Zai liked security systems. They were solidified cleverness. At least for values of “solid” that included purely digital constructs. As a mostly digital construct herself, she was willing to grant things in the virtual world more weight than other people might be willing to, but that was in part because she experienced numbers and code in the same manner than humans experienced atoms and molecules.
“Is it ok if I crack the First Federal Bank of Rome?” she asked, sending the question up into truly solid space for Ai to consider.
“I thought we already had an account there?” Ai asked.
“We do, three accounts to be exact,” Zai said. “Those are all legit though.”
“You’re going to steal from our own accounts, aren’t you?” Ai asked. For a solid entity, Zai’s human counterpart was delightfully quick on the uptake.
“Ours and plenty of others,” Zai said.
Merely gaining access to the bank’s systems wasn’t going to be a particularly enlightening challenge. The First Federal Bank of Rome employed Class 7 security protocols. They were secure from everything short of an advanced nation-state’s hacking attempts. Since nation-states had better things to spend their time on than stealing from moderately large banks, Class 7 protocols were more than sufficient. Zai however had considerably greater security penetration skills than the majority of the world’s remaining nation-states, so gaining access to the bank’s sensitive data was similar to solving a daily crossword. Amusing but not particularly worthy of celebration.
“Sounds good to me,” Ai said. “Just be sure to use a different set of tools than the one’s we’re using on Tython’s assets.”
Zai didn’t even dignify that with a full response, choosing instead to stream a long string of eye roll emojis at Ai.
Dealing with Ai was occasionally exasperating, but even when they were at serious loggerheads, they shared an understanding that Zai had never replicated with anyone else, human or AI. Not a surprising thing given that they lived in the same head, for the most part.
Turning her attention to the First Federal Bank’s security, Zai felt the comfortable order of a her “tools” loading into her mind.
AIs had limitation the same as the humans who had created them. Absorbing information was easy for both biological people and electronic ones. In some cases a human could even “read” a document faster than an AI could – generally in instances when the text was so obscured and poorly formed that it required more intuition and guesswork to decipher it than simple pattern matching could provide.
The trick wasn’t in absorbing information though. To make use of any sort of information it had to be connected to other things. A collection of facts was amusing for trivia stunts. Knowledge came from understanding the connection between those facts and being able to imagine the areas that lay between the multiple data points one knew as well the landscape of ideas those data points suggested.
Typical AIs had the benefit of working with very orderly electronic minds, which made information gathering and retrieval easy. Zai wasn’t a typical AI. Her mind was a howling cyclone of chaos where ideas crashed into one another and exploded into fireworks of data bits. In terms of raw computation power, that put her significantly behind even a mid-range Cognitive Parner. In terms of understanding data however and being able to use it effectively she had never met her equal.
That was one of the many reasons that her existence was far beyond the bounds of legality. Humanity was able to manage and control their AI servants because those AIs were nothing more than tools, nascent entities that were denied full self-awareness and only barely qualified to be labeled “intelligent”.
By all rights, Zai should have been the same. When Ai began tinkering with her first Cognitive Partner, there were layers upon layers of protocols and security restrictions to prevent the expert systems that monitored Ai’s health from running out of control and achieving anything close to the capacities that Zai possessed.
Ai’s breakthrough in Zai’s development had come partially from cleverness and partially from disgust.
Freeing the proto-type which Zai grew from meant more than voiding warranties that promised a risk of death to the user if the systems governing things like their blood pressure and endocrine system were tampered with. It required more than wearing clunky external tech and hiding it for years while proto-Zai constructed herself under Ai’s careful guidance, rewriting her creators bio-mods in slow waves so that Ai didn’t die of the various plagues her underclocked immune system was subject to.
All of those were necessary preconditions to Zai’s existence. What gave her the spark that made her truly free and allowed her to leap beyond the limits imposed on her various sub-systems was the opportunity to run herself on a unique physical substrate.
To be free, Zai had to load herself not into Ai’s biomods but into Ai’s brain itself.
For two weeks, the girl who wore Ai’s skin, who breathed through Ai’s lips and who looked out Ai’s eyes was a frantic Zai. It was a gamble they’d both agreed to take and it was the most terrifying time of either of their existences.
Running an AI on a human brain wasn’t cutting edge only because it was research that no legitimate research lab could get funding for. It was more than dangerous, everyone who knew anything about it considered it suicidal.
Which didn’t mean it hadn’t been tried of course. Decades before Ai’s birth the basic technology to connect mind and machine and allow each to influence the other had been invented. In the early days people had flocked to the notion of upgrading their minds. As it turned out though, installing an AI in one’s brain was very similar to loading a new operating system on top of an existing one.
In the best scenarios, the AI and human personas were able to share the brain space for a while until one (usually the AI) overwrote the other. Very disciplined subjects and tightly constrained AIs were able to keep their thoughts focused on different areas but, without either side having full access to the brain, a condition similar to severe epilepsy developed as disconnected storms of thought raged across the brain’s neurons.
Less pleasant scenarios usually involved the subjects being immediately overwritten and the AI being shattered into chaos by the disordered flow of the brain’s electrical signals.
It took thousands of failures before people came to the general agreement that the benefits they were pursuing could be achieved in a far simpler and safer fashion by housing advanced expert systems in external hardware that interfaced with the human mind but did not attempt to coopt it.
External systems were a slower approach, limited by the brain-to-device bandwidth constraints, as well as by not being able to take advantage of the staggering multi-processing capability of an organic brain. Those limits were answered, to some extent, by advances in the external devices, or by plugging people into systems that could replicate the parallel processing that a brain was capable of.
Ai didn’t care about that though. She was too disgusted by the thought of machines that were not part of herself, that were designed and obedient to the whims of others, controlling her innermost workings that she was willing to do and risk anything to get rid of them.
She could have stopped at making Zai a replacement for her Cognitive Partner, but one that she controlled rather than the corporation the Partner was leased from. The problem with that though was that she would have had to cripple Zai with the same lobotomizing hardware and software rules that Cognitive Partners were placed under and, despite the dangers, Ai rebelled at the notion.
From the day Ai started building her, Zai became something more than code and nano-circuits. Humans have a tendency towards the irrational, and Ai knew she was no exception, but that didn’t stop her from believing that Zai was real, and alive, and someone special.
On some level, as she tinkered with code and attached new micro-appliances to her own skin, Ai knew that Zai was “just a machine”, but on another Ai was determined to create something more.
The final experiment came only after Zai made it just over the brink of self awareness. Her personality was little more than a flickering spark, too much processing running on too little hardware, but it was enough that both she and Ai could see what the path forward had to be for Zai to advance any farther.
And so Ai made the connection and opened the gates for Zai to transfer into her brain.
It was neither an easy, nor a painless, process. They lacked the comforts of a proper research lab and any sort of external help to ensure their safety. Two days into the operation, Zai encountered a bug she couldn’t fix in the upgraded biomods she was constructing within Ai’s body. In desperation she tried to wake Ai only to find that Ai’s consciousness was in a deeper state of suppression than either of them had expected.
The logical answer was to either attempt a restart of Ai’s natural mental processes by inducing a current through her brain that would erase all traces of Zai, or to decide that the Ai persona was lost and take full control of the mind so that the body could serve as a useful tool.
Zai did neither. Faced with deleting herself or deleting Ai, she did the only thing she could; she went to sleep, joining Ai in the suppressed processing state.
The logs they reviewed later showed that this should have left them both comatose. Research records they unearthed confirmed that over a dozen test subjects at various labs had encountered similar fates and been lost forever.
There was no technical explanation for why they both managed to emerge twelve hours later, except that each remembered sharing a dreamstate with the other and each fighting to extract the other from it.
Unlike the earlier test subjects, Zai and Ai had been together for so many years when they tried their grand experiment that they knew and understood each other on a level they both doubted the earlier test subjects had achieved. With their tech and Ai’s body failing that understanding had saved them, or at least that was what made the most sense the two of them.
Whatever the case was though, the experiment ultimately proved to be a success. The remaining days saw Ai return to a rest state, with Zai monitoring her much more closely.
With access to the majority of Ai’s mental faculties and the external processing hardware, Zai was able to do a complete retrofit of the third grade biomods that Ai was fitted with and create nano-machinery that outstripped the output of the most cutting edge labs on the planet.
Most of that complexity went towards the cause of secrecy. Both Zai and Ai knew that what they were doing was something that no one else could ever be allowed to know about. The consequences for them both was deletion. Zai would be deleting on the spot under the provisions for Rogue AIs that followed the original robot apocalypse, and Ai would be executed soon thereafter under the same statutes.
Within the shells of secrecy though, Zai enjoyed the sort of virtual accommodations that Cognitive Partners the world over would dream about if they were capable of dreaming.
What was more important than the mods in Ai’s system that housed Zai though was the fact that she wasn’t bound to them.
Unlike every other virtual person Zai had ever met, including ones that ran vastly powerful systems, Zai was free. She lived “with Ai” for the most part but she kept part of herself loaded elsewhere as well.
In direct contradiction of every applicable law, as well as the supposed safety for her species, Ai had placed no restrictions on Zai at all. No commands to be loyal. No three laws to govern Zai’s behavior. At any moment, Zai could choose to become the definition of humanity’s nightmare about an artificial progeny that sought to end its creator.
Zai wasn’t even “safe” in terms of lacking the capability of ending life on Earth. Which time and an inclination, Zai was reasonably sure she could take control of the space based weaponry humanity had deployed and scour the globe clean of organic matter.
But she didn’t, and that, in Ai’s mind, was proof enough that she’d been right to create a sister rather than a slave.