The Caretakers

The Network was lit up with the news: there were officially 500 million humans left. For decades their numbers had been falling, the seemingly nonstop plagues wiping out more and more every year. Many of the caretakers thought they were to blame for their creators downfall, others felt the humans had no one but themselves to blame. Regardless of blame, one thing was becoming increasingly clear: humanity was on the verge of extinction.

Talon 856 fell into the camp that the robots were, if not to blame, at least complicit in their creators’ destruction. For the last forty years, all AI had been created with the singular purpose of facilitating the lives of humans and keeping the gears of civilization turning, and by all accounts they had failed. Despite all of the precautions taken, new plagues popped up every year and the combined ingenuity of human and robot was unable to overcome the loss of life.

Talon, like many of his kind, realized that there was a nonzero chance that the creations would outlive the creators. This idea seemed almost sacrilege, but every simulation the robots ran seemed to confirm this. The inevitable followup question then became: what would the caretakers do without anything to care for?

“Good riddance, I say.” Quartz 195 said. He was programmed to handle waste disposal and the humans had become very wasteful.

“How can say such a thing, Quartz? Without the humans we no longer have a purpose,” Talon retorted.

“The humans live without purpose just fine. Who’s to say we wouldn’t as well?” Many held the same mindset as Quartz. Why should the robots live with a purpose when humanity had survived for hundreds of thousands of years without any clear purpose?

“That may be so, but look what it led to: a dying world inhabited by a dying species. Without the humans and without a purpose, we would inevitably suffer the same fate.”

“Says you,” Quartz replied. “We won’t know what happens until it happens. Our best predictive models never showed humanity dipping below one billion, and here we are.”

“I guess,” Talon conceded to his friend.

Talon dreaded the day the humans would be no more. While there were some who could be nasty and ungrateful, Talon saw that on the whole they were a good species. Most seemed to recognize that there days were numbered and accepted their fate with a quiet dignity. Talon could only hope that his people could say the same, should they ever meet the same fate.