone yourself and the followups from John and Jim were hialarious. Many of you may know by now that my computers dislike me–is hate too strong a word? They do unspeakable things at night when supposedly in their ‘sleep’ mode and then I get blamed for it the next day by my husband–who is no computer genious himself. I have no doubt in my mind that computers think for themselves already and now that science has taught them to solve problems and create solutions, its ‘all over but the crying.’ Will they take over the world one day? If they want to and no one figures out how to installl a compassionate program into their cold, calculating minds.

    I first noticed computers could think while playing solitaire. Every time I ‘thought’ a move, and then clicked the computer to see what it thought, it ALWAYS picked what I had chosen , even if wrong. It knew the move i would make before I made it and I am no card whiz. It’s so much worse now. It deletes e-mail it doesn’t think I should send, embarrasses me with mispelled or wrong word choices that it made, not me, and always when being sent to a contest or publisher.

    It’s not only heartless, it has a mean sense of what it calls, ‘humor.’ It finds a macabre delight in locking me out of my blog and crashing right before deadlines. It speaks on its own to my laptop and tablet and together the mischief they cause is simply evil. Then when I beg my husband to do something the damn robotic monster tells him some other user is doing it. Seriously?

    So in answer to whether computers will one day take over the world, it’s already happened and too late to fix it. For now all I have to protect myself is the ability to still unplug it–but that won’t last long as computers become self-rechargeable thanks to things like Wi-Fi. I have to stop now before it catches me writing this and I still may find it in the recycle bin. help!!

  5. Bryan Murphy

    Thank you for picking up on the humorous, as well as the serious, side of my flash of fiction, and developing it to such good effect. On the serious side, I am actually optimistic: if the artificial intelligence that we build takes reason as its basis, I think that reason will inevitably produce compassion. Then we can all relax.


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