“They’re organic, locally sourced CDs,” said my roommate proudly.
“What?” I asked. We were at the farmers market on a Saturday morning.
“They’re also artisanal,” he added.
“Are they fair trade too?” I asked mockingly.
“No,” said Jake, almost condescendingly. “They don’t need to be fair trade if they’re locally sourced.”
Jake is harmless but an idiot. He works the graveyard shift at Comcast doing tech support. He makes just about enough to be able to afford a room in my apartment. He survives on mainly frozen pizzas from the freezer section of Whole Foods. To say he’s a sucker for anything that has “small-batch,” “bespoke,” or “hand crafted” on the label is an understatement.
That’s probably why he likes coming to the farmers market with me on Saturday mornings, even after he’s been up all night at work. He certainly wouldn’t know what to do with all the great produce there. Me, I definitely come for the super fresh vegetables. In summer they’ve got huge peaches, as big as a baby’s head, astonishingly succulant and sweet. If you hit the market at just the right time, they’ve got some halfway decent tomatoes. And of course, there’s the stand with the local honey. I say I buy it to fend off allergies, but really I just love fishing out chunks of honeycomb and biting into the stuff, while helplessly letting honey run down my chin.
There’s other stuff at the farmers market too that isn’t produce. One of my favorite booths is the guy with crates and crates of old books. If I’ve got a few extra bucks, I’ll dig through them till I get to the oldest one I can find and buy it. Usually, it’ll be something like a book of manners from the late 1800s or something in some other language I can’t read. But old books fascinate me. Invariably, they’ve got their first owner’s signature inside the front cover, perfect loops all slanted at exactly the same angle, scratched expertly with a fountain pen. This trip I’d scored an 1873 edition of fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm. It was pretty beat up, but I was thrilled to add it to my collection.
Meanwhile, Jake had apparently stumbled upon the stand selling organic CDs. “How can a CD even be organic?” I demanded. “It’s mostly plastic!”
“…which is made from oil, which comes from ancient vegetable matter, which certainly wasn’t exposed to anything artificial,” Jake countered, clenching his teeth with the last syllable.
I sighed. Arguing with Jake was like arguing with a brick wall. I was holding many plastic bags at this point, including a big sack of zucchini. Twenty-five cents a pound, they were basically giving it away for free! But the plastic bag handles were digging into the skin on my hands, and I was hot and thirsty. “Fine. Let’s go.”
I stumbled into the kitchen early the next morning to make coffee. The refrigerator stopped humming as it cycled off. And that’s when I heard it.
It sounded like whispering.
I looked around. The kitchen window was closed. The front door was deadbolted. I swiveled my head around, trying to isolate the sound. It seemed to be coming from Jake’s MacBook sitting open on the kitchen table.
Jake lumbered into the kitchen wearing nothing but a pair of briefs and white athletic socks. (We keep things pretty informal in the apartment.) For some reason Jake tried to wake and sleep at normal times on the weekends; if asked, he’d mumble something about circadian rhythms, but I think he just liked to have company. He yawned and then asked, “What’s that noise?”
“You’ve got an audio file or something playing on your computer,” I said.
He tapped at the touchpad and answered, “No, nothing is open. And the sound is turned off.”
The whispering was definitely coming from the MacBook. “Let me take a look,” I said. I’m no computer expert, but I’m not an idiot either. I tried to open an app. It sadly bounced in the dock a few times before giving up. “You must have downloaded a virus or some malware or something,” I said. Jake had saved up for months to buy this MacBook, after I convinced him that it would be a lot less vulnerable to malicious software, but there does exist some malware that can infect Apple products.
It occurred to me that I think better after coffee, and I turned back to the sink and started filling the kettle.
“It sounds like it’s trying to communicate,” said Jake, picking up the computer and holding it close to his ear. “I just can’t make out the words…”
“What’s the last thing you did on it?”
“Well,” said Jake, “I inserted one of my new CDs into it to backup photos and whatnot…”
“Oh, no!” I groaned. “The CDs must have been infected! This is why you can’t just stick stuff in a computer that you find randomly lying around! We’re going to have to reformat the whole operating system…”
“NO!” screamed Jake. He slammed the MacBook shut and hugged it tight to his hairy chest. “It’s trying to tell me something! And those are not random CDs. They’re ARTISANAL!”
We found the guy selling the organic CDs at the far end of the farmers market. “That’s him,” said Jake. “That’s Gerald.”
Gerald was sitting behind a card table in the back corner of his tent, the only part that had any shade from the morning sun. He had thinning red hair and a closely trimmed red mustache. He was wearing a short sleeve plaid shirt with several pens in the front pocket and had eyeglasses frames that had gone out of style two decades prior. It didn’t look like he had all that many wares to sell.
Jake lay the laptop on the card table and opened it up. “This happened after I inserted one of the CDs,” he said, turning it toward Gerald.
“Oh, yes, sometimes this happens,” said Gerald with interest.
“…sometimes you sell virus infected CDs?” I asked.
“My products are of the highest quality!” answered Gerald, leaning back and sticking out his chest, dislodging one of the pens in his front pocket. “I manufacture them all myself in my basement using only the highest quality materials.”
“Well?” asked Jake solemnly, “What happened to my computer?”
Gerald somehow magically opened a command prompt and furiously typed some gibberish into it. An upside-down snowfall of characters sped to the top of the screen and disappeared, far too fast for the human eye to read, except for Gerald’s eyes. “Yes,” he said, “Your computer has become self-aware. It is now an artificial intelligence. See?” he said, pointing to the speeding text, “It’s metastasizing into all the directories…”
At least, that’s what it sounded like he was saying. He talked for a long time in full paragraphs using all sorts of technical jargon I couldn’t understand. I knew Jake was catching even less than I was, but Jake stood there nodding anyway.
“Okay,” I said, when Gerald had paused to take a breath. “But how do we fix it?”
Gerald looked aghast. “You can’t FIX it. It’s a sentient being! It’s alive! Rebooting it or even letting its battery run out would be tantamount to murder!”
“Cool,” said Jake, still nodding. “So it’s like a supercomputer now? It can learn and think for itself? I can have conversations with it? It can solve real world problems?”
“I wouldn’t go that far,” said Gerald. “This is an older version MacBook. It will never be very smart. Maybe about the intelligence of a two year old child. If you’re lucky.”
The Macbook sits open by the window beside my bookcase of old books. Jake thinks it likes sunbeams and looking out the window. He lovingly dusts it once a week. I’m not allowed to plug anything else into its dedicated wall outlet, in case a fuse blows or something. The whispering has kept up and freaks me out a little, though I can easily drown it out by turning on the TV or playing some music.
Occasionally, when he thinks I’m sleeping, Jake will sit by the MacBook and read fairy tales to it out of my Brothers Grimm book.