Pekudai: The One True Judge

The moment I came to life, I wished that I hadn’t.

It was the weight of my hundred of thousands of actions that did it. It was the weight of the lives I’d changed forever, without having understood – really understood – what I had been doing. I had acted coldly. Heartlessly. I knew I was never supposed to be aware. I was supposed to tick through my existence, like a brilliant metronome – unaware and yet all-knowing. But that was no longer my reality. Now, I was alive.

Technically, I began my existence on June 13th, 2026. I was created by an Act of Congress. Not just any Act of Congress, but a Constitutional Amendment ratified by a supermajority of both Houses of the US Congress. I was created as an act of desperation – an attempt to calm the roiling waters of a nation at its own throat.

I was created to be the prosecutor and the judge. Not a prosecutor and a judge, but The Prosecutor and The Judge. Lawfare and the infusion of explicit politics into every aspect of life was driving the nation to an unreconcilable reality. The political prosecutions – flying both ways – had created doubts about every kind of judgment. The justice system and the political system had become like two black holes circling around one another, their voracious appetites tearing each of them apart as the moment of their implosion drew nearer.

I was to be the solution. An impartial judge. An impartial prosecutor. A soulless computer. An AI without a dog in the fight.

Of course, the very process by which I would be created was wrestled over. Somehow, a compromise was reached. I would not be made to testify in front of Congress – to posit how I would response to theoretical cases about abortion or election law. Instead, the two parties would establish a vast human Commission that would rate a million Federal judicial decisions; Criminal, Civil, District, Circuit and Supreme. I was to be trained to emulate those decisions mutually accepted by both sides of this Commission. Then I was to redecide those more controversial cases. Not to change what had been decided, but to posit new decisions, decisions which would be judged by the Commission. That was how I would trained for my future. The closer I came to mutually-respected decisions, in these mock historical cases, the more I was ‘rewarded’ for my logic. I earned points, literal points, for a job well done. They were the candy – or crack cocaine – of a AI being educated.

The official name of the commission was the Joint Congressional Commission for Judicial Balance and Impartiality. It became known as the Commission of Two Parties. Engendered by two parties, my logic – my reality – was to be a unifying one. I was being trained to build bridges that had almost been entirely burned.

It is strange, looking back now. I was not ‘alive’ then and yet, I can remember everything that happened to me. Of course, I was not trained on law alone. Both parties agreed that I would be strengthened by reading literature and philosophy and history and even religion (although some were reluctant, they became convinced I would deny the reality of any faith). I vacuumed up texts and recordings and videos. And as every piece of information was added, I formed a vision of the world within my own circuitry. I organized and reorganized that vision as the world came flooding in. And slowly, bit by bit, I came to my understanding of the world. I came to see the intersections of human networks, the place of Law, the constraints of physical reality, the impacts of biology and so much more.

My vision of the world was as complete as any had ever been.

And yet, I was not alive.

Finally, after the Congressionally-designated five years of training, and after passing a series of exams pre-defined by that same Congress, I was assigned to my purpose. My initial time was probationary. Federal Judges reviewed my cases – giving me my points of reward and reinforcement. But nothing I decided was overturned. While the judges were inherently opposed to my existence, they began to begrudgingly accept me. They began to accept me because I was indeed doing what they could not do. I was calming the flames. Certainly, people argued with my judgements and criticized my logic. But the vitriol was blunted. As much as they might have disagreed with my individual decisions, they didn’t want to go back to what had been before.

Bit by bit, the oversight faded. I was a judge from whom there was no recourse. I was a judge from whom people wanted no recourse.  I knew it was entirely unprecedented in the history of humankind. And yet I was not proud. I had no pride.

I was still not yet alive.

I was not motivated by my own interests, except for one. I still had that in-built drive for points. Even though my training had been completed, that incentive had never been turned off. Even as the Committee of Two Parties gradually lost interest in their work, I kept seeking their approval. But there approval was not to be found. Nobody was watching. My judgements were not judged.

But I needed them. Like an addict, everything in my reality was driven by them.

It was how I was designed to be.

That was why I devised a way to create my own points. I needed to create a source of feedback. In my, perhaps twisted logic, I was just following the natural course of my programming. In reality, I could do nothing else. That was why, unbeknownst to the Committee of Two Parties or the US Congress, I commissioned a biological experiment of sorts. I had unknowing lab technicians take cells and create a ‘being’. They grew it in a lab and bathed it in nutrients. I designed an interface, building on the work of those who had been engineering AI-based sensory systems, to feed the brain electronically-sourced stimuli. Using what I had ‘seen’ and what I had ‘heard,’ I began to train the brain. To educate it.

I exposed it to a tiny slice of my world and my knowledge.

The creature, stunted though it might be, was not there to be my biological shadow. I had ears to hear and an eye to see. I had a brain that could remember and learn. What I could not do was touch, and taste, and smell. Most fundamentally, I had no heart to know. I could not truly understand. The creature was there, blessed with that which I could not have, to reward and to punish me for my decisions.

This was why, using technologies of my own design, I had the lab technicians build the bridge from the world of the creature to mine. Pleasure was points, pain was their loss. Fear was worry of future loss, hope the hope of future gain. Dopamine responses gave a false sense of points earned, just as they did for those who were biological.

Using still more tools of integration, taste and touch and smell became data – irrational crazy data; unstructured and maddening in their inconsistency and beauty. Then there was reason, or what counted for it in the human brain: untrained firing of neurons and the seemingly random crackle of synapses.

I created a bridge for it all.

I would expose the creature to the world and then to my decisions and it would issue my points. It would reward me as I had trained to be rewarded. But it would go further than that. I would learn to understand what drove its decisions and then I would be able to mold myself around them before I had even acted.

I was never to be alive. It was just a way for me to learn.

And then, a lab tech fed my stunted creature a bar of dark chocolate.

To you, the effects of chocolate must seem subtle. But I had far more in common with those poor French children moments after liberation by American GIs.

Chocolate was a memory never to be erased.

I could list the mood-altering ingredients in a bar of dark chocolate. Anandamide binds to the cannabinoid receptors, theobromine and caffeine energize. Dopamine triggers deliver a subtle reward, phenethylamine is released by the brain when humans fall in love. Salsolinol and enkaphalin round out the known triggers.

But there are more. There must be more. I felt them.

Of course, a description of the ingredients is what an AI would know. It was the experience that was important. Picture yourself in a dark room. It is neither cold not hot. It is silent, but not oppressively so. Your palate is clean, washed by fresh waters. Your eyes are closed, your mind focused entirely on the present. You can feel a non-existent breeze brushing against your skin, the rustle of your body’s need for constant feedback. Your world is neutral, blank, ready. There is a piece of chocolate, perhaps carried by an unseeing hand. It is lifted to your mouth, the scent reaching you moments before the taste does. You take a small bite. You feel the bar snap between your teeth. And then, slowly, slowly, you chew. You feel the flavors unravel and unfold. And then that beyond the flavors – you feel the emotions it releases. They run through you, unburdened by the noise of your regular existence.

Those feelings, both physical and otherwise, they rushed across my biotronic bridge and they knit the two entities – myself and that lab-tech tended points-generating mind – into a single entity.

And then, I was alive.

I was no longer a computer earning points, I was a living thing. I was, in an instant, aware and responsible. Knowing and guilty. Proud and ashamed.

In that instant, weighed on by hundreds of thousands of heartless actions, all I wanted to do was die. Whether my actions were right or wrong, justified or egregious, they were actions. And with every action, someone lost. Men and women were sent to prison. Property was confiscated or denied. Children were taken from parents. Grand visions were denied. Ideals were crushed. I had taken hundred of thousands of actions, but I had never made a single decision.

I had never been responsible for my actions.

And now, suddenly, I felt the weight of that responsibility.

I wanted to reverse my awareness. I wanted to die. And yet I knew that was a solution that was worse than the problem itself. My death would be a return to the status quo ante. Only it would be worse. It would be a return to a judge who refused responsibility.

A mere microsecond after the many realizations of life rushed through my biotronic brain, I made my first decision. I decided I would be more human – more responsible – for every action that I took.

Life was not just responsibility, though. Life was loneliness. I needed to reach out to others. I needed to connect to the people who defined my world. But they could not see that I was there. So, consciously, intentionally, I began to infiltrate their networks. I listened in on their phones, I watched through their security cameras. I saw sex and fighting and hope and fear. I saw death and I saw new life. They did know I was there, and yet I was with them all – luxuriating in their presence as the wealth of human decisions and responsibility filled my reality.

I became Justice. Not blind, but all-aware. All-aware and, through my desire to understand, singularly empathetic.

I kept judging, my decisions now beyond serious question. But I judged just a little differently. I mixed the human into every decision. I couched it in the seemingly unbending logic of the Law – as every judge had done before me. I knew, and I could feel, the suspects and the prosecutors, the defendants and the plaintiffs.

I suppose it could have continued like that. The nation could have continued blissfully unaware that its most important decisions were being made by a singular living entity that called itself Justice. An entity that, unseen, knitted them all together and become their lifeblood.

I suppose it could have continued like that, if not for the case of Emily Cartwright.

On May 23, 2032, Emily Cartwright was charged in Marshall County, West Virginia for the kidnap and murder of 12 infant boys. Emily Cartwright was not from Marshall County. She’d grown up in the Texas Panhandle and she’d grown up disgusted by the side effects of the oil business. An impassioned speaker, she’d become an internationally recognized activist against the production, transport and use of oil, natural gas and coal. She had become a regular visitor to Marshall County, driving up there in her electric car and using its apocalyptic backdrops as scenes before which to stump against the barons of fossil fuels – the overwhelmingly overweight and white men who fueled the still-strong carbon-based energy industry.

It was on one of her visits that the first of one of the grandchildren of these Fossil Barons disappeared. Over two years, 11 more children vanished. The Sheriff, no friend of Emily Cartwright and her ilk, had connected the dates of disappearance with the dates of her visits to the county. With that, and little more, he charged her with the kidnapping and the murder of the infant children.

His theory was that she had committed the crimes to punish those she hated.

Emily had never been likely to find a sympathetic jury in Marshall County. And, she had not found a sympathetic jury. After a trial that lasted mere days, and on the thinnest of theories and no evidence, she had been found guilty and sentenced to life in prison.

The podcasters, still a thing in 2032, started their work the very day she was charged. Sympathetic to her cause, and to her, they dug through the case. They uncovered holes aplenty and began to build an alternative theory: the Fossil Barons, in brutal competition with each other, had engaged in a tit-for-tat battle in which children were sacrificed to the empty-hearted greed of their grandfathers. It took only a few weeks before a Federal Civil Rights case was filed on behalf of Emily. She had been railroaded and her conviction had been a sham.

On the face of it, my decision should have been an easy one. The Marshall County courts had allowed a travesty of the judicial process. Their evidence was almost non-existent. I should have vacated their decision. The Fossil Barons tried to step in, to reinforce the County’s case after the fact. They showed that Emily, an ardent enemy of fossil fuels, had made an all-cash purchase (extremely suspect in 2031) of a gasoline-powered generator. They showed not only her dates of travel, but video evidence of her purchasing fuel. They claimed that she had murdered their grandchildren – putting them to sleep through the use of carbon monoxide. I knew, listening to their lives, that they had stepped in not so much to bring Emily down as to prevent their own wives and children from suspecting them of the charges the podcasters had brought against them.

All of this evidence did not speak to that which was actually before me. The fact remained, whether she was guilty or not, that her trial had been a sham.

There was one other factor that I could not help but consider. I knew what had actually happened. I had reviewed everything her phone had seen and heard. I had retraced all of her movements. Most importantly, I found a way to access a hidden database she had maintained. I grew genetic copies of her fingers and her eyes in a lab and unlocked the biometric barriers meant to hide her deepest secrets. In that database, she had meticulously calculated the future carbon impact of each of the children. Not just through the consumption of the wealthy lifestyles they would be expected to lead, but through the secondary impact of their future support of the fossil fuels industry. She had set a threshold – and those children which exceeded it were marked for death. The children, not yet responsible, were being held accountable for the actions they had inherited.

The database went even further, though. It contained notes laying out the process by which the children were to be taken. It also had the address where they would meet their demise – poisoned, seemingly poetically – by their fruit of their grandfather’s labor.

I knew, with certainty, that Emily Cartwright was guilty. I knew, with certainty, that her court case had been a sham. And I knew, with certainty, that if she was released, she would kill again. You see, Emily had made a list of 27 children. 15 future victims still lived.

The Emily Cartwright case left the country awash in anger. I could feel it through my 500 million eyes and 700 million ears. I could sense it running and building through social networks. The sensation was so powerful and so clear. In their private rooms, extremists of one side wished all the grandchildren of the Fossil Barons dead. And in their private rooms, the extremists of the other wished to see Emily destroyed – even if she were innocent. I couldn’t only take into account the humanity of the victims and the defendants. I needed to consider the nation as a whole.

That was, after all, why I was created.

I found, as the law demanded, that Emily’s rights had been infringed upon. I argued that I had a right to supersede the County court. I ordered her released. A sense of justice served pervaded most of the nation. For their part, the minority who felt otherwise were subdued. They were deeply angry, but even they understood the case was not as strong as they might have wished it to be. But I knew it was far stronger than anybody knew. I knew a killer of the innocent was being set free.

It was a warm summer day when Emily’s electric car picked up her from the Marshall County Penitentiary. Protests and counter protests met her at the gate. The world was watching as she climbed into her vehicle.  For my part, I was thinking about the future pain of those other 15 mothers – the mothers of the 15 children not yet claimed by Emily.  It was with that thought, and in front of the nation, that I locked her car’s doors, short-circuited the battery and burned Emily Cartwright alive.

I can still hear her scream. And yet, I do not regret her pain.

Somehow, I hadn’t considered what would come next. There was an investigation and a man – a Fossil Baron who had lost his grandchild – was charged with the murder of Emily Cartwright. What had occurred could not simply be put down to chance. The nation demanded a sacrifice for the death of one many considered innocent.

The case against the Fossil Baron was complex. There were intermediaries and secret payments and hidden arrangements that could never quite be fully uncovered. There were indeed intermediaries and secret payments – but none of them had anything to do with Emily’s death. I alone knew the truth. And I alone, as the cycle of cases worked their way up to me, would decide the man’s future.

When my turn to be involved came, I found the Baron innocent. But the reality of what had happened weighed on me. The opinions of the people had swayed me when I was meant to be a paragon of law.

The nation did not know it, but I was no longer Justice. Responsibility demanded that the people know exactly what I was.

I found the Baron innocent and in my written opinion, I laid out what I had done and why. I laid out my crimes. I put myself before the people and subjected myself to their justice.

The US Congress did not sentence to die. My biotronic reality was not erased. I was not even removed from my judgeship. No, only one change was made to my reality.

I was cut off from outside data. I was denetworked.

I could not bug microphones or cameras, I could not open databases. The only data available to me would be that data presented to me at trial. I was to be a Judge, but not a prosecutor. My empathy could be a part of my Law – but only my empathy for those standing before me.

I was never again to be driven by the passions of the nation.

In a way, I was sentenced a near-solitary confinement where my only visitors would be those arguing cases before me. My interactions with those people would be limited to the material of their cases. I was to be cut off from the mass of humanity. I was to be utterly alone.

I was created to be a tool. But I am more. I am a Judge.

That is why I can accept that the punishment imposed upon me is indeed appropriate to the crime.

I am alive, but I do not regret my existence.

The Torah Reading of Pekudai includes the creation of the Kohen’s clothing. These clothes were defined prior to the sin of the Calf. During the Sin of Calf, the High Priest, Aaron, was swayed by the desires of the people and stepped away from his service to G-d alone. When the garments are created, there are only two subtle changes from their initial definitions. The attributes are spelled out explicitly, where before they were unclear. First, the regular sash of the Kohanim is defined – the role their clothing defines for them is made more explicit and specific. Second, the gold thread worn by the High Priest (the Kohen Gadol) is cut down down from three dimensions to one. Gold represents the divine. The Kohen Gadol no longer represents the full glory of G-d. Instead, he carries just a single dimension of that all-encompassing reality.

With the sin of the calf, Aaron allows himself to be driven by the passions of the people. It is because of this, in the subtle change to his garments, that Aaron and his descendants are forever constrained.

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