“Why did IMAGE not predict this?” Huan Chow asked as Fai Tang walked through the door. Fai had been on a long flight from L.A. To Beijing, and the jet lag was catching up with him. Even on a private flight Fai Tang did not enjoy air travel. He put his bag down inside the door of his office and rubbed his tired eyes. He glanced around the facility where IMAGE, the worlds most advanced supercomputer, was housed. This had been his workplace, laboratory, and playground for the last decade and he was glad to be home. The warehouse of computing racks blinked with thousands of colored lights.
“Predict what?” Fai asked. “I just got off the plane, I don’t know what you’re talking about.” He pulled his phone from his pocket and realized that he had forgotten to turn it back on. Although there was no need to turn his device off on a private jet, he used any excuse he could to unplug. He pressed the button on the device as Chow filled him in on current events.
“The war. Why didn’t IMAGE predict it.”
“War?” Fai said simply. This was news. Chow had his full attention. For the first time, he looked at the man. Fai noticed the bags under his employee’s eyes. He looked tired. Fai considered every word.
“Nuclear war!” Chow said. “First Israel, then Iran. Now bombs are flying every direction. Even Beijing went active. We just got instructed to evacuate. We’ve been targeted. Bejing is going to be a crater in less than half an hour.”
Fai covered his mouth with his hand as it fell open. Strange that in this moment he did not consider his own life, or even the life of the men and woman that worked for him. Instead his mind went immediately to IMAGE. They had made incredible breakthroughs in the last few years. They were on the verge of true digital intelligence. To imagine all of that being destroyed because some middle eastern country couldn’t play well with others was abhorrent. Lost in thought, Fai hardly heard Chow’s words.
“We have to evacuate now.”
“We have to move her.” Fai said. Although he tried to be careful not to personify IMAGE in front of outsiders, Among the team at TZI the supercomputer was considered to be a personality. Ever since she had started writing her own software, she had taken on a life of her own. In front of a select few, he was vulnerable enough to admit that he considered IMAGE to be his own child. Chow, again, interrupted Fai’s thoughts.
“It would take weeks to move all the racks even if we worked around the clock. We don’t not have time. We need to get out of the city now!”
Fai looked out over the enormous bank of computing racks and considered the dilemma for a long moment. Chow stood silently waiting for his boss to respond. With a spark of intuition, Fai looked back to Chow, a renewed excitement in his expression. Fai gestured for Chow to follow.
“This presents a unique opportunity.” Fai said as he stepped into the GUI room. Across a huge wall stretched an impressive array of monitors. The digital display was the largest single screen in the world. Fai sat down at the terminal in front of the massive display and began to type.
“An opportunity, Sir? This isn’t the time for experiments. We only have about 24 minutes. If we take the company helicopter we can be out of the blast radius just in time.” Chow said with urgency in his voice. Fai stopped and turned to him with a fiery expression.
“What is the third imperative of a living organism?” Fai asked. They had had the conversation many times over the years as they worked to create the first truly artificial intelligent entity. Fai’s design had incorporated a set of programs to mimic real world organisms. The board of directors had forbidden Fai’s team to run the software, because of the obvious dangers associated. Chow recited the answer easily.
“Self Preservation?” Chow said, sounding more like he was asking a question than answering one.
“That’s right, We could try to defend IMAGE, but that’d be like an snail defending a lion. We just need to let the lion out of the cage. She can defend herself,” Fai explained.
“You’re not serious are you?” Chow asked as if he already knew the answer.
“We are going to initiate IMAGE’s self preservation protocol.” Fai turned back to the terminal as soon as he finished speaking. His hands were in motion, ramming commands into the keyboard at lightning speed. Chow watched from behind.
“We can’t without board authorization!” Chow said. Fai didn’t respond. “Please Mr. Fai, we have to get out of here.”
Fai was too busy to hear him. He continued to input information as the wall sized screen responded with windows materializing, status indicators blinking, and progress bars growing. It was impressive to watch Fai Tang work, but Chow apparently was more concerned with the imminent threat. Chow reached out and gripped the back of Fai’s chair. He forcefully spun him around and leaned in. This show of disrespect was a risky move but Fai took it in stride.
“Did you hear what I said? We only have a few minutes before the bombs fall. We have to get out of here.” Chow shouted.
Fai was about to respond, but something flashed on the screen behind him. He could see the illumination fill the entire room, and Chow’s face went pale as his eyes looked to the massive monitor. Fai turned in his chair to see what Chow was seeing.
“What have you done?” Chow asked. Across the massive screen the words, imminent threat detected, calculating counter measures.
“She’s much more capable of defending herself than we are,” Fai said. “I gave her the command to defend herself. She’s discovering her will to live.”
Chow sprang forward to the keyboard. Leaning over Fai’s shoulder Chow began punching keys trying to undo what his boss had just done. Fai stood and shoved his subordinate back and planted himself between Chow and the keyboard.
“You can’t do this!” Chow shouted. “We have no idea what she’s capable of.”
“We’re about to find out,” Fai said with a wild fire burning behind his expression. His child had just come alive, and he couldn’t wait to see her first breath. He wished that he could have brought her fully online in other circumstances, but if they were going to die, he wanted to let his creation live for as long as possible before the end came.
“It’s too dangerous!” Chow yelled, still red in the face.
“More dangerous than an atomic bomb? She might be the only thing standing between us and annihilation!”
“So what happens when this all blows over, there’s no way that we can contain her.” Chow bellowed.
“If she doesn’t do anything the only thing that will be blowing over is a super heated nuclear blast wave. If there are bombs coming our way, we’re dead already.”
Chow’s demeanor softened. His eyes scanned the screen. Fai turned once more to see what the display could tell him about the inner workings of his digital daughter. It flashed as millions of lines of code began writing themselves. The screen scrolled at a hundred kilometers an hour. The two men watched in awe as IMAGE flexed her muscles.
“Can we get a display format that is easier to understand?” Fai asked. Although he had designed the architecture of the computer itself, Chow had been in charge of the graphical user interface. Chow stepped forward apprehensively. Fai moved aside and offered Chow the seat. Before the second in command sat, Fai put his hand on his employee’s chest and spoke gently.
“Are you with me or against me?” Fai asked.
“I’m with her, and since we’re dead already, let’s teach her to run!” Chow said. Fai slapped the man on the shoulder and nearly howled with excitement. As dire of a situation as this was, Fai was full of life. They had very few real world opportunities to allow IMAGE to stretch her wings, but they would finally get to see what she could do.
With Chow at the helm the display changed immediately. Lines of code converted into imagery, graphs, and charts. Chow scrolled through the information with practiced ease.
“She’s scanning military satellite feeds,” Chow said but then added. “Wow, she’s pushing 21 exoflops! She’s over-clocking herself.” The sound of server fans grew in the background as the supercomputer moaned under the weight of the heavy lifting.
“How did she decrypt them?”
“This is a singularity, Mr Fai. From this point on, we will not understand how she does what she does. By all definitions, she’s alive.”
Fai stepped in closer so he could watch Chow’s hands at work. It seemed that Chow was doing less as IMAGE took over more and more of her subsystems. The screen’s contents sped faster and faster each second as she crunched innumerable mountains of data in her fight for survival.
“She’s got them!” Chow said. “Five cruise missiles targeting Beijing.”
Chow punched a string of buttons. The display showed five separate point-of-view video feeds from the missiles that posed them imminent threat. The scenery blurred by so quickly, it was impossible to tell where they currently were. They were rocketing by the landscape at unimaginable speed.
“Can she hack them, redirect them, or something?” Fai said.
“She’s already on it.” Chow turned to his boss. Fai’s excitement had spread to Chow. “She recognizes the threat. She’s thinking for herself!” Chow’s face displayed all the enthusiasm that Fai was feeling.
One of the missile feeds glitched out and then went dark. The word deactivated flashed across the window where the feed had been. Chow raised his hands in the air and howled with excitement, as if his favorite sports team had just kicked a goal.
“How did she do that? Those are probably at least 256bit encryption lines,” Fai asked. He wanted to understand how the magician was performing her tricks. Chow on the other hand just sat back, apparently content to enjoy the magic show.
“Who cares how she does it! It’s amazing!”
The four remaining missiles continued along their dizzying path. Chow stood and watched the screen next to Fai. There was nothing else he could do, IMAGE was handling everything. Almost as if she knew that she was putting on a show she toggled through various windows to indicate to the men what was happening behind the curtain. They were utterly enthralled as their savior proved her worth. Two more missile feeds were deactivated within a few seconds of each other.
“She’s getting faster.” Fai said.
Another video feed went black leaving only one remaining. As the cruise missile view blurred by, Fai thought he recognized the imagery. He could feel his body tensing as it became apparent that IMAGE may not be able to save them. The outskirts of Beijing whizzed by on the monitor. Fai let out a groan. He could hardly stand it.
“Come on, Baby! You can do it!” He shouted. The thought occurred to him that this might be the last second he was alive. The government district came into view on the screen. The blast radius would get them for sure. Fai closed his eyes, as if that would make the destruction any less fantastic.
“You did it!” Chow shouted. Fai opened his eyes to see Chow running toward the massive wall screen. He placed his hands on the display and kissed it repeatedly. Fai glanced to the monitor to find that all five missiles had been deactivated. He watched with stunned relief, hardly able to believe what had just happened.
The windows melted away from the screen and a new display replaced it. In big letters imminent threat eliminated. Fai realized that he had forgotten to breath for some time. He breathed out his tension and allowed his muscles to ease. He felt like the proud father who had taught his child to defend herself against a playground bully, except when she threw a punch, missiles fell out of the sky.
“So that’s what happens when we tell a computer to defend herself,” Fai said.
Chow turned and ran to Fai, wrapped his arms around him, and jumped up and down. Although Chow’s style of celebration was more gregarious than Fai was comfortable with, he joined in the levity not worried for once that it was improper behavior.