“Oculus Government” is a short story about the development of a software to automatically run government’s daily business through a self-learning, self-improving artificial intelligence. In the story two parties are fighting for and against the implementation of OG in an election campaign that could be the last one in history of democratic America.
“No more human interference in the Oculus Governmental System!”, did he shout when staying in front of the crowd.
“Traitor!” Thousands were yelling, others held up posters calling for support of his campaign.
He continued and said: “Humans are manipulating OGS and it can not be for the purpose of the institution to find logical solutions based on unlogic problems through our electoral system!”
“This country is based on democracy and the decisions of the people at the ballots! You can’t abolish the essence of our nation, outlined by our founding fathers centuries ago.”, somebody interrupted him from the left.
“Democracy and elections were necessary when tyrants and a handful of men had a chance to destabilize and terrorise a nation. Times have changed and if the people decides to approve the autonomous artificial intelligence on duty on November 4, 2036, then it has been approved through the ballots and in a democracy.”
Again the crowd was cheering, others were yelling. The situation was critical. Police had to divide the supporters of both sides, the supporters and the opponents of the US Settings Election here in Carnegie Hall in the heart of New York City. CNBC, CNN, Facebook and other media corporations invited New Yorkers to attend the debate about the future of popular influence on politics.
“States like Singapore applied an autonomous Governmental System like ours and failed, Senator!”
The woman who attacked Senator Eli McFarrell was his opponent and leader of the tech-sceptical group “Tesla”, Evelyn McTreinfyr.
“Zhihui wasn’t able to upkeep the wealth of Singapore and decreased the living standard of its citizens within a half decade by twenty per cent! It limited personal freedoms and wasn’t able to react on geopolitical issues like the invasion in Taiwan or the collapse of the regime in North Korea.”
The moderator of the debate, Jason Mullins from Quartz, a division from The Atlantic, nodded while the supporters of OGC’s autonomy showed their disrespect for the opinion of the Tesla-group.
Tesla, which was inspired by tech-industry-tycoon Elon Musk, who once stated his fear of too powerful artificial intelligence (AI) systems, represented Americans from every class like uneducated workers, members of the middle class and the rich. It initiated studies and researched on the dangers of autonomous actions through Ai systems since Ai-drivers coexisted with humans on the street in 2019 and replaced pilots in the cockpits in 2024. The Tesla Institute, based in Mountain View in the San Francisco Bay Area, next to the first AI-ran business in the US, Bay Supersoftworks, guided governments and researchers all around the world when setting up AI-governments and logged everything that happened. Well-known professors from all US-elite universities like Stanford, Harvard or UT Austin joined the group.
“Zhihui was a Taiwanese software made in Taipei and you know very well about the intruders from backdoors for hackers, as for instance PLA unit 61398!”
When Singapore installed its autonomous governmental system (AGS), Mullins reminded, this was in 2026, the AI decided to drop the agreements with other states in Europe, Northern America and Asia to fight tax dodgers, money laundering and other finance-related crimes which caused an outflow of money from money of European or American origin while money from Hong Kong, Taiwan or China flew. Singapore began to lose its importance as an important financial market in the world. The situation dramatically worsened when intruders, insiders assumed the secret Chinese hacker division 61398 in Shanghai behind the intrusion, leaked the owners of bank accounts with untaxed money — and this embarrassed, questioned the Zhihui software. As if this wasn’t enough did the AI introduce economic programs and initiatives to reduce spending after China invaded Taiwan and the Kim-regime in Pyongyang lost the power to a socialist government in a revolution. Instead of boosting the economy, Zhihui depreciated Singapore’s economy. Among other theses cyber security and geopolitical experts suspected China’s aspiration to become an important player in the markets behind the doom in Singapore.
“Are you willing to be liable for losses, damages or deaths caused by Oculus Government?”, McTreinfyr asked the senator and pointed at him with the finger.
“Yes, I am! Oculus is a product made in America created by the smartest brains in our country under a maximum security-level! There’s no chance that any spies could install backdoors!”
“You sound like a moron, Senator! Do you remember Edward Snowden? Julien Assange? Or what about Stuxnet? Nobody expected this could happen. But it did!”
“Turn it off!”, he said enervated and removed his augmented reality glasses which had projected a hologram of the debate on his wooden desk.
“Professor?” Her assistant stood in front of her, wearing jeans and a hoodie.
“Election is coming closer and our system is buggy and has too many backdoors for intruders. But in New York they are talking like it is a system that could manage the most powerful country in the world with a population of five hundred million and the second-highest gross-development-product.”
He didn’t understand what Professor Miranda Milligan wanted to say. The woman with the partly grey tailored hair, big brown eyes and a birthmark on the upper left of her lips was a brilliant woman. She graduated as one of the youngest from Stanford in Computer Sciences, studied neuroscience at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where she became a PhD and later a professor. She worked on Alphabet’s first division for quantum computing-related AI products and led the development of the world’s first software for the automated management of manned missions to Mars. The AI called “Houston” automatically managed oxygen- and water-supplement for the international crew from ESA and NASA and for the plants on board of Helios 2. She left the company before men landed on Mars in 2025. A young startup was calling for experts in AI and quantum computing. The European company Leviathan GmbH from Geneva was working on a computer-government software. She was reminiscent to the day of her first arrival in Switzerland. The team contained the smartest scientists in the world. It felt like you are in CERN, just for AI-experts. They came from all over the world, even a bright young scientist from Morocco was there. His work mapped and coordinated the fight against all kind of viruses and epidemics in poor countries. Now they were working on a system to administrate multiple cantons in Switzerland, later the whole country and Liechtenstein.
While she was looking out of the window, Miranda continued to tell her assistant, Stuart Walker, what she was thinking.
“At Leviathan everything worked fine as long as the AI managed units within the country, the cantons. The federal government had an interface for the input to set up new laws if the AI and expertsin the units agreed to them. The people in the cantons like Zurich, Bern and others elected representatives in a communal assembly. If you were elected you were a member of the team that could influence the AI. It was the last frontier of human control on AI.”
But, she thought, humans lost control after Leviathan began to connect cantons and worked on a federal government entity management software called Tell after Wilhelm Tell, the guy who shot down the apple from somebody’s head. This is when problems arose. How does a software negotiate with other states which were run by humans? Especially the backward Germans had a problem. They were afraid of any technological influence and rejected any progress be it ever so small.
It became easier when Leviathan connected Tell to Zhihui in Singapore and later Taiwan. Computers understood each other, but not humans, despite of semantic analysis and unlimited computing power. The system turned into a disaster with the attack on Zhihui which McTreinfyr has mentioned in the debate.
Disappointed about Leviathan, she returned to the USA and began to work on Oculus Government for the Delphi Assembly Corporation in Boston, Massachusetts. She wanted the company to benefit from her experience and was successful. California adopted the first version of Oculus, Oculus Sun, New York and Massachusetts joined later. Within two years the federal government and party leaders approached DAC and asked for a demo of Oculus for the whole US. No pitch was necessary. Washington asked first after the success stories from California where Sun improved the water household, coordination of fire fighters and rebalanced the budget without an increase in unemployment.
Now they stay here, looking, working on Oculus Government and want to change a country that was founded by men with the intention to create a republic, governed by a group of individuals elected by the people. From now on, she thought, America would change. It wouldn’t be similar to “The Flying Eye”, a movie from the 1980s, “Enemy of the State” from the 90s in the same century or the “Watch Dogs”-series her husband played on his VR-device. This system, she knew, would go deeper into the lives of every single American and could become a treasure box for the FBI or NSA. She reminds a statement of the governor of California, Christian Murphy, who said, that he can easily trust a company like Google or Facebook, but not the state, because as a customer he can go elsewhere, but as a citizen you can’t go anywhere easily. He became an advocate of tech-companies in the Silicon Valley and, although he was the governor of the second largest state after New York, he denied to assist state and federal law enforcers to hack into devices of Californian residents nor did he agree on the setup of backdoors. Critics in the US, some in Europe and more in Germany, where he immigrated from, accused him of a double play. Once Milligan met him on a conference at Cornell University. He respected her, but she felt his aversion for her work. He would have been vetoing the setup of Oculus Sun, but his state adopted the software through a referendum.
“It’s time to go back.” Miranda rose from her chair and went towards the door she opened and spotted the huge hall with desks, computers, lots of people and tables with cups of coffee and snacks, vegetables, fruits. It looked like a typical startup office. And you would believe it if you see the brick-stoned building from the outside. Every single employee passed background-checks you’d expect from the White House. The order from the federal government lead to a layoff of twenty per-cent of the two thousand employees who worked for Oculus. Those, who had to go, participated in far-left organizations or were related to citizens of Russia, China or Saudi-Arabia who worked for government-related entities. Now staff consisted mostly of second-generation Americans, some Indians and refugees from Ukraine and Taiwan.
“How is it going on, Michael?”, she asked the pale, young man sitting next to a bunch of hardware-components. He looked up, appearing sick with his skin in his red stanford sweater, and replied: “Our neural networks will need more computing time if IRS is keep on changing details in their data tables.”
“Ruwan, call the Internal Revenue and tell ’em they should cooperate and not work against us.”
“Alright, Miranda.” The Indian guy with the nerd-glasses initiated a call through the command fields of his augmented reality communicator produced by Apple and began a busy conversation with the federal agency.
In this hall only a few employees worked. They were representants from the different teams working on the other levels of the Oculus building. And Miranda knew them all, picked everyone and reminds every resume. Not everybody graduated from top-schools like Stanford or MIT, but came from San Jose State University, Miami or Davidson College. The character of an employee was important. Nobody, she thought, needs a rockstar with an ego as large as the state of Texas, and assholes weren’t welcome.
What she cared about today was the compression of data-sizes without speed incision. Despite of quantum computing and 5D drives, Oculus Government requires huge server farms to store and crunch all the data. She wasn’t amazed to see Michael reacting on another complication. Of course the compression wouldn’t mean a change in the directory structure, but the technology they would use has to be applied on every single part of the software and to ensure, that current data weren’t manipulated.
Patrick (everybody called him Paddy) was in a tunnel while coding. With his bone conduction headphones we didn’t isolated himself from the environment, but he had the ability to ignore everything around him. Miranda knew this and had a trick to “re-activate” him for social interactions. The beverage dispenser ejected a green-orange bottle of Soylent Drink and served it to Paddy. He loved Soylent, right after energy drinks.
“How do you succeed?”
“Very well. We could reduce file sizes by forty per-cent. Maybe more. But I will need some extra time for the compiler-update if I can increase the compression or OG will operate slower as necessary.”
He opened the bottle and took a sip. “How much time?” Professor Milligan hated extra time. Every day in extra time would cost DAC millions of dollars and made the software more expensive for the United States.
“One week. Probably one day more.”
“Three days and a box with twenty-four bottles of Soylent for free for you.”
“Three days for three days off work during St. Patrick’s Day and a Kilkenny Six-Pack.”
“Agree! Give me a quick note on Slack every morning.”
“Aye, aye, boss.”, he said and continued to work.
His fingers were hammering on the keyboard. Paddy was back in the tunnel.
Sarah, one of the few employees who graduated from Yale, crossed her way. The young woman with the brown hair, tanned skin and small lips, worked in the prediction team. To achieve high efficient results from Oculus Government, or as Paddy called it, OG, machine-learning experts like Michael and Sarah had to work on algorithms to predict future developments. Nothing really predicted the future, but mathematical models calculated probabilities of an event occurring next. Those predictions could help to avoid problems and to pick the best or less problematic option.
OG, Sarah said, recently finished another simulation round successfully. At least one good news these days, Miranda thought.
Although still in development, a team is already testing the software, feeds it with as many data as possible. A special team called “Black Hats” tried to hack and to steal the data. They failed last six versions. Nobody expected that hackers would be able to intrude quant computers that fast. But the Department of Defense was convinced of the contrary when a group of hackers got access to the new machines and downloaded data for a secret stealth project called “Yeti”.
“Is another simulation running for the moment?” The simulations- or testing-team had an own hall, equipped with a huge screen that visualizes data from the software.
“Not now. We’ll let our data analyze the results and start another simulation tomorrow.”
“Wait for me. Send me an invitation to my schedule.”
The simulations room looked like the mission control room in Houston where NASA supervised and directed manned space missions. Many screens, a huge one at the wall. Everybody was busy, studying her data. Three employees were responsible for data security, others had a look on financial results, a special team was assigned to simulate other states for foreign policy. They knew about the challenge Oculus Government will face after its initialization. And the simulation of interactions with other states was highly important. However, they simulated other states with OG, too.
“Three, Two, One, Start!” The countdown was spoken by a computer voice. Instantly the simulation started. The speed was higher than normal. One real-time minute was day and the simulation would go on for 72 hours and simulate almost twelve years.
Miranda stood in front of the screen for welfare. She was able to see the screen filling up with letters and numbers, each representing a citizen or permanent resident. With her AR device she projected the screen on the clipboard in her hands and randomly opens a citizen’s file. The citizen wasn’t real, it was a dummy, but the virtual person’s data were based upon real-world data and rules.
The citizen, a mother of two underage kids whose name was Anita Gabriela De La Hoya, came from Tulsa in Arizona. A high-school degree, didn’t attend a university or community college, no criminal records. She is the daughter of an undocumented immigrant from Honduras. According to the data from welfare she receives food stamps despite of her job in a discount market where she earns $10 per hour. She recently lost her previous job in a fast-food restaurant. IRS records show some problems with her tax filing when she tried to write off her expenses for public transportation and bills from a dentist. A map showed where she has been in past. She wasn’t signed up to the so called Obamacare program.
Miranda Milligan was, like every time she was reading the summaries, surprised about the density of information. Every time you enter an institution of the federal or the state government you were registered and the software changes your profile. She swipes to the right again. A bad feeling spreads in her stomach. She saw a list of chances what would next happen to Anita.
Losing her job: 70%
Serious disease: 45%
Committing a crime: 5%
Committing suicide: 20%
These were there data for events having an impact on the citizen’s life, she read. She was scrolling down and reads about her next steps. The likelihood of a disease was high according to data from hospitals and pharmacies. So it is likely that she could lose her job next days for not attending at work.
It is likely that she will leave town northbound with a bus and help in a catholic church on Sunday.
Signing off her children from preschool is more likelihood the longer Miranda is watching the projection on the clipboard. One more minute and Anita lost her job. Data is changing again. The more Miranda was watching, the more she felts badly. The imagination that such a system is already at work, but less connected made her feel puke.
She kept on switching between the profiles, read the profiles and wasn’t able to shake off her feeling. Every profile, the mother from Arizona, the Asian widow monitoring his kids in Berkeley while pursuing a degree at the University of California or the automated trading supervisor from an investment fund in New York City, it was available and a part of every dataset was reading.
“ERROR” The message appeared suddenly and kicked her out of her thoughts. Data disappeared from the screen. Everything’s gone! The mother, the widow, the supervisor. Gone?
“There’s a problem with the Coding-Algorithms.”
“We must fix that,” Miranda shouted.
Sarah, confused by her boss’s reaction, agreed and went on to the AI-programmers.
“The Oculus Government software is a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” Jefferson Morgan said as he stood in the middle of his students. Everybody nodded and watched him. Jefferson was a so called universal-genius with degrees in law, computer science, neuroscience and philosophy. Grown up in Detroit, Michigan, the second of three kids in an afro-american family, was a member of “Tesla” and one of the most influential counter-AI-advisors in D.C..
His voice was impressive. When he starts talking, you can hear the bass in his voice even if you sat in the last row. The tight black hair didn’t cover the top of his head. He looked like a monk with glasses, but homely through his small lips and the nose.
“But if we don’t stop them now, democracy is history. AI shall help us, but it shouldn’t reign over us.”
“Professor, I agree with you on the danger outgoing from autonomous governmental systems and the risks of self-modifying AIs. But if the techniques already exist, can we escape its influence? A machine just needs to connect to other smart devices and they create a collective intelligence. We couldn’t stop them anymore, could we?”
“Absolutely. We are already doomed, but we have to find a way, how we can limit the impact of artificial intelligence. We need laws similar to the Warren-Clinton-Act from 2018 initiated by senator Elizabeth Warren and President Clinton as they restricted flash-traders from overflooding stock exchanges with partly manipulative orders. As you know, it didn’t prevent stock exchanges from tanking during the flash-crash-crisis in the last decade, but at least did it reduce the damages and the volatility.”
“Elon Musk once said, that, like AI-trading machines, autonomous governmental systems can carry situations to extremes. Nobody can imagine how AI will react, but if they act like flash-traders, they could goad each other and make problems bigger than smaller.”
“And what is worse, is the similarity to history. I think you know the way into the first world war? European superpowers were goading each other into war. Austria set an ultimatum on Serbia, Germany was ready to join Austria into a war against Serbia, but Serbia is allied with the Russian Empire and so on and so on. Now imagine a world of nations, each governed by a software like Oculus Government. Let’s think further and imagine, that one nation, maybe Saudi-Arabia, is threatening Iran on the Shia population in the north-east. Iran reacts with an embargo, Saudi-Arabia is blocking the Gulf of Oman and Iran starts an attack because it can’t export its oil anymore. But Saudi-Arabia is still friend with the USA. So what?”
Jefferson stopped and looked around. His students imagined the world he described. “But every machine has been programmed by humans,” a young woman said. “If we create rules like Asimov’s three rules for robots, can’t we prevent the software from running amok?”
“Ask Dewi Robotics. What did they do?” Jefferson was sarcastic. It was an open secret that companies like Dewi Robotics, Airbus’ Tiger Robotics or Kuilei Shenzhen produced robots that were created to kill each other — or humans. And the People’s Republic deployed robot units during the invasion of Taiwan. Videos, showing robots killing Taiwanese soldiers or rioting civilians, have been viewed a million times on YouTube.
“Even if we create those laws, nobody is forced to apply the laws. And there is a chance that somebody has his own definition of a human. If the Confederate States of America would have had robots, would they define an afro-american as a human-being or not? How about the former apartheid-government in South Africa or Rhodesia? They don’t may kill white ‘human beings’, but African ‘beasts’.
Another problem is the self-modifying AI. If a software is re-coding itself, machines would exist independently from human beings. It would be a kind of genesis for non-human devices. Will we know if future actions of our government will be determined to help us, the citizens? Or does it end like — sorry for the examples, guys — in Matrix or Terminator? Will machines make us slaves or will they erase us from earth?”
“It doesn’t make me feel comfortable with the future, professor.”
And he looked into worried faces. It felt like telling an in-patient that you couldn’t tell him what his future will look like.
“If you don’t like the future I have visualized here, you should vote against Oculus Government.”
He stood up with his tablet in his hands and says goodbye.
“See you next week, guys.You can join my next blogcast, if you like. I am meeting Elon and Evelyn today.”
Did he abuse his position as a professor at Stanford? He wasn’t sure. But his job was to educate the next generation of leaders and engineers. Often he compared his role to a chemistry-professor, teaching a class of ongoing scientists. He must tell them that they must be careful in their role as chemists, because their work could have unimaginable damages on nature if they release the mud into the water.
The sun was sinking beyond the horizon and caused a glow far away. A warm breeze from the east stroked through his face. It would be a warm summer night in Santa Clara Valley, but he had to go to the Hyperloop-station in Palo Alto, next to Tesla’s headquarter.
Capsules arrived through tubes and released passengers who arrived in the Silicon Valley. The local station has been established in 2022 and was one of the first public stations created in the United States. Today it is connected to Los Angeles, Chicago, New York City, Las Vegas, Seattle and Austin. But it didn’t change traffic that much as its initiators car-company Tesla or the private space exploration company SpaceX. But Hyperloop was a fantastic replacement for national flights.
Jefferson Morgan recognized his face in the metallic surface of the capsule before he entered it and sat down on a comfortable seat. On his tablet he’d read a novel during the ride to New York. It would took less than thirty minutes. It was still impressive if he reminds himself of train rides and flights in overcrowded airports.
Hyperloop used an air compressor and moved on a layer of air through a vacuum in the tubes. The reduced friction and air resistance let the capsule travel extremely fast. There were no concussions during the ride to New York. The ride was placid, some people were able take a nap.
“>Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?< by Philip K. Dick.” He read the book often enough to write a summary of every page in the book. Dick has written a dystopia about androids which look like humans and may have developed an own identity through something humans would call empathy.
Oculus Government and similar systems, he thought, may not have feelings or some kind of an identity. But what if they could develop one? At Stanford he joined a group which once worked on a self-motivated, self-modifying intelligence. It was created to train a keeper for mice. Genetic algorithms applied different strategies on different objects and learned about demands of a species. So it supplied food — they gave them cheese — and water. Those who survived the first development stage were participants in the machine’s own research. Although the team didn’t add any code lines for a nutrition analysis, the intelligence analyzed the food and the fitness of the living objects. So was it able to find a well balanced meal plan for a mouse. And this made them more effective while searching for the exit in the maze which was connected to the cages.
Even more interesting was the language approach. BabyBabel, a portmanteau of Babylon and the tower of Babel, was a project of MIT, Harvard and Stanford, made to record and analyze languages without outside help. Through its audio-input BabyBabel was listening to conversations in English. Developers were watching the code and the database. Within thirty hours did the software write own algorithms to analyze languages and to prepare sentences for an output. The first sentence after two days had been “This is a easy experiment.” Sure, grammar was wrong. But everybody was surprised how fast some lines of code were able to learn. It was unlike IBM’s Watson at the beginning of the century which crunched petabytes of data. BabyBabel filled its database with vocabularies, wrote code about grammatical rules, syntax and more. After a week and it was hard to find a difference between a human-being and the software, which, at the time, began to learn Japanese.
More surprising was the moment, when BabyBabel, now renamed Babe, listened to mice and, in a kickass-moment, translated conversations from mice into English. What they have said?
“The invisible master is scary.”
In other words, the mice complained about the appearance of the keeper who supplied food and water. It wasn’t a sensation that scientists analyzed and listened to animal conversations. In 2014, British scientists began the exploration of animal languages. But Babe reduced the time that was necessary to understand an animal. And it let Jefferson became a vegetarian after listening to a translated conversation between two chicken.
He jumped out of the capsule that just arrived in Manhattan. It was already dark. Streetlights were lighting and a bunch of cars was passing by. Through his AR-device he already called a black cab to pick him up.
“Are you Professor Morgan?” An old man with a beard appeared in front of him, standing in front of his cab with the Uber-logo.
The men changed some words, shook hands and jumped into the car. The driver, he identified himself as Harry, was talking about New York. He was born in the city and only left it once in his life for military service in Afghanistan. He spoke about everything, from snowstorms, 9/11 or the Yankee’s championship in 2024.
“I’ll never forget the season. In their last match I catched the ball Johnson hit for the homerun that made them world champions.”
“You must be very proud of! What did you celebrate more? The championship or the ball?”
“The championship of course, professor. Apropos ‘never forget’! In 2016 I was with my wife at a rally of former presidential candidate runner Donald Trump and witnessed his assassination. Perfect shot! Between his eyes! Easy to see that the assassin was a veteran. This is what you learn in Afghanistan.”
“Did you support him?”
“Me? Never. I was born in a moderate republican family. I would have supported Rubio, but delegates went to Cruz.”
The car stopped in front of an old building from the 19th century.
“Thanks for the ride!”
“Don’t forget to rate me!”
The cab drove away and Jefferson jumped up the stairs. A lady in a business dress expected him. She smiled, wordless did she guide him into a huge library with old books, bound in leather. The smell of the old paper was in the air and the spirit of centuries of an intellectual society residing in this room.
“Jefferson!” An older man in the sixties with grey hair and a tall forehead welcomed him with a hug.
“Elon, nice to meet you!”
“Jefferson,”, Evelyn McTreinfyr greeted him by raising her glass of water.
Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX, SolarCity, former CEO of electric car producer Tesla and supporter of the Tesla-group, was friend with Jefferson Morgan since a podium discussion on artificial intelligence. Both shared their worries about a too influential AI and tried to make people more sensible for the danger of autonomous machines.
“Let me introduce the others to you. You already know Evelyn.”
“Good job against the senator in the debate.”
“Mike Prescott, former member of the Economic Research Service and member of the board of the National Institute of Standards and Technology.”, Elon introduced a big man with a bald head and scarves on his hands.
“Professor Cheng Wang from the Cornell University in New York. He and other scientists advised President Ryan in the Presidential Experts Committee on smart technology.” An Asian man with short black hair and a thin face. Wang was a skinny guy from the west, but he already lost his tan. He must be living in New York for a longer time.
“Sarah Rosenzweig, a doctor from University of Chicago, she once worked at Boston Dynamics and its parent company Alphabet.” Jefferson knew Sarah from a meeting with entrepreneurs at Stanford where she mentored an African startup for smart farming equipment. She still holds a seat in the board of directors of the company, but does occasionally in the news.
The e-car-pioneer introduced the Stanford professor to other important men and women from different educational and administrative institutions from all around the United States. Thirty people came together in the library. Everybody got something to drink and a little meal. Thanks God it’s not Soylent, Jefferson thought and lounged on a couch next to Sarah. Though she was sixty years old, Sarah was a attractive woman with long, black hair and a warm smile. She worn rimless glasses that suited her well.
“Ladies and Gentlemen,” Musk began with a forced smile in his face. The crowed turned its attention to the guy who still was known as a genius and the second Thomas Edison and stopped chatting with each other. “Campaign is going on since three months. Polls from the New York Times and Politico show a standoff between supporters and opponents of Oculus Government.”
He stopped, took a break.
“But more important are the independent voters. More than sixty percent of Americans eligible to vote still don’t know what they’ll prefer. Six-ty percent!”
At least the election game didn’t changed. Parties may disappear, but people stay undecided before an election.
“Evelyn was so kind and initiated a poll to find out more about the reasons for indecision among voters. You may already have seen the summary in your inbox. Technology is too complex for the average voter and most of them aren’t sure if they wouldn’t benefit from a computer-run government after the automation of some parts of the government helped to make services more effective while it reduced the deficit. However, many people are afraid of software problems, bugs, hacker attacks like in Taiwan or Singapore. One citizen, it would be funny if the topic wouldn’t be so serious, was afraid that the future government would crash with a blue screen of death like Microsoft’s Windows in the 90s.”
Humble laugh raised the spirits, but immediately stopped as Musk upheld his finger.
“I don’t like to throw mud into our opponents campaign camp, but it is about the future of our country. We as experts must be able to explain the risks, the problems and the hazard for our nation. But we can’t reach everybody on the street or social media through our campaigns, through TV if we aren’t able to shanghai Oculus itself.”
“More do we have to signalize that we aren’t the Amish people of modern times,” Mike Prescott, the guy with the government-experience interrupted him. “Our opponents try to push us into the spotlight as tech-sceptics. Your participation helped us, sure, but it doesn’t persuade others that Tesla is a movement of tech-experts thats supports innovations, but opposes autonomous systems replacing responsibly positions.”
Musk agreed with him and explained his doubts about a spot aired everywhere on the net telling people that he’s experienced with AI-systems because of its importance during SpaceX’ missions to Mars. The whole flight from Earth to Mars, he proudly said, had been managed by a smart computer. But it was risky enough for the astronauts and the mission.
“Is running a country the same as a mission to Mars? Or let me remind you of another topic. In the second and third decades of the century lawmakers and tech-giants were discussing the responsibility of the algorithm driving the car. You all know the example of a little girl and a group of elder people crossing the street. Should the algorithm try to avoid hurting the group with older people and save many individuals or should it avoid rushing into the girl because it was younger than the old?”
Lawmakers and tech-giants like Google agreed that no algorithm should diversify by age, handicaps or else. Even Musk’s Tesla agreed. It was the only logical decision. A car that prefers to kill older people over a young one would degrade a senior’s life. Of course self-driving cars always wanted to prevent themselves from colliding with humans, but it has never been possible to avoid accidents by a hundred percent.
“This was a dramatic decision because of the impact a car accident has on lives of so many people.”
“But we are not only talking about the lives of American citizens in case of Oculus Government,” did Evelyn amplify Elon’s opinion. “The United States of America have a huge influence on the world. So it will affect all eight billion terrestrials. The software will control our weapons of mass destruction nobody was able to disarm till today, it can raise or lower the carbon dioxide cap for our industry or withdraw important treaties with our partners in Africa, Asia and elsewhere.”
“This is what we want to tell the people.”
“How?”, a professor from the south asked. “You said you can’t reach everybody through your channels.”
“Right, not with our current strategy. But we want to arrange a new debate with Senator McFarrell and the project manager of Oculus Government. We’ll ask clear questions, they’ll have to give clear answers.”
“So not a second BigMac-duell between Evelyn and Eli?”, the professor jokingly asked and referred to the debate’s nickname in social networks.
“No! Evelyn did a great job and she is still doing a great job, but to disrupt the line that connects Oculus’ marketing department with the people, an expert has to join. That’s why you are here. We don’t need the money from Silicon Valley’s greatest entrepreneurs, but the knowledge from America’s brightest scientists.
Elon, the attendees knew, wasn’t interested in fundraising to reach his goals. Actions weigh more than dollars and so did Tesla also became a think-tank and super-pac. Its power didn’t come from money, although he used his multibillion dollar wealth to keep this movement alive independent from others influence. He wouldn’t like to know donations from companies in Tesla like banks once did when they supported presidential candidates.
“We’ll have to go into details to clarify open questions, to define a vocabulary so that we have a clear speech. Every American should be able to follow us.”, he said and in his face Jefferson, who shared a view with Sarah, recognized the man who, in his forties, had the spirit of a teenager and made him dreaming of a world when everybody would be able to fly to the moon, to Mars and everywhere where you wanted to be.
Jefferson took a note on his tablet and forwarded it to his husband. “It could be late, don’t wait for me.”
An alert yanked Miranda out of her dreams. The sound, a high note, went to the core and came from her work phone. Her eyes, wide opened, looked into the emptiness of her bedroom. It was dark, just the moon threw his blue-white shine onto the sideboards.
After few seconds she took the phone and answered the call.
“Professor Milligan, it’s Sarah. We have a serious problem!”
“I shouldn’t tell you on phone. Come fast!”
Sarah didn’t sound like she was getting mad. Normally she was relaxed, rational, but never emotional.
Quickly Miranda Milligan picked her backpack, a cap to cover her unstyled hair and walked to her car. She let her autopilot drive her to the headquarter. Spotlights surrounded the entire building so that it looked like a golden cage.
The closer she got to the simulations room, the noisier it became. More than twenty employees stood in the room, discussing, watching, swearing and hammering on the keyboards.
“Sarah!”, Miranda shouted, overwhelmed by the impressions from the scene, as she spotted the woman.
“Miranda, good to see you. The software locked us out of the source-code and file-management…,” Sarah began to explained before she was interrupted by her boss.
“We already knew the problem.”
“Yes, but it occupied several servers. We aren’t able to shutdown the software or to remove it from space.”
“Try to turn out the server? Sure, but it didn’t work. As soon as the servers were connected to the energy network again, Oculus Government continued operating.”
“Who tried to infiltrate the system?”, Miranda asked to make sure her best men and women did everything to get back control over the software.
“Paddy, Dmitry, Linda, Hareesh, everybody. But the more we used to get into the system, the more it identified our efforts to get access to the core as an attack. And the self-modifying units began to recode its security mechanisms. It has built an own iron curtain.”
Self-modifying units. These were files with code, written to create an autonomously acting agent able to write own code to improve the system. Delphi Assembly’s plan was to make Oculus safer by eliminating the human factor in security software. Other units helped at every stage of development to speed up the coding process. They replaced up to two thousand developers and made the development safer by now.
Miranda Milligan remembered the simulation and how she explored several citizen profiles. She wanted to know how the simulation was going on after the disconnection from human interference.
“At 2AM Oculus Government seemed to have changed its algorithms for economic policy making and devalued the dollar.”
She looked at the clock at the wall. Now it was 3:40 in the morning. Almost a third year was gone since the change. “How did it change the simulated world?”
“The devaluation caused a reduction of unemployed workers, but the devaluation triggered lower growth expectations for exporting countries in Europe and Asia. The global economy is in a downfall. Now most of the actions try to apply Keynesian economics.
On her tablet Sarah was able to show her what’s going on through the log.
Then there was a longer loading time. A few seconds. Suddenly the virtual government initiated a row of new laws, forcing unemployed members of the Latino and the Afro-American community to do compulsory work while White and Asian citizens weren’t affected by the laws.
“What the hell?” Miranda was swearing like a sailor.
“It must have been analyzing demographics of unemployed.”
“This is discrimination!”
Sarah agreed and looked at the screen as she got an idea. Like the Chinese with Zhihui, they had installed a backdoor if somebody would capture the software. She ran to Saleeh, an Iraqi developer who participated in the creation of the backdoor.
“Can you access it?”
“Inshallah!”, he said and began to type lines of commands into the terminal.
Everybody was hopefully looking at Saleeh’s screen and the dashboard at the wall next to the larger screen.
Others tried to stay calm, were hiding their worried faces behind her hand in a thoughtful position. Minutes were passing by. The only noise everybody was listening to were the sound of fingers hitting a key on the keyboard. Tic, tic, tic, tic — a loud tic when Saleeh hit >enter< — tic, tic, tic, TIC!
“Miranda, the software is ignoring constitutional rules. Do you know what it means?”
She didn’t like the thought, but Miranda Milligan agreed with Sarah. Democracy and freedom would be history. Every government would worry about the consequences, but OG would be installed forever.
“Backdoors have been eliminated!”, Saleeh said. A murmur went through the crowd. The AI learned fast enough to lock the backdoors. Ironically it is what Oculus had to do to if they wanted to keep Chinese hackers out of the government’s networks.
Sarah, unwilling to give the simulation up, got an idea. It would be a radical idea, but probably necessary. What if they would create a hack-bot based on self-modifying AI to hack into the software?
But nobody could imagine that it would be successful.
“Due to quantum-computers, we need days, maybe weeks, because of the self-modifiers in OG itself,” Saleeh said. And another problem could have been Paddy’s file-compression. This could make introduction into the system harder, let need a hack longer by the factor five.
Miranda knew, what it did mean. They have to destroy the servers, because they were useless for further simulations if the current simulation developed its own mind and can’t be eliminated from server memory.
“Let’s call our data center in Oregon.”, she said. Everybody understood. It would mean the end for up to 10,000 quantum-servers in a data center on a high-security base somewhere in Oregon.
The night was over without further complications. Every data shown by OG disappeared from the screens and the manager of the Oregon data center reported, that federal agents seized the servers and sent them to a facility to destroy them.
The team was depressed. They didn’t match their schedules anymore, missed milestone by milestone and now OG locked them out. Nobody knew how it would go on. The system was different to Oculus Sun. It was revolutionary, based on newest achievements in science and made to be safe. The incident with the AI had to be reported to the executives of DAC. Everybody knew, that it wouldn’t take a long time until they would call Miranda. Everybody was watching when she had an AR-call. Nobody knew what they are saying, but it’s no secret that it wasn’t a harmonic call.
“We have to finish the development in time!”, Brian Mitchell, chief executive officer of DAC shouted.
Milligan saw the projection of his body in front of her, done by her classes with an integrated electric glasses, with several, colored layers. It was like Brian stood right there in her office. The sound from his voice came from the speakers which have been integrated in the walls.
“Then I’ll need more developers. We can’t work around the clock. These guys,”, she said, pointing at the men and women outside of her office “are already working for ten, twelve or more hours, some sleep in the office’s nap rooms.”
“You know that we can’t hire more engineers! We spent more than twice of the budget and the process to sponsor visas and to screen potential employees lasts to long. It must be manageable before the day of inauguration.”
A woman, Shilpi Borse, joined the conversation. She wore a black blazer with a logo-pin of DAC over her heart. She, the executive vice president of product, was the connection between Miranda and the executive officers of DAC.
“The federal government of the United States and our company would face a dramatic damage of reputation after the American people voted for Oculus Government and we aren’t able to deliver the software the people voted for.”
“The problem,”, Miranda Milligan tried to explain, “isn’t the code itself, but the AI as a high risk for national security. Did Hannah told you what happened?”
“The AI locked you out.”, Brian soberly then said.
“Yeah!”, she answered in her native Texan dialect. “The AI was acting without any control and would start a fight in an empty house!”
She waited a while before she continued. “We can’t fully eliminate the risk of an autonomous computer government if we keep the self-modifying bots alive.”
“Miranda, it was you who proposed the bots! It was you who said it would make Oculus safer!”
Brian was agreed, she knew. She pitched her improvements to Shilpi who convinced the CEO later. Shilpi’s reputation in the company was at risk, but also was the national security.
“We’ll work on it, but I have to underline our demand for more engineers and experts in AI development.”
“I don’t promise anything!”, Shilpi replied and left the conversation.
“I’ll approach the government. However, don’t count on Washington.” The company’s CEO, who could become the most powerful business leader in the world, was grim. Despite of the distance between them, Miranda was able to feel it.
“There’s one more thing, Miranda.”, he interrupted the silence. “Our opponents asked for another debate and want to challenge you together with senator McFarrell. They want to talk to an expert.”
“Who do you want to join the senator?”, she asked, though she already knew he wanted to pick her.
“You! You are the project manager, a well-known scientist and know everything about Oculus.”
“Thanks for considering me, but as you mentioned a minute before, we have to hurry.”
“You have no choice. This is a multi-billion dollar project funded by the government and we have to convince the people as good as we can to win the election.”, he powerfully said.
“You want me to convince the American people — whites, latinos, afro-americans, asians and others — after I witnessed that OG created a two-class-society, forcing latinos and afro-americans to work if they are unemployed just because of barred ways to a better life after detention for smoking pot?”
“It’s your job to fix it and it is your job to represent our company. You’ll find the details in your planner. Call me if you have further questions or updates.”
The projection disappeared, the conversation was over.
“Screw you!”, she sworn and left the office.
“Tonight live on CNBC, CNN, Facebook and Quartz we proudly present the third debate about the implementation of an artificial intelligence as our government between senator Eli McFarrell from Kentucky and professor Miranda Milligan as supporters of the Oculus Government system and Evelyn McTreinfyr from Texas and Professor Jefferson Morgan from Stanford University in California as representatives of the Oculus-opposing Tesla-group.”
Jason Mullins, who also moderated the previous debate, introduced his guests to the the visitors of the debate which CNN hosted in the Mission Bay Conference Center in San Francisco. Among the attending guests Elon Musk has already been spotted by the cameras and guests. He didn’t appear on stage, but interested to follow the debate live in the conference center.
“While Brian Mitchell, CEO of the Delphi Assembling Corporation, calls Oculus a blessing for the United States, Tesla sees the heritage of our founding fathers in danger. Elon Musk, Tesla’s largest supporter, sees world peace at risk if the people chooses Oculus at the ballot box”
Miranda didn’t feel well in her position. Last night she spent hours thinking about the past weeks and months and what she has seen in simulations. Newer tests after the disaster haven’t been better. The AI acted like a bully on high-school, pressed against nations not willing to align with rules and views the AI-government had. And again it locked engineers out of the software’s code. They dumped enough quantum-servers to run Oculus Sun in the European Union.
“Senator McFarrell, you are a supporter of the Oculus Government, but Mrs McTreinfyr countered your optimism with examples from Taiwan and Singapore. Are you still so optimistic about Oculus Government?”
The senator, sitting on a red armchair, fold his hands and smiled.
“Thank you for the question, Jason. Yes, of course, I am. Oculus Government is a software created by the brightest software engineers in the world. By the way, our security agencies made a deep screening of alien engineer’s backgrounds so that nobody is working on OG who could be a threat to our national security.”
“Mrs McTreinfyr, you are from Texas and Texans are known as more conservative, traditionalist people. These are the values people associate with Tesla. Are they right?”
Evelyn laughed. She knew the prejudices on her origin.
“No worries, Jason, I don’t hold cattles in my garden,” she jokingly said and the people began to laugh. “I didn’t grow up like a typical girl from a rural county in Texas. My father was a southern democrat, working in the oil industry, later for an electronics supplier and my mother was a biologist and was liberal in her opinions on politics. As for Tesla, we got our name from Elon Musk who everybody knows. And Elon was and still is a pioneer. We don’t oppose progression such as the Germans or French people, but we don’t want to give up our freedom to vote a government.”
Musk, keeping an eye-contact with Evelyn, nodded. After the meeting in Manhattan the group exchanged ideas online, but they knew how difficult it can be to hit a homerun.
“Senator, the Tesla-group warns, that the software could trigger a violent conflict because of a reckless, less empathetic behavior. With respect to this warning, and we know that Oculus is not human, can you stand your ground if young Americans would have to go to war?
The crowd applauses, reminded itself to the phony reasons for war in Iraq.
“Of course I understand the position,”, the senator said and address himself to the audience. “Nobody wants to fight in a war, no family wants to lose a father, husband, brother or son. War is a human behavior…”
And fooling yourself is a typical behavior for politicians, Miranda thought.
“…and a computer system acts logically. There’s no ulterior motive, no second Vietnam or a second search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.”
“But can Oculus Government protect our national interests in the world? Can it stand for human rights?”
Good question, she thought. Miranda feels herself reminded of the latest simulations. Neither did she expect any concessions from the senator nor did she doubt that he doesn’t believe in what he is saying to the American people.
“This is possible. Listen, I am in an open exchange with Delphi Assembling Corporation. And the engineers carved the principles of the republic into the code of Oculus Government.”
The Tesla-supporters booed while their opponents applauded and Elon turned his head to have an impression from the scenery, Evelyn was shaking her head.
“Mrs McTreinfyr, could you please tell us what’s on your mind?”
“Can a software protect our values and views like democracy and freedom, if criminal or government hackers try to manipulate our computer government? I’ve mentioned the examples from Singapore and Taiwan in our last debate. This can happen again.”
Morgan joined the conversation and pledged to act carefully when letting an artificial intelligence run a country.
“Excuse me”, the senator interrupted him, “but wasn’t it SpaceX, the company of your supporter Elon Musk, who applied an artificial intelligence in its spaceships on the flight to Mars? Wasn’t it the car-producer Tesla who introduced automated driving?”
Supporters of Oculus stood up for standing ovations, shouting at Elon Musk, who they call an enemy of progression.
“He did, of course!”, Morgan answered. “But it makes a difference if a software decides whether a car should prefer to crash into a crowd of kids or into an old woman, or if a software makes decisions that have a direct impact on the life of an eight headed crew or if a software makes decisions that has an impact not only on the American people, but also on the whole world?”
“Miranda, I think this is your turn.”, the senator asked her to assist him with her knowledge.
“Oculus is a fundamental breakthrough in the development of smart software encryption. It uses bots who are watching every kind of attack on the software, spots every try to manipulate the software and…” She stopped. The professor damned the moment because she was covering a massive problem with the software’s security.
Brian was sitting in his office, following the debate through his goggles and was slugging drink by drink. He’s never been so nervous. Of course he knew about the latest results from the simulations. The development costs climbed up to a hundred and fifty billion dollars.
“Go on, bitch!”
“…and it is modifying itself to erase the leak.”
“How about the empathy of Oculus?”, Jason repeated Morgan’s question.
“The software behind Oculus understands the people. It applies mathematical models to understand their actions. It knows what you are doing and so it better understands your daily habits.”
“This sounds like nineteen eighty four from George Orwell, more like a dystopia than a system to help our people.”, Jason Mullins stated and looked to Evelyn and Jefferson.
“This reminds me of the wiretapping from NSA and FBI.”, a shocked Evelyn said and reminded herself of the law journals about Edward Snowden, the NSA and the data collection on every American less than two decades ago.
The moderator agreed with her. “I want to keep the government out of my business!”
“And if we are talking about empathetic software, then we are going back to a more human government although we tried to adapt a rational software? Isn’t that a joke?”
The debate was heating up. Both parties were discussing the point of humanity in a software, the advantages and disadvantages of a rational, less empathetic government. They discussed points like fair dealing with minorities by law.
“This is a good point, Senator!”, Morgan said. “As a homosexual I had many problems because of my own orientation and because I am an afro-american. I’d expect the virtual government to treat me equal to a white, heterosexual citizen.”
In her brain everything was heating up. The longer the debate lasted, the more lies she had to tell to defend a software she didn’t believe in anymore. She tortured herself with her appearance at the debate.
The debate came to an end after two hours. Participants were exhausted, keen they debated though. For a last statement Jason Mullins friendly asked his guests to make a final statement the public, starting with the expert from the Tesla-group.
“My fellow citizens, like all of you I am proud of this country, the freedom and the democracy we enjoyed for more two hundred and fifty years. As a scientist I have worked on artificial intelligence and know, what we are able to do with. But our nation was founded by humans for humans because our founding fathers knew, that politics for humans can only be done by humans. A software, a learning machine, is fine to make our life easier as it already did. I don’t oppose DAC as a company, because their systems helped our nation and our human government…”
Professor Miranda Milligan was listening to Morgan and his statement. He, the black and gay scientists with a bright mind, would become a representative of the minorities Oculus Government’s statistical models would pick to reduce unemployment or selected as reasons for pandemies or crime. She doubled her firsts and cramped when she was thinking about her speech in a few minutes. Meanwhile Evelyn McTreinfyr was speaking into the camera.
“…we mustn’t give up our freedom for the convenience not to care about politics. Thousands had died to defend our right to vote, thousands had died for our freedom and the ability to come together in parties. We’ve already lost a part of our freedom when we decided how a software should act next instead of electing a congress to make the decisions. Senator McFarrell is one of the last representatives in our country. Although I oppose his position, we shouldn’t give up our freedom and we shouldn’t abandon our right to act and elect responsibly. I stand here for future generations who need to know that they have the right to elect a government whose members will always pledge allegiance to the United States. Thank you. God bless you. And God bless the United States of America.”
There were standing ovations for the young lady from Fredericksburg in Texas who left the speaker’s text for Miranda Milligan, who took a deep breath before she walked on. Everything in her head was going mad. Was it right to do what she had planned? If she proceed, there’d be no way out. She said a little prayer, asked God for help. >Dear Lord< she thought and began to speak.
“My fellow citizens…”
Again she stopped. It wasn’t easy. But she had to go on. It was her damn mission to say what she wanted to say.
“…as the leading manager of Oculus Government I was involved in the development of the software DAC and the federal government want you to adapt and to replace a human government. Oculus has been built to make our government acting fair, to treat everybody equal, so that citizens like Professor Morgan on my left wouldn’t be discriminated on their race or sexual orientation. Oculus Government was built to make our government more efficient and less static. The ‘government in Washington’ had to come to an end with the setup of this software. And it should prevent us from repeating mistakes from our past or the past of other nations. But, I am sorry, I can’t defend this project anymore…”
The public was moaning, incredulously looking at her, the project leader who stood for Oculus Government. Even the senator was shocked and speechless. Did he hear right? He looked up, wanted to pull her back, but he was unable to move his body.
“Our simulations unveiled the weakness of self-modifying bots, the development of an artificial intelligence and its effect on our people. Oculus would be worse than any wiretapping from the NSA and FBI together and it habits wouldn’t help to keep the United States integrated into the world community, but help that the world hates us again. Oculus acted ruthless, not only to everyone else in the country, but also to everybody in the country. Mathematical models and statistics made the machine think of treating afro-americans and latinos unequal to white and asian Americans because of the combination of unemployment and criminal records like possession of marihuana. I don’t want to know what would happen if there were correlations between crime rates and homosexuals. Oculus wouldn’t care about elections or the right. In our simulations the software isolated itself and made it impossible for us to regain control over it. The system was and is too smart to run a country because we all would become slaves of a computer program. I can no longer stay for this software and I ask you not to vote for Oculus Government, but to keep our federal government human. Thank you and God bless the freedom of the American people.”
“After the statement of Professor Miranda Milligan, the former project manager of the Oculus Government Project, opponents of the virtual governments have won the election by eighty percent or more. Counting is going on. Mrs. Milligan wasn’t available for an interview, but Elon Musk, the initiator of the Tesla-group has shown himself grateful for her disclosure three months ago. Wall Street reacted as expected on the election results and the stock of DAC was diving and so does the struggling company. No official was willing to make a statement on the election results, the lawsuit against Professor Milligan or the federal government’s damage suit against the company. Tomorrow we are talking about Evelyn McTreinfyr’s likely run for White House. Thanks for watching. This is CNN.”