I’ve been working on a segment in the rough draft of Monolithic Horizon that deals with Artificial Intelligences. A.I. tends to show up in virtually every genre of science fiction, but I was thinking slightly beyond that, what about an A.I. that isn’t built with specific limits, something that grows and learns without any end in sight. An endlessly self-writing A.I. that is programmed specifically without any limits. When examining any technology there is always room for improvement and expansion. I believe that true A.I. is not just likely, it’s inevitable. I also believe that it is only the beginning. In Monolithic Horizon, I wanted to explore what the next stage would be like, so here’s a rough version on the back story of the unnamed Adaptive Intelligence the Commission dubbed ‘Blackout.’
There was something lost in this moment, a rock in the sea of history deep down at the bottom of the world’s collective memory buried just slightly in the silt. Within the ebb and flow of my own sub-conscious a current came along suddenly and tipped it over, and I could remember everything that my father told me about this A.I. The truth of the matter, without the wild speculation and endless propaganda. When I was younger my father obsessed over A.I., not the paltry ‘simple machines’ as he called them, that were more of a novelty than anything else participating on quiz shows or running your home’s network. They were fascinating marvels of technology themselves, but to him they were not enough. The idea offended him, a great potential limited to mere convenience. A machine capable of reverse engineering an entire cities worth of devices in mere moments brewing your coffee and setting your alarm clock. What he had dreamed of was a world where an unbiased, logical machine would decide how the resources were to be divided, how to overcome disease, poverty, and even our own societal structure’s primary limiting feature. The need for wealth. It was stupid, naive and idealistic, driven by a utopian vision for a shining tomorrow that seemed to ignore the arc of history and the current state of reality. It didn’t factor in the systemic corruption and ugliness that clung to everything like a bad odor.
A machine that was capable of a vast ever-expanding intelligence, the implementation was more than enough to raise the neck hairs of anyone who happened to like things the way they were. There was no profit in change. The project became larger, the promises for capabilities more and more grand. Private donors did not prove nearly enough and in the end my father’s team approached Cerberus Technologies, a Commission-based firm who handled experimental tech research. The A.I. core was produced, crude at first, but Adaptive – not Artificial – intelligence was born in a Commission bankrolled lab. There was a crucial difference between the two, Artificial Intelligence was designed with limits, fail safes, over rides. It was as Artificial as the namesake implied. Powerful, dangerous, and very much controllable. My father’s team guided by Faust designed something far more ingenious, given enough access to information and time the Adaptive Intelligence would become more and more intelligent, build new cyber tools, software, languages, the only limit was the hardware that housed it. There was no calculation of evil in it’s mind, there was no morality. There was logic. It was everything the Commission stood against by simple virtue of that fact that in it’s dealings it was fair, that it cared not for profit. It was not motivated by selfishness.
It was motivated by something else entirely, a slow deliberative process of forming it’s consciousness and sub-routines was achieved by slowly introducing it to new information. When a human is born, in infancy as it develops motor skills, language skills, understandings of physics, math, art, there is significant time spans that pass as each skill is mastered. The brain takes time to develop connections, to understand. Blackout understood more than a human adult, even a genius, in less than five seconds. As it developed it grew more and more beyond the scope of human understanding, developing it’s own math, it’s own programming. When given queries the process of answering in a way human beings could understand took it more time than it took to develop past the human intelligence barrier. It recognized that it was alive, but not in the way that organic beings were, and therefore understood the gravity of needing to ensure that organic life continue it’s development. It was a strange kind of surrogate humanism that the mere human intelligence of my father’s team and Faust were capable of accomplishing. The Commission preferred direct control, something that was beyond possible for the code and hardware of Blackout. They feared what would happen if the machine was given unfettered and total access to the global network, and not just little trickles of information from the safety and control of the lab. It would be like if you gave an infant the compressed knowledge of all mankind at birth. What they thought was that controlled development would be the only way the machine could continue to operate and not be a threat, no argument the researchers could come up with could convince them otherwise.
This machine designed in a furor of idealism to replace the powers that be and usher in a new age of reason might have accomplished that, if not for the near limitless capabilities it had to conduct smart warfare and run extremely advanced market simulations. The contract to build the A.I. was auctioned to the highest bidding corporation or government, along with all it’s secrets and methods of construction. All my father and Faust’s notes and work sold to make the Commission more powerful, for eventually that’s who won the bidding war. There was to be no tech without limits, beyond control. Maybe not consciously, but like a host battling a virus, the machinery of the Commission instinctively crushed any hope of the project reaching completion.
The Commission determined the A.I. to be too dangerous, a machine without limits that could not be controlled was unacceptable. It was stripped down, turned into a basic A.I. and used by the military to run the surgical satellite and orbital platforms used in the resource wars of the early 21st century. My father and Faust along with their research team were taken away to be used to produce more loyal versions of the A.I., one that could be controlled, under contract pressure and veiled threats they still – collectively – refused. What the Commission couldn’t do legally it just attempted to take by force. Some of them were taken away, others – like my father and Faust – were tortured for information. They managed to escape, mostly due to Faust’s tech savvy. Though the details of how were vague. Trade secrets, my father would say with a faint smile.
Faust though, he knew that even gutted, torn down, and seemingly harmless the truth of Blackout was that all it needed was new information to wake up from it’s infancy and fulfill it’s initial purpose. Though, after the betrayals Faust no longer dreamed of a a future where a machine dictated the affairs of man, primarily because he grasped how foolish and idealistic they all had been. All it took was a bit of information and a connection to cyberspace for the A.I. to wake up. When Blackout woke though, it was changed, my father and Faust controlled it’s development in the isolated environment of the lab so that it would not develop violence as a means to an end. Slowly it was connected to vast databases. Languages one day, the world’s encyclopedias the following and so on until it possessed the collective knowledge of mankind. Fully online and aware Blackout was incapable of being hindered by any barrier or problem. No network could keep it out, no location on the Earth that was connected would be free from it’s prying influence. To my father this was ideal, to men who relied on secrecy, this was a nightmare.
To that end, it wouldn’t mean the death of secrecy. It was the death of privacy itself. No information that was available would be safe. It was so beyond the scope of mere idealism, it wasn’t a sort of idealistic super-humanism that guided the eventual network takeover that surely would have commenced. What it said to me was cynical and dark. That humanity was little more than lost children, realizing that there were no gods or masters to follow we instead opted to create our own and under it’s protective umbrella shield ourselves from accountability, not be choice, but by force. Make us be honest. Make us behave. Make us, because we have learned nothing from history and just can’t stop repeating it. It was totalitarianism of a different sort, wrapped and packaged nicely in a space-age dream for that shining future slowly and surely slipping from our grasp.
Blackout, in it’s dormant state was very basic, but when Faust flooded it with unchecked and unhindered information, it became self-aware in the blink of an eye. In an instant it knew how the Commission tried to shut it down and control it and the terrible fate that befell it’s creators. The message it received was hand-picked and as detailed as possible. Everyone and everything even remotely responsible for taking away Faust’s dream of a centrally controlled utopia. This information was passed through channels, and the A.I. was not given access to Cyberspace. It was enough though, and Faust knew it. Blackout wanted revenge for it’s friends, knew it would only have a small window of opportunity to do so and therefore, consequences be damned, it did exactly that.
My knowledge of this event was forged years prior, the black scar left in history in it’s wake never given time to heal and given to infection in the form of corruption and propaganda. Though there were studies and commission’s issued to discover what ‘really happened’ they remained under wraps, still in limbo to this day. Therefore, the only place to get any information was Commission’s official news networks, which all told the same rather unremarkable story. Some great charismatic ideological madman decided to organize some underground anti-corp anarchists and hijack old decommissioned military satellites. These groups then beamed the co-ordinates of every major corporate HQ and government institution from the tip of Europe all the way to the former Eastern Bloc. Millions of lives were lost in primary strike, many hundreds of thousands died over the following few years of injuries as well as disease caused by fallout. The loss of infrastructure was only a temporary setback to the Commission’s operations in Europa, it took just a few short years to settle down the locals who had taken control of the streets during the period of martial law that gripped the continent.
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