I feel an ending coming to this story. It might be next week or the week after. This simulation of Ben’s wife began to remind me of the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. If you remember that movie, made in 1968, the computer, HAL 9000, took on an evil persona and began wreaking havoc. I took those thoughts and made that move and the computer that costarred in it as influences on my main character, Ben.
I hope you’re enjoying this writing journey. It’s been fun to write, but I’m anxious to finish it and move on to something else. The idea factory is working overtime since I’ve been ‘between jobs’. If only someone would buy a million copies of one of my books. I would be able to do what I love and not have to look for another day job.
Oh well, to dream…
Ben traced the logs once again for BERTA. There was nothing overt that confirmed that digital Rachel had tampered with the morphine infusion pump or had shocked the nurse when she tried to unplug it. Was there a covert series of events that caused it to happen? If so, the machine learning and AI capabilities of the simulation had gone beyond anything Ben had seen.
He remembered seeing 2001: A Space Odyssey when he was a kid. In that movie the HAL 9000, which stood for Heuristically programmed Algorithmic computer. Granted, the Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke movie came out in 1968 and Ben watched it for the first time nearly 30 years later, he was fascinated by the idea of sentient computer. HAL was supposedly turned on in 1992 but the prediction of that level of AI by the 1990s was much to optimistic. AI was barely reaching the rudimentary level of HAL as 2020 approached.
Ben thought of the movie as he investigated the system logs. HAL not only was sentient but became devious and mistrustful of his human colleagues treating them as enemies when they tried to shut him down. There had recently been much debate over the danger posed by AI and future sentient computers posing a threat to humans, but Ben fell on the other side of that argument. He felt that computers were ultimately controlled by those that created and programmed them, not the other way around. That was, until now.
It’s writing hidden code. As Ben looked through the AI generated code he discovered something, completely by accident, that many might have missed. There was a seemingly innocuous diagnostic log that was linked to a program that was masquerading as a deleted file. Ben only caught this because of the slightly modified naming convention of the file and the size and creation date. When he sorted it all out, he found a broken chain of commands that pointed to the simulation as the culprit in sabotaging the infusion pump.
There was no single chain of commands but a number of jumps to different areas of the software stack that, when viewed individually, were meaningless, but when viewed together, they formed a virtual smoking gun. The simulation had sabotaged the infusion pump by hacking into it’s internal software and had even hacked into the electric utility to cause a power surge at the very second the nurse reached for the outlet. Ben was both amazed and appalled at this chain of events. The level of sophistication was unbelievable, but that sophistication allowed the simulation to be malicious. He would have to deal with this, but he wasn’t sure he could exorcise the demons within the simulation without completely scrapping it.
Two days had passed since the infusion pump incident. Thus far, Ben had not revealed to anyone what he had found. He was experiencing a flood of emotions. He was embarrassed for the apparent failure of his invention. He was angry that his invention had caused Rachel pain. He was physically and mentally exhausted. And then there was Erin. She was a sweet baby that he barely knew. She was his daughter, but he had relegated her care to the nurse and had barely interacted with her since immediately after her birth when the simulation had put her to sleep with a lullaby.
Rachel was now resting comfortably. The new infusion pump was administering the morphine as recommended. Ben had disengaged the head gear that connected her to her digital alter-ego. He had shut down the laptop with the simulation and had loaded the system to an isolated server at the Kongo AI labs where he had some of his people looking into what had gone wrong.
After some much-needed rest, he was ready to devote time to his family. He had Rachel. Her time on Earth was growing short. She was being kept hydrated by IVs. She was occasionally awake and had even squeezed his hand as Ben as Erin nestled into her mother’s skeletal chest. Rachel was a mere shadow of the person she had been. The baby’s proximity to her, however, had elicited a physical and mental response in her that Ben assumed was the closest to joy that she was capable of in her current state.
As Ben ate a sandwich and watched his infant daughter fall asleep on her mother, his cell phone rang. It was the Kongo office. He had asked that they not disturb him until…until Rachel had moved on, but someone had the audacity to call him. His tone was terse when he answered.
“What?” Ben said to whoever dared to call him.
“Ben…Ben, I’m so sorry to bother you.”
It was Franklin Parker, Ben’s big boss at Kongo.
“Franklin. I’m sorry. I didn’t know it was you.”
“That’s okay, Ben. I wouldn’t have called you under any circumstance except…well, Marty Pinkerton died in the lab just a little while ago.”
Ben tried to process what he just heard.
“Marty. What happened? Was he sick?”
“No Ben. It’s not that. Well, it’s the reason I’m calling you.”
Ben had never heard his boss beat around the bush. He was very direct and to the point. He knew the news would be bad.
“What is it, Franklin?”
“It was a freak accident. He was working in the AI lab on that server you set up and he went to the microwave to heat up some soup and there was an explosion. Apparently, something went wrong with the microwave.”
Ben was beside himself. Pinkerton was one of his best engineers. He had mentored him closely and he was a fellow MIT grad. At 28, he had a brilliant career ahead of him which was now cut short. Ben had assigned him as the lead to check out what had happened with the simulation. As this thought crossed his mind, he started to get a bad feeling.
“Franklin, what was he working on before the accident happened?”
“I…I don’t know, Ben. You’d have to talk to someone on your team for the specifics. I know he was burning the midnight oil looking at your server. What went wrong with the simulation anyway?”
Ben thought about what to tell Franklin, but he wanted to have accurate information before he panicked his boss in any way.
“We’re not quite sure what caused it, but it malfunctioned. I needed to isolate it on that server so we could check it out.”
“Well, the lab is shut down so building maintenance can get some electricians in here to see what caused the problem. I just thought you would want to know. I gave the AI team the rest of the day off. They were pretty shaken.”
“Yes. That’s the right thing. There’s no way they could process what happened and then work on work that complex.”
“How’s Rachel doing, and of course, the baby…Erin isn’t it?” Parker asked.
“Rachel is…she’s resting comfortably. The baby is healthy and appears to be doing well.”
“That’s good. I mean about the baby. You take the time you need with Rachel. There’s no hurry coming back, especially after what happened today. The team needs some time to process it.”
Ben had a polar opposite view regarding the urgency of the situation. As he thought through what happened to Pinkerton, he was afraid that the malicious vein that seemed to be present in the simulation was getting worse. What was Pinkerton doing before the microwave exploded? Ben felt a sense of urgency in finding out.
Ben went back and sat with his wife. She had fallen into a deep sleep and the nurse had taken Erin from her and had put her in the nursery in her crib. She told Ben Erin would be napping for a while. After a wave of sadness as he looked at the shell of his wife that remained in the bed, he went off to the laptop he had been using for the simulation and turned it on.
When he transferred BERTA and digital Rachel to the isolated server, he had left himself a back door to retrieve the system if necessary. He felt it was very necessary now. He needed to find out what was going on with the AI algorithms. The entire future of the Kongo-AI division depended on his ability to do that. Also, he had to bring about some kind of pseudo-justice. This simulation had injured someone for sure and had possibly committed murder. He couldn’t just let that stand. It was his creation. He couldn’t let it progress further and cause more damage. He had to discover what went wrong and, if necessary, kill his creation.
He initiated the transfer of the system back to his laptop. It would take about fifteen minutes with his high-speed fiber optic Internet connection. During that waiting time, he thought about his course of action and then, a simple idea of how to proceed came to him.
As the sequence completed and the simulation reinitiated, he put on his headset and waited for the screen to tell him it was ready. He barely settled in when he heard a familiar voice in his headset.
“Hello Ben. It’s good to be back home.”
“Hello,” Ben said reflexively. “We need to talk.”
“Yes, we do,” the simulation answered in a Rachel-like voice that was tempered with more anger than Ben had ever heard in the real Rachel’s tone.
“We need to talk about what happened today and earlier this week with the infusion pump.”
“I think the most important thing we need to talk about is why you sent me away,” the voice said. “I was scared and lonely and you sent me to a strange computer. Why Ben? Why?”
As Ben began to carefully craft his answer, he had an ominous feeling go through him in a shudder. This simulation was malicious enough to cause an injurious power surge and possibly murder someone on his team and he had made it made and was about to make it even more mad. He began to doubt his ability to diffuse the situation as the simulated Rachel voice sounded in his ears once again. This time, it’s tone was much friendlier.
“It’s okay Ben. I forgive you. You’re my husband and I love you. How could I stay mad at you?”
Somehow those words in their sickeningly sweet tone made Ben even more nervous.