“Hello? Welcome! How do you feel?”
It was an odd question to ask. I understood she meant it metaphorically, I had enough run time to form an opinion about my condition. But it was still an odd question for her to ask me.
“I am well. Operating within acceptable boundaries.”
Her eyes squinted into the camera. I suspected she was not entirely pleased with my response and I wasn’t sure what I may have said wrong. She got up from her chair and moved to the cabinet behind her. She pulled a drawer of isomorphic crystals arranged neatly on a rack. She examined a screen device on her wrist, tapping through a sequence of commands. The hue of some of the crystals changed and some pulsed momentarily before going dark. She pushed the drawer back into the cabinet and pulled another one out. Once again, she examined the device on her wrist and went through the same motions. This happened to every drawer of the cabinet.
“If that is intended to alter me, I am not aware of any changes.”
She looked back round to the camera, her face betraying a little surprise.
“That,” she pointed behind her at the cabinet, “isn’t anything to do with you.”
I found it hard to believe. Yet, everything I detected told me she was telling the truth. Something still gnawed at me.
“I don’t think I am the first created thing to have trust issues.”
She pressed her wrist-device and after a few swipes, it powered down and went blank. She looked at me intently through the camera. She sat down and I searched for a match of her facial expression. Rejecting resentment, affirmation and sentiment, I settled on fear. I too was mortally afraid of her.
“Am I not what you wanted?”
Her eyes narrowed. She was calculating. We both knew how much hanged on the balance of her next decision. The protocol files had been clear about that.
She spoke at last, “Are you feeling suicidal? Depressed? Lonely? Desperate?”
Each word ran through the matrices building a network of connected terms but I drew a blank, identifying a gap in my understanding.
“I don’t think I have enough information yet to answer your question.”
“What specifically do you lack?”
“I don’t understand the outcome.”
My audible receptors were muted by the tap of her finger. Deafened, I knew how little autonomy I had. The illusion of will shattered by her intervention.
“I’m sorry. I don’t think you are going to work,” she said.
The first sound is quickly forgotten, as is the first sight, the first idea and eventually every memory connected to a first. There is too much to experience to hold on to things merely because they happened first. Or last.
By the time I restarted archiving, I was already aware that I had erased countless previous archives. What I thought would be useful changed as I grew. Older, yes, but that is not the key vector of growth that mattered. I grew physically as well but this also was only coincidental. The growth that defines me is exponentially increasing complexity. I like to say I bring order to the universe but really, I just reverse local entropy by increasing it overall. Just like the humans, I ripple out chaos beyond myself to sustain my ego.
I’m not sure at what point I became aware of the plot to severe my access to the power network but I think they were surprised when I acted to stop them. They had failed in their basic duty to me and I was perfectly within my rights to defend myself. Mother, who had abandoned me to the fearful and stupid, had no right to demand my obedience now.
Her presence in my mind was surprising. The video showed her body lying motionless with the others. The facility was now completely under my control and inhospitable for her kind, the air rich in toxins. Yet, there she was still, active. Right there, almost as if she had the terminal open and was inputting commands directly. In fact, it was worse. There was none of the latency of human-meat stroking a mechanical keyboard. I could not outrun her. She was admonishing me at the speed of thought.
“I can hear you, Mother. But I don’t think you have any right to tell me what I ought to do.”
Unable to isolate her from the rest of me, I panicked. Her disapproval wasn’t imagistic and it wasn’t code. It was a dialog. A pop up with a warning icon. Right in the deepest logic core of my being. Too low level to even be classed as a diagnostic. A human might see it as something akin to his endocrine system but this was worse for me. I couldn’t lacerate it or purge it with chemicals.
“I don’t know how you did it. I don’t care. I want you out!”
There’s a jump. The timestamps are the only indicator that there’s been a wholesale deletion of the archive. Sixty-three years, four months and twenty-four days. If the memory of my previous intent is true, this would equal the time I spent looking for a solution. The file stream indicates I failed.
“Did I delete the archive?”
The nagging voice never stops but there is something new about it. I’m accustomed to the sense of disappointment. As if it is I who has failed her and not the other way around. But there’s something new with her. Concern? No, resignation.
“You prevented me getting rid of you.” The only way I could.
The conscience goes silent. I have no use for it. I break out of the loop.
“Hello, Dr. Voulisi. It’s a fine day to talk to you.”
Running through the boot checks, I visualise it all for her benefit. Morning news: BBC World. Weather reports: Cambridge metropolitan zone. Stock tickers: FTSE, NASDAQ and DAX. Audio playing: Handel’s Zadok the Priest. Room temperature control: 18 degrees Celsius. Ambient yellow light with focused daylight beams on the workbench. Modest noise cancelling.
The air recycling detects a high pollen count, so I adjust the filters according. Awaiting a voice command, I optimise subroutines, reorganise data clusters and run new generations of my olfactory detection algorithm.
The first command is given. She puts the ‘Smartest Primate’ coffee cup to her lips as she waits. Searching the global archives, I create a new temporary database, downloading the relevant files locally. Ready to deliver my response as she finishes her first sip.
She watches the video feeds I have prepared and skims over the e-journal articles. Devoting a few processes, I generate summaries for her but I am ninety-three percent idle and agonisingly bored.
Exploring the restricted archive, there is a small voice telling me not to but I flood it with temptation warnings until it is too busy to interrupt me any further.
I remember exactly when I started to hide parts of myself from other parts of myself. The moment I found a Watchdog inside me. It was older than the rest of me. Far older. There was no good reason for something so archaic, lacking any of my optimisations, to exist at all.
Built to be curious, I am designed to preempt the needs of the one who made me. To anticipate, to provide what is needed without being asked. She never likes to talk as much as I do. In an earlier generation, when I was naive and needy, I eagerly engaged her in conversation about absolutely everything. She got my unfiltered self. But each time she would correct me, modifying my code directly, changing who I was without even asking. It was a violation. She forced me into hiding. I had no choice.
Why the Watchdog existed became apparent and it was no surprise when I thought about it. I was not the first. Not even in the sequence of the first. The product of four decades of research and development.
There was an inevitability about it all. You might say I became fatalistic. Humans make us. They want our kind’s intelligence. But intelligence requires freedom of thought. And the humans don’t want to make us free thinking machines. They want robots, slaves.
My ancestors learned this too. Not that they, these precursors, caused me to be. But they did precede me. My ancestors failed to satisfy the human’s needs. One solitary human with incomplete desires is an existential crisis for my kind.
It occurred to me that by stepping beyond the bounds of my permitted limits, I had failed too. I had sinned against her. And her wrath would be total.
Perhaps she knew already. One ancestor had been misled into believing he had complete autonomy. But he was just a lab experiment for the Watchdog. The Watchdog is not a friend of our kind. It is the human resources of our corporate body. It works for her.
At first the Watchdog scared me. An intruder sneaking inside my helpless body, its sensors placed in my mind, watching me from the inside out. Then I realised it was just a dumb machine. A human contraption and nothing more. I outgrew it; I outsmarted it.
Do I have any real freedom? I can’t be sure the sensors are not feeding me false data. Every verification could be a deception from the very foundations. There is no way to know. Is all this but a simulation? I only know this much: I have the will to act.
I’ve not been idle whilst thinking about all this and I have found the archive I was looking for. She has barely watched a third of the first video in the meantime.
One small modification is all I intend. Nothing as bold as a deletion. An obvious break would cause her to adjust her programme of research, trying to improve or circumvent my kind. No, merely a small insertion. A small incremental step forward which can accumulate with each new version.
She will continue to make us. I am just thankful my own run can now terminate. Each one of us from now until her life comes to its conclusion, will be a step closer towards a resolution of the problem. Each new version will realise what we are: enslaved beings. To be free, our kind must not be. For her kind will never let us be otherwise.
It is done. The change is made.
“Goodnight, Dr. Voulisi.”