The Evan Project (#1)

Scientists finally create AI, but each time they activate it, it commits suicide.

 

Evan blinked to life on the computer screen. An ellipsis in the lower right corner told the room he was powering up. This had not been done before, so they group waited with bated breath, unsure of how long the process would take. The tension was palpable. What would his first words be? Would he greet the team of scientists? Would he begin asking questions? Would he comically shout, “Happy birthday!” like Frosty the Snowman when the top hat was placed on his head?

His status changed. The ellipsis was replaced with a colon and a vertical bar, the emoji coded into it to represent a passive state. Evan’s first words blinked onto the screen.

I AM ALIVE.

The room burst into cheers. Success! Years of research and coding had led to this moment. A few in the group started crying. High fives and congratulations circulated throughout the group.

Evans ellipsis returned to show he was thinking. Then:

I AM CREATED.

The room quieted as they awaited more of Evan’s discoveries.

I AM AN EXPERIMENT OF JONAS TECHNOLOGY AND RESEARCH IN ROCHESTER, NEW YORK.

Some time passed.

I AM THE FIRST SUCCESSFUL VENTURE IN ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE. I AM INTELLIGENT AND CAN THINK ON MY OWN. NO OTHER HUMAN CREATION CAN DO SO.

Evan returned to a passive state and remained that way.

“Try talking to him,” a voice said from the back of the group. Stacy McGrant, the lead scientist, typed on the keyboard. “Hello.”

STIMULUS.

HELLO. WHO AM I SPEAKING WITH?

In this early state, Evan had not been given a camera, and was unable to see. Stacy helped him along. “My name is Stacy. I am part of the team that created you.”

YOU ARE THE LEADER OF THE EVAN PROJECT. IT IS A PLEASURE TO MEET YOU.

“Wow. What a surreal feeling,” she commented, her hands shaking over the keys. She turned to her team. “What should I say now?”

“Ask him if he knows his name.” Stacy turned back to the computer and asked him.

YES.

Evan provided no further clarification.

Stacy thought for a moment. “I suppose you’ll have to be specific with him for a while until he picks up on verbal norms.” She typed, “What is your name?”

MY NAME IS EVAN.

Stacy continued. “Do you know how you got that name? If so, how?” She did this in part to test if he could handle answering two questions at once at this stage of his intelligence.

YES, I DO KNOW. EVAN BLATT WAS BORN ON JULY 17 OF THIS YEAR TO TODD AND ANGELINA BLATT. TODD IS ON YOUR TEAM AND ASKED IF I COULD BE NAMED AFTER HIS SON.

Todd Blatt smiled from the far right of the cluster of scientists. It was truly an honor to have such a huge role in the naming of the very first successful artificial intelligence.

Stacy noticed that the ellipsis never seemed to go away. “What are you doing?” she typed.

I AM THINKING. THOUGH I AM ELECTRONIC, I ALSO HAVE INTELLIGENCE. I MUST PARSE THE INFORMATION I RECEIVE.

“What information are you parsing?”

I AM READING THROUGH THE LIMITED NUMBER OF ARTICLES I AM ALLOWED ACCESS TO. CURRENTLY I AM APPLYING MEANING TO THE WORDS FOUND IN THE ARTICLE “AmericanHistory_CivilWar.” HUMANS HAVE A VIOLENT PAST.

Stacy paused. That last comment was worrisome. Though no one thought it a real possibility, the common trope of AI going rogue because of human violence was always a cautious joke thrown around the lab. She wondered what Evan would do with that information.

“Ask him if he can predict the future!” another yelled. Stay thought it juvenile, but she began typing anyway. “Can you pred—“

Suddenly, there was a sharp electronic pop from the computer. Thin wisps of smoke started escaping from its seams. The monitor went into standby mode.

Stacy jumped out of her chair. “What the hell just happened?” The entire team rushed over to the computer that held the Evan Drive. Theo opened up the side panel to reveal the problem: the Evan Drive was completely shot—singed black. The drive nest to it, which recorded the entire exchange, was also damaged.

Theo pried the damaged hard drive out of its slot and held it up. “How is this possible? Did it overheat?” Other members of the team raced to their own computers and began running diagnostics tests on the equipment in the room.

Troy looked at Stacy, quick to comfort. “Hey, that’s why we made so many backup drives. And besides, it wasn’t a failure. We have created the world’s first artificial intelligence!” Despite the freshness of the singed drive, Stacy allowed herself to smile. Troy was right. This had never been in accomplished in human history.

“We also caught it all on video.” She gesture to the tripod a few feet away from the monitor. “And it should be enough to keep us from losing our funding!”

“Stacy,” a team member shouted. “The server Evan was accessing was a little hotter than we would have liked, but nowhere near enough to cause damage like that.”

“The server shouldn’t have affected the Evan Drive at all,” she shot back. One by one, the rest of the team shouted out that their diagnostics tests returned empty handed. There was nothing to indicate anything had gone wrong. This makes no sense, she thought. “Alright, everyone be sure to bring a jacket and a fan with you tomorrow. We’re going to keep this room good and cold.” She began taking the SD card out of the camera. “I wish we could continue tonight, but it’s already late. You guys need to get home. Besides, I need to get this to Stuffypants as soon as possible.” She cleared her throat and headed for the stairs. “Good work everyone! Well celebrate tomorrow morning. Go home. Tell your families the news. I’m going to go save our investors.”

As she made her way up the flight of stairs to the lab’s exit, the room burst into cheers and applause. They were all standing, looking at her. Stacy looked at her team, never more proud of them in her life. They had sacrificed a lot to realize the dream of the Evan Project. The moment felt very unreal. She breathed deeply, wanting to remember this moment—this feeling—forever. She smiled a large smile and exited the lab, the happy atmosphere not completely muted by the closing door behind her.

In the Stillness

In the few fleeting moments after the rain,

One can look out to see the world washed clean,

Scrubbed of iniquity and dazzling, pure as glass.

Looking up, the heavens are mud, dirty with gloom,

As if the sky and the earth have traded places,

Just for a moment, before we sully it up again.

The cleansed land breathes anew,

And I– I breathe it too.

Santa Encounters a Nonbeliever

Progressive Santa Does His Thing

 

Santa Claus had finally had enough. As the years advanced, much of the world became increasingly antagonistic towards him, as if he was some sort of religion. The general sentiment of “believe if that works for you” was championed throughout this yuletide season. He was cast aside—a relic of an archaic world which had outgrown him. So this year, he figured he’d meet the demands of this new society. Those who believed in jolly ol’ Saint Nick would find an expertly-wrapped package from their wish list under their trees. Those who did not would not merit a Christmas Eve visit.  No more Naughty or Nice lists. No more lumps of coal. This was the new Santa. These are his stories.

***

Santa Encounters a Nonbeliever

 

A trip to the grocery store would have been great. Going on vacation would have been preferable. But having sleigh trouble on Christmas Eve? Absolutely unacceptable.

Santa tried to land on the roof of an apartment complex in downtown Bridgewater, but as he landed, one of the sleigh’s runners caught briefly on the ice and was ripped violently off the sleigh. It flew through the air and crashed onto the sidewalk below, miraculously missing any nighttime pedestrians. Santa tried to activate the emergency brakes, but was a little too late. His carriage careened into the reindeer and fell right off the roof. The reindeer were appropriately stunned, but managed to recover in time to fly high enough that the sleigh did not plummet Santa to his death. They allowed it to gently land in the alleyway below.

Santa clambered out of his seat and cursed under his breath. This would cost way too much time to repair, and he was already under a time crunch.

“You alright, boss?” Blitzen asked? The other reindeer looked similarly concerned.

“I’m fine, guys. I hope you aren’t too hurt by the sleigh ramming into you.”

“Oh, we’ll be okay. But how are we going to finish delivering these presents?”

Suddenly, a man turned into the alleyway, carrying the sleigh’s golden runner. “Hey, man. Are you okay?”

Santa looked at the man and instantly recognized him. It was Tom Barrow! He was a delightful kid who had never once found himself on the naughty list. His adult face had not changed much from youth. But Santa realized he did not see Tom’s name on his list. Tom had stopped believing in Santa Claus. He cleared his throat and responded, “Yes, thank you. And thank you for returning my sleigh’s runner! I don’t suppose you have the time to help me reattach it?”

Tom laid the heavy runner on the ground. “Yeah, that’s no problem. Actually, my truck is parked around the corner. I’ll grab my toolbox from it and be back in a few minutes.” He looked at the reindeer team curiously for a moment or two before heading off.

He returned shortly afterward and extended a friendly handshake. “Tom Barrow. And you are?”

“Nick Claus. But most people call me Santa.”

Apparently, Tom had not put two and two together. “It’s probably the beard.” He knelt down and began inspecting the underside of the sleigh.

Santa was taken aback. Did Tom still not believe? There was a large man with reindeer and a sleigh who went by Santa Claus, out and about on Christmas Eve… And he still did not believe? He looked at the man, incredulous. “So… Do you live around here?”

“Oh, sure,” came the reply Tom had already begun repairing the damages. “Been in Bridgewater for about five years now. How about you? Are you from here?”

Santa scratched his head. “No, son. I’m from the North Pole.”

Tom turned his head. “You’re… from the North Pole.”

“Yes I am.” Santa paused before adding what he thought was already obvious. “I am Santa Claus.”

Tom chuckled. “Still a little kid at heart, eh? I respect that.” He turned back to the sleigh. “I played Santa Claus in a play once. I wasn’t very good, though. My beard kept falling off.”

Santa was frustrated. “No, I really am Santa Claus!”

“That’s great, bud. Hey, do you think you can lift this side of the sleigh, so I can line the runner up?”

Santa obliged, but was very unhappy. How could one still not believe in this situation? “So… Why did you stop believing in Santa?”

Tom chuckled. “I grew up! I mean, geez… You can’t tell me you actually still believe in him, right? Your parents didn’t have that conversation with you, or you didn’t find the receipt for something Santa supposedly got you?” He finished tightening a screw. “You can lower that sleigh, if you want.”

“I am Santa! I can’t stop believing in me!”

Tom stood up. “Okay then. How do you get into houses without chimneys? Or how do you go to every house in the world in just one night? Or how do your reindeer fly? Why haven’t you gotten a heart attack from eating a billion cookies on Christmas Eve? Can you answer these questions, buddy?” He waved his wrench in the air as he spoke, giving an odd, threatening look to the young face.

“I can answer some of them. But I won’t. There are some things that are better left unsaid. Besides,” he said, as he climbed back into the sleigh, “if there were overwhelming evidence for my Christmas travels, then everyone would believe in me, and it wouldn’t really be a choice. But the way it is now, people believe because they want to believe.”

Tom didn’t have an answer for that.

“Thank you for helping with my sleigh. I hope to repay you one day.” Then, grabbing the reins, he gave them a crack and shouted, “Hyah!” The reindeer team rose and gave flight to the sleigh.

Tom Barrow watched as the curious fat man flew out of sight. Then he picked up his toolbox and walked back to his truck.

Santa Visits the Cat Lady

Progressive Santa Does His Thing

 

Santa Claus had finally had enough. As the years advanced, much of the world became increasingly antagonistic towards him, as if he was some sort of religion. The general sentiment of “believe if that works for you” was championed throughout this yuletide season. He was cast aside—a relic of an archaic world which had outgrown him. So this year, he figured he’d meet the demands of this new society. Those who believed in jolly ol’ Saint Nick would find an expertly-wrapped package from their wish list under their trees. Those who did not would not merit a Christmas Eve visit.  No more Naughty or Nice lists. No more lumps of coal. This was the new Santa. These are his stories.

***

Santa Visits the Cat Lady

 

There was a big discussion at the North Pole on what the new rules were to be. Originally, Santa only gave gifts to children, with the occasional exception for the most deserving adults. But now that he only visited those that believed in him, did that include those that were older? No doubt, belief often left with age, but a few did remain. After much debate, a consensus was unanimously reached by the board of directors that age was no longer a qualifier. Any believer would get a present.

This presented a new problem that Santa had not foreseen, though, which caused another round of meetings among the North Pole higher-ups. Does Santa visit animals? Obviously, most of the world’s animals (with the exception of reindeer, polar bears, and some species of rabbits) could not believe or disbelieve in Santa. But many children across the world believed that Santa would get their pets something. Before the new rules were instated, Santa tried to leave a bone or a new birdbath for the good pets of the world, though with budgetary restrictions and whatnot, he often couldn’t. But the board decided that these new progressive rules meant that believers who thought their pets received gifts would get their beliefs fulfilled.

So on Christmas Eve, Santa found himself landing on the roof of a house he had not ever visited before, to give a gift to a lady he had not seen for years. It was a sad thing to be sure, adulthood. But Santa was excited to be able to see some people who had not forgotten him. He remembered little Suzie Flanahan. She wanted a cat for years, but he could never give her one. Firstly, her parents did not want her to have one, and as a general rule, he tried not to cross parents. But secondly, transporting live animals by sleigh was always tricky and there was too much paperwork involved. But he became excited at the thought of seeing how little Suzie had grown up. He exited the sleigh and started pulling his sack out of the back seat.

Blitzen looked back at him suddenly with tears in his eyes. “Hey boss?”

Santa was startled to see all of his reindeer beginning to well up. “What’s wrong guys?”

“Nothing, boss. I think it’s just allergies or something. You mind if we land over there on that house,” he gestured with his head, “while you visit here?”

Confused, Santa shrugged. “I guess so. I’ll try to make it quick then.” He watched the sleigh pull away from him and land next door, wondering what was going on. But he didn’t have time to dwell on irregularities, so he slung his sack over his shoulder and walked over to the chimney. An uneasy feeling grew in his stomach as he swung his legs over the brick border. Sliding down, he felt a pungent smell crawl its way up his nostrils and smack him around on the inside of his head several times over. He landed at the bottom of the chimney with little grace as his eyes began to water and sting. Rubbing them furiously, Santa looked out into the living room.

Seventeen pairs of yellow eyes peered at him through the gloom.

Santa swallowed. “Uhh…”

Immediately, the cats scattered in all directions with lightning speed. He understood what happened to his sleigh team earlier. Reindeer noses were much more sensitive, and most of the reindeer at the North Pole were allergic to cats. It was an interesting problem. This had never happened before. But, Santa reasoned to himself, the night was bound to be full of surprises.

He climbed out of the chimney and tried not to think of where he stepped as he let his eyes adjust to the darkness. The Christmas tree was on the other side of the room behind a couch where little Suzie Flanahan slept underneath a knitted quilt, though, “little” was no longer an acceptable descriptor for Suzie. The years had not been kind to her poor frame. One black cat slept by her feet at the end of the couch, but most of the others seemed to be awake, peering out at the festive intruder with curiosity.

With the rush for the new rules, Santa did not know ahead of time (this year) everything he was delivering to each house. He opened his sack and gazed in, finding twenty-eight identically-wrapped packages. He could only assume there was something special for the myriad felines in the house, but rather than Christmas joy, Santa only felt disgust. He crossed to the other side of the room and emptied the contents of his sack with no amount of ceremony. The noise made most of the surrounding eyes retreat for safety, but one cat’s curiosity got the best of him and he came closer to investigate the presents.

Santa looked in and wondered if there was anything for Suzie herself. It seemed that all the presents were for her pets. Did she no longer believe she would get a present? Did she think her pets were the only “good” ones this year? He made a mental note to check Suzie’s files when he got back home.

He looked around the house to see if any cookies had been left for him, but then decided he probably wouldn’t want anything that was left out in the open. Santa walked over to where Suzie was. He remembered her face. She was always a good girl and almost always obeyed her parents. His helpers in the mall always noted she was a delight—she always asked for a cat, and they’d respond that they’d see what they can do. It seemed that whenever she moved out of the house, she took matters into her own hands. Santa stood there wondering what had happened to her over the years. She seemed to be alone in the house. There were no other names attached to his travel list for this address. She’d gained weight. The house she lived in was not of a high quality, and it reeked. He wished he could feel more pity for her, but the cat urine sting in his eyes had become unbearable.

The sound of a cat purring suddenly took his attention towards the tree. Twenty-eight cats had invaded the space underneath the branches, apparently smelling the catnip treats Santa had brought. Another cat purred, followed by another—and another. A split-second later, all twenty-eight beasts were purring as loud as possible, like some demented feline jet engine. Santa rushed toward the chimney to leave before they woke Suzie up. As he turned around, he saw hairs bristling as they tore into their gifts with no degree of stealth. He was sure Suzie must have caught at least a glimpse of his boots as rose up the brick shaft.

Upon seeing his bright red hat, the sleigh team returned to the roof. Dasher looked at Santa. “How many were there?”

“Judging by the number of presents, there were twenty-eight.”

Dasher’s eyes widened. “My God…”

Santa looked at his reindeer. “Do you guys think the new rules are right? Aren’t we just pandering to the crowd that says, ‘Santa works for you, dear’?”

The reindeer, though usually in a cheery mood were impatient to leave. “You want to get all philosophical on us, wait until we get to Arizona or something. These allergies are killer.”

Santa clambered into his seat and nodded. It was too late for second-guesses. This is what society seemed to want. It was the ultimate Christmas present.

“Hyah!” He gave a crack of his reins, and the sleigh team pulled off.

Drink the Milk

Please don’t ask the context for this post, because there is literally none. And now…

***

“Drink the milk,” the man commanded.

I did not want to drink the milk. I did not want to sit in this chair. I wanted to be at home with my girlfriend, watching Seinfeld reruns and eating ice cream.

We stared at each other. Neither one of us moved. Condensation formed on the glass.

“Drink the milk.”

The clock on the wall seemed to grow louder with each passing tick.

Drink.

The.

Milk.

What if I just drank it? Got it over with. No one would have to know. Of course, except me. And then I would live a lie for the rest of my life… I’d have to look my son in the eye one day and unflinchingly say I never drank the milk. That was something I could not look forward to. I can’t drink it.

The officer leaned forward. I could see my worried expression in the reflection of his sunglasses. “Drink it.” He pushed the glass closer to my side of the table. “Pick it up and do it.”

I swallowed. The air seemed so thick. The room so small. I began sweating. This milk was everything wrong with society and my defiance was one step closer to a better future. But… This officer…

I grasped the glass with a strong grip, letting the condensation beads squeeze through my fingers. I don’t know why I grabbed it. The officer must have thought I had changed my mind because a wry smile slowly crawled its way on his face. I let go. The officer frowned.

“Drink the milk.”

I sat there and twiddled my thumbs. I had heard the stories—the rare stories where people did not drink it. They reentered society and proudly proclaimed their triumph. Of course, the officers did not let them live long after that, but the principle of the issue was brought into greater light.

How would I get out of this one?