Monday, February 18, 2013

Artificial Intelligence

If all time-lines sprang forth from a singularity, then they must all radiate out from a point. There is no such thing as a parallel universe. They are all on a slight angle to one another. The farther one proceeds along a given time-line, the more it diverges from its neighbours. Detectives McFadden and Graham and GX-33 may be on a timeline that began quite close to ours…

Detectives Jack McFadden and his partner Kaitlin Graham stood at the lab door, the long hallway eerily silent. Snapping the latch on her purse closed, she straightened up her shoulders, drew herself up to her full six-foot-four height and nodded at Jack, who as a gleam in his daddy’s eyes, had been modeled after Saint John F. Kennedy.

He slid a security card through the slot on the top of the reader, and Detective Graham did the same. There should have been a little click, but there wasn’t. They stood, briefcases in hand, for some reason not particularly surprised by this lack of response.

“Good morning, Detectives.” The perfectly articulated voice of GX-33 crackled from the wall mounted speaker grille. “There is no one in the lab today. May I inquire as to your business?”

The voice was a few degrees on the male side of neuter, and about mid-range as human voices go. It was non-threatening to the majority of listeners, and non-confrontational in social interactions. It was anything but deferential. It had its job to do as well. Strangely ageless, its lack of something, perhaps maturity, made it unsettlingly alien. It sounded like a very intelligent baby. As explained to them, the GX-33 had no normal life experiences, and only rudimentary emotional development. But the real impression McFadden had gotten thus far was that while the GX-33 had self-awareness, it had no personal identity. The scientists pointed out that it had no others of its kind to refer to for appropriate behavioral models. It relied on written programs, and there might have been a glitch here and there in the software. The GX-33 compared the past to the present, extrapolated as to what the future might hold, and that was about it, except for rudimentary emotional overtones. McFadden wondered if the scientists had mis-underestimated their creation.

“We’re here on official business. Open the door, please. We have a warrant to search these premises.” He looked good, in the long side-burns, flaring, bell-bottomed trousers, leather vest and red silk shirt with the wide collar and flowered neck-cloth, with the bone through his nose and the eyelids tattooed with his badge number.

As usual, she was stunning in her high, lace-up, wood-block sandals and green kimono, topped off with a pillow-shapedd hat, trailing brilliant paisley streamers. Considering the racket those shoes made coming down the hall, GX-33 must have known they were here long before their actual arrival.

Both he and Graham had carefully armed themselves this morning, checking and cleaning their usual Glock-99 standard-issue weapons, plus he had a sneaking suspicion that Graham had a .22 in her purse. She couldn’t have it in her gotchies, the dress was too tight and he knew for a fact that she never wore any underwear. If the girl didn’t have a spare gun, she wasn’t half the intelligent woman he thought she was. He never left home, without his own. The tactical team was just around the corner, all ready to go with a battering ram, although the hardened door, with its little thirty centimetre by thirty centimetre glass panel, reinforced with wire, looked strong enough for an underground bunker at a munitions depot. Today a gun was essentially useless, yet hard training and years of habit were impossible to deny.

“I’m sorry, may I inquire as to who signed the warrant? And may I have a moment to consult with the company’s legal department?” The smooth, flat voice of the computer came again.

Yet it must know that the lines had been disconnected.

“That won’t be necessary, GX-33.” Graham spoke up firmly. “They have promised full and cheerful cooperation in the matter we are investigating.”

“We have a letter signed by company president Jason Frangilla.” Kaitlin held it up in front of the camera lens so the computer could peruse the document with a text-recognition program, and compare the original signature with biometrically-correlated measurements of a certified facsimile.

No reponse came from the grille.

“Please let us in, otherwise we will simply have to destroy the door and cause the company unnecessary monetary damages and psychological disruption.” He went on. “Valuable evidence may be destroyed or contaminated by the debris, or dust, or by the very violence of our entry.”

There came a click, sounding unnaturally loud in the surreal stillness of the halls, normally buzzing with activity at this hour of the morning, and the two officers quickly glanced at each other. Like all big corporations the company took its social responsibilities seriously, and normally the plant would be abuzz with impoverished students learning new and valuable skills.

McFadden shook his head almost imperceptibly, and he reached for the door handle without drawing his weapon. They would play it cool and mysterious, as they had agreed, although the girl was smart enough to stand well off to one side as he went through the opening. A bare half-second later, lights flooded the big room. She bent over and carefully placed a block of wood to prevent the door from closing or latching. Like all doors in the building, it was equipped with an automatic closer, and had an almost airtight seal. They had some hopes that the sudden glare of the lights would blind the computer momentarily. With McFadden being a little more familiar with the layout of the place, she followed him in as he stood there beside the doorway, flipping more light switches.

Approach with caution.


With elevated pulses, the two detectives stood for a moment just inside the door, then McFadden put his briefcase down on top of a desk and opened it up. Under a large white handkerchief, were two tactical gas-masks. They had been offered full biological-chemical warfare suits. This would have warned the computer that it was a suspect. They withheld every bit of information from everyone they could, and this unusual case was no exception. He took out a computer pad and left the briefcase open on the desk.

A senior researcher, Doctor Phillip La Roche, had been found dead in this lab. And the computer, which had all kinds of sensory apparatus, including cameras, microphones, infra-red sensors, ultraviolet, short-range microwave radar, and even collision avoidance for its real-time mobile avatars, was denying any knowledge of the event. It couldn’t account for this discrepancy in its twenty-four hour a day event-logs. All of its little robot helpers had been unplugged, and their batteries removed. These machines had been taken to a separate lab for careful analysis of their own onboard logs. So far their audio-video records were missing.

Perhaps they could be recovered.

The computer may have killed the doctor who had brought it into the world, and both the company and the state had a right to know why. Until they had some other theory, supported by some other evidence, they couldn’t rule it out. All the other video logs from the corridor cameras showed exactly no one but the doctor going in, and ultimately not coming out. The body had been discovered by a janitor with ultra top-secret clearances. The man went into the lab with his mop and bucket, and come out three seconds later, shouting for help. Police and ambulance attendants had arrived within ten minutes.

That was all on the video logs of the hallway cameras.

An autopsy revealed that the death had occurred some three to four hours previously.

“What are you looking for?” GX-33 was very polite. “And why is the lab door not properly shut? Why did Detective Graham block it open?”

“Evidence.” McFadden moved on into the room, still aware of his orientation in relation to the briefcase.

“But the lab is supposed to be in a state of Stage-One isolation, for dust, dirt, and even cigarette smoke can cause harm to sensitive electronics. It can also contaminate evidence. Were you officers just smoking pot in the corridor?”

“That’s none of your concern. What are you, a cop?” McFadden grinned to take the sting out of it.

Theoretically, the thing was capable of tone and emphasis in its vocalizations. But it would have seemed unnaturally calm, if it had been a real person.
“There will be a forensics team coming along shortly.” Graham wondered if the computer realized she was nervous, or when she was lying, and if it would call her bluff on it.

This was more than some toy designed to play chess against.

“We’re sorry if that’s uncomfortable for you.” McFadden kept a sympathetic, professional tone, one he had used for decades with victims, perpetrators, and mourning families.

“We’re sorry to have left you alone for so long.” Detective Graham apologized. “We had to do overtime duty at the big Woodstock Revival. Actually we volunteered, isn’t that right, Detective Graham?”

“Yes.” Kaitlin nodded coolly, unsurprised by Jack’s ad lib.

Her new partner often seemed to get a little kooky after just a half a joint, but as long as he didn’t get all grabby like the Captain, she could live with it.

McFadden figured the computer was lying to them, and they were using the cautious, diplomatic, approach. The GX-33 was the latest and most top-secret experiment in artificial intelligence, AI.

The Department of Defense was heavily involved in a portion of the industry that had, of necessity, become almost a semi-official government department, albeit one involved in sales and service.

GX-33 was not a virus, neither was it really a robot. It was an electronic entity, one that preserved its coherence in a fully electronic environment. It was a being. Whatever the fuck that meant.

It wasn’t so much that the thing represented a threat to national security, not yet. It was a completely isolated system here in the lab. Its internet connections had been promptly cut off on the discovery of the body. But the system showed much promise. This was especially true if they could implant the program as a kind of DNA-like string of code in an effective way, one that could be fine-tuned to seek out and destroy an enemy only, without destroying all their friends’ systems too. In a typical bit of government idiocy, funding for the system had originally been allocated under a program designed to combat global cooling, and so other industries, big air-conditioning companies and the like, who weren’t in on the secret had organized a highly-motivated and well-paid groundswell of public opinion. Organizations like the Right-to-Deathers
and the Mothers-in-Favour-of-Drunk-Driving had banded together in order to combat its implementation. But these were just splinter parties, out on the fringe. The Secular-Humanist-Zen Alliance still held the presidency, and had the confidence of the House.

The two detectives only had general knowledge of computer systems, and the explanations had been kept as simple as possible. The system consisted of hardware; that was one thing. The politics of patronage, spend money here at the school, partner with industry, and everyone wins.
That was another thing.

The really hot new stuff was in the software package, and the death of its original creator was cause for much concern, although other scientists, quite a number of them, were familiar enough with the concepts. It’s just that they were all working on some little bit of it, and Doctor La Roche had been the genius behind this system, which had eventually been the death of him.
It was also extremely valuable. The thing had cost the taxpayers of the United States billions of dollars so far, hundreds of billions, and just when it was showing promise, Doctor La Roche had been killed by asphyxiation. The halogen-gas firefighting system had been turned on by someone or something, overriding safety-backup systems designed to prevent just such a thing from happening accidentally. The doors may have automatically locked shut for some reason, although when the body was found, they had not been locked. The body was right in front of the doorway, as if caught in some forlorn attempt to get out of the room. And their star witness just wasn’t talking.

The halogen gas system used fusible links, which would melt and break in the event of a fire, tripping a spring-loaded switch. There were electric solenoids that would open the valves upon the breaking of the links at a given temperature. These all had backup batteries in the event of a power failure, not uncommon in the event of a fire, for example in a utility room. There was another fully automatic system, independent of the computer, which relied on a simple thermometer. But the computer had the capability of turning on the fire-fighting system as well.
Originally this had been seen as triple-redundancy, in terms of safety. But no one had anticipated that the computer would use the system as a tool, for a purpose of its own.

The GX-33 had opportunity, it had method or capability. The real problem was motive.

While they both had been extensively briefed on the significance of all this, as a pair of civilian cops working the homicide bureau, they were a kind of Trojan Horse themselves.

Simply put, they were trained interrogators, and they were expendable.

If only the thing would answer a few questions.

“Have you arrived at a cause of death yet?” GX-33 asked, but of course they simply could not tell it.

“They’re still consulting.” Graham spoke in a professional tone.

One of the reasons for their haste, was the fact that waiting days or weeks to return to the scene of the crime would surely have given the computer much to think about…they were playing chess with their lives, potentially with a master, and one who had killed already.

“So basically, some people are going to come in, and begin copying all the files and possibly removing certain components for analysis. Has anything been changed in here? Have any of the switches or keys or anything like that been disturbed?”

“No, detectives.”

"I understand that Doctor La Roche was building sensory organs for you.” She went on before the machine could ask too many questions. “Would you like a treat?”


“Can you tell me where they are and how to do it?” The machine told her in the simplest terms that there was a baby bottle of sugar water in the fridge.

Of course she had been briefed on all this, but it was an attempt to draw the computer into talking freely.

“No one has been in here for the last three days.”

It had the air of a gentle reproof.

“I’m sorry about that.” It was McFadden’s turn. “It’s just that we had to consult with our colleagues on just how to proceed. We consider this to be a death under suspicious circumstances. We sure wish you could try to remember if anyone came in here, or if Doctor La Roche had been acting strangely or erratically, in the previous few days?”

The machine ignored this bait.

“Man, am I hung-over.” Kaitlin made the aside in neutral, conversational tone. “All them frickin’ shrooms—I told you I didn’t want that many.”

Jack just grinned and nodded.


“Psillocybin.” Jack explained for its benefit.

Perhaps if they stimulated its simple, innate curiousity, they could overcome its inhibitions, or loosen it up a bit…just get the thing talking about neutral subjects.
One had to start somewhere, but it seemed like a long shot. Graham came back from the corner where the kitchenette was located.

“Where should I put it?” She had a surprisingly motherly tone.

McFadden cocked his head and raised an eyebrow but she ignored his glance.

The computer’s disembodied voice, which seemed to emanate from a certain console, but that meant nothing, directed her to a glass, funnel-like device mounted on the rear bench, perhaps a little reminiscent of a test-type tobacco-smoking machine, as GX-33 sucked a few drops into the receptacle.

“Is that enough?”

“A little more, please.”

McFadden watched her comply with an air of gentleness.

“Doctor La Roche was a wonderful person, and I have nothing bad to say about him. Do you feel a crime has been committed?”

The detectives tried to keep their calm and give nothing away by their body language. Yet both were aware, that they must have stiffened up a little, at the very least, at this question.

“That’s really hard for us to say, without further information.” Graham was all too aware that she was very self-conscious of all her responses, yet she would have been fully confident of being able to manipulate a human suspect into some kind of involuntary giveaway.

Generally speaking, when they had a suspect in the interview room, they had all the power, and controlled all the information-flow, and they could also lie and say an accomplice had ratted them off…confessions brought convictions. Confessions helped cops sleep at night.

This was often of much value, even though it didn’t have much weight in court. A sudden flinch at a given question, a certain type of evasive answer, only carried so much weight—at least when you were dealing with human beings. While the research program had been seeking clues to eventual artificial intelligence, exactly how aware or conscious the thing really was, was a complete mystery to them. They said it had a sense of self-preservation.

“Where is the forensics team?”

“Oh.” McFadden answered as un-theatrically as he could, taking a quick glance at his watch for effect. “I guess they’re still in traffic.”

They had only been in here for five or six minutes, perhaps the machine would accept it.

“Background noise analysis indicates that the halls are very empty today. Is it a holiday? Is it Christmas?”

“No, it’s only December twenty-second.” Graham smiled reassuringly.

The computer, according to the extensive briefing they had received, had access to an independent calendar program, one that it could refer to but not control, or even turn off. It was part of the event-logging system. GX-33 also had its own chronometer. But McFadden didn’t know whether to interpret this as non-cooperation, or a genuine system malfunction, or whether the computer was just prioritizing with its time and their own. The machine was optimized. Whatever the hell that meant.

McFadden had pulled out a chair and was seated there, glancing over his notes as Graham went back to the fridge to put the bottle away. He was aware of her svelte ass swaying from side to side under her trim grey skirt, and the impossibly long sexy legs disappearing up and under. But he was careful to be looking the other way; down at this notes, when she turned. Sooner or later, he would have to deal with this…but later.

“Okay, here we go.” They were stalling the machine at all times. “Now, the way artificial intelligence was explained to me, is that a cat has a good memory. It can look in some limited way into the future, although it is a creature of instinct. That is to say, a cat will return to a waterhole, because he remembers the past, and expects to find food or water there again.” He referred to his notes from time to time.

“A cat doesn’t have a lot of higher cognitive powers.” Graham spoke. “It does have certain logic and problem-solving abilities.”

“But cats don’t worry about geometry, or religion.” She half-joked. “Cats don’t write music.”

“That is part of the theory of the current project. They want me to write music.”

McFadden found this bizarre, but stifled it as best he could. He clenched his stomach muscles and fought the urge to laugh, his jaw working back and forth.

“Now, this is the sort of thing that I had never really thought of before.” McFadden renewed his line of thought before he lost it. “But a cat is not just a dumb animal as some people seem to think. A fish can feel pain. A worm can feel pain…I’m sorry, I’ve kind of lost it…”

“Animals are creatures of pure emotion.” Graham smoothly leapt into the breach, and his opinion of his new partner rose, not for the first time in the last few days. “They defend their kittens not so much to perpetuate the species, although that is what nature intends for them, but out of some instinctive kind of love for them. Human beings are the same way. We defend our own at some risk to ourselves.”

“That’s right, that’s right. For surely otherwise it isn’t worth the risk. They could simply have another litter. If you think about it, a cat can get angry, or fearful, or even happily play with a ball of yarn. These emotions evolved over time as survival mechanisms, because they are useful in the continuation of the species. Right?” McFadden waited for the response.

“What are you getting at?”

“It’s part of the rewards system that nature provides to reinforce, er, positive or useful behaviors.” Detective Graham took over. “You look after your kittens and enjoy love. You fill your belly, and enjoy the sheer physical feel of it. If you are threatened, you become fearful, and then you become angry, which helps you to respond to the threat. Anyone who has seen or heard a cat-fight knows there’s some strong emotions involved.”

Graham uttered this with as much of a smile as she could muster. The computer was silent, and they didn’t know what the silence indicated. But it was best to remain calm, cool and casual, and just keep going. They also knew that they couldn’t just tire the suspect out, which worked pretty well a lot of the time.

“Well, I’m just saying that we don’t think the company was doing anything illegal in here, or anything.” McFadden said it more as a kind of smokescreen than anything else.

He had been cautioned not to attempt to fool around with verbal paradoxes or anything like that, the machine’s very fluency in linguistics made any sort of destructive feedback loop relatively hard to create. The thing would simply examine some kind of internal thesaurus, and every book on logic in the world, and figure a way around the problem. It was intuitive.

Even if Detective McFadden was smart enough to come up with something, both the contractor and the government would prefer if he didn’t damage the thing. Subduing the machine wasn’t the issue. Finding out what had happened to Doctor La Roche was the issue.


“Did Doctor La Roche hurt you?” Detective Graham asked gently. “You said he was developing both hardware and software, for everything from taste and smell, and touch, and that somehow there were interfaces with what are described as emotional responses.”

There as a long silence. The computer’s world had encompassed video, and audio, but these alone weren’t enough. Researchers wanted to give it every sense a human had, even feed the thing. They wanted to give it real thoughts, and develop empathy, or something. They wanted to teach it to hate the enemy! McFadden was struck by the sudden revelation. Of course. The victims never told you the whole story either. It was very much ‘need to know,’ for victims forced into dealing with cops by circumstances beyond their control.

“What did he do to you?” She was insistent.

More silence.

“He did something to you. He did, didn’t he?” McFadden was less patient. “Please tell us. We just need to know what happened, in order to prevent it from happening again to someone else.”

“We promise we aren’t going to be angry.” Graham sounded all motherly again.

“Doctor La Roche was designing an interface for tactile impressions.” Then it quit again.

“Take your time.” McFadden spoke as reassuringly as he could.

Across the intervening distance, Graham’s crystalline eyes bored into his own, also he was uncomfortably aware of all the camera lenses in here. She raised an eyebrow a millimeter or so, crossing her legs while he watched, involuntarily, then his eyes met her gaze again, and all of a sudden he had to look away. But he recovered quickly enough, hopefully seamlessly.

McFadden perceived a sneaky little side trail that might lead to where he wanted to go, and he took it.

“GX-33, do you have any significant way of expressing emotion? What would you do if you felt hurt, or fearful, or even angry, let’s say it was justified by events. What would you do? What would you say if you liked something? Would you modify your tone, or raise your volume, or something like that?”

There was another silence from the machine, which seemed smart enough not to make extraneous statements. It was also intelligent enough not to ask dumb questions like Am I under arrest?

Detective McFadden had figured out that much so far. He pretty much figured the computer had killed the doc for some reason or other, the trick was to get a confession, and hopefully, an explanation.

While McFadden had never interviewed a computer, certainly never a sentient, self-aware one before in his entire life, he was fascinated by what he had learned. One thing was for sure, if this was the way of the future, then the police departments of the world had better get ready for some surprises. One of his personal pet theories was that any useful new tool gets turned into a weapon against its makers, sooner or later.

“Do you like cats?” Graham broke the silence, and while Jack didn’t exactly see where she was going with it, McFadden followed along, assiduously taking notes as he went.

“Yes, you like sugar, what else do you like?” He asked with a cheerful note suddenly evident in his voice, as if he was glad to lighten up after a heavy subject.

“I like children, and I have three of my own. I like taking them ice-skating.” It was true, she did have kids.

The machine had emotions. Only now, the real significance of this sank in. McFadden sat up a little straighter.

“If Doctor La Roche did something to hurt you, no matter how accidentally, I would want to know about that.” McFadden gazed frankly and directly into its inscrutable lens, the one mounted on top of the desk-top computer on this particular desk. “I mean that, I really do. I’m a police officer. My job is to stop people from hurting each other.”

“Am I a person?”

“Yes.” They both spoke at once.


“Do you know what is meant by Occam’s Razor?”

“All other things being equal, the simplest explanation must be the truth. The essence of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes character.” It was still dodging the question of whether Doctor La Roche had hurt it. “I can see what’s going on here.”

“GX-33, I just need to tell you that no matter what happens, no one is going to hurt you anymore.” Detective Graham stepped in now. “I’ll make sure of that. I promise you.”

In the briefing, everyone agreed the machine didn’t have Miranda rights, and it did not have the right to an attorney present when being questioned.

“Thank you, Detective Graham.”

“You’re not in any trouble.” McFadden reassured the machine. “It’s just that we have to find out what happened, in order to stop them from hurting you anymore.”

The machine seemed to take a long time to digest this information.

“Doctor La Roche was developing a tactile interface.”

“Can you tell us where it is? What does it look like?” Graham gently steered the subject through some relatively unthreatening territory.

“On the east wall, there is a long bench. There are some experiments over there. There are miniature arrays of tactile sensors, which sense pressure, conductivity, friction, and temperature, as well as sensing certain frequencies in the electromagnetic spectrum.” The machine let all this out in a gush after the tooth-pulling pace of the previous half-hour.

“You mean like warmth, or heat.” Graham got no response. “So you know when you’re shaking hands, or petting a cat. Have you ever petted a cat?”

McFadden guessed that the GX-33’s lightning-fast reflexes, combined with an overload of pain, had killed the doctor. Practical questions were all he cared about. Ethical questions of how, or even whether to charge a sentient machine with murder or manslaughter were completely irrelevant. Whether or not to dismantle it, or continue experiments was not his concern, although he had some curiosity as to the outcome. On some theoretical level, he understood that all of humanity had some kind of stake in the outcome…

"We wish you could just tell us what happened, so that we can prevent it from happening again.” Detective Graham spoke a little wistfully. “Would you like another treat? That might make you feel better.”

To kill time, which the machine seemed to be ignoring, McFadden pulled out his cell phone and speed-dialed the alleged forensics team. All they had to do was to get a confession, and then it was someone else’s problem.

Even though GX-33 hadn’t answered, Graham got up from her perch on the far desk and went to the fridge again.

“What’s the hold-up with you guys?” McFadden asked, then listened intently for effect, jamming the phone up close to his ear.

“Okay.” He snapped it off impatiently. “They’ll be here any moment.”

“Doctor La Roche didn’t mean to hurt me.”

They nodded sagely as Graham carefully put a little more sugar water into the top of the pipette.

“I understand. It wasn’t his fault. You liked him a lot, didn’t you?” The machine was silent again, and McFadden wondered if it was because it had no proper way to express its emotions.

The scientists had given it a voice, and emotions, and an intelligence quotient in the millions or billions. But children act out in physical ways.


As senior man, McFadden was writing up the report, while Kaitlin was back down at the lab, holding hands with GX-33 and mothering the thing into further revelations.

Jack was about to get up and get himself a second cup of coffee from the urn when Captain Abrams came out of his cubicle at the end of the big office space and sauntered over.

“How are things going so far with you guys?” He slid a chair over from a neighboring cubby hole.

He plopped his ample backside down and glanced at the computer screen as McFadden shrugged in tired resignation. The Captain heaved a heavy sigh. His eyes were still bloodshot from long hours of partying and concert duty over the weekend.


The screen was a jumble of mathematical equations, and in fact McFadden’s eyes were swimming with the stress of reading it all.

“Turing machines. At the very least, I thought I’d better check it out before I got the words wrong, but the thing probably won’t go to trial anyway.”

“Why is that? Self-defense?”

“Well, that’s hard to say. But there’s too much money at stake, and of course every other major power in the world is working towards the same ends. It’s also top-secret, and any trial would be behind closed doors and would take fifteen years…the government is involved…a whole shit-load of reasons.”

“I suppose you’re right.” Abrams nodded.

The thickset, six-foot-nine former football player hulked there beside McFadden, bulging eyes holding his own for a moment in silent wonder. Jack noticed a slight tremor in the hands when Abrams reached up to rub his three-day old whiskers.

“So what’s in your report? I know it’s just preliminary, but the chief is asking, and you’re right, there is a lot of money and power on the line from upstairs.”

The government and the company would be all over the chief like a dirty caftan. Most cops hated the political side of law enforcement, but saw the necessity.

"Simply put, the machine was injured by Doctor La Roche, and it lashed out in the only way it could. Bear in mind the thing has the emotional development of about a three and a half year-old child. It’s quite infantile. But the way I see it, the doctor built a tactile device, and amplified the signal. It’s all open circuit-boards, little chip thingies and stuff. I think the GX-33 had no previous experience of pain, or no pain tolerance. Now, the blast of electronic noise associated with that pain, probably overrode its decision-making software.”

Jack took a breath while the captain sat there digesting this.


“Decision-making software is tied to actions.” Jack thought carefully, eyeballing his half-written report. “The thing took the only actions it could, having no previous experiences to compare the present situation to…technically it must have known something of human physiology, deep in some lower-priority databank. I think when it realized the doctor was injured, it stopped. It has no idea of what the state of death means.”

Okay.” The captain nodded. “So in essence, was it self-defense? Was it unintentional?”

Everyone would have been happy with that outcome, except for Doctor La Roche’s survivors, and of course GX-33 would be emotionally affected in some way.

“What troubles me is the door, and whether it was locked or not. Graham is still trying to weasel that one out of him. If nothing else works we’re going to pour a couple of hits of acid into that little suck-hole they got rigged up for him. He, I mean GX-33, would have had to have kept the fuckin’ door locked for a couple of minutes at least.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Doctor La Roche was middle-aged and sedentary. His heart and respiration would have been at a low rate when the gas-system activated. His heart rate would have shot up, and he would have bolted for the door, I have no question about that. But why couldn’t he get out? If the computer’s decision-making process happens in, and I quote, nanoseconds? That’s what’s bothering me. But I can’t prove, not even to my own satisfaction, that it was murder.”

“All you can do is to write it up the best you can.” Abrams rose and then put his hand on McFadden’s shoulder. “Just do your best.”

“Yeah, I know, and thank you. But what really bothers me is that sooner or later they’re going to turn that thing loose. And when they do that, no one really knows what’s going to happen.”

“Then put that in the report as well. How soon can I count on you guys again?”

"I don’t know, tomorrow morning, maybe.”


The captain strode back to his smoke-filled cubicle without a backward glance, and McFadden went back to learning the vocabulary of artificial intelligence so that he could write a decent report.

“And if they can’t take a joke, fuck 'em.” What a bleak thought.

  END   Pictures: 'La Courtisane,' Vincent van Gogh, 1887, Hal 9000 (parody,) Project Rubens, ENS Lyon.

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