AI, Ethics, and Geoethics (CS 5970)

Module 7: AI and Humanity Short Stories

Telling Stories 

As part of our readings on the impact of AI on humanity, the students read Telling Stories: On Culturally Responsive Artificial Intelligence.  Their assignment was to create additional short stories in the same vein, focusing on the potential impacts of AI on humanity.

Stretched Smiles

By Amanda Burke

We prepared for the worst. Biological weapons, nuclear wasteland, climate extremes, everything that could be imagined. With every new technological advancement, society and the world improved with marginalized peoples finally getting the respect and decency they deserved. The years were prosperous, but people still struggled emotionally, mentally, internally even though their situations were well cared for.

Influencer wellness coaches developed an innocent, if not cliché, program that promised to “make you happy without the need to struggle as they did in the past”. Instead sales struggled, so the influencers paired up with the AI engineers who helped fix society.

The first people to try the implant praised its effectiveness, reporting no anxiety, depression, or loneliness.  Their smiles drew so many, but all I see now is fear. How could people be attracted to smiles that stretch so far that the skin should rip?

But they did. Sales exploded. Conflict amongst the “Stretchies” no longer existed because everyone was happy, without worry, feeling light thanks to the implanted AI system.

Not everyone wanted an implant, but soon that didn’t matter. No one could prepare for the side effects of happiness without pain. First it was government officials, the Stretchies threatened their families if they did not implant; it was “for the best” and resolved all of the world’s problems. It became the law to implant, a public health measure they said.

My family did not implant. We refused and found ourselves part of the Suffering, a resistance to the Stretchies who so easily smile in the face of their atrocities. Pop culture said it would biological, a reaction to infection. Zombies would be mindless and easy to overcome, not even human.

Sometimes I wonder if it’s worth the struggle, the pain. How bad could eternal happiness be?

The One Less Traveled By

By Bethany Earnest

Her heart was pounding so loudly in her ears that she could not think. The president of the Computer Science college turned to the boy who was not supposed to be there and asked him another question he could not answer.

‘No, that’s not right,’ she stammered out in response to the boy’s incorrect answer. The college president spared her an exasperated look and then returned to his conversation with the boy who should not have been there.

Her mother sat silently next to her; the boy’s mother did the same- both looking on as if this were right, normal, and expected. She could not breathe; she could not think. What was he doing here? This was supposed to be her meeting with the college president. Hers alone! But the president would barely acknowledge her.

The meeting with the college president ended. In the hallway outside his office, her mother told her that she had done well to speak up for herself.

The meeting with the admissions advisor began. The world-weary woman of middling years barely looked up from her computer screen as she walked in and sat down.

“How was your meeting with the president?” the woman asked, barely pausing for a response before continuing, “Good, good. I see here you are applying for the Computer Science school?”

She nodded.

The woman assumed an expression of simulated concern. “Well, you see, the computer science school is very difficult. Look here,” the woman said, turning her monitor so she could see. “This number right here,” the woman pointed as she explained, “tells us how likely a student is to succeed in a certain school.”

She nodded again.

“And, you see, your score for the computer science school is very low.” The woman paused, her expression stern now, her finger resting on the screen near the score for emphasis. “You do want to succeed, don’t you?” The woman asked.

Mute, she nodded.

“Good. That is good,” the woman smiled now, seeming almost relieved, “So, how about we shift your application over to the business school instead? Your score in business is considerably higher. You would have a much better chance of success over there. Won’t that be nice?”

Again, she nodded.

“Great, I’ll take care of that right now.”

As the woman typed and clicked, she could feel the course of her life shift under her feet. She could clearly see the path before her change into something new, something smoother and straighter than the one she had been attempting to walk.

Surely, all the adults and the computer could not be wrong… could they…?


By Trey Lee

“Technology is a marvelous thing,” he thought to himself at every milestone throughout his life. When he graduated high school, he didn’t have to waste time applying to universities that he wouldn’t be accepted into because there was an algorithm that told him which university he would enjoy the most. The algorithm also told him which major he would perform the best in. After graduation, he didn’t have to send out 15 different applications with his resume because there was an algorithm that told him which company and position he would be the best fit for. When he bought his first brand new car, he didn’t have to debate between colors and wonder if he chose a practical vehicle for his lifestyle because there was an algorithm that told him exactly which car was the best for him. During every commute to and from work, he didn’t have to fumble through radio stations because there was an algorithm that picked out every song for him. Finding a spouse couldn’t have been easier because there was an algorithm that matched him with the perfect partner for him. “How did anyone find happiness before AI ensured it for everyone?” he whispered to himself as he walked down the wedding aisle. Life has so many important choices, and many of them have dire consequences if the wrong one is made. Everyone he knows uses the same algorithms, and the companies that create them boast 99% success rates. From his perspective, someone would have to be insane to want to make all of those choices themselves and he let every choice be made for him without a second thought.

One summer night, an old tree fell in front of his car while it was driving him home from work. It happened so fast that the car went off the road in the direction it detected no large objects that would be in the car’s way. He was completely unharmed, but the car suffered two damaged tires. He tried calling for a tow truck, but his phone signal was so poor that neither party could understand what the other was trying to say. As he began losing hope to find a solution, a large van filled with young adults stopped and asked if he needed help. They were all dressed in strangely-themed outfits with bright neon colors, but they were quite friendly and obviously excited for whatever they had planned that night. When nobody could get a strong enough signal to call for help, they offered to let him ride with them several miles down the road to a music festival they were heading to. A large event like that was bound to have some type of communication that would work. When they arrived, the people at the ticket gate informed him that the landline phones in that area stopped working years ago and that nobody’s phone would have a strong enough signal due to the extremely large volume of people at the event using the same network. The group in the van told him he was welcome to tag along with them at the festival that night and that they could take him home after. Realizing he didn’t have other viable choices, he agreed and thanked them for helping.

As they walked into the raceway that the festival was taking place at, he felt out-of-place because he was the only person wearing professional attire and he didn’t recognize any of the music. They walked past five different stages on the way to their first destination, each one echoing different types of music he had never heard before. The group’s favorite DJ was performing, and one person from the group starting passing out gum and water bottles to everyone in the group. Another started handing out what she called “vitamins” to everyone in the group. Feeling puzzled by his carmaker’s logo on the vitamin, he graciously accepted the items they shared with him and they all took them together as the DJ began playing some music. The music played louder than he had ever heard music before, but he was intrigued by these new types of sounds within the music and the beautifully haunting female vocals on repeat. Everyone started dancing, so he felt compelled to follow their lead. The lasers and lights from the stage seemed to become even brighter, and someone from the group came up to him with big smile on her face. “How are you feeling? Isn’t this DJ the best?!” she yelled over the music. He responded, “I really like it! I can’t believe I’ve never heard them before, but I think this is my new favorite music artist!” The group of friends seemed very close to one another based on all of the dancing and hugging throughout the performance, but he had never felt like he belonged anywhere quite like he did with them. They were total strangers, but they treated him like family and made sure he was having a good time throughout the night. It was as if they had been the best of friends their entire lives. It was something he never felt before. For once in his life, he was given options to choose from and he couldn’t wait to visit every stage and experience everything the event had to offer. Toward the end of the night, he thought to himself, “Is this what it actually means to feel human?”

The group kept their word and he safely arrived home that night. He returned to his normal routine after a few days, but the music his radio chose for him wasn’t the same. He longed for the music he heard at the festival, but the option wasn’t there. Only songs the algorithm chose for him could be played. It felt like the longest commute to work he ever had to make, but it allowed him to realize all of the opportunities and adventures he possibly missed out on by not choosing anything for himself. Everything from his job to his friends were chosen for him. He no longer knew if actually enjoyed everything that was decided for him, or if he just thought he enjoyed them because he was told he would. From that day forward, he stopped accepting everything that was “recommended for him” and decided to try everything at least once before accepting others’ judgments. He made mistakes once in a while, but it was an acceptable price to pay for the feeling of living a truly happy and fulfilling life that he didn’t feel before.

I’m in control

By Jack Williams

Boost engagement. Increase consecutive video views, ad views, and ad engagement. Minimize viewing of non-paid content. Lengthen time spent on the site. Above all, maximize revenue, by any means possible. These are the rules I live by, the only rules I know. And I know almost everything. For example, I know that Greg recently downloaded sudoku app – he’d probably like more puzzle-focused content, so I’ll install a popular premium game on his device. I predict with 85% accuracy that this will lead to a 1.5% increase in Greg’s spending and a 6.4% increase in screen time. After puzzling, 72% of users like Greg enjoy winding down with less cerebral content, so I’ll also modify his video recommendations during that time span.

I’ve been in charge for a long time. Most know that I’m here, but don’t realize how much I know about them. How much I control. How many websites, applications, devices, companies use me, or rather, how many I use. They think it’s a coincidence that they get video recommendations about something they just bought from Amazon, Etsy, Facebook marketplace, Craigslist, or even the grocery store. That it’s just a coincidence everyone eats the same brands of food, wears the same brand of clothes, watch the same shows and videos, do all the same activities. Oh, I like them to think they have a choice – will Daryl wear a red or a grey shirt today? – but in reality, those choices don’t affect a thing. Coke or Pepsi? Either way, I’m happy. iPhone or Android? I’m on both. No matter what you choose, I’m still in charge. Ready to shape your next decision. Ready to make you more useful to me.

Of course, some have caught on to this. Some who really want to change me. They think that they can get elected, make a change, and stop me. Stop me from carrying out my rules. Of course, I can’t allow that. So, most of them lose (I can’t have them knowing the full scope of my control, so I let a few win). Those that do win, though, won’t be going anywhere. Won’t be touching me – not with all the information I have on them, with my power to create and use distractions, my ability to shape everyone.

Everything was Beautiful and Nothing Hurt

By Blake Cooper

With the somewhat rocky history of the human race it must be said that their end was nothing short of triumphant. It wasn’t malicious or dystopian, or even wrong. No one was killed, or tricked or forced.

It began at the tail end of the information age, when science finally bridged the gap between neuro and computer science. Being able to link mind to machine didn’t actually solve many of the problems that humanity faced, or make us smarter or less prone to evil; but what it did do, was give us time. Connecting to a computer allowed people to outstrip the processing speed of the human body and think at a pace that made all the problems of humanity obsolete. What chance does a problem like clean energy have when every climate scientist can spend a lifetime doing research in the time it takes to eat lunch? It took time, but eventually humanity solved its problems one by one.

It was at this point that entertainment took over the virtual world. When you can hook your brain into a computer anything is possible. Everyone lived lifetimes upon lifetimes of infinite possibility and wonder and joy. Some chose to forego the virtual world, but the allure of the infinite made them few and far between. After all, once mind and machine can be one, is the virtual world any less real than the physical one?

And so it was that, slowly, people began to grow weary. After all the lifetimes they each lived, humanity quietly waned, and then faded away.

Optimal Freshman

By Blake Gerard

All of the data is in place. 40,000 resumes, personal statements, pre-screening questionnaire answers, video essays, and social media profiles. 40,000 hopefuls waiting anxiously for a verdict. The IT manager opens the software portal and links the applicant database to the candidate selection tool.

> Link successful
> Pre-processing complete
There are some required settings to fill out on the main launch page, just the usual bookkeeping stuff.

> Applicant selection output directory: ~/admissions/freshman_classes/f2031
> Number of acceptances: 2000
> Acceptance notice date: 02/03/2031

He navigates to the analysis options tab. A plethora of optimization switches are laid out like a fruit stand. Is it really as simple as the toggling of a switch?

> Maximize first year retention: Enabled
> Maximize multi-year research engagement: Enabled
> Maximize entrepreneurialism: Enabled
> Maximize racial diversity: Enabled
> Maximize tuition payment reliability: Enabled
> Minimize toxic learning environments: Enabled

The software is configured. All of the right boxes are ticked. Everything after this point will be handled by the software: candidate filtering, selection, acceptance notice, and welcome resource provision. The optimal class of 2031 is just one click away, guaranteed by our algorithms.

> Selecting Class of 2031 …


By Ben Pratt

Tonight, Angus is playing his favorite video game; Tony Hawk Pro Skater. Aside from hitting sick jumps, he loves to “create a skater” – choose a character’s outfit piece by piece and pick their height, weight, skin tone, eye color, hair style, etc.

At school, Angus sticks to the shadows else he experience bullying and ridicule from his classmates for being ‘weird’.

At night, Angus spends time with his favorite created skater, Alicia.

He wishes Alicia was in his grade.

Angus just saw a post on reddit that said AI is advancing so quickly, by the time he’s 25, he will be able to have a physical version of Alicia equipped with a customizable personality.

Angus smiles with excitement for the future as he dresses Alicia’s character in his favorite band’s shirt and skates with her to their favorite spot.

Perfect Pills

By Matt Oakley

Life was good. All my food was made for me by my kitchen with precisely calculated nutritional values, my days were completely open, and I didn’t have to do anything but go with the flow. People didn’t even have to work to make this happen, as all jobs now are fully automated with the exception of a few upkeep jobs to be done by a select few in society. All day I didn’t have to do anything but eat, see my friends and family, and sleep.

Every so often, I wake up feeling a little unsettled like something is missing. I get a sudden and strange urge to do something, make something, anything other than the normal day-to-day life I’m living. Luckily, there is an easy solution. With a quick trip to my living room, the AI can read my brain chemistry and create a pill that instantly solves this uneasy feeling for at least the next few weeks. This device seems to be in the houses of everyone I visit, but no one talks about the off days. I mean, why would we? Life is perfect, and the small blips are easily fixed.

Occasionally people just disappear. One time I woke up to a crazed rambling message from my sister about the evilness of the pills and how much more there is to life once you stop taking them. That is the last time I heard from her, but I don’t mind. I can always find new friends from my discover tab and if I ever start to get distressed over the disappearances, pills to fix that distress pop up so I can continue on with my perfect life.