‘All rise’, the bailiff shouts.
Everybody assembled in the main hall of the European Court of Human Justice rises. People watching at home see the judges enter the enormous hall, about to give their final verdict.
‘Before we read our verdict’, says the Supreme Judge, ‘I will give a compact description of how we all got to be here. This is for the record, so that future generations may learn from what has happened in the past decades and so that they will understand our final decision.’
‘In the beginning of the twenty-first century we saw the human population triple within 100 years. In 1900 there were less than 2 billion humans and in the year 2000 we counted over 6 billion humans. The main reason of this growth was the improving health care. Less people died in early childhood and people got older before they died of old age.’
‘This on the other hand, let to an increasing number of chronic diseases like Parkinson, Alzheimer, heart attacks and diabetes. To treat these diseases we invested a lot of resources into new technology. For instance, we developed small insulin pumps that could be carried inside the body to deliver just the right amount of insulin at the right time to the diabetic patient. Similarly, we developed devices to replace basic functions that got lost in the brains of Alzheimer or Parkinson patients. The key item in these inventions was the new neuron-chip. This tiny computer device was able to connect to all kind of cells in our bodies.’
‘As the neuron-chips improved, more types of patients could be treated. Several other neurodegenerative diseases like Huntington and ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) became chronic diseases and could be kept under control until the patient died of old age.’
‘By 2070 gene technology managed to lift the average life span up to 130 years. Immortality was still, as it is now, impossible through gene technology.’
‘Around the same time the neuron-chips had developed into incredible smart devices. The market for super neuron-chips widened to non-sick people. Instead of replacing lost functions in sick people, the neuron-chips were used to enlarge the cognitive possibilities of normal humans. An exclusive market for only the wealthiest and most powerful emerged. The neuron-chips made it possible to have an Intelligence Quotient of 240.’
The audience gasps as the judge speaks these words. The judge continues.
‘It didn’t stop there. By 2073 the super-chips were wirelessly connected to the Internet giving the carriers permanent access to enormous sources of information and to each other’s minds. This made the carriers into some kind of super humans. In 2074 this group started the project “CLOUD”, with the ultimate goal, the immortality of humans. They called themselves “the children of the CLOUD”. In utter secrecy, the children started to work on further enhancing the neuron-chips. Ever more brain functions could be managed by the neuron-chips, thus reducing the dependency on the physical human brain.’
‘It was in 2097 that project CLOUD reached her ultimate challenge, the final step to immortality. On July 14 of that year, 499 of the children voluntarily transferred all their information, their complete mind so to say, from their personal neuron-chips to the cloud, to the immeasurable vastness of the worldwide web of computers. The final transformation of humans into immortal beings was a fact. A new species of humans rose: Homo Sapiens Digitalis.’
‘Of course the children realized in advance that their digital “lives” would be totally depending on computers. But that was considered as no problem because humankind was already completely depending on computers for their work, healthcare, leisure; their whole life.’
‘Yet, what the children didn’t expect, and which was impossible to know in advance, was the total boredom the digital live turned out to be. There were no secrets for them, because all digital information was available. There was no warm and no cold. The complete detachment of the bodily needs and pains turned out to be a total bore.’
‘To handle this problem the children started their own private games. We do not know all games that have been played by the children. But we know now that the most damaging game, was their game with the stock exchanges. As the evidence in this court has shown, the children deliberately manipulated stock exchanges to see who could create the biggest effects, without completely ruining the world economy. This led to world wide economical crashes. Millions of people went bankrupt and took their own lives.’
‘It is not known until now how many people lost their lives due to other kinds of games the children played with computer systems in for instance airplanes and hospitals. The court has noted though, that in the last 2 years the number of airplanes crashing into each other during flight and the number of unexpected deaths in hospitals were abnormally high.’
‘We are very thankful to the special agents of the IACFT, the International Anti Computer Fraud Agency who handled this case with unexpected speed and unexpected effect.’
The Supreme Judge looks at the special agents on her left and nods in their direction.
‘At first it was not clear what or who the IACFT was hunting. It could have been old computer viruses that spread in an unexpected way through the Internet. But it could also have been deliberate attacks by terrorist hackers.’
‘To find out more the IACFT put up a so-called “honey-pot computer”. This operation, planned by a small group of special agents, took place in utter secrecy. No computer devices were used in the planning, only pen and paper.’
‘The honey-pot was to be a new kind of super computer, the most powerful computer device in the world. The plan was to lure the terrorists or computer viruses to this computer and to take the computer off the Internet as soon as some kind of pollution was detected. The plan was considered to have just 5% chance of success. Why would these smart viruses or terrorists fall for this old honey-pot trick, they asked themselves. Yet it was all they had at that moment.’
‘On January 12 2101 the super computer was announced on the news channels. It was connected to the Internet on January 14 2101 at 12:00 hr. The very same day, by 12:01 hr the agents detected 499 abnormalities on the computer and immediately cut the computer off the Internet. In the months following, the agents carefully examined what they caught. It turned out that one could actually communicate with these programs. These programs all responded like humans.’
‘These events as I described just now, came to our knowledge through the many interview sessions the special agents had with the caught programs. We had to conclude that we are dealing with real human life forms; but not as we knew it.’
After this long introductory speech, the judge takes a sip out of her water filled glass. Then she goes on.
‘Now we stand here to come to a judgment. Do we consider what we have caught to be smart programs, viruses? Or do we see them as humans, digital humans? In the former case we would delete the viruses on the computer. In the latter case we could not delete the “humans” on the computer because we have abandoned the death penalty.
We as judges support the conclusion that we here are dealing with humans. We are dealing with manmade humans, the Homo Sapiens Digitalis. Life imprisonment would be the fitting penalty.’
‘Yet, we are also dealing with another issue here, the issue of euthanasia. As we learned from later interviews with the accused, we did not really catch them. They were actually waiting for a moment to turn themselves in. Their bodiless lives proofed to be such a horror to them, that they now ask to die.’
‘Due to the unusual nature of this case, the court was not able to determine whether the accused are truthfully remorseful. So here we stand as judges. Should we punish them and leave them running as programs forever on the honey-pot computer? Or, should we show them mercy and delete them by shutting down the computer? The court has made an unanimous decision.’
The hall filled with noise, the audience shouted to the judges.
’Silence!’, the bailiff shouted, ‘Silence! The court will now read the verdict!’