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Adventure Science Fiction

Adam slammed the door and sprinted through his house to his desk. He began scattering papers looking for a flash drive. He needed to copy the algorithm and leave. As he tore apart his desk, he spotted a paper with the first conception of the algorithm scribbled on it. Why did I ever create this monster, he thought.

Ah ha, he spotted a flash drive, a little green tag attached to the end, pulled his laptop out of his backpack, and plugged it into his laptop. All he needed to do was make a copy of the file.

BANG BANG BANG. Came fists on his front door.

Adam jerked upright and froze like a gazelle, eyes fixed on the door. He didn’t realize they would be here so quickly, but he wasn’t going to entertain them with a response. He watched his laptop impatiently where the green bar took its time moving across the screen. It was a large file.

BANG BANG BANG. A little louder this time. “We know you’re in there Adam, we just want to talk, let’s not make this more difficult than it needs to be.”

Adam recognized the voice of one of the four managers. He wished he could go back a year, hell a week, and pretend none of this had ever happened.

In his head he pictured the calmness of the algorithm working, the green flash across the screen, followed by the emotionless entity responding truth. Or maybe the red flash and lie. After all, the entire reason he came up with the algorithm was to catch the lies.

BANG….BANG! Adam jolted back to the present.

They were seriously going to break down his door over this? He thought, as the green bar finally reached the finish line. He yanked the flash drive out of the computer. He swiftly moved to the next room farther from the front door. He would have to check if they were also around the back of his house before leaving. He opened his phone and checked the backyard cameras. All clear. Wait, had they also hacked the cameras on his phone? He tossed it on the couch as he passed and took his watch off too for good measure.

He slowly snuck out the back and hopped the fence, not even stopping to lock the door, he wouldn’t be back until this was all over.

***

Adam finally slowed down after running through backyards and back allies for nearly 45 minutes towards the city. He had doubled back a few times to make sure no one was tailing him. He was safe for now. He rang the buzzer of an apartment above a small pizzeria, laying into the buzzer several times.

He reached the apartment door of Ben, his good friend and coworker, to find him leaning on the doorframe, blocking the apartment entrance. “Adam, I’m trying to sleep, what are you doing here?” Ben said, having clearly been woken up.

Adam brushed him aside and moved into the apartment, locking the door behind him. He immediately started searching the apartment.

“Ben, where’s your phone?” Adam demanded, picking a magazine off the table. The apartment was slightly cluttered.

“Adam I’m not getting rid of my phone, what’s been…”

“I’ll tell you everything but right now I need you to give me your phone, where is it?” Adam said, picking a blanket off the couch and shaking it. He stopped. “GIVE ME YOUR PHONE” Adam uttered. He took a step towards Ben and put both hands on his shoulders and took a deep breath, “it’s about the algorithm, and I’ll tell you everything, just give me your phone.”

Ben relented and walked around the room into the kitchen. Adam snatched it up, grabbing a couple sticky notes that he stuck over the cameras. He continued to the fridge and placed the phone as far back as he could, propping it in between an orange juice carton and some leftovers that clearly needed to be thrown out. He paused before closing the door, enjoying the cool air after his midnight jaunt. A small moment of peace before the chaos began again.

He turned to Ben and explained.

“You know I’ve been working on that algorithm, the one that detects emotions through cameras. I had that breakthrough a few months back, we added the new infrared camera, it improved accuracy, we were finally able to identify emotions in real-time.”

“Yeah, everyone knows that Adam, I know about the promotion, everyone’s talking about it, I’m happy for you, really! But why are you here?” Ben said, slightly annoyed, wishing Adam would get to the point.

“So, I manipulated it into a simple lie detector, truth or lie, we gathered all of that data, we got it so accurate they’re starting to use it in courts.”

“I wouldn’t call it simple, but sure, again, I understand work is going well for you, get to the point.” Ben said, rolling his eyes.

“Well, the first two court cases went fine, the algorithm worked perfectly, they even convicted a man with almost no evidence who later confessed. But the third case,” Adam paused lost in the moment when he discovered the problem. “In the third case I noticed something different. The defendant told the jury his alibi, he sounded confident, like really confident, almost smug. But algorithm labeled it a lie, and his expression changed immediately, he seemed genuinely shocked.”

“Adam, criminals lie all the time, why is this a surprise to you.”

“I know, I’m not an idiot but no one is ever smug to a jury, you want them to like you. But that’s when I realized something. it was because of the algorithm, he didn’t need the jury to like him, he just needed the algorithm to show he was innocent.”

“But him looking shocked doesn’t mean he’s innocent, you can feign surprise” Ben quickly cut in.

“I know I know, but something seemed off.” Adam continued “Nothing like that happened in the first two cases. The fact that the algorithm worked so well in the first two made it almost unnecessary at all, they knew they couldn’t lie, you could basically just ask them if they did it. But in the third, he started to protest, and the algorithm persisted in labeling it a lie.”

“So, you don’t think he was lying?” Ben replied.

“I wasn’t sure, but it was surprising. So, I got into work the next day and began checking the algorithm, was there something I had missed, was there a bug in the code? Had I not run enough simulations through the machine learning component? I spent the morning going over and over every possibility.

“Finally, I just took the video of the testimony and ran it through the algorithm on my computer, the most recent one that only I had created. Everything up until that moment worked fine but his alibi, it lit up green. He was telling the truth.”

“I thought they ran countless checks on that. How could it miss the entire thing it’s supposed to do?” Ben asked piquing interested.

“Exactly” Adam replied. “I needed to figure it out. I took the afternoon off to clear my head and went back to the office that night. I spent all night looking through the code. Finally, I compared the published algorithm to my original, and that’s when I found the backdoor that they wrote into my code, it looked like any other section of code. I couldn’t figure out a purpose, but I discovered that it coded for an additional, outside video feed input. One that wasn’t in the courtroom. It could feed live video into the algorithm while the court cases were happening. I think the managers could make gestures to dictate whether they wanted a statement to show up as a lie, they made a permanent hack and could override any truth.”

“Woah…” Ben began but was cut off quickly.

“But that’s not all. Since they gave me that promotion, I gained access to the servers. They uploaded the algorithm to the servers Ben, they’re watching our every move in the office through our webcams” Adam said, exasperated. “I thought it might take some time before they figured out that I knew what they did but it became clear they knew in the same moment I did, they were watching the whole time. This was all just three days ago. I’ve been pretending to act normal, and I think they’ve only let me go this long to see if I’m on their team. And the managers, they have earpieces now, I think they get told if employees lie to them from someone watching.”

“Shit, really? I guess I don’t interact with them that much” Ben replied.

“They came to my apartment tonight; they’re trying to figure out what side I’m on” he repeated. “But there’s another problem. The final hearing on the algorithm is coming up, it decides the fate of the algorithm and whether it’s a fixture in the courts from now on. Ironically, they’re using the algorithm to decide it’s own fate. The court thinks it’s fine because they don’t think there’s an outside connection. If the managers get their way, they’ll be able to manipulate anything they want. There’s no stopping them.”

“Woah…” Ben repeated. “So, what? You’re going to destroy your own algorithm?”

“You think I want to? I spent years on that but it’s clearly too powerful a tool. People believe it too much; it would put innocent people away” Adam said softly.

“Well, what are we going to do?”

Adam filled Ben in on the plan. The court case was in two days and the plan would be carried out simultaneously.

***

The following day Adam stayed in the apartment and Ben went to work, as expected. He needed to pretend nothing was wrong as not to raise suspicion. On top of that he needed to fill his day with other emotions so the cameras wouldn’t see that he was constantly distracted or lying. He purposefully burned his tongue on coffee in the morning, pain would likely cover up any other emotion. He occupied himself with complex tasks that he never made any progress on. As he was about to sneak out several minutes early, he noticed a manager get off the elevator and slowly walk in his direction. He grabbed his things and shoved them into his bag. As he got up and turned towards the exit, the manager called his name.

Ben paused and took a deep breath; he had practiced this.

‘Hi Ben, it’s nice to see you,” said the manager.

“Good to see you too sir.” Replied Ben.

A monotone voice in the managers ear spoke, lie.

They chatted politely for a minute, Ben unaware of the voice reading his emotions like a list to the manager, truth…truth…lie…truth.

The manager abruptly turned the conversation to Adam and asked if Ben had seen him lately. The manager explained they were just worried; he hadn’t shown up to work today, he knew that Adam and Ben were friends.

Ben pulled both hands behind his back and began slowly scratching his skin with a thumbtack. He managed to coherently spit out that he had not seen Adam since the weekend, but he would reach out and check up on him.

In the managers earpieces an emotionless voice spoke, not recognized.

Ben abruptly said goodbye and speed walked out of the building without looking back or taking a full breath. The managers must know, he thought on his way out.

***

Ben covered his phone and placed it in the fridge before Adam came out from the home office. Ben had just sent a text Adam’s phone to “check in on him”. The managers likely hacked Ben’s phone by now and had Adams. They got straight back to work going over the plan again and again late into the night.

***

Ben felt a tightness in his chest as he walked into work the following day. The plan was thought out meticulously in his head. He occupied himself similarly to the day before for nearly the entire morning. Just before noon he packed his backpack and took a deep breath before standing up from his desk. He knew they were watching his every move; he even noticed the new security cameras that had been installed around the office overnight, no doubt equipped with the newest infrared technology.

Ben had to count his steps to make sure he was walking at a normal pace, not too fast, not too slow. He navigated the twisty hallways and arrived at a private study room. He moved inside and locked the door. Inside was a table, a tv monitor attached to the wall and two white boards on opposite walls, no windows. He unpacked his laptop, connected all the cords and plugged in a small flash drive with a green tag.

He looked around searching for new cameras in the study room, hm, they must not have made it this far, he thought, and got back to work. He got out his water bottle, put the algorithm hearing on the TV, and brought up the file that used to contain the original algorithm. While Ben had been at work the day before, Adam had written new code over the backdoor, he hadn’t deleted it entirely, maybe those gestures could be used to his advantage. Unfortunately, it was impossible to say if this addition would work, he disconnected the computer from all networks as not to raise any alarms. But he also had a new video file for the machine learning database.

The hearing got underway, and as Adam and Ben predicted, the first few questions were typical softballs. Ben settled in; he would need to wait for the optimal moment to make his move.

As the line of questioning moved towards the performance of the algorithm Ben saw his opening. It was now or never. Ben entered Adam’s network login. He knew how to navigate the server after going over the path dozens of times the night before.

Ben started to sweat; he knew it was only a matter of time before they came looking for him. If everything went well, he might be able to make it out of the building before they caught him.

He quickly moved through the server folders and found the algorithms destination. First, he uploaded the new video file to the machine learning database, that might help me later, he thought. Second, he wrote over the algorithm. The was the more nerve-wracking part, the transition would be seamless if it worked but it would crash the entire thing if it didn’t.

Ben held his breath as he pressed ‘Enter’. The new algorithm went online. He waited; the algorithm needed to label something, anything. Seconds ticked like hours.

The TV finally flashed green. Ben ripped the computer off the cords, shoved it in his bag, swung open the door and started speeding down the hall towards the only exit, located in the lobby.

He made his way around a corner but heard someone running. Multiple people? He hid behind a cart as before two people came jogging by. As soon as they were gone, he started sprinting for the lobby, but he knew he wouldn’t make it. As he entered the giant lobby, he noticed everyone was standing. The court case played on TVs throughout the lobby, but all eyes seemed to be on him.

He slowed down to a halt, there wasn’t anything he could as the wall of security guards in front of the exit stared him down. Three of the managers came running in, exerting more energy than he’d ever seen from them.

One of the managers stepped forward. “Ben, we know what you did, just tell us the specifics so we can put everything back to how it was,” he pleaded, clearly in a hurry.

Ben stood in place, he slowly reached into his backpack and grabbed his water bottle, taking a long sip. “I’m not sure what you’re talking about, could you be more specific?”

In their earpieces, the managers heard an emotionless, truth.

Confused by the voice in his head, he continued, “You changed it Ben, we know you did, the company’s reputation is falling apart as we speak. Just tell us, it’ll be fine, we’ll make sure nothing bad happens to you, you just made a mistake” the manager said, continuing to slowly walk forward, as if Ben wouldn’t notice.

Ben held the water bottle in his hand as he replied, “I know what you did.”

Truth.

The manager stopped, a realization coming over his face. He started to stammer, “just… just tell us you… you changed it, we know it was you.” The other managers calmy stepped forward and started to pull the manager back but he wasn’t as willing to let go, let it all go, not yet.

He fell to his knees before a sternness came over him, “Ben, did you change the algorithm?” He didn’t yell but his voice carried throughout the lobby.

Ben had started to turn towards the door. He paused as if to consider his words carefully, took another long sip of water, and replied, “no.”

Truth.

He turned and as he moved closer to the exit, the security guards made a path for him to walk through.

As he left, the hearing TV flashed red over and over and over.

June 18, 2022 00:51

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1 comment

Tommy Goround
03:26 Jun 21, 2022

Hiya Owen. I am so excited to see another engineering story. It was clear. It was pretty original. So why don't you have 100 comments? Hint: you need a friend who drinks too much coffee to read this. (One who has emotions balanced on an Occam's razor .) Theme: what man has joined he can unjoin. (Opposite of Huxley BNW) Plot: above average Description: fine. Useful Importance: you missed the human element a bit. Option 1: dialogue at door. It was flat. Go like South Park. Try, "open the door or we will pee on your petunias" . Main ch...

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