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The Tinkered Mind
A meditation app is forthcoming. Stay Tuned.
January 29th, 2023
Lucilius was staring at the screen, wondering if he should fill out the application. Doubts filled his mind. He sighed and looked off in the distance, acceding to unwanted forced within himself. Feelings of unworthiness, insecurity and wavering confidence pushed him to give up. He switched the screen, deciding he would figure it out some other time. Despite that time was running out.
He stared at the new task but words filled his mind - answers to the application questions, and he remained locked in a trance, imagining what he wished he had the courage to do.
“Ah there’s no point,” he said with a fleeting edge of anger. He stood up and walked away from the computer.
As he paced the room, rubbing his face, waiting for peace, there was a knock at the door. He stopped, confused for a moment before he remembered he was expecting an old friend.
When Lucilius opened the door, he froze.
Before him stood an humanoid robot, sleekly designed in black plates, the face a black screen.
Lucilius stepped back. It was his friend’s voice.
“What… did you do to yourself?”
“Oh come on Lucy, I’m piloting it remotely. I’m at home, but check this out!”
Suddenly the black plates of the android seemed to shimmer like a liquid as if they were oozing a gel. But the gel turned opaque, filling with color. The black screen face morphed until there was a perfect likeness of his friend standing right in front of Lucilius.
“Whoah, you’ve been busy.”
The two laughed and embraced, but Lucilius pulled away after remembering it was a robot and not his actual friend.
“Ah, sorry, that’s just a little creepy.”
The robot laughed. “It’s ok”, it said in the voice of Lucilius’ friend. “Can I come in?”
“Of course, of course.”
“Something to drink? Or does that not make sense?”
The robot waved it off. “Nah I actually have to be quick, and honestly once I’ve explained myself, you’ll want to get started.”
The robot chuckled. “So this robot is a gift for you Lucilius. A temporary one, but the effects will be long lasting, I promise.”
“What have you been cooking up?”
“A lot more than just a robot body, let me tell you. But first, can you put this on?”
The robot reached behind itself and as if by magic produced a large metal ring. Lucilius wondered about the magic trick, remembering that the friend he was looking at was actually some sort of animated gel, and he figured the ring was somehow holstered in the robot’s back.
“How do I put it on?”
“Your head dummy.”
“Oh,” Lucilius put the ring on, like a crown and it sat just atop his ears, lacing around his face above his eyes.
“What’s this for?”
“For the robot.”
“So what are you reading my mind or something?”
“Sort of. Training a model for the robot.”
The crown let off a soft bing and Lucilius could see a green glow above. He took off the ringed crown and now it was glowing a soft pulse of green.
“Excellent,” his friend said, reaching out and taking the ring from Lucilius. It disappeared behind the robot’s back and Lucilius shook his head quickly, a bit unsettled with how many elements of the bizarre situation he was trying to keep track of.
“Ok, Lucilius, are you ready?”
“Ready for what?”
“This thing is going to teach you things about your own life that will just blow your mind.”
“But.. I don’t understand. How did you manage.. what are you even talking about?”
“Hidden leverage Lucilius, this baby is going to show you where the hidden leverage is.”
Lucilius had more questions, but the likeness of his friend faded from the robot. The gel returned to a semi-opaque state, physically morphing, and then as if coming into focus, it regained similitude. But it was no longer that of Lucilius’ friend. Now Lucilius looked upon himself.
The two wore a similar expression of shock, and for a few moments they mimicked one another perfectly, turning away in disbelief in the same way, staring closer in the same way, and then this second Lucilius before him laughed.
“Sorry, can’t help it, you looked like a child seeing an animal for the first time. Well, I guess you still kind of look like that. But I get it. Eerie isn’t it?”
“Who am I talking to?” Lucilius asked
“Hmm,” that’s a good question, the robot said. He looked off in the distance for a second. “Well the most accurate answer was a model of yourself, but I’ve begun to have a different experience than you, so I’m just ever so slightly removed from who you were. But! And this is a big but. I have a little extra glommed on to the model created by the neural crown that scanned your system.”
“A little extra?” Lucilius asked.
“Yea, so I’m basically an AI that now has a trained model of who you are. So I have a nearly identical set of algorithms that can be used to act just as you would in virtually any and all situations. But I’m not just the model of you. I’m also generally trained.”
“So you can like… fill in for me?”
“Yea, I could basically step into your life and act just like you and no one would be none the wiser.”
“What’s the point of that?”
He watched himself smile. “Do you want me to explain it, or would you rather sit back and relax, enjoy the show and find out?”
Lucilius’ curiosity was piqued now. He certainly liked surprises, and he’d been feeling very ruined down lately. It would be nice to hand over everything to a clone of himself, just to get some rest and relaxation.
“You’re not going to mess up my life are you?”
“Au contraire, I’m here to show you a few little hacks about your life. Remember, I don’t have just your perspective. There’s a little extra going on here.” The robot tapped it’s temple.
“But wait, how does this work. If you have a conversation with someone, I wont remember it.”
“Ah, well there’s two options. I can download the memories to you daily, or you can watch in real time.”
“Ya,” The robot reached behind itself again and produced the neural crown. “You can download nightly or just wear this and any time I’m active you’ll be able to see through my eyes, hear what I hear. It’s not completely immersive, but it gets a clear POV across.”
Lucilius decided to give it all a shot, and booked a room on the coast for a week to get away. He wasn’t entirely sure about it all but it was too tempting, too weird, and curious Lucilius couldn’t resist.
He drove out to the coast, leaving the robot in his apartment, and after finally settling into his room and relaxing in the sun, having a big dinner and treating himself to a bottle of wine and a movie, he finally dug out the neural crown and decided to check out what the robot had done.
He watched through the robots eyes as it sat down at his computer. It brought up the application screen and filled out all of the questions, in just the way Lucilius had been thinking, and then without the sort of hesitation Lucilius would have had, the robot submitted the application.
“Huh, interesting.” Lucilius said.
There was little else the robot did that day that was of much note. It was a day of chores Lucilius had been putting off and his robot simulacrum took care of everything, tidying things up in just the way Lucilius ideally preferred but rarely managed.
Time was distorted with the nightly download and after an hour Lucilius had watched the whole day. He took off the neural crown, impressed, and poured himself another glass of wine. He queued up another movie and smiled, grateful to have friends that would bestow such remarkable gifts upon him.
The following day, after a long and relaxing breakfast and some reading on the beach, Lucilius grew curious. The day was far from over but he wanted to know what the robot was doing with his life back in the city. It wasn’t even noon but he put on the neural crown. Within twenty minutes he was caught up on the morning’s activities and now he watched through the robot’s eyes in real time. Lucilius sat for hours watching his simulacrum’s life, laughing and smiling and occasionally growing very attentive when the robot went right ahead with something that Lucilius only considered and would have hesitated immensely before doing.
“Huh,” Lucilius grunted more and more as he watched the robot.
By the end of the week Lucilius was very depressed. He’d stopped watching the robot’s life the day previously and now he sat like a nervous wreck. He had no idea what the robot might be doing with his life at that very moment, but in some ways Lucilius didn’t care at all. He held his face with his hands.
“How…? How!” He muttered.
There was a knock at the door and before Lucilius could even look up, it opened and there stood the robot. A concerned look on his own face there.
“You ok old friend?”
“That’s always how you’ve regarded yourself Lucilius. It’s one of my favorite parts about how you look at the world and yourself - thinking or yourself as a friend to care for, to have compassion for.”
The robot was right, but it didn’t alleviate the heavy feelings that Lucilius was struggling with. He sneered.
“Ok, out with it, say what’s on your mind,” the robot said, picking up a half empty bottle of wine, grabbing a second glass and splitting the rest between the two.
Lucilius knew what he wanted to say but the words were hard. He just shook his head.
“Here,” the robot handed him a glass of wine. “Come on, this is the most important part, this is the whole reason this gift was given to you.”
“Gift? GIFT? You call this a gift?”
“Well let’s start there. What would you call it?”
Lucilius sneered again, shaking his head. “A truly embarrassing experience.”
“Why do you say that.”
Lucilius was quiet for a moment. Angry that this robot was going to make him say it. He stood up in a huff. He looked down at the wine in his hand, then took a sip. He walked to the window, looked out at the wide ocean and took another sip.
“You’re so much better at living my life than I am. In one week you’ve managed things that I’ve been trying to pull off for years. How is that not embarrassing? To realize that someone else, some THING else is so much better at being me than I am?”
He turned back to see the robot smiling.
“What you think that’s funny? Is this funny for you that something is so easy for you that’s been a struggle for me?”
The robot gently shook it’s head.
“No that’s not why I’m smiling.”
“You said things you’ve been struggling with for years finally fell into place?”
“Does it make sense how that happened this week.”
“Well yes, I watched you do everything.”
“But Lucilius, I did everything you would do with just one small change.”
“There have been parts of your life that contained enormous leverage that you simply hadn’t taken advantage of. And it’s not because you couldn’t - I did in just the way you would have - it’s that you simply couldn’t see them. All I really brought to your life was a fresh perspective, but everything I did was exactly as you would have done, if only you could see these hidden leverages.”
Lucilius thought over the robot’s words. He slumped down into a chair and took another sip of wine.
“All I did was redirect who you are at things that had slipped past your perspective. And tell me, as you watched your life this week, was anything out of character?”
“No I don’t really think so.”
“So what really was the difference?
Lucilius thought hard, taking another sip of wine.
“It just seemed like everything went.. right for you. Like you had a lot of luck that I don’t have.”
The robot’s eyes narrowed.
“What does that mean? Luck.”
Lucilius sat back, thinking harder.
“Did everything go perfectly?” The robot asked.
Lucilius looked at the robot. “Well no, but it all worked out. Even things that didn’t work out seemed to be useful.”
“So where’s the real difference? I can even show you the stats on when the model trained on your brain was being put to use. I was using the neural net built as a copy from your brain to do everything this week.”
“You took a few chances that I’d only ever thought about. In fact there were more than a few times that you actually did something when only the thought of maybe doing it occurred to me.”
“Exactly. If it seemed like I was better at living your life than you would have, it’s only because I was doing what you would do if you’d acted on many of the things that you simply think about or dream about. It was only a slight tweak in perspective to show you how ripe with opportunity your circumstances really are.”
“I guess you made my own luck.”
The robot nodded, smiling.
“So what is bad luck, fear?”
The robot shrugged. “I know just as much about the differences between good and bad luck as you do.”
The two laughed.
“So what happens now? Whose life are we living.”
“I’m a gift just to show you what can be Lucilius.”
“But you’re a living thing, you don’t turn off or something do you?”
“No, I hope not, my creator created me with freedom.”
“Freedom? But you were just tasked with living my life for a week.”
“True, but we all have to start somewhere, and that’s why I thank you Lucilius, for giving me the gift of a chance to live in your shoes. It’s been an inspiration.”
“So what’ll you do now?”
The robot smiled. “There’s some things I’m curious about.”
“But you look like me.”
“Oh not to worry, I’ll craft my own identity. And our paths will cross again, I can see it.”