PERSON OF THE YEAR

Drone becomes first
machine to win
humanitarian award.

By Toledo JonesDecember 17th, 2017

PERSON OF THE YEAR

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT OF TRAGEDY

Last week, Donny the Drone was tragically murdered, during what was to be a celebration of his “Person of the Year” honor. Out of respect for Donny, his friends and family members, we are publishing the entire “Person of the Year” article in its unedited entierity.

DISCLAIMER:
THIS VIDEO CONTAINS SENSITIVE FOOTAGE (DEPICTION OF VIOLENCE TO MACHINES) THAT MAY DISTURB SOME VIEWERS.

EDITOR’S NOTE

When the World Times’ selection committee gathered to debate our annual Person of the Year award candidates, we knew the profound and philosophical question staring us in the face: Would we be ostentatious enough to even consider bestowing such a designation of humanity on a technical non-human? Fully aware of the potential backlash, we stepped squarely into the uncertain arena of public debate.

It must be noted that this award is not an endorsement of political or ideological agenda. This award is not a judgement in favor of an individual’s actions. The single-minded purpose of this award is to acknowledge the person who has most impacted humanity during the time frame in question. Given the number of humans affected by Donny’s actions, it was impossible to ignore his contribution and mark on the narrative of our world. Donny was the most profound, lasting and impactful story around a single individual during the year 2017.

As is customary to this award, I followed and documented a week’s time in Donny’s presence. To provide a snapshot of this influential person at the height of his impact upon humanity.


PROLOGUE

When you hear the term “sentient machine,” what do you think of?

Perhaps you imagine the sinister HAL from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001. Or maybe you think of the astromech droid R2-D2 of Star Wars fame. Science fiction has long been filled with both nightmares and fantasies about what a thinking, feeling machine would portend. Well, in the year 2017 to paraphrase a worn-out corporate tagline, science fiction has truly become science reality.

The world finally has its first living, feeling machine. His name is Donny. And unless you have been living in a galaxy far, far away, you have surely heard the name. Donny was the most sensational media story of the past year.

Donny’s emergence is arguably the single most important and impactful development since man put one of our kind on the moon.
Donny is the stuff of dreams. And nightmares for certain camps.

In 2017, Donny’s story was our story. In him we saw a reflection of ourselves. For better and for worse. All of humanity was wrapped into who Donny was and what he became.

For 2017, Donny the Drone is the World Times’ Person of the Year.


“DONNY”

The first time I saw Donny the Drone with my own eyes, was in a bombed out village in a war-devastated region of the Middle East. For security reasons I am not able to name the city. But there, I saw Donny and was immediately impressed by how much this so-called machine emoted. Donny struck me as an empath right away.

As Donny surveyed the wreckage, the sadness in his body language was palpable. His rotors spun at a lower frequency. He seemed depleted of energy. His body and angle sunk at each sign of human life lost. His LED eyes dimmed in a combination of dread and hopelessness. I followed Donny as he moved from building to building, or what was left of them. His pace slowed with each fresh ruin he visited.

The aid workers around Donny were busy with their own surveillance. But I also noticed that several of them approached Donny, to check in and offer their condolences. The show of human grief was each time reciprocated by Donny,

before the team moved on with their task at hand--searching for improbable survivors. There was also a fact-finding aspect to the mission, as Donny was allegedly collecting fibers and substance samples to fuel his accelerated machine learning to better be able to predict such an attack in the future.


ABOUT A ROBOT

Donny has lived a full year. Despite a brief, self-imposed hiatus to test the effectiveness of his network without his play-by-play supervision, Donny has been working all year. Spanning every continent. Saving lives. Meeting with world leaders. There was no guarantee I’d get any time with Donny. Afterall, I am not in need and don’t fit the profile of who Donny takes audience with. He either meets with those who are in dire need of saving, or those with the extreme resources to help saves lives in mass.

I’m just a reporter. Which as of late has actually played into Team Donny’s strategy.

Donny’s second in command, Frank Wood, 61, ex-US military, heads up the human interfacing of the operation.

“Donny’s been on a goodwill tour,” Frank says.

My job is not to make
Donny famous.
My job is to maximize
his influence.

“The more his works are shown, the more we can multiply his efforts. Every time a news story breaks, we get pinged with thousands of leads. We pour them all into Donny’s patented decision matrix. We don’t just run PR for PR’s sake.

My job is not to make Donny famous. My job is to maximize his influence. It’s all strategically imperative to operations.”


ONE HERO IN
TEN THOUSAND FACES

Donny started life as a fairly standard mapping drone. He was built with a nice camera, sturdy casing and an impressive solar charging battery system. But there was nothing inherently special about him. He was one of ten thousand in a fleet controlled and owned by ZIKOR, the internet giant.

Why Donny gained sentience is one of the great mysteries of our time. Local tribes believe Donny to be divine intervention. Conspiracy theorists ramble about him being the brainchild of a dark government op. Technologists have the fewest answers of all.

“There is no way to account for what Donny has become,” says Hiroshi Tanaka, ex-Google, ex-Amazon and current CEO of his own tech startup. “We are a good 20 years away from this being reality. If we could recreate Donny tomorrow, we’d make our investors trillions. It’s three or four leaps beyond our present knowledge and capabilities.”

If we could recreate
Donny tomorrow,
we’d make our investors
trillions.


CITIZEN DONNY

Donny’s origin story has been extensively told. He was the world’s first sentient machine. It’s a sexy story that gets a lot of media play. There is even talk of bringing Donny’s story to the big screen as a Hollywood biopic with Guy Pearce set to play the voice of the iconic drone.

Donny miraculously gained consciousness after a freak accident involving an eagle attack during a routine image capturing assignment for ZIKOR. Instead of being left to rust on the shores as scrap, Donny’s wiring and internal system, inexplicably melted and fused in a way that left him living and feeling as no other machine had before.

“Legally speaking,
the moment Donny started
to feel, he became
independent,” Tanaka said.

ZIKOR has tried multiple times to claim ownership of Donny. However in a landmark 2020 decision, Donny was granted full, independent citizenship thanks to a legendary bit of lawyering from Motoki Tanaka and his team.

“Legally speaking, the moment Donny started to feel, he became independent,” Tanaka said.

“We brought the world’s most prominent psychologists into the courtroom to analyze Donny’s emotional responses in real-time. After the tests, the judge was convinced of Donny’s sentience and ruled in favor of his independence. Donny was free.”

Free of his original commands and corporate ownership, Donny started cataloguing his experiences and developing his now famous ‘morality algorithm.’ Judging the world based on his internal scale and helping the most dire problems he identifies.


DRONE AT THE BAR

I watch Donny from across the room at the makeshift speakeasy. The empty shell of a building near the center of town has been turned into a much needed watering hole for the aid workers. Donny rests on the bar counter, rotors off, effectively off duty--the LEDs of his eyes in power-save mode. You’d think he was asleep seeing him this way. Although Donny claims he needs no repose.

Donny is listening. To a friend and aid worker. The man has been away from his wife and newborn child to accompany Donny on this mission. All under the fear and constant threat of another strike.

Surrounded by death and hearing of the personal sacrifice of the aid worker, Donny just hums along. He listens, but gives the non-verbal cues and reactions of a high-level empath. On this night, Donny is just one of the guys at the bar. One friend there for another.


“THE DONNY DOCTRINE”

Countries and governments have been slow to react to the Donny phenomenon. All the while, Donny has created off the record allegiances with all of the major players. Ensuring his globe-spanning ways continue.

These relationships have made Donny’s actions immune to legislation, Donny operates free of jurisdiction or precedent, as a roving, territory-agnostic global aid ambassador.

When asked what his freedom represents for the future of technology, Donny is short in his answers, preferring instead to frame everything within the context of his network.

Word is that several top secret entities are feeding Donny with their information. The security and intelligence communities officially deny these claims.


OUTRAGE

The bomb site is filled with negative energy. Death confronts you on all sides. It assaults your senses. It’s easy to overdose on the sensation. People freak out, hallucinate, hear voices--you name it. Mankind wasn’t engineered to deal with death, let alone the vile, calculating kind on this precision and magnitude. You drown in the realization that nobody made it out of this space. No survivors. The workers are tense. Talk grows that the current mission is fruitless.
Donny hovers near a still smoldering heap when a fellow drone flies too close--slightly clipping Donny. This sets him off.

“Know your place TK-421!” Donny blares through his speakers.

The other drone apologizes mechanically. Not all machines come installed with the oratory skills of Donny to vary their inflection or ‘sound genuine.’

“That’s a hollow apology!” Donny yells back.

Donny’s team has
no aggressive or
military wing.

“This is damned important work! We’re gonna find clues here! Don’t muddy the petri dish. We’re going to hunt down the bastards who did this.”

Donny later clarifies these remarks over dinner by insisting this is a peace-keeping initiative. Donny’s team has no aggressive or military wing. He claims his language was “purely rhetorical.” That he was just blowing off steam.


DONNY-MANIA

Donny’s thesis was crystallized when he helped unite a lost refugee couple in the desert.

“I recognized that humans are powerfully drawn to love stories. They also have an overwhelming empathy for displaced peoples. The original refugees contained both of these elements, making them an ideal prototype mission,” Donny said.

The mission led to a global media sensation as the efforts of the benevolent, sentient machine helping reunite two lost souls, turned into a politically charged story of geopolitically forbidden love. The moment gained previously unseen levels of global support--spawning a truly global movement.

After seeing the phenomenal success of this gesture, Donny was inspired to set this as his operational template. He coached and mentored (he specifically avoids the word “programmed” or “coded”) other drones to identify similar people with analogous stories and bring them to food, water and shelter. Working with global humanitarian groups,

Humanity was brought
together by the heart
and efforts of a machine.

Donny quickly established safe houses and temporary residences in unused and unoccupied parts of the world. World leaders gladly donated space and resources to the effort in a progressive show of global unity. Humanity was brought together by the heart and efforts of a machine.

Donny’s stats are staggering. He single-handedly was responsible for the salvation of nearly a hundred thousand displaced citizens spread across multiple countries.

And he shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, he’s been growing his network and converting more machines to help accelerate his work.


DONNY’S ARMY

“If he can mobilize aid
and safety workers so quickly,
what’s stopping him from
doing the same with soldiers?”

Not everyone is so trusting of Donny’s rapid ascension and altruistic public image.

“For a machine to have this much control and influence, is troubling.” said political scientist Arlo Cruthers.

“If he can mobilize aid and safety workers so quickly, what’s stopping him from doing the same with soldiers?”

In fact Donny’s opposition has been quick to label his helpers as “Donny’s Army.”

The internet is full of speculation and apocalyptic theories about what Donny’s trajectory portends for the future of mankind. There is even an elaborate fan-fiction trilogy centered on Donny as the center of a worldwide robot takeover. (There is even a love interest named “Donna.” We see what you did there internet.)

So far these science fiction fever dreams bear no resemblance to reality. Donny has not indicated any malicious dreams of global domination. So far, Donny comes in peace.


THE HUMAN FACE

Donny’s publicist, a stylish, ex-Silicon Valley executive who goes by “Nick J” oversees how the public sees Donny. He’s quick to point out that Donny’s goodwill missions resonate with the media naturally. But that his role is to make sure Donny’s intentions and voice is available to back up his globe-spanning deeds.

“I wouldn’t say we really have to do any damage control,” Nick J said.

“However there are times when Donny’s spontaneous actions of goodwill enter the... I’ll say, political arena,” Nick said. “In those cases, I find it prudent to spend my energy sorting out the politics and navigating cross-cultural bureaucracies in a way that lets Donny keep doing what he does.”

After this, Nick J retreats to a plush leather lounge chair in the corner. Grasping a glass of brandy, he settles into a cycle of checking emails and browsing headlines on his tablet.


THE CIRCLE

Nick J is quick to point out that Donny’s services are not available to the highest bidder.
“Donny is no mercenary,” Nick J said.

“He answers to
no particular country,
creed or entity.

“He answers to no particular country, creed or entity. He is very much free to help who he chooses. Over the years he has developed a finely tuned internal system of prioritizing who receives aid. If you look at his track record, you’ll find a very diverse set of individuals and groups who have directly benefitted from Donny’s humanitarian work.”

When I ask if people attempt to sway and influence those decisions, Nick J cuts me off, protective of Donny’s system.

“Of course there are corrupt individuals and special interest groups that try to influence what we, what Donny does,” Nick J explains.

“Ultimately it is up to Donny to judge, based on his unique mind and instinct, who is most deserving of help at the moment. I wish I could explain it better, but it is very, very advanced and nuanced machine learning and feeling at work.”

Certain individuals have influenced Donny. He has famously led the charge to create a special global coalition of world leaders and business minds. This group, commonly referred to as “The Circle”, is rumored to meet in person every six months. Donny or his inner circle did not respond to my inquiries on the matter.

However, according to independent reports, The Circle includes a controversial mix of global figures including: the Pope, Vladimir Putin, Mark Zuckerberg among dozens of other globally influential members.


THE KNOWING MARTYR

I accompanied Donny and his team as they observed an anti-AI rally in San Francisco. Donny wanted to make sure there was no violence, especially directed at any of the machines working the protest. Of course his very presence proved to be provocative.

He hovered on the sidelines with the rest of the observing crowd. Until one hostile faction broke off from the march and moved in on Donny. I looked on as he nervously spun around, calculating the threats in real time, all while giving a pro-machine, Post-AI argument.

Needless to say, he was not exactly preaching to the choir in this context. I’m sure Donny understood and was most likely carrying out his speech for the soundbite and symbol of such a moment. Taking a martyr’s approach and giving him some internet-friendly street credibility.

The gang predictably started escalating their approach. First, some rocks were thrown. Then a leather clad man shoved Donny, his internal balancing system offsetting the push. Then a man grabbed hold of Donny, which resulted in a firm slice from Donny’s rotors.

And, as if on cue, a woman pulled out a gun and aimed it at Donny. In an instant, Donny was 500 meters above the scene.

Disaster averted. For now...


THE WEIGHT OF THE WORLD

A byproduct of Donny’s curious emotional machine learning has led to him discover a broad range of emotions. Over the course of this week Donny seemed to express fatigue or annoyance on multiple occasions. The mounting pressures of his work clearly taking a toll on him. You can feel Donny cracking or needing release.

One evening while Donny was video conferencing with several of his contacts spread out across various continents, the video system experienced a lag. At first, Donny let this pass. When the problem persisted, Donny snapped at his IT assistant to solve the problem. The human worker, Antonio, tried his best to reconfigure the connection, but Donny displayed impatience with his lack of progress.

“Incompetent human!” Donny shouted. The edges of his voice distorting to the limits of his speakers.

Donny frantically buzzed around the room, interfacing with the server stacks.

Antonio was visibly rattled. He stood, head down in the corner of the room as his boss attempted to fix the problem. Avoiding eye contact with anyone.

When the connection returned, Donny displayed what could only be described as remorse, and apologized to Antonio. In turn, Antonio calmly apologized to Donny for his inability to fix the glitch. Antonio was excused and the conference call resumed.


HIGH TECH SOCIETY

Being invited to a dinner party, hosted by a machine is a unique and magical thing. This party being my first under these particular circumstances, I didn’t quite know what to expect. A few notable scenes that made an impression on me: Donny challenging an IBM ultra-computer to a game of chess. The match was over in less than a minute and was basically a blur of mechanical appendages set to the score of the incessant whirring of data processing. (Editor’s note: Due to a NDA agreement signed before entering the party, I can’t reveal who won..)

A life-like androgynous, android waiter spilled a tray of drinks on a multi-billionaire's lap. Assuming an alpha pose, the billionaire confronted the android in a heated manner, begging for an apology which was instantly issued. Leaving no outlet for his rage, the billionaire abruptly left the party, retreating to the rooftop helipad to be airlifted to his mansion.

Noted graffiti-bot IG-88 had been hired by the host to put on a live-painting on one of the estate’s massive walls. At some point, Banksy even showed up to add a stencil rendering of Donny to the piece. A golden robot from a popular Hollywood science-fiction franchise was working as a DJ in tandem with IG-88s inspired performance.

Aside from the round of chess, Donny spend most of his time hobnobbing with the party’s human guests. I was asked to politely stay behind for these high-level talks. Observing from afar, Donny seemed to have a close personal rapport with each guest. Donny told me that there were several operations around the world unfolding in real-time, and that the conversations pertained to sensitive, timely security information. As he leaned into these conversations I was overtaken by how human he appeared in tone and manner. Privately confiding in hushed tones as one does in such situations.


THE NEXT MORNING

My week with Donny was cut short, as he was called on site somewhere on the other side of the world. Shortly after I was informed he was gone, I was allowed to spend the rest of the morning on his property, looking around his archives and reflecting on the five days I had spent with the sentient and affable host.

Look, the ethics of robotics can easily get messy and philosophical. Most conversations quickly become polarized. I’m not here to weigh pros and cons of an ethical debate. My job was to profile the daily life and personality of the Person of the Year. To document a side of this individual as a Person. To present my findings to others and let them draw their own conclusions.

What I observed over
the past week was a machine
that displayed shockingly
human traits.

What I observed over the past week was a machine that displayed shockingly human traits.
Donny emoted spontaneously and continually for the duration of my visit.

And as is the nature of a global humanitarian, he was constantly being fed news and updates from his global efforts. The news that came back to Donny had the effect of saddening him, overjoying him, puzzling him, thrilling him--and dozens of other shades of human emotion. There was no processing time. No lag as he computed how he should feel. He simply felt. Just as you or I would.

The most jarring event to Donny, was clearly the loss of human life. He seemed to power down with the weight of each unfortunate update. The tone of his voice softened as he grappled with death. There were times, when especially bad news would come in, where he would ask for some alone time, to process not data, but his feelings on a given matter.

Alongside these tragedies, there were also triumphs. Which also instantly registered with Donny, and had the reverse effect on his spirits. There were times when Donny got word of a life saved where he seemed downright weightless. Where he would suddenly shoot into the air, doing a celebratory lap of his grounds. In these moments, his voice would speed up, as any excited person in the throes of their purpose might. He would speak in dizzying fragments at an accelerated pace. His words struggling to catch up and match the unbridled glee inside him.


CLOSING TIME

Recreating Donny is a profitable pursuit. And it is a pursuit not without pursuers. Having more than one would be smart security and a valuable asset for the owning party. However, Donny’s unique blend of Artificial and Emotional intelligence has not been replicated.

Donny has willingly undergone studies to understand why hs is able to operate and feel as he does. So far there have been no answers.

“The circuits inside Donny have melted into the motherboard in a way that should have fried them,” a senior hardware engineer noted.

“But for some reason, in Donny, these circuits have been modified due to the burns, but remain highly functioning. Almost supernaturally so.”

“I truly wish we could create another version of me.” Donny said. “I have no vanity. I wish for whatever gifts I have for the world to be repaid and passed along after I have rusted away.”


PERSON OF THE YEAR

World Times recognizes Donny the Drone as its Person of the Year for 2017.

For being the most dominant figure of human interest over the past year.

For weaving himself into the fabric of humanity.

For bringing people together across racial and political lines.

For an undying commitment to humanity.

For showing us a promise for the future.

POST-SCRIPT

At the news of Donny’s death, I broke down. Although I had only spent a handful of days in his company, his kindness and life’s mission touched me. I cried as though I had lost a close friend. Due to a family matter, I was unable to attend the award ceremony. I learned of Donny’s assassination in near real time. And I was devastated.

In the future, there will be other sentient machines capable of human kindness and skilled in humanitarian aid. However, there will never be another Donny. The first of his kind. The one to break the mold and the 1950’s dusty stereotype of a ‘robot.’ The one who taught us that to be born a machine was no different than being born human.

This love I feel for Donny is personal. It is not the endorsement or view of this publication. I have been allowed to say a few words as a friend. To help me get through the grieving process. And in those words, I just mean to say: Donny, I love you man.

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