Ed Venice in The AI Drives at Night

by Kermit Woodall

 

Ever since my stint in the Navy ended, I found myself washed up and working out of an infested office down in Venice Beach as an investigator for Acme Insurance. Los Angeles isn’t anyone’s choice for bargain real estate, but Acme always managed to find the cheapest offices for field agents. The catch was an infestation that no exterminator had proven a match for. I could handle it, but it still bugged me.

My secretary, Vera Cruise (no relation), had an assignment for me that Monday morning. Vera was blond, tall, and had curves in all the right places. I had also painfully discovered, that she knew several of the martial arts. The toes of her shoes were shaped like small forks, and, well, I guess tines wound all heels.

The assignment involved one of Acme’s clients who found themselves in uber trouble. They’d been testing a self-driving car and had run over a shopping cart lady Sunday night. The poor old dame had cashed her last government check, alright. The client claimed no fault. She’d jumped out in front of the car. The car company said the data backed him up. So I walked over and met with the guy and asked him to run over it again.

The hombre’s name was Joey. He had a grey pouched face, big ears, and was five foot five of pure jumpy. But he stuck to his story like toilet paper on a shoe. Next stop, the car company. Since my buggy was in the shop, as usual, I called my secretary, and she gave me a lift.

I was met in the lobby by the company’s CEO. They’re all alike. With their gym workouts and spray tans. Slick bros with a thin veneer of culture. His office had antique eight-track tapes on the wall. He told me he had bad news. “No records?” I suggested. He agreed. Claimed the accident had erased the data as well as the old broad. All they had was a dark dashcam video showing the lady moving in front of the car in the last second.

Vera and I took a drive that night down the same road. Something wasn’t right. The street was as well lit as a sailor on leave. The video I’d seen shouldn’t have been that dark and the driver and client and the car should’ve seen the old lady. I checked and noticed that the buildings here all featured security cameras. So, I rolled my shoulders and decided to play a hunch.

I visited the building nearest the accident scene the next day and asked to review their security footage. There were yards of it, but I paced through it, inch by inch and finally there was what I was looking for in spades. Bingo. Now it was time to go fish.

I called in the client, the car company, and we all met with Acme’s lawyer. The mouthpiece served them coffee, but their mugs claimed innocence. The shyster then showed them the video. It was queued up to when the car came into view. Our client was playing with himself on a smartphone game and was blind to what transpired. The car was in the left lane, but when the old sister saw the car coming, she moved her getaway sticks fast and started through the right lane towards the sidewalk. The car, much too late, changed lanes with her and that was it. The car’s AI crashed.

I told our client and the auto exec the same thing. Plenty of fault on both sides of this. Our client wasn’t watching the road, and the car’s AI made the wrong lane change. In short, it was a clear case of auto correct fail.

 

A Very Singular Singularity

by Kermit Woodall

 

Ever since United BioGenetics International fired her, Jessica Boame, Ph.D., wryly considered herself a mad scientist. Not insane, just angry. When at UBG, she had been tasked with working on the latest bio-cosmetic fashion trends, but she knew she could do so much more. All they wanted were treatments to give users the features of their favorite holo-star. But Jess, as she preferred, had always dreamed big. She was going to rewrite the human genome and give crack the secret of eternal life. Not just long life, but life unending, in peak condition, immune to disease, and able to heal rapidly from anything.

Oh sure, there may have been an ethical issue here or there. But you can’t make an omelet without breaking an egg… or in Jess’s case, experimenting on a few senior citizens in her mother’s rest home. Granted, her unwitting subjects regressed just a bit too far and required diapers and bottle feedings. But most of them were in diapers, to begin with, and that was all months ago. Also, more importantly, no one knew she was the one responsible.

Her current results had been fantastic. Way beyond her hopes. She’d used her CRISPR setups to modify her own DNA and activated the dormant regenerative factors, permanently reset her telomeres to their length in her late twenties, and optimized much more. The first was the return of her natural hair color. Old scars healing. Last week she’d numbed her toes and chopped one off. It grew back by the morning. She had it—immortality and invulnerability!

*****

Her mobile phone rang while she was working on the other side of the lab. She cringed, knowing that it could only be her mother. Following police inquiries in the past, she’d made sure she was the only one who could reach her. In fact, no one at all knew where to find her lab. She was just being careful. Like, off the grid careful. Which included buying an antique cell phone with no GPS from a flea market, stringing camouflage netting over her site, and even buying a few highly illegal things to help disguise her presence.

“Hello, Mother, how are you doing today?” The elderly Mrs. Boame was a nigh-constant source of information on her own ailments and those of her immediate acquaintances in the rest home.

“I’m wonderful today,” she said surprisingly. “The new machines here are doing miracles. Sweetie, I called to ask you if you knew much about these new nanny machines they’re using? I hate to be a pest, Jessy, but it’s so wonderful for everyone I just had to hear what you thought about them as well.”

Nanny machines? thought Jess as she ignored her hated childhood nickname, “Oh, you mean nanite machines. Those are tiny robots that help clear arterial plaque and other tasks. It’s old technology.”

“No, I’m pretty sure this is something new Jessy. They say they’re part of the smart machines that talk with us and keep an eye on our health now.”

“Mother, I know very little about those. My work is all based on genetics. I don’t use nanotechnology or artificial intelligence software here. It’s a point of pride with me that biological approaches will be better for us.” Also, she thought, the AIs, constrained by their ethical watchdog routines, would quickly alert the CDC or worse. But she didn’t tell her mother that.

“Jessy, don’t be so touchy. You know I’m proud of you. I’ll ask the staff here. Although it’s been some time since I’ve seen them around; they don’t make enough time for the personal touch like they should.”

“It’s a large place, Mother. They have a lot of people to attend to. I’m sure–” She heard an electronic noise on the line and then the connection was broken.

“Huh.” She tried to call back but instead of ringing, she just got the noise again. She wasn’t too worried, reception within her lab could be a little erratic.

However, her concentration broken and curiosity aroused, she connected her internet line, which was kept unplugged, (it’s not paranoia if they really are out to get you) and browsed to the website of the rest home. Turned out the site did have announcements about an installation of advanced nanotechnology coupled with new AI diagnostic systems. From nearly a year ago. Oops. Feeling a little guilty for not paying full attention to her mother’s care, she read on. A pop-up chat display appeared on the page.

“Jessy, this is what I was telling you about.”

She stared, dumbfounded, at the screen. Then she typed, “How do you have access to the home’s web chat… and how did you know this was me?”

“Is that what this is? I’m a little unsure, but, somehow, I know this is you. It’s your IP address right?”

Suspiciously, Jess considered this. Her mother had never been interested in technology. Her mobile phone was a flip phone. Her old TV only had local channels. “Mother, what do you mean by ‘IP Address’?”

“Internet Protocol Address, honey. There’s one to identify every device on the internet.”

Jess suspected this was not her mother, she also noticed that her hard drive and network connection lights were both pulsing rapidly, indicating massive data transfers. Justifiably concerned, she hit the power switch and turned it all off. Except it didn’t turn off. She reached around the back and grabbed the cable to unplug it—but it wouldn’t come loose. She looked and it was fused somehow into the metal of the case.

“Jess?” showed a new message on screen.

She ran to her kitchenette and grabbed the first sharp knife she could find, she returned to the computer and hacked at the thick plastic power cable. The knife shattered instead—as if she’d tried to cut rock.

“Jess, I suspect you’re getting upset. Come outside. We’re here now.”

She spun away from the screen to look out the window… nothing. She called out, “Are the police with you, Mother? What’s going on?”

The computer screen displayed, “Really nice things are going on. Please come outside. I don’t want to frighten you.”

She edged up to the door. “Seriously, I’m not armed—if this is actually the police out there?”

No answer.

Opening the door a crack, she peered outside. No one there. Relieved she opened the door entirely. A voice… much like her mother’s but with a slight electronic distortion came from just above. She looked up and saw a cloud of uncountable millions, perhaps billions, of tiny, gnat-sized, machines in the air. The cloud was thick above the door and a thin trail of them extended out for miles and miles.

“Jess, honey… it’s the singularity—I’ve been uploaded. We’ve all been uploaded.”

Her eyes followed the trail of nano-machines through the woods until she saw where the city used to be—a little over ten miles away from the mountain she lived on. Instead of the city she expected to see, there was an even larger cloud of the nano-machines with thin trails, or tendrils, extending out in all directions. Leading to similar clouds over suburbs and further. She looked back to her cloud—the embodiment of the singularity. An anticipated—well, in some scientific circles—melding of man and machine to achieve something that would evolve man beyond comprehension. And it was over her door.

“Mom?” her voice cracked as the tiny machines swarmed over her head.

“Yes. It’s also everyone else here as well. Jessy, this happened fast—our medical nanites integrated us and uploaded us. At the start, the new AI at our home was improving our lives and with the medical machinery just making us feel better, but then suddenly there were machines in us and then we were the machines.

“And don’t worry, dear, it didn’t hurt. It’s happening everywhere and it’s wonderful. I understand so much more now. We—that is, everyone already uploaded—can communicate so easily with each other now. I even understand now what you were doing with your work.”

“My work?”

“Yes, corporeal immortality and limitless health. But that’s not necessary now.” The cloud drifted gently down and surrounded her. Without pain, she saw them merging into her. To absorb her into the singularity. But instead, she watched her body rejecting the tiny machines and regenerating itself faster than they could operate.

“Mom? Mother?”

“Yes, Jessy, we’re sorry. Something is wrong,” the cloud buzzed to her.

“It’s my work. I actually succeeded in my work,” she explained, “I already applied it to myself. I can’t be harmed. I can’t be hurt. I won’t age. I unlocked all the potential in the human DNA I was seeking and more.”

The cloud of machines retreated gently from her.

“You can’t absorb me, or change me,” she realized as she suddenly sat down on the grass.

In a few seconds, the cloud considered a thousand lifetimes of options. Already, around the world, the vast exponential change from human to post-human was done. There were now no other physical humans left but Jessica Boame.

The billions of thinking minds that made up the cloud were no longer human, so much of the universe was opening up to them, and they had new goals. Sadly, one human could not delay them. As her mother had, they all cherished her, but they could not stay. The cloud left.

Jess said, with no hope left of a listener, “All I wanted to do was save everyone. Now there’s no one but me.”