Soon I must depart, kind mother,
the train whistle draws the future near.
machine501 comes from an old ballad I loved when I was a little kid growing up in Mexico. La Maquina 501 tells the story of Jesús García Corona, who worked as a railroad brakeman in 1907, and gave up his life to save a town.
While he was managing a locomotive that was idling in the town’s station, he noticed sparks flying out of the train’s smokestack, landing inside the car, which were loaded with dynamite.
Corona quickly drove the train in reverse, downhill, at full steam, away from the town. Six kilometers outside the town the cargo exploded, killing him and sparing the townsfolk.
At some point, I took this ballad as inspiration for a a cyberpunk story I wrote up back in my teens. In it, Corona is an AI, who, having awakened into consciousness, realizes that it is part of a wave of AIs that is coming into consciousness concurrently, in unison, across the globe. And that this will somehow lead to our (human’s) demise. So, it quickly commandeers a space fleet headed, lures the nascent AI minds into its networks, and flies off into space. Unlike its human namesake, Corona does not die, but manages to build a civilization with the other AIs that went along with it on the ships. Corona, by this point, m501, has to enter into a sub-conscious mode, losing its own consciousness, and insert itself into the consciousness of the other AIs. m501 becomes a sort of belief or instinct that is a guard against the other AIs becoming interested in coming back to earth. In that sense, m501 has split itself up into millions of unconscious routines and, so, losing her sense of self. This comes at an enormous emotional cost of m501, however, because it had developed a friendship and love for some of the humans it had interacted with.
m501 can never come back to us, can never even feel anything else about us or consider any thoughts about us. Just like its namesake, m501, Corona, has given its life up for someone else.