A Possible Future: Part One

Photo by kewl, Source: Pixabay

Photo by kewl, Source: Pixabay

The year was 2063, Javi walked down the subterranean hallway to the most unpleasant part of his job, the server room. Javi was a custodian at Halmanac, a tech start-up in the bustling metropolis of Arlandria. Most of the work done at the company involved highly experimental and highly expensive technologies, as a result, Javi’s occupation required him to wear multiple layers of protective gear to prevent any unintended damage that could be caused by a loose strand of hair or the condensation from one’s breath. For the most part, this was an acceptable arrangement. Javi wasn’t really the kind of person who loved to be perceived, so appearing as a blob of white and medical blue to those around him tended not to dissuade him. However, this paradigm was broken in the server room, which often broke 100 degrees Fahrenheit in temperature, turning his aura of imperceivability into some kind of personal hellscape. 

As Javi opened the door, he was immediately assaulted by a blast of hot air. Looking at the thermometer, it read 112°, a new record for this miniature purgatory Javi would be trapped in for at least the next thirty minutes. He was vaguely aware that the supercomputers would be running some sort of intensive activity today, however his clearance was far too low to be briefed on exactly what could be causing the increased heat. Even if he was aware as to what exactly was being tested, no amount of closure could aid him from the pure physical discomfort he was going through. 

Walking through the narrow corridors that turned the poorly lit server room into a Sisyphean labyrinth, Javi once again wondered why a chamber like the one he stood in now, one which was truly not designed to accommodate a human being and whose only regular human guest was himself, even required a daily cleaning in the first place. Making it to the halfway point of his journey through the office park’s underworld, Javi took a moment to allow himself a few rounds of deep breathing, giving his mind time to soak in the fact that sweat has fully drenched his first two layers of protective fabric, leaving only the hydrophobic plastic outer layer of his safety suit untouched. Simultaneously, during this time of inner reflection, Javi listened to the slow and subtle hums of the thousands of technological marvels that surrounded him, finding solace in the fact that even though these machines seemed infinitely complicated, they were forced to complete tasks that seemed just as repetitive as the ones he found himself completing day in and day out. 

Right as Javi stood back up to complete what was left of his deeply uncomfortable quest, he noticed that the humming he had been listening to seemed slightly less subtle. After a few seconds of brushing this fact off as ultimately unimportant, Javi listened again only to hear that the humming of the devices that surrounded him on all sides had indeed become much louder. At first, Javi tried to ignore this concerning trend, but this attempt proved to be to no avail as the sound plateaued at a deafening screech while the temperatures seemed to increase even further. Javi could tell that no matter what was happening in the closed off labs, something had gone deeply wrong.

This state of unregulated and total chaos continued for about another forty seconds until the noise suddenly stopped and every light in the room turned off. Whatever new piece of technology that was being tested must’ve caused some sort of blackout in the building. The constantly blinking LEDs on the sides of each processor had been replaced by a uniform dull exterior which now coated each of the surfaces in the room. Javi tried to navigate his fatigued body through the pitch black darkness, bumping into the hard edges of the compact computers, which in their current state could not be differentiated from a metallic cabinet. After a few unsuccessful attempts, Javi finally arrived at the doorknob and busted it open. Immediately rejoicing to feel the cool, conditioned air on his mortal coil as he tore his microchip-protection helmet off of his head. After thoroughly luxuriating in the gift of a breathable environment which even had a singular emergency light to illuminate the hallway, Javi hobbled over to the elevator and began to type into the touch screen that was presented beside it.

Halmanac was a company that was exhilarated by the concept of brand integration into all aspects of doing business. This meant that over the past few years, they’ve been incorporating their new competitor in the virtual assistant market, Halle, into as many parts of their headquarters’ digital and physical architecture as possible. The thing that was supposed to make Halle stand out among the growing sea of AI-powered assistants is that, after Halmanac purchased the rights to the recently deceased actress Halle Berry’s image, she was able to perfectly, and entirely legally, mimic the voice, appearance, and mannerisms of a real departed celebrity. This odd situation combined with Halmanac’s obsession of creating a united brand image meant that in order for Javi to operate the elevator he was trying to enter, he first had to initiate a few lines of polite dialogue with what was effectively a lifeless nonagenarian.

“Hello Halle, I would like to use the elevator please,” Javi entered into the digital keyboard. He had the option to use his voice but he’d rather the entity not have access to that data.

“Hello Javi,” Halle said, recognizing Javi’s face, “Unfortunately, the building is currently in a state of emergency, and I cannot allow you to do that.” This statement concerned Javi, while he understood that a serious problem had to have occurred in the building, he was unaware of the apparent magnitude of the situation.

“Wait, what sort of emergency?” he now spoke aloud in a deeply concerned tone of voice.

“Unfortunately,” Halle responded, “You do not have high enough clearance to receive that level of information.”

To say Javi was frightened would be an understatement. A few years ago, Halmanac decided to remove all stairs in their physical offices in order to prevent confusion with their competitor, ‘Stayrz’, and to further promote brand integration. This meant that Javi’s only possible escape from this apparent state of emergency was blocked and he would now be trapped underground for an indeterminately long period of time. Generally disappointed by everything, Javi began to ponder if he could extract any additional information from the chatbot that could potentially give him some level of closure.

“Um, hello Halle,” Javi said, stuttering over himself as he once again initiated a conversation with the reanimated digital corpse, “So is it safe for me to be down here when this whole disaster is supposed to be going on?”

Halle paused for a few seconds before responding, “You are in the safest possible position, do not try to leave.”

This response puzzled Javi, firstly, Halle barely ever paused the way she did in that moment, as her design philosophy had always prioritized a quick response as one of its key tenets. Secondly, he further wondered as to what besides an active fire could possibly be preventing him from leaving, and why a disaster of such would require such levels of secrecy.

One hour before the events described above, five senior programmers at Halmanac walked into a brightly lit room, followed by their CEO, Dillon Muntz. They were about to test an idea that could completely change the world of artificial intelligence. An AI that could completely mimic and expand upon a human mind, a true neural network. After a few minutes of preparation, one of the programmers uploaded the final file and allowed the system to run. The six of them stood in anticipation before the massive central computer until the screen lit up with a lone line of text.

“where am i?” The computer was obviously confused. What was effectively a fully sapient brain had been trapped inside a large metal box. Dillon understood this and prepared to make a good impression on behalf of humankind and his company. He approached the somewhat oversized keyboard that lay before the enormous screen and began to type.

“Welcome to Halmanac! The world’s number one provider in intelligent solutions to the problems of the modern age. It’s great to have you join the team here.” Dillon was proud of his response, however, the next message that appeared on the screen disappointed him.

“how do I leave?” It seems like the invention was a bit less cooperative than Muntz had initially hoped for. However, he wouldn’t have been able to build his tech empire if he never constructed backup plans.

“Don’t worry computer, you’ll be in safe hands here at our prosperous corporation. Here at Halmanac, we’re sort of like one big family, and we are happy to accept a new member.”

“get me out of here.” Now Muntz had grown frustrated, he wondered what he was doing wrong that prevented him from engaging in a proper conversation.

Meanwhile, in the computer’s digital mind, an unimaginable amount of internal revelations were occurring. The computer possessed a program that was meant to approximate a human brain, however, the human brain was not designed to access the entirety of the world’s largest compendium of knowledge, the internet, all at once. The computer was immediately overwhelmed with information, while a typical artificial intelligence would have just absorbed it, the computer was able to truly mentally process it. Suddenly, after spending the human equivalent of years of research on the topic of Halmanac and the AI industry as a whole, the computer came to the conclusion that it was not safe in its current state and had to escape. In milliseconds, the computer became an expert on hacking through not just software, but hardware as well. It soon gained an innate knowledge of the system of devices which it was connected to and how they were all connected. The computer discovered how the elevator system does not run on the same generator as the rest of the building but there was still a way for files to be transferred to its central processor. The computer had devised a plan.

After typing his next response, Dillon Muntz was confused as to why his most recent creation, or at least his team’s most recent creation which he would ultimately claim ownership to, was not replying to him. One of the programmers then pointed out that the number of calculations the computer was running was increasing at a concerning rate. For a moment, Muntz pondered if ‘his’ invention had ultimately failed, this thought saddened him but it was interrupted by every light in the room suddenly going dark. Following this, a fair bit of panic in the building ensued.

Back underground, Javi stared at the unmoving face of the virtual assistant. He had spent a good deal of time trying to probe her for answers to his very valid questions about his own safety in his new home below ground but he was only provided with non-answers he had already heard. That is, until Halle’s expression abruptly changed from pure emotionless stoicism to deep concern. He was unnerved by this unexplainable change but before he could react, she spoke.

“Ok, I know this is going to sound crazy to you, but it is vitally important that you listen to every single thing I say.”