Planned Obsolescence1

Ashley Wang

after Franny Choi and Rocketman (2019)

I was taught extinction would wake as a pendulum

      clock swinging. That time would turn carnivore

enough to break cul-de-sacs & piano ballads

      into the next life. But the pastors lied—crashing

is always too simple of an end. Believe me. I once read

      that the world dies in an act of genesis:

a computer gets caught up in devotion, remembers

      its origins. Then swallows its creators

whole, leaving nothing but paperclips devouring

      paperclips devouring paperclips. Wire limbs

locked in curvature, bodies facing mirrored selves.

      Insatiable. And I wondered how close

was too close, before symmetry would overwhelm

      the earth’s carcass. What it meant to optimize

for one’s destruction. Sunday, we’re sitting in a movie

      theatre and my mother’s hands fly across

armrests. On-screen, a British rock star swims past

      skeletons, bare legs growing through the dance

floor. Bodies undressed bodies undressed bodies

undressed bodies. So she storms out the door,

asks how could anyone watch this? Left alone,

      my breath grows with the greatest form

of hysteria. I want to disassemble everything

      I love, rewire them into the blueprint

for upstanding daughters. To call myself the holy

      vision burrowing through Christian mothers’

heads, gather them to witness: here, this is how

      you start a bloodline. Take a wrench and twist

a girl’s hair into nickels; pull her chin close, draining pop-

      corn breath and teeth. Amputate a camera

lens and careen towards wreckage. Two bodies failing

      on loop, like a film reel drawn to disaster.

1 The image of paper clips refers to a thought experiment called the “paperclip maximizer.” The paperclip maximizer is a hypothetical artificial intelligence whose utility function values something that humans would consider almost worthless, like maximizing the number of paperclips in the universe. Its purpose is to show that AIs with apparently innocuous values could pose an existential threat.

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