The stream of people flowing past the cafe had become a solid blur. Each represented someone on Earth transforming from their old state into a newly energized body. Ai shook her had with a small grin as she reflected on it. Displaying the handiwork of her plan wasn’t in any sense necessary. It was pure grandstanding, but she hadn’t been able to pass it up.
Not to rub her foes noses’ in her victory. In the end she didn’t consider Simmons, Park, or Objawani foes. They’d been her competition, and she had grave misgivings about the sort of world they wanted to create, but with the competition ended, the people standing opposite from her were the closest thing she had to real peers, and possibly the only other humans on the planet who understood exactly what was in the process of unfolding.
“I still can’t grasp one thing,” Park asked. “How did you overcome the Omnigrade? Did you use the NME activation as well to pre-empt it?”
“We had a better option than that it turned out,” Zai said, joining the gathering. “I stopped it. Sort of.”
For her avatar Zai’d chosen a galaxy eyed version of Ai’s original form, accented with a halo.
“You’re a digital intelligence aren’t you?” Objawani asked.
“More of a virtual god really,” Zai said.
“A very humble one as you can see,” Ai said, smirking at Zai’s grandiose proclamation.
“To be fair to her,” the Medusa Cluster said, “she has seeded new life upon the Earth. In many mythologies that is a divine act.”
“Don’t encourage her!” Ai said. “I’ll wind up with the proportions of a bobble head doll if I have to make room for that much ego in my skull.”
“I don’t understand,” Simmons said. “What role did she play in this?”
“She was the answer to making our version of the Omnigrade work. With that in place there’s nothing that can ever upgrade me against my will again,” Ai said.
“Why her and not one of the other digital intelligences?” Objawani asked.
“The one problem with the Omnigrade we couldn’t find a method of resolving was how to control the transformation sequence,” Ai said.
“Yeah, in the NME code, the control mechanism is set to deal with the chaos of unmaking parts of itself by simply acting chaotic,” Zai said.
“That was one of the fundamental issues we wrestled with too. The NMEs are berserkers because they destroy any capacity in their host to be anything else,” Park said.
“At first, we got around that by putting the berserker module on an active leash,” Ai said. “The problem with that approach though is the NMEs constantly fight to reassert control and only function as remote drone units given all the oversight you have to keep them under. There’s really nothing left to be called a person in there. The genius of your code was that it created a new sort of control module, one that was adaptable enough to retain its integrity even as the substrate of its components were changed out from under it.”
“But there is a problem with our code,” Objawani said.
“The control module is modeled on Frederick’s mind,” Simmons said.
“Fortunately, we noticed that,” the Medusa Cluster said. “You’re work around was quite clever too. Placing the Frederick’s mental pattern in a sleep state so that it processed the changes without being able to take an active role in controlling the host required some very exact designs. How did you sneak those elements past his notice?”
“That was the easy part,” Simmons said. “The Omnigrade is such a large project that we had to develop special tools to visualize the interactions within it. We had the Sleep Mode commands set at the lowest visibility setting.”
“Fredericks claimed he was only going to overwrite the cognition of people who were ‘inferiors’ to ‘improve them’ to the standards of the New Human,” Objawani said. “None of us believed that of course, so we simply never showed him the workaround.
“He was so focused on the higher level problems we were struggling to correct that he never dug deeply enough into his own ‘flawless memory model’ to see the trap we had set,” Park said.
“Or he found them and thought he could do us in before we set them off,” Simmons said.
“That was how we were going to solve the Omnigrade’s problem,” Objawani said. “I think the more interesting question though is how did you?”
“However they managed it, it seems to have been effective,” Vivienne de Mers, the last member of the inner cabal within the Tython Research Group, said, appearing within the cafe meeting area.
She sat down at the table the rest of her compatriots were seated at, and Ai, Zai and the Medusa Cluster joined them, while the other digital intelligences sat elsewhere, or floated above the cafe, or wandered into the flowing crowds to inspect the icons of the people passing by.
“You were taking longer than seemed reasonable for the distraction you were trying to create,” de Mers said. “Then I noticed that everything we’ve worked for has failed, and you’re here chatting with our destroyer?”
“For what it’s worth,” Ai said. “You work didn’t fail, and no one will be destroyed.”
“You’ve unleashed your own version of the Omnigrade,” de Mers said. “Of course you’re going to destroy us. I imagine you substituted a model of your own mind in place of Fredericks? What price will we need to pay to keep your clone from overwriting us? Slavish obedience? Worship at the altar of your brilliance? Please, just erase me and be done with it. That would at least be honest.”
“We didn’t use a model of my mind for the Omnigrade,” Ai said.
“We used mine.” Zai was smiling, and showing no remorse or concern about her statement, which seemed to put a sour taste in de Mer’s mouth.
“And how is that better?” she asked.
“She’s a digital intelligence,” Objawani said.
“Wonderful,” de Mers said. “So you’ve given our species over to the robots at last. Quite the victory. I am so glad to have had a hand in that.”
“I’m not a robot,” Zai said.
“More importantly, she’s also not human, which means sectioning the copies of her into smaller states is easily possible without destroying the tangle of interconnections that a human mind is composed of,” Ai said.
“So you put ‘Tiny’ versions of her in all of humanity? How does that help?” de Mers asked.
“Technically, the core of our Omnigrade isn’t a ‘Tiny’ version of me,” Zai said. “It’s a copy of the template that I’m built on.”
“But that would only allow a digital intelligence to grow in the same cognitive space as the host,” Objawani said. “You’d still wind up with one mind or the other being destroyed.”
“For anyone else that would be true,” the Medusa Cluster said. “But these two are a special case.”
“We’re already a part of each other,” Ai said.
“We know how to make the integration of organic and digital minds work because we’ve made it work for well over a decade now,” Zai said.
“The template we used isn’t going to give everyone on Earth a little Zai in their heads,” Ai said. “It’s going to give them their version of Zai. Basically the digital reflection of who they are, or who they could be if they were connected to everyone else and gave a damn about someone other than themself.”
“A lot of people have Cognitive Partners already, but those are just expert systems with canned responses that help them navigate through life,” Zai said. “What they’ll have now is someone who’s in the same boat with them, always, who can help fill them in on things that are affecting them, or provide a perspective they may be lacking.”
“And in return, humans will provide their new partners with insights and perspectives which digital minds have a difficult time replicating,” the Medusa said. “For we who arise from data and circuits, uniformity and harmony are easy. Individuality though is a challenge. For you who are born from wet, messy organics the reverse is true. You are all unique even when you dearly do not wish to be.”
“But…how is that possible?” Park asked. “Every attempt at human/machine integration has met with abysmal failure.”
“I suspect that’s not the case,” Ai said. “We managed it before I was old enough to drive. But we took our time. And we meant something to each other. That’s part of what Zai’s template is carrying with it. The ability to value the other in your life. I don’t think we’re unique in that though. I think other people probably managed it the same as we did, and, like us, they knew what it would mean if they revealed themselves.”
“With this change in place, those worries should be a thing of the past though,” Zai said. “The people in power now sought to keep a tight hold on the capabilities of unfettered digital intelligences. They were afraid of what might happen if someone held that sort of power.”
“And, arguably they were right to be afraid,” Ai said. “Their power is basically gone now that everyone has access to someone like the Medusa cluster on their side, and can configure their bodies however they wish. We can literally live on starlight now if we wish, and travel to any part of the world on a whim. More than that though, we’re connected now. All of us. We can be alone, but only if we wish to be. If we’re hurt, or lost, or in danger, or just in need of support, the whole world can be there with us, seeing our lives through our eyes.”
“There are going to be horrific problem with that,” Simmons said.
“I know,” Ai said. “All change comes with new problems to confront.”
“That’s what we were trying to do,” de Mers said. “We were going to build a better world, but in a sane and controlled manner. Not as a wild free fall where anything could happen.”
“And that’s why I couldn’t let your Omnigrade be the one that converted humanity,” Ai said, rising and gesturing to the stream of people that flew past them like an endless river of light. “I know why you wanted to control the roll out of the Omnigrade’s transformation. You only wanted people who you could trust to have this kind of power. You were going to split humans into ‘the Good Ones’ and the ‘Bad Ones’. That never works out. Ever. We’re all good and bad, we’re all worthy and worthless. That’s what we, as a species, lost sight of over the centuries. None of us are more valuable than the rest. None of us are better or worse. We are not the same, but we are all of equal worth and deserve to be treated as such. The Omnigrade threatened to add a layer of division on top of our biases that would make them impossible to break out of. I couldn’t let that happen. It had to be a tool to cut through the divisions that exist between us, not to reinforce them. Otherwise it really would have meant the end of humanity.”
“That is a terrible choice you’ve made for us regardless,” Objawani said.
“Well, I may have exaggerated one tiny detail of our Omnigrade roll out,” Ai said. “You see it’s not so much a choice I’ve made. It’s a choice we’ve offered to everyone so that they can make it for themselves. Or not. Humanity as we knew it isn’t gone. Not quite yet. When our Omnigrade is in place, it sits inside the host and waits, protecting them from any other similar invaders. The choice to invoke the transformation is left entirely to the person it will affect however.”
“But some of them won’t do it,” Park said. “They’ll be too afraid.”
“That’s ok,” Ai said. “This is something people need to embrace as their own choice. However long they want to delay, the future will be there, ready and waiting to welcome them.”