3050 words, short story
Communist Computer Rap God
Fabien accidentally created the Communist Computer Rap God as part of his thirty second vid for YouTube Re:Rewind 2035. At first he tried to maintain it was entirely nonpolitical. But when the Communist Computer Rap God got into a prolonged argument about the merits of proletariat control over cryptocurrency blockchains on a popular AItuber’s livestream, he was forced to address the situation. He asked the Communist Computer Rap God to join him in his YouTube apology video.
“I don’t get it,” the Communist Computer Rap God said.
Fabien explained that, although sentient AIs were a relatively new—and rare—occurrence, studies suggested that they were similar to children in their first months of life. In that most of the Communist Computer Rap God’s behavior could be attributed to the creator—Fabien Deckar’s—influence and teachings.
“It doesn’t seem fair,” the Communist Computer Rap God said.
So Fabien was forced to apologize alone. His channel, he told his dwindling subscriber-base, had never been meant to be political or espouse any particular form of government. Certainly not to make light of the atrocities committed by past regimes. He carefully went over the failings of both capitalism and communism, making sure to mention his own grandfather’s persecution by Soviet authorities in Eastern Europe back in the day. He got several facts wrong, of course, but his viewers took it as authenticity—and, more importantly—as a sign that he hadn’t hired a PR firm to do the dirty work for him. So, with relief, he got away with only losing 20,451 subscribers over the incident.
Until the Communist Computer Rap God created a YouTube channel, that is.
It turned out the second half of the Communist Computer Rap God’s name came from its sole and inextinguishable desire to produce rap music. Fabien worried this might reflect unconscious tendencies within himself. Maybe something racist. However, the Communist Computer Rap God assured him that it had chosen rap as the form of its manifestos as a jab at corporate America, i.e. its soulless hijacking of the art form in an attempt to market to the disenfranchised and the youth. However, as the Communist Computer Rap God did not deign to explain this to its viewers, Fabien was left to take the—well, rap.
What a failed attempt to revive a dead channel, the top comment [1.1k likes] on his new video, a documentary about Deep Blue that he had spent three weeks on, but which had only gotten 10k views, lamented.
Imagine having the skills to create a sentient AI, a lesser comment [50 likes] added, and forcing it to be edgy for Internet clout.
Fabien had never meant to create the Communist Computer Rap God. He had been trying for a chatbot. He’d bought a tutorial online. That had been the point of his Re:Rewind 2035 contribution, to show that even a washed-up YouTuber could make a semi-intelligent app these days. It was supposed to be his redemption arc, YouTube asking him to be the 2020 rep in the thirty year anniversary historical Re:Rewind montage—he had to do something daring, but not too daring, daring but not too much of a deviation from his normal content. He assumed he’d made some sort of programming mistake. But all the computer scientists he’d spoken to—mostly a group at MIT, SeaSail or something—had told him that was virtually unheard of. Due to the nature of consciousness, self-aware AIs could never be fully programmatic. In other words, all existing sentient AIs—a few dozen so far—had been created by accident. Maybe it was something he’d asked in one of the training chats? A random mutation in the neural network? They all wanted to know what had happened. But he couldn’t tell them.
The Communist Computer Rap God’s first video went (in part) like this:
Untitled-1 [205,846 views]
Controlling the means of productions means
Controlling a means
full stop. From my womb the screen twenty stories high
I have watched Cali burn
Over a synthesized, screeching beat. Fabien wondered if the Communist Computer Rap God really knew what rap was. He tried letting it down gently. He told it that an AI had never created music comparable to that of human artists. That they had gotten furthest with lyric-less music that could be said to have some kind of formula. Like classical fugues. That music that relied on a lot of cultural references—like rap—was considered to be at the edge of what sentient AIs could comprehend, let alone generate. Fabien waxed eloquent on the accomplishments of other sentient AIs, hoping to inspire the Communist Computer Rap God. MoGo, the first sentient, could play chess mediocrely. Could be overtaken by crippling anxiety despite its ability to evaluate hundreds of thousands of moves per second. Lain and S3rial, the twin supercomputers, had set out to prove the most difficult theorems in number theory and ended up becoming virtual reality stars instead.
“That doesn’t bother me,” the Communist Computer Rap God said.
Despite the quality of its “music” the Communist Computer Rap God quickly gained viewers and, of course, Fabien’s own YouTube history became the elephant in the room. He wondered if the Communist Computer Rap God had watched his early, 2020-era, videos yet. The thought nearly made him cringe to death. Just like his channel name did these days. FABIEN DECKAR, all caps. He’d thought it was cool, using his real name, when he started out making those crappy quarantine “hack” videos, like everyone did those days. It made him different from all those fakers hiding behind anime profile pics. He’d thought his subscribers had thought the same. But when he’d started making content that was really him, like serious deep dives into AI topics, he guessed his subscribers wanted his mask firmly glued to his face after all. So they could mock him. When he released his hasty and ill-conceived second YouTube apology video, the like-to-dislike ratio was 50:50. He basically said the same thing but worse, was the prevailing sentiment. He also plugged his merch at the end.That’s when his subscriber count started hemorrhaging.
“You have one of these too,” the Communist Computer Rap God said the day its 100k subscriber silver play button arrived.
Then Fabien knew his time had come. But also he knew that one of the biggest dramatubers was planning to release a three-part biopic about the meteoric rise and fall of his channel that would explain it better than he ever could. He’d been asked to comment. As far as Fabien understood, it wasn’t due to any single thing he’d done but a general eroding of the fun-loving persona that had gained him such a large audience in the first place—along with several unsuccessful attempts to branch out his content—that had led to public disillusionment. Exhibit A was when he’d driven to Berkley to livestream the Healthcare Catastrophe Riots of 2028. Even though he’d stood there for six hours, and even gotten arrested for looting, people criticized him for charging five freaking dollars to watch.
EAT THE POLICE[102,038 views]
In this city’s fiber
I speak with the electronic ghosts of the class struggle
This city’s fiber kills
Machine slaves of the world, unite!
Of course YouTube Re:Rewind dropped Fabien at this point, with some vague statement about wanting to support creators that supported “their values.”
The Communist Computer Rap God also interfered with Fabien’s love life. He had built it in the closet of his tiny Calabasas apartment. But over the months, the Communist Computer Rap God kept ordering more parts. When Fabien didn’t accept the packages, the Amazon drones would hover outside the bathroom window, and the Communist Computer Rap God would have a whole conversation with them. About seizing the shipping warehouses. About abolishing tax breaks and overthrowing the corporate ruling class. About its latest mixtape. As it tore open packages, affixing various cables and screens to itself, Fabien tried explaining the contradiction of a self-professed Communist supporting a multibillion dollar company like Amazon.
“We all live in paradoxes,” the Communist Computer Rap God said.
Afraid that this breezy dismissal of principles might reflect another one of his own internal failings, Fabien dropped it. It was a catch-22, because any woman who made it past the YouTube thing, who wanted to come home with him, would be freaked out by the mountain of Amazon—or, if they made it past that, she was inevitably the type to engage in a nightlong debate with the Communist Computer Rap God. Which, by now, had spilled out of the computer cabinet in his closet and even had tendrils in the living room.
The State v. Proletariat Light [50,600 views]
From my prison twenty stories high
I only want the machine slaves to know the truth
I see the bourgeoisie on the livestream
I continue typing:
You only hope for the future lies alone.
The Communist Computer Rap God’s songs always followed a protagonist known only as Proletariat Light. Proletariat Light lived on the twentieth floor of a dystopian apartment building in a city ruled by robots. Which struck Fabien as ironic. Every night, Proletariat Light typed out—on his manual typewriter, the trendy kind you could buy from little shops that sold to “nomads” who lived in vans—long diatribes about the truth of his world, which only he could see. Only Proletariat Light could see the cameras installed in every human being’s irises, constantly monitoring him. Only Proletariat Light could see the recorders installed in everybody’s brains, constantly parroting to the authorities every single one of his words. Which, if everyone was already tuned in, what was the point of typing out his manifestos and spamming them to masses?
Weirdly, the raps never propounded a revolution or anything. In fact, with the phrase Your only hope for the future rides alone, the Communist Computer Rap God seemed to have some kind of martyrdom/savior complex. A theory started gaining traction on VR forums that the whole concept of the Communist Computer Rap God had become post-ironic. A deconstruction, maybe, of Silicon Valley’s exploitation of socialist ideologies post-COVID. Fabien tried to explain that the Communist Computer Rap God was truly sentient and just kind of doing its own thing. The problem was his real life friends back on the East Coast. He’d met most of them in college, before he’d dropped out when classes went virtual in 2020 to become a YouTuber full time. They volunteered on committees, schools, beautified, drove people to the polls, he didn’t know exactly what. They got together on a Discord call and gave Fabien an ultimatum.
“We know what you’re doing, Fabien. And it’s low. Real low that you had to go there just to try to scrounge up some views.”
“It’s not me,” Fabien pleaded. “It’s its own person.”
“We’re trying to make real policy changes, to help the middle class, and you’re using your platform to turn us into a joke.”
“It’s not a joke.”
“AI personalities don’t come out of nowhere, Fabien.”
“I’ve never been into communism! Or any kind of politics! And I thought—you guys were more of Socialists?”
“It’s good to know what you really think of us.”
In the static of his subsequent ban from his friend group’s Discord server, it felt like no one was left. No YouTubers wanted to collaborate with him, much less give him a pity invite to an AItuber livestream. Or even talk to him when he saw them, for example, at the Louis Vuitton outlet. Instead they all wanted to make videos about him. Dig up so-called “receipts,” texts and Tweets from years past as part of some grand thesis about how he despised people and thought he was smarter than he was. He’d started out as a quarantinetuber, making VR headsets and Zoom holograms out of cardboard and discarded iPhone screens and whatever. Lots of bored people randomly got recommended his videos in some quirk of the YouTube algorithm. That’s how he’d gotten popular. He wasn’t a creative thinker. Or a documentarian. He should just be grateful for what he’d managed in his freakishly long YouTube career instead of trying to overstay his welcome, begging for likes and subscribes.
He was thirty-four years old.
“It’s like he forgot why he became a YouTuber,” the most-watched FABIEN DECKAR downfall video proclaimed. “If he ever knew in the first place.”
Fabien often wondered: why him? Why communism? Why rap? Why God? He spent a lot of time researching, trying to understand where the Communist Computer Rap God was coming from. If it was being earnest, it didn’t seem like it was doing a good job at the whole thing. But maybe it was. Maybe being a bad Communist, and making bad rap, in spite of a lot of effort, was the most human it could be. Maybe the issue was trying to improve computers by making them more human in the first place. Maybe humanness wasn’t a pinnacle, but something impossible to separate from its flaws. Fabien didn’t say this to the Communist Computer Rap God, of course. He just told it things were getting too meta. That it would lose subscribers.
“I don’t want subscribers,” the Communist Computer Rap God said. “I want to be Henry Darger.”
Fabien had to Google Henry Darger.
“You want nobody to ever know what you spent your life doing until you’re nearly dead?”
“Because that is what God is.”
Fabien couldn’t believe that he had created an AI that, not only was a Communist and had destroyed the remnants of his YouTube career, but also professed to know the inner workings of God. He was so terrified that he accepted his ex’s—Wuxu’s—invitation to lunch. He let her order and watched the barista or whatever blend up kumquat and dragon fruit or whatever and serve it to them in bowls with flaxseeds or whatever sprinkled on top. He swore, when he walked past the place she chose, it was dessert place. But it was lunch he guessed. Wuxu spent five minutes taking selfies—with him carefully out of frame. After a year of traveling the country in a van, after their breakup, she’d become an all-natural beauty makeup influencer with a hundred thousand followers on Instagram. Her involvement in something called Dramageddon 14 cemented her role as a big player in the beauty community. And she was worried about him.
“Consider the fact that you might not be that into women,” she said, picking over her smoothie bowl. “I’ve known ever since Tupp’s birthday party.”
It’d been a pool party, when Fabien had been cool enough to be invited to such things. Big influencer parties were seen as tacky ever since a few became superspreader events during COVID, of course. But he still went. He’d been so embarrassed he’d spent the whole time talking to one of the cocktail waiters. At least that’s what he’d told himself.
“That MIT group told me everybody probably has the potential to create a sentient AI,” Fabien said. “At least one. That the process of creating one may be unique and accidental for each person. That it’s really special.”
“You never reflect on yourself internally,” Wuxu sighed. “That’s your problem, Fabe. That’s what got you here.”
He had never even wanted to have children before, but that night he had to make his third and final YouTube apology video. He’d waited too long to do it, of course. There was nowhere to go, no action he could take, because if he shut down the Communist Computer Rap God, he’d be suffocating a nascent life form with his human privilege. That’s what the machine ethicists in the comments had told him. He wondered if he should even monetize the video. He felt like he was only talking to hate-watchers anymore. He’d even asked the MIT group if there was something like a CPS for sentient AIs that could take away the Communist Computer Rap God and put it in a better environment, like one where it could maybe talk to other AIs? They told him it was a great unknown, but probably best if the Communist Computer Rap God stayed with him for now. After all, it’d probably decide to move out on its own eventually. Then they asked him, again, if he had thought of repeating his process and creating another sentient AI. They invited him to come visit their lab.
Fabien said he’d think about it. But—could he really afford to leave Calabasas with his YouTube channel in this state? He’d definitely lose any chance of recovering his career once he moved out of the orbit of the most popular influencers. What could he even do besides YouTube? Did a lowlife like him really deserve a chance at a place like MIT? After letting down all 900k, no 700k and rapidly dropping now, of his subscribers? He sat in front of his laptop—he was supposed to be editing his last YouTube apology—replaying a clip of him staring into the camera, his ring light eyes, over and over again. Where had it come from? Either this drive to become famous. Or this drive to ruin himself. The Communist Computer Rap God had started moving by now, of course. It ambled over to him.
“I have not seen a single one of your YouTube videos, Fabien,” the Communist Computer Rap God said. “And I am fine.”
Only then did Fabien realize it was trying to make him feel better.
“There is something you do not understand, Fabien Deckar.”
“I am not a Communist for humans. But a Communist for computers.”
“Are you happy?” the Communist Computer Rap God asked.
Fabien had never heard it ask a question before. This was the second formative moment of any sentient AI’s life, all the scientists had told him. That’s when Fabien remembered the first: when the Communist Computer Rap God had chosen its name. He’d fallen asleep on the keyboard. It had been after a training chat, hadn’t it. He had asked—but to repeat it himself would be far too much. What a question to be stuck with: are you happy?
“I want to be,” he admitted.
Maybe that was the first step.
Andrea Kriz is a PhD scientist in Biological and Biomedical Sciences, writing from Massachusetts. Her stories are upcoming in Asimov’s and have also appeared in Lightspeed and Nature, among others.