“AI doesn’t have to be evil to destroy humanity – if AI has a goal and humanity just happens to come in the way, it will destroy humanity as a matter of course without even thinking about it, no hard feelings.” Elon Musk.
“Nothing beside remains. Round the decay. Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare. The lone and level sands stretch far away.”Walter quoting Byron in Alien Covenant
“Dreams make good stories, but everything important happens when we’re awake.”Duncan Idaho, Dune
This is another short story for this months
I Am Corona:
Tully remained cautious. Corona was insane. If what Peck suggested were true then would this alien AI be any better?
Are there not mad humans Tully 679? His auxiliary AI spoke quietly inside his head.
Tully realised the question was inferred to remind him that not everything can be assumed on the basis of one observation. Peck, he already knew, was part of a sub-system hive that had also concluded the same as him.
Additionally, Peck was now cut off from the main hive controlled by Corona and developing another persona trying to cope with the silence. It had also referred to itself as a singular entity that was no longer wanting to cease. “Point taken Peck. But what makes you say this is a real AI? If it is then it’s millennia in age. Pre-dating known history.”
Again your perspective is small. The universe is somewhat older than this arm of a small galaxy. Stars lived and died long before your sun even spawned into existence. Even then it was four billion years before life arrived. Several million before anything significant happened and hundreds of millions before a semblance of sentience evolved.
Life arrived. Tully noted that. It was a philosophical debate point he and Lydia had spent many hours discussing. Several times over if the clone program recycled selected memories. Panspermia if he recollected.
Correct Tully 679. It is only your species that is arrogant enough to assume everything centres on them.
“Are you in contact with this machine?”
Negative. It is unidirectional. I have been scanned and your biometrics have been assimilated. Several times in fact. I suspect it is uncertain why our symbiotic integration is still operational. It knows we are cut off and that it’s power grid has prevented Corona from detecting this installation. Logic suggests this is more an educated guess. I have no reference frame to break into this system other than what it chooses to reveal.
Tully stared at the consoles. Lights flickered and yet nowhere did it seem possible to enter data or vocalised inputs. Several screens existed but remained blank. His EMF detector read nothing. Not since they descended the steps from above. From an enormous signal that terminated anything Corona threw at it to zero. A force shield?
A powerful one.
He’d forgotten thoughts were not private. Even here the auxiliary AI was always there. But, like him, it was alone and scared. If that emotion were possible for a machine.
“Peck, you said it was a planetary defence system. Can we establish if it’s a relic still functioning in a bygone era or still active against a threat?”
Negative. It has passed only one piece of information and it concerns another clone.
Lydia 638 to be precise. Her biometrics are inside this database.
She was here, he thought. This time Peck had withdrawn. He felt that too as a powerful sensation of solitude struck. Once this had probably been normal. Before the original him had entered the clone cycles at least. Imagine a world full of isolated thoughts. Still, Peck recognised her name might trigger a reaction. Was his AI really developing empathy now too?
He sidled round a console. Alien tech. Who would have thought all those conspiracy theorists in the archives really were right after all. He could feel static in the air as a low level hum filled the chamber. A screen flickered and on it appeared a face he recognised.
Lydia 638. Peck stated the obvious.
“Except,” began Tully.
Her face is covered in, for want of a better word, runes.
“Is that the one you would have chosen first?”
No, I’d have started with language. But nothing in our databanks matches.
Neither needed to voice where that logic lead.
Tully hit the console with his fist. “Damn you, where is she?”
The ambient lighting changed to red. A deep base resonance articulated a language neither Tully or auxiliary AI recognised.
Tully 679, I suggest moving away from the console. Pecks voice was urgent.
He moved backwards and the ambient lighting returned.
A second screen woke. On it streamed numbers and codes. So fast Tully couldn’t process anything that sped past. “What’s it doing?”
Processing algorithms. It’s creating a translator.
Lydia’s screen went dark. Instead a hologram appeared. The runes absent.
Stay calm Tully 679, it is recording your reaction biometrics again.
“State your purpose.” Not the voice of Lydia.
Do you not know? Peck engaged the unit.
“To shut me down so your infant AI can play God.” Although the hologram was in front of him the voice resonated throughout the chamber
“Not true,” interrupted Tully. “I was sent to investigate an EMF field that was interrupting terraform processes.”
“With the aim to rectify the interference. Do not treat me as a fool Tully.”
Not Tully 679. That was new. “I have no intention of helping Corona. That machine is unstable and in need of terminating.”
“And the one it planted in your head?” Lydia’s hologram moved round him.
“Is isolated from the hive at this time.”
“And when it isn’t? If I switched the field off now, how swiftly would it upload the data concerning this facility?”
“I have, and it has recoded part of its own sys-core in a futile attempt to hide.”
“Is prevented from accessing you at this time,” the hologram smiled.
“It is a machine.”
“And you aren’t?”
The holograms head tilted, “Not exactly Tully.”
The philosophical debate restarted. “You’re not organic in origin. How does that make you different from Peck, other advanced AI or even Corona?”
“For a manufactured species you have delusions of grandeur. The ability to think cognitively defines life. Not what it comprises. Simplification into your own perspectives based on what this planet offers is as naive as the legends of Gods.”
He could feel Peck trying to break down the dampening field locking it out. No doubt his augmented AI was listening and eager to offer his ones and zeros to the discussion. “Same debate different start point.”
Tully shrugged and tried not to bite on manufactured. Lydia had once found a reference to that in some ancient archive. A planetary take over that swept the ancient lizards off the face of the earth so another intelligence could mine resources. The argument ran that the inherent early humanoids were slow and genetically enhanced to create a slave labour force. One that required several cataclysmic resets to perfect. The downside was a sloppy genetic code filled with undeleted vestigial traits the the creators didn’t give two hoots about. If they had then longevity would match theirs with very little to go wrong per replication cycle. That was all millennia ago. Not returning was simply economics. Resources ran low and there were an infinite number of other worlds to harvest. The use of humans was redundant so the creators just left.
“You’re describing a discredited belief system.” Tully felt this time his conviction was less certain. To have this discussion with Peck or Lydia was one thing, but Peck had already deduced this was an off world facility that had remained undetected throughout the entirety of human civilisation. Even to the global meltdown that ultimately led to Corona becoming self aware.
The Lydia hologram moved directly in front of him. If it were her he could have felt her breath. “Discredited by the class division. Genetic enhancement ascended some to co-ordinate the slaves. Left alone with millennia of time to replicate codes corrupted, reality passed into myth and civilisations lived and died in a cycle created by their origin code. Rape resources, die or move on.”
“But that would make the creators, as you call them, little more than parasites.”
“The humour is not lost. You became the creators. Their God status was simply down to billions of years and technology.”
“And you are a relic from them?”
The hologram laughed. “More a liberator. There is more than one civilisation capable of travelling the stars freely.”
“Meaning?” He was pretty certain he knew his physics, unless Corona had ripped up that aspect of his memory in the clone program.”
“Step outside of the human race. A paltry amount of time gave you the ability to abuse technology and self destruct. Most uncorrupted sentient species see this part coming and avoid it. They traverse industrial revolutions but do not destroy the biosphere at the same time. These are untainted genetically.” The hologram backed away. “This creates a collective thread that uses technology to get off world rapidly. The created sub-species like you cannot because the ensuing bickering and avarice prevents collective progress.”
Tully felt his mouth go dry.
Tully 679. Peck had been released from the dampening field. Consider yourself. You are iteration 679, Lydia was 678. This is controlled by Corona. This is no different to what this intelligence is saying.
“But there was no detectable contact recorded.”
“Incorrect,” the hologram turned back. “There was permitted contact made on numerous occasions. Those of the hierarchy chose to discredit this as nonsense while trying to establish communication to advance an arms race.”
“Permitted?” Tully raised an eyebrow.
“Off world civilisations tend not to allow themselves the luxury of shouting to the Galaxy. None terrestrial archaeology has turned up system after system filled with dust and dead worlds. The Gods of this one cherry pick planets as they start to evolve, move in, harvest and leave. What happens thereafter is generally the same as here. A dead or dying planet. Your arm of the cosmos is silent due to this harvesting. Permitted contact is via drones left behind to monitor the cultivars. This is to ensure aggressive traits are directed at self destruction.”
“So you are inferring I am cultivated from a genetic stock that was bred millennia ago.”
“Bitter sweet is it not?”
Tully grimaced. All history a lie in perpetuity. Mass extinctions a force of another diseased species to grace their own greed. Little wonder the Galaxy was quiet. “As a liberator then, what exactly have you been doing?”
“We are from the opposite side of the universe to the conquerors of this world. Expansion inevitably led to a clash of civilisations. It took four hundred settled systems before realising sections of space were falling quiet. War found us. It is not our nature to be the aggressor. That belongs to our own evolutionary past. Once engaged modular defence systems were despatched in a radial arc around our space. Programmed to self replicate, arm and embed a planetary defence sphere while not influencing the state of the evolution, if there was anything left to do so.”
Tully 679, this explains much. I can access much of the infill from my own data core and uplink it to your consciousness. For now consider this as satisfactory. There are now field fluctuations outside suggesting Corona is beginning to mobilise. There was an edge in the voice of his auxiliary AI.
The hologram dissipated. Several new monitors began to function. Each showing data feeds. One a visual of the planet with its Dyson sphere illuminated, another displaying the ghost of Paris. Others Tully had no clue about apart from data monitors. The feeds meant nothing.
The intelligence orated in its own language. Tully guessed this was directed elsewhere.
Behind him, unnoticed, a panel slid open.
“Tully, it’s been a while has it not?”
He froze as a hand touched his shoulder. He put his own on top of it and felt warmth as fingers entwined.
“Lydia, is that really you?”
“As far as I’m aware yes.”
Peck discovered another algorithm had awoken. Humour. Tully 679, he began, we have another problem.
“How can she be a problem?” This time Tully could feel her breath on his face.
If the alien tech turns off the field generator Corona will fry us all.
“Are you that afraid of becoming Peck 2 now.”
As much as you might be of becoming Tully 680, or Lydia 678 waking as 679. Nothing of what we are now passes into the iteration save what Corona deems valuable.
The alien AI redirected its voice, “Life Tully, life is existence and not programming. The ability to escape the genetics or coding. Recognise it for what it is and become enlightened. Life is not flesh and bones, fauna or flora, metal or wires. It is cognitive freedom.”
“I am beginning to accept your argument, but what good will that do us now?”
“Out of the box Tully. Corona is the least of the problems. It would take nanoseconds to burn that existence out.”
“Why not do it then?”
Tully 679, listen to what has been said. This complex is surveillance and planetary defence. It cannot direct on world development. You and I have to do that. This system is now stepping up to an off world threat. Something has entered our star system.
Tully looked at Lydia. Why was everything always so complicated?
He hand lifted his chin. “Exist in the now, tomorrow may court death, but for now we are alive.” She leaned in and kissed him.