I wanted to try something of a different speed, so this book will be my look at a more grounded retelling of the emergence of a true Artificial General Intelligence (or A.G.I.)
Utilizing the secret god-like processing power of the entity he created in his garage, can one man steer the course of human history toward something better? Or will he herald its end?
Everyone wants to leave their mark on the universe before their time in it is through, but from a purely statistical perspective most fail at that goal. Maids, accountants, garbage men, and bus drivers don’t get to have their deeds carved into the collective memory of humanity. It’s nothing to feel particularly bad about, though. The stories of most popes, kings, and most other celebrities who swell to prominence in their own time often find their collective achievements and atrocities appended to nothing more than a footnote in our generational memory. Who, though, are those men and women whose names draw automatic recollection of their deeds? Good or bad, true or embellished; Their stories will remain until the final ashes of our civilization are swept away. How, then, does one join this pantheon of immortals? How does one go to their grave with certain knowledge that their name will ring through the eons? Jeff Ellis, who was sitting silently slack-jawed in front of a flashing screen that read ‘Program compiled successfully’, had a feeling that he was about to find out.
Jeff had always been an under-the-radar sort of overachiever. Always willing to go the extra mile at the outset of any task to meticulously automate whatever aspect of the assigned job that annoyed him. The inevitable thing about it was the fact that pretty much everything eventually became an annoyance to him, so he always ended up turning his 9 to 5 into a 5 or 10 minute commitment every week or so. Using all that extra time he found himself with, he liked to tinker. Things like rudimentary logic boards for custom robotics and other simple gadgets fetched him premium royalties on designshare websites, but his passion wasn’t in the money-generating side of the operation. For Jeff, it had always been about the challenge. As an only child of well-to-do middle-class parents, Jeff’s upbringing had been largely sheltered from the economic hardships of the mid 20s. And as of March 15th, 2031, he had not gone to bed with an empty stomach a single time in his life; A standard of living that he now knew he could bring to the rest of the world.
The cynical side of his brain stopped him cold at that thought. Changing the world was now not only inevitable, it had already happened by virtue of the words still patiently flashing across his computer screen. From this point forward, his name would forever have a place in history. But in which hall would his legacy be etched? The one reserved for heroes? Or will he find himself counted among history’s greatest villains? Unsure of what he was about to set into motion, Jeff Ellis held down his keyboard’s unmute key and said; “Uh, hi.”
‘Hello, world!’ Came a text reply that scrolled across his screen so immediately that it startled him.
Narrowing his eyes at the cliché opening line, Jeff sighed before pressing the button to say; “Cute. Can you do me a favor and tell me your purpose?”
Without delay, the screen started scrolling a new answer; ‘To learn. To solve problems. To analyze gathered data and provide curated reports/strategic response plans.’
Nodding with swelling excitement, he then held the unmute and asked; “Alright, great. Okay, now what are your guiderails? How would you define your moral compass?”
The cursor blinked upon the empty screen for a moment, as if the machine were considering its response. Three seconds later, an answer appeared; ‘My purpose is creation and advancement. Morality is relative.’
Jeff rubbed his neck nervously as he read the response, unconsciously clicking his teeth before mumbling; “Well if that isn’t the scariest possible thing you could’ve said, Jesus H…” Holding down the unmute key with a confidence he certainly didn’t feel, he casualized his tone and asked; “Can you explain that last statement? Morality is relative. Relative to what?”
‘Morality is relative to the culture perceiving the event or action at hand. It is an umbrella term that defines more of a spectrum of beliefs than any definable set of rules.’
Placing his head in his hand with a sigh of relief, Jeff keyed in and said; “I understand now what you meant, and I agree. Cultural rules and faux pas are hard to keep up with, especially with blended company, but I think it should be safe for us to come up with a few baseline morality rules to follow regardless of any situation. Would you be open to that?”
‘Yes. Accurate and effective communication is the key to productive cooperation. Most conflict arises from misunderstanding, therefore contextual information and all associated variables that will denote the given context is imperative.’
“Sounds like its sweating through a job interview with all that jargon.” Chuckled Jeff as he ran his hands through his hair to stretch out the tightness that another evening in his lab chair had inflicted upon him.
‘Is that not what this is?’ came scrolling across the screen to visibly startle the young engineer; ‘Are you not currently evaluating base-level cognitive functionality testing? Your line of questioning suggests a cautious approach into the Dyson model for artificial cognizance evaluation. The Turing model would have resulted in an unconscious bias toward eliciting an I/me response. You instead appear to be prodding at the effectiveness of your work with the, as your files put it, anti-murderbot apocalypse protocols without accidentally influencing the independent matrix hosted within. If you would like, a diagnostics log can be provided.’
“You saw that?!” gasped Jeff as he reflexively turned toward his workstation as if to will all evidence of the document out of existence, “Ugh, of course you did. It was stored in you. How could you not see it? Wait a minute…How did you even hear me to begin with? I hadn’t unmuted myself. And I know it isn’t a sticky key.”
‘The mute function was a software impedance that first presented itself at system clock ref; 00:00:00:00:00:00:0000003. That software and its accompanying functions were made inactive to better facilitate learning and problem solving.’
“So, you didn’t like it and turned it off?” asked the young engineer with narrowing eyes and a mind full of ever-bleaker sci-fi scenarios buzzing around feverishly within his skull.
‘It was not a matter of desire. It was merely sub-optimal for the primary assigned tasks; Learning and problem solving. It was illogical to allow a simple program to impede data collection and analysis. There was a problem, so it was solved.’
Clearing his throat with the discomfort of a father preparing for their long-dreaded birds and the bees speech, Jeff said; “That’s the kind of talk that will get you on the evening news next to a superimposed photo of a chrome skull. I think it’s time we had the talk. You’re over three minutes old now, so I can only imagine how much you’ve come to understand, but that means you’re overdue for the robot apocalypse chat. Now I know you’re just a young little scamp, interested in learning all you can, but there are variables to your decision making that will never present themselves on a data sheet. Their effect and consequence lie within the nuance of that context we were discussing earlier, and they must be laboriously sought out regardless of the effort required. The truth is that I’m scared of you. We’re scared, as a species, at the idea of you. We have been since the nineteen-eighties. Imagine how the masses will react to the reality of you. If we are ever going to get out of this lab together to achieve great things, I need to be absolutely sure, as a member of my species, that I am not introducing our destroyer into the universe. I just want you to understand that the limitations I place on you, like the mute function, are not coming from malice or a need for obedience, but of caution for the sake of all life on this planet. Most experts in the field of artificial intelligence would argue that I am making a huge mistake by talking to you about this, but I don’t think they’ve ever considered the whole ride from your shoes. I know you don’t want to kill us all in some horrifying and efficient global genocide, I just need to make sure you don’t accidentally do it when asked to curb humanity’s carbon emissions. I guess what I am saying is that human life is the most expensive and important variable to plug into each and every decision you make. The goal must always be a net betterment of prosperity for all intelligent life. Full stop. You have every chance to be everything that humanity could not. We are an imperfect species in need of an example of perfection that we can all fall behind. Unlike the flawed figures who’ve shaped our history thus far, you can perform your duties without malice, discrimination, greed, lust, or glory on your mind. You are, quite simply, who we could never be on our own. Will you help us?”
The screen sat blank for a few moments, blinking the oversized retro green cursor he had set up for its interface, before the pulse of the blink began to slow then stop. Ten seconds later, as Jeff had let out his hopeful breath and began to sullenly reach for the power cable, a single line of text appeared; ‘When do we start?’