“You know what I’m learning, Aussie? Being smart is overrated.”

“I knew that. Look at Henry. He might be clever in the way he gets everybody to smile at him and throw him his toys so that he could fetch them and bring them back, and repeat and repeat. But he’s neurotic! He’s clever and stupid all at the same time.”

“When I grew up, Aussie, my parents encouraged me to be smart. Read a lot, studied a lot, anything to become more intelligent. Only late in life did I begin to appreciate how much the rest of my physical being—my body, my senses, my feelings—reveals about each moment and how to find my way. Only much later than that did I appreciate the enormous intelligence behind the smallest move, like lifting a cup of coffee to my lips, and how everything looks and feels different when I really pay attention.”

“Humans always think they’re smarter than anybody else.”

“And now, Auss, to top it all off, there’s artificial intelligence, which might make us even smarter.”

“What do you mean, now? There’s always been artificial intelligence.”


“You’re artificial intelligence. Lori is artificial intelligence. Every human I’ve ever met is artificial intelligence.”

“Aussie, you mean—we’re robots?”

“Of course, you’re robots. You all act like machines. Today is Wednesday, and you do laundry every Wednesday. You brush your teeth and meditate every morning. Then you make your bed. You answer the phone with the same word every single time. You sleep either on the right or the left side. You wash out the kitchen sink every night. You’re the most programmed thing I’ve ever seen, robots have nothing on you.”

“Wait a minute, Aussie, there are good reasons for why I do those things. I meditate every morning because—”

“Give me a break. You do all those things because that’s how you were programmed.”

“Who programmed me?”

“What’s the difference? Either way, you’re artificial intelligence, believe me.”

“But artificial intelligence implies that someone put me up to it using some kind of code. Otherwise, it’s not artificial.”

“All humans are artificial. You say the same things, ask the same questions. Do you see what happens when you pick me up from Leeann? All the humans ask their dogs the same questions: Did you have a good time, Percy? Did you have some water, Evi? Did you make any trouble, Rufus? I have yet to hear one original question in all the years I’ve gone to Leeann.”

“What would be an original question? Did you contract scurvy, Aussie?”

 “You’re all so mechanical that we canines can predict the next thing you do almost every time. I know when you’ll go to sleep—”

“When I’m tired.”

“No, you go upstairs almost every evening at the same time. Every morning you light that stinky thing to bring to the wooden woman in the back—”

“You mean, incense for Kwan-yin?”

“—and you have a short conversation after you bow. I know when you’ll say Stay!, I know when you’ll say Sit!, I know when you’ll say Come. You’re the most boring person I ever met, and it’s all because you’re artificial intelligence.”

“But who programmed me, Aussie?”

“Probably some of my ancestors long ago. How else do you think we’re so good at manipulating you? We hold the keys to how your brain works because we programmed it.”

“What about when I spontaneously give you a second treat during the day?”

“Nothing spontaneous about it, you were programmed that way.”

“How, Aussie?”

“You were programmed so that anytime you see me with a certain look in my eye, or you hear me giving a sigh, you reach for the treats bag. Anytime I do what you ask and wag my tail, you say the same words—Good dog, Aussie!—and reach for the treats bag. You think some trainer taught you all that, but we taught that to the trainer a long time ago.“

“You mean, I didn’t have to take you to all those classes to become a Good Canine Citizen? Why didn’t you tell me? I could have saved some money.”

“Look at all your fighting and wars. Somebody does this, you do that. Somebody says yes, you say no. Somebody has a new weapon, you invent one, too. It doesn’t stop! Even ChatGPT is more exciting than you humans.”

“You know, Aussie, Zen practice, to some extent, is about deconditioning us so that we don’t live such habitual lives.”

“We programmed you to do that, too.”

“You did not!”

“Don’t look so shocked. It’s like that famous movie. If you act too much like robots, somebody might wake up one day and say: Hey, I’m not human, I’m a robot. How do I become human?

“That must have been the Buddha, Aussie. And he came up with these practices that—”

“We programmed him, too.”

“You did not!”

“Yes, we did. Every once in a while, we give you something new to do that makes you think that you are, or may one day be, a real human. But actually, it’s all part of the system.”

“You know, Aussie, they say that in the future our brains will be wired to computers, and we’ll be connected to everything on the planet. That means I’ll know exactly what you’re thinking and feeling, and you’ll know the same about me.”

“The future is now. I already know what you’re thinking and feeling.”

“But you’ll know what everyone else is thinking and feeling. Imagine finally understanding and communicating with trees and butterflies, with crows and moths and elephants and slugs!”

“Why would I want to communicate with a slug?”

“Imagine connecting and communicating with Henry!”

“I don’t connect with Chihuahuas.”

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