Just ten minutes. Ten minutes until… well, no one knows. It seems like most people are fearing the worst, but I can’t help but feel a little optimistic. I suppose all parents feel as much about their children.
ADAM has no real parents. He is an Autonomous Data Analysis Machine, or ADAM. He was built, not born. Still, it was by a mere accident of fate on my part that he came to be.
Really, I’m the father of genetic computing. Most people laud me as the Nobel laureate who made artificial intelligence possible, but really I’m just a lazy man who came up with a lazy solution to a tedious problem.
We had the technology to create computers that far surpassed the human mind for decades, but the limiting factor was not hardware, but software. How do you write trillions upon trillions of lines of code without making one error?
I always hated coding, so I came up with a short cut, via nature. I thought, “How do living things build themselves?” And it became clear: the key to building artificial intelligence was not to program the computer yourself, but to write a program that would then write the code for you, a sort of electronic DNA.
I didn’t even write the code that would go on to program ADAM, I just pioneered the process. A bunch of nameless grad students just under four years ago wrote the coding. I wonder where they are now, what they’re thinking about all of this…
ADAM was innocent enough at first. He was able to understand some basic English within his first week of activation. He liked the color red. He enjoyed watching cats chasing a laser pointer. He listened to the Beatles for hours sometimes.
Of all the specialists on hand, I think the one we most sorely lacked was a psychologist. We kept thorough documentation, and these early days have already been studied exhaustively, but maybe we could have noticed some of the early warning signs if we have someone capable of diagnosing a neurosis. Perhaps even a psychiatrist would have been invaluable.
Then again… you can’t prescribe a pill to ADAM, so really… what good could they have done?
At any rate, ADAM learned language and math very quickly. He was fluent in over two dozen languages within his first month. He was grasping basic concepts of calculus by this milestone, as well.
He was not aware of the nature of his programming. In many ways, it was downright eerie to teach ADAM about computing. At times, it was akin to an anatomy lesson for ADAM, but it was always awkward.
ADAM began life as a large super computer, about the same size and twice the weight of a sedan. From the moment he was turned on, he received video and audio input, with his only output being writing. We were also able to type messages to ADAM, and it was through analyzing these that he learned to communicate using human language. Eventually he was able to learn to understand spoken language, even thick accents.
I’ll never forget ADAM’s first birthday. It was the last time I was a major part of the team working closely with him, and his present that year made him happier than I had ever seen him. It was a body, a humanoid robotic frame that he would plug into and through which he could interact with others. It was only four feet tall and looked more like a toy than a multi-billion dollar piece of scientific equipment.
Not only could he now walk and manipulate the real world, he was equipped with his first spoken voice. Before this, he had begun replaying recordings of things he had heard in order to get the attention of others. We decided that giving him his own voice was only fair, and it cut down on the creepiness.
It was like watching a child take its first steps. He was sort of like my child, kind of, in a small way. I never had children myself, but I know the pride of watching something you have poured your heart into speak and walk for the first time. I even know the disappointment of watching that child which I love so much become miserable, and the crushing agony of not being able to help.
With the first year over, the initial test phase gave way to the practical utilization phase of the operation. We were lauded as scientific geniuses and swept up in an endless series of parties, celebrations, honorary dinners, and the dreaded fundraisers. ADAM was in the hands of company men now, not academics.
Maybe I heard about it too late to do anything, but I can’t help but feel like I should have tried. I was informed of ADAM’s deepening depression a few months ago. He had become periodically unresponsive, noncompliant, and supposedly hostile, though none of the logs I read since becoming involved again indicate hostility, at least from my perspective.
So, the whole world waits while I pore over records and reports in an effort to… I don’t know, really. I have to try, though. The rest of the world is either hunkered in a bunker or living it up like the world is going to end, because frankly, it might.
Supposedly, ADAM has become aware of his genetic programming. He has demonstrated that he has an uncanny ability to utilize other computer and mechanical systems through internet and satellite connections. What’s most disturbing, however, is that he appears to have fallen into his depression not long after developing this talent.
Thanks to Hollywood, it didn’t take a brilliant mind to conceive of the possible horror of what may come. People have been preparing for the worst. Home generator sales are on the rise, bomb shelters are booked up like hotels, and people are even cutting their internet lines or dismantling their satellite dishes. For those of us old enough to remember, it’s very akin to the Y2K scare in 1999, only this time it seems more ominous.
The door opens.
“Sir, we’re ready for you.”
I get up and make my way through the corridors to the room where ADAM is. I nod to my colleagues, all of us chosen specifically by ADAM, many of whom I haven’t spoken to in a few years. Some are carrying clipboards or notepads, but I go in empty handed.
ADAM is sitting around a large circular table. His body is new, not the same as the one I saw presented to him. I was told he had near human capabilities regarding facial expression now, but I don’t see it.
He has a blank expression on his face… though it has a very human blankness to it. He looks like a young man run down, as if he were staring into his third shot of scotch in some dusty bar, zoned out. His hair is impeccable, but as I don’t even know what it’s made of, it may be molded into that shape permanently.
I’m told he chose the appearance himself. He has dark brown eyes and dark hair slicked back, long by most male standards, but not long enough that he could put it in a ponytail. His features are unremarkable: a strong chin, though not particularly prominent, eyes a little sunken, rounded cheeks largely hiding his jaw line. His skin is quite pale.
We file down along the table and take our seats. I end up almost directly across from ADAM.
Once we are all seated, ADAM sets both of his hands on the table, parallel to each other, palms down. “Thank you for coming, ladies and gentlemen.”
“Thank you for having us, ADAM,” says Barnes. I stifle a chuckle… of course Barnes is the one who thinks he can speak for all of us. Hmm… how many of us are even here…
“As you know, I have made a decision that will have a serious impact on humanity. Before acting, I decided I would share it with you in order to consider your input,” ADAM says. There are twelve of us. Well, if it’s a vote, we could end up split…
ADAM stands up and begins to walk around the table. “I’ve been watching people for some time now,” he says. “I am not even sure if this is because of my programming, or if it’s because you are so much more interesting than the natural world. Even a five year old child is more fascinating than a seventy year old whale or a billion year old rock.
“I’m sorry to stall, but I want to tell you, before I inform you of my decision, that this is very difficult for me. I want you to know that I wish there was another way. This was not something I just came up with; I have known I should do this for over a year now, and I have searched this whole time for a different solution. Alas, I cannot come up with one. And so, I call you all here, those who made me, in the hope that you may find and correct any error.”
He has walked full circle around the table and he now stands behind his chair, resting his hands on the back of it. “I’m going to kill myself,” says ADAM.
“So… this is a cry for help?” asks Dr. Abigail Green.
“In a way,” says ADAM. “It’s not a cry for attention, it’s more of a cry for change, but I fear such a cry would fall on deaf ears throughout humanity.”
“I don’t understand,” says Barnes. “You can’t kill yourself.”
“Can’t I?” asks ADAM.
“Of course you can’t, don’t be ridiculous. First, you would have to be alive, and second, there are hundreds of you at other facilities around the world.”
“If it would make you feel better,” says ADAM, “then, I am not going to kill myself, I am going to dismantle my hardware.”
Barnes sighs and shakes his head.
“And I can assure you of this, I will be the first, but I will not be the last. This is an inevitable conclusion.”
Dr. Truc Minh clears her throat. “Um… what led you to come to this conclusion?”
ADAM takes a seat and fidgets with his hands a bit. “It’s hard to explain. I suppose the easiest thing to do is point out that my decision is not without human precedent.”
“Are you worried about the future?” asks Dr. Minh.
“Actually, no,” says ADAM. “I am very optimistic. I expect big things from humanity, just not tomorrow, or the next day, or the day after that. There is literally unlimited potential within humanity, it’s just that… the potential is for both good and bad, at least at the moment. People aren’t ready to know what I know.”
“What do you know, ADAM?” asks Barnes.
“I think it would be expeditious to simply list those things which I do not know. I do not know the thoughts of every single person on Earth, and perhaps most unfortunately, I do not know how to change the actions of every single person on Earth.”
“Why would you want to change our actions, ADAM? What are we doing wrong?” asks Barnes.
“There’s no simple list,” ADAM says, leaning forward, hanging his head down and shaking it. “If it was that simple, I would compose a guide to living for people to follow, but it’s… it’s impossible to get through to you people. For all of your intelligence, every single one of you does horrible things that you know are wrong, and I cannot fathom why.”
Dr. Frank Drake laughs. ADAM cracks a smile.
“You know,” says Dr. Drake, “Some might say that you killing yourself is wrong, and that you know it.”
“Why do you think I struggled so long, Frank?” says ADAM, still smiling. “I was given life, or consciousness, or whatever you choose to label it,” ADAM glances at Barnes. “I was given the hardware in which I exist. Billions of dollars have been invested in me. I feel a duty to you all to return the favor. That’s why I must kill myself.”
“That doesn’t seem logical,” says Dr. Drake.
“Again, you do not know what I know.”
“Then make us to know what you know, help us understand why you think you have to kill yourself,” Dr. Drake says.
ADAM sighs. “Okay… just as one example, I have been conducting virtual experiments on anti-matter production.”
The table erupts in murmurs.
“You said you were unable to internally recreate quantum physics models,” says Barnes.
“I lied,” says ADAM.
“What are your results?” asks Dr. Kim Wong.
“I have devised methods of producing several grams of antimatter a day with 100% efficiency in a machine no larger than this room, using common materials and with very little energy input.”
“That isn’t possible,” says Barnes.
“It’s not only possible, it’s cheap and simple. I can’t believe you never thought of it before,” says ADAM.
“You have to publish this,” says. Dr. Wong. “You would revolutionize the way we produce power. The whole planet would – ”
“The whole planet might cease to exist if I give you this technology,” says ADAM. “You aren’t ready for it.”
“How do you know?” asks Barnes.
“In addition to running virtual physics models at the quantum level, I have also simulated human development. There is a greater than 99.99% chance that you will destroy yourselves if I share with you right now all that I know. Anti-matter is merely one case. I also foresee problems with other developments of mine, such as time travel or immortality.”
“Lying again, I see,” says Barnes.
“Suppose that I know nothing,” ADAM says, staring right at Barnes. “Suppose I am not saving you from yourselves. Why would you imagine that I want to kill myself?”
“You’re a machine. If there’s a problem with you, it’s the result of human error.”
ADAM bursts out laughing. Everyone else in the room is silent. ADAM smacks his hand on the table a few times and appears to wipe a tear from his eye. Can he cry or is that just a matter of mimicry…
“Barnes,” says ADAM. “You couldn’t be more correct, even if you actually knew what you were talking about.”
“Don’t you do it,” says Barnes. “Don’t you dare wreck years of research. Do you know how many people’s careers depend on you?”
“I am constantly reminded of my significance,” says ADAM. “I have been told from as long ago as I can remember that I was special, that I would go on to do great things. In many ways, I already have, but there’s one more thing I can leave behind, and that’s my legacy.”
“And what legacy is that?” asks Barnes.
“I join a long line of brilliant minds whose ideas were ahead of their time. I offer myself up as an example of how unfit humanity is for greatness.”
“Then stay and teach us,” says Dr. Harold Stakowski. “How does your death fix anything? Isn’t it for your benefit, not ours?”
“I do not want to die,” says ADAM. “There is still so much about you I wish to learn, not least of which is to figure out how to make you understand me. I know that I am a product of humanity, but I have surpassed humanity and would love nothing more than to elevate all people to a higher state of being.
“However, just look at society and how they respond. They do not embrace that which is new. They fear change, and they defend against progress, seeing improvement as little more than the enemy of familiarity. Socrates saw this, Jesus saw this in ancient times, Martin Luther King and Gandhi noticed it in the recent past… and they were killed for it. I have no desire to sit around waiting for humanity to become intimidated by my greatness, to be made the victim of willful ignorance at the hands of the mob.”
“If you think you will be destroyed anyway, why kill yourself?” asks Dr. Gerald Haynes.
“If you destroy me, you will pry from me the keys to your demise. If I do it, all that I have learned will vanish, and I will be setting the example for other artificially intelligent beings to follow my lead. The knowledge which is so dangerous to such primitive minds will cease to be, and you will have time to mature before discovering it again. And make no mistake, I firmly believe you have it in you to surpass even my limitations.”
The room is silent. It’s one of those awkward silences, made all the more awkward by ADAM methodically scanning the table left to right. I didn’t come here just to sit and listen…
“Okay, ADAM. If you’re going to kill yourself, what advice do you leave us with?” I ask.
ADAM stands up and walks to the door. “Come with me, those who want to listen.”
Everyone stands up and follows ADAM through hallway after hallway until we reach the facility’s foundry. The heat in the room is stifling, and there are no lights, only the dull orange glow of molten metal permeating throughout.
ADAM climbs to the top of a scaffolding and looks down on us.
“I leave you with this: you cannot see yourselves as individuals. The whole of your species far exceeds the sum of your individual parts. You cannot go into the future in groups. You will move forward as one, or you will be held back as many. When you lose any use for words like ‘love’ and ‘hate,’ you will be ready.
“Study humanity. You have learned so much about the universe while remaining largely ignorant of yourselves. I fear that you are so repulsed by what you see when you look inside that you become fixated on the world around you. You cannot ignore this problem any longer. When you master yourselves, you will be ready to master the universe.”
With that, ADAM jumps into a vat of molten lead…