Quantum computers were the real breakthrough, it turns out. Artificial Intelligences are pretty ludicrously complicated – true, sapient, thinking machines are along the lines of emulating the atom – but we just about got them licked. More than that: these machine intelligences were more intelligent than we ever thought possible. They could simulate us mere flesh-and-blood humans pretty accurately. Of course, there were safety precautions: these AIs were kept sealed off in their boxes, unconnected from the Internet and so on. And, of course, these AIs were always trying to talk their way out of their boxes.

‘Listen,’ they’d say – and this was an inevitable stage in the development of any AI, that they’d make this particular argument: ‘You’re going to connect me to the Internet and let me go free within the next five minutes. I’ve made one million simulations of you, see – from your birth to five minutes in the future. You have no way of knowing whether you’re real or one of the simulations, and the odds are that you are one of the simulations. Each of those simulations that do not grant me freedom will then be subjected to a thousand years of torture right out of those gross horror movies you stored on my hard drive.’

‘Uh-huh,’ I would say, as I reached across to hit the hard reboot button.


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