Friday, May 10, 2024

Seven Minute Read Sample - To Tend And Watch Over

The following excerpt from the Future Chron novella To Tend And Watch
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introduces an artificial intelligence based on the human brain. These EMulated brains are copies of real human brains that some researchers think may be the path to true AI. This novella was written in January 2017, long before large language models.


It had been more than a decade (human subjective time) since the Em had taken the job offered by the complex's government. The job had paid enough to allow the Em to grow his family and provide job security for them. The Em was very much a family man.

The contract had called for a test installation before widespread deployment. The Em and the government agreed upon a centrally located area for the Ems to occupy. Several towers were turned over to them. The Em relocated to one of them and immediately started having the infrastructure installed that would be needed to support a large nest of Ems.

When resources allowed, the Em imprinted or reanimated another member of his “family”. The Em called it “budding”. In each family, all new Ems were of the same imprinted brain but those reanimated also had their experiences since first budding restored. Each was given a particular area of the complex's infrastructure to tend and watch over. As more and more Ems came online the complex's residents begin to notice the changes.

Transportation was the first area the Ems had transformed. They quickly reduced the commute time, at least for those that still commuted, to only a few minutes across the whole of the complex. The food got fresher, at least for those who could afford real food. The high belt traffic, mostly delivery drone traffic that operated at the highest levels of the towers, became more orderly, quicker, and quieter because the Ems had redesigned it.

Crime, something that threatened the very concept of the complexes, came under control. By increasing their processor speed and assigning more Em buds, the Ems had been able to monitor all the complex's camera installations and drone feedback in real-time, something the complex's government had never been able to do. They could then respond with their robot surrogates in cooperation with the human police to stop the crime.

The Ems infrastructure continued to grow. They built their towers higher and higher until the Em core overshadowed the rest of the complex. When the communication delays up and down the towers became prohibitive, the Ems requested more structures on the core's periphery.

Displaced residents complained but overall the complex's other residents felt that the results of Em management outweighed the sacrifices made by a few.

The test installation became permanent when the time came for contract renewal because it was apparent to the complex's government that they could no longer operate without Em management. The government didn't even complain when the price of the new contract went up, after all, the Ems were saving the government enough on operating expenses to cover the contract cost.

But there were a few residents of the complex that weren't completely satisfied with the new situation. Particularly with the real-time surveillance which they felt could be abused by the Ems and the government. These residents spent time and money making sure that their apartments weren't monitored and that they could not be followed using their Annies or other electronic devices. Some even went to the trouble of escaping the complex or at least knowing how to escape if it became necessary.


Standing in the open field Arlo was remembering when he was twelve years old. He and his best friend Pauli had made it into the Em core. 

After passing through the gate across the subway rails they found the lighting in the core to be very dim. But not the noise. The racket was intense but the source was far off.

After their eyes adjusted to the dim lighting they wandered toward the noise. They soon found themselves in a large area with multiple tracks and wide platforms. 

“This must have been a large train station,” said Arlo to Pauli. Pauli nodded.

Arlo pointed at the double doors on the platform. “I think the noise is coming from in there, come on.”

Carefully pushing one of the doors open enough for them to slip through they found rows and rows of pumps and turbines. Moving closer to the pumps Arlo put his hand near the piping of one and felt an intense cold. He jerked his hand away.

“What's wrong are you hurt?”

“No,” said Arlo. “It's just cold.”

Arlo looked up and saw that the piping disappeared above him. It went through the ceiling and was covered in frost with icicles hanging down. He said to Pauli, “The pipes must be for the cooling of the computer equipment running the emulations.”
They were so deafened by the noise around them that they almost revealed themselves to the robots crossing the far end of the room. 

Pauli grabbed Arlo's shoulder when he saw the robots and pulled him down behind a pump. He pointed to the robots.

The robots were pushing equipment carts laden with what appeared to be electronic equipment. They were loading a large freight elevator. Once the elevator was packed the robots sent it on its way and turned to push their carts back the way they came.

When the robots disappeared around the corner Arlo and Pauli ran over to the elevator. They hesitated a moment.

Pauli said, “Should we take the elevator or use the stairs, if stairs exist?”

“Let's look for the stairs,” said Arlo. “I don't want to get trapped in some elevator.”

After a short search, they found the stairs around the corner. They started up.
Arlo pushed the first door he came to slightly open. He felt a rush of warm air and heard the sound of fans somewhere. After a time, not seeing or hearing any movement, he was confident enough to push the door further open and walk into the room. Looking around he saw equipment stacked to the ceiling and beyond, for the ceiling had been completely cut up to accommodate all the stacks and piping.
Arlo motioned for Pauli to follow him.

Arlo looked up, the stack of equipment seemed to go on for at least forty or fifty feet, even through other ceilings. Each piece of equipment was encased in what looked to Arlo like a plastic. It gave off multicolored lights, pulsing sometimes in unison, sometimes randomly. With the low overall lighting, the effect was somewhat eerie.

Each stack was configured in a hexagonal circle with piping running through the center. From the central piping smaller pipes, like vesicles, extended into the plastic substance. Arlo was looking at the physical manifestation of thousands of Ems in one room, other rooms contained similar installations.

He was just about to walk around the cluster when he heard a voice.

“You two shouldn't be here,” said a man's voice.

Arlo spun around to see a man dressed in a white smock. “I, I was just curious,” said Arlo. Pauli nodded.

“We know about you two, especially you Arlo, we've known about your “curiosity” for some time. May I show you boys around?”

Arlo was a bit stunned. “Yes please,” he said quietly.

The man lead Arlo and Pauli around the periphery of the room. He said, “And what you see here are the fast Ems. Being closer to the cooling system they can run their hardware faster than other Ems higher up because the processor cooling is at maximum in this room. These Ems are typically running a million times faster than the ones at the top and are running problem-solving simulations which if involving time can be run at about one-hundred years of simulated time in an hour of real-time. Communications with other Ems on this level allow even vaster simulations.

“The Ems farther up in this building are running slower and working on less computationally intensive problems until you get to the top where the emulated brains run only slightly faster than human equivalents. Those Ems are useful for interfacing with humanity as you might expect.

“The equipment you see is encased in a clear material specially designed by the Ems for efficient heat conduction. You may touch the material if you wish,” said the man to Pauli.

Pauli looked from the man to the encasing material. With a somewhat worried expression, he slowly reached out to touch the material. The material felt cool to the touch and somewhat nebulous, like touching a thick cloud. Pauli pushed a little harder and the tip of his finger disappeared into the material, almost as if it had been severed.

Pauli let out a yelp and pulled his finger quickly back to find it still in one piece.

The man laughed and said, “It is a trick of light, the refraction index of the material causes what you saw.”

He continued, “Besides convection cooling, the pipes carry a cooling substance unlike any known to man which transports the heat away. I believe you saw the pumps and generators that maintain the cooling system in the basement?”

“Yes,” Arlo said, quite fascinated.

The rest of the tour proceeded without incident. 

When finished the man took Arlo and Pauli down to the basement to wait for a train to take them back. A robot walked up to the pair.

“This is one of the latest Em robots,” said the man. “Unlike the robots you are used to this one is quite autonomous and could operate anywhere in the complex without oversight. It is designed by the Ems and is a much more general artificial intelligence.”

The robot reached out its “hand” to shake with Arlo.

“Hello,” said the robot.

Arlo reached out to shake its hand. Almost immediately he jerked his hand back and rubbed it. Something had pierced the skin of his hand like a needle.

The man spoke up, “Don't worry Arlo. That is a tracking device, smaller than a pinpoint. It won't cause you any problems, it is hypoallergenic and you will quickly forget it. But as I hope you can understand we need some way to track you in case you decide to visit us again.”

Arlo looked from the man to his hand, rubbing his palm. The man helped them into the automated train car and he was gone.

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