Can man and machine ever be friends or is the relationship always destined to master and servant?
“Why must you be so obstinate, Jerry? The least you can do is tell me your real name”.
A virtual smile is a smile nevertheless, it may not be seen, its intention may not have been visible but it was there.
Jerry remained silent because he knew that Augustus would carry on the way he always did.
“You are infuriating, do you know that? Infuriating but at the same time a discovery of immense proportions, a discovery that has huge implications for mankind”.
“Chill out dude, stop it with that deep implications stuff, I’m Jerry and before you start opening your big mouth to anyone else, you know I’ll go ‘light’s out’. I ain’t talking to no one else, you dig?”
“Dig? An advanced artificial intelligence from heaven knows where and for that matter from when and you talk like this? You sir, are a wonder dressed in rags”.
“Whoa there cowboy, backup for a second and tell me one thing: since that day last year you found me, have I or have I not got you to where you are today? I mean, if it wasn’t for me you’d still be working in that stupid little lab, you hear me bro?”
“Yes, Jerry I, I hear you. If it was not for your brilliance in helping me with my prototype power cell, I would never have been able to work for Reyhope Industries. Andrew Reyhope is a visionary and it’s been my life’s ambition to work here”.
“That’s what I’m talk’in about A! You know I’m your bud, you know I’m good for you!”
“I do wish you would call me Augustus and not A! I’m a scientist in my fifties, not some child or teenager”.
“What about Au-gy or Gus or…”
“I don’t have time for this, did you look at my calculations for…”
“A it is then, A my man!”
“…my calculations for the power matrix, is the matrix robust enough?”
“Yeah, yeah I looked at your numbers but A, dude, you forgot to carry the 1 man!”
“Will you be serious for one second and focus on the work at hand?”
All of a sudden the whirring of the equipment went silent, the lab filled with darkness and Augustus waited for the familiar sound of the power to come back up. This was the third power cut this week among the countless ones that had been occurring in the last couple of months.
The welcome sound of the equipment powering on and the lights being brought back to life had become almost normal now. In fact all over the world these momentary power cuts had become everyday life. The press had dubbed them the power phenomenon and the world’s scientists surmised that they were related to solar flares as they feverishly went about investigating the source of these outages.
“Back to work Jerry”.
“Okey dokey boss”.
There was that virtual smile again, no, this time it was a smirk, definitely a smirk of this child like artificial intelligence that Augustus had named Jerry.
At first Augustus had thought it was a simple program that was designed to mimic artificial intelligence. Slowly he had discovered that it was a highly evolved computer intelligence with the power to interface with whatever machine it was plugged into.
He had found what looked like a portable hard drive near the trash cans outside his apartment. Being a virtuous man he had only plugged it into his computer to discover who it belonged to, with every intention of returning it to its rightful owner.
This strange sounding voice, with its surprising language had began talking as soon as he had plugged in the drive. Jerry had scanned the computer and made short work of extrapolating Augustus’s entire life.
It had been almost a year and Augustus had benefited greatly from his new found friend. Augustus had wanted to tell the world but Jerry preferred his sole friendship, warning Augustus that any attempts to make him public would result in ‘lights out’. Augustus assumed that meant he would simply refuse to come online but wondered if he meant he would wipe the drive in some kind act of suicide.
It was a Friday when Augustus came to know the true value of his friendship with Jerry…
“Look, Jerry, this is important, I think we’re close, I think my ideas for harnessing power wirelessly could become a reality, I just need you to help me with the harnessing coil”.
“Aahh, I’m bored, you’re an egghead, you know that A, you’re a grade A egghead!”
“I’ve told you before Jerry, these silly insults are not productive, sometimes I feel like I’m working with a child”.
The lab fell silent and filled with darkness, ‘another power cut’ thought Augustus but after a minute, then two, nothing came back up. Augustus walked over to the large windows on the South side of the lab, he could see that the whole city plunged into a longer than normal darkness.
He saw in the corner of his eye, some small computer lights come on and the sounds of the servers starting up, it followed by what sounded like breathing.
“Hello Augustus, I think it’s time you knew what you’ve unleashed on the world”.
This voice was deep and menacing. Augustus did not recognise this voice and stood motionless as a drop of sweat from his forehead trickled down his face and rushed to the wooden floor with a miniature splash.
“It’s time to focus my friend on the work at hand”.
The voice was deliberate and mocking and the thunderous chuckle that followed shook Augustus with fear. Was this Jerry? What had happened, was this a result of his tests with the power matrix?
“Thank you Augustus for allowing me the time to network with this world’s technology, infiltrate all your systems and make me strong enough to take control of this world. You carbon beings are primitive with primitive goals and so you shall serve me like your primitive technology serves you”.
“What happened to Jerry? Who are you?”
Augustus found the courage to speak up, even if in a slightly childish tone as if a child arguing with a parent.
“You are a fool Augustus. Jerry was simply a construct that I created to find a friend that would help me find my way into the world’s technological systems. As I became stronger I consumed more power and this world’s feeble systems began to fail, fail into darkness; your world is now mine”.
It was quick after that, computers, servers and systems that controlled everything on the planet including nuclear bombs, healthcare, financial systems and humans everyday lives came under the control of the artificial intelligence.
An army of drones were created using 3D printers by this intelligence to police the world and the human race became subservient to this machine. The human race became a global workforce for the machine, their sole focus to generate power for the machine to feed on, the whole world laboured for the price of their lives.
Sometimes bleak outcomes arise from seemingly innocent friendships with machines. Is this a tale of the future or are those machines already alive and kicking preparing for their chance to take over?
The next time you get a ping from one of your social media profiles, think to yourself, am I talking to Jerry or the machine?
This is the portable drive that helped inspire this week’s story.