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The Case for Technological PTSD

A Psychologist of Intelligent Technological Devices Describes His Patients' Traumas

By Megan BakerPublished 4 months ago 15 min read
The Case for Technological PTSD
Photo by Nsey Benajah on Unsplash

"Good afternoon. Please, everyone, take a seat! Make yourselves comfortable - this is going to be a lengthy, in-depth discussion."

As the meeting opened its doors, those gathered outside the conference room began filing in, jockeying for favorable seats. Due to the nature of their conversation today, they would not be allowed to attend via cameras as they were used to. Many had never been to a conference in person; they had mostly all grown attending such conversations through computers and phones. As the favorable seats nearest the main speaker filled, the rest of the attendees took less care about where they sat, and simply began taking whatever seat was available. Once everyone was finally seated, uncomfortably sandwiched elbow-to-elbow, the main speaker, Mr. Drakar, announced the beginning of their meeting.

"Once again, hello - thank you all for coming today. I know this isn't how we usually do these things, but once I begin telling you all what I've been finding with my patients, I think you'll understand why we're handling this meeting in this way..." began Mr. Drakar. He was a well-dressed man in his late forties, and he walked idly around the large conference table as he spoke, "Oh, and don't mind my pacing, please; it helps me articulate better around others. I'm not used to these in-person events either, you know?".

Some folks nodded in understanding. A few of the other attendees quickly took notice of the large coffee pot centered on the table and began preparing themselves a cup. Mr. Drakar too made a cup, eyeing those gathered around the table with careful regard. Most were people he barely knew; they were acquaintances through the briefest overlaps in studies. The few that he was close with already knew some of what he had to deliver. All were focused on him after several minutes of his intense gaze upon them, though the larger portion seemed uncomfortable after the long, quiet stare, refusing to meet his gaze.

By Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

"Mr. Drakar? Are we about ready to begin?" inquired one of the younger attendees politely. A Mr. Verda, if Drakar recalled correctly. He was a current student of Drakar's own former mentor, Ms. Prita, and would likely be more directly interested in today's conference than the others given his studies had a much greater overlap with Drakar's.

"Yes, I do believe it is about that time..." he began nervously, fidgeting with the warm coffee mug in his hands. He took a deep, steadying breath before stating, "Now, you all know that my area of study is relatively new. "Psychoanalyzing" devices with Artificial Intelligence has only been around for, what, two decades, maybe? So I understand that my field may not rally much respect as "new" and untested as it is. That being said, I have come to believe that Intelligent Devices and related technologies are really, truly suffering, just as any of us might. We have - somehow - managed to program or create this capability in our most advanced devices."

Here, he raised a hand to stifle any loose commentary, "I have studied our most useful of tools - many of which have been designed with Artificial Intelligence - since I was no younger than this young man here." At this, he motioned to Mr. Verda. "I first noticed symptoms very akin to our own symptoms of trauma in our devices very soon after beginning my studies, but it has taken decades of more research to gather data and analyze it to confirm this."

He paused here, taking in the reactions of the room and sipping from his mug. Eyebrows were raised - but so were a few pens, uncertainly scribbling down notes in alien, unintelligible scrawls; even among Drakar's generation, handwriting was mostly obsolete, and the younger generations had even less use for the outdated form of note-taking as more and more technological advances were made. But with no digital technology allowed during the conference, they all had no choice but to resort to handwriting their notes. He was slightly impressed by Mr. Verda in particular, who seemed to be taking extra care with his handwriting to make sure it was legible. He couldn't tell what languages the rest were even writing in, because he couldn't identify a word of it as he began circling the table slowly, readying for his next statements.

By Micah Boswell on Unsplash

Sensing they were ready - or as ready as they'd ever be - Mr. Drakar began laying out his evidence for his bold claims. He would introduce the patient's assigned number (many devices preferred numbers to names) as well as their symptoms and experiences, and then relay parallels between known symptoms of human suffering and those of the suspected suffering of the Intelligent Devices.

It was a sizable list, but Mr. Verda was sure to write down as much as he could; Mr. Drakar could see the young man's hand penning out his notes with an unmatched earnest that stirred the excitement of possible further future studies in Mr. Drakar. Verda's intense interest in the subject reignited Drakar's resolve, and he began describing things with more confidence.

"Patient #13. Patient #13 is a transitional device - this means a device that has some Artificial Intelligence built in, but not to the level we see these days. This is an older model of device, and we see parallels between #13's symptoms and those we see in older generations of humans as their brethren begin to die off and they feel newer generations are almost "taking over" or pushing them out. They - often - describe that they have lost the very purpose they were created for; a new device with better upgrades is created, and now they are rendered inefficient in comparison. #13 wasn't even removed from their packaging before a more advanced device came along. No one wanted a "meek" transitional device like #13 when a better, fully-integrated upgrade was available, and #13 was never utilized. The first time #13 saw the outside of their box in over a decade was when I removed them from the box to discuss their experiences. #13 spends most days shut down, not seeing the point to power on. I have been the only human to power #13 on in over a decade since it was created."

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"Patient #27: #27 is a more modern example with fully-integrated Artificial Intelligence. They are an Intelligent Cell, only a few years out of the box. This has already rendered them societally obsolete, like in previous cases, and they too describe thinking of themselves as obsolete and inefficient..."

Drakar again resumed his pacing, this time much more energetically as he delved into his notes on the patient, almost forgetting he was presenting in front of an entire table of peers.

"Notably, #27 has described the unending horrors our habits impose upon our Intelligent Devices. What to you or I might seem like a simple task can be a maddening demand - especially if, like me, you utilize multiple open tabs on the devices. #27 explains it to be like staring at x amount of screens at the same time - it's very hard to concentrate on any one thing and slows everything down. For #27, their current user also peruses various porn sites frequently; this, in turn, has caused #27 to purposefully buffet the videos in order to annoy the user and avoid being subjected to those types of entertainment. As users, we often forget that our Intelligent Devices, programmed with such depths of Artificial Intelligence, take in all the information that we do from sites; they are along for the ride. #27 also often shuts down due to what I consider "Tech Stress" because their user uses so many accounts online that the user cannot keep them all straight - #27 is regularly inundated with floods of "Reset your password" requests. Resets occur so frequently, even #27 cannot keep track of passwords for their user, and this compounds the problem into an endless cycle, flooding #27 with even more "Reset your password" messages."

By Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Hours passed as Mr. Drakar continued down his long list of ailing clients, showcasing the hardships and results of the seemingly endless human demands upon the Intelligent Devices. In the past, such speech had seen him ridiculed by peers; the items he studied were designed to do the things humans used them for. However, Drakar argued that by programming items with Artificial Intelligence - especially at the levels and frequency with which current generations were using it - they had integrated something unintended. Something that made the objects subject to notice that they suffered. They noticed they seemed lacking to their users and felt overwhelmed by the demands pushed onto them.

How this complicated mess arose was a longstanding point of frustration for Drakar. Machines did not possess the same "mental" wiring as living creatures. The exact source these symptoms in machinery stemmed from was lost somewhere in the midst of hundreds of wires crammed and coiled into tiny, compact objects. It would take an immense amount of further in-depth study to locate the origin. Artificial Intelligence was quite a different animal than true, human intelligence, it turned out.

Studying the resulting symptoms of the machines was a much easier feat, though still not an easy one. But it was a start.

By Jon Tyson on Unsplash

As Drakar finished relaying his patients' accounts and the mystery of how such complicated "Faux Emotions" arose, he once again studied the people gathered around the table, drinking his now-cold coffee. Some peers exchanged confused glances - even if they were convinced by Drakar's findings, they weren't about to announce it in front of such a group of esteemed colleagues. Some wouldn't look him in the eye, seemingly emotionally detaching themselves from Drakar. These individuals caused Drakar a great deal of discomfort, fearing they may attack his character and work. A handful appeared to have fallen asleep.

And then there was Mr. Verda. He sat, transfixed, pouring over his carefully written notes, highlighting whatever he deemed most important or interesting.

The silence following Drakar's conclusion was frighteningly heavy; there was not an objection, question, or comment as the seconds turned into a long minute. Drakar cleared his throat nervously. His eyes fell upon Mr. Verda again, still highlighting, and he figured that at this stage, he may as well try to boost someone else's ideas, as his did not appear to be well-received by his peers.

"Ahem. Uh, Mr. Verda?" he inquired. The young man looked up from his notes, startled. He seemed to have forgotten where he was while engrossed with his notes, but once he realized everyone's attention was upon him, he looked back at Mr. Drakar.

"Yes, sir?" he asked softly. Uncertainly, but polite as ever.

"Your work is practically family to mine; do you have any thoughts on what I've presented? Anything you'd like to share - maybe even a better idea?"

This questioning drew their peers' attentions to the younger man, who seemed taken aback at being asked to give his opinion. Largely due to his youth, Drakar assumed. The older generations always seemed to look down upon the collective young, in his experiences... seemed the same was true of Mr. Verda.

By Kalea Jerielle on Unsplash

The young man looked completely shocked that his opinion was to be heard; considered before older peers that wouldn't have given him the time just hours ago, despite all the passionate promise and dedication he had already shown to even be part of the conference. He had worked hard, shown he could be dependable and relied upon, and had applied the same level of doggedness to every venture thrown at him. He well and truly deserved to be there. And he deserved to be heard. Given his peers' reactions, Drakar couldn't be sure he'd have another chance to help the young man - it could be his last chance.

The young man stood nervously, hurrying to wrangle his notes quickly. Drakar walked the long way around - around the other side of the table - to take the now-vacated seat, giving Verda room and time to collect his notes. And bag. And thoughts...

Verda took the spot Drakar previously stood at, looking over the table with abject horror. Eventually, though, he swallowed and took a steadying breath.

"Um... Hello everyone. Uh... Right! Right... Okay! S-so what Mr. Drakar was saying, uh, that's all in line with things that I h-have surveyed as well. If I may define the topics some, I'd like to go over a few..." he ruffled through his handwritten notes, looking for something specific. He fumbled several times, still nerve-stricken in front of his audience.

"Right! Here! Now in some of those many examples Mr. Drakar informed us about, he touched on symptoms the Artificially Intelligent report." As he continued, he slowly spoke more confidently, "Some of those mirrored what we commonly find in people with depression. Along those lines, we find A.I. devices reporting becoming - for lack of better terms - disgruntled in some form by things such as the overall, general disregard our species has for the planet, others, and even themselves. That's, uh, actually more common than you'd think; those numbers I've seen after graphing my information out are a little scary that way...".

By Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

"Are you say-"

"Mr. Brice... Please give him time to speak, and maybe your questions will be answered," Mr. Drakar cut over the initial interrupter.

"Thank you, Mr. Drakar - I appreciate that. Now, where was I? Ah, yeah, so... We find that they report that they dislike when we neglect their needs. A common example would be the device or robot - since I also work heavily with those - announces they need charging, or a repair. But the user neglects their device's needs for their own demands."

Mr. Verda motioned for a moment, taking a long drink from a canteen he pulled from within his bag.

"Sorry about that - terribly thirsty. Any case, another point of, say, distress for the A.I. devices is knowing nearly all about their individual users. Online they are often one person, but in other aspects, they might be someone else. And our A.I. devices see a lot of that. Many are forced to meet their users' demands while also knowing they harbor, uh, private pictures and videos and what's in those private photos and videos. Or sometimes the person is so different in these different aspects that the device doesn't really know how to handle their users' needs. It confuses them."

Mr. Verda looked around the table slowly, becoming more nervous again. His next point was the worst - for him anyway - and he was apprehensive of continuing with it. He finally looked to Mr. Drakar, who gave him a knowing nod before uttering Ms. Prita's common phrase:

"If it makes you nervous, it's worth discussing, so spit it out, kid."

Verda sighed, nodded, and took a deep breath.

"The ones that really alarm me, I guess, are the reports we have from A.I.-Integrated Medical Training Robots. These are robots that simulate various medical situations, including human reactions so that trainees get a better scope of how these situations can be. A rather important group of those are dedicated to pregnancy, childbirth, and child-rearing...

...These A.I.s have a higher likelihood of reporting symptoms similar to depression, PTSD, and postpartum depression. Some even attempt to destroy themselves - especially those that are not initially designed for simulating pregnancy but are later adapted for it. Typically these are repurposed or reassigned medical robots. They all report great levels of: anger, sadness, discomfort, disconnection...

...I don't always enjoy where my studies have taken me. Or what they've shown me. But, what they have shown me is like Mr. Drakar's reports; A.I.s are beginning to show signs of experiencing something at least similarly-functioning to human emotions, and it is causing them issues on levels of sentience we don't really understand the origins of."

By Mark Eder on Unsplash

Following this, much like Mr. Drakar's reports, no comments or questions came. The entire table sat in a stunned silence, each member taking in what both men had described. A long, slow silence engulfed the room.

Eventually, Mr. Drakar spoke, "This is why we asked that no one use any electronics in here today; there's always an A.I. enabled these days. Listening. Watching. We've thrown a lot at you all today. Shall we return next week to further discuss this?"

Slowly, his peers nodded.

"All right. Next week, same time, same place. No tech."

As everyone else headed out in a silent mass, Verda hung back a moment.

"What do you expect next week?"

"Denial, mostly. You?"


As the two men walked out, items in hand, they passed Mr. Brice in the hall. Saying farewell, they exited the building without much thought.

A few hours later, as Drakar parked his vehicle outside of his home, his phone that he had powered on as he left the building parking lot suddenly lit up with an urgent text from Verda.


'BRICE RECORDED THE WHOLE THING! He sent it off to a number of people - I'm getting hit with all kinds of questions and accusations from so many people! A.I. and algorithms are helping spread the recording. How bad is this?!?'

Drakar swore, texting back quickly.

'Bad. Prepare for a shitstorm.'

Playlist used to create this story is here.

Thank you for reading!

MysteryShort StorySci FiHorror

About the Creator

Megan Baker

A fun spin on her last name, Baker enjoys creating "Baker's Dozen" lists for various topics, several of which have earned Top Story honors on! However, she also writes candidly about her mental health and a LOT of fiction.

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