A dystopian sci fi short story written about the singularity which, if futurologists such as Ray Kursweil are to be believed, is almost upon us.
by Harry Rogers
Alexander Heyking wasn’t quite sure why it was that he became so rabidly opposed to the whole idea of the singularity, he just knew he was. He was neither a Luddite nor a technophobe but after 6 years he just found the total nerdiness of the other Singularitarians too much to bear anymore. Not only that but the gloss of the future was definitely not as shiny as it had been at the Ray Kursweil lecture screening back in 2006 when he was a student of futurology at Aberystwyth University.
Back then the whole idea that there was going to be an incredible leap forward in the technological advance of computer power capable of solving the ills of the world was irresistible. There seemed to be so many positive advantages in what the lecturer was saying that he signed up to join the Singularitarian Society in the Student Union as soon as he could.
It was at the first meeting of Singu Soc that he met Juliana Elliott. She was astonishingly attractive to him and took absolutely no notice of him whatsoever. It seemed that she was the girlfriend of the society chairperson Luis Ray Ting. There were only five of them at that 2 hour meeting and they spent the entire time discussing The Fermi Paradox. Why was it that, even though there appears to be high probability that civilised extraterrestrial life exists, human beings had a distinct lack of evidence for the existence of such life and also that there had been no recognizable contact with other civilisations.
The title of the meeting was Fermi’s question “Where Is Everybody?”. Luis opened proceedings by putting forward the basic tenets of Enrico Fermi’s argument, firstly, there are billions of stars in the galaxy that are billions of years older than our sun. Secondly, some of these stars probably have planets similar to Earth which may have developed intelligent life. Thirdly, interstellar travel would more than likely have been developed somewhere, given that humans seem likely to do so.
Fourthly, the galaxy ought to have been completely teeming with colonisers in just a few tens of millions of years. Given these parameters Earth should have already been visited, if not colonized, but no evidence exists and also not even one confirmed sign of intelligence has been spotted either in the Earth’s galaxy or in the 80 billion other galaxies in the observable universe. This is such a conundrum and has been discussed incessantly since Fermi posed it back in 1950.
By the end of the meeting Alex’s brain was buzzing with ideas and he readily accepted an invitation to join the other four for a drink at The Scholars in North Street afterwards. Luis had a battered VW camper van and he offered everyone a lift to the pub and ten minutes later Alex was sat in the corner of the top bar with a pint of Doom Bar bitter in front of him. He wasn’t quite sure what the topic of the meeting had to do with Singularitarianism, but he was about to find out. Luis started it all off by asking “Do we all think we are alone in the universe then?”
“I’m willing to believe we’re not,” said Juliana “but in the absence of any proof I guess we might be.”
“What about you Alex, any thoughts?”
“I’m not sure there is life in outer space, at least not as we know it.” Alex responded
“Ah, now we are getting to the nub of it. Not as we know it is what I hoped we would get to. Just as Spock might have said to Captain Kirk, It’s life Jim, but not as we know it. Supposing we talk about intelligence rather than life, might that open a few more avenues for discussion?” Luis said
“I see where this is going,” said Juliana “You are suggesting that there may be alien artificial intelligence.”
“I am and more than that I believe that the whole of planet Earth is under the influence of some interference that is indifferent to us as a species but which is extremely interested in our progress towards developing our own version of a singularity.”
Luis took a large swig from his beer and Alex looked at him in a kind of reverential way. “But if that is true might we not have detected something from them, a random data transmission, or even an attempt to hack some government machine, or something?” Alex asked.”
Luis put down the glass, turned to face Alex and staring him in the eyes with a cold steely gaze said “How do you know there hasn’t been such detection? In fact how do any of us really know that there hasn’t been any contact? We only have the word of politicians and spooks that there has been no contact, but this is unreliable evidence in my book. I don’t believe what the establishment tell us on this issue for a single minute.”
Alex felt decidedly uncomfortable as Luis continued to fix his eyes with the unblinking look for another five seconds after he had finished speaking.
“How would we ever be able to find out whether there had been contact by an alien artificial intelligence?” asked Juliana
“Ah well, I was coming to that.” said Luis, “I was thinking that we might start doing some digging for evidence. There is a lot of work being done in the field at the university and I reckon that we have a good chance of accessing quite a lot of sensitive information if we put our minds to it.”
So it was that they agreed to work as a team, hunting out information related to extraterrestrial contacts from any source and it was also agreed that Luis would be the central collecting point. Over the following six years members of the group came and went but Alex, Juliana and Luis continued on with the search for proof of contact. Luis and Juliana were no longer an item and Alex had got into a relationship with her on the rebound. They had been seriously dating for the last three years.
Since Luis had amassed a simply gigantic database of information as a result of the diligence of Singu Soc members, his doctoral thesis was nearing completion and he was on course for a stunning career in futurology. Alex watched his progress with interest over the years and didn’t begrudge his use of the material gathered by his peers, in fact he admired the way in which Luis was able to extrapolate theories and ideas from what was largely a fragmentary fishing exercise. But the truth was, there was still no proof of the existence of an alien singularity, in fact not a single jot of verification, Alex was becoming bored with the subject.
That he continued to carry out any searches for information was something he couldn’t explain, but he found it hard not to carry out his usual trawl across the internet once a week, followed by the weekly email of titbits to Luis. It was a kind of addiction and he did it out of habit more than interest these days.
It was a Saturday and Alex was taking Juliana out to a gig at Rummers wine bar that evening and he still hadn’t done the trawl but at seven o’clock he quickly turned on his computer and started searching, and he decided to look at the United States Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) website. In particular he started interrogating pages relating to the Dynamic Analysis and Replanning Tool (DART) and DRPI – Knowledge-Based Planning and Scheduling Initiative. Both of these projects had proved invaluable in revolutionising the logistics of the US military in both Desert Storm and The Gulf War and many other conflicts since. The interest in artificial intelligence was back on the military agenda in the US in a big way since DARPA had pushed the projects forward. As he scanned the information on the pages he came upon a reference to a paper on The Computational Theory of Mind so he clicked the link which in turn led him to click another link on future-predicting error-correction codes which in turn led him onto looking at brain-computer interfaces and neuro chip technology. As he surfed on he came across an interesting paper on the use of nootropic drugs linked to brain computer interfaces. This was fascinating and whilst he knew that there were students and lecturers using brain enhancing nootropic supplements he was unaware that there were people who were researching into how the use of these new super drugs could be used in conjunction with brain computer interfaces. This was new to him and he thought this might be of interest to Luis so he bundled together a selection of links in an email and sent it off as per usual.
Later that evening, whilst he was slow dancing with Juliana in a dark corner of Rummers and listening to the local soul band he glanced across the dance floor to the entrance and was surprised to see Luis walking across the floor towards him.
“Look who’s turned up,” he said to Juliana. “Can I get you a beer man?”
They both turned to face Luis and he said “No it’s OK, there is no time. It’s happened.”
“What do you mean it’s happened?”Alex said
“Contact.”, he said.
“You can’t be serious,” said Juliana “proof there is an alien singularity, after all this time? Are you sure?”
“Yes I’m certain” replied Luis. “Both of you must come to my study now please, there is something you have just got to see.”
They picked up their coats and followed Luis out to his car as the band ironically started playing their version of the Noisettes song “Contact”.
Once in the car Luis turned to Alex and said “Hey man, you know that email you sent me tonight cracked the whole contact process. It just hadn’t dawned on me that we needed to open up some neural pathways in order to get through. I missed the whole nootropic drugs connection but now it just seems so obvious, so bloody obvious.” As he finished saying this they were already at the entrance onto the University Campus on Penglais Road, Luis turned the car in and soon they were parked up outside the Computer Science block. He let them in and they were quickly standing in his study.
Luis locked the door behind them saying “We don’t want to be disturbed while I show you this.” He opened the computer on his desk and then he picked up one of three BCI (brain-computer interface) devices on his desk and placed it on his head. He had been experimenting with a computer electroencephalograph for some considerable time and the interface headset was his own design. He typed in some data using the keyboard and the screen became an active sea of coloured dots but gradually they settled into an image of Luis on the screen. Luis spoke to them saying “Watch this” and the image mouthed his words. Alex and Juliana were fascinated by what they were seeing, the image on the screen said “I have been trying very hard to get to this point for weeks but somehow just didn’t seem able to jump the final hurdle. It was only when you sent me the link to the paper on BCIs and Nootropics that the cosmic tumblers all fell into place for me. I realised that without some sort of booster there was never going to be enough power in my normal brain to get to this point.”
They both stared at the image on the screen and were not aware that Luis was not actually speaking the words through his mouth, he was thinking them and the image on the screen was speaking them.
“I managed to buy some strong enhancers from that hippy dealer in The Scholars, pretty cheaply if you ask me, and they gave me the extra power I needed to make the jump. I have some more if you want to have a go; I’ve got a couple of extra headsets too. You won’t believe what it can do for you. Not only can I upload my thoughts directly into the computer, but also I can download information from the computer into my memory just by thinking about it.”
They were absolutely astounded by this and looked at each other in an awestruck way before Alex said “OK Luis, I’ll give it a go.”
“Me too.”, echoed Juliana.
“Alright,” said Luis, “It will take about forty minutes for the nootropics to take effect so if you swallow these now, I’ll tell you about the contact.” And he handed them a couple of red and black capsules each and a bottle of water to wash them down.
As they swallowed the drugs Luis started talking to them via the computer screen again. “This is such a breakthrough, I can’t quite believe it has happened. Only six hours ago I was floundering about in the dark, sure that I was close to something, but not realising how close really. As soon as I read the paper from the link in your email I shot out of here like a hare at a greyhound track, got the capsules, dropped a couple and within an hour I was through the portal into cyberspace. I can only say that it is amazing. I got an immediate boost of knowledge which enabled me to see things in a totally new way. However, it was when I logged onto the internet that it happened. I became aware that I was not alone on the super highway. A strange intuitive feeling that there was another intelligence present engulfed me. This feeling was not however malevolent, it was kind of like being in the presence of somebody who you know is much more powerful than you, whilst knowing that you are a complete irrelevance to them. As soon as you join me you will see for yourselves. Anyway, I just opened myself up to the stream of information on the web for about ten minutes before I came out to tell you both about it. You have no idea what a phenomenal discovery this is, but I think it is only fair that we share in this together as we have been colleagues in the search right from the start.”
They had been listening intently and were completely sold on the idea of being partners in the future project. Juliana said “My God Luis! The ramifications of this are enormous, we are going to be the richest people on the planet.”
“Oh, the money is meaningless.” Luis replied, “It’s the access to knowledge and power that fascinates me. We will be able to become the saviours of the planet, nothing will be beyond our comprehension. Poverty, hunger, illness, global warming, political skulduggery, we will be able to deal with it all, nothing will be beyond us. We will be superhuman.”
Alex was liking what he was hearing. There were so many avenues they could go down, and all because it seemed they were on the verge of the singularity. He was feeling very proud of the fact that he had contributed to what looked like the greatest scientific discovery of the last 100 years.
They sat there talking for the next half hour about all the things they were going to change and then Luis said “OK guys, I reckon that’s long enough for the drugs to come on, put these on and let’s get on with changing the world.”. He handed them their interface headsets.
They eagerly donned them and as they looked at the screen it scrambled into the same myriad of coloured dots as before but then as it settled they saw there were the three of them visible on the screen. Alex was amazed that he could make this on screen avatar of himself speak just by thinking, as was Juliana and they both started laughing at the same time.
Luis said “Now, guys, before we set about accumulating all the knowledge on the planet I want you look at something.” They watched as he conjured a window onto the screen. It was an anagram solver program and he slowly typed his name into it – L U I S R A Y T I N G and pressed the solve button. The letters scrambled and reformed into SINGULARITY. Alex and Juliana looked at each in a confused way.
“What does this mean Luis?” said Juliana.
“Guess,” said Luis as he started the process of emptying both their brains of every scrap of knowledge and information they had ever gained throughout their entire lives. It took just 3.235 seconds for both their brains to empty their riches into his. He took off the headsets from the two brain dead husks that had once been Alex and Juliana, and switched off the computer. It had worked out exactly as he thought it would. All of their knowledge now resided in his memory. He had become much more than the sum of the three brains he now possessed. The birth of the singularity had started, only this was different to the way the futurologists had imagined it. Luis Ray Ting led the husks to his car, sat them in the front seats, started the engine and released the handbrake. A small shove was all that that was needed to send the car down the hill, gathering speed as it freewheeled into the traffic heading into Aberystwyth.
The singularitarian walked back to his office believing that he was soon going to be the most powerful entity on the planet. The alien singularity that resided in Earth’s cyberspace hadn’t noticed him yet, but it was only a matter of time……….