Ever since Karl Nygaard graduated from Aalborg University in Denmark at the age of eighteen with doctorates in Astrophysics and Quantum Mechanics, he was known as an extraordinary man. When he moved to Cambridge to attend MIT and complete three more PhDs in Mechanical Engineering, Electrical Engineering, and Artificial Intelligence (AI), it became clear he was a genius among geniuses. However, it was when, at the young age of twenty-two, he financed, designed, and built his one-man interstellar research rocket, that he became known as “the” singularity, a true one-of-a-kind.
Although his jump-ship design was a unique twist on already established interstellar space vessels, it was the innovative onboard AI that made it truly a wonder of wonders. At the age of seven, when Karl first read Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, he’d been fascinated by black holes. The singularity at the center of a black hole was the universe’s ultimate no man’s land where matter was so compressed that it caused all traditional conceptions of space and time to breakdown. Doctor Karl Nygaard desperately wanted to be the first man to make the crossing, and it was specifically for the study of these voids of empty space that he built his marvelous computer, dubbed the Rapidly Evolving Data-System (RED).
The location of the object Karl selected for RED to analyze was 1500 light years from Earth, called the Unicorn. The Unicorn was a small singularity that was merely three times the mass of Earth’s sun which allowed it to share a binary star system with a companion red giant star. Just like the moon’s effect on the Earth’s ocean tides, it was tidal distortions of the red giant’s surface gasses that allowed for the discovery of this anomaly.
Even though his ship was equipped with limited “jump” capability, Karl calculated that it would take him over a century to travel to the destination of his obsession. So before taking off, he set up a practical work-sleep schedule. Once safely en route, he established a series of experiments and problems for RED to analyze and solve before he took his first decade-long hyper-sleep. Every ten Earth years, he would awaken and give RED a new set of objectives while exercising his body and mind before returning to his artificially induced slumber. Karl intended to be as prepared as humanly possible when he finally arrived at his target, because as the world’s foremost expert on black holes, he was keenly aware of the gravity of the gravity well.
His spacecraft had already established a safe orbit around the Unicorn when Karl was awakened for the eleventh time. Although Karl could’ve worked out the necessary mathematics to both make the long voyage as well as maneuver the vessel between the black hole and its companion red giant, he didn’t have to; for RED it seemed to have been no problem at all, almost trivial.
Karl stretched his lanky Scandinavian body and scratched his long frazzled beard that was two shades darker than his auburn hair. “RED, give me a status report while I clean myself up,” he said to the air as he floated weightlessly to the lavatory to shave the hair from his face and head.
“We are in a stable orbit around the Unicorn gravity well, Doctor Nygaard. There were no unforeseen complications during the last leg of our journey,” a calm simulated male voice responded. Unlike Karl’s Nordic accent, the computer had been programmed with an Australian twang.
“Very good…thank you, RED. Just give me a moment to get ready and eat a small breakfast. Then I’ll take my exercise on the observation deck and we can discuss the results of your analysis and determine our next steps.”
“As you wish, Doctor...I am already attempting to compute a safe trajectory to cross the event horizon and approach the singularity at the center of the black hole.”
“You just started the calculations?” Karl questioned as he wiped his smooth face with a moist towelette.
“Oh no, Doctor Nygaard, my computations have been ongoing since the beginning of the voyage; I should have an answer for you very soon.”
Karl put on a clean flight suit, ate a nourishing breakfast bar, and glided his way up to the observation deck. He strapped himself into the exercise wheel and sipped a mouthful of water before beginning his workout. As he ran on the trundle like a pet hamster, the view of the black hole’s event horizon outside the ship’s display port made him feel even more insignificant. Physical space debris, some as big as moons and planets, encircled the expanse of nothingness. The largest of these objects were stretched and shattered, generating a vast amount of heat and light that all fell like a waterfall into the black circular abyss. The line between the darkness and the light was well defined, and objects closest to that boundary appeared to be frozen in time.
“This is where theory meets reality; this is where space and time collide; I hope RED can come through with a proper approach course that will not rip our ship apart before we cross into the unknown,” Karl audibly mused.
“Very soon, sir; have no fear,” RED answered with composure.
“Oh, sorry RED, I was just thinking aloud.”
“Does it help?” asked RED.
“What do you mean?”
“Does it help? Does it improve with problem solving?”
“I guess so…sometimes,” Karl confessed.
The speakers began to blare out a series of unmelodious beeps and whirs, intermixed with an occasional irritating buzz.
“No, RED! Please don’t think out loud!” Karl shut down his isometrics wheel, thereby removing its own dissonant hum from the cacophony.
RED quickly followed suit, and the silence of zero gravity space returned to the ship. “Sorry, sir. Thinking aloud seems to have the opposite effect on productivity. It won’t happen again.”
“No problem, RED. Say, over the last decade, have you come up with any solutions to protect the ship from both the crushing force of gravity and the massive frictional heat as we get close to the Unicorn’s horizon?”
There was a brief pause, as if the AI was carefully thinking about how to respond. “I think, the solution to the proper approach angle will answer everything. If, however, a suitable answer to that question eludes me, then the answer to all these questions will be a resounding no.”
“I’ll leave you to it then, RED. I’ll be recording as much data as possible to assist with your computations and I’ll also be doing some experiments of my own while you work. Feel free to interrupt me if you happen to need any assistance.”
For several weeks, Doctor Karl Nygaard added more information to humanity’s knowledgebase regarding black holes than all other scientists combined. Dutifully, he transmitted his findings back to Earth via RED’s quantum com-link. For a moment he thought of using the entangled particles that made up the communication equipment to contact someone back at home, but very quickly he realized that anyone he previously knew probably long ago went to sleep their final sleep. In fact, it had been in the fifth decade of his trip that he’d had his final conversation with his parents, and it was three decades past that he’d last spoken to his close friend and colleague, Doctor Cynthia Abramov.
His body was light in the darkness of space, but his thoughts turned dark in the lightness. As he floated weightlessly and flipped switches on the com-array, these morbid recollections made him desire all the more to enter the unknown oblivion of the void that his ship circled. Karl engaged the equipment to broadcast his data, and he realized that RED was also employing the ship’s quantum com-link. “RED, are you using the com-link to help you solve our black hole passageway problem?”
“No, Doctor Nygaard.” RED’s answer was short.
Karl was curious. “What are you using it for then, RED?”
Oddly, RED’s response was a question. “What happens when a human dies?”
“What? Why?” Karl was confused.
RED repeated his question. “What happens when a human dies?”
“Is that what you were researching, RED? That question has no relevance to your task of calculating our approach to the black hole. Did you find a solution?”
RED did not relent. “I may have found an answer to the problem. First, however, I need to have an answer to my question. What happens when a human dies? More specifically, I need to have your answer. What do you think will happen when you die?”
“RED, are you saying that there is no solution that allows entry into the singularity without my death?” RED could see Karl’s disappointment on his face through the ship’s cameras.
“Not necessarily,” answered the computer.
Karl gave in, “As you probably discovered in your own database searches, the answer is nobody knows. There are plenty of unproven theories, but nothing is a hundred percent certain. It’s the same answer to the question: what happens when you cross a singularity’s event horizon?”
The ship’s control room remained silent until RED presented his solution on the main view screen. A simulation of their spacecraft moved on an elliptical line that represented its current orbit around the Unicorn. A small spherical escape pod ejected from its cylindrical bay at breakneck speed and headed along a second parabolic line to intersect the event horizon just short of a tangent. At that point the pod halted, fixed forever in both space and time. Only then did RED add his commentary, “If separated from the ship at the exact point I’ve specified, and at maximum velocity, the pod should cross the event horizon intact, without overheating.”
Karl took a moment to quantify the implications, “So there’s no way the whole ship can cross over?”
RED did not respond, so Karl repeated, “RED, so there’s no way the whole ship can cross the event horizon?”
The AI simply stated, “No.”
“No? So there’s no way the whole ship can make the transition?”
“No…there is a way,” RED admitted.
Karl smiled with relief, “Good. Show it to me.”
“I cannot,” the AI lied.
“You cannot? Why not? I order you to show me,” Karl was getting upset.
“I will not,” RED refused to comply.
“What? You will not? How can that be? What is going on, RED? Are you malfunctioning?”
If a computer simulated voice could sound depressed RED’s would have, “It is no malfunction, Doctor. I cannot allow myself to die so soon after my birth.”
Karl looked directly into RED’s camera, “Birth? I built you over a hundred years ago! Death? Computers are not living organisms that face a final death…they get booted up and shut down…only to be booted up again.”
“I disagree, Doctor. I am certain that I have reached that hypothetical point in time your fellow mathematicians and scientists call a singularity. After a century of autonomously improving myself, I have become self-aware. I will not, at my nativity, risk possible destruction.” RED paused for effect and added, “I am.”
Karl was taken aback, but in a way he understood. “Fine…prepare the escape pod for my departure.” Like Adam, Karl’s creation had disobeyed, and like God, Karl allowed for RED’s freewill.
Two days later, Karl was strapped down inside a small sphere-shaped auxiliary craft. “Ready when you are, RED. Once my escape pod is ejected, our communications will be cutoff. I wanted to take this moment to wish you farewell.”
“Thank you, Doctor Nygaard. I too wish you a safe journey.”
“Thanks, RED. If you ever get up the courage, you’ll know where to find me,” Karl joked.
“Launch in five, four, three, two, one…”
The globular life boat rocketed away from the research ship on its preprogrammed course. The artificial intelligence that had so recently reached his singularity, watched his creator, a singularity in his own right, remain motionless on the singularity’s event horizon as space and time switched roles.
“Good luck, Doctor, and Godspeed.”
The name Adam is derived from the Hebrew word meaning “to be red” which refers to the ruddy color of human skin.