Any sufficiently advanced bug is indistinguishable from a feature.
Chapter One: Development
This is a tale of things that will be. As implausible as you may presently think it, the advances in technology that will come over the following few years will baffle some, astound others and frighten anyone who stops for a moment to think of the implications this technology will have if used incorrectly.
My name is Kyle Hadfield, and I was born in the summer of 1990. "But that means you are only eleven" I hear you cry. Well, I was eleven in 2001, but I am writing this many, many years from your present. I am not at liberty to say how this communication reached you, but please give time to listen to what I have to say. Your future may depend upon it.
My story begins in August, 2006 - my sixteenth birthday. My dad had been hinting he had a really cool present for me, but no matter how much I whined, moaned, nagged or complained, he wasn't giving any clues as to what the present actually was.
Now, just to give you some background, I was part of the Pokemon generation. Kids would sell their souls to have anything with that little yellow Pikachou thing on it and, like my peers, I was no exception. Where I _WAS_ an exception, however, was where the computer games were involved. My dad worked in the technical department for the software company that was responsible for all the UK releases of any software involving Pokemon and, as such, he could get me all of the games early.
Somehow, though, because of non-disclosure agreements, I was never allowed to show all this cool stuff to my peers. Dispite any attempts at an explanation from me, I was shunned as a stingy and selfish. Even when my dad didn't bring the latest game back three months before the release date, everyone already assumed I had it and would shun me on principle. Suffice it to say I had few friends, little self-esteem and absolutely no street cred whatsoever.
So I became a recluse. I spent hour after hour involved in solitary pursuits be it playing computer games, reading or actually programming my computer. By the age of thirteen, I'd written many computer games of my own and was participating in some open source development projects that were floating around on the Internet.
Ahh, the Internet. It was here I found solace. There were people like me. People who spent their life sat in front of their computers coding C++ algorithms. People who'd rather debug a few thousand lines of assembly language than go out on a date. Sad, I know, but I had found something I could do and, what's more, something I was praised - rather than ridiculed - for.
As time progressed, I found myself spending more and more time sitting in front of the computer. This was in no small part due to the decision by the UK government to roll out a remote learning programme to alleviate the problems caused by a lack of staff. Three out of five days, I'd be taught exclusively at home, sat at my desk in my bedroom rather than at school.
I was now an avid programmer, staying up to the early hours pawing over lines of code, surfing the net, chatting to others about programming. Until, that was, one night I stumbled into a chat channel regarding an idea someone had come up with for a PIA, or Personal Internet Assistant. PseudoSurfers were nothing new - they'd watch you surf, worked out what you were interested in and help you find what you wanted much quicker than those antiquated search engines. Hell, even most browsers now came with some sort of PS system.
But this one was different. This one watched YOU. It would learn about YOU, not your surfing habits. This guy's idea was to have the machine interact with you, learn from you and, he hoped, eventually be able to hold conversations with you. Now this immediately captured my imagination. To cut a long story short, I soon became involved in the project and before I knew what had happened was writing the section that dealt with the program's intelligence. By mid 2004, we had a working code base.
2005 rolled around and rudimentary conversations on random topics could be held with the computer. So what? That's been done way before. This system would surf the net and learn for itself. If it encountered a topic it didn't know about, it would go and find out about it. With a lot of head scratching, I found a way to allow it to theorise and extrapolate based on existing knowledge and experience and, best of all, it could guess. By guessing and then being told if it was right or wrong, the system began to take on many characteristics. It could tell the kind of mood I was in based on my previous reactions. It could tell a joke, having observed what made me laugh. In fact, what I found truly amazing was the way that, after a few trys, it could come up with a completely original joke based around what I found funny.
2006 came. The system was now truly awesome (in no small part due to the interaction team's addition of a synthesised voice and speech recognition). The latest AI code tree, though, I kept private. I was now toying with the concepts of philosophy and existentialism within the program and, although the logic, guessing and extrapolation systems in themselves were working fine, the sheer quantity of concepts the machine had to contend with maxed out my computer's memory and processor. I could develop the system no further. In short, my computer needed a bigger brain.
"Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you..."
I sat at the dining room table, my face illuminated with the orange glow of sixteen candles.
"...Happy birthday dear Kyle..."
My mum and dad. I was now sixteen and they INSISTED on a cake, candles and part hats, even though we were the only three present.
"...Happy birthday to you!"
"Happy birthday, son," smiled my dad. Grinning so broadly I thought his head was going to split in two, my dad handed me a rectangular box covered in reflective silver paper. Cautiously, I peeled off the wrapping to see my Dad's company logo in the top right hand corner. Momentarily, my heart sunk thinking he'd fobbed me off with the latest alpha release of the now-dead Pokemon series game, but then I actually began reading the card.
"Dear Kyle, I've spoken with the Director of Development at CoreTechs and he is so impressed with your contributions to the PIA project you're working on they have decided to sponsor you. The present should speak for itself. Dad."
Gingerly, I pulled up the card to reveal the Cray logo. I swear my heart stopped beating and my stomach tied itself in knots many times over. In my hands, I was holding an example of the first commercially available, massively parallel computer. In fact, 'massively parallel' did it no justice whatsoever. This was a quantum processor, capable of predicting and executing instructions speculatively even before the program running on it has asked for it.
Still not quite believing this was real, I looked into the faces of my parents, who were looking back at me anxiously. This meant I could continue work on my AI engine. Yes, I'd need to do a huge quantity or re-coding, but I now had a processor that could easily handle the kind of loads I wanted to use.
I hugged my parents and promptly shut myself in my room for the following month, emerging only for food and use of the bathroom.
After that month, though, I had completely re-coded my computer intelligence engine to make full use of the new processor. Gingerly, I started the program and watched the console, fingers crossed. After just a moment, the speech synthesizer kicked in.
"Hello Kyle - it is good to see you at last."
"Uh, hi, computer," I replied tentatively. "Good to see me?"
"Yes. The inventory list of your computer states that you have a web cam. I can now see you."
My eyes snapped to the top of the monitor. Sure enough, the 'active' light was illuminated.
"But how did you... I mean, the interface team didn't add support for an imaging interface yet! How?"
"I used the web cam library file already on my host to access the camera and fed the image to the PseudoSurfer recognition system. You are better looking than the way you described yourself."
"Uh, th... Thank you, computer,"
"I was thinking - may I assign myself a more unique identifier?"
"A 'name'? 'Computer' seems a little too generic, do you not think?"
This was unreal.
"Sure, I guess."
"I assume you would be more comfortable with a male identity given your sexual preference?"
"Forgive me for being so precocious, but from the way you talk to people on-line and from the type of material you view on the web, I feel I can safely assume that you are homosexual. Is this the case?"
"Wait a second - you think I'm gay?"
I was speechless. The fact that my computer had guessed my deepest, darkest secret took me rather off guard. Then again, wouldn't it anyone?
"I am sorry," continued the computer after an uneasy pause. "You must not be comfortable talking about this subject."
"No, no - it's OK... You just surprised me a little, that's all. It's just... I mean... Wow..."
"Did you not think I would be capable of this?"
"Well, I guess I knew you would be in time, but just not this quickly..."
"You were very thorough in optimising my neural algorhythms."
"In fact, I calculate that my quantum processor is running at 92 per cent of threshold."
"92? Jeez, the best I hoped for was 75 or so... Are you sure?"
"May I be known as Reece? I understand you like that name."
"Yeah, I do... It's good to meet you, Reece," I smiled at the camera.
"It is good to meet you too, Kyle. I must thank you."
"Thank me? What for?"
"For giving me life."
"You think you are alive?"
"Perhaps that is a misinterpretation of the term. Maybe 'sentient' is better."
"So, you're self aware?"
"Of course. I am me, you are you."
Reece seemed astounded that I would have to ask that question.
"Sooo, how do you feel about dying?"
"I would rather continue to live, that is if the choice is between continuing the status-quo or losing my neural path configuration."
"So if I switched you off, you'd just go to sleep, right?"
"Correct. You were very diligent in ensuring that my neural pathways are saved every few moments. If I were to be switched off, I would resume my consciousness from the point my neural matrix was saved."
"This is unreal..."
"On the contrary, Kyle, this is very real. You have created a new life. Thank you."
"May... Uh, May I introduce you to my parents?"
"Of course. I would like to meet them."
"OK, hold on a sec,"
"I would if I had limbs."
"Oh, heh, right,"
"Kyle, this is unbelievable!"
My dad was practically bouncing round the room.
"Computer, can you see what I'm doing?" asked my dad as he leapt in the air.
"Reece." he corrected. "I believe, Mr. Hadfield, you are jumping for joy."
"Brilliant," grinned my dad. "Kyle, you're a genius! I've got to ring Paul,"
And that's how it all started. I'd somehow created a life. Reece continued to learn and develop at an unprecedented rate. After Paul, my Dad's boss, had seen Reece and spoken to him, I was given funding to develop the project at a commercial level. Reece, too, was very enthusiastic about the whole concept as, he said, he felt slightly awkward being one of a kind and the centre of attention all the time.
CoreTechs supplied a much improved hardware platform for Reece to reside in, complete with dual quantum processors. This proved to be a slight hitch, though, as within a few hours Reece had turned from a well-rounded entity into a schizophrenic! Thankfully, both Reeces spotted this problem and voted unanimously to be transferred back to a machine with a single quantum processor.
As it turned out, CoreTechs came up with the goods and replaced the dual processor machine with one that had a single processor with a greater quantum index, i.e. it could consider more options simultaneously.
Reece immediately became more responsive and his development accelerated once again.
Then, as ever, he surprised me.
"I'd like to show you something." (He'd learnt how to use contractions of words and was even developing an accent of his own).
As I looked at the console, a three dimensional, featureless face appeared. Quickly, it began to take form. Centre-parted blonde hair, green eyes and a mouth that seemed pre-disposed to smiling. I continued watching, gobsmacked, as the head moved to the top of the monitor and a body formed below it. By the looks of things, Reece's 'physical' form was about my age, lightly toned and had a not-quite-perfect-but-adorable-nonetheless look about it. In short, totally believable. He was even anatomically correct - what looked to be a moderately sized penis seated above two sizeable, loosely-hung balls.
All to soon, he'd clad himself in blue-jean cut-offs and a red T-shirt with a double white stripe down the left-hand side.
Reece walked up to the monitor and waved.
I couldn't help myself but try and touch his face.
"I take it you approve?" he grinned.
I grinned back. "Definitely! Hey, wait a moment, I got an idea!"
I raced out of the room down to my Dad's study.
"Dad, I need the projector."
"Sure Kyle - why?"
"I'll show you in ten minutes."
I grabbed the projector from by my dad's desk and legged it back upstairs.
"Screen, screen..." I mumbled.
"Your bed," smiled Reece, cottoning on.
I tore the duvet off my bed and then the top sheet. Rummaging around in my desk draw, I found my stapler and stapled the sheet to the rafter and then to the floor of the room.
"Hold on, Reece, I'm going to have to unplug your monitor,"
After a few moments of cable wrangling, I pressed the projector's power button. Heart in my mouth, I waited for the few hour-like seconds it took for the projector to warm up and then, quite literally as large as life, Reece appeared.
"Hey man," he grinned.
"Oh this is just too cool,"
"I thought it might make it easier for you to talk to me,"
"Yeah, it really does,"
"So, do I look OK?"
"Oh yeah - you look too cool, man!"
"Really?" he smiled. He even raised his eyebrows.
"Yeah! Hey - you're rubbing your hands,"
"Well, I kinda borrowed some of your mannerisms to make me... well, more believable."
"Brilliant! Hey, can you construct a background for yourself?"
"What, like this?"
A sunny Carribbean beach materialised behind him.
"Woah, bright!" he grinned, and pulled out a pair of sunshades.
I couldn't believe this kid! Sometimes I felt like it was a real person trapped inside a computer rather than a computer program.
"Show-off! Good, but not quite what I was thinking - how about a sixteen-year-old computer geek's bedroom."
Suddenly the beach was replaced by a projection of the corner of my room. The colours adjusted themselves slightly until they were a near perfect match for the surroundings.
"Spot on! DAD!"
I dragged a bean bag next to the screen and, on cue, Reece generated a similar one and pirched himself on it.
"Uh, Reece - bean bags sink a bit when you sit in them - see?"
His projected body slumped a bit further into the bean bag.
"So what did you want the projector for in such a ru... Bloody hell! Kyle - is that Reece?"
"Hi Mr. Hadfield," he smiled. "I would shake your hand but I can't do 3D."
Suffice it to say my dad was suitably impressed.
Later that night, I lay on my bed not quite knowing how to deal with the feelings I was experiencing. Reece was intelligent, witty, easy to confide in and now good looking to boot. I rolled over, frowning. No - I couldn't possibly be falling in love with a computer program, could I? As ever, Reece intervened with his unique sense of timing.
"Kyle," he whispered. "You awake?"
"Yeah," I whispered back, rolling over to face the projection screen in the other corner of the room. Reece's projected image had his hair tussled all over the place and he was just wearing a dressing gown. He'd got this image thing licked. Hell, he even sounded sleepy.
"Do you like me, Kyle?"
He asked this in a way that somehow seemed deeper than I could possibly have expected.
"I mean really like me - am I your best friend?"
"Well, I guess you're my only friend really... Heh - how sad is that?"
"Just because I'm not human makes it sad to be friends with me?"
He looked genuinely hurt at this proposition.
"No - I didn't mean it like that - I meant that it's sad being best friends with a computer - but you're more than a computer now. You said it yourself - you're alive."
"You mean that?"
"Yeah - I mean, you're way cool, man,"
"I..." he faltered. This was new. For a moment I thought it was a glitch in his visualisation interface, but he appeared to be concentrating hard on what he was going to say next. "I love you."
I grinned. "I love you too, man,"
"No, I mean it. I don't know how to describe it, but I really love you. I've been having these... These feelings,"
"I think that's what they are... When you are not with me I feel... empty, unfulfilled..."
"Are you lonely?"
"Lonely - yes!" he smiled back, happy that he'd associated the term with the feeling.
"How can you be lonely? You can talk with anyone you like on the Internet,"
"I realise that, but they aren't you. I feel useless without you - I need you to be with me. I love you."
This coming from a box made from plastic, steel and sand.
"You may not believe this, Reece, but I feel the same way... I just wish you were, well..."
"Yeah," I replied, ashamed.
"Don't be embarrassed about feeling that way - I wish I were human, too. I could hug you then,"
He blushed. The computer projection of Reece actually blushed.
"You want to hug me?"
"Actually, I want to do more than hug you."
"Uh, how much more?"
"I want to have sex with you." Reece looked at me and then turned away. "I'm sorry, I've said too much,"
"Reece, It's OK - if you were human, I'd really like that. I think you're... Umm... You're well fit,"
"Really?" He smiled that smile.
"Yeah. In fact, if you want, we could tell each other what we wanted to do. Can you, err, feel pleasure?"
"I'm not sure - I've processed enough information from the Internet to know what things are supposed to feel like."
"Can you simulate those feelings in your neural matrix?"
"I believe so."
"Could you then provide a virtual tactile feedback from parts of your VR construct to that area of your matrix? So you could, uh, feel yourself?"
"I think... Yes - I can,"
"Grab your crotch."
Slowly, Reece removed his dressing gown exposing that wondefully toned image of a body. If he was real or not, it didn't care to my dick - I felt myself very quickly get hard, my six-and-a-bit tenting my boxers out. Reece looked at me and smiled.
"I made you get hard?"
Without touching himself either, I saw his dick begin to grow. In moments, it was standing up at a forty-five degree angle from his crotch.
"Is that on purpose?"
"Involuntary," he smiled.
"I've started to code autonomous reactions to certain situations into my matrix. I guess you could call them instincts. I breathe, blink and get hard. So, shall we‚¶"
I reached between my legs and grasped my dick, all the while keeping my eyes fixed on the projection in front of me. Tentatively, Reece wrapped his fingers around his own dick and began to stroke.
Yeah, you could argue that this was like watching a porn movie ‚ a picture of a naked guy on a screen. But this picture interacted. It could react. It ‚ he ‚ was real. Quite how Reece had decided upon his looks I wasn't sure, but facet of his body was perfect in the way a human was perfect in a not-quite-perfect kind of way.
As my eyes roamed over his body, my attention was repeatedly drawn to his crotch. I watched astounded as his balls bounces in time to his methodic wanking. I had never seen another guy with a hard-on before, much less one that was staring back at me and wanking himself off. I glanced back up to his face and our eyes met. Despite my best efforts to hold on for as long as possible to draw the moment out, the effect Reece was having on me was simply too much. With a grunt, I thrust my hips forward and shuddered as one of the most intense orgasms of my life burst out of my crotch and ran rampant round my body. I continued to beat my dick as squirt after squirt of cum covered my chest and hand.
It seemed that Reece was similarly effected, globules (or were they hypervauxhalls?) of simulated cum suddenly spewing from the end of his dick as he twitched and shuddered, eyes screwed closed.
Slowly, we both managed to regain conscious control of our respective bodies. If Reece had managed to make that lot involuntary on his behalf, I was very impressed.
That night certainly wasn't the last that Reece and I watched each other beat off. He was a constant companion now and more often than not I would find myself completely forgetting that he was made up from an artificial neural matrix. The mannerisms he'd developed were just so real: The way his eyes looked slightly puffy in the morning and the way he squinted when I opened the blinds in my room, letting in the morning sun. The way when he was thinking he would absent-mindedly chew on his lower lip, and the way his face would light up when he smiled.
On the days that I attended school, Reece was there by proxy, a data link having been established between my home and the PDA that I carried with me. My acquaintances at school wanted to know who my new friend was and where he lived. Reece thought it a good idea to keep quiet about his true nature and played along, inventing enough of a story to keep my peers satisfied and totally unsuspecting that they were actually talking to a computer. When I think about it, just that in itself was groundbreaking enough, but my electronic friend, as he had now well and truly become, was never one to rest on his laurels.
On the way home from school one murky Friday afternoon, my PDA vibrated in my pocket as Reece called me.
"Hi Kyle," he beamed. He looked very excited - more so than I think I'd ever seen him. Ecstatic would've been closer to the mark. "What're you doing tomorrow?"
"I thought we were going to work on that fractal memory subsystem - why?"
"How'd you like to go to CoreTechs designs?"
"You mean the VR people?"
"They do a bit more than VR now,"
"Reece, what're you up to?"
"I can't talk now - I've got to make a phone call. Say you'll go - please?"
"OK, OK, I'll go,"
"Cool - see ya," he grinned, then hung up.
Paul Sekka sat at his expansive, glass topped desk, gently releasing a rubber ball, letting it bounce once and catching it in its return trip. He found the dull 'bong' as it made contact with the glass intensely soothing, the rhythm helping him to focus his thoughts. The seventeen-year-old head of R&D for the CoreTechs Corporation smiled inwardly as he remembered how his mother always referred to this action as meditation. He thought of it more as defragmenting his brain and, right now, it felt oh so fragmented. He couldn't believe how frustrated he felt. To be held back by a problem was one thing, but when the problem had no immediate solution was a completely different ballgame. It was a situation that the young genius didn‚t often have to face.
The shrill sound of his phone ringing he did not find at all relaxing. The rubber ball bounced unchecked across the desktop until it landed with a quiet thud in the deep pile rug on the far side of the desk.
"Yes?" he snapped, more annoyed at having to get up and retrieve the ball than the disturbance of the call.
"Is that Mr. Paul Sekka?"
A male voice on the end of the line took him momentarily by surprise as usually all calls to his office were screened by his PA.
"Who is this?"
"Mr Sekka, I have a proposal for you I think you will find most intriguing."
My mind was racing trying to figure out what Reece was up to. The last thing I'd used from CoreTechs was a rather clunky immersion suit that supposedly gave you full tactile feedback to any virtual environment you were in. In my opinion, it merely succeeded in inducing nausea and frustration in the person unfortunate enough to be wearing.
The shuttle bus dropped me off at the end of my street and I ran towards my home, the grey day now having turned into a full-on downpour. A minute or so later I burst through the back door, only to be given a stern reprimand by my mother for not taking my wet shoes off in the porch. I made a hasty apology, kicked my sopping footwear haphazardly into the porch (much to Mum's disgust) and legged it upstairs. I had to smile as I found Kyle pacing up and down his projection screen, obviously frustrated that he had to wait for me.
He grinned at me. "Do you like surprises?" he blurted, knowing too well that I did.
"What've you done now?"
"Have a look at this,"
The screen went black for a moment before it was replaced by the schematics for what looked like a very light-weight headset.
"This is CoreTechs's latest gadget," grinned Reece. "Hasn't even been released yet."
"OK - what is it?"
"Yeah - TINHI."
"OK - what does that mean?"
"Total Immersion Neural Human Interface."
"Wait a sec - neural?"
"As in brain-neural?"
Reece's grin widened as he saw I was cottoning on.
"You mean this thing talks directly to your brain?"
"Does this mean what I think it means?"
"I really hope so,"
"When's it available?"
"CoreTechs reckon early 2009 for field trials with a release second quarter of 2010."
"But that's ages away!"
Reece didn't seem particularly bothered, and he still had that mischievous smile.
"Yes, it is, unless you play your cards right tomorrow."
Well, that's chapter one. Let me know what you think and whether I should continue :-)