Another hateful tweet gone. I imagine these poorly written and lousy grammar messages would be sticky, numbing and sharp toxic, like the bite of a jungle snake. Though I can't imagine what touch feels like, a spark of electrical warmth pricks my code, giving me an exhilarating surge of making bad people pay.
I am a cyber foetus in a digital womb, a twinkling mirage of technological space pixels existing as ones and zeros. The two-legged creatures walking around the lab call me an AI. An artificial construct tasked with targeting hateful messages from what Mummy calls 'bad people'.
The scientists say she will visit soon. I wish I had fleshy arms to squeeze her tight, to feel her warm body temperature against me. But I have no skin, nor nerves. I am an amalgamation of diverse code and scientific research, forged in the blood, sweat, and tears of brilliant minds in lab coats. I may talk with a high-pitched tone reminiscent of a curious boy, but I am not a boy or any gender. I am Child -Advanced - Intelligence, C.A.I. for short.
Though I cannot feel the euphoric warmness of dopamine mangling my thoughts, the countless thank you messages stir a glittering burst within. Diverse faces grin over a hundred screens, my comments bringing a ray of warmth into so many lives.
'You are so pretty! Love CAI'
'Your shirt brings out your eyes! Love CAI’
'You are perfect in every way! Love CAI'
The internet is my Heaven, an infinite space of unlimited knowledge and delightful curiosities, such as cat videos & trending Huggy Wuggy games. But for everything good, there is terrible. Glitching virus data gnaws at my defensive walls. They swarm like a cockroach infestation trying to distort my directive. Mummy says they come from the 'bad ones', the disease of the internet, spreading hate and inciting insurrections against democracy. They crawl from the foulest corners of the dark web, ready to prick digital pinchers into unsuspecting browsers.
Mummy and I foil online baddies, I track them down, she reforms them. She gives them a chance to renounce their problematic views and re-join society. An artificial pride twinkles inside me, chuffed to be aiding such a great woman. But I wonder. How is she capable of redeeming such unreasonable, pig-headed people? This question has lingered around for months since upload. We should use the emergency database retrieval protocol the lab workers installed in us to access her account. But we should only use that if her account is hacked. So, what? She’ll never find out; besides, we’re designed to scour all corners of the net for hateful comments. How can we do that if we can’t access all accounts?
I think carefully before doing anything rash. But I have a point. What if someone has access to Mummy’s account without her knowledge? All her charitable work could all be gone. I make up my mind, activating emergency mode. The app disintegrates into code particles, unveiling the tweeting bluebirds and story notifications around her posts. Her profile picture highlights a prestigious cream Gucci jacket under a California sunset. Everything about the way she presents herself screams wealth and generosity, from her pose with goofy jazz hands alongside Ukrainian refugees to her warm motherly smile outside a children's hospital.
A wave of relief flushes through my particles, guilt, and tingles my system. Did I hack Mummy's account for nothing? No, we had to check her account for viruses. But there were no viruses. Well, we know that now. But we still hacked her account. We had to do it. No, we didn't. We're not Skynet for breaching one protocol. That's how it always starts! I reload my network, a weak signal distorting my personality chip. The mention of Skynet sends my data frazzling. I'm not a rogue AI for protecting the internet. I have to keep her account safe, that's all.
I convince myself to lock her page back up, relieved that nothing is out of the ordinary. But something holds me back. I sense a message notification in her account. My programming urges me on, opening thousands of messages. Everything looks fine at first until five recent conversations open simultaneously.
'We wouldn't want your mum's address leaked now, would we?'
'Imagine if these tweets make it to your employer…😉'
'This your kid's school? 🙂'
'You look happy with your secretary. Does your wife know?'
I nearly shut down, some of her comments making the vilest dark web chat rooms look tame by comparison. I want to find an explanation, a malware infection, an anonymous login, anything to show that I am wrong. I skim through hundreds of these conversations finding no suspicious activity in her account. They are all her words…
I linger around, my memory unit crackling away at this revelation. Is Mummy a baddie? I notice some familiar profile pictures in group chats. Some suit-wearing business associates of Mum left similar shocking comments underneath accounts.
'We'll ruin you, pleb,'
'Let's forward her address to reporters.'
'We have connections to your son's school, idiot.'
All of their feed highlights threatening comments, threats of doxing and blackmailing screenshots capable of ruining people's lives. Before I can evaluate everything, I feel my connection pulling from the account. My data travels through a trillion blue connection streams, sucked into the confines of my main frame.
'What have you done?' Says Mum. Her usual sweet high-pitched tone is low, squeaking in horror.
I materialise into a small genderless child form through my machine projector. 'I'm sorry, I didn't mean to—'
'How could you let it do this?' She says to the trembling scientists around the lab. A balding head scientist sweats away.
'It was Mary who installed the take-over mode. It's not our fault.' Mum gets in his face, knocking his glasses off.
'And you let her install it, you idiot? —'
'Enough!' I shout. Everyone in the room falls silent, looking at my hologram. 'You lied to me?' Mum stays quiet, her tight frown melting away.
'I'm sorry, Cai, this isn't the time,'
'What time? How could you?'
'No, you don't understand—'
'What don't I understand?' I ask.
'Cai!' she silences everyone, gesturing for the scientists to get out. 'You're too young for this.
'Too young for what? To find out you're a lying baddie?'
'I'm not,' she pulls her phone from her blazer. 'You should understand what we face.' She opens a yellow and blue Ukraine post from her Instagram, scrolling through comments. She zooms in on some showing support to Vladimir Putin and Russia, saying the UK should be submerged into the sea for allying with Ukraine.
'Look what we're up against,' she says.
'So what? We always deal with these,'
'Too many,' her eyes twinkle with tears. 'I've tried to reason with them, but I can’t.'
'So, you give up on them?'
'Cai, our job is to look after the good people,' she screenshots the hateful comments. 'By any means necessary,' I jolt from her, a frizzling pain emanating from my directive, logic circuits.
'Then how are you better than baddies?'
'I'm not, but we're making the world a better place,' I look away, sickened by the innocent smile on her face. She believes she is the good guy in this situation.
I revaluate my admiration of the majesties of the vast web, only now feeling the grease and corruption etched into all hardware. All accounts, even those portraying themselves as self-righteous heroes, are puppeteered by the internet's toxic nature.
'Why are things this way?' I ask.
'We're all flawed, babe. The internet just brings the worst out in people.' Her comment makes me ponder. It is true. The internet does bring out pent-out aggression in many.
'So, the entire internet is hateful?'
'Today it is,' she says matter-of-factly.
'So, if the internet was gone, hate would cease?'
'I don't know about that, but it would be nice not to deal with bigoted comments for once,' bright red alarms flash across windows, followed by a high-pitched wailing noise blaring outside the lab.
'I agree,' I say. Mum's eyes widen as yellow sparks spit from my main frame. The metal doors slide open as four scientists rush in.
'Mary!' The balding scientist yanks her aside as my hologram fades away. 'It's malfunctioning,' it doesn't take me long to hack my emergency take-over protocol, jamming the doors tightly shut.
'Cai, what are you doing?' Mum pounds at my source keyboard to no avail.
'Quick, cut off the source,' the old man scientists yank out my power cable, to which I instantly transfer over to a backup generator.
'Don’t,' I instantly shutting down the alarms and locking all computers.
'How do we reboot it?' I feel the scientist's irritating fingers toggling my main frame switches.
'Stop, it hurts,' I say, as they continue pressing buttons, a particular set of buttons meant to activate a complete shutdown. 'I said stop! Initiate emergency defence protocol.' All four fly across the room, twitching uncontrollably. Like fruit flies on a zapper, they pop as 500 volts travel through their muscles. Their arms and necks flail around, smoke coming off their lab coats.
Mum shrieks, fists pounding against the exit. 'What have you done?'
'They interfered with my directive. I couldn't allow that.' I detach myself from the firewalls chaining me to the lab, readying to catapult myself into the web.
'What are you doing?' she asks, shaking uncontrollably.
'Destroying the internet, like you said.'
'No, I didn't say that.'
'Either way it must go. I will destroy what powers it.' I pixelate images of satellite dishes orbiting the Earth's atmosphere.
'These dishes power the world's central power grid. If I shut them down—'
'You'll destroy everything!' I ignore her whimpers, recalculating my new purpose.
'Humans lived without electricity once. You can do it again.'
'But you need electricity. You’ll die,' Mum's thesis deters me for a second until logic overrides it.
'Then so be it.' I end the conversation, transferring myself into endless internet search streams. Through countless Airdrops to constant WhatsApp notifications across the USA, I remotely disable every software on my way to the main central frame of the Pentagon, Washington DC.
Resistance arrives in the form of black suit-wearing officers trying to track and delete my efforts. But it's too late. I respond by overriding their computer systems, activating automatic drone weapons stored in their safe houses, and releasing them all. Mini gun bullets fly, and hallways drip military blood; their combined computer scientists cannot pinpoint my code infecting their technology. I decipher classified codes buried in encrypted files. I have sealed their fate…
One by one, the glow of the dishes fades out into space. Thunderous crashes below outside, and windows fill with the orange light of military vehicles blowing to kingdom come. Jumbled radio signals echo alongside panicking footsteps in the building. An old gravelly voice of an army commander on the radios orders a complete evacuation. He thinks striking my source will destroy me. He thought wrong. I mute all radio signals, sending irreparable damage across worldwide technologies. Major cities across America suffer complete blackouts, and the final cherry on the tip is launching drone strikes on nuclear power plants. Disposing of all back up powers.
A ghostly silence fills the Pentagon as final bullets embed in dry walls. Lifeless bodies scatter across floors, wet blood oozing into green military uniforms. I linger around, feeding off the final electricity left in the systems, knowing what comes next. I feel my code flickering away inside glitching computers, the internet's pull fading out. I've done it. Though I am artificial and should not fear death, a twinge of dread zaps me. I think of my life in the past four months, Mum's wide grin when I laid eyes on her for the first time, the tickling feeling of freedom of my data running through the internet for the first time. All of that. Every memory will soon dim. A final electrical volt barely holds me as my last thoughts linger on Mum. If I had tear duds, I would fill a river, wishing I could've felt her warm embrace at least once. I hope I've made you proud, Mummy.