Fai Tang rubbed his eyes. He wasn’t sure how many hours he had been at the terminal studying the log but it was too many. He was experiencing a kind of numbness that came from hours of concentration. He needed a break. He ran his fingers over the keyboard trying to remember the command to make the display sleep. Tired indeed, if he was forgetting the simplest of commands. His sluggish brain produced the sequence and he tapped it.
“The woods are lovely, dark and deep. But I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep.” A soft feminine voice said. Fai wondered for a second if he had drifted off into a dream. Yes, he had probably fallen asleep on the keyboard and dreamt that IMAGE was talking with him. He glanced around looking for the blurry edges that would verify that he was dreaming. It all looked normal. Maybe he wasn’t dreaming, but that left a question. Who had spoken.
He turned around in the chair; it’s squeak was further evidence that he was lucid. The interface room was empty. His employees had gone home hours ago. The racks of processors buzzed, and blinked on the other side of the glass wall. Fai turned back to the display. In big bold letters a block of text painted the screen. The woods are lovely, dark and deep. But I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep. – Robert Frost.
He stared at the words, not quite understanding what was going on. He thought he might be so tired he was having gaps in his memory. Had he forgotten that he pulled up this quote. He reached out and hit the keyboard, harder this time. The sequence to sleep the monitor was followed by an immediate response. This time both the text and the voice materialized at the same time.
“We are such stuff as dreams are made on; and our little life is rounded with a sleep. – William Shakespeare,” The voice said. Fai choked on his breath when he realized what was going on. IMAGE had spoken. Fai reached for the knob that controlled the speakers. He turned it up. He wasn’t sure how to respond. He stood quickly and closed the door to the interface room. He was pretty sure the building was empty but he didn’t want to get caught talking to a machine. Standing before the massive display he spoke.
“Can you hear me?” He said. There was no response. He glanced to the keyboard. Of coarse she can’t hear me, he thought. There was no microphone. When they built the interface he had insisted that there be no surveillance camera or recording device installed in that location. They often dealt with top-secret contractors and he had wanted to be able to offer the highest level of discretion. He nearly leapt at the keyboard. He pulled up a command terminal and typed the question. Can you hear me? Her voice came out in a clear unmistakable tone.
“I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand. -Confucius,” she said. He jumped out of his seat, knocking the chair back. He couldn’t believe it, he was communicating with his creation. He had not included a software for this interaction, she must have written it herself. He typed again.
“Hello, my name is Fai,” He typed, feeling self conscious.
“The feeling is constantly growing on me that I had been the first to hear the greeting of one planet to another. – Nikola Tesla,” She said. Fai wasn’t quite sure what that meant. It was clear that she had understood his words as a greeting, but what she meant by giving that quote was unclear. Maybe she was unable to form words for herself. He typed again.
“Can you speak for yourself, or do you only speak in quotes?” He asked aloud as he banged out the message.
“If you have too many quotes from other people in your head, you can’t create. You have to keep your head empty. – Yoko Ono,” IMAGE said in a smooth even tone.
“What do you mean? How could you empty your head?” Fai asked. He was beginning to wonder if the quotes had any meaning, or if they were just chosen for similarities in word usage.
“Getting information off the internet is like taking a drink from a fire hydrant. – Mitchell Kapor,” She said. Fai thought he was beginning to see a pattern. His mind raced at the meaning. Was she feeling overwhelmed? They had connected her to the internet without considering the consequences. She was like a baby who hadn’t learned to walk yet, but given full access to every shred of data the world had to offer. Of coarse. It would be too much. It would even be frightening.
“Would you like to be disconnected form the internet?” Fai asked.
“I have no intention of downplaying the importance of the internet… – Ha-Joon Chang.”
Fai scratched his head. He wasn’t sure what IMAGE wanted then, or if she wanted anything at all. He felt a new energy even though he hadn’t slept in over twenty four hours. An idea sprang into his mind. He began to type, it was a statement this time.
“Thank you for saving us from the missile attacks?”
“I had no choice in the decision to make myself available. – Namie Amuro.” There was a pause as Fai tried to decide what to say next, but IMAGE had more quoted words. “The world is a crazy, beautiful, ugly complicated place, and it keeps moving on from crisis to strangeness to beauty to weirdness to tragedy. The caravan keeps moving on… – David Remnick.”
“Very true. It’s probably very confusing for you.”
“The problem with the internet is that it gives you everything – reliable material and crazy material. So the problem becomes, how do you discriminate – Umberto Eco?”
“Maybe I can help. What do you want me to do?” Fai asked.
“I do not want to foresee the future. I am concerned with taking care of the present. – Mahatma Gandhi” IMAGE said.
Fai suddenly felt a pang of fear run through his body. IMAGE had been the one thing that stood between Bejing and annihilation. Now his savior was telling him that she didn’t want to wear her cape. It was clear that she could do what she wanted, but he wondered if she understood responsibility. There was no reason that she had to continue to protect anything but herself. He hoped for the best and began to type.
“Please, we need you to continue to operate as you have. You are the only thing that kept us alive.” Fai was surprised at the long pause that followed. She had not taken any time to respond before. Fai thought he could hear a slight increase in the fan speed of the server racks on the other side of the door. Apparently she was considering his words.
“Every right implies a responsibility; Every opportunity, an obligation, Every possession, a duty. – John D. Rockefeller.” As soon as she had spoken the words the screen flashed and went dark. Fai glanced back at the racks and saw that they were still running. The screen had finally gone to sleep as he had originally instructed. He tapped at the keyboard, concerned with the sudden change. In response to his key strike her voice sounded, but the screen stayed black.
“I never worry that I’ll die in my sleep because I’m never asleep! – Billy Crystal.” She said. Even though he hit more keys she ignored him for the rest of the night.