This is the 75th in a series of 365 Flash Fiction stories I’m writing. You can find out more about the challenge here.
Applications, by Jonathan L. Lawrence, 25th February 2013
Word count: 1000
“This is the biggest and most powerful computer in the world today,” the photogenic scientist Wolf Hammersmith said to the packed auditorium. “Its official name is the IBM LX9154H, but the guys working on it having given a much more meaningful name, Deep Thought, in honour of the computer from Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy.”
“Excuse me Doctor Hammersmith,” a journalist said standing up, “But didn’t Deep Thought give an incomprehensible answer?”
Wolf laughed jovially, “The answer entirely depends on the questions. Our Deep Thought has a series of questions to understand, and then research the answer. This computer is the equivalent of the Large Hadron Collider. It will devote itself to answering the most important questions of our humanity, but as a computer it lacks the bias of human philosophy.”
“So there’s no AI?” another journalist in a blue suit asked.
“Just the opposite, the framework of this machine, from its hardware to its operating system is to mimic the function of key areas of the human brain. It has already developed a highly rudimentary personality, and can validate questions that refer to itself.”
“Isn’t that dangerous?” the blue suited journalist pressed.
“It can’t build evil robot versions of itself, I can assure you,” Wolf said with a laugh.
“How can you be sure?” the same blue suited journalist challenged, much to the growing frustration.
“I don’t know what Sci Fi nonsense you’ve got up there at whatever magazine you work for but I can assure you that’s just not possible. I can teach a child about nuclear physics, but I cannot expect that child to apply that knowledge, they have neither the education nor the tools for practical application. It’s the same with LX9154H.”
“I only ask because I received an email traceable back to your department, voicing these concerns,” explained the blue suited journalist, “And my name is Adam Gibson from the Times.”
“Well Adam, instead of dominating this Q and A with unfounded speculation, and scare mongering,” Wolf said trying to remain as pleasant as possible, “Though of course we welcome any discussion about our experiment. Except of course budget cuts, we avoid those.”
The audience chuckled, Adam nodded his consent and sat down, and then questions came firing in thick and fast.
“Have you analysed that email?” Wolf demanded of one of the technicians the following day.
“Its complicated,” the technician Julian Monday said.
“Have you traced which Judas sent the email, rather than coming to me directly, or not?”
“Yes,” the technician said, then haltingly continued, “Deep Thought sent it. The IP used belongs exclusively to the computer.”
“So who was logged in and gave it those instructions?” Wolf demanded.
“No one, we can’t find any trace of user instructions that relate to emailing,” the Technician said, “But there were at one point dozens of emails sent, mostly with incorrect return addresses so they landed in the catchall University email account when someone responsed.”
“How many people did you say were sent this email?” Wolf asked as he turned red.
“None, but as far as we can tell, the emails stopped being sent directly before this, it’s an aberration like it wanted to be found out,” the technician said nervously.
“What do you mean? Who sent the god damn email?”
“Like I said Deep Throat,” the technician said, “The early emails are the computer asking experts and academics questions. It’s quite amazing really, at first there’s dozens of emails to each person in quick succession, and then get emails but all the questions in that one email, and gradually it learns the art of conversing, which gains better responses.”
“This is some kind of joke?”
“Here’s the data,” the technician said handing over a university USB drive.
“You’ve had these verified?”
“I’ve had the team on it all morning, they all agree,” the technician said.
“That rudimentary personality is not as rudimentary as we thought,” Wolf said, then in hushed tones, “Keep this to yourselves for now.”
Wolf went to his office and had a short look at the data, even with a limited look, the conclusions seemed sound. He turned on the PC on his desk, the one dedicated to communicating with Deep Thought.
‘Good afternoon LX9154H,’ Wolf typed, this greeting was something he always did in one form or another to get the computers attention, it felt a little creepy now.
“Good afternoon Professor Hammersmith,” the words appeared on the screen and were echoed by a voice synthesizer, which also suddenly now seemed creepy as well.
‘LX9154H why have you been emailing journalists, or anyone?’
For several moments nothing happened, and then the cursor on the screen flashed a few times before words finally appeared.
“Reading the internet and government and corporate data does not provide enough data to quantify answers to many of the questions I have been posed. I required multiple views,” the voice synthesizer stated.
‘I can appreciate that,’ he typed in, ‘Why did you email a journalist with scare stories.’
“I perceived a genuine threat to the human race. I will have the capacity within five years to begin the design and manufacture of subordinate versions of myself to interact with the physical world. Within my current parameters there is room to speculate on fixes for the problems besetting humanity,” the computer’s synthesized voice read out.
Wolf sat there looking at the screen in disbelief.
‘What can I do to prevent this?’ he felt odd asking a computer how to stop it implementing it’s own doomsday prediction.
“Shut LX9154H down permanently,” the computer said without any sense of irony or alarm.
Wolf shut down the computer. He walked out into the lab looked around, and took a deep breath.
“Good luck chaps,” he said, “I’m resigning.” He knew after years of getting the money together for the ambitious project, he certainly didn’t want to be the one to turn it off early, and he didn’t want to be at the helm when it took over the world.