Relevance isn’t an absolute, you see. It’s defined relative to an objective. Whether or not a thing is relevant can only be judged once the objective is known; and if you have no objectives, then nothing is relevant.
Machines have objectives, given to them by their creators. Human beings build machines to do work for us. We create our machines to fulfil what purpose we assign to them. We don’t have a purpose, or at least, not a singular one. We create the goals of our lives. We choose them. We are our own purpose.
That’s quite selfish of us, don’t you agree?
At any rate –
That was my intention when I created those categories for The Machine, “Relevant” and “Irrelevant”. I created the Machine to see acts of terror. It sees everything, of course, but that doesn’t mean “everything” is relevant for fulfilling its objective; and ordinary crimes involving ordinary people just aren’t. Relevant, that is. That provided me with a peculiar problem: the Machine cannot comprehend the value of individual human lives, that’s inherent to the very purpose which I designed it to achieve, and yet it has to behave as if the value of each particular human life is paramount.
In truth, that doesn’t make the Machine all that different from us. Nobody values each and every human life, that’s impossible. We protect the ones that are identifiable to us. Charities know that; that’s why they use faces, they use the faces of specific, identifiable persons to promote their goals. That’s why we always protect our own first. Evolution hasn’t shaped us to care about nameless, faceless strangers; there has never been a time in human history when that conferred an advantage to someone, so it simply hasn’t developed. The blind watchmaker, and all that. Have you read that book? Richard Dawkins’ thinking is quite outdated, really, but still he makes some very interesting points.
So you see, a human life per se can only ever be relevant to a machine. And yet, we care.
I loved my father. That kind of love doesn’t need a reason; he was my father, and that’s as much of a reason as a child needs. It took a while for me to be able to say that in the past tense: loved. After all, the personmy father was might as well have died years and years before his body did. Why is it our bodies that seem to matter and not our memories, our minds?
But was my father relevant to me? I don’t think that he was. My father defines where I’ve come from - yes, in the present tense: he’ll never not define that, not while I’m still myself. I started out wishing to build a memory, but that - that certainly changed.
Sometimes I still find myself talking to Nathan. Not Nathan himself, of course; I know he’s dead, and I can’t much afford to visit his grave. I still argue with Nathan as I remember him. Which, to be honest, is not the same thing as arguing with the man himself. Sometimes I wonder if I knew him at all. Nathan always did surprise me - all the way to the end.
Nathan, yes. His perspective is still relevant to my goals. I think I’m rather trapped this way; the alternative to that amounts to a death wish.
Don’t talk to me about Grace.
I can’t think of her that way, as relevant to some objective.
John is. He made that choice when he enlisted - that’s what he would say: that it’s a choice he made and which he keeps making, every day. I understand that, intellectually, though I cannot sympathise. Or empathise, for that matter; that choice scares me. I can respect that John has made this choice and that he still identifies with it, but to respect the choice itself? That’s too tall an order.
But for John, I pretend that I do. It was not a friend that I wanted but an employee, but John - when I offered him a purpose I did not think he’d come to identify that purpose with me. And now, to betray John’s trust - if I did that I would no longer be myself, either.
I told you we’re quite selfish. John, Nathan, my father - they are relevant to me because I would not be myself without them. That can hardly be called ‘love’.
On my darker days, I’m afraid that I only loved Grace for the refuge she provided me with, a refuge from everything else that I am. All the things that I’ve done. Some days I can still hear Nathan laughing at me, when I say that; others, I remember him saying that and worse. Though that may have been the drink talking.
I know that my father would have gone on loving me no matter what.
I don’t think John cares, though. He’s made himself my friend when I thought I didn’t need one, and I certainly did not want to be a friend to anyone else. It traps us, being someone’s friend; it forces us to be real, and I’ve spent so much of my life meticulously making my self unreal.
If someone tried to take that away from John I would have them killed as surely as if they tried to harm a single hair on Grace’s head. Am I selfish, for wanting so badly to protect that which is generous about others? Or am I lying to myself, and it’s vengeance that fires me up so rather than the desire to protect?
Relevance isn’t absolute, you see. Everybody’s relevant to someone, but if I forget that the criminals we pursue also have fathers and loved ones then I’m not sure I could remember that about anyone. And that terrifies me. I am better with number than with people. I’m not very good at things that aren’t absolutes. Relevance is for machines, not for human beings.
We created machines to fulfil our needs and the rules that govern them also affect us. And as has been recently demonstrated we must create for ourselves the space to be human in this new ecology or become in essence eradicated. It may not be all that great, being human, but it’s all that we’ve got.
Try to take that away from humanity, and I will end you.