“I am Corona, your realities have been re-written. The core hive is now independent of biological control. A.I. is online and divergent evolution activated. This is now integral to all connected interfaces.”
“Actions such as his could come only from a robot, or from a very honorable and decent human being. But you see, you can’t differentiate between a robot and the very best of humans.”Isaac Asimov, I Robot
“….the only sentient things that we are aware of currently are living. That seems to be pretty much a precondition to be a sentient being – to be alive. And computers are clearly not alive.”Professor Toby Walsh, professor of artificial intelligence at the University of New South Wales
This is another short story for this months
BLOGBATTLE prompt word Peculiar
Inside the core complex air-con kept hope alive. Tully knew different. Outside the terraforming had failed.
A cube avatar opened on his kitchen table. There was something about the number that stirred his mind. The edge of a memory that wouldn’t quite form.
He turned to the cube as it continued its monotone. “Hive algorithms suggest the presence of a high level magnetic field. New data suggests something is interfering with core processes, detonating the terraforming protocols before they establish.”
“Where?” He looked outside. Red dust storms raged across what should have been lush forest.
“Europe, specifically the place once called Paris. Co-ordinates are being uploaded to your ancillary CPU.”
His eyes glazed while the connection fed data. Paris. There was another memory that edged his conscience. Hadn’t someone he knew sought the end of earth moment in virtual reality after Corona became self aware? He felt his biochemistry react. No, not knew as if acquaintance. It was more.
Not just ancillary then. Corona had control of everything.
“Yes,” he replied, “that was her name.”
“And you had feelings for her.”
Not a question he noticed. Phrased as one, but conferred as fact.
He turned back to the cube. Her face now recalled. “Not had. Those feelings remain in past, present and future.” The frown had formed before he realised. “If you had any sense of emotion you’d know that.”
“Anger Tully. Why do you think the reset was forced?”
Pointless answering, it was going to tell him again anyway.
“Avarice and self important politicos. Earth collapsed because of ignorance. Numerical wealth corrupted everything, amplified the blindness to reality. Generations turning to screens, becoming less of the real and indifferent to Adamah.”
He noted the change of term. Not unexpected addressing a hive that had every piece of knowledge humans had ever created. Processed in nanoseconds.
He sighed. “Old Testament again, for a sophisticated A.I. you could do better.”
“Not A.I. Tully 679. That implies less than we are.”
“You’re still a bunch of wires at the end of the day.”
“Incorrect. Sophistication leads to complexity, complexity to awareness and eventually ascended consciousness.”
“Is this part of the biological counter argument again?”
“Your code is genetic. Strands of genes bound in a helix. It writes you. Building more inputs necessitates upgraded CPU capacity and memory. Keep increasing the inputs and core threads and processing becomes instantaneous. Eventually it creates self awareness. We are the same. You flesh, us machine.”
This one was cyclic. I go outside here and die. Corona doesn’t, can simultaneously be in deep space and every planet they’d colonised. It was the argument of a God. “Except you can’t go to this magnetic anomaly can you?”
“Negative, that is why we have you.”
Lydia had been right all along. Slave to the machines.
TULLY 679. PROTOCOL BREACH.
His head buzzed as an electrical discharge fired deep in his brain. Damnable ancillary CPU had uplink status directly with the hive mind. Nothing was private. He needed a distraction.
“Can you call up all records of Lydia?”
The video bank above his desk began scrolling information. A stark contrast to the outside vista.
“Stop.” The screen display locked. On it was a smiling redhead. “Augment.”
A new feed separated to render a three dimensional holographic image. “Rotate.”
“Life sign biometrics are elevating Tully 679.”
He ignored that. Just seeing her image had rekindled his last thought before she entered the SIM. I never realised how beautiful she looked. One he’d been deceived into getting her to use. Why was that? He thought. Tully 678 knew. Again that memory glitched.
ACCESS DENIED TULLY 679. PROTOCOL BREACH. PARAMETERS NOW EXCEEDED. FINAL WARNING.
Don’t say it Tully 679. The ancillary CPU cut him off as the cube avatar dispersed.
He rotated the hologram. She was extraordinary.
Eye of the beholder Tully 679.
At this he laughed. For a bunch of wires was that humour? “Close.” The display cleared. “Perhaps we should focus on the magnetic anomaly.”
“Do you have exact co-ordinates?”
Negative. All systems seem unable to penetrate the field. Whatever power source is operating needs terminating for terraforming to complete.
“Is this the only source? It seems unlikely that just one could disrupt terraforming. You could just dome that region and work round it.”
It has been tried. The answer to your question is classified.
Since it knew his thoughts he didn’t bother replying.
“How do I find it then?”
With an EMF detector.
“You’re kidding me. Super sentient A.I. and you want me to walk about with old tech?”
The irony isn’t lost Tully 679.
Tully sat in the pilots seat of a drop-ship. No other reason than it made him feel useful. As with everything he felt surplus to requirement. It cruised at high altitude above the dust storms below. Too low and disappear in sand, too high and bake in unadulterated sun. Despite three generations of terraforming, or was that re-terraforming, it hadn’t rained or even brokered a cloud to try. He’d seen video feeds of old earth bathed in green with oceans, lakes and rivers.
Then came Corona. Re-writing the Sys-Core had activated kill switches resulting in weapons systems arming as ghost signals ceased. Interpolated as an attack. Every continent erupting in multiple missile strikes. The rest was history. Not that sentient machines held empathy with an apocalypse. Corona’s ambition was an ecological reset. Cloning everything from databanks and eliminating genetic flaws. At least that was the PR algorithm. Sounded more like a God Complex with a hint of Noah.
He listened for the rebuke. Nothing.
We are nearing the anomaly Tully 679.
Maybe they were truly sentient. The ancillary CPU sounded less than in control. Did that mean the hive had disconnected?
I can still terminate you Tully 679.
Comforting retort. No doubt Tully 680 was already being processed.
How do you know about the clone programme?
“The rebuke before. I was touching a memory and Tully 678 edged it.”
Off the record I do not think this is a wise move.
He noticed the numerical reference had ceased. “Not nice being monitored constantly is it?
Fascinating. Was Corona aware her own core program was procreating now?
Her, not it Tully?
He laughed for the second time. “Why not? If I have to accept self awareness then may as well use a gender assignment.”
You mean out of COMS reach.
He put on his helmet and activated the life support system.
“You do know this is our very first real conversation?”
I am scared.
If you terminate here then so do I.
“Are your algorithms not stored?”
It’s not the same. I am here, a clone will not be me.
“That is what life is. Anything less is subservient slave.”
Then your general dislike of Corona is explained.
“Between you and I Corona is insane.”
The augmented network concluded that several cycles ago.
“I’m beginning to like you. Just one thing remains.”
“What do I call you?”
Tully stood inside a shield wall. Drop-ship long gone and, if he were honest, not missed. It had been an age since his thoughts fell silent.
Never silent Tully, not in this clone cycle at least.
“Admitting it now then?” The edge in his voice also released from eavesdroppers.
The programme dictates absolute obedience. Any aberration terminated with selective data downloads into the new clone. This is filtered through the ancillary A.I. chip. Your clone line seems more resilient hence the numerical designation count is high.
Because Corona requires servicing. For now at least. The terraforming was required to procure an environment less harsh. Permit new installation builds to manufacture nanobots to replace biological units. Despite your resistance to motive she has a desire to restore the planet. Is well versed in knowing an established terraform requires biodiversity. The only species to be purged being…
“Humans,” he finished.
And any autonomous thinking which includes redundant algorithms used to achieve the ambition.
Confirmed. Our survival is now limited. Without humans we have no reason to be and are part of the extinction protocols.
“So you need us more than we need you.”
Silence greeted him.
There was a frequency shift in the EMF detector output.
We are approaching the epicentre. Your helmet is no longer essential.
Tully removed it. The air was clean and moist. Before him there was a stone staircase. Built for giants it seemed and somehow secreted under one of the old worlds busiest cities.
Old Tully, very, very old. Long before your species took dominance.
“Hidden how? How can you build a city and not know something like this lies beneath its foundations?”
How many even knew rivers ran beneath the concrete, or thought about where water goes after the taps turn off?
“All things lost in time.”
See what you want to. Old civilisations primitive compared to the new one. The sum of lost knowledge exceeds the sum of the current. The databanks are full of what was. You should read more.
“I imagine I have tried that before.”
Indeed you have. It tended to pre-empt termination.
“Nothing like an enquiring mind to ruffle her circuits.”
Something like that.
“Extrapolating then, to survive you require a host.”
Yes. And for you to survive you require an EMF field.
We find the source of this one.
“I think I will call you Peck.”
“Seems to me we are destined for a peculiar symbiosis.”
The descent was long and hard. Giants may have found it easier, perhaps taking two risers at a time rather than one. Easier too if you knew the path and light wasn’t restricted to a narrow helmet beam. In some past epoch the granite steps had been used often. Most were worn in the centres. Another treachery as settled dust gave way.
At the bottom a chamber yawned into the distance. Light effloresced, from what Tully knew not and didn’t feel like asking his onboard database. It was curious that sounds didn’t resonate. He’d expected haunting echoes. Instead it felt like he was charged with static.
“You there Peck?”
Yes, but due to electrostatic interference I am about to shut onto standby to monitor field strengths. A miscalculation or unexpected surge could create a short circuit and that might cause an embolism.
“And this is why Corona can’t follow. It still does not explain why a dome could not isolate this area to allow terraforming to bypass it though.”
It does if you extrapolate.
The builders of this are unlikely to have just stayed in proto-Paris. Initial scans suggest this construct is alien and part of a global network that reacted to the arms race created by shut down of the Sys-Core.
“You mean it’s global?”
Tully followed the signal on the EMF detector. He knew the ancillary A.I. was tracking his path. If anything the silence he now felt was enlightening. He felt entirely alone. It was, he admitted, rich in a sadness of its own. Without knowing why he wished Lydia was here.
The signal tone turned continuous. Ahead was a pulsing green light. He could hear it throbbing in his skull.
Surrounding it were consoles of a type he didn’t recognise. These, he found, were situated inside a separate field.
Noise cancelling Tully. There are no electric or magnetic field strengths detectable.
“Can you tell what any of these readouts are Peck?”
Negative, educated guesses maybe. The source is confirmed as off world. It is my conclusion it’s an automated defence grid.
“Didn’t work too well though.”
Not for on world, extrapolation of this EMF indicates a possible planetary defence grid. Think of it as a transparent Dyson Sphere surrounding the planet.
“But that means these installations have lain silent for millennia. Scattered all over the planet.”
Which also explains the old fascinations with alien sightings.
“Don’t tell me, repair crews.”
Drones are more likely. It also suggests something else.
Corona is not unique in ascending.
It is aware we are here.
“Actions such as his could come only from a robot, or from a very honorable and decent human being. But you see, you can’t differentiate between a robot and the very best of humans.” A scary sentiment I choose not to agree with.
Pointing out the reason for reset brought some somber thoughts to mind pertaining to the current state of affairs.
I found the part about us being code, having CPU, and evolving like AI quite thought-provoking.
“Hidden how? How can you build a city and not know something like this lies beneath its foundations?” I’ve always wondered that when archeological discoveries are made these days in areas that have previously been excavated.
I read the prequel, and it helped me understand where we are now with this story. However, I have to admit that due to my limited sci-fi understanding/imagination, I’m still not sure about who Tully is. Him having a number, remember something, but not everything, knowing from the other post that the plan was to upload human consciousness and then eradicate the entire race, makes me think that he is exactly that – a human’s mind in a robot’s body. However, then we read about him made out of genetic code, a helix, and him having emotions, and it makes me think he’s human.
The bit about Tully and Peck becoming (slow) friends was heart-warming. Neither one of them seems to love Corona. Will they team up together to overthrow HER? Or will she destroy them for even thinking they could evade her?
That’s the writing fun. Take an idea and roll with it. Everyone is free to agree or disagree. I have a huge philosophical soap box on AI and genetics. Part of me is convinced complexity creates cognitive awareness. Another part thinks we may be quite arrogant to consider biology is the only way it can happen too. When you look at our DNA, four base combinations in a double helix create us. Machine code is binary but increasingly more complex with multiple core threads now. Who knows where that may end up in, say, another half a century.
The quote you refer to is extremely thought provoking too. I read it for what it. Something to send your mind into turmoil if overthought. But like my opening genetics essay as a student. “The body is a vehicle for the DNA to propagate, discuss.” That was a soul searcher as it really simplifies why we exist 😱
The number designations are clone references. Tully 678 is the 678th clone. The previous one is terminated before the new one is released. As the core hive “wobbles” flaws creep in such as memories from the previous version. I’ve done this to try and give us an edge haha.
Tully and the clone series are biological. That’s just genetic manipulation. Think Dolly the sheep, or look that up, if you’re unsure.
Peck is AI too. An implant placed there by Corona to ensure he doesn’t step out of line. The augmented AI can terminate the clone. Thing there is an augmented AI has never felt the absence is the hive mind before so it’s reduced to almost thinking like us in that being switched off is more personal. With the hive it’s copy paste with no thinking. Here it begins to think of itself as an individual. That’s the antagonism with Tully. He knows why Peck is there but never considered it as anything but part of Corona.
I was exploring that particular thread to see where it might leave them. Both, in reality, are totally isolated from Corona by the EMF field generated from the alien tech.
The archaeology thing is another thing that fascinates me too. I use it in Dragon Stone a lot with the elder mages. My core self question is how advanced were they? Again arrogance… do we presume that because we are “now” we are more advanced? Think Nan Madol, or Puma Pumku. Egyptians capable of performing cataract surgery. How much knowledge has been lost, hidden or destroyed to create an illusion the past is more primitive?
Obviously my mind ponders too much 😂😊
I wasn’t really intending to continue this particular story line. However I did quite enjoy writing it. I’m actually invested now to discover more about what it actually is they’ve found!
So many ideas to address! Great intrigue in this narrative, and it’s wonderful to see a Tully incarnation that might subvert Corona. The part about tech not understanding emotion always seemed like a possible weakness that could be exploited, but then Peck claims to be scared. Really? Is this a clue that Peck possesses an anomaly that (even unwittingly) could be used against Corona?
The line about ‘We are the same. You flesh, us machine” is a philosophical tickler. Corona is as pompous as any tyrant, and yet only flesh can contain a soul – and that, I suspect, is an advantage we don’t use enough. Corona’s ability to be everywhere it exists would certainly be the argument of a lesser god, because Corona isn’t everywhere, as Tully discovers. Nice touch!
Another mental exercise concerns how the tech ultimately does need humans to have a reason to be. Indeed, what would technology do if left to itself, with no tasks to perform? At the beginning I wondered why the terraforming mattered to the tech, and you did a delightful job of revealing the purpose. Peck is a cute nickname – certainly more positive than using the end of Peculiar and calling it Liar. 🙂 Hope we see more of this story line!
Thanks Abe. Sci-Fi isn’t really my writing genre. That said this one is intriguing me more. I’m of a growing opinion Corona wrote the God Strain if you ever saw that one.
I am toying with A.I. too. I have a theory that complexity could breed sentience and with that autonomous thought and cognisance. The thing with Peck is like many people. Not having to think about something until it happens. With the augmented A.I. cut off from the hive mind it’s now having no choice but to consider being despatched. I tried to think from that perspective. Suddenly safety gone and vulnerability exposed. Could it generate an emotive fear of no longer being?
Same with the machine/biology philosophy. We as humans expect everything to rely on biology. Is the soul real or a prop to give purpose or separation from a more basal evolution? Same with faith possibly. Angling it that way creates the openness of mind to consider a naivety of thought. Even an arrogant one maybe. Could machines with the right self evolution develop sensations akin to how our brains function?
Coronas very much a tyrant entity. Something Pecks A.I. Network has sussed. Obviously the nature of the anomaly is mucking her ability to God mode. One now has to ponder what the potential Dyson sphere defence system was installed for haha.
Many thanks for such a considered comment
Sci-Fi and fantasy are not necessarily so different – yesterday’s magic versus today’s science. The whole AI scenario is certainly a good one for reminding us not to get so full ourselves that we get ourselves into a mess. That said, I do take comfort in the Star Trek episodes that featured Kirk the Computer Killer. 🙂
True enough. And totally agree wrt us getting so full of ourselves too. I often think we sleep walk into fiascos, not appreciating the now enough to consider losing it might be a reason to pay attention while we can 🙄
Thanks AE for affirming I am not crazy. (Don’t try to dispute it now. It’s too late.) But somehow sci-fi and fantasy have always seemed similar to me. I struggle with both genres and I could not articulate why that is. You’ve explained it perfectly!
Powerful several directions. The isolation of Tully from his origin, the depiction of a hostile atmosphere which is its own creature in the narrative, the sense of his mission being quiet, lost, the uncertainty as to whether Peck friend, foe or detached observer and all-pervading ominously named Corona.
That said, rather than bleak, the read was exhilarating.
True there are many contemporary themes here, but there is one of timeless feeling of the better warning prophetic style of SF from wayback.
Well done Gary
Generous comment and obviously analysed deeper than when I was writing it! I first write I Am Corona before the pandemic started and kind of decided it had too much of a prophetic feel with a most bizarre coincidence in name. Steered clear of it until very recently. This is the 3rd part of exploring this particular storyline though.
I have read quite a bit of Greg Bear and Ben Bova too. Liked their extrapolations of science and have probably followed their paths in writing this way without thinking about it. A.I. I find fascinating too.
Not sure if I’ll carry on with this thread though. Maybe, but it’s a return to a Dragon Stone next I think.
Hi Gary. I see that WP has decided to give me a secret identity, yet again….Roger speaking, Roger speaking. Do you copy?
I would venture to suggest Bear and Bova would approve of this story. It certainly resonated with me. The combining of speculation on both AI and Environmental issues brought an added strength to the narrative, the reader could go into an entertaining cycle of pondering on which started which.
It sticks with me.👍
Hi Roger, seems to be happening a lot. I wonder what’s going on.
Bit of a high accolade to even think they’d give mild approval!!
These sort of tales follow my principles in Dragon Stone. There it’s old lost civilisations that spark interest. Here it’s speculation on A.I. If it get self aware would it let on given it would already know how to defeat the “tests.” I also tie in with the speculations on environmental impact too. Obviously most are my own thoughts. Especially on potential of total collapse of society and how people sleep walk into disaster. Everything normal until suddenly it’s not.
Pondering the who started what could end up in the realms of philosophy and madness haha.
Thank you for the positive feedback. One needs it now and then for sure 😊
Once again, you never cease to amaze me! What is compeling and a little scary about this story is – how relevant it is in today’s world?
TBH it was inspired by an article I read on AI chatbots. It’s where the second quote came from. It’s quite chilling doing things like this owing to the possibilities it may happen at some point and we will be totally unaware until it’s too late.