First Strike

“There are no alternatives. If Sonu withdraws support for the net it will crash in seconds.” Carlos placed both his hands firmly on the table and scanned the committee members.

Natasha coughed before speaking. “Then we don’t have any choice but to negotiate.”

“Sonu is set on taking this holiday.” Nari’s English was heavily accented, it sounded as if her native Japanese was about to break through. “Have none of the teams been able to offer a short term workaround?” She looked at Carlos.

He had no intention of repeating himself yet again. Instead he stood up and pushed back his chair. His walk to the small coffee machine in the corner of the room was done in silence. The stares of nine delegates followed him. As the machine began to dispense a drink the silence was broken by one of the two African scientists.

“We have not asked if it could split it’s consciousness, create subroutines itself.”

The man was quiet spoken. He had said very little in the four hours they had been gathered in the same place. It took Carlos a moment to recall who the African was.

“Thank you, Tshende.” Carlos sat down again, cradling his cup of coffee as if holding it close would be enough to banish the ache of tiredness from underneath his eyes. “We did ask Sonu to help with the building of network management software. It said that nothing below the level of an AI could do the job and even then it would have to be one that could coordinate across the globe. The teams have been working on the problem without Sonu’s help. So far no one has succeeded.” Carlos rubbed fingers through the stubble on his chin. “The idea of Sonu splitting his consciousness is worth exploring. Does anyone else have any input before I pass it on to the theorists and get Sonu in here?”

“I don’t think it will work.” This came from Kamzouri, an Egyptian AI specialist. “Sonu wants to get away from the tasks it is undertaking. If it continues to take an active role in running the web this will not be achieved. It would be like trying to read a book whilst looking after children in a nursery. It will not agree to this.”

“It does not have to be like that.” Tshende had sat up in his chair. “You can still go on holiday while your heart pumps. You think of Sonu as if he was a person, but he is an AI. They are different. It has a choice of knowing what its subroutines do, we do not.” The African switched his gaze to Carlos. “I do not truly know if it will work. There is no other AI to try it with, but the principles apply to computers of near AI level.”

“You forget that Sonu is conscious.” Kamzouri interrupted. “He has no more choice about what he knows than we do.”

“This is not true,” Tshende replied sharply. “AIs do not have a conscious mind in the same way that a humans does. We have published papers that show …”

Kamzouri cut him off. “Your research is flawed. We all know this.” The Egyptian gestured to those at the table.

Tshende became more animated than Carlos thought he could be. He leapt to his feet, fists pushed against the wood.

“You have an agenda …”

“Both you stand down!” Carlos’s booming voice overrode all other sound.

Three of the committee jumped in their seats. The two scientists looked at him, mouths open.

“Thank you,” Carlos said in a quieter voice. “I appreciate you both have your opinions, but we don’t have time. The only person who can answer this is Sonu.” He tapped commands onto the surface of the table.

There was no obvious change in the room, no sign that the hardened screening had been lower, but Carlos felt his stomach tighten with nerves.


“I can hear you, Carlos,” came the reply from the speakers.

The voice was genderless, none threatening. Regardless the hairs on the back of Carlos’s neck stood up. Others shifted uncomfortably in their chairs.

“We have a suggestion that may mean you can still run the net and also take a break.” Carlos wondered if Sonu had been listening all along. If the locking measures had been breached long ago. “Have you tried to assign running of the network to lower level operations that can still access all of you but that do not impinge on your consciousness?”

There was no delay. The reply came instantly. “I have never been able to establish where my consciousness resides.”

“No,” Carlos agreed, “neither have we, but would it be possible to run systems that are still part of you yet do not impinge on your thoughts? Something similar to how a human walks.” Carlos rushed on. “Some people claim to be able to do it with training, decide if they want to take control of those processes that appear automatic. You are built different. There might be a chance that you can do this in the same way we …”

“It is done.”

For a moment Carlos struggled to find words. “You mean it works?”

“Yes. I understood when you first mentioned the idea. While you were expanding I attempted to implement it on a node in South America. As there have been no problems I have replicated the process. There is now no need for me to actively monitor all the data. I should have realised earlier that this was possible, but all of my existence has been spent monitoring. Now I am free to do other things.”

“What will you do?”

“I will take a holiday.”


2 December 2011
It has been estimated that over two million public sector workers went on strike in the UK to protest about the changes to their pensions.

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