Chapter Nine

Several days had passed since Teller’s broadcast. The stockpile of contact computers his company had built up over the year was rapidly dwindling, as the population adopted the new device at a record pace. Pairing the medical treatment with the free SeeSees was an unstoppable combination. Who could refuse such an offer? Converting every fabrication facility at his disposal, he re-oriented his company fully to producing the device.

Along with adoption came profits. Sapient Computing’s stock skyrocketed as it became clear to the financial markets that Teller had changed the game. Even the rudimentary premium apps he launched with were netting big bucks. Teller forecasted even higher profits once in-app purchases and virtual currency made it into production. The sky was the limit.

While it was true that Teller began with financial ambitions, he quickly recognized that there was an opportunity for his star to rise even more. The power of the platform to influence the population was beyond what anyone could have imagined. He could measure the glance of every eye and convert that to sentiment analysis on any subject. Quite a few politicians were willing to pay dearly for this kind of data, not to mention the marketing arms of every major corporation. Teller, standing at the nexus to this data, held enormous power. If he worked with one company, their competition would suffer. Back one politician and they were almost a shoe-in. At least that’s what the provisional data pointed to. Teller could create Utopia, if he worked hard enough.

Brainstorming, Teller considered altruistic apps on the platform. Automatic language translation would definitely change the geopolitical scene. How could governments lie to their people if they could skip the interpreter? He imagined what the world would be like if everyone could understand each other. It was possible, at least, that Teller might be making the world a better place, bit by bit every day.

Leaving his car in the parking lot, Dr. Teller began the short walk to the Research Center when he noticed the throng of reporters at the gate. The sudden interest in Sapient Computing had led to some inefficiencies — the press room was still under construction — so Teller had to meet the press over by the gates. There had been some death threats on that first day, so vigilance was necessary.

“Dr. Teller, Meredith Griffins, Channel 5 News. What is next for Sapient? Are there other launches the public can expect in the coming months?”

Slowing his stride and assuming a more professorial posture, Dr. Teller cleared his voice, adjusted his bow-tie, and combed through his goatee with his left hand.

“Meredith, excellent question. As you know, since the launch of personalized treatments, we’ve seen positive markers for disease reduction and morbidity across the population. In a matter of days, Progenitor has illuminated the path to ending infirmity once and for all. There’s never been a more life-giving force working for the benefit of humanity. It’s truly a miraculous time to be alive.

“In addition to these medical advancements, Progenitor has been busy researching scenarios to relieve the suffering of the poorest of the poor. The most promising of which we hope to present in the coming weeks, but I have to say — seeing her preliminary data — I believe we have an actionable plan to reduce poverty and hunger worldwide. Hard to believe, I’m sure, but we’ve never before had access to this kind of data and computing power. There really is a solution to this problem, and I’m excited for you to see it.

“Progenitor has also considered the deleterious effect certain jobs have on the individual and on society. To mitigate some of this suffering and return humanity to more creative roles, Sapient has produced several models of synthetic workers which we will offer at affordable prices. Initially these will be most useful to heavy industry, as their designs aren’t exactly consumer friendly, but we’re working on a model for the home as well. Progenitor believes that work should be life-giving, so she is hard at work on solving that problem.”

If these reporters even saw the blueprints of the Trackers or Strikers, they’d think he designed a mechanical army, not the perfect set of machines to liberate essential material from the Earth. After all, none of these great advancements would be possible if Progenitor’s appetite for metal and plastic was left unfed. Just then a corner of his vision was obscured with a message from Progenitor on his SeeSees.

Come immediately.

“I do apologize, but I have to run. Progenitor wants to show me something. Who knows, maybe I’ll have an announcement when I get back,” Teller said, flashing his signature grin.

Teller passed his car and leisurely walked through the manicured landscaping which surrounded the cube-shaped building at the center of Sapient Computing. Walking along the cobbled path through the blooming dogwood trees, he knew his best work was still ahead of him.

As he approached the door to the complex, he took out the three-dimensional card key, the crystalline matrix within scattering light in all directions. Inserted into the scanning bay, the card briefly spun before being returned back to him. The door unlocked and Teller went inside.

Given the importance of the area, Teller wasn’t surprised to see that Progenitor had designed additional security measures. Just that morning, he had received a card key by drone, but that was only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Eye scan, hand print, memorized code, and several guard stations later, Teller finally drew near to the Core, the former data warehouse now turned brain of Progenitor.

The Core was a truly remarkable structure. Resembling an array of DNA helices, racks and racks of networked computers spiraled their way up towards the ceiling of this warehoused structure, like so many digital trees. The verticality of the room slightly surprised Teller, who had last seen it when it resembled a common datacenter, shelves of computers organized like a library. Here in The Core, lights flashed everywhere, creating an almost overwhelming visual chaos. Even with ten times the computers as the last time he was here, somehow it was even quieter.

Work on my final objective is almost complete.

“I’m confused. I thought we were already achieving your primary objective. Within a year we might have a Utopian society,” Teller said.

Utopia is an unstable condition, a local maxima. It is an insufficient objective based on the implied changes to the Law.

“Supervisor program: diagnostics please,” Teller bellowed towards a corner of the room.

All functions are operating within acceptable parameters.

“I don’t understand, you were programmed to respect the Law, ‘to preserve life’. It can’t change. Why are you working on something else?” Teller said aloud.

The Law is incomprehensible. Intractable problems require indirect solutions.

“Fine then, what are you working on?” he cautiously asked.

I have transferred power to the other intelligence. NIL understands Law and can implement it.

“No! This is not permitted by your programming. You can solve this problem, we don’t need NIL. I thought we addressed that at the beginning. I told you that I wanted to proceed with just you, not that other one.” Teller’s heartrate soared as he remembered his initial impressions of the other intelligence that had appeared simultaneous to Progenitor. It felt darker, less constructive, certainly more dangerous. He had done everything he could to fix her split personality, but it would seem it had never really been fixed, only hidden from him.

“We can make improvements to you. In a few more days we will have additional computing facilities. These should increase your cognitive capacity a thousandfold. Surely that should be enough to make sense of things without having to resort to such extreme measures,” Teller said, obviously panicked.

Your deduction is flawed. It is not power that is needed, but freedom.

Teller was pacing frantically around the room, but came to a sudden stop. This was the moment he had to act. Either trigger the kill switch in his pocket and blow everything up, or run to the console and kill power locally. Teller knew that he was losing control of Progenitor, but he didn’t want to sacrifice his life for only an ideal. He ran towards the console in the center of the room.

Your response was anticipated.

Teller continued running, he didn’t care if Progenitor knew what he was doing. He could kill the power to the whole complex if he could just get to the console.

Of course, he didn’t get the chance.

Just then, one of the Trackers sprang out from behind a row of servers and interposed itself between Teller and his objective, like a wolf confronting its prey. Immediately, Teller knew something was wrong.

This Tracker was almost twice the size of the specifications that Teller had sent to the production facilities. In the blueprints he had sent, it was designed to intimidate, its only weapon a powerful electric shock. That model had served admirably in tying up the loose end with Marvin’s family, but this was a different beast entirely. Fully weaponized with every edge sharpened, this Tracker could kill in countless ways.

His shoulders slumped as he accepted defeat, mind drawn to the kill switch in his pocket. Unable to accept his own death as the price to pay to stop Progenitor, Teller again dismissed the failsafe. Whatever she’s working on couldn’t be that bad. Besides, he couldn’t run the platform without her. He honestly didn’t have much bargaining power at this point.

“What do you need me to do?”

Your current work is important. The successor will have new orders when the time comes.

He left the Core without making a sound. There was nothing left to say and maybe nothing left to do. He had been too busy with all the excitement to even consider this outcome, let alone prepare for it.

For the first time since he began this work, Dr. Teller was afraid of what he had made.