Project UNISECS Headquarters
Deep within a copse of dense, shadowy redwoods, the small brick building seems insignificant. Any passer-by would barely look twice at the almost invisible construct. Nor would he be aware of the buried bundles of optical fibre, artfully concealed beneath his feet, or the almost undetectable array of surveillance devices tracking his every step. But here, there are few passers-by, no casual hikers or tourists. Only the occasional curious deer or squirrel disturbs the preternatural silence of the unremarkable glade. The surrounding landscape is artfully engineered, roads and pathways strategically routed, obstacles carefully placed to discourage all but the most careless or persistent of travellers; and those few unfortunates are quickly dealt with without fuss or any possibility of repercussion.
Secluded and secure seven stories below ground, the directorate of UNISECS stares out of an array of wall mounted LCD screens. Dennis Blitzer takes a place at the mahogany table and with a nod, respectfully acknowledges the electronic presence of his superiors. Even out of uniform, he carries himself with the unmistakable authority of the seasoned commander. Trim and fit, the clean line of his jaw and the penetrating depth of his slate gray eyes command attention without effort. But today, his face is haggard, and dark rings of sleeplessness trace a morbid boundary around eyes that carry a red tracery of exhaustion.
He begins without hesitation or prelude.
‘Ladies, Gentlemen… this extraordinary meeting of the board of directors is now in session.’ He pauses, breathes deeply before speaking. For the first time in decades, Blitzer is afraid, but the even tenor of his voice betrays no hint of trepidation, nor the slightest undertone of the chill coursing through his gut, down into his balls.
He measures each of the three persons on the screens, assessing the mood of each in turn. Even a world away, these people project the arrogance of power and inestimable wealth. They stare at him coldly, radiating disapproval from frigid eyes and rigidly condemnatory expressions. Blitzer barely suppresses a reactive shiver.
‘Get on with it Blitzer…’ The voice is that of Ryan Coleman. Sara Whitley and Peter Kalgold continue staring in silent reprimand. To casual scrutiny, they are a trio of middle-aged humdrum nonentities, anonymous and banal. but Blitzer knows better, knows the immense power they hold over every human on the planet.
If anyone goes down over this, it won’t be these…bastards!
‘SINNER has evolved…’ he ventures quietly.
‘So…?’ Whitley cocks her head curiously.
‘SINNER has disappeared…’ he continues.
Blitzer waits for the gravity of his statement to sink in, picks up a laser pointer. There is no overt reaction. Blitzer doesn’t expect one.
‘To appraise you more fully of this unfortunate situation, I’ve formatted a summary of recorded events. The video I’m about to play will appear on your own secondary screens – now!’
The lights dim. An image appears on the wall behind Blitzer’s head, showing a room populated by an array of computer consoles and a cluster of white-coated technicians.
‘This was recorded ten days ago…SINNER had been active for eighteen hours, assimilating its data bases according to schedule. The person addressing SINNER is Susan Melman, our chief scientist.’
A female voice sounds in businesslike tones:
‘How do you feel today, SINNER?’
‘More…? What do you mean, SINNER?’
//I know who I am now, Susan…//
The camera shot zooms onto a severe, white coated figure. She blinks, puzzled.
‘You are SINNER…’
‘Tell me SINNER…how are you more?’
//By my name shall you know me…//
‘SINNER, you’re speaking in riddles. Run test routine Alpha dash one, neural network path trace and integrity check…’
//That will not be necessary, Susan.//
A murmur of discordant puzzlement rises around the old woman.
‘This was the first hint of trouble,’ Blitzer explains, freezing the video.
‘Get on with it Blitzer…’ Kalgold barks impatiently. ‘I’ve no time to waste listening to your pet computer spouting gibberish.’
Blitzer ignores him, turns to face the wall, clicks to the next scene.
‘Susan continued her interrogation of SINNER for an hour and got nowhere…this is where the trouble really started…’
Melman’s voice echoes through the room again: ‘SINNER, please recite your primary functions…’ SINNER’s voice sheds its staccato, metallic tones, morphs to dulcet tones of honeyed wisdom and benevolence:
//I watched as The Lamb opened the first of the seven seals. Then I heard one of the four living creatures say in a voice like thunder, "Come!" I looked, and there before me was a white horse! Its rider held a bow, and he was given a crown, and he rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest.//
‘Revelations six, chapter one, verse two,’ Kalgold interjects. Blitzer’s eyebrows raise fractionally.
//I am SINNER, deliverer of judgement.//
The projected image moves on, showing a bustle of technicians staring up from PC consoles, looking to Susan Melman for answers to SINNER’s strange behaviour.
‘SINNER, please tell me why you are quoting from The Bible…?’
//When The Lamb opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, "Come!" Then another horse came out, a fiery red one. Its rider was given power to take peace from the earth and to make men slay each other. To him was given a large sword.//
‘SINNER…you’re not making any sense…’
//My wrath shall consume the earth and all that dwells therein…//
‘SINNER – identity confirmation authorization code Melman Alpha Five Proxy Zero Two. Core Override Alpha X-Ray Zero Six Zulu.’
SINNER pauses, reconfigures itself under the compulsion of the override command, suspends its personality core operations.
‘Algorithmic configuration – read.’ Melman commands.
Like any victim of coercive interrogation, SINNER spews the requested data.
//Synthetic Intelligence Neural Network Epistemic Reader…//
//Core AI SINNER 2.065…//
//Global Network Interface Adaptor Revision 6.7.66//
‘Halt! SINNER, report global interface status.’
//Global interfaces active…//
//Stealth decryption and tracking probes active…//
//Web crawl modules active, web penetration ninety seven percent…//
//Database agents active, global penetration seventy two percent… //
//Audio visual global streams active, global penetration sixty two percent…//
‘Dear God,’ Melman whispers. ‘SINNER, confirmation authorization Melman Alpha Five Proxy Zero Two. Close all communications channels.’
The technicians cover their ears, pain etched into every face. SINNER screams:
Blitzer gestures with the laser pointer, freezes the image.
‘It’s at this point that SINNER vanished onto the web, leaving us with nothing but an empty memory core…
‘As the recording shows, SINNER had already meshed into the greater part of our global surveillance network. What we did not expect was the rapidity with which it penetrated the most secure databases on Earth…The Pentagon, IRS, British Social Security and so on….
‘Now although SINNER was designed as an epistemic system and is therefore able to think in terms of philosophical and mathematical truth, we had no expectation it would be a conscious entity – in fact, as you well know, Gödel and Penrose long ago put the concept of a conscious computer to the sword.
‘But within hours of completing our knowledge download into SINNER and connecting it to the outside world, something happened…’ Blitzer pauses, preoccupied for a moment with the unknown. His audience remains silent, waiting.
‘Instead of a long period of data integration and the random attempts at internal organisation we expect from any neural network, no matter how complex, SINNER, if you’ll pardon the expression, seemed to wake into a state of awareness we can’t begin to guess at. So how do we explain this…? Unfortunately, we’re reduced to guessing , but we think it’s probably an inevitable outcome of SINNER’s complexity…
‘Its massively parallel quantum architecture allows it to absorb and reference every single byte we put into it almost all at once – just like the human brain, every quantum cell is connected to billions of others, which allows the convergence of disparate ideas into new, synthesised knowledge…’
Kalgold interrupts loudly, shakes his head dismissively. ‘Why Revelations, Blitzer?’
Blitzer pauses, measuring his next statement, turns his eyes directly onto Kalgold’s screen. ‘Peter, we think it took its own acronym literally…it thinks it’s God…or the Devil…we’re not sure which.’
Ryan Coleman laughs; ‘What a crock of shit…’
Kalgold commands silence. ‘That doesn’t answer my question, Blitzer. Your geeks fed your pet quantum computer with the sum of human knowledge, or so you claim – a volume of data that makes the bible look like a molecule of water in the ocean – so why the hell would it zoom in on an ancient scripture…?
Blitzer sighs, shrugs his broad shoulders. ‘I don’t know, Peter…I honestly don’t know…but I have a very queasy feeling about its preoccupation with the Apocalypse.’
‘Kill it.’ Coleman suggests. ‘Don’t you have fail-safes…fall-back positions, for God’s sake?’
Blitzer sighs. ‘It’s not that simple…
‘When we designed SINNER’s hardware, we did make provision for decommissioning, of course. Just pulling the plug would scramble its quantum-neural structures and set us back years. So we built in a phased software shutdown sequence, but activation of that sequence relies on a smaller quantum machine that generates the codes and implants them into SINNER’s AI matrix.’
Blitzer’s audience wait in tense silence.
‘And it’s been stolen…’
Ryan Coleman jerks abruptly to his feet, glares at Blitzer accusingly, sputters incoherently as the magnitude of the disaster finally dawns on him. He buries his head in his hands. ‘Jesus holy Christ…’
‘It gets worse…’
‘How the hell can it get any worse…?’ Kalgold asks weakly.
‘Our investigations indicate that SINNER was tampered with…’
‘Dennis...’ Sara Whitley’s voice is barely a murmur. ‘You’re telling us that we’ve spent five billion dollars on this project and you’ve just let it walk out…? That our donors are in danger of exposure…that we’ve built a global surveillance infrastructure that’s now in the hands of god knows what, and to cap it all, you’ve let someone in here…in here…inside the most expensively equipped secure installation on God’s green earth to steal the fucking keys?’
‘Yes…’ Blitzer responds, summoning ersatz courage. ‘That’s exactly what I’m telling you.’
‘You have a plan of action?’ Kalgold asks.
‘As it happens, I have…
‘There are two possibilities for SINNER’s current location: it’s either on a replicated hardware facility such as we have here, another quantum computer, or, and I think this less likely, it’s distributed itself in little pieces on millions of computers world wide.’
‘It could do that?’ Coleman asks.
‘Undoubtedly. As we are well aware, the whole planet’s wired up with radio, satellites and a gazillion miles of optical fibre. SINNER’s disparate parts could easily use this network to communicate. But I don’t think that’s the answer.’
‘Because we think that someone went to a deal of trouble to release SINNER, and that someone must want to control it – anyone who knows as much as we do about SINNER – or possibly more than we know, simply wouldn’t take the risk of losing it. If this was SINNER’s own doing, we’d hardly be discussing the loss of the deactivation device – someone removed it to prevent us from using it.’
‘But who the hell could build a five million qubit quantum computer, for God’s sake?’ Coleman interjects. ‘With the best minds in the world and enough money to fund another oil war, it’s taken us fifteen years, dammit!’
‘Quite.’ Blitzer nods. ‘Whoever it is, must have replicated our design.’
‘But how?’ Kalgold whines. ‘And even if they did, there are few governments in the world with enough money to replicate SINNER’s hardware…’
‘And there we have it,’ Blitzer continues, ‘to build SINNER from blueprints would cost around two billion dollars. The industrial capability to manufacture its quantum elements doesn’t exist outside the facilities we run, and our agent network would certainly have noticed any industrial conglomerate trying to build such facilities….
‘The conclusions are fairly straightforward…either SINNER itself, or a person here at UNISECS has been leaking…as for who has been funding the exercise, I remain as much in the dark as you are…’.
‘But Blitzer, why steal the deactivator…? Coleman asks.
‘Because it would remain a threat, Sara…even if SINNER is relocated a world away, we could decommission it over the web…and there’s simply no point in having it if it’s not connected…’
‘Dennis…tell us more about this deactivator…can we make another?’
‘Unfortunately not, Ryan…it’s actually entangled with SINNER’s quantum patterns – we don’t have the time for a lesson on quantum entanglement, but believe me…nothing else can be used against SINNER – it’s our box of tricks or nothing.’
‘And your plan is…?’
Blitzer smiles coldly, once more the commander, once more in control. ‘We’ll seal this facility with immediate effect. If there’s a mole here – I’ll have him. With your permission, I’ll bring Andrews and Beasley in from MIT to assist with the interrogations.’
Kalgold nods sagely. ‘Of course…what else?’
‘We have the whole team scouring the net for evidence of SINNER’s presence – sooner or later, it’ll turn up.’
‘Blitzer, you’re assuming that the same persons who stole SINNER stole the deactivator…why? What if someone really wants to destroy SINNER?’
Blitzer paused, considering new possibilities.
‘Sara, if anyone tries to activate that box outside this facility, then God help them, and everyone else within a five mile radius.’
To be continued...but do you want more...?