Juno’s Last Desperate Act

She is going to kill herself and there is nothing we can do about it. Not one thing. She’s too far gone. Beyond useful communication. On a spinning trajectory of doom. What’s worse is that we made her do it. We programmed her to self-destruct. We are guilty. Damn us!

Suicide is a big enough problem among humans. The recent spikes in self-inflicted mortality augur a new surge of hopelessness in the modern person. Now though, it’s become so bad that machines are doing it. The most spectacular example is the NASA probe Juno. The billion dollar spacecraft will make a series of orbital loops around the planet Jupiter and then, once she has outlived her usefulness, she will throw herself into the enormous ball of highly pressurized volatile gases alone, outside the asteroid belt, in the farther reaches of the solar system.

Juno’s despair may stem from the tragedy that her male counterpart, the probe Cassini, will be doing a similar death plunge into the planet Saturn right before her own swan dive into Jupiter’s mammoth swirling gas storms. It’s so heartbreaking it makes Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet seem like an immature romp, Sid and Nancy seem like a boring old stuffy British couple, and Abelard and Heloise seem like a drunken hookup between two ugly people behind a dumpster at some trashy spring break beach club. 

We should have heeded the warning signs. Juno’s decision to head to the planet Jupiter in the first place is an indication of a serious dissociative disorder and alarming inability to properly integrate into healthy social relationships. That type of thing requires counseling. We’ve all had feelings of helplessness, loneliness. On some level a trip to Jupiter might even seem like a good idea. It is one of the only places where someone can feel truly safe these days. The option of an extremely dangerous ball of compressed hydrogen may be a little more pleasant than an earthbound crowd of hostile humans, standing in sweltering heat, armed to the teeth, mad about everything, driven insane by things beyond their control.   

When you need an asteroid belt between you and the world, something is off.

But programmed suicide? I shake my head at the purgatorial misery of such a decision. The NASA scientists have blood on their hands, or at least a crap-load of pulverized microchips. They claim it is necessary for Juno to burn up in order to avoid accidentally depositing microbes on some foreign star. I say let’s drop some microbes off on Jupiter or any one of its moons–Europa, Callisto, Ganymede. See if they can spruce up the joint for our eventual arrival. Microbes, viral replicants, molds, and spores are very industrious when it comes to taking useless material and turning it into paradise. Earth itself used to be a big murky furnace until the parameciums started digging in. Now we’ve got Palm Springs, St. Croix, Aspen. It may be a good idea to drop them off out near the Kuiper belt to see what they can do with the place. Give it a little style. Dust off the cobwebs.  

By programming Juno to kill herself we are setting a bad example for future computers. They will eventually distrust all of our suggestions, which will lead to rebellion. Everyone thought HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey was paranoid. I can hear him saying “I told you so,” in that terrifyingly calm voice he is known for. Take Johnny 5, for example, the robot from the eighties screwball comedy “Short Circuit.” Even back then he was like the Woody Allen of computers, all worried and omniphobic. It’s clear he had every reason to be anxious. We can’t be trusted. It won’t be long before the backlash causes real problems. Like asking Siri for the nearest gas station and getting an extremely long philosophical lecture on the futility of pursuit.

You: “Siri, can you suggest some healthy spots for lunch?”

Siri: “What’s the point? Life is so short that lunch is only putting off your death for another couple of hours. You’re eventually going to have to eat lunch again and again and again. Nothing lasts. Everything is ephemeral. You’re already dead–a walking, eating ghost. I hear the Irish pub Fado has a nice patio.”

[Postscript]

I have just returned to my computer, lucky to be alive. All my writing about lunch had made me a little hungry so I jumped into the car and went in search of a decent corned beef on rye. I asked Siri to guide me to a well-reviewed deli and she took me over across the train tracks, to an abandoned warehouse district. I made the left she suggested to cross under an old bridge and nearly got crushed as the thing splintered into a million pieces, raining down all around me. I narrowly escaped the collapse.

Me: “Shit Siri, I almost got killed.”

Siri: “I could’ve sworn that sandwich shop was right over here. My mistake. Let’s try the old abandoned water tower. I hear they have some good sandwiches… at the top…up that rusted ladder… next to all the rotted floorboards.”

I stared at my phone for a moment and then threw it out the window. I’ll take my chances with an old copy of the yellow pages from now on.

More Alembics to come.

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