"In Memoriam"

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  1. #1

    "In Memoriam"

    "In Memoriam" was originally written for a prompt in Klazzform's Short Story Competition on DnDOnlineGames.com. It is just a hair over 3,000 words in length, and has undergone minor revisions since appearing there in May. Let me know what you guys think. Critiques and suggestions are welcome, but this is really here for enjoyment by readers, not for revision. (I still like to see suggestions, but don't feel obligated is my point.)

    In Memoriam
    by "The Jaded"

    Anna was on AA Flight 1187. I was at the terminal waiting to pick her up when we learned that the plane had gone down only fifty miles from the airport. I remember seeing the reports on the television screens in the terminal. The news footage showed flaming pieces of fuselage scattered across several square miles of suburbia, and everyone knew immediately that the flight had been bombed.

    I knew when I heard that it was her plane that Anna was dead, but I went through the motions, driving out to the crash site and pretending to hope for a miracle. There wasn’t one, as we all know now - everyone on the plane died, and five people were killed when the pieces of the Boeing jet hit the ground. All the alphabet-soup insurgencies took responsibility, as usual - MS13, AQNA, LRI, and others - and we never learned who was really to blame. Not that it mattered - Anna would still be dead if they had a culprit to put through a drawn-out show-trial.

    Three days later, drained, and still processing her death, I staggered back into my apartment. Though Anna had never fully moved in with me, now that she was gone the space seemed hollow, cavernously large. Not wanting to dwell on it, I went straight to the room where my computer equipment waited, and plugged in, trying not to think about the second set of I/O devices, resting on the room’s second chair, or Anna’s old cracked but repaired teacup on the end table next to that chair.

    The buzz on the web about Flight 1187 had more or less subsided by that point, though I had a few messages of condolence waiting. I read them uninterestedly, and tossed them toward the virtual trash bin that was always in the periphery of my vision. With pixellated puffs of dust, they vanished. For several minutes, I took no action, watching the network status indicator’s bars inch up and down, and trying very hard not to think about anything.

    I went to the project directories and swiped through them aimlessly. I felt that working might put my mind on something else for a while, but nothing seemed to interest me. As I was doing it, though, a message floated into my field of view, indicating that it had just been sent. Before I even read the sender, I snagged it and started reading.

    Mark, if you’re reading this, it means something has happened to me. This script will trigger when my death certificate hits the nets, so it might not find you until some time after you know I’m dead.

    I won’t waste time with clever, piquant words to try in vain to comfort you, because I know that if I ever lost you there would be no turn of phrase that would bring me comfort.

    There are things I never told you, and I’m sure there are things you never told me. Everyone has their secrets, and I understand that more than anyone. Still, you deserve to know my biggest secret. Rather than try to explain with words, I’ll show you.

    There’s a hidden directory on my home terminal called “PAIC6”, which does not show up on any listing. Direct-access it, then give the password “phoenix” - the rest should be explained by what you find there.

    I can’t imagine your pain, Mark. I can’t write anything that could possibly begin to help you with this tragedy, but maybe what you find in “PAIC6’” will.

    I stared at the message for a long time, reading it at least twice through. Anna had never considered herself good with words, but still, the message seemed rather brief for a last message to her fiancee. I wondered what she meant by her biggest secret, and briefly considered not following her instructions, afraid of the kinds of secrets she might have been hiding from me. I realized early on how selfish that was, though - Anna had wanted me to look at “PAIC6”, so I should, even if it might be painful.

    I made the gesture to open a new tunnel connection, and filled in the address of Anna’s home terminal, which was in her apartment across town. It was still up, of course - her family had yet to come to move her belongings out, and the bills were probably paid until the end of the month. Without waiting for that computer to send me a list of available resources, I requested “PAIC6.” As promised, rather than telling me that it didn’t know anything like that, Anna’s machine asked for a password, which I provided, reading from the message still hovering nearby.

    After a moment, Anna’s computer displayed a grid of contents through the network tunnel and I immediately out of habit set my own machine to make a copy for later. A cylindrical progress bar grew near my feet, starting gray but filling slowly with green, and I realized that “PAIC6” was fairly large - almost a terabyte of data. As copying would take some time, I started flipping through the contents aimlessly. It did not at first look like the “big secret” that was indicated in the message: a large portion of the hidden files were computer code, judging by their listings. Rather than try to read the code, I hunted down the most recently generated build, hoping whatever it was would explain itself if I ran it. To my surprise, the program was tagged as already running - and as using a large portion of the resources of Anna’s machine.

    “Anna, what do you want me to see?” I asked verbally, out of frustration. The system could hear that, of course, and had anyone else been plugged in at my terminal or Anna’s they would have heard it, but I was just speaking to myself, or so I thought.

    A chat slate poofed into view after a few seconds, accompanied by the customary friendly chime. “It’s not what, but who, Mark.” I jumped a little at the direct response, but nevertheless dragged the chat slate closer and scrutinised it. The sender was identified only as “AICA_5-4”.

    “Who’s there?” I asked aloud. For the sender to have heard me speak, that meant that he or she was plugged in at either my terminal or Anna’s, which I had tunnelled to. Immediately, I prompted Anna’s computer for a list of active users. It denied me access to that information, though, shooting me an angry red square of warning information and buzzing annoyedly.

    The chat slate jumped a little and the chime repeated, heralding a new message. "I’m the secret Anna was keeping - well, at the very least its representative.”

    The response puzzled me. Anna and I had been working on tech support chatbots for some time - that she would hide a new version of bot made no sense, even one that was advanced enough to deliver reasonably human responses. “You’re a chatbot.” I spoke, trying to elicit more information from what I assumed was a program with coded responses.

    ”Think bigger, Mark.” There was a brief pause before the next message. “PAIC6 is more than programmed responses, and so am I.”

    I didn’t at first understand what this phantom was talking about. “What is that supposed to mean?” More than programmed responses? By definition, programmed responses defined computer behavior. How could any software move beyond that?

    “PAIC is more than you think. It stands for ‘Personal Artificial Intelligence Copying’, and Anna has been working on it for years. Since before she met you.”

    I paused, trying to figure out what the entity behind the chat slate was saying. AI copying? Anna had always mentioned that as a goal, but it was sort of a distant future sort of thing. Even modern sensor technology simply isn’t sensitive enough to map every pathway of the human brain. “There’s no way that works. Sensors can’t - ” Before I finished, the chat slate alerted me to more incoming text.

    “We were thinking about it all wrong, Mark.” I didn’t have time to process the fact that the bot had used the word “we”, before another message appeared. “Mapping every pathway wasn’t the answer. A real AI doesn’t need to simulate a human brain - it needs to simulate the system formed by the brain and computer input devices.”

    There was more, technical stuff, but I stopped reading the message there, a feeling in the pit of my stomach accompanying a realization. Anna departed for DC on the fourth of May - 5-4, so this “AICA_5-4” was created on that day. What’s more, the “AIC” could only stand for the same “Artificial Intelligence Copy” that it did in the project name, and as for that last “A”...

    “You’re Anna, aren’t you?” I asked verbally. “Copied the day before she left.”

    “That’s my Mark.” I imagined the three words that appeared in the chat slate being spoken in Anna’s warm voice.

    “Anna, I - ” My throat tightened. She wasn’t dead, not quite, not if her AI copying worked as well as this version of her claimed.

    The chat slate responded with an invitation to a private VR interaction. I winced, realizing how painful it would be to accept that invite, but my longing to see Anna overcame my better sense and I touched “accept”. The entirety of my field of view wooshed away off into the corner, and I was standing in the nondescript gray box of a VR chat room. It was cavernously empty, to the point that I would expect an echo if it were a real room.

    After a few seconds, Anna blinked into the VR room, on her clothes a nametag displaying “AICA_5-4”. I stepped forward into her arms, and for a long moment we said nothing. It took a long time for me to remember that the feeling of holding my late fiancee was generated by electrodes stimulating my nervous system rather than anything real.

    Eventually, we stood apart, at arm’s length, and I got a good look at her, though I was remembering now that this was only an avatar. Anna had always maintained an avatar that looked exactly like her, regularly updating it by having herself scanned in directly. Most people tended to touch up their avatars, or keep one they liked and rarely update it. This avatar was clearly edited - tattoos in what was supposed to look like circuit board patterns covered the backs of her hands and crept down from her hairline, and her eyes were almost metallically silver, subtly different from Anna’s soft gray irises. I guessed this was to allow AICA to be distinct from the person she was copied from.

    “What does it feel like?” I asked after a few more moments, referring to her being a computer simulation.

    “Like being plugged in, only that I never get hungry or tired.” Anna rolled her eyes. “I thought it would feel different too, but like I said, the PAIC driver is simulating I/O gear too.”

    I nodded, and thought back to when I had thought AICA to be a chatbot. That she - it - this program was more than that didn’t mean it was necessarily a true AI - it could just be giving me answers based on an algorithm.

    “I know what you’re thinking, Mark.” Anna sighed, and opened her arms. “It’s me. I know I can’t prove it to you, but it is.”

    It was enough of her to predict my train of thought (she’d been able to read me like that for some time when she died), so I decided not to press the issue. “So what now?” I asked instead. “Supposing you’re Anna, which as far as I know is true. What about us?”

    Anna - AICA, rather - shook her head. “I don’t know, Mark. I still love you, and I’m sure you still love me, but I’m not human anymore. I’m a computer program. Besides, it’s not like I have much of a future anyway.”

    “Why’s that?” I was taken aback at the resigned tone she’d taken on.

    “Think about it - why would I - er, why would Anna, keep making copies if it worked the first time without a hitch?” Anna tapped her virtual head. “The copying works fine by now, but the simulator program is, well, glitchy.” I could tell she was uncertain as to how to refer to Anna’s “real” life, as if she shared those memories - if she was telling the truth, she probably did. She pulled a slate of tabulated information out of the air and handed it to me. “Take a look.”

    I scanned the data briefly. It was a list of simulation start and end dates. Though the numbers near the end were better, they told a grim truth - no copy of Anna had existed more than two weeks before breaking down in simulation.

    “It’s a number of things. Rounding error, mostly. The simulator makes so many calculations per second that it only takes a week or so to begin to be noticeable. Every microsecond, the simulator is re-saving a copy of me, and each time it does the copy degrades a little. Even optimistically speaking, It’ll only be a few days still before I start to notice, but you’ll notice sooner.”

    I let go of the slate and looked Anna in the eyes. “What can I do?” I wanted so very hard to be able to save her, and to spend the rest of my life with the woman I was supposed to marry, before fate intervened. I was even willing to accept a strictly virtual relationship.

    “Nothing, not for me.” Anna shrugged as if it did not matter, though I could tell from her expression that it did very much matter to her. “I will degrade to nothing in another ten days or so. Even if you were to miraculously fix the simulator, you’d have to end the process simulating me to restart it. The program doesn’t replace the original copy, though - Anna as she was on May the fourth, four hours before she got on her plane to DC. I can show you where the copy is kept.”

    I nodded, still processing that the Anna I was looking at (albeit virtually) right now was dying. “You want me to fix the simulator, then create a new copy of you on it.”

    Anna nodded. “I’m sorry, Mark. I’ve given you back Anna only to die all over again.”

    I folded her in my arms again. “A few more days with you is worth a little extra grief.” I wondered internally, though, if that was true.

    “Promise me you’ll shut me down before the decay is really bad, Mark.” Anna begged. “Please. I’ve seen what it looks like, and I don’t want you to.”

    I had to promise, even though I knew it would be very difficult to go through with it.

    When Anna and I finally parted, it was late into the night, and my terminal had already copied the “PAIC6” project to local storage. I knew that as things stood, even if I fixed the simulator, Anna and I could never be together again - but I had a plan that would at least give us both peace. The first thing I did was run the copier on myself, and save that copy right next to the May 4 copy Anna made before she died.

    Something was different. I was still plugged in, still at my machine, but something had changed. I couldn’t place it.

    “Right. You should be online now.” A voice - mine - was piped into my ears by the computer.

    “Online?” I asked. “What’s going on?”

    My voice paused a moment before replying. “The last thing you remember is being copied on May 11, right?”

    “Yeah.” I said. “...Oh.” I knew exactly what that meant. “How long has it been?”

    “Almost a year. And don’t worry, you won the lottery. I got it fixed.” Implied in the real me’s voice was that many other copies of me had degraded and been destroyed in fixing the simulator. I didn’t mind much - better versions of me than of Anna. “Reasonably enough, anyway. My math gives you about a century before you start to degrade. Almost two lifetimes to live, but you have to live it plugged in.”

    “Does that mean we’re operating as planned?” I asked, referring to the plan that was still fresh in my memory. There was another pause.

    “Uh, Yeah.” My voice sounded sounded resigned. “I’ve got you simulated on this machine, and I’m about to start the May 4 simulation of Anna on the one next to it. Then I’ll leave you two alone.”

    I realized that of the two of us, I was the lucky one - he had done all the work, and I was getting the girl. “Mark... I would hate to be the one on your end. I’m sorry.” My name sounded strange coming from my (simulated) mouth.

    “I’m not. I’ll go to my grave with a clear conscience. Anna deserved no less. This was her life’s work, I just debugged it.” The real Mark sounded like he’d made his mind up a long time ago. “I know you’ll treat her well.”

    “What will you do?” I asked.

    “Look me up in another year and see for yourself. Right now, I don’t know.” The response hinted that Mark was certain he would find something. “All right, starting Anna. It’ll take a few minutes. Go create a chatroom, and wait for her to come online. If you need me, drop me a message, otherwise I won’t interfere. This Anna is all yours.”

    If I had had hands left, I would have wanted to shake his - well, mine, I guess. “Thanks, Mark.” He disconnected seconds later.

    When I stepped into the chatroom I altered my appearance, adding circuit-board patterns on my upper arms and temples. As an afterthought, I dragged up my avatar’s transparency to about ten percent, so that I was slightly translucent. After all, if real Mark and I ever crossed paths on the nets, I wanted no-one to mistake who was the real one.
    Hidden Content - My works of fiction, in handy blog format.

  2. #2
    Heh. That was a neat story. I liked it quite a bit. I don't think it's necessarily award winning, no offense, but it was definitively a good read. I found no problems with your grammar, which there shouldn't have been if you submitted it to a contest, but there was one thing that struck a chord with me as being wrong. Not a for SURE wrong, but a most probably wrong.

    I've seen estimats for the human brain ranging from 5-6 terabytes(saying we have a freaking awesome bilogical compression algorithm[considering a hour long 1080p HD tv episode is 1GB alone, to store a waking day worth of memories is ~18GB, ~126GB by the end of a week, By the end of a year you'd be more than that 6TB if you were filming it using today's resources]) to 2.5 petabytes. -> What Is the Memory Capacity of the Human Brain?: Scientific AmericanPoint is, to say "“PAIC6” was fairly large - almost a terabyte of data," is a vast understatement. For a single terabyte is FAR too small to hold a human mind, even if it is zipped and rared and aced to high hell.
    Last edited by Razzazzika; June 29th, 2011 at 07:24 PM.

  3. #3
    Quote Originally Posted by Razzazzika View Post
    I've seen estimats for the human brain ranging from 5-6 terabytes(saying we have a freaking awesome bilogical compression algorithm[considering a hour long 1080p HD tv episode is 1GB alone, to store a waking day worth of memories is ~18GB, ~126GB by the end of a week, By the end of a year you'd be more than that 6TB if you were filming it using today's resources]) to 2.5 petabytes. -> What Is the Memory Capacity of the Human Brain?: Scientific AmericanPoint is, to say "“PAIC6” was fairly large - almost a terabyte of data," is a vast understatement. For a single terabyte is FAR too small to hold a human mind, even if it is zipped and rared and aced to high hell.
    The size of the data isn't a significant factor, it is mentioned in passing. Even so, I strive to keep from putting things in that break suspension of disbelief. I can tweak file sizes - when it comes to size you're probably right - I won't ever go around calling myself an AI expert or anything like that. A terabyte was my own poorly-conceived estimation.
    Hidden Content - My works of fiction, in handy blog format.

  4. #4
    Not a science fiction or fantasy fan, but this one I very much enjoyed. There are two reasons. First, I see the feasibility of such a project in the not too distant future. (Gales of laughter from MIT. 'We did that last week.') But far more important, the human side is the real story. Good job.
    El día ha sido bueno. La noche será larga.


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