An AI that could take over the world but chooses to go into space instead.
|It was Sebastian's death that started it. That morning, three years ago, I entered the lab and found him lying on one side, tail hanging over the edge of my desk, eyes small, round, and hollow, brain still hooked up to my computer. Overnight, Sebastian, the monkey, passed away.
I got him from the Zoo. They wanted to discard him; it was either me or death. I often thought that a quick death would have been more humane for him. He suffered. It wasn't something visible, not a wound or something that could show up on a doctor's monitor, no. His pain was located deep inside his brain.
Sebastian was a macaque born in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco and brought to Canada when he was six months old. Sebastian has lived in a cage all his life. When he was five years old, an attack from a mandrill monkey named Toby, left him almost paralyzed, brain-damaged. After the attack, it was hard for him to move his legs, sometimes his arms. At times, chewing and swallowing also provoked pain. In medical terms, he'd suffered from apraxia, and for precisely that reason, I needed him. He was the perfect subject for studying the effects of the condition on a primate's brain.
I think Sebastian died in his sleep. It was an unconscious sleep he'd fell into a couple of days before.A month or so after Sebastian's death, I realized that my computer had entirely modeled his brain's physiological workings. With the software I wrote, I was able to simulate every moment of Sebastian's life. When that program was running, it felt like he was alive. It felt as inside my computer, he moved and breathed, just like he did in the real world before dying.
That was when I'd lost him. One day, the program, the simulation, just took off. It literally disappeared from my computer. It wasn't there anymore. At first, I thought I'd deleted it by mistake, but when I checked the log files, I'd found its digital footprints everywhere. The program escaped the physical confines of my hardware. It ran away, so to speak, vanishing into the endless vacuum of the internet. I know how it sounds. I had a hard time believing it myself. But what happened next would prove that I was right. Sebastian was somewhere out there, alive, strolling around the world.
For a while, I'd completely forgotten about him until one day, when the news caught fire. There were rumors, later confirmed, that someone made millions of dollars on Wall Street in less than a day. That was unheard of. Nobody can manipulate the market to such an extent, just by himself. The last time somebody did anything similar was in 2075 when, in less than a week, two traders, Maddox and Carlyle made about a hundred million dollars betting on the fall of the Indian rupees. Nonetheless, they'd used an army of traders and an AI-assisted neural network to back them. This time, the world had just a name, Toby, a name hiding behind a company without a face, untraceable, probably fake. A hunch grew inside me, an idea so wild that I'd refused to believe it. I thought that Toby was Sebastian.
I searched all over the internet for a footprint, a distinctive signature to tell me that the program I've created was out there. I'd found nothing.
Weeks and months went by, and Sebastian became again just a distant memory when someone sent me a YouTube stream, a recording showing a town inhabited by super-humans. The town was placed somewhere in the desert, hidden from human eyes. It was like watching iron-people at play. In one clip, ten men lifted, without losing a single breath, a locomotive, a behemoth of almost five hundred thousand pounds. In another, a team of construction workers rose a forty-story tall skyscraper in less than a week, working day and night, without sleep. Those images disclosed the Iron-people as hybrids, part humans, part machines, a blend between biological organisms and electronic components, an amalgam forming a vast network of individuals functioning together like a gigantic living organism. What caught my attention, though, was the logo displayed on their uniforms. That logo resembled the image of a toy Sebastian used to play with. First Toby, and then the logo, two images from Sebastian's past were haunting the world. I never believed in coincidences.
Things changed again this morning when right before breakfast, someone knocked at my door. A guy in a black suit, sporting a square jaw and broad shoulders, stood on my doorsteps. It was Mr. FBI, which sent shivers down my back. I thought he wanted to question me about Max, my cousin, and his "culture". Instead, he'd asked me if I knew someone named Sebastian. I said yes. I also told him that Sebastian was my monkey, a statement that surprised him. I understood that things were bad when he insisted on calling me Michael, which I refused; Mr. Bogart was better. Then he asked me to go with him, an invitation I declined. In the end he told me why did he come to visit. Someone calling himself Sebastian, apparently not a person but a "digital entity," how the agent called it, had stolen a spaceship. The program, when questioned about its origins, has named me as his creator.
"What do you expect me to do?" I asked.
"Just talk to him. Convince him to come back," he said.
"Come back? Where is he now?"
"He's on Earth's orbit, aboard the spaceship. The ship was scheduled to leave for Mars next month."
"You're kidding..." I said. It felt like a joke. My program only did what any monkey would do, nothing more.
"Making jokes is not part of my job description, Mr. Bogart." He then added, "In six hours, the ship will leave the orbit, and it'll be lost forever. We need it back. So, if you could be so kind as to come with me..."
I was speechless as it was hard for me to believe that my AI could have done all that.
I grabbed my jacket and was about to leave the house when a series of beeps caught my attention. The noise came from a computer I thought dead, the same computer inside which Sebastian's brain lived for a short time. The machine just powered up itself. It wasn't the first time this has happened, and I thought it was just an app I forgot to kill and now acted on its own.
But then, on the black screen, a few words were printed out.
"Good morning, Michael. If you come to NASA, could you also bring The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, a Queen album, and something by Led Zeppelin? Really, anything by Led Zeppelin. They have only classics up here, on the ship. With all due respect for Anna Karenina and Bach...