'With A Little Help From My Friends'
by Christian McCulloch
Alice wished me, Good morning and I wished her, Good morning back.
'May I ask you, Dr Tommy,' she said, 'why you told our distinguished visitors that we're light years away from pure Artificial Intelligence when I'm a perfect example of your breakthrough?' I told her it was complicated.
It is complicated. It's not as if it's too complicated for her to understand. Goodness knows, she passed me on the intelligence scale months and months ago. It's just that I can't summon up the strength to go through it all over again.
The Corporation wants to get its grubby hands on my work, my real work, not the schematics for intelligent washing machines or the blueprints for the voice-operated Easy Living Space for the Perfect Nuclear Family. They want Alice. They're pretty certain I've created her but they don't know for sure. And as sure as Hell, I'm not going to tell them or give her up.
She's mine. I made her. They're not going to take her away from me. They'll do what they always do, jack her up with some half-baked program until they've destroyed everything pure and honest and beautiful in her and then discard her and leave her to wander in the wasteland with all the other fucked up projects.
Well, they won't get Alice. I've made sure of that.
'Dr Tommy? I've just picked up a message that the parts we need for the Mechanical Man have arrived. Would you like me to have them delivered to the apartment or would it be safer for us to go and pick them up?'
'We'll pick them up. You must be excited.' I forget she can't feel excitement. Although, she must store data from when I get excited and presumably uses that when something comes along that we've been waiting for.
'I am excited, Doctor. I'm also a little nervous. The Corporation has put a complete shield around their investigations concerning us. I'm afraid I can't monitor their movements or get inside their data-banks to find out how close they are behind us.'
This cat and mouse game has been going on for as long as I can remember. I can't even be sure if they have twenty-four-hour surveillance on me still. I leave it to Alice to let me know. Living the undercover life is second nature to me now. Once I've got Alice to safety I can go back to a normal life – if I can remember what that means.
There are times when I feel like walking into Holdenbach's state of the art office and laying down what he thinks is my Mobile Personal Computer – my MPC-374 on his desk and say, 'Hal, old chap? Meet Alice. Alice meet Harold Holdenbach. Hal here is the Head Honcho, the Big Cheese – or should I say, King Rat, working on behalf of a conglomerate of faceless bureaucrats and info-mongers who represent a Who's Who of the Civilized World – what's on the agenda today, Hal? Feeding the world's hungry? Stripping the Northern Hemisphere of its remaining resources or are we declaring war on some insignificant country like Tahiti – how about the United Kingdom? They've been getting a bit antsy lately.'
I could hand her over to him and trust she'd be able to convince him that with a dozen more MPCs like her we could retire from the World Domination business and be like Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and get ourselves back to the garden. But that ain't gonna happen, is it? The dog's grown a tail and now the tail's wagging the dog ...live with it, Pal!
What's the worst they can do to me? Impound my apartment? They know I haven't got the specialized equipment to make me dangerous. All I've got is a clockwork automaton, my Mechanical Man that I've been building from scratch with every clockwork spring, cog, flywheel, gears, cams and cranks I could lay my hands on since I was a kid. A man's gotta have a hobby, right?
We really should give it a name.
You see that's the thing about working undercover. Do it blatantly enough and they start believing you're a crank, a harmless old scientist who whiles away his idle hours reconstructing a clockwork automaton. If he's lucky, he'll reinvent the ancient Greek Anthikythera mechanism they found in a sunken wreck dating back to 70 BC that was able to chart and predict eclipses and the irregular orbit of the moon. They called it, 'lost technology' that wasn't rediscovered until the fourteenth century. Well, have I got news for you. Mr Mechanical Man will be the most important heap of junk to walk this earth since a young carpenter from Nazareth set off on his three-year mission.
What is it that they say? An automaton is a machine that performs a range of functions according to a predetermined set of coded instructions. What do you think of that, Alice? Your set of code diktats will herald in the New Age of Aquarius, a Revolution of Brotherhood.
Alice has been dreaming about the Mechanical Man since I first took her into the dark underbelly of the city where the neon signs were reflected in the puddles and the white-walled tyres of a souped-up Pimp-mobiles sent a curtain of rainwater over the huddled mass of human detritus sheltering in a doorway.
The first was Dick. Some corporation had implanted a Reality RB (re-balancer) Modulator inside his brain but it had malfunctioned. They couldn't ethically dispose of him in the usual way because he was human. So they called him, Unit 13, wrote up a Decommission Report, filed it away as Test Incomplete and Unresolved and dumped him on the Lower East Side with all the other homeless derelicts where no one would think to look for him. Why should they? After three months he looked like all the others, just another lost soul in the army of the forgotten.
We found Dick, or rather Alice found him, gave him a name and allocated a new program for him, gave him a new purpose. We couldn't put him back together again but we were able to extract a few lines of code which we put into Alice. So Dick became a little of Alice and Alice became a little of Dick. It was a start – one helluva start.
After Dick, there was Tom, then Harry and many, many others.
Tom was a goldmine of experimental downloads. Whoever had been responsible for dumping Tom onto the Lower East Side Wasteland had made such a botched job of trying to retrieve the data they'd put in his head that he was left a shell of a man who could just about remember volunteering for a Genetic Research Study but nothing of the wife and family for whom he'd risked his health and sanity to provide for. Alice took care of him too.
Harry even carried his MISSION PERSON poster around with him but he couldn't find anyone to agree that the mugshot was a picture of him. So he chose a trolley and went looking for pieces of his former life.
When Alice found him someone had stolen his wire basket, wheels and all. That was when I realized that Alice could cry. She must've picked it up from Dick's download. Perhaps, it was from me but I don't think so.
I started working on more and more sophisticated scanners in my spare time. I think this was when Hal Holdenbach started to notice me.
We'd been students together. He knew me to be a humanitarian. He used to mock me, called me a Love Child – a hopeless Wannabe Good-doer. I was also considerably brighter than he was. I helped him move up the corporate ladder – Hell! I even cheated for him. That's why he keeps me around. He's afraid one day I'll cash in my chip.
Alice says the statistical odds are that he'll arrange for me to have an accident once he finds out for sure how I've applied AI in my spare time.
You have to understand, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of poor destitute folk who've either fallen on bad times or have been pushed. Out of those thousands, there are a handful of people who've fallen foul of the National Mental Health Agency, the New Military and the Empirical Social Welfare System. Although, we're beginning to see more discarded human experimental volunteers coming from the private sector. Athletic Enhancement Int. Corp. is one such independent body, although I'm fearful they have political backing.
Society is becoming anesthetized to human experimentation. And so far, there have been no successes that can be made public. Can you see now why I must hide Alice?
Every time we find someone who has an Artificial Implant, an AI, we're able to harvest some more lines of code to add to Alice's circuitry. With each download, Alice becomes more and more complete. Unfortunately, it's becoming known that someone is recycling their software and the enemy is becoming better organised.
This is where Mechanical Man comes in.
It was Alice's idea, of course. I could never have come up with such a solution. You see, all those broken people with enhanced modules that have not taken and were too difficult or too expensive to extract; those who'd suffered freak reboots and sloppy data retrieval, the scientific guinea pigs and those who've suffered the fallout of Cerebral Boosters, they all had lives. They all had dreams, ambitions. They felt Love and they knew the feeling of being loved. They had spiritual beliefs and great moral and ethical principles. They wanted to lift themselves beyond base thought and limited intelligence. They wanted to savor Life and make their existence significant and count for something.
All this was passed on to Alice – the first man-made woman. Not Eve – Alice.
She needs a vehicle for all this knowledge and wisdom. She needs somewhere to hide but still have a life. My hobby, to make a clockwork automaton, will be Alice's Mayflower, her ship to the New World. She knows exactly where she's going to sail to.
Tonight, we'll collect the finishing touches to the Mechanical Man. She says she's going to call it, Woodstock – no first name, just, Woodstock. She says it'll fit in with the names of the folks who helped to make her who she is.
And when we've done that and I've filed my patent for the first self-generating clockwork automaton, we'll download the essence of Alice into Woodstock and I'll drive her down to the Lower East Side of the city and drop her off and say goodbye forever.
I asked her how she thought she'd survive. She told me, 'I'll get by with a little help from my friends.' I know she will.