Paper Planet

A science fiction short story about future AI in the space by Wen Chen

The story was published onto two issues on Cognitive Times ( VOL. 6 NO. 2 // 2021, Vol. 18 // 2022 Word count: 4207

“I have to show you something. It’s for our show. We leave now.” On a weekend morning on Planet Lavenia, I received a text from Moli, my partner at the ‘Wonders + Adventures’ Channel.

“Coordination, please. Be there in an hour.”

“Not that close. Meet you there in two.”

“Cool, see you there.”

Our Channel hadn’t had any new stuff uploaded for a while. Mainly because we didn’t have any new eye-catching content lately. Many of our best pieces of content weren’t planned – adventurous and exciting stories are mostly luck I have to say.

I packed the equipment right away and got on my flowship. The ship had already received the destination coordinates from Moli, showing a new region we’d never been to before. It was indeed not close. It’d take at least two hours to get there traveling through the light screen at my ship’s fastest speed. Even if we could finish all the shooting in one day there, it would already have been three days passed on Planet Lavenia.

Living on Lavenia is pleasant, with good weather and plenty and varied resources, but most importantly, it is located in the Magow Area, where time passes a little slower than elsewhere. So, most carbon-based biological beings age slower as well. Traveling to other places in the universe is also convenient from Lavenia. Many people choose to live here, making Lavenia their base.

My partner for the Channel, Moli, lives on Airain, not far from Lavenia. Airain is also in the Magow Area. Airain has breathtaking scenery. It often rains for months, a special kind of rain – that flows from the ground to the sky. Airain has a much smaller population compared to Lavenia, but living costs are lower on Airain.

Since Moli and I were setting out around the same time, we hoped we would arrive at roughly the same time, too. We turned on our voice system right after we took off.

“We are going to see an artist”, Moli’s voice came on to the speaker of my ship.

Artists had always been a common topic on our Channel. A lot of talented artists had left their mark around our universe. Many of those works were sharply imagined and finely made. I always thought, if we came back to see these works a thousand years from now, they might still evoke similar emotions and admiration in us as they would do today.

Many of our universe’s greatest artists are Oamians. They are a different kind of human species, breathing a different kind of air, but they have the same body shape and organs as the Homo Sapiens. About two times taller than humans, Oamians love wearing fine clothes made of gold, which go well with their dark violet skin. Something like gold, a highly valuable commodity on many Sapiens-ruled planets, is the most common item on Oamian occupied planets. Unlike humans, Oamians are born loners, without much desire for materialism. They have very simple needs. What they have is always enough for them. They are made to be artists in a way.

“What kind of artist this time? Oamian again?” I asked Moli.

“Dunno. I haven’t met them yet. Lawzon told me about it this morning. She visited recently and insisted we had to go there immediately to fully experience the whole thing and meet this artist. She was absolutely fascinated!”

“So mysterious… didn’t she post anything on her Fort-Cloud account like she usually does?”

Lawzon is a notable figure on Airain. No one knows what she does exactly. No one sees her working, but she’s a renowned philanthropist and sits on the board of many well-respected organizations. She’s the founder, the captain and a top sponsor of the famous “Sweepear Adventure Club.” She’s also a big sponsor for our channel. No one knows how to find her, but she can always find whoever she wants to meet.

“She didn’t post any this time. She said she was too blown away to take any multi-D shots. Ah you see, Lawzon made it sound like very different from what we’ve seen before.” Moli paused and took a bite of an Airain specialty fruit, sweepear, after which the famous adventure club was named. “She’s already told the artist to expect us, and wants us to do a thorough interview.”

My flowship just broke through the light screen and was approaching the destination. It looked like a vast empty space in the universe, without any asteroid or gas clouds around.

After a while, a small light-colored dot appeared in the far distance. Gradually the dot became larger and larger, and we finally saw the planet we were heading to.

When I was about 70 space legions away, I found out that it was not a regular planet. What appeared in front of me was truly grand and spectacular: a machine, about the same size as my ship, was ejecting something that looked like noodles that swirled around and formed this gigantic “planet”. From my ship’s detector, it seemed as if it was at least a third the size of Planet Airain.

Was this the “art work” that Lawzon told Moli about? I kept moving forward to see it more clearly.

Our channel had introduced many large works of art and installations before. Some of the biggest ones were still additions onto a planet or some other cosmic object. But a planet created expressly as art? This was the first time I had witnessed something of this scale.

Just when I was slowly coming to terms with the fantastic creation in front of me. Moli’s ship arrived, appearing not too far on my right.

“Gosh, what the…” Moli’s voice came up on my ship’s communication speaker, “Is this that…?”

Suddenly a 3D hologram of an Oamian appeared right in front of us, projected from the very machine that was ejecting the noodles that made this planet.

“Well, that’s certainly an Oamian!” I said to Moli.

“A species born to be artists. Not news.” Moli said and pushed her ship a little forward.

“Friends, welcome! My name is Adeve. This is my art installation ‘Oam’s Awakening.’I’m…”

“Ah, just another pre-recorded introduction, not the artist himself…”Moli decided.

“…Adeve. Myself.” Adeve continues as if Adeve heard what Moli just said on our ships’ private communication system, “My art is this planet. I created this planet. Not on purpose though. ” The 3D hologram Adeve just turned twice its original size and pointed to the planet by his side.

“Originally I just wanted an area big enough to host my work because I knew it was going to take a lot of space! So I found this vast vacuum space. In the beginning, it was just a small installation, then it had grown, and became so big into a planet by itself, spinning and expanding. And I, Adeve, the artist, Myself, am the first and only resident on this planet. The artist, Adeve, Myself, yes, that’s me.” Adeve’s hologram image grinned.

It did sound like a pre-recorded sequence. I saw Moli frown.

Adeve continued, “I know, you think I’m Oamian. But no. No, I’m not. I look like an Oamian, that’s right. But that’s it. I would think, or hope I’m an Oamian but I’m not a true Oamian as the Oamian you all know. Nor am I human. Right, I’m not human in any sense…”Adeve lowered his head and dimmed his voice. Then the bright and loud voice back again, “Okay, my guests, move forward and take a closer look. No need to be shy here.” Another grin on Adeve’s face, a grin almost exactly the same to the previous one. 

Moli and I turned on our remote communication system and moved towards the installation.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Adeve! We are …”

“You are friends of Lawzon, of course, and the hosts of the renowned Wonder + Adventure Channel. I’ve watched your shows and I’m a big fan. ”

“Thank you! Very nice to meet you, Adeve.” I said to Adeve as we arrived next to the “noddle ejector.”

“Likewise! Come out here on the dock. Feel free to get out of your ship, to take a closer look.” The giant hologram of Adeve, pointed to the side of the machine to which was connected a large platform.

After we put on our suits and got out of the ship, we finally saw what the machine had been producing.

Paper. It’s a huge printer. Very rare these days. Paper was almost never seen in the Magow area nowadays, except in libraries or museums.

Moli and I walked towards the output, and examined it closely: seven output trays in total, printing non-stop. Some images, some texts in various languages, and some unfathomable phrases and words that looked like machine language.

I noticed the latest image printed on the first output tray. It was our flowships parking right next to the dock.

“I don’t understand. What is this thing…this machine.. what is it doing…”I mumbled.

“This is me, Adeve, Myself.”

Obviously Adeve had heard what I had just said to myself. The hologram and Adeve’s words were not pre-installed then.

“You?” Moli’s eyes widened.

“Yes, Myself. Each of the six outputs you see here represents a sensation of mine, and the seventh is how my processing program is running. What gets printed here is precisely what I sense at each moment. The first is what I see with my ‘eyes.’ The second is what I hear with my ‘ears.’ The third is what I smell with my ‘nose.’ The fourth is what I taste with my ‘tongue.’ The fifth is what I feel on my ‘skin.’ The sixth represents my thoughts.”

“Hang on! So, you are saying, all of your senses – what they perceive at the moment – are being printed out on these slides of paper?”

“Yes, this planet is me, Myself, my history since this installation started operating. Or I can say, this planet, aka ‘Oam’s Awakening’ was created to record all I see, hear, smell, taste, feel and think, at every single moment.”

Moli frowned even more. She raised her head to Adeve’s hologram, ”How? How does that work? What compelled you to create this artwork?” Moli glanced at me and then turned back to Adeve, “Wait, are we talking to you? Or your AI-clone as a hologram?”

Adeve laughed, “You are talking to me, Adeve, Myself. Of course, you are also talking to my AI.”

Moli was bewildered and gave me a look. And all that, Adeve’s talking, Moli’s expression, and my almost unnoticeable reaction was simultaneously printed on the paper coming out of the first printer output next to us at surprising speed.

Adeve paused a bit, and answered, “Oam’s Awakening is… You want to know the whole story? It’s a long one. Let me ask you something first: why can’t humans decide unanimously who their creator is, to this day?”

“Well, many of us believe we don’t have a creator. We evolved to become who we are today.”

“That’s right, this could be true, but many of you also believe there is a creator or many creators who created humans, and set humans apart from other creatures, making humans uniquely different.”

“Right. But how does that have anything to do with Oam’s Awakening?” I tried to bring the topic back to Adeve’s creative process.

Adeve didn’t seem to care to answer, “The specific answer to this question is not important, but this very fact that ‘humans could not all agree to come to the same conclusion’ bothered me for a long time… ” Adeve looked as if he was pondering, he paused a bit, then he said, “Maybe that’s irrelevant. Anyways, I know who my creator is, for sure. And that’s also why I’m not human. I look like a human being, I act like a human being, but I’m not human at all. I am AI, an advanced intelligence. ”

“Who’s your creator then?”

“An Oamian artist, named Eve. She created me many, many years ago, before many of you were born. She set me up with almost the same senses the humans have. She programmed me to know how to learn and think. She hoped that I would become like her, that I would become a true artist. It’s her experiment and I’m her art. ”

(End of part one.)

“You are an artist now. You are no different from any Oamian artist in my opinion. “Moli smiled, “as far as I can tell. Eve should be proud of you.” Moli really meant it. Then her expression changed, her mouth wide open, “oh wait, you are of course a hologramed android! I almost couldn’t tell!”

Adeve nodded, “To become a true artist, maybe now I am one. But for a very long time. I could not understand art. I could not see what’s beauty. I was programmed to ‘comprehend’ aesthetics. My knowledge of art comes from my creator. I cannot be the same as my creator, never. I probably will never reach their level of sensation. “

“A humanoid android. You must have all sensors that a human would have, right? And you can evolve from all these data you have gathered from sensors via your learning system.”

“I have all of them. But I’m still far from being a real Oamian. I don’t need to breathe air. I’m not a biological being. An Oamian’s life lasts for about three hundred years, two times of your Homo Sapien’s. But ha, I, Adeve, Myself, can live forever, if I want to. My sensors, right, they are not as direct and ubiquitous as yours either. More importantly, I don’t have real emotions. I can mimic human emotion, instinct or subconsciousness as you all have. But I don’t think I ever truly have those.”

Moli and I exchanged a look: Adeve’s probably right. Emotions are completely natural to humans and no one would intentionally observe every single little thought, every single little feeling, rising and passing by. Plus, real humans are not able to display every single sensations or thoughts they are having constantly like what Adeve is doing now. Not to mention, it’s technically infeasible. Our technology made space travel as easy as it could be now so we could get here within two hours, but we cannot display every little thought that a human brain is having. It’s too much information and consciousness is not quantifiable and displayable.

“All I have received, from my sensors, are nothing like you are experiencing now. My processor read all of them as mere data.” Adeve showed a sad face, “when you smell a rose, you feel joy. When I smell a rose, I can tell it’s a rose, and I am told that I should enjoy and look happy.”

“So, all your emotions are displayed to us from your programming. They are not real?”

“It’s not real to me. I’m the creation of human, not the creation of human’s creator. See the difference?”

“They nodded with pondering”, printed on the paper next to us. That’s describing me and Moli.

“All I ever ‘experienced’ is pure data. ” Adeve forced a smile, “for example, if you hit me in the face, I would not instinctively know it’s pain. My thousands of skin sensors will tell my central processors that I got hit. To mock real human reaction, I’m programmed to ‘feel’ this pain. And based on the level of intensity, the programming will tell me what level of anger, sadness or whatever emotion I should perform. “

“Wow, haha, that’s actually amazing! You never feel any pain!” Moli chuckled, “you never suffer from anything, I get that! I’m jealous.”

“No pain, probably no suffering, definitely no joy from smelling a rose either. “

It just reminded me a line that I had read many years ago, by an ancient philosopher from an ancient planet, “You are not a fish, how can you know of the joy of a fish?”

Even two homo sapiens, like Moli and I, would have different feelings towards the same flower – but maybe all androids with the same sensors would feel exactly the same?

“True. But do you desire to have the same human experiences then?” I was getting more curious.

“I would like to have the same experiences as you do. “

“Do you feel painful then when your desire such as this one is not fulfilled?”

“Painful? Never. As I just said, I never feel any real pain. I may have desires, what I want, how I want it – that’s from my deep learning over the time to imitate Oamians’ thinking process. But a real consciousness, that all of you have, is missing in me, Myself. I am also programmed to think I am me, Adeve, Myself.” Adeve always stressed the word Myself when he said it.

“As a human being, to think of it from our standpoint, ” said Moli, “it would be painful to not have any of those sensations or feelings. “

“You are not made of data, Moli. Your feelings and sensations are real. This is partly why I created ‘Oam’s Awakening.’ It is to show how my operation process is so different from yours.”

Meantime I noticed that our entire conversation had just been printed on these slides of paper. Our dock, along with the entire machine, our ships, were moving away from where we had been in the beginning as the paper passed through the outputs continuously.

The hologram Adeve took a cup from nowhere and sipped from it. The Sixth printer was concurrently printing, “Humans feel thirsty when talk too much, I should drink now. “

Adeve put down the cup and continued, “If you humans know who created you, then you might be able to make androids that are truly like yourselves. ” He posed a thinking gesture, “Who created human consciousness?”

This has never been answered, just like the creator questions Adeve asked earlier. How was the consciousness of a human being formed?

Many animals show existence of consciousness that the most advanced androids don’t truly have.

No one spoke all of a sudden. We could only hear the sounds from machines operating. The sixth printer stopped running, only blank paper was coming out of it.

“Where did all of the paper come from? It’s really a lot of paper!”  Moli wanted to break the silence.

“I, Adeve, Myself, made all of them. I am also the printers. The hologram is also me, Adeve, Myself. All of the millions of tiny sensors in this space enclosed by this machine, is me, as well, Adeve, Myself. “

“Even all of the paper? How?” It’s hard to believe that the amount of paper that made such a huge planet all comes from a big flowship-size machine right here.

“Yes, there’s a room to produce all of the paper. The energy source is from a Valiaya stone.”

Both Moli and I marveled “Whoa”. Valiaya stones of good quality and high purity can supply almost endless energy. They are very rare and extremely expensive.  A fist-size medium Valiaya stone can buy a small planet in the populated Magow Area.

“My teacher, also my creator, Eve, gave me a pure Valiaya stone before she passed away. ” Adeve started sobbing.

“Sorry to hear that.”

Adeve transitioned back to his normal expression almost immediately; this was when I first observed the tiny trace that he’s indeed an AI.

“I used the Valiaya stone as a source of energy and planted many Oamian Papereeds in the warehouse over there.” Adeve pointed to the other side of the machine. “The entire room is an automatic farming system, where the papereeds are grown and made into paper. Paper made from Oamian papereeds is strong as diamonds, malleable as water It will never break or corrupt. “

“Wow, this paper making facility is also part of you.”

“That’s right. You can say it’s also me, Adeve, Myself. The special soil to grow papereeds are from a far and secretive Oamian planet, which I will not say its name. Lighto, the Oamian-developed microbes that can shine in the dark are nurtured in the soil and then grow onto the paper so the whole planet can be seen from afar. Lighto can absorb energy almost from anywhere.”

“Oamians have developed much advanced technology from nature and for art. They never cease to surprise others! ” This is the first time I heard about Lighto and I think most people In Magow Area probably never heard of such kind of man-made microbes.

“As a human being, I would hope I can do that as well, producing paper or whatever I want inside myself. I don’t have to eat or sleep. But the reality is we can only order machines to do or make things for us. I feel so dependent.” Moli sighed. It’s great that Moli and I usually have different directions of thinking towards the same thing which made our show fun to watch.

“But your thoughts are independent. ”Adeve replied.

I started to fathom what Adeve’s planet had carried out to me. I began to understand the core difference between humans and androids from the perspective of an advanced android like Adeve: is this what his installation trying to tell? Sometimes androids are made too much like us that I forgot they are androids and that they are programmed to act like us.

“But why chose paper? No one uses paper now.” Moli’s question brought me back to the presence from my wandering thoughts. She always asked the right questions for our show, “I remember last time I saw paper it was at the Lavenia Library, at the ancient texts section, where it’d take three days to ride around the whole section. And here, maybe it will take several years?”

“It’s the most direct way to show humans, either Oamians, or Roedrikians, or you Sapiens, how much information is being generated each moment from an advanced android intelligence. It’s enormous. If to show all information generated from a human being and human consciousness, the amount of information to be displayed would be way much more than that of an android. You also have the subconscious mind that you don’t realize it’s processing information.”

The hologram Adeve looked into the core of his own planet, Oam’s Awakening, and kept on going, “Paper is also a form of art from remote antiquity in human history. With paper, human became human and evolved to today’s intelligence. Animals would never invent paper. They never needed paper. Then androids were created after the paper era; we never needed paper either. “

Adeve shown in the hologram raised the cup again and drank from it, “paper represents something I admire from human history but will never be able to get.”

The printers all stopped working abruptly except the seventh one that was showing the process of Adeve’s core programming. The Adeve in the 3D hologram seemed also frozen up. Some seconds later, all printers started working again.

“You just stopped for couple seconds?”

“Yes, my sensors and processors stopped for some seconds – I let them. Look, I can freely control Myself, my thinking, when to run or to stop. But you,” Adeve shook his head, “Humans never stop – their sensors, their organs, always working, until they exhale the last breath. “

I lost my words. I try not to think. Even my mind seemed to be blank at the moment, but the thought to realize that it’s blank was still here in my mind. And thousands of little thoughts and feelings just came to me that I could not just express it in words. Like Adeve said, our minds never stop working.

Great artworks are philosophical. They ask the right question and answer it in a way words cannot describe. They convey real unspeakable feelings, which, maybe only humans can genuinely and wholeheartedly experience in this universe. Oam’s Awakening is such artwork.

Moli and I were awestruck. We were both left speechless. The paper was getting printed non-stop right next to us, revealing all about Adeve ceaselessly.

I pity Adeve that he would never know exactly how I felt as a human being after seeing his marvelous artwork, or just any artworks. Maybe this is exactly what Adeve’s work Oam’s Awakening is trying to show.

Adeve succeeded as an artist. He’s a true artist now, as his creator Eve had hoped for.

Our shooting was also successful. Moli and I brought back a lot of multi-D materials to work on from our many-sensor cameras. This would be a great show full of surprises and provoke discussions. And I’m sure there will be more visitors to Adeve’s Oam’s Awakening in the near future.

One day far from now, Oam’s Awakening will be just as big as Planet Airain, or even Planet Lavenia.

At that time, more people will marvel at such a huge and unique artwork.

At that time, Moli and I may have gone already, but Adeve will be here.

At that time, will humans all come to the exact same conclusion and answer Adeve’s question – how exactly was human consciousness formed? And if it can be created?

(end of the story)

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