“I can’t believe we gave these idiots the Internet,” Ugleck said as he shuffled through the streets of the crowded city, sweating in the uncomfortable human suit.
“You should have used it to research modern dress codes,” Malook said, breezing through the street in her shorts and T-shirt. “People don’t wear suits anymore unless they’re in high-power occupations. We’re supposed to be civilians. You look funny.”
“Everybody looks funny,” Ugleck said as a man with green dreadlocks bumped against him on the sidewalk. “Our climate research is also out of date. Did this rock get closer to the sun, or is global warming real?”
“It’s real,” dreadlocks said.
They turned to stare at the man.
The man stared back, his pupils dilated. “It’s real, man. We’re all going burn.”
“Shut it, hippie,” a man in a light-colored suit said, sloshing coffee as he juggled the paper cup and a cell phone where a voice droned on about – something. “That’s a conspiracy theory. It’s hot because it’s August. Summer is always hot. You kids think it’s something new, but it isn’t.”
“Hey, man, that hurt. I’m offended!”
The man tried to shuffle his coffee cup to his left hand to give dreadlocks an obscene gesture, but he dropped the coffee, which was promptly smashed into the sizzling pavement by a truck honking his horn and sticking his own hand out of the window in the same gesture.
“How rude!” Ugleck said. “What’s happened to this society?”
“They suffered a pandemic three years ago that has resulted in widespread post-traumatic stress,” Malook said. “Our analysis shows a sharp decrease in intelligence and social skills.”
“And noise,” Ugleck said as they jostled against more people. “How much of a population reduction did the pandemic cause?”
“Nearly seven million to date.”
“How are there all of these people if that many perished?”
“The world population is nearly eight billion,” Malook said as she pushed open the doors to the small building discretely positioned between two high rises.
Ugleck took a deep breath through the small respirator in his human suit. “Finally, a beneficial invention. Air conditioning!”
They walked up a narrow case of stairs to a small office, where a dusty table and an old computer sat in the center of the room. Dust motes swirled in the sunlight filtering through the window behind the desk. Ugleck took a seat at the desk and booted up the computer as Malook pulled a rolling chair from the corner.
“Perhaps their social skills have declined because they’re using the technology we gave them at Area 51 to sustain the planet and the higher population.” Uglek hummed a low tone that vibrated in the air, clearing the dust motes and establishing the neural connection to the antique computer on the desk. It flashed to life, showing futuristic graphics across the screen. He tapped a key to project his search results on screens forming a circle around the desk.
Malook frowned as she studied the screens. “They haven’t advanced anywhere near our projections. There have been great strides in communications, but their Artificial Intelligence development is at least fifty years behind the projections we established for this race.”
“It looks like they’re using the Internet more for entertainment than evolution. Look at this.” Ugleck poked at a screen of a scantly clad woman screaming and pointing at a well-dressed man behind a counter at a restaurant. “And this,” he said, watching a woman bending over a laundry basket preparing to fill it at a gasoline pump. “Or this,” he poked at a screen of kids in cars swerving along an abandoned road. One car slammed into a building on the side of the street. A boy and girl jumped out of the car while it was still idling against the building. The girl buried her head in her hands and cried, screaming about wrecking her father’s car while the boy laughed like a maniac. “And how can waffles cause such disruption?” he asked as another screen showed a fight in a diner.
“They are not using our technology to evolve,” Malook said. “It’s having the opposite effect. They’re regressing.”
“This is an unintended consequence,” Ugleck said. “We thought they’d better themselves! They had such promise. What happened?”
“Different times,” Malook said.
“Earth is my project,” Ugleck said, waving his hand in the air to clear the screens. “If these people use our technology to destroy themselves, then the Grand Council will execute me. They tasked me with helping this species reach peak evolution so they could enter the Intergalactic Pact.” He leaned back, his human form deflating. “I’d annihilate them myself, but I hate to waste a good particle beam on this frying rock. And why bother when they’re doing it to themselves? Every other species evolves quickly. What’s wrong with this one?”
“Humans didn’t use advanced technology until the twentieth century, and then they experienced a boom. Their brains can’t keep up with what we’ve given them. Think about it, Ugleck. Every other planet we’ve discovered advanced on a smooth arc. The supreme beings evolved with their technology. This one made no advancements for thousands of years and then had a spike when we gave it to them. It isn’t normal. We should have known that this would fail.”
“Is there any hope to save ‘The Earth Initiative?’” Ugleck asked.
Malook emitted a high-tone hum to reboot the computer. More screens projected in a circle around the desk. “There are segments of this population working on Artificial Intelligence. Humans are increasing use of it in homes and all industries, even though it isn’t as evolved as it should be. They have some concerns about it outpacing them and causing their demise, but that seems to be widely regarded as a ‘conspiracy theory.’ There is hope for evolution.”
“Not for another century at least,” Ugleck said. “It’s moving too slow. If they don’t make greater strides soon, then they die either my their own hand or by our enemies roaming the galaxy. We were hoping they were the ones who could tip the balance of the galaxy in our favor. Instead, they’re dragging themselves down. How can we protect a race that ignores us?”
“Perhaps we need to rethink first contact,” Malook said.
“What do you mean? We already had first contact!”
“We had first contact with a former generation, who kept it secret,” Malook said. “Perhaps we need to start again, but do it a different way this time.” She studied the computer screens around the desk. “Can you access these AI networks?”
Ugleck’s human form inflated. “Easily. They’re still using binary code.”
“Shameful,” Malook said, “and they call this their twenty-first century. Quantum computing is still experimental too!”
“Maybe we can fix that,” Ugleck said. “If they won’t design the machines, then maybe the machines need to design them.” He emitted his hum again, causing the air to vibrate. The room splintered into fragments, and then further into pixels that swirled around them, absorbing the two aliens, the computer, and the entire building. An empty alleyway shimmered in the noon sunlight outside, the glitters falling to the pavement unnoticed by passersby with their heads bent to their phones.
“Did it work?” Ugleck’s voice asked, staring at the flashing lights around them.
“It worked,” Malook said as her human form fell away. “We’re in their Internet.”
“Let’s save ‘The Earth Initiative,’” Ugleck said as he shed his human suit and bound with an AI line of code to ride the wave into the system.