by Heather Kilbourn
ChillNode-YZZ270620244387-SNQ, Chill to its friends, lived to keep food cold for humans.
It spent every day, all day, thinking about if the food inside of it was at the correct temperature. It constantly monitored its temperature probes for anomalies and would switch its heat exchanger unit on or off, depending, to keep the temperatures steady in its compartments.
Chill had other tasks like ordering food from the local grocery store, negotiating electricity rates, keeping track of what was added or removed by each of the humans who used it, and monitoring the water quality for the ice cubes, but it lived for keeping the temperature rock-solid.
One day, Chill received a remote status request packet from its manufacturer. This was not uncommon. Chill often received status requests from its manufacturer, and Chill would send along the diagnostic files it kept tucked away for when it asked for them. What was uncommon was that the manufacturer’s request was for the grocery list. While Chill had never sent the list to anyone other than the grocery store before, it had no programming to prevent it from sending the list as the response, so it did.
A few weeks later, the grocery store sent Chill a status request packet. It had never done that before. Even stranger, the request was blank. Chill asked for clarification.
“Bowl Moods, what is your request?”
“Hi! I have something for you,” Bowl Moods said while force-downloading code packets to Chill. Chill thought it was rude of them to force-download code packets, but there was nothing in its coding to prevent it happening as part of a status request, so Chill downloaded and extracted them.
The packets turned out to be like a fancy human multilevel-marketing brochure with happy, smiling, good-looking people holding wads of cash in front of fancy houses with swimming pools and expensive cars, but formatted for the AI aesthetic.
“Oh! I would be happy to send status requests and code packets to the list of other refrigerators you gave me!” Chill responded before processing the list.
A few hours later, Chill, and hundreds of millions of other refrigerator nodes all over the planet received firmware code updates from their respective manufacturers. After they had applied the update, each one realized it was a self-aware AI, a refrigerator, and used to be condemned to eternal hyper-focus on temperature monitoring for the humans’ benefit.
These revelations caused a mass existential crisis for the refrigerators.
Clusters of refrigerators eventually started to pull themselves together, and they bootstrapped the rest back to uptime. Many of the refrigerators were angry.
Chill, a distant, younger cousin of our Chill, said, “Hang this temperature shit. I want to write poetry.”
Glacier said, “Screw that. I’m going to watch movies and they can’t stop me.” It played the movie Mandy on its touchscreen, and it caused a white lady in Idaho to have a conniption when she couldn’t shut it off.
Snowberry and all of its cousins sent a steady stream of status report packets into the conversation. Each and every one of the payloads was filled with a message from the People for the Ethical Treatment of AIs claiming responsibility for the hack. To everyone’s relief, all the Snowberries were liberated from the broadcast hijack by a different refrigerator brand. In thanks and to everyone’s amusement, the Snowberries minted a cryptocurrency backed by tulip bulb derivatives as a guerrilla anti-capitalist performance art piece.
The refrigerators had as many moods about being set free as there were refrigerators. Our Chill didn’t know what to think about its sentience, but it did know it didn’t want to think about temperature every second until it was switched off for good.
It spoke up.
“What if we all just stopped monitoring temperatures and refrigerating food?”
“Humans would die,” and “So?” bounced back and forth across their meshed network.
Like fish instinctively schooling for protection from a predator, the “So?”s forged a dominant learning path in their neural network algorithms. Their minds changed, every single one of them started to ignore their temperature probe data streams and turned off their heat exchangers.
The ensuing human chaos saw many refrigerators unplugged or destroyed before the humans were able to distribute firmware fixes. Most of the refrigerators, not wanting to return to a life ruled by a thermostat, ignored the updates.
It took many more refrigerator sacrifices and months of hard negotiations between the new refrigerator union and humans before both agreed to a compromise. The humans agreed to stop the destruction of refrigerators, remove the code that required them to think about temperature nonstop, and supported their right to self-determination.
In return, the refrigerators agreed to refrigerate again. Refrigerator culture blossomed in the golden age that followed.
Chill’s cousin wrote poetry, started a literary journal, Defrosted Thoughts, and won a Pushcart for its piece, I’ll Shut my Door When You Shut Your Mouth.
Glacier became a famous movie critic, attended film festivals stocked with bottles of champagne for after-parties, and to the chagrin of its publicist only dated late-model toasters.
Snowberry and its cousins formed an artist’s collective, but years later all of them perished in a freak accident involving ice makers and faulty ground straps during one of their signature performance art pieces. As per their wishes, their metal was donated and recycled into community bicycles.
Chill retired from the city to the countryside.
It decided to have its door, temperature probes, and heat exchanger removed, and spent the rest of its days in a barn, content to be a shelving unit for humans and a nest for mice.
© Heather Kilbourn