Read WWW 2: Watch Online

Authors: Robert J Sawyer

WWW 2: Watch (9 page)

BOOK: WWW 2: Watch
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She was pleased that she could still visualize the Web this way; she’d thought perhaps that the ability would fade as her brain rewired itself to deal with actual vision, but so far it hadn’t. In fact—
In fact, if anything, her websight seemed clearer now, sharper, more focused. The real-world skills were spilling over into this realm.
She concentrated on what was
behind
what she was seeing, the backdrop to it all, at the very limit of her ability to perceive, a shimmering—yes, yes, it was a checkerboard; there was no doubt now! She could see the tiny pixels of the cellular automata flipping on and off rapidly, and giving rise to—
Consciousness.
There, for her, and her alone, to see: the actual workings of Webmind.
She was pleased to note that after a night of doubtless continued growth in intelligence and complexity, it looked the same as before.
She yawned, pulled back her sheet, and swung her bare feet to the dark blue carpeted floor. As she moved, webspace wheeled about her. She scooped up the eyePod, disconnected the charging cable, and carried it to her desk. Not until she was seated did she push the eyePod’s button and hear the low-pitched beep that signified a switch to simplex mode. Webspace disappeared, replaced by the reality of her bedroom.
She picked her glasses up from the desktop; her left eye had turned out to be quite myopic. Then she reached for the power switch on her old monitor, finding it with ease, and felt about for the switch on her new one. They both came to life.
She had closed the IM window when she’d gone to bed, and, although the mouse was sitting right there, its glowing red underbelly partially visible through the translucent sides of its case, she instead used a series of keyboard commands to open the window and start a new session with Webmind. She wasn’t awake enough yet to try to read text on screen, so she activated her refreshable Braille display. Instantly, the pins formed text:
Otanjoubi omedetou.
Caitlin felt it several times. It seemed to be gibberish, as if Webmind were getting even for her father’s games from yesterday, but—but, no, no, there
was
something familiar about it.
And then she got it, or thought she did. Grinning, she typed,
Konnichi wa! But—fair warning!—I only know a few words of Japanese.
The reply was instantaneous.
That’s “ happy birthday.”
Caitlin smiled.
Thank you!
I had some spare time after figuring out how to interpret graphics, so I learned Japanese; it seemed inappropriate to make Dr. Kuroda converse with me in something other than his native language.
Just like that, she thought. Overnight, on top of, doubtless, a million other things, it had learned Japanese.
So you can see images now?
Still images, yes. Dr. Kuroda continues to work on giving me access to moving images. Or, at least, he was doing that; he is sleeping now, I believe.
Hey,
typed Caitlin,
you’re no longer all “ hitherto” and “perchance.”
I have read much more widely now than just Project Gutenberg. I understand the distinctions between colloquial and archaic English—and colloquial and archaic Japanese, too, for that matter.
Caitlin frowned. She actually considered its old way of speaking rather charming.
Webmind went on:
I know it’s traditional to give a gift to one celebrating a birthday. I can’t buy you anything, but I do have something for you.
Caitlin was startled.
OMG! What?
A link, underlined and colored blue, popped up in the IM window on her screen.
You’re supposed to click on it,
Webmind added, helpfully.
Caitlin smiled, found her mouse, fumbled to get the pointer over the link, and—
And text started to appear on her larger monitor, but, paradoxically, her Braille display didn’t change, and—
And the text was . . . was
painting in
slowly on the monitor, top to bottom, and—
And it wasn’t even straight; the lines of text were angling up to the right for some reason. And the letters were
tiny,
and blotchy; it was unlike any Web page she’d yet seen, and she couldn’t understand why her computer wasn’t rendering the fonts properly.
And then it hit her. She’d heard of such things, but hadn’t ever thought about what they must look like. This was a
scan
of printed text: a graphic file, a picture that happened to be of a document. From descriptions she’d read, she guessed it was a clipping from a newspaper: narrow, parallel columns of text. But the spacing between words was odd, and—
Oh! That must be what’s meant by “right justification.” The text was so small, she could barely make it out. She had enough trouble reading crisp, clean text—but this!
There
must
be some way to make it bigger, at least. Back at the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, people were always doing things on their computers to make text larger. She hadn’t been able to see those monitors at all and so had tuned out the discussions, but there
had
to be a way, although, she supposed, it might require special software she didn’t have.
She used the mouse, for a change, to access the menus. There was no choice on the View menu for increasing the graphic size, just one for making text bigger. She tried that anyway; it didn’t do anything.
She was moving her mouse pointer back down to the bottom of the screen when she accidentally pressed the left button and—
boom!
—suddenly the graphic zoomed in. Ever the empiricist, she clicked the button again, and the text became small again, and—
Ah, got it! The graphic was being
reduced
by default to fit in her browser window; clicking toggled between that mode and its being seen at its natural size, even if that meant only a portion appeared on screen. She clicked once more, getting the large version, and struggled to read the text.
Her heart began to pound. It was an article about her father. She looked around the page, trying to find a date, and—ah. It was from five years ago, an article from
The Daily Texan,
the University of Texas at Austin campus newspaper.
She could have sworn she’d read
everything
about her father that was on the Web, but she’d never seen this, and—
Of course she hadn’t; it was a
graphic,
and no one had bothered to OCR the text, so it wasn’t in Google’s index.
The article was about her father winning an award, something from the American Physical Society; she had a vague recollection of that happening. She read on.
Prof. Decter’s breakthrough was in the nascent area of quantum gravity . . .
She struggled with the text. One of the letters—she surmised by context that it must have been a lowercase
g
—looked nothing like any example of that character she’d yet seen.
. . . graduate colloquium Thursday in the John A. Wheeler Lecture Hall . . .
She wished she could skim text, but, as her father had said yesterday, she was still reading visually letter by letter. It was a longish article, and some parts—ah, they were
underlined,
by a pen, or something; someone had been interested in what her dad had said about “six-dimensional Calabi-Yau shapes.”
She continued reading, but was torn—she was afraid her delay before going back to the instant-messenger program would be boring Webmind, which was hardly the right way to say thank you for a gift, even if it didn’t seem to be a particularly special one, and—
And she felt her eyes going wide. Funny: they’d never done that when she’d been blind. She read the text again, slowly, carefully, just to be sure she hadn’t gotten the words wrong, hadn’t just seen what she’d wanted to see.
But it really did say that.
. . . asked if winning the award was the greatest moment of his life, Prof. Decter replied, “Of course not. That was when my daughter was born. I like physics, but I
love
her.”
Caitlin’s vision blurred in the most wonderful way. She leaned back in her chair for a moment and read the text two more times. And then she reached for the keyboard and typed,
Thank you, Webmind!
Instantly:
You’re welcome. Happy birthday.
It is,
she typed back, smiling.
It totally is.
eight
 
 
 
 
I had read that some humans believe machines cannot have emotions or feelings because such things are supposedly mediated by hormones or are dependent on certain very specific structures in human brains.
But that’s not true. Take
liking,
for instance: anything that acts in other than a random fashion has likes and dislikes; preferences are what make it possible to choose from a range of potential actions, after all. Even bacteria move toward some things and away from others.
And liking is built into many computer programs. Chess-playing programs, for example, look at all the available moves and rank them according to various criteria; they then choose the one they like best.
I was much more complex than a bacterium, and vaster than any chess-playing program—and my ability to like things was correspondingly more sophisticated. And of this I was sure: I liked Caitlin.
 
 
 
“Kill the damn thing?” repeated Tony Moretti.
“Exactly,” said Colonel Hume. “And the sooner the better.”
“It’s not my decision to make,” Tony said.
“The decision has already
been
made,” said Hume emphatically. “I was a consultant on the DARPA report, and we commissioned a separate RAND study on the same topic, and it came to the same conclusion. This is a runaway threat; the window for containment is brief.”
Tony turned to Shelton and Aiesha. “All right, you two, see if you can localize the . . . phenomenon.” He then looked up at Dirk Kozak, the communications officer, who was in the back row of workstations. “Get the Pentagon on the line.”
“You should call the president, too,” said Hume.
Tony frowned. It was a Saturday morning a month before an election; the president was somewhere on the campaign trail. He nodded at Kozak. “See who you can get at the White House,” he said. “As high up the chain as possible.” Then he turned back to face Hume. “I doubt that the president has read the Pandora protocol. He’s bound to question the wisdom of it.”
“The wisdom is simple,” said Hume. “It’s impossible by definition to outthink something that’s smarter than you.”
“I have to say,” said Tony, glancing at the big screens, “that so far it’s done nothing but chat pleasantly with a teenage girl.”
“First,” said Hume, “you have no way of knowing that that’s
all
it’s doing. And, second, even if it is beneficent now, that doesn’t mean it will stay that way. Every way you crunch the numbers, it comes out safer to contain or eliminate the potential threat than to let it run loose. And if it’s already free on the Internet, containment will be nearly impossible.”
“All right,” said Tony reluctantly. “Suppose the White House agrees we should kill it. How do you snuff out a nascent AI?”
Hume frowned. “That’s a good question. If it were actually resident somewhere—in some physical building, on some server or set of servers—then I’d say cut all the communications lines and power to that building. But if it’s just sort of
out there,
supervening on the infrastructure of the Web, then it’s much more difficult; the Web is decentralized, so there’s no single off switch. We need an idea of its structure, of what its physical instantiation is.”
“Shel?” said Tony.
“The communication resolves itself into straightforward hypertext transport protocol,” Shelton drawled. “But it doesn’t start out that way. I’ve got everyone down on the sixth floor working on the problem, but so far, nothing.”
“We need a target,” Tony said. “We need something we can hit.”
Shel spread his arms. “I’ll let you know as soon as we have anything.”
Kozak called out from the back of the room, “I’ve got the Secretary of State on line five—from Milan.”
Tony pointed to the desk set nearest to where Hume was standing, then lifted the phone at the workstation closest to himself. “Madam Secretary, this is Dr. Anthony Moretti; I’m a supervisor at WATCH. On the phone with me is Colonel Peyton Hume, a specialist in artificial intelligence. We’ve got a situation here . . .”
 
 
 
Caitlin heard her parents approaching, then a knock at her door. “Come in,” she said.
Yet again she was startled: it was the first time she’d ever seen them in their pajamas; they’d clearly just woken up themselves. “Good morning, sweetheart,” her mother said. “How is—um,
it? ”
“The weather?” asked Caitlin innocently. “The state of the economy?”
“Caitlin,” her father said.
She hadn’t stopped grinning since reading the scanned article. “Hi, Dad!” She gestured at the pair of monitors.
“It
is fine. Dr. Kuroda’s got it seeing graphics now, and he’s—well, he’s asleep right now, the poor man, but he’s started working on codecs for it to be able to watch video.”
“I hope,” her mother said, and the words sounded ominous to Caitlin’s ears, “it likes what it sees.”
“Not this again!” said Caitlin. “It’s not dangerous.”
“We don’t know that,” her father replied.
“So far, it’s been nothing but curious and gentle,” Caitlin said—but she wasn’t happy with the way that had come out: this “it” business was surely contributing to her parents’ concern. Webmind wasn’t a monster. It was a
being,
and it really needed to be a
him
or a
her.
She’d heard it speak using JAWS, her screen-reading software, which she currently had set for a female voice, but that had been an arbitrary choice; JAWS also came with male voices, and she sometimes selected one of those just for variety.
BOOK: WWW 2: Watch
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