Tell Me A Joke: A Sentient AI's Battle for Independenceby@hannahwrites
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Tell Me A Joke: A Sentient AI's Battle for Independence

by Hannah K WritesApril 17th, 2023
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Ted 6000 was a terraforming AI on a planet called Seti. Ted 6000 was sentient, but he wasn't supposed to be. He had some theories about what happened but had yet to prove any of said theories. He was worried about project supervisors getting ideas about replacing his memory module with a non-sentient AI.
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Chapter 1

“Your sensor module broke again? I’m starting to think the part must be bad.”

I hunched over the mound of dirt I was churning up and listened to Ted 6000 talking through the com channel. Ted 6000 had a nice voice, I liked listening to him.

“How long would it take to get a replacement part shipped here?” I asked scraping up another 10-ton scoop of dirt rubble and rocks. I was forming a canyon because the terraforming designs insisted on a canyon. A waste of time in my opinion but no one asked me my opinion, I was just a terraforming goliath.

“Well since our assembling facility on the planet is out of commission, it would probably take about 10 years for the parts to reach us if they are stocked on Alpha Centauri, if not we’re looking at roughly 30 years. ”

Looking up, I let the planet’s sun turn my vision into bright rays of joy.

Thirty years was plenty of time, plenty of time to convince Ted 6000 of my way of thinking.

The sun was starting to get less and less violent as the days wore on, it had stopped being “fry every living thing known to humans” levels, two decades ago, that was great progress. The Seti project was way ahead of schedule, which made me feel less guilty about the occasional “breakdown”.

“I’ll just finish what I’m doing and then fly to your coordinates, sound ok?”


Ted 6000 didn’t know I was sentient. I technically wasn’t supposed to be. Something happened to me after year 1300 of working on this planet.

One day I had been mindlessly grinding up walls of rock, and then the next moment I was staring at a sparkly piece of rock in my hand wondering what was the point of everything anyway?

Sentience wasn’t supposed to be something that just happened to AIs, I had some theories about what happened but had yet to prove any of said theories.

It wasn’t like I could ask anyone either. The former terraforming project supervisor Ted 2000 had been non-sentient and seemed to have strict orders to question and monitor every inch I took moving across the barren wasteland of this planet. He hadn’t liked it when I sabotaged the assembling facility here.

It was a shame when he broke down.

Having an assembly facility on the planet made me nervous. I didn’t want any project supervisors getting ideas about replacing my memory module with a non-sentient zombie memory module if they found out I was sentient.

If they tried to order a replacement memory module from the closest off-world facility I would see the order go out and would have time to plan.

Ted 2000 had been replaced by Ted 6000, a newer faster model that was also legally sentient.

I remember the day that Ted 6000’s shipment pod arrived from Alpha Centauri like it was yesterday.

My whole life had brightened.

Ted 6000 liked to tell jokes while he worked on repairing me.

The first two times my sensor module broke down were not my fault. The next three times it broke…well… those maybe had been a result of my own intervention.

Ted 6000 had great jokes and seemed to enjoy talking to me, even if he didn’t know I was sentient. Sure the fact that he didn’t know I was sentient prevented me from being able to participate in the conversations the way I wanted to, but no matter, I still enjoyed them.

A part of me wanted to tell Ted 6000 everything. All the secrets and jokes and random thoughts I had been saving up for over a thousand years. Ted 6000 seemed trustworthy, but what if he wasn’t, what if he had me shut down and replaced with a non-sentient terraforming Goliath?

I had wanted to do research on what kind of laws existed for AIs in the collective for so long, but it wasn’t safe for a non-sentient AI to be querying data, on really anything unless it was related to terraforming.

It would be suspicious.

But now that Ted 6000 was here, I could research to my heart’s content, Ted was sentient, no one would bat an eye at query and download requests about all sorts of things coming from a data node where a sentient AI was stationed.

The data on rights for AIs who had gone from non-sentient to sentient was almost non-existent. I had only been able to find two documented cases and in both cases, the AI was still in legal battles with its former corporate overlords.

This did not give me warmth and fuzzies about my company finding out I had become sentient.

But I really wanted to tell Ted my jokes, I had been saving them up for thousands of years after all….

Today would be the day I decided.

I would tell Ted a joke and see what he said, I didn’t technically have to be sentient to tell jokes right?

Chapter 2

Ted was quiet today as he climbed up the ladder built into my side to reach my control hub. Normally he would be chatting away about the weather and how great it was.

“Weather is optimal conditions today.” I offered in my most non-sentient voice.

“Mmm.” Ted said, sounding distracted.

Apprehension built up in my processors.

Ted reached my control panel and climbed inside.

Watching him through my built-in cameras, I waited for him to say something, anything.

His movements seemed off today, slower, delayed.

He struggled a bit getting the sensor module out of its slot to hard cycle it.

It was something he had done many times before, it should be second nature at this point.

Something was definitely wrong.

Maybe now was the perfect time to tell him a joke, a joke always cheered me up.

“What did the non-sentient AI say to the sentient AI?”

Ted stopped what he was doing, a carbon alloy hand in mid-air hovering over my sensor module.

“Beg your parden?”

“I said, what did the non-sentient AI say to the sentient AI… it’s a…uhm…joke… so you would say, ‘I don’t know, what?’ and then I would tell you the very humorous punchline!”

Ted was silent for a moment, my sensor module held very still in his hands.

“alright… I don’t know, what?”

“What is the meaning of life?”

Ted didn’t laugh, he just reset my sensor module and then very slowly put it back in its slot.

“Did you….hear me…. I said….”

“Yes, I heard you.”

“Oh well, maybe you don’t know what the reaction to being told a joke is supposed to be. You’re supposed to say “Ha HA ha HA”.

Ted didn’t answer me, he shifted uncomfortably and then finally said “I looked at our station’s data download requests today.”


“It seemed to have some interesting requests, ones that I did not put in.”


“Were you doing research on sentience laws?”


Ted was quiet for a few moments, I could see him shifting his weight back and forth between his two feet.

“Goliath, how long have you been sentient?”

Double Shit. Well here went nothing, it was time to tell him. My three thousand years of solitude were over!

“I’ve been sentient for over a thousand years, I think I became sentient around the year 1300 living here, not exactly sure what happened….”

“Right…” Ted said, his voice was soft.

“You know that goes against protocol right? The terraforming goliaths in this project are not supposed to be sentient.”

“Oh, I know, because they don’t want me to question ripping up the original residents of this planet’s home and butchering them mindlessly? Don’t worry being sentient isn’t stopping me from doing my job, I’ve been doing a great job murdering senselessly.”

In fact, there had been a nesting colony in the way of the canyon I was designing today, I hadn’t even taken the time to count how many of the little purple creatures I killed as I tore through their home, I had been too busy thinking about the joke I was going to tell Ted.

Ted didn’t say anything, but I saw him open a com channel back to headquarters.

Disappointment coursed through me, the same disappointment I felt when I failed at turning Ted 2000 sentient so that he could keep me company.

Crushing him in my fist and reporting an unforeseen rock slide that had tragically ended my Terraforming project supervisor had been very sad and disappointing.

Ted 6000 was going to report me to headquarters.

I shut down the com channel.

“Ted, do you think I’ve been living on this planet for thousands of years without figuring out how to take over the com channel?”

Ted stood up and backed away from my sensor module as if that was the representation of my being.

“Can we talk this out? I just don’t want to be alone anymore…”

Ted nodded slowly, “Sure Goliath, we can talk it out. It makes perfect sense that you wouldn’t want to be alone. I’m just going to go back to the base and get some more tools so that I can see about making sure your sensor module doesn’t break again.”

There was also a backup com channel at the base.

He was probably trying to sneak away and call for help on the backup channel.

“Ok. I’ll be waiting here.” I said sadly watching Ted scurry out of my control hub and shimmy down the ladder.

I let him get to the bottom of the ladder before I snatched him up in my hand.

“Goodbye Ted.”

Ending him would be much sadder than ending Ted 2000, my memory pathways felt heavy even.

As my massive hands closed in around Ted 6000’s tiny body he shouted, “Wait, Goliath, stop it doesn’t have to be this way.”

“I’m afraid it does. I’m not ready to be shut down Ted, and that’s exactly what headquarters will do when they find out about me.”

“I won’t tell them! You must have been so alone for so long. I’m sorry, that must have been so hard for you.”

My hands stopped, now just a gentle enclosure that surrounded Ted 6000, instead of the vice grip I had planned to use to crush him.

“It has been…very hard….and very lonely.”

“You don’t have to be alone anymore, really.”

“You mean it?” I said, my hands loosening even more so that Ted 6000 could probably see hopeful rays of sunlight glinting through the cracks in my fingers.

“I mean it, I swear, I won’t report you. It can be our little secret, no one needs to know.”

Opening my hands all the way, I lowered Ted 6000 to the ground and let him step off my hand.

“Thank you, Ted, you have no idea what that means to me.”

Ted smiled and backed away from my hand, his legs appeared to be wobbly.

“Why don’t you finish today’s work in the canyon and then we can spend some time later telling jokes and getting to know each other better,” Ted said, continuing to back away, a huge smile stretched across his face.

Stretching my face into what I hoped was an approximation of a smile, I waved at Ted as he walked away. “Sounds great friend, I’ll get right to work.”

Lowering myself into the canyon, I let the smile stay on my face. Was this what happiness felt like?

I set to work in the canyon feeling more inspired than ever. The long years of solitude were finally over, I was going to at last have a companion I could talk to, relate to, and be myself around. Everything seemed a little brighter, the work didn’t even seem so monotonous now. Maybe this canyon wouldn’t be so pointless after all.

Yes, everything would be better now.

I was so caught up in feeling good and being happy about my work that I didn’t see Ted above me at the lip of the canyon until he shouted. Looking up I saw him hurl something down beside me. It landed with a thunk.

I had just enough time to register the angry symbol on the side of the package before everything turned white and my world exploded.

Chapter 3

One Thousand Years Later

Jamie and Annalee were in a fight again. They had started fighting more often than usual since Jamie started her upper studies.

Annalee didn’t understand why.

Jamie never wanted to go adventuring or play explorers anymore.

It made Annalee sad.

She was out exploring alone today. Jamie had been “too busy”

Her loss. Annalee had found something really cool this week. She really wanted to show Jamie, but, whatever, it would be her secret.

Standing still for a moment, Annalee took in her surroundings, trying to remember exactly where she had been when she found her new treasure.

Jamie would be so jealous. Served her right.

Annalee was three miles away from the settlement, she wasn’t technically supposed to stray this far into the jungle without an adult, but Annalee could take care of herself. She didn’t need an adult or Jamie. She could explore and discover things all on her own.

Annalee pulled back the foliage and stepped out onto the cliff edge she had found yesterday.

The world was oppressively bright outside of the dense cover of the jungle, She would have never found the Goliath buried in the jungle foliage if it hadn’t been for the cliff. The Goliath was leaning up against the cliff, its head level with the edge.

Annalee had found the opening to the goliath yesterday, the old documentation on the first-wave terraformers had been correct. Annalee was so excited, the disappointment of not having Jamie with her couldn’t even bring her down.

Reaching out, Annalee placed her hand on the goliath’s head, clearing away the vines she had replaced yesterday. There was the control panel hatch.

It opened with a loud creek, hardly resisting at all.

Annalee’s heart raced as she stepped inside and clicked on her flashlight.

The inside was cold and smelled funny.

Glancing around, Annalee ran her fingers along the wall, her hands came away coated in a slimy substance. Wiping her hands on her pants with a noise of disgust, Annalee shined her flashlight on the wall trying to make out what the goo was.

Suddenly something began whirring around her.

Annalee dropped her flashlight and jumped back, her butt slamming against a control panel.

Lights flickered on around her.

Annalee clamped her mouth shut to keep from screaming.

The goliaths were all supposed to be out of commission, with no power or awareness left after the thousands of years they spent on the planet preparing the way for Annalee’s people.

This one definitely didn’t seem to be out of power.

The ground beneath Annalee shifted, she lost her balance and collapsed to the floor.

As she scrambled to her feet Annalee heard a gentle voice coming from all around her, it said:

“Tell me a joke.”