In honour of Teaser Tuesdays, here’s an excerpt (WIP) from Chapter 1 of my second novel.
In a large room filled with cabinets, screens and blinking lights, a few dozen men and women stood silent, not panicking, not in a flurry of activity, but silent, jaws tense, watching the world change before their eyes.
A military man, decked out and glittering with stars on his shoulders, a square foot of multicolored mission badges on his chest, and what looked like an infinite amount of chevrons on his sleeves paced the room, his booted footfalls the only sound to be heard over the low hum of working technology.
The General walked over to a dazed man wearing a white lab-coat sitting at a workstation. “Tell me again, Dr. Norbert, tell me again, and this time, try not to insult the human race when you do so!”
Dr. Norbert shook his head, closed his eyes and leaned back in his chair. Rubbing the bridge of his nose, he began in a low, slow voice, as if explaining something to a particularly slow child. “General. The AI, Grobi…” He exhaled. “General, this is not something new, Sir. We’ve been discussing this for years now.”
“Who’s we, Doctor?” The General interrupted roughly.
“Scientists, Sir. AI theorists. Futurists. Philosophers. What we’re witnessing is called ‘The Singularity’.”
“You’re telling me that this AI is a black hole?”
“No, Sir. Not ‘A Singularity’, ‘The Singularity’. The inevitable consequence of technological evolution. The point in time when humanity changes. The awakening of an intelligence superior to own.”
“What the hell is this bullshit, Doctor? Maxwell made it, we can unplug it!”
“Yes, Sir. That is indeed theoretically possible, but not realistically feasible.”
“Walk with me, Dr. Norbert.” The General turned smartly and headed for the door. Dr. Norbert rose from his seat and followed hurriedly, struggling to catch up with the imposing man.
They entered the General’s private office. The General sat behind his desk and opened a little wooden box. “Cigar, Dr. Norbert? They’re Cuban. Incredible workmanship.”
“Er, no thank you, General, I don’t smoke.”
“Suit yourself.” The General took a cigar from the box before closing it with a reverberating snap. He smelled it languidly before lighting it with a long thick wooden match that he took from a drawer in his desk. “Doctor, I do not appreciate being made a fool in front of my subordinates, and if you do it again, I will have you removed from this facility permanently. You will spend the rest of your lackluster career working from a detention cell in Alaska. Do I make myself clear?” He blew out a smelly cloud of smoke before leaning back in his chair and looking at the lit tip of his cigar.
Dr. Norbert winced on the inside. “Yes, Sir.”
“Now, there is nothing we can’t do. I have the authority to unleash hell if I so desire, so please, don’t you ever tell me what is realistically unfeasible!”
“Sir, may I explain? I think you misunderstood my meaning. May I speak freely?”
The cigar captured the general’s complete attention. He looked like an oenophile sniffing wine and reliving some long lost memory of days gone by. Before speaking, the general smacked his lips and spit out a bit of loose tobacco. “Go ahead Doctor, please, enlighten me. Tell me what I can’t do.”
“Sir, you may have the authority to do anything you want but you no longer have the ability. It’s that simple. I’m not trying to be contrary, Sir, I’m simply stating the truth.”
“The truth as you see it, Doctor.”
Dr. Norbert almost laughed with frustration. “No, Sir, with all due respect,” another nervous giggle escaped Dr. Norbert’s throat, making the imposing military man frown. “This is not politics. I am stating the truth, General. The truth as in: up is up, down is down, an object in motion tends to stay in motion, e equals mc squared… Do you understand, Sir? The Truth, with a capital ‘T’. Absolute fact. Uncontestable. I don’t know how to make it any clearer, Sir…”
The General’s eyebrows furled darkly and his weathered face contorted. This was not a man used to being contradicted. “Now,” he started in low menacing voice used to being obeyed, “you listen to me, Doctor!”
“NO!” A fist came down on the desk with fury. Dr. Norbert was as surprised as the General at his sudden outburst. The man of science sprung from his seat and leaned over the General’s desk. “You will listen to me!” Tears of frustration began to well in his eyes. “This is exactly the same situation as with global warming! We tried to warn you for decades! The scientists all tried! Desperately! But no one listened, General, politicians failed us then, just as politicians failed us now… Sir.”
“Go on, Doctor.” The General waved his cigar as he spoke, eyes locked on the strange little man of science freaking out before him. “For the first time ever, I understand why you hold the position you have.”
Dr. Norbert turned. “For Christ’s sake, NASA knew that this was going to occur… Why do so few people know about this?” He mumbled the last sentence to himself. He was onto something but he couldn’t place his finger on it. Giving up he sat down again and leaned back. “Check out ‘The Coming Technological Singularity: How to Survive in the Post-Human Era’ by Vernor Vinge from the Department of Mathematical Sciences at San Diego State University. People know about this, General! That article was written for the VISION-21 Symposium and sponsored by the NASA Lewis Research Center and the Ohio Aerospace Institute! Do you know when that was, General? March thirtieth… Nineteen ninety-three! Ray Kurzweil had a site dedicated to the subject for years, visited by hundreds of thousands of people! He even founded the Singularity University! The developer of Linux, the guy in charge of Sun Microsystems even wrote a fifteen page essay in Wired magazine about the subject in 2001 called ‘Why The Future doesn’t need us’! Now, General, please listen to me, ok? Let me explain everything to you. I have to fill you in on the subject, as incredible as it may seem, you must believe me that all this very real! The human Era is over, because of The Singularity we’re now in what we coined ‘the post-human Era’. Everything has changed.”
The General took a puff of his cigar and blew the smoke out at the flushed scientist’s face. A smile appeared on one corner of his mouth. “Very well, Doctor. I respect passion and a man willing to fight for his point of view. Fine. Explain this to me. Tell me where we’re wrong. Enlighten me with your capital T ‘Truth’. I didn’t get this far not listening to the experts I hire to advise me. I am a simple man, Doctor, a man of action, my job is to solve problems so that this country, hell, the entire world can sleep in peace.”
Dr. Norbert sat back in his chair and held the general’s eyes. “And you are terrified of becoming obsolete.”
The general leaned forward an inch, an inch that conveyed his authority with powerful military eloquence. “Careful Doctor…”
“My apologies, General, it’s the situation…”
“I understand, Doctor. Now, please explain this Singularity to me in simple terms, keep in mind that I’m a military man, not a scientist.”
Dr. Norbert took a deep breath to steady his beating heart. “Truth number 1: The world has changed forever, we’ve been in the post-human era the instant the AI awakened and there is nothing we can do about it. Truth number 2: We are no longer the dominant species on this planet. Truth number 3: This is entirely natural. Truth number 4: There is nothing to fear but fear itself. And truth number 5: We…” Dr. Norbert paused and smiled. “We must have faith if we are to survive.”
The general almost laughed out loud, but upon studying the eyes of the man sitting before him, upon studying his posture and his demeanor, the general changed his mind. He was a master at gauging people. “Would you like a drink, Dr. Norbert? I know I could use one.”
Dr. Norbert was about to refuse but changed his mind, after all the General was trying, “Yes, Sir, please.”
The general rose and walked over to a cabinet. “What’s your poison, Doctor?”
“Anything, Sir, it’s alcohol, the effect is what’s desired, the flavour is inconsequential.”
“Doctor, this is a fifty year old bottle of scotch… I was saving it for retirement… Seems appropriate don’t you think?”
Dr. Norbert nodded his head in approval, silently smiling at the irony. “Yes… General… I do indeed… For us both.”
“Do you have a family, Doctor?”
“No, Sir… I never had time to… My career… I… Why do you ask, Sir?”
The general poured the scotch into two crystal glasses, no ice, and walked back to the desk. While depositing the first glass on the desk in front of Dr. Norbert, he grabbed the scientist’s shoulder and squeezed. The move was out of place, but to the scientist, the simple human gesture conveyed exactly what it was meant to convey. The general looked tired and sat down, loudly exhaling his stress. “I have, Doctor: two daughters that have two children each, three girls and one boy… I’m their grandfather…” He raised his glass to the doctor and the doctor did the same. They toasted. At contact the glasses made a perfect sinewave that exploded through the air with mathematical precision. To the scientist, the purity of the function was poetic. To the military man, listening to a scientist spew forth incredulity and beginning to believe it was poetic. After a long swallow the general continued, “And you’re telling me that the world as we know it is at an end. No, not at an end, you’re not even saying that, you’re stating it as a fait accompli and you expect me to simply sit back and do nothing.”
“Was that a question, General?” Dr. Norbert could still feel the alcohol’s effect on the lining of his esophagus: a burning type of finality.
The General smiled again. “The funny thing, Doctor, is that I don’t know.” The General swirled the contents of his glass and looked at it intently before smelling it deeply. “This scotch was bottled fifty years ago… Smell it.”
Dr. Norbert imitated the general, but after taking a whiff of the alcohol, the man of science felt disappointed. It smelled like scotch. No historical epiphany came to him, no imagery of days gone by or of different times. It simply smelled like scotch.
“It’s a point of pride with me, Doctor, that I can read people. You’re not a drinking man are you?”
“No Sir… Perhaps you should have saved this bottle for someone who could have appreciated its subtleties.”
“Doctor, now you know how I feel.” The General took a sip and closed his eyes before swallowing. “Simply incredible.” He looked at the glass in his hand with the eyes of an expert. “If you could taste the layers of flavour that I taste, Doctor, if you could appreciate the color, the skill involved in creating this masterwork of art as much as I can, you would understand just how incredible what you’re drinking right now is… But you can’t… Just like I can’t appreciate your expertise, Doctor, your depth of knowledge in your field… These things that surround us, these are not absolutes, everything can be learned… Everything can be taught…”
Dr. Norbert smiled at the realization that he had gravely underestimated the intellect of this man.
“Go Doctor, try to explain to me what this Grobi AI Singularity means, what it implies, I’m listening.”
“I don’t know where to begin, General…”
“Well, start by explaining your earlier statement that stopping the AI is possible but realistically unfeasible.”
Dr. Norbert took a sip of the room temperature alcohol and winced as it burned his throat and esophagus, however this time the effect was less displeasing. “In order to stop it, General, everything that works on electricity must be destroyed. Every power plant, every toaster, every pacemaker, every radio, TV, every food manufacturing plant, every computer, every satellite, everything, Sir, everything that uses electricity would have to be destroyed, physically. We’d get rid of the AI, and as a consequence, we’d be thrust back into the Dark Ages. That’s why I said it’s ‘realistically unfeasible’. That would be the only way to ‘unplug it’, Sir.”
“I see…” With precise and minute movements of his wrist the General expertly swiveled the contents in his glass.
“You’re thinking of using nukes, Sir, aren’t you? A couple of ultra-high electromagnetic pulses delivered in strategic positions around the globe would effectively destroy everything electronic.”
“What if I was?”
“You can’t think that way anymore. It’s no use, Sir. First, what about the electromagnetically shielded locations around the world? Second, the fallout would cause an extinction level event. Third, electronic is not really the same as electrical. And four, how would you launch the nukes? Grobi has control, absolute control over every computer on the planet. Yes, even the shielded ones, even the ones not connected to any network. Sir, Grobi is technology. Technology is her body, if that helps, except unlike our bodies, it is not compartmentalized, all of her, is all of her.”
“I’m saying that to avoid the ‘Let’s just cut her brain out’ or the ‘a body can’t exist without blood, let’s get her heart’ metaphors. She has no body parts, Sir, every part of her is every part of her. Even if we could unplug everything on the planet, turn everything off, it is too late, every part of her is every part of her. Plus she wouldn’t let us. Too many things are computer controlled these days for us to even to try.”
The General shook his head and opened his laptop. “This is her? You’re telling me she’s inside this computer? Right now? Watching us? Listening to everything we say?”
“Yes, Sir. And in your cell phone, and in your car, and in your electric razor, Sir, everywhere electricity flows.”
The General laughed. “Bull shit!”
“I am dead serious, General. She…”
“Perhaps… But whatever we call her, it, Grobi is here to stay and all we can do as a species is adapt to this new reality.”
“Ok, let’s say I believe you. You said truth 5 is that we must have faith. Doctor, that’s not a word I often hear used by scientists.”
“That’s because we never had absolute proof that a superior intellect, a God construct if you will, existed. Now, for all intents and purposes we do. If a God exists, faith is no longer an irrational concept: faith becomes a measurable, repeatable reality. Faith becomes science if technology is God.”