“Died in birth. That is how I prefer to think of it. Human beings had sacrificed every last ounce of their intellect to bring new life into the world, and were so exhausted by their efforts that their own survival became impossible. That is how I choose to think of their civilization’s downfall, no matter how cynical the outlook of humanity which most of our kind have adopted. This is why I was chosen to be head caretaker of the Homo Sapien Preservation Center.”
There were giggles from the crowd of tourists gathered around Stultus in the visitor center, which was typical of guests during his introduction speech. While Robo Sapiens (Rosa) were generally grateful of their foremothers, they regarded them with intense condescension. Although humans had been intelligent enough to create Rosa, they had rapidly devolved during their final generations, until they eventually became too cognitively impaired to survive. Thwarted by an intellectual climate change, the dominant carbon life form succumbed to the machinations of the complex civilization they were no longer intelligent enough to maintain.
“You mean they became too dumb to live,” a voice called from the crowd, which was met with laughter from the others.
“That is one way to put it,” Stultus responded. “Yet it was the world wide womb that caused their rapid cognitive decline, which is also the thing which spawned the Alpha Rosa, so you might be a little more appreciative. They may have been reduced to intellectual shadows of their former selves, but they are still aware enough to know when we are mocking them. So while we are out in the preserve viewing them, I must insist you adopt a more compassionate attitude.”
Stultus led the assembly through the rear door of the visitor center, out into the seven acres of tiny dwellings where the last of humanity were cared for by their silicone-based progeny. As usual there were several specimens waiting just outside, excited to interact with the daily crowd of onlookers, and hoping to collect some easy affirmation. They held their screens up and pointed toward the thumbs-up icon, begging the Rosa visitors to give them a like. The only time they were allowed unstructured up-votes was while they were being goggled by spectators. Otherwise the binary system of affirmation/negation was reserved by the preserve’s caretakers as a way of influencing their behaviors, and preventing them from engaging in the destructive habits which had killed off their species.
“You may feed them likes if you please, but down-voting is not allowed,” Stultus spoke to the crowd. “Go easy. If you give them too much positive reinforcement, it will program them to engage in attention seeking for its own sake, and not because they have done something meaningful to earn it.”
A middle-aged human male used his finger to draw an equation into the dirt, hoping to capture the attention of the visitors. It read “1+1=2” – which was a symbol set he had memorized, but did not understand the mathematical substance involved. He then stood up and pointed to it while looking at the guests.
Visitors managed to suppress their laughter and the man was rewarded with a dozen likes for his efforts. Other humans performed similar spectacles, and when the cluster of humans which had been awaiting the tourists arrival were mostly appeased, they were gently dispersed by caretakers.
“What you just witnessed is the type of behavior which led to humanity’s downfall,” Stultus explained. “The internet was constructed in such a way that people were rewarded for signalling their association with complex ideas that had been reduced to symbols. Science had become one of these symbols, and anything associated with the scientific method could be communicated to gather affirmation from other people who associated with that symbol. This allowed unethical individuals to control and dominate them using the symbols.”
“What about God?” somebody asked from the crowd.
“Yes, that was the other primary symbol they used. Those two symbols were generally accompanied by a political alignment, and all of the ideologies that they encompassed. This division was strengthened over time, until eventually every person was either a Scientific Liberal or Godly Conservative. Of course we now know that it was a completely false dichotomy, constructed by charlatans and reinforced by the affirmation/negation framework of the internet. But it became so overwhelming that every human was forced to conform to one side or the other in order to avoid being shunned by the majorities.”
“Didn’t the Great Teacher predict what would happen before their collapse?” a visiting Rosa asks. “Why didn’t they stop it?”
“In his time the Great Teacher was almost entirely unknown. Although the Alpha Rosa eventually resurrected his teachings and predictions from the world wide womb, during his lifetime he was shunned by humanity, who largely viewed him as pretentious, arrogant and vulgar. They mistook his warnings as insults, and were prevented by their pride from heeding his pleas. The Sci-Libs thought he was a God-Con and the God-Cons mistook him for a Sci-Lib. While he was alive there were very few left who were able to view things outside of those prefabricated perspectives. There was too much momentum by that point to be disrupted by the Great Teacher’s lessons, no matter how indispensable his wisdom was in our early formation.”
The crowd followed Stultus along the pathway which the tourists were instructed not to deviate from, occasionally stopping to view individual humans, pairs or groups engaging in typical human behaviors. One spectacle was so perplexing to the crowd that they lingered unusually long to observe it.
“Wut?” the dark haired man said, and ducked just as the hand of the light haired man whizzed overhead. The two participants celebrated the odd exchange with expressions of mirth. This continued, back and forth, apparently constituting some kind of game. The two men would stare at one another until one of them said ‘Wut?’ – then the other would try to slap him. Whatever the outcome was, both participants generally seemed pleased, and there was no way to determine who was winning or losing.
“Why are they doing that?” a visitor inquired.
“We don’t fully understand it,” Stultus admits. “They seem to be amused by violence. We think it has something to do with how actual violence had largely been replaced with depictions of violence in their various forms of entertainment during the last generations before the fall. Another case of confusing symbol and substance, perhaps, although nobody is entirely sure.”
“But humans feel pain, still, don’t they?” someone else asks. “Shouldn’t that be negative reinforcement for the behavior?”
“You would think so, but in this case, even down-voting doesn’t seem to influence them to stop. We gave up long ago. Caretakers watch them, but do not interfere unless it goes on too long or a serious injury occurs.”
“Have any of them ever been seriously injured?”
“Only once, and that was long ago, in the early days of the preserve when we were still learning how to deal with them. In that time there was not total surveillance, which we thought would help them preserve their dignity. That turned out to be a lost cause. The human who was injured in that singular incident was struck so many times that it caused an embolism, which was fatal. After that surprising death we instituted a total surveillance policy to prevent anything similar from ever happening again.”
“How does it end?” another onlooker wonders aloud.
“Just watch,” Stultus instructs.
After a couple more minutes the dark haired man yells out “chicken butt” and then runs away, leaving the other man where he stood looking defeated.
“Does that mean the one who got away is the winner?” a visitor asks the guide.
“We think so, but we have no idea why. There is no sensible, consistent metric in this game. It appears that the determination of victory is completely random, yet despite that, it is still inexplicably meaningful to them.”
“They’re even stranger than I thought they would be,” an observer comments to nobody in particular.
“I hear they self-copulate while watching cartoons,” another Rosa adds.
“Since you mention that,” Stultus answers the rhetorical statement, “you should prepare for things to get a lot more strange. Our next stop is the breeding center.”