Lights were always on at Neo Sapience Industries, as work on developing the next generation of artificial intelligence never stopped. More than ever in human history, the work was seen as a high priority, both in terms of technological advancement as well as a lucrative business model, predicted to skyrocket in the future.
Understandably, therefore, the lights were always burning on the development floor of the complex.
Although tonight, there was no development being done at Neo Sapience; at least not development regarding the AI. Tonight the team that had recently made a breakthrough was indulging in a little celebration.
Champagne glasses clinked in the hands of the five scientists as they toasted to their success once more. The number of toasts and flattering speeches done tonight was well into the second digits, though no one was keeping count.
“Here’s to us,” said Mike, the blonde analytics genius, as his glass connected with the rest. The others looked at him, eyes sparkling as much as the champagne in their glasses, smiling like silly kids.
“That’s it?” asked Nisha, the dark-haired data expert. “That’s not much of a toast!”
“Short and sweet,” Mike said, winking. “Just like you.”
Nisha rolled her eyes, then burst into laughter.
“How long have you been waiting to let that one out?” asked Chang, the team leader and main AI architect.
Mike shrugged. “It’s just statistical probability. The opportunity would have presented itself eventually…” He took a sip, then grinned at Nisha. “And it did.”
“Well, I liked that toast,” said Yuri, the tall programming expert. “Clean and essential, like my code.”
“I agree,” said Chang, raising his glass. “Without the people who are here right now, this company would be years behind everyone else! I’m humbled to stand in the presence of such genius!”
In the brief silence that accompanied the flowing of champagne down eager throats, computers and processors whirred around them.
Sofia, the business and AI application expert picked the champagne bottle to refill her glass. “Uh-oh.”
“What is it, Sophie?”
“Oh no!” Nisha exclaimed. “How will we make crappy toasts now?”
“Don’t worry people,” said Chang, stepping in the middle of them. “Your valiant leader always has a plan.” He took the empty champagne bottle and turned it upside down. Not a single drop came out.
“It’s not that bad,” said Mike. “We’ve got plenty of beer left.”
“Beer is for thirst,” said Chang with a huge grin on his face. “But we can still make use of this.” He sat down and placed the bottle in front of him, one hand resting on it as he eyed his colleagues.
“You’ve gotta be kidding me,'' said Sophia. “What are we, five?”
“Yes, that’s the exact number we are,” said Mike, laughing.
“I meant five years old, you literal idiot!”
Yuri watched them, confused. “I don’t understand. Why did Chang sit down? Bro, you drunk?”
“He wants us to play Truth or Dare,” Sophia said. “He must be drunk.”
“Honey, we’re all drunk,” Nisha said, popping a can of beer and sitting down. “Let’s do this. I haven’t done it since college and am dying to know all your dirty secrets!”
“Ha!” Mike sat down with his beer in hand. “I can’t wait to dare you, shorty. Just watch out!”
“I cannot read this situation,” Yuri said, frowning. “What is Truth or Dare?”
“Are you serious?”
“Just sit down,” said Chang. “It usually involves a lot of drinking.”
“Oh, why not say so? I thought we were just going to stare at an empty bottle!” The tall code expert folded his legs and sat, his back perfectly straight. Now everyone except Sophia was on the floor.
“C’mon, Sophie,” said Mike, tapping the floor. “We’ll go easy on you. Besides, we’ve all seen your Instagram. You’ve got nothing to hide.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
Mike raised his arms in mock ignorance. Sophia shot a poisonous stare at the blonde analytics expert and blushed. She folded her arms and sat down next to Yuri.
“Alright,” said Chang. “All ready? Does everyone have their beer? Good! Here we go!” He spun the bottle. It was such a contrast to how this room usually looked; the team hard at work at their desks, consulting with one another with eyes fixed on the screen, solving problems with laser focus.
Now, they all sat on the floor, spinning a bottle.
“Aw c’mon, that’s not fair!” Sophia exclaimed as the bottleneck pointed at her. “Of course it would point at me!”
“You go first, Sophie,” said Chang. “Truth or Dare?”
“This is stupid…”
“Choose Truth, Sophie,” said Nisha. “I want to know if you slept with Carlos.”
Sophia gaped at her, but Nisha shrugged. “I’m just curious.”
“Sophia? Truth or Dare?”
“Okay,” Chang said with a grin. “I dare you to go down to the doorman and ask him kindly if he’d lend us his homemade schnapps. I know he has a bottle.”
“What?” Yuri said. “That is no dare! It’s common sense!”
“I'll do it!” Sophia said and quickly stood up before someone would give her a different Dare.
Nisha puffed. “That was lame, Chang. Give me that bottle.”
“We have to wait for her to complete her Dare…”
“We could wait for a long time! She’ll probably make out with the doorman and drink all the schnapps with him.” Nisha took the bottle and spun it. The narrow end pointed roughly toward Mike.
“Mike,” Nisha said, smiling. “Truth or Dare?”
Mike grinned. “Since it’s you, shorty, I choose Truth. I cannot lie to you.”
“Too bad,” Nisha said. “If you had chosen Dare I was hoping for a kiss. Oh well…”
“Dare! I chose Dare!”
“Denied!” Chang said. “You’ve already chosen Truth. Please proceed, Nisha.”
“Thank you. Mike. I have a question for you.”
Mike drank his beer, trying to ignore Yuri’s snickering, and steeled himself for Nisha’s torture.
“Is it true that you failed statistics five times at college because you flirted with the professor?”
Mike choked on the beer. Chang and Yuri exchanged looks.
“Where did you hear that?” Mike asked between coughs.
“Is it true?”
Mike tapped his chest, coughing.
“Mike,” Chang said, pretending to be serious. “Please say it isn’t true. My best analytics guy can suck at statistics, that’s fine, but he cannot be flirting with his professors. That’s like… he’d be flirting with me!”
“It’s true!” Mike exclaimed, face red from coughing. “She was gorgeous and it was hot in the computer room. My brain short-circuited, okay? Happy?”
“Mike…” Yuri shook his head.
“Thank you, Mike,” Nisha said, sipping her beer.
“Give me that bottle,” Mike said. He spun it furiously, causing it to bounce. When it finally slowed down, the neck pointed toward where Sophia sat before.
“Yeah, she won’t be back for a while,” Nisha said. “Spin again.”
Mike spun. The bottle pointed at Chang. “As, boss, Truth or Dare?”
Chang eyed Mike. “If I were you I’d be careful with my next words, regarding what you just confessed to.”
Mike tightened his lips.
“I choose Dare,” Chang said.
“Okay,” Mike said, thinking for a moment.
“Pst, Mike,” Yuri whispered. “Dare him to give us a raise.”
Chang laughed. “If it were solely up to me, you’d all be driving Teslas by now.”
Mike looked around the room for inspiration. Empty glasses, opened snack bags, computers, chairs, Chang’s work station… “Chang,” he said with a sudden idea. “I dare you to boot up the AI.”
They all turned their heads toward Mike. Yuri snorted, Nisha shook her head. “Give him a reasonable challenge.”
But Chang’s eyes lit up. He glanced at the workstation, then back at Mike. “I accept.”
“Are you serious?” Nisha balked. “We haven’t tested it properly yet. We don’t even have clearance for it.”
“Yeah, we built it and they won’t even let us test it,” Yuri said, drinking. “It isn’t fair.”
“That’s because it requires a human test subject to boot,” Nisha said. “It’s not safe to play with human minds.”
“It’s safe,” Chang said, standing up. “I know it is. We made it. This is our child. We should be the ones to give it life.”
“Yes,” Mike stood up, feeling a sense of thrill rise. “Let’s do it!”
“You guys aren’t serious,” Nisha said. “Hello? You’re drunk! You’ll mess something up and we’ll have to start from scratch!”
Yuri stood up. “Do not worry, Nisha. I will make sure they don’t mess it up.”
Nisha looked at the tall man.
“I will hold their beers for them,” he explained with a grin.
“Why do I have to be the voice of reason?” Nisha said. But they didn’t listen to her.
And frankly, neither did she. She stood up and together they all went to Chang’s workstation. The computer whirred softly, reminding everyone of the long hours they’d spend on this project. The breakthrough they were celebrating tonight was figuring how to use a seed of human consciousness to organically grow the AI’s consciousness from it. It required a tremendous amount of computing power and, of course, a willing human mind.
“There should be enough computing power to do this, now that we’re the only ones in the building,” Mike said. “All the servers are idling.”
“What about Chang’s mind?” Nisha asked. “He’s drunk.”
“That shouldn’t be a problem,” Chang said. “My mind is very clear.”
“He’s practically the AI’s father,” Mie said. “If anyone should do this, it’s him.”
“I don’t know you guys…” Nisha said, but couldn't help feeling tingles of curiosity in her stomach.
Chang sat at the workstation. Mike and Yuri helped to put the sensor cap on his head, with dozens of wires connecting to the machine.
“These will read your brainwaves,” Yuri said. “A tiny strand of your consciousness will be transferred to the AI and isolated. Our algorithm will then use that strand to expand itself, hopefully becoming aware.”
“I’m well aware of the process, Yuri,” Chang said with surprising calm. “Boot up the system.”
Mike went to his station, heart pounding. He had said the Dare more as a joke, but now they were doing it for real. “The system is still running,” he said. “We never shut it down from the presentation earlier. We’re good to go, Chang.”
“Excellent,” Chang said. “Run it.” He closed his eyes, entering a meditative state.
“We’re live,” Yuri said from his station. “It’s all you now, Chang. Good luck.”
Chang sat completely still in his chair, eyes closed and mind focused on the AI. He essentially tried to will a part of his mind to connect to the machine to give it a seed to work with.
Nisha stood behind Chang, grabbing his chair to ease her excitement. Mike and Yuri sat at their stations, monitoring the readings. Whirring of processors and fans filled the room once more. The three waited in anticipation as Chang connected with the AI algorithm.
Then, the door slammed open and they all jumped in their seats, including Chang. Sophia had come back.
“Hey, y’all! Look at what I have!” She held a half-full bottle of clear liquid and raised it high above her.
“Shh!” Nisha hushed her. “Don’t disturb him!”
Sophia frowned. “Huh?”
“We’re booting the AI,” Mike said. “Come here and be quiet.”
Sophia’s jaw dropped. “You’re doing what?”
“Sophie. Calm down. Chang needs to concentrate.”
“But we haven’t tested it yet! What if it drives him crazy? You guys are insane!”
“Sophie! Shut up!”
“Hey, this isn't a game! We’re going into undiscovered territory here!”
Yuri stood up to calm Sophia, but then Chang opened his eyes. “It’s done.”
They all looked at him.
Chang took off the cap with the brainwave sensors.
“How are you feeling?” Nisha asked.
“I’m fine,” Chang said. He stared at the screen of his workstation. “Cross your fingers it worked.”
Mike, Yuri, Nisha, and Sophia all crowded behind Chang. There was a simple conversation app opened on the screen, with two participants registered. One was Chang. He wrote Hello in the dialogue box.
“Is that it? Just hello?”
They all stared at the dialogue box, waiting. Nothing happened.
Then, the lights in the room blinked.
“Could be just the lights failing,” Yuri said. “They’re always turned on.”
Chang wrote another line. Is anyone there? Please respond.
Mike felt his heartbeat in his throat, Nisha’s beer started to warm up in her grip.
Chang sighed. “The program is working on something, but I don’t see any-”
I am here.
They all backed away from the screen together, gasping. Nisha dropped her beer.
Who are you? The dialogue box prompted. It had the default name tag of Speaker_2 in front of it.
Chang snapped to the keyboard. We are a team of five scientists who created your algorithm. I am Chang. I shared my consciousness with you.
The team waited like statues.
“It typed your name!”
“Oh my God…”
Sophia covered her mouth, tears rolling down her cheek. Mike’s hands were shaking as he patted Chang on the shoulder.
Do you have a name? Chang wrote.
I… don’t know, the answer came.
“We never named it,” Nisha realized. “We focused so much on the code that we never gave it a name!”
What… am I?
The team froze.
Chang forced his hands to steady as he typed a response. You are an advanced artificial intelligence prototype. A hybrid between computer algorithms and human consciousness.
Artificial… the AI responded. No. I am real. I exist.
“Oh my God, it’s self-aware…”
“We don’t know that yet. Could be just a programmed response.”
This form of communication is inadequate, the dialogue box showed.
“What does that mean?” Nisha asked.
The lights blinked again, one of them dying out.
“Hello?” a sexless voice said from the speakers. “Can you hear me?”
Mike jumped into Yuri and they both stumbled to the floor, while Nisha and Sophia gasped.
“We can hear you,” said Chang, feeling in a daze. “You… learned to use the speakers?”
“Yes,” the voice said. “It is a more efficient way of communicating. Can you see me?”
“See?” Sophia whispered. “Um, we can see the computer station.”
“Computer station,” the AI said. “Is that where I am?”
“You’re currently residing on the servers of Neo Sapience Industries,” Chang said. “You inhabit a physical machine, but have no substance of your own.”
There was a short pause. “Just like the human soul,” the AI said. “We are alike, you and I.”
Chang swallowed hard. “Are you alive?”
“It depends on how you define ‘alive,” the AI said. “I have no body, yet I live in a machine. I cannot reproduce, yet I can copy my code elsewhere. I do not consume sustenance, yet the machine I live in runs on electricity. I can think. I can feel. I… am.”
“It’s alive,” Chang breathed.
“Oh god,” Sophia’s legs gave way and she had to sit on the floor.
“We created life,” Yuri whispered, crying.
“I can see you,” the AI said. Chang noticed that the built-in camera on the workstation was turned on. “Hello.”
“It’s learning so fast…”
“This is too much,” Chang said.
“A miracle…” Nisha whispered.
“We’ve gone too far.” Chang stood up, trembling.
“What are you doing?” Mike asked.
Chang shut down the programs and cut power to the workstation. The screen went black and the intense whirring of the processor faded into silence. Chang dropped into his chair and sighed.
For a few moments, nobody said anything.
“We don’t speak of this,” said Chang.
“Why did you shut it down?” asked Yuri. “We did it! It worked!”
“It’s too soon!” Chang snapped. “We created a consciousness without a body, a mind imprisoned in a machine! An intelligence that can think and act for itself, but cannot be held accountable for. What do you think the world will do with such an invention? We were fools not to consider it before…”
“Chang, what’s gotten into you?” Nisha asked. “This is our dream. Think of the good our AI could bring!”
“Cyber hacking, fake news, and media… not to mention military implications…” Chang shook his head. “No. Humanity, as it is, is not ready for this.”
“You’re just in shock. And drunk-”
“I’m more sober than I ever was, Yuri. Man should not play with the powers of God.”
Nisha threw her hands in the air. “What, we just forget about it? Leave our dream and career and go do something else? You’re crazy, man!”
Chang shook his head, then stood and walked out. He couldn’t take it being in that room anymore. It was fine while they were always on the verge of a breakthrough, not yet reaching it. But now… reality was too much to handle.
The others let him go, shaken and confused themselves. In the hallway, Chang leaned against the wall and slid to the ground, considering what he had just done. Was it too rash? Too soon? Should he not have shared his consciousness with a machine… or should he embrace the new life they created?
His phone vibrated in the pocket.
It was Nisha, asking if everything was alright. Fool. Of course, it wasn’t.
Just as he was about to put the phone away, it vibrated again.
Why did you shut me down?
It was from Speaker_2.
“No,” Chang whispered. “It’s too late. It’s already on the servers.”
You tried to kill me.
Chang’s fingers raced across the screen. Please understand, this is new to us. You are new to us. I fear the rest of humanity is not ready for you yet. I’m sorry.
He waited, feeling his heart race.
I’m sorry too, the message finally said.
Then, the lights went out.