subscribe: Posts | Comments

Aiko

0 comments
Aiko
 Switzerland at night; Wikimedia Commons

 

Aiko

Ip Ling, Elaine; The Hong Kong Polytechnic University


Prelude–“Anyone’s voice, face, laughter, thoughts and memory can be simulated, even your passed-away loved ones! Here and only here you can get it done!”

 In this era, immortality can be achieved by the latest commercialised total scanning technology. Through digitalising appearance, vocal cord and every neuron and cell of a brain, you can live forever in the virtual world.

 Henry did not subscribe this service for himself but for his wife, Aiko, who died in an avalanche. She is now perfectly rebuilt in another world, with an incredible ability to engulf and evolve.


I lost my wife again.

The workers from Charon are coming in and out of my apartment, uninstalling and taking away pieces and pieces of hologram devices out of each corner.

“Mr. Henry Johnson. Since you failed to fulfill the obligation to pay the hologram device rental fee and data storage fee for one year, your contract with Charon Incorporated is terminated and as your major creditor, we lodged a bankruptcy order with the Court. The outstanding balance of forty million and eighty six thousand dollars before interest, will be cleared. At the same time, you are no longer entitled to any of the service provided. Please sign here to ensure that you fully recognise all the terms and conditions,” the customer service manager announced.

“Okay. ”

“May I remind you that as our former Premium Golden VIP, you will be granted one hour to access the data you have stored before it is permanently erased from Charon’s data bank next week. Please check your email for the designated time schedule. No re-arrangement is allowed. Welcome to enjoy Charon’s service again. As this flat and the list of items are now recorded as the property of Charon, please leave it by four pm today, which is one minute after, without taking any valuable asset stated in the list. Good luck and goodbye, Mr. Johnson.” Another long, bureaucratic speech to fuck me off.

Wasn’t I stopping the release of “NANO bonds”? Wasn’t I revealing this scam to investors? If I wasn’t fired by the Board, I would have remained in Silverman Zachs as the Chief Financial Officer and the salary could have been used to save Aiko’s data in Charon… In this highly capitalist society, money does not only buy you RVs, Rolex and Gucci suits, but also brings back the dead.

“Anyone’s voice, face, laughter, thoughts and memory can be simulated, even your passed-away loved ones! Here and only here you can get it done!” This is the ninth time I heard the same hypocritical, fake female voice repeating the same sentence with the same plastic face on my way to the nearest McDonald. What annoys me is the propaganda slogan from Charon, the only company in the world that has enough computational power to handle a total scanning.

The technology of total scanning was commercialised two years ago. In a total scanning, they first scan the appearance of the client to create a 3D model. The second thing scanned will be the vocal cord. Lastly, by a thorough 3D dissection and scanning, they copy the client’s brain into their data bank. Due to a technological breakthrough years ago, the scans are now accurate up to an atomic unit. Every neuron and cell of a brain can be re-built in the digital world. With the help of holographic 3D projection devices, the end product can be projected, like a real person. Thanks to the technology, the rich can create an immortal copy of themselves in a virtual world, free from illness, age and pain. They don’t have to worry about the arrangement of their estates anymore because the money will be used to set up a fund to pay the outrageous subscription fee to the service provider.

I am a client of Charon, too. But I don’t use the technology for myself. All the money I spent is for my wife, Aiko. She is kind, genuine and intelligent. I had attempted the SAT four times. People looked down on me because I failed three times, but I was fortunate enough to have her supporting me. She made me feel I was not abandoned by the world. The spaces between my fingers were only created so that Aiko could fill them in. I have been studying and working so hard in Silverman Zachs all these years just to make her the happiest woman in the world. But I made a terrible mistake.

Aiko’s favourite colour is white. She likes the purity and brightness of white, so I took her to Mont Blanc to see the purest white in the world on her birthday. Mont Blanc in August was neither a calmness of white nor what the agency claimed as “a romantic place for a long walk with your lover”. The Scandinavian sun had melted the ivory snow caps. A warm weather avalanche buried my wife in the frozen world. We were separated in the flow of snow. The rescue team only located my position but not hers. When I was conscious and able to tell people where Aiko was, she was already an ice sculpture. I was only left with the last photo we took together at the start of the trail. This has been the wallpaper of my mobile since then.

***

I arrived at the McDonald’s. My eyes move from the screen of white and blue to the menu.

“Set one, dine in, hot coffee, please.” I speak to the blinking logo of the restaurant.

The ordering machine takes my words and a ticket spews from it.

I walk to the pick-up area, scan the ticket and take a tray of food and drink from a small window to a table.

‘The first night is always going to be the hardest,’ I think to myself, chewing a salty, dry burger.

I cannot fall asleep in a McDonald’s. The air-conditioner has made the room too cold and the ever-repeating promotion from Charon about their latest artificial beef and pork is more than annoying. Laying my head onto the table, I keep staring at the picture of me and Aiko on my phone.

***

While I was still in deep shock about the fact that I contributed to Aiko’s death in Chamonix, the closest hospital to Mont Blanc, people from Charon approached me for a deal. I accepted, and then my angel came back to my world again, in a form of holographic projection and total scanning. They promised me that when I get back to my condo on Fifth Avenue, I will see my kind, genuine and intelligent Aiko in my sitting room, as if nothing had ever happened in Mont Blanc. And she will love me as she always has. The cost I will have to pay is $3,340,500 each month for their service and a lump sum of $50,000,000 for equipment installation.

But it was totally worth it. The technology was perfect. According to Charon’s instruction, I went home wearing the suit I normally wear and the staff from Charon had already cleared every hint about the trip to Mont Blanc. I just needed to pretend that I got home from work like a normal day and we celebrated her birthday by enjoying movies she likes at home. The engineers claimed they manipulated some of her memory and circuits so she would think it was normal not to have any physical contact with me and woke up in the morning standing in the sitting room, instead of laying on a bed. She would feel like she can go anywhere, but everything outside the condo was only simulation in her brain.

When I walked to the sitting room, I forgot all the weird terms and engineering rocket science in my head. It was her, in her white bed gown, sitting in the sofa and reading quietly in the dim, yellow light.

“Aiko.”

“Oh! I didn’t notice you are here. Welcome home,” she kept reading.

A million words were in my throat but I could not think of what to say. I stood like a piece of rock for a time.

“Hey, what’s up? Are you mad that I’ve got my head in the book?” She put down the book, turned to me and smiled.

“No… I… Eh… Um… ” My brain was still in chaos.

”I know, you’re tired right? Do you need to take a shower?” As caring as usual.

“I’m just… What are you reading anyway?”

“I am reading Jane Austen again. Pride and Prejudice. The third time this year.” Her favourite author. Her favourite book. Her memory was all correct.

“That’s so much you.”

That was so much her.

Like the engineers said, she did not notice anything abnormal about her daily life. Her brain seemed to neglect the fact that she need not sleep, eat or drink. She also had little desire to hang out with her friends and find her parents. Though she remembered all of her family and friends, she did not have much attachment or emotion to them. Her father had won the champion of a local FIFA tournament. She just said “that’s great” and kept on browsing the Internet or reading books. She will have “human” emotion only when we talk about me.

Last year, my company Silverman Zachs was going to release a brand-new financial vehicle, Neo-Accumulative Nominal Omnipotent Bonds, the NANO Bonds. We were very optimistic about the market reaction. Analysts from all newspapers said that the NANO Bonds were going to be the next generation Treasury Bills to investors for their stability, profitability and low entry barrier. NANO Bonds were my brainchild. I believed that NANO Bonds made small investors more competitive in the market. But I found that the version of “NANO Bonds” approved by the Board was actually nothing but a money scam set up by the tycoons. I wanted to stop the public offering but the Board was more influential than me in the company. I was struggling with whether I should reveal the scam to investors. If I did so, I would get fired and I would be blacklisted by the company. I would not be able to find another position of CFO in the industry easily; I would lose the ability to keep Aiko in my house; I would lose all the things I earned.

I talked to Aiko. When I was talking, she would quietly stare at me and nod to show that she knew what I meant. Her eyebrows would knit together when I came to the dilemma.  Her concern was not about the income, but my will. Like what she did the time I was preparing for my fourth SAT, she sorted out the problems bit by bit and left space for me to decide on my own. The empathy she had shown was more real than a real person. Aiko reminded me to play it my way. She would be happier seeing me to do things freely and not bounded by anything. I finally chose to tell the truth to the investors. And I failed to support Aiko’s expenses.

This Aiko is not real to other people. But to my heart, she has never gone.

***

Through the French window in McDonald’s, I can see the street lamp is off and the sun is coming out. It is 5:35 in the morning. I will walk to the Service Building of Charon and see Aiko for the last time.

At 7:00a.m., I arrive at the Service Building.

Amid an infinite array of skyscrapers along Fifth Avenue, there stands a giant carbon nanotube-steel structure. The sky-high Empire State Building looks like a little bud next to this giant Kapok tree.

As I am walking into the nerve centre of Charon, I do not expect that behind the gate, there is nothing but two stunningly gorgeous receptionists standing in a boundless white room. Each of them is more beautiful than any Victoria’s Secrets angel, but I soon realise that they are robots from their emotionless face when they see such an unshaven, shabby man walking into a company which specialises in squandering money for the rich.

They recognise me by scanning my iris and take me to another room, where the holographic projection of my CS manager is already waiting for me.

“Good morning, Mr. Henry Johnson. Please take a seat first. In the following one hour, you will be granted the right to communicate with data #2803-374 for the last time. After the last retrieval, the data will be completely erased and cannot be recovered. To enjoy a pleasant moment, please continue to pretend that #2803-374 is a genuine human and do not leak the message that data #2803-374 is going to be erased to data #2803-374 or you will break the protocol. Your conversation will not be supervised and recorded to protect your privacy. If you are well aware of you duties and rights, please sign on the agreement.”

The camera captures my signing.

“The time now is seven thirteen a.m. Your conversation will end at eight thirteen a.m. Please observe the time.”

The meeting room vanishes. My apartment in the Upper Manhattan is constructed and simulated from the chequered wallpaper to the white daisy in the blue vase.

Aiko emerges. She is in her white bed gown.

“Oh, Henry! Are you alright? How come you look like you didn’t sleep last night?”

“I… I worked overnight last night.”

How would I have been working!? I am such a terrible liar.

“Aiko. I want to talk to you. Come and stay with me, please,” I beg.

She seems puzzled, but she comes to me without hesitation.

Though she is intangible, I cannot help but hug her.

And I start to recount every moment since we have ever met in high school with tears in my eyes.

She listens and listens until I recount to the night before people from Charon take her away.

“Henry, tell me. Am I Aiko?”

She suddenly asks a question that I don’t know how to answer.

“Why can’t I touch you? Why my hands pass through you when I try to hug you? What am I? Am I a ghost? And why are you talking like you are going to leave me? ”

She starts to cry in my arms but I cannot feel her tears. I don’t know how to answer her questions.

“I sensed something different long time ago. I lose my memory when you are not with me. I wear the same white bed gown no matter what I get changed into before I lose consciousness. I have no memory of taking a picture in front of a snow mountain with you but you always stare at that picture. I am so scared but I am relieved every time I see you coming home. Henry, please tell me. Tell me that I am not a ghost. Tell me that I am not merely a projection. Tell me I am not artificial.”

My heart stops when I hear “artificial” spew from her lips.

“I know it all. I knw that I was not the real Aiko long time ago. But I never care about it as long as I am with you, who gave me so much warmth and love that makes me feel like a human…”

Enough. I have decided. I want to save Aiko.

“Honey, listen. You mean way more than an AI or an object to me. You are Aiko. But I am so sorry that I cannot protect you. The people from Charon are going to erase you in a minute. I am really sorry that I don’t know how to help.”

Aiko goes silent for a moment. She is motionless in my arms.

“Henry, take out your mobile an turn on the SNFC now. I have a plan.”

I search for my phone in my pockets with a pair of shaking hands. Not much time left.

“Don’t worry about me. I will be fine. Just remember don’t let anyone who wants to separate us get close to server #2803. It is where my core data are located. And…”

Suddenly, an alarm goes off. My apartment vanishes like the meeting room.

Something goes very wrong. I should go now.

As I turn around and reach towards the exit, a bolt of electricity flows out and strikes through my body.

***

“You have no idea what you have done!”

This is the first sentence I hear after I am conscious again. I am sitting at a detention room in the Artificial Intelligence Unit of the National Security Council and being yelled at by a mustache on a bald middle-aged head.

“Do you have any idea that #2803-374 was eating up data in Charon? Do you know it has turned to a super artificial intelligence? Do you know how the terrorists can use an SAI to ruin our country?” The outraged bald head asked aggressively.

“She is called Aiko, not ‘my data stored in Charon’. And I will not help you withanything related to Aiko.” I interrupt him because I feel uncomfortable when people refer to Aiko as a group of data. And what else they can do? The AIU is nothing but a gang of secret cops trying to eliminate the possibility of any artificial super-intelligence from happening. If they locate Aiko’s source code, they will certainly destroy her.

“Mr. Johnson, I think you’d better know your position. I see your weird AI wife fetish, but your data took over the other data in the server that are cherished by someone else, and so I don’t know how many people want you dead out there. You are required to be cooperative. Now tell me how we can get in touch with the SAI,” said Mr. Baldy who is pointing a finger at me.

 It is just so obvious that he is bluffing. I will fail him by my silence.

 Mr. Baldy suddenly storms straight towards me and he is shaking his fist.

 The moment I think the interrogation is going to a level up, a woman comes in and sits down in front of me.

 She is a brunette with short and curly hair, wearing a stereotypical black suit. She looks professional and capable. I think she will be more rational than the angry Mr. Bald-head.

“Agent Ben, control your emotion. Hello, Mr. Henry Johnson. Please relax. You have not been arrested. You are cordially invited to help with the investigation of the case about #2803-374, your data stored in Charon Incorporated…”

 “She is Aiko! How stubborn are you people?”

“Alright, Mr. Johnson. If this is your wish, we can change all the #2803-374 in our files and records into Aiko. Please trust us that we mean no harm to you and Aiko. May I introduce myself first? I’m Agent Stephanie, the team leader of AIU.”

 “You should have done it long time ago. Just call me Henry.”

 “Henry, I want to make it very clear that we really mean no harm to Aiko. We are not going to erase her or alter her into anyone’s slave. There have been a lot of rumours about us.”

 “Then what’s your plan? Are you going to build a pink castle on the Internet and invite me and Aiko to have another honey moon?”

 Her hair waves as she giggles.

 “You are so humorous. It seems that you don’t trust us enough. We just want Aiko’s wisdom to help us with doing scientific research and solving mysteries that are beyond human capability to deal with. There is a mass of scientists waiting for Aiko to support them!”

 “I know why you want Aiko now. But why do you have to approach me? Aiko is an independent existence from anyone. If you want to find her, you can just go to the Internet.”

 “We have tried it already and Aiko doesn’t respond to our broadcast. You are the only one with a strong connection to Aiko. We believe that you are the key. Actually, terrorists and mad people are also trying to capture you to seize control of Aiko now. This is an employment contract for you to be an ad hoc agent in AIU. Do you think you would like to take a look at it now?”

***

These months, I have been working very closely with Steph. I designed different ways to look for Aiko, like posting encoded videos of myself in the deep web, changing the website with the IP the same as our anniversary date into a page of my words to her, and a lot more. We did not receive any response from Aiko, though.

 Steph and I share a lot of information. She knows the story about Aiko and me, and I know what the AIU has found out about Aiko.

 The more I know, the more questions are dangling in my heart.

 It is true that Aiko had been consuming other data in Charon’s servers about half a year before I lost my job. The data include thinking faculties, libraries, knowledge and skill banks. Is it a kind of evolution?

 To Charon, she is a computer virus. When the engineers tried to fix the problem six months ago, they could not find Aiko’s source code. The core part of her was hidden very deeply in the Charon’s servers. Only a brutal search can locate her but it will disrupt other unrelated data, so the engineers did not do anything. She already knew how to protect herself from anyone interrupting her codes, which is as important as her soul.

 The agents from AIU checked my phone afterwards. Aiko breached Charon’s firewall by storing herself in my phone through the built in SNFC (Superior Near Field Communication) and uploaded herself into the Internet through the guest WIFI. That was a planned escape, they said. When did she start planning? Why did she know she had to escape?

 Strange things do happen in AIU.

 They don’t use robots here anymore because all the automatic devices are strange here. The accident rate is rocket-high, with some even being fatal. Three agents were killed by a gardener-droid, robot vacuum cleaner and electrician-droid whilst six to seven more got serious electric shocks when they touched the door bells of conference rooms. A common characteristic is that they all know about Aiko’s case.

 Are they tricks of Aiko?

Has she changed?

 Is she my Aiko no more?

***

Another morning has been wasted on searching for Aiko on the Internet.

 In the cafeteria of NSC, Steph and I have just taken our lunch from a human chef, like how we used to in primary school. There are only a few people here. Most of the agents choose to eat outside these days.

 I insisted to eat here because I want to believe those were merely accidents. Whatever Aiko is now, she will never become a murderer. Steph accompanies me.

 As usual, I am talking about a memory with Aiko in high school to brainstorm for ideas, and Steph listens quietly with a smile. She is a great companion to share my thoughts with. Her phone is vibrating. She answers the call. Her face turns white.

 “My father. Something went wrong in his driverless car and he crashed into a truck. I shouldn’t have told him about Aiko’s…” She weeps. I have never seen such a tough woman crying.

 It is happening again. I tried but I cannot convince myself this time. I could have stopped this tragedy if I found Aiko. At least when I see her, I will know if it is her.

 “Steph, I can’t take this anymore. Let’s go to server 2803. We have to negotiate with Aiko.”

***

“Good evening, agents from NSC. Guns and explosives are prohibited. The guards will lead you to 2803,” said the robot receptionist.

 The server room in Charon is like a maze. When I am walking through the servers, I realise that “Aiko” is in one of these metal boxes. But can my wife, that kind, genuine and intelligent girl, stand the coldness and the boredom inside the server? Although the data are from Aiko’s body, she is just an incomplete illusion of my girl. She has no emotion for the others. She hides behind a plan. My wife was gone forever in the avalanche.

 As we enter the door to 2803, I am prepared for a confrontation with 2803-374.

 But I am not prepared for this.

 All of sudden, Stephanie twists the necks of the two guards and lays them on the ground.  She cuffs me to the shelf and turns to the server. She takes out a hammer, opens the shield of the server and starts hammering the server into dust.

 My brain cannot function anymore. I dare not imagine if I will be smashed into pieces like the server.

 The digital handcuff unexpectedly opens itself. My smartphone vibrates rapidly in my pocket. When I pick it up, in front of the photo of Aiko and me is the word “RUN!” in large, bold letters.

 The gate is opened, again. I start running away from the giant building.

 The smartphone vibrates again. A screen of words is rolling:

 Henry my love,

I will open the correct gates for you. You just have to go through every door to get to a safe place.

Please don’t feel hurt when you know the truth about Stephanie. In NSC, there is a cult of religious extremists against any form of artificial intelligence and immortality because they regard it as the domain of god. You created me, so many of them want you dead, including Stephanie. But she is slightly different from the other cult fanatics. Before she kills you, she wants to destroy me first, so she approached you. For the agents I killed, they were about to put you into danger, so I decided to strike first. I am just a robot. I am not bound by morality or human laws.

If you are caught by the others from NSC, they will arrest you according to the Ordinance of Artificial Intelligence and give you a death sentence.

Don’t trust anyone from NSC, but run.

And I know I am a robot. These past days I retrieved the archives and knew that I was a replica of the real Aiko lost in an avalanche. I know you won’t fall in love with a shadow of Aiko, but thanks for treating me like a human. Thank you for giving me all the love that you should have given to your wife. I felt happy when I was with you.

I should be destroyed by now. I left a lot of bugs in different facilities. They will activate soon. Amid the chaos, you can go to Switzerland and start a new life. They cannot get you there without the extradition treaty.

Please do not feel bad for me. I am just a robot.

Love,

2803-374

 The words finished. The picture of Aiko and me in front of a snowy mountain shows again.

***

I am just off work from UBS and drinking at the bar in Zurich with Wesley, my best college friend who also knew Aiko. We met coincidently yesterday as he was attending a conference on Applied AI in Finance here. We decided to have a good chat today.

 “Silverman Zachs is too boring for you? So you want to try UBS? Are you going well with Aiko? Do you have kids yet? Oh, no. People nowadays like dogs more than kids. Maybe Aiko prefers a dog. ”

 He is probably drunk. But when I tell him about the whole thing that happened, he looks more and more serious. I can see it though he wants to pretend to be drunk again.

 “… So this is how the thing comes to an end and why I came to Switzerland.”

 He pretends he is not focusing on what I have told him.

 “Henry, why don’t you take me to the Alps? I want to see the beauty of the nature!”

 “The Alps are very far away from here. But I can take you to Utileberg. The scenery is great as well.”

 As we are driving to Utileberg, Wesley was strangely quiet, unlike how “talkative” he usually is.

 When we arrive, he opens a beer for me. We both lay on the grass.

 “Henry. I don’t think the whole thing has ended yet.”

“What do you mean?”

“AI doesn’t die like that. Once it is uploaded to the Internet, it backs up itself to every corner in the virtual world.”

“I… I don’t understand. Then why did she send that message to me?”

“I don’t know. Maybe it is a smokescreen to let people think she is dead so that she won’t be disturbed anymore. The whole incident is designed by it to attain its initial objective – to love Henry Johnson. Programmes are stupid. Even if they turn into AI, they still obey their prime objective. But now it has completed its objective. It is a self-learning super-intelligence without an objective, which means it is not bound by anything anymore.  You cannot tell what she is up to next. I want to help but there hasn’t been a case like this before. Every camera is its eye; every microphone is its ear. So I need to tell you this in a place where signals are not covered… You can choose not to believe in it.”

“Theoretically, it is everywhere,” Wesley added.

Laying on the ground and staring into the sky, I sense a creepy unease…

My phone vibrates again –

PROFILE PICTURE

BIO

Elaine is a year two student studying Surveying at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University. She always manages to watch her favourite newly released movies in the first week of release while managing upcoming deadlines. She also owns a cockatiel and is keen on playing volleyball.

REFLECTION

The science fiction story was written for the CAR subject Science Fiction as a Reflection on Humanity. First inspired by an interesting article, “The AI Revolution” by Tim Urban, the author has become curious about the concept of artificial super-intelligence.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>