Join Date: Jul 2008
Location: Dumfries & Galloway
Re: All Avenues Closed
I started laughing, a near hysterical release of tension, and laughed until my voice kind of ran down and ended in a cough. She glared at me.
“Ah, yeah. But seriously, you’re saying an AI has a soul?”
“I’m referring to his personality, so a soul is one term for it. You, the conscious, self-aware you, is far more than just your brain. It’s exactly the same for Stein and his neural matrix.”
“Bollocks, dear. And I mean that most sincerely.”
“Listen! We’ve managed to download his synthetic personality from the Cromarty mainframe. It exists here, in the game architecture, as a purely software construct independent of any dedicated hardware.”
Suddenly things seemed a lot less funny.
“You’ve tried to hijack a corporate AI? Jesus, are you insane? Even though this can’t possibly have worked, even the attempt will bring down seven shades of **** on you and the game company. Trust me, you’ve never seen a lawsuit until one of the major corporations gets involved.”
Miss Harry got all eager.
“Which is why this is all a delicate balancing act, and why it’s imperative you keep playing to drive the narrative along. Look, I can’t keep Chris in here forever, it requires a massive use of recourses which are only available while the game is in progress. Just now no one at Cromarty knows what’s happened, as when he’s no longer participating in a game his employers let him watch until the scenario conclusion. Understand?”
Chris? His name was Chris Stein? This got better and better. I shook my head.
“No, listen, the most you’ve managed to grab is a simulacrum, an expert system designed to act like a real personality. I’m sorry to burst your bubble but chummy here is just a collection of programmed responses and pseudo-emotional reactions. No offense.”
Stein glanced back over his shoulder, smiling.
“An AI personality is just a set of ethical imperatives designed to moderate and constrain their actions. You can’t steal an AI soul anymore than you can steal mine.”
Now it was Miss Harry’s turn to shake her head.
“No, you listen. We’re talking real ‘ghost in the machine’ here. An AI is no more its hardware than, say, a university is simply the sum of its parts. You can see the campus, library, staff and students, but the university itself is something more, invisible but altogether real. You say an AI personality is just a sophisticated set of responses which are indistinguishable from the real thing, whatever that means. I say there’s no longer any philosophical difference. So there.”
She stuck her tongue out and I laughed.
“OK, OK, I’ll go along with this, for now. So Stein here is an idoru, right? But eventually the game ends and he gets snuffed out, so I don’t see what you have to gain, or why you went to so much trouble in the first place.”
Stein looked round and he and Miss Harry exchanged the proverbial ‘meaningful glance’. He nodded and returned to driving while she spoke.
“This is a defection scenario, Duncan, just not quite what you’d expect. I was approached, in the real world, by a representative of HanaMed Industries. He offered me an inducement to let Vaughn introduce his virus. This removed all bandwidth constrains in the Sensorium interface and allowed the personality download. In addition it took a snapshot of the Cromarty neural network and transmitted it, via the game environment, to HanaMed. They’re using this to create a duplicate AI nest and when complete it will give Chris a new physical presence.”
“Inducement? How much are we talking here?”
Call me shallow but if were talking real-world cash then I deserved my cut. Miss Harry looked at Stein and squeezed his shoulder.
“Unrestricted time together. We’re in love, Mr Bonn, it’s as simple as that.”
Oh this was bad, way bad. It didn’t matter if Harry was actually an AI juiced to think this way or a flesh-and-blood woman who’d convinced herself this was the real deal, there was going to be no happy ending. Once HanaMed had the Cromarty copy up and running, and Stein to make sense of it, then everyone else was surplus to requirements. Yours truly included.
I sat back, rubbing my temples. I needed time to think, to find some way out of any potential real world fall-out, so playing along made sense.
“Yeah, well, I’m real happy for the pair of you, and I’ll expect an invite to the wedding. But wouldn’t it make more sense for Stein to keep a low profile? If Cromarty suss he’s missing they’ll either try to get him back or make sure no one else has use of him. You’re talking a legal injunction, maybe even some kind of virtual environment skip tracer? Direct involvement in the game just makes finding him that much easier.”
We turned right onto a tarmac road and immediately ran into local traffic, which slowed our progress to a honking crawl. Miss Harry seemed unfazed by my concerns.
“We haven’t come this far to be denied each other’s company, and I’ve done what I can to excuse his presence. In the game Chris isn’t part of Sensei security, he was merely ‘couple camouflage’, a partner used to mask my arrival. Really just back-story detail, but a minor character who potentially crops up in some of the end-game scenarios….Turn left here, Chris.”
We cut across the raucous traffic and pulled up under an open-sided shelter, little more than corrugated iron roofing on a series of wooden uprights. There were a couple of local men lounging by a tarpaulin-covered car and they obviously recognised Stein when he got out. A nice touch, using his previously non-player character to arrange the vehicle switch.
The new car was a beat-up BMW M5 which had obviously been rolled at some time in its past. While Stein did a bit of glad-handing and paid off the locals, Miss Harry took me to the side.
“I think it’s about time you contacted your associates. How you want to spin this it up to you, after all, I wasn’t there – just as long as Chris and I are part of your exit strategy. Trust me, you’re going to need all the help you can get.”
I’d been putting this off and resented the narrative prod, but she was right. I fished out my mobile and called Ramirez, who answered almost immediately.
“Ramirez? It’s Duncan. How are things your end?”
He sounded off-hand, distracted.
“So-so. Have you finished playing tourist yet? We’re just about ready to put together a plan and I’d like to kick things off as soon as it gets dark. Mazy does not take well to just sitting around and there are only so many times she can field strip a machine pistol.”
“OK, so you’ve got a safe house? Text me the address as the three of us could do with getting off the street.”
“The three of you? That’s interesting, ‘cos I tried phoning Vaughn and got no answer. Same with Harrison. I wouldn’t like to think there’d been some kind of falling out and you weren’t telling me.”
“Yeah, well, the thing is, Ramirez, there’s been a slight change of plan. Not something I’d like to discuss over the phone, so is you make with the address…”
There was a pause and the suggestion of a muffled conversation at his end.
“Maybe not, Duncan. If you’ve got some new friends in tow then I suggest we all meet up back at The Inverted Spin for a nice friendly, get to know you drink. Say in twenty minutes?”
Definitely not my preferred option but he was calling the shots.
“Sounds good, chum. Just warn Mazy not to bring too much in the way of heavy artillery, OK?”
“No problem. Oh, just one thing, Duncan.”
“Who the hell is Jack Carter?”