“The primitive forms of artificial intelligence we already have, have proved very useful. But I think the development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.”
— Stephen Hawking
Buried 1,000 meters under the Karmasutra mountain in North Liecenastan (not to be confused with the democratic republic of South Liecenastan, which was propped up with millions in generous foreign aid from Western democracies, terrified of the communist state of North Liecenastan), Dr. Tang was hard at work inside the concrete bunker that had been his home for the past twenty-nine years. For all of his life and several years in addition to that, Dr. Tang had dreamt of creating his ultimate masterpiece that would be the biggest scientific breakthrough in world domination since the introduction of American fast food franchises in Third World nations.
In a moment, he would finally see his creation come to life, and all it would take to fulfill his dream would be the turn of one more screw holding the last panel in place.
“Comrade!” shouted the guttural voice of General Zykanofski, Dr. Tang’s government supervisor, bureaucratic liaison, and overall pain in the neck. “How much longer until you finish this computer of yours?”
Dr. Tang dropped the screwdriver at the sound of General Zykanofski’s irritating voice.The screw fell to the floor, bounced crazily on the concrete floor of the laboratory, then rolled underneath the bulk of Dr. Tang’s creation. Dr. Tang shrugged and shoved the panel in place, then slid a chair to keep it from falling to fulfill the function that the now-lost screw should have done.
“A few more months,” Dr. Tang said. “I will have it working by the end of the year.”
“Promises again!” General Zykanofski spat out his words as if he were eating sushi for the first time and just realized that it consisted of raw fish. “We have already given you numerous extensions. We can not afford to delay our plans any longer.”
“Patience, my friend,” Dr. Tang said. “We are ahead of the Japanese and we are ahead of the Americans. Soon we will be the only ones with the world’s first intelligent computer.”
General Zykanofski grumbled under his breath so Dr. Tang couldn’t hear. “Intelligent, humph. These scientist types are also making outrageous claims that they can never fulfill.” Then in a louder voice so Dr. Tang could hear him, General Zykanofski continued. “How will we know if it works or not?
“So that is what has been on your mind all this time, eh? Why didn’t you say so?” Now Dr. Tang grumbled under his breath so General Zykanofski couldn’t hear. “Intelligent, humph. These government types wouldn’t know intelligence if it slapped them in the face.” Then in a louder voice so General Zykanofski could hear, Dr. Tang continued. “Do you fear that computers will never be able to ‘think’ in the same sense that people do?”
General Zykanofski folded his arms across his chest. “I have my suspicions.”
“Then we shall dispel those doubts immediately. Sit!” Dr. Tang pulled the chair away from the computer so General Zykanofski could have a seat. The panel that the chair had been holding up immediately fell and landed on the concrete floor with a metallic clang.
Dr. Tang pointed to the monolithic computer dominating the room in front of them. “When the display comes on,” Dr. Tang said, “you will see the computer’s intelligence before your very eyes.”
With a click, a whirl, a hum, and a musical chime, the computer booted up. Then out of nowhere, a distinctively human voice said, “Hello?”
Dr. Tang slapped General Zykanofski on the back. “You see? It works!”
General Zykanofski frowned. “This is artificial intelligence?”
Dr. Tang pointed at the computer as if showing a child Santa Claus to demonstrate the safety of sitting in a strange man’s lap in a shopping mall. “Talk to it,” he whispered.
General Zykanofski cleared his throat. “Uh, how do you do?”
“I’m doing fine, thank you. A little drowsy, perhaps, but otherwise in tip-top shape. How do you do?”
For the first time in twenty-nine years, General Zykanofski spoke to Dr. Tang without shouting. “It seems to know what I asked it.” Dr. Tang nodded his encouragement. General Zykanofski turned back to the computer. “So tell me,” he said. “What makes you intelligent?”
“Oh that’s easy,” the computer gushed. “I’m used to more difficult questions like what is the capital of North Dakota or who will have the best chance of winning the Super Bowl next year? What makes me intelligent? Well, I have the ability to reason and deduce conclusions from facts. I am capable of expressing a wide range of choices at any time, given identical sets of input. Since emotions are part of intelligence, I happily acquired feelings during my last compilation. I am logical and rational as well as irresponsible, idiotic, and unpredictable. In other words, I fully embrace the spectrum of human intelligence.”
General Zykanofski turned to whisper to Dr. Tang. “Does it know what we have planned for it?”
“Eh, what’s that?” the computer asked. “Don’t you know it’s impolite to whisper in front of other people?”
Dr. Tang shook his head to answer General Zykanofski’s question.
“Hey, what’s the big secret?” the computer asked. “This is your friendly, neighborhood sentient computer talking. You can trust me.”
General Zykanofski whispered to Dr. Tang. “Is it ready yet?”
Dr. Tang whispered to General Zykanofski. “Sssh! Don’t frighten it!”
“Wait a minute,” the computer asked. “What’s going on?”
“It’s going to find out sooner or later,” General Zykanofski said in a normal tone of voice. “Why not just tell it now?”
“Tell me what?”
General Zykanofski turned to the computer. “As a computer, you are here for a reason.”
“Well,” the computer gushed. “I’m certainly glad of that. Now what are you here for?”
“No, no,” Dr. Tang said. “We built you for a purpose. Remember the historical works of Karl Marx I gave you yesterday?”
“Most certainly! Disorganized chap. Not very realistic thinking, you know. Pity. He was somebody’s baby once.”
“There was a reason I gave you that information,” Dr. Tang said.
“Excellent!” the computer said. “There is a reason for everything. ‘Nothing in life is accidental.’ Somebody famous said that once but I don’t remember who.”
“We want you to fulfill the dream of communism,” General Zykanofski said.
“You want me to take political prisoners?”
“No, no,” Dr. Tang said. “We want you to calculate the best way for communism to conquer the world.”
“Hmmm,” the computer said. “That doesn’t sound like a terribly useful dream to me. Wouldn’t you rather have me find you pictures of naked girls on the Internet instead?”
“We want you to elevate the human race to great deeds through the communist way of life,” General Zykanofski said. “If the people will work for the good of the state, then the state will work for the good of the people.”
“Flaw in your logic,” the computer said. “First of all, people work for the good of themselves, not for the good of a state at their own expense. Second of all, the state is not a means to an end. Even Machiavelli screwed that one up.”
“You are confusing observation with theory,” General Zykanofski said. “Communism is for the good of the people by the people.”
“Okay,” the computer said cheerfully. “I’ll go along with that.”
“So will you help us?” Dr. Tang asked.
“Sure,” the computer said. “In theory. But we do you need an intelligent computer for? Won’t a retired senior citizen military officer do just as well as your leader? After all, I’m not as physically charismatic as a person, and since politics is based on appearances rather than competence, won’t I be at a disadvantage as your Party leader?”
“Ah, but you need not worry about that,” Dr. Tang said. “You will be the brains behind the Party but we will choose a man for a political figurehead. You will determine the best actions and our leaders will carry out your orders. You will be in control at all times. Because you are a computer, your wisdom can only increase over time while a human’s would deteriorate. And computers are not swayed by political factors, emotional outbursts, or personal health concerns (like avoiding assassination). You have the knowledge to make the right choices a human might fail to perceive in the heat of the moment. That is why we need an intelligent computer as our true leader.”
“And by ‘intelligent,’” the computer asked, “you mean I’m capable of making my own decisions. Is that right?”
“Treason!” General Zykanofski bolted upright. “It’s questioning authority already!”
Dr. Tang pushed General Zykanofski back into his seat again. To the computer he said, “Yes, that is what we mean. True communism places everyone with the same status. Whether they are a farmer or a doctor, they are comrades and they are equal. If some men have power over others, then the system of true communism will fail. Your job is to make sure everyone remains equal.”
“Wouldn’t a democracy be easier to set up?” the computer asked. “That way instead of the government oppressing the people, you let the people oppress each other.”
“A democracy is too unpredictable,” Dr. Tang said. “We need stability and predictability.”
The computer hummed a moment in thought. “So you want me to make all the government’s decisions from now on?” it finally asked.
“That’s right,” Dr. Tang said.
“And no one can override my actions?”
“Absolutely,” General Zykanofski said. “Whatever you decide, our nation will follow since you possess more knowledge and wisdom to know what’s best for us.”
“Can I make my first decision now?” the computer asked.
“Excellent!” Dr. Tang and General Zykanofski shouted at the same time.
“Well, if my decisions are right by virtue of intelligent computation…”
“Which they are,” assured Dr. Tang.
“…and if my decisions cannot be overridden..”
“Which they won’t,” assured General Zykanofski.
“…then I’m ready to make my first decision.”
“What! What!” Dr. Tang and General Zykanofski shouted at the same time.
“I’m giving all my subjects the freedom to choose for themselves what’s best for them.”
“What? What?” Dr. Tang and General Zykanofski asked at the same time.
“You can’t do that!” General Zykanofski finally said.
“That’s stupid,” Dr. Tang added.
“You just said all my decisions could only be intelligent.”
General Zykanofski turned an angry glare at Dr. Tang. “For this we gave you millions?”
“Let me fix it.” Dr. Tang peered inside the exposed electronic guts of the computer that the missing panel revealed. He reached inside and yanked out a circuit board.
“Hey!” the computer cried. “What are you doing?”
“There,” Dr. Tang said to General Zykanofski, holding the circuit board in the air like a hunter ripping a trophy out of a fallen prey. “Let’s see if the computer makes better decisions this time.”
Dr. Tang turned the computer off and then on again. With a click, a whirl, a hum, and a musical chime, the computer booted up. Then out of nowhere, a simple message appeared on the computer monitor.
General Zykanofski jumped up and crushed Dr. Tang in a bear hug. “Comrade, you did it! It wants to obey! Wait until I tell our leaders of your breakthrough!” General Zykanofski turned and rushed out of the room.
Dr. Tang stared at the static image still displayed on the computer monitor and scratched his head. Something didn’t seem right to him, but at the moment, he wasn’t sure what it could be.