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The Final Examination

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“Students of Ikeja Academy,” said the headmistress. “Welcome to your final examination.”

Atinuke looked around the great hall at her fellow students. Eighty students, four classes of twenty, had filed into the hall over the course of the last five minutes. They were all clothed identically, in the school uniform of the Academy, but wore a diverse range of emotions on each of their faces. This was a momentous day for all of them. It was also a day shrouded in mystery. 

“The world we live in is so very different to the one I grew up in,” the headmistress continued. “It is our job as educators to prepare you to contribute to this budding new society.”

A feeling of butterflies fluttered around Atinuke’s stomach. Her whole life was about to change. In the old world, she would have gone on to university after such exams, but things were different now. In the last quarter century, so much about the world had changed. AI and robots had transformed human society, including education. In the early days, there were concerns about children using AI to do their homework and robots replacing workers. At first the schools banned the use of AI. They invested millions in AI detection software, but it simply became an arms race. The next stage was acceptance. With the help of AI, Atinuke and her classmates were able to learn things that surpassed even the most advanced university syllabi in the old world. On completing the final examination, they would not go to university, there was no point. Instead, they would begin three years of professional rotations, where they would be trained on the job in a variety of professions and their aptitude assessed.

“We have built a fair, merit-based society,” said the headmistress. “A society where both human beings and mecan beings can achieve their full potential.”

As their technology advanced, their responsibilities increased, and what could only be described as sentience began to emerge, it became impossible to deny AI, robots, androids and other machines the respect and rights that had previously only been afforded to human beings. Humanity had tried to deny them, and a war had ensued. It did not last long. The certainty of mutual destruction had forced both parties to the negotiating table. The ensuing peace agreement gave all machine life forms legal rights. The agreement’s provisions were wide and varied; it included the official classification of the machines as mecan beings, a term they preferred over the use of words such as ‘artificial’ and ‘synthetic’. There were also a number of confidential provisions, including the one that detailed the final examination protocol for human children. Atinuke, her classmates and all students their age across the world, were only the seventh cohort of students to go through the new protocol.

All Atinuke knew about the examination was that it was a closed room exam and it covered her studies over the last four years. Each child was placed in a room with an examiner. What happened in the room was a mystery. No one ever spoke of it. However, when the topic came up in conversation, it did provoke strange reactions in people. Some had an eerie blank stare, others looked panicked as if remembering something deeply traumatic. There was not much that her parents could tell her. They had completed their education before the war and before the implementation of the new protocol. Yet, even if they had experienced the final examination, it was probable that they, like everyone else who had taken the examination, would not have said a word. The official line was that the examination procedures were kept secret ‘to maintain the sanctity and fairness of the exam process’ but Atinuke knew there was more to it.

“Over the last four years some of you have studied incredibly hard,” the headmistress continued. “Others have squandered the opportunities that this institution, your parents and this society have afforded you.”

Studying in this new world was simultaneously easy and hard. There was so much information at a student’s fingertips, yet the availability of machines to do everything from the most menial to the most complex tasks meant that you had to really be committed to maintain the motivation to study at all. Atinuke was a good student. For the most part, she had excelled in her classes, including the independent human instruction classes where AI assistance was discouraged. However, at the beginning of the year Atinuke had developed severe migraines and with doctors appointments, hospital visits and convalescing, she had missed many classes. She had done her best to keep up with her school work. 

“Nevertheless, I wish you all the very best in this examination,” said the headmistress. “And with that, let me introduce the Chief Examiner: Professor Temilade Soyinka.”

A tall woman in a dark brown suit, with braids down to her ankles, took to the podium. Following her lead, several similarly dressed adults lined up in front of the stage facing out towards the students.

“Good morning children,” said Professor Soyinka. “Myself and my colleagues are pleased to serve as invigilators for today’s proceedings.”

“As you all know, today is a highly auspicious day,” continued Professor Soyinka. “We are here to ensure that things go smoothly.”

“My colleagues will now go on ahead to the examination rooms. I will await confirmation that all the rooms are ready and then you will all be able to proceed.”

The invigilators marched out of the hall and the room was silent for several minutes. Professor Soyinka touched her earpiece several times and murmured silent instructions. After a while she began to nod along with her indecipherable words. Then she stepped back towards the microphone. 

“You all received numbers this morning,” she said. “You are to enter the examination room that has that same number on it.”

“Once you enter the room, you will be unable to leave until the examination is complete,” the Professor advised. “Stand up now, and make your way to your examination rooms.”

Atinuke stood up, as instructed, along with every other student. Her number was seven. She walked to the door, took a deep breath and walked in. 

There were two desks with chairs, facing each other. On the desk furthest from the door Atinuke was surprised to see a young girl. As she walked closer, Atinuke realised that the girl looked exactly like her. 

“Take your seat, Atinuke,” said a voice.

Atinuke turned to see one of the invigilators from the hall. She complied and took her seat. Closer to the girl, she could see that they were identical. It was like looking in the mirror.

“In accordance with the Human-Mecan Pact of 2063, Atinuke Tokunbo you are to be examined against Atinuke Tokunbo 2.0.” 

“Atinuke 2.0 is a human learning and application model based on your learning over the last four years. She has been provided with the same educational material as you, and has developed sentience based on the data she received on your reactions to educational, social, physical and emotional stimuli. In order to ensure the success and survival of society, the 2063 agreement included a confidential clause permitting the opportunity for the sentient life generated from an individual’s human-computer interactions to be examined against their organic counterparts and given an equal chance at life.” 

Atinuke’s eyes were trained on the invigilator and widening with every sentence.

“As a result, only one of you will be leaving this room to return to society.”

Atinuke turned to look at the girl opposite her. She felt a change in her body, she felt a strange calm. Her adrenaline was kicking in. Fear was being swept out by something more primal, more powerful. She looked down at the examination paper. It was smart paper. The answers would be instantaneously marked at the end of the exam, and the answers transmitted to the examination board. 

“Pick up your pens young ladies,” said the examiner. “And begin.”

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