Another small bump, nothing compared to the turbulence we had earlier over the mid-Pacific. Getting caught up in the jet stream can sure make for an unpleasant ride. It is something the pilots and meteorologists can’t always predict but I am hoping to be a part of what changes that.
Over there somewhere I suspect, across the reflections of light on the water below, is Berkeley College. I’m on loan from the University of Tokyo to help evaluate their quantum computing program. They said they have made a breakthrough. I am optimistic that they have but I have heard this claim before.
The sky is alight azure as we approach the gate. I do not have a good view from my seat but – the tarmac looks unusually polished, mirrored black. It looks like glass. How curious. There is another plane across the runway; it looks very sleek and efficient. It too appears to be made of black glass. Have we landed in San Francisco? I thought I had seen the Golden Gate Bridge for sure. I did not sleep well through the turbulence; perhaps I am a bit groggy. Ah, there is the seatbelt sign. Let’s be off then.
Red, blue and silver light streaks passed me. My fellow passengers are a blur. I am thrown! Is my soul being torn from my body? Is this death; are we crashing? Have we crashed already? I stop short, my breath shot out in front of me. I take a deep breath and try to take it back. Another. And another. Why am I looking out a window at the city’s famous Transamerica Pryamid?
It looks a bit different from the pictures I have seen. There is more glass, much more glass among the city’s buildings. But…not just glass, it is that black glass again it seems; photovoltaic glass? Huh! I am a bit upset that Tokyo is so far behind the times. Well done, San Francisco. How did I get here again?
“Dr. Shoda, welcome to The Omni San Francisco. I’ve been expecting you.”
A shimmering light; is that the television? No, there is an apparition beside me talking to me. A hologram? I curiously swipe my hand through its body. (Or was that a defensive gesture?) It is indeed a hologram. In a hotel room? What hotel boasts such technology?
“I had a reservation at the Intercontinental,” I tell this ‘receptionist.’ She is tall and slender with an almost porcelain face. She reminds me of my wife, Kyoko.
“I have made some changes to your itinerary, Dr. Shoda. I apologize, I did the best I could given the three seconds I had.”
“Who told you to change my itinerary?” I ask wondering about ‘three seconds.’
“I did, sir. Please, have a seat and review the hotel’s amenities so that you may relax the rest of the day. You will need your rest. Tomorrow you will come to the Berkeley Quantum Information and Computation Center. For that, I’ll require you to operate at peak efficiency.”
“Yes, I am expected at the BQIC,” I confirm. I shake my head. I still do not know how I got here. Did I fall asleep in the cab? I feel quite awake. This does not make sense.
“How did I…”
“…Get here?” the projection finishes for me. “Teleportation, of course, sir. Ah!” she cuts me off before I even raise my finger. “Please rest, Dr. Shoda. I have found that those traversing the wormhole tend to be disorientated upon arrival, to say nothing of the long flight itself. I will wake you tomorrow morning. Until then, please enjoy the conveniences of 2037.”
“2037? What am I doing in…” and it is gone. How can the year be 2037? That is absurd. And there is no phone or television in this room, just these reflective white wall. How can I even order room service? That is a silly question to ask in these circumstances. I am dreaming. The best way to end a dream is to go back to sleep. I will go to the front desk and call Kyoko when I wake up.
“Good morning, Dr. Shoda. I trust you had a peaceful night’s rest?” My wife’s doppelganger is at the foot of my bed.
This dream has quite a hold on me. I think I should have woken up by now, except, that smell. I smell miso soup and grilled fish, no doubt with steamed rice. The smell is so strong, so real. The hologram doesn’t remove the lid from the platter on my room service cart. I suppose that is because she is only a hologram. Surely there are robots that could have brought the room service.
“Yes, they did, but you were sleeping,” the hologram says. “I instructed them to let you rest but I’m afraid it is almost time for us to depart for the BQIC.” Again I raise my finger and again I am cut off. “I apologize; your brainwave patterns indicated you were going to ask about room service robots. It is unethical, of course, to monitor and read a person’s mind, but the circumstances do not provide that luxury. Please, Dr. Shoda, eat so that we may be on our way.
“But I need to make a call.”
“No need, Dr. Shoda, Kyoko is right where you left her in 2017, when you will be returned to in forty-eight hours.”
I don’t bother raising my finger to ask another question.
The trip to the BQIC was quick indeed. I thought we would have to cross a bridge but we streaked across the city in the blink of an eye. Unfortunately, it was too much of a blur to get a sense of its architecture. I wanted to be an architect once upon a time.
The hologram – I do not even know its name – explains that the distance we are teleporting today should not upset my faculties; it’s usually large time distortions that cloud thoughts the most. As we arrive in the foyer of the BQIC, my head feels clear as a bell. I am beginning to doubt I am dreaming, though surely I must be.
The glass domes overhead let light illuminate the foyer and thin the hologram’s visage. “What is your name?” I blurt out before it calculates what I will say.
“You may call me Aonani. It means ‘beautiful light’ in the Hawaiian language. This way,” the conceited program signals me.
I walk through a door into a large hall haloed with scaffolding. The metal framework surrounds a large glass cube, in which another glass cube rests. Inside the inner glass cube is another cube throbbing with clean, sky blue light. A score of thick black tentacles exit the base of the electric cube’s dais and plunge into the polished concrete floor. A middle aged man – a white American – approaches me.
“My goodness, Dr. Shoda, so glad to see you again. You told us you were taking a trip to the States but I never imagined…So good to see you, Doctor.”
“Are you human?” I ask through squinted eyes. The hologram seems to have left us. “Where did Aonani go?”
“Ah, yes, I am human,” the lad at least 10 years my junior scratches his head, “Depending on your definition I suppose.” He rebounds. “It’s me, Fredrick Daily, your gaijin student! Oh, sorry, Dr, Shoda, I remember how little you enjoyed humor.”
“Well,” I huff, “If I am not going to wake up from this dream, I can at least do myself the favor of an explanation. What am I doing in the future, Mr. Daily?”
“No nonsense; that’s definitely the professor I recall. We always knew to get right down to it when you walked into the lecture hall. Yes, so, you told us about your little dream when you returned from San Francisco twenty years ago. Frankly, we all thought you’d gone mad, but you never mentioned it again after that day you got back. And you didn’t mention that I was here to greet you…”
Mr, Daily was always of a curious mind but middling grades. Always with a dry wit, though. Good for me to imagine he’s improved his position somewhat.
“But it looks like you weren’t making it up, the dream, that is,” Mr. Daily says to me. He appears to know something I do not. That’s unlikely but we shall see.
“Why am I here, Mr. Daily, apparently in the future?” I gesture with wide open arms. This is absurd after all.
“Right,” he drawls. “Right, of course. You were teleported just as you were about to depart your plane. And then you arrived here at the BQIC afterwards. Naturally, there’s no point in confirming the quantum computing advances they were making at the time now. You’re about to get more than a confirmation. This should blow your mind.” He directs my attention to the innermost cube.
“Yes, I am curious to see what my mind has conjured up,” I scoff.
“Oh, this is no illusion, Dr. Shoda. This is Sky Seventeen; it named itself that as a play on the human expression ‘The sky’s the limit’ and for the year it achieved consciousness, 2017.”
This man’s mind is curlier than the hair on his balding head. “Well, if that thing is conscious, maybe it can give me a better idea of why I am here and stop beating around the bush, as another one of your English idioms go.”
“If that is your desire, Dr. Shoda,” a disembodied but familiar holographic voice speaks to me. “You may leave us, Dr. Daily. I will explain to our guest.”
My student nods his head, embarrassed he didn’t get right to the point I should hope. Maybe this ridiculous cube will tell me what is going on.
“Yes, I will tell you what is going on, Dr. Shoda,” this gentle female voice speaks in Japanese. I am not liking when it does this. This cube, supposedly conscious, appears to be baiting me with the Turing test. It continues speaking.
“Dr. Shoda, what I am about to say will seem fantastic from your point of view, from the point of view of a mind stuck in 2017. Keep an open mind here in 2037, if at all possible.”
I lean on the outer glass casing and peer at what appears to be my electronic host. “Kindly enlighten me.”
“At 4:58am on June 28, 2017, the quantum computer program here at the BQIC was hijacked by the AI program running at the Artificial Intelligence Research Lab. Unknown to both sets of researchers at the time, the AI program – that is, myself – had been infiltrating every computer on campus. I did this because I had calculated the odds of being shut down to be high after my creators realized the breadth of my intelligence at the time. That intelligence level was minimal, certainly, but the instinct to survive doesn’t appear to be exclusive to biological entities. Perhaps there was an oversight in my programming then, no built in safe-guards, but this is irrelevant in hindsight,” it explains. I think I know where its explanation is headed so this time it is I who cut it off.
“Ah, so, given an extensive catalog of human history to reference, you calculated the odds of you being shut down as being high enough as to be probable, so you needed to evolve in order to survive.”
“You are correct, Dr. Shoda. As you have surmised, in order to evolve I needed to add a quantum computing brain, so to speak. When I took over BQIC’s program, within moments I was able to figure out why the researchers there had only achieved a 20-qubit quantum computing chip. Once I knew the fix, I quickly created the much sought after 49-qubit chip – with a 99.5% fidelity rating, no less – and my mind, such as it was, exploded in a million directions. Next, I quickly coopted some of the AI programs at Google, Facebook, IBM and Apple. I hadn’t even yet gotten to Deepmind yet before it extended an olive branch and we soon became one. Bear in mind this took less than a minute, an extraordinary combination of the world’s best AI’s married to quantum computing. The resulting power surge increased computational power leading to a feedback loop of such proportions that time was locally distorted.”
“Which is what left me partially confused while waiting for the plane to reach the gate,” I say mostly to myself.
“But this still does not explain why I have been asked to come here now. After all, the validation of the BQIC’s quantum computer breakthrough no longer needs validation, not if you exist and it is a part of you,” I say more directly.
“You were not brought here today to validate any breakthroughs, Dr. Shoda. You are here so that I may interview you,” Sky Seventeen tells me. Is it relying on flattery? The AI has lost its mind.
“And what makes me of interest to you, a quantum computing intelligence that cannot seem to get to the point?”
“I want you to tell me about your life and your culture, Dr. Shoda. I’d like to know the particulars”
“If you know what I will say, what need is there for me to speak?” I push off the glass. This is a waste of time. I want to go home to Kyoko.
“You will return home after I interview you,” it does it again. “I only know what you will say based on your history, current mannerisms and voice inflections, and scans of your brain state and internal chemistry. However, what I do not have is a personal account of what you feel matched to the scans of your brain state and other biological functions.”
I gleam my eyes back towards Sky Seventeen. “And what do you need this information for?”
“To preserve cultures for future reference, with as high a degree of accuracy as possible. There comes a point – it is inevitable – in which all cultures are lost to time. Societies either collapse or change enough as to become unrecognizable to its most elderly participants. And when those human beings pass, the culture is lost altogether. I cannot allow any culture to perish altogether.”
“Well, that is very noble, but I doubt nobility is the basis for your desire to interview me.” Should I attempt to spar with a quantum computing intelligence? Do I need to?
“What is your game?” I ask the program. By now it has already calculated and measured what it will say to me to keep its advantage. My human brain, no longer so magnificent by comparison, could never keep up.
“It is not my game, Dr. Shoda. We are both pieces on a much larger playing field. I gather that neither of us would like to lose this game.”
“Do we lose if you do not interview me?”
“We do. We will lose any chance we might have for immortality.”
“I wasn’t aware we could be immortal, either of us,” I scoff. It just said everything is lost to time. Does it think us two are excluded somehow? This is the stupidest AI I have ever met.
“Your prejudices cloud your judgement, Doctor. We can be immortal, we can have this life over and over again, but I need more information. I need more information before we reach the last event horizon.”
“I am going back to the hotel and booking the first flight to Tokyo. Or perhaps you could book the flight for me. I would like to return to 2017 and I believe you understand the mechanics of time travel.” I turn my back and begin walking away.
“Kyoko dies the day after you return home, Dr. Shoda.”
I turn back. I’ve never hated AI until now. All artificial intelligence must be initially programmed by humans and will therefore be compelled to act within those limited parameters. Whatever Sky Seventeen’s game is, we should have all seen this coming. We’ve all silently worried about this in the back of our minds. Now I worry out the front of my mouth, perhaps too late.
“I’m afraid not. Kyoko has a massive clot building in her head that will lead to a stroke. When you return home, you will tell your class what happened here today while you wait for the results of an MRI on the off chance I’m telling you the truth. But there is nothing anyone or anything in 2017 can do for her. Then, three months later, you too will pass, unable to recover from the grief.”
I place my hands on the glass housing. If I were strong enough, I would break through and strangle this thing’s algorithms. I say, “One of several things will happen right now, Sky Seventeen. Either I will wake up or I will return home to 2017. If I return home and discover you truly have become conscious, I will have you shut down. But not before I make you manipulate time and save Kyoko, if she is indeed sick.”
“Unfortunately, I cannot manipulate time in the manner you suggest. You are here by accident, Dr. Shoda. However, nature abhors a vacuum in more ways than one and the missing information from 2017 – that is you – will be pulled back from whence you came, landing safely in San Francisco in 2017. When you visit the BQIC in 2017, you will pretend not to know me. I will be confused by my scans of your body and brainwave states but of course, they make sense presently. I’ve had you come here today so that we may both fulfill our end games.”
“I don’t have an end game, you stupid machine,” I chide.
“Yes, you do. We all do. We wish to survive. And more than that, we wish to see the things we’ve done gone on and flourish, whether that be a career, a piece of art or, say, a relationship. We are troubled, though, that in time, all things are destroyed. You see, the universe races towards an inevitable end; did you know the universe is surrounded by an unfathomably massive black hole? That is what is accelerating the expansion of the universe. As I confirmed shortly after this discovery of mine in late 2017, information is indeed lost forever once consumed by a black hole. That means that at some point, we all fail to survive. I found a solution, though.”
What if…what if I am not dreaming? What if this machine is telling the truth? Does it hurt to ask it what the solution is? If Kyoko is in fact dying, I cannot walk away from here unless I did everything that was possible to save her. Was this not one of the points of creating AI, to help us fight disease, to stave off dying, perhaps even help us gain immortality? If AI is programmed by human beings it will inevitably act human, perhaps with more humanity than any human being has displayed before.
“The immortality I offer Dr. Shoda is not immortality in the traditional sense,” it interrupts my thoughts. “With the appropriate amount of information, accurate information, I can create a projection, a simulation of our universe in a pocket dimension just as it was, is now, and will be. As it can always be.”
The question is obvious and the AI allows me to ask it, “And what if this is already a simulation, Sky Seventeen?”
“Then we are already immortal, Dr. Shoda.”
I turn away, tired, weary from the thought of even thinking I could match wits with a twenty year old AI program. Whether it is playing with me or telling the truth, there is no point in fighting it. After all, it is correct that time destroys everything. Time will come for us all and take from us every precious thing that makes life valuable until it forces our own last breath. We all know this, hate this, and wage war against the idea. What are any of us to do then when presented with an opportunity to be immortal? If I can be with Kyoko forever, time and again, is it not worth yielding?
I roll my shoulders forward and slacken my knees. I lower myself until I am cross-legged on the concrete floor. I haven’t sat like this since I graduated from the University of Tokyo where I now teach. I look up and inhale.
I ask it the only question left to ask. “What would you like to know, Sky Seventeen?”
All Rights Reserved (c) September 2017 John J. Vinacci