Boston, June 9, 2034: Ping moved with the crowd up the stairs out of Park Street Station and into a sea of shouting protesters. Police in full riot gear were amassing along Tremont and Park. Someone on a bullhorn ordered the crowd to disperse. It was an illegal demonstration. They all were now, and yet the protests continued.
Ping was thin and nimble. In his jeans, Converse sneakers, and with the tails of his white plaid shirt out, he fit right in with the throngs of students, though it wasnít just students anymore. Many marchers wore proud-to-be-an-American-proud-to-be-union shirts of all stripes. The Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, United Healthcare Workers, Teamsters, Ironworkers, Teachers, Transit Workers along with thousands of non-union members of the displaced also chanted and shouted. Many banged metal bowls with spoons and ladles in the tradition of the South American famine riots of bygone years.
Ping pulled a bandana up over his face when he heard the engines of armored riot-control vehicles rolling in. He moved westward, away from the protest focal point. When he got to the cross paths at the Southwest end of Frog Pond, someone called to him.
"Doctor Chao! Doctor Chao! Over here!"
Ping turned and saw a tall, thin, athletic-looking young woman moving toward him. She extended her hand.
"Doctor Chao, Iím Mary Byrne."
"Yes, of course. Hello Mary."
"We need to get out of here. Follow me."
She walked briskly off to the North. Police drones buzzed overhead nearly everywhere now. Back on the Eastern end of the park, the police fired water cannon, and the din of countless voices grew louder and angrier.
Ping caught up with Mary at Beacon Street. There they stopped and looked to the left where the sound from the crowd to the West had suddenly changed. Ping felt the hair stand up on his neck when he saw a strange-looking fog rolling down Beacon street and across the people in the park. What was at first indistinct, became clearer. Countless high-pitched shrieks and squeals of pain filled the air as the fog moved forward.
"Letís go!" yelled Mary, pulling Ping across Beacon and up Spruce Street, "Come on!"
Mary sprinted up the street with Ping right behind. She took the first left, the next right and then stopped about halfway up the block. She turned and looked back.
"Do you have it?"
"Yes, I have it. Take it now."
Ping handed her a metal flash drive, which she stuffed into her pocket.
"How did you get it out?"
"It was easy. Theyíre a bit lax at our lab. I . . ."
He stopped short as both saw the weird fog reach the intersection behind them, pause and then turn up their street.
"What the hell?" said Mary, as she began to run.
"This is not good."
"It turned! Is it gas?"
"Itís not gas, Mary."
Mary crossed Mt. Vernon and turned right, ran a bit, then ducked into a brick building.
"We have a studio here Ė a safe house," she said locking a heavy door behind them and then running up the stairs. The two entered the apartment, and Mary locked that door too.
"I donít have any defense against a gas attack," she said.
"Itís not gas. Do you have towels and duct tape?"
"Yes," and she fetched them from the linen closet and a junk drawer.
Ping stuffed towels under the door, then taped all around the doorís edges, and over the antique keyhole.
"Whatever happens, you must get that drive to your colleagues."
"Can I copy it?"
"No! You have to open that on a computer that the CIAís GN7 system canít detect. Your contact Harold Ehrlich is the right person. Please hand deliver it to him. In the meantime, I need to get home."
"Letís just catch our breath first, relax a bit and wait until itís safe for you to leave," she said, plugging her phone into the kitchen wall charger. She took a bottle of water from the fridge and tossed it to Ping then opened one for herself. She took a gulp but suddenly stopped short, eyes widened. There were insects on her windowsólots of them.
"Lock the windows," said Ping and both moved to the windows quickly, locking three in the front and a smaller one in the kitchen.
"Theyíre just mosquitoes," Mary said, "I donít think the big ones bite."
"Theyíre not just mosquitoes. Theyíve been weaponized."
More and more arrived until they nearly blocked all the light from outside. The windows were tight, but Ping covered all the edges with tape anyway.
"That should do it," said Mary.
"But wha . . ."
There was a sound -- faint at first, but getting louder: "Bzzzzzzzzzzz."
"Shit!" said Mary.
In they streamed through a gap at the steam pipe in the floor. Within seconds, dozens had landed on Ping, and he screamed in pain, as they bit him.
Mary retreated quickly into the bathroom and stuffed a towel under the door.
"Shit, shit, shit!"
After a few minutes, Pingís screams stopped. Mary sat on the toilet watching the bottom of the door with a rolled-up magazine in her hand, breathing heavily. She tightened her fist around the flash drive through her pant pocket.
Mary gripped her fists tightly, leaned forward and shrieked loudly in anger and frustration at her helplessness.
"Theyíre fucking mosquitoes! Fuck, fuck, FUCK!"
Mary opened the medicine chest and the cabinet under the sink, pulling everything out onto the floor. Then she found it: Repel 100. She pulled off the top and slathered herself with the whole bottle from head to toe then stood quietly with her ear up to the door.
After a few minutes, her heart pounding and a tightly rolled magazine at the ready, she pushed open the door a crack and waited.
A little bit more.
Slowly, slowly she inched open the door, peeking out into the apartment. Ping was now lying on the couch, but he was not alone. Thousands upon thousands of mosquitoes were on every wall, window, and surface, very nearly covering the entire interior of the room. Most were still. A few stretched their wings lazily.
"Shit," she whispered, stepping slowly into the room.
A few mosquitoes flew about, but none landed on her. Maryís white knuckles gripped the magazine as she looked around defensively, inching her way toward Ping.
"Dr. Chao? Can you hear, me?" she whispered.
"Yes, Mary," he said, without opening his eyes.
Mary lifted his shirt and looked him over. He had a couple dozen bite welts. They looked slightly redder and more swollen than a typical bug bite, but nothing horrific.
"Theyíre still here, but I have on insect repellent," she whispered, "so theyíre staying away."
"Thatís not why. Theyíre not biting me anymore either, Mary."
"I should get you to the E.R."
"No, I need to go home."
"But you said . . ."
"Theyíre just mosquitoes, right?" He opened his eyes and sat up. He appeared flushed. Mary put her hand on his forehead.
"You feel warm. Are you sure youíre okay?"
"Donít worry about me. Get that flash drive to Ehrlich as soon as possible. Itís important, Mary."
With that, Ping got up with a grimace and left. He took an Autocab back to Cambridge. By the time he got to his apartment, he was damp with sweat and feeling exhausted. He drank a tall glass of water and went to bed.
It was a fitful evening and then night. The illness wasnít particularly painful, but he alternated between extremes of hot and cold. He had vivid, frightful dreams. He woke the next morning coughing, with a headache and muscle aches. He took four Ibuprofen and went right back to bed. It was a blessing to slip away into sleep. He slept all day. Sleep, dear sleep. Sleep forever.
Doctor Ping Jiang Chao, Senior GM-Series Research Scientist for the CIA, was dead.
Nantucket, June 14: Director Hildner was the last to arrive at the meeting. A waiter in white offered him wine, which he turned away. Moving into the room, he greeted Elizabeth Leonard.
"Doctor Leonard," he said, "Iím so happy you could be here."
"Thank you, Director," she said, "I must say, I am concerned that this meeting . . ."
"In a moment, Doctor," he said, brushing past her, "youíll have your chance."
Addressing the room: "Thank you all for coming and please do forgive my tardiness. I trust youíve all had a taste of wine and some hors-d'oeuvres, so letís get started. We will drink and dine afterward. Please each introduce yourself for those who do not know everyone, starting with you, Colonel McHugh and then around the table."
In attendance were:
∑ Lieutenant Colonel Michael McHugh, CIA Special Activities Division
∑ James Fenty, CIA Special Activities Division Chief
∑ Paul Bartz, Esquire, Justice Department
∑ Elizabeth Leonard, Ph.D., Deputy Secretary of State
∑ Jerome McMahon, Esquire, State Department
∑ Benjamin Palmer, State Department Liaison to the CIA
∑ John Hildner, CIA Director
"As you all know," said Hildner, "last Friday morning President Moore declared Martial Law. Ben, please bring us all up to speed."
"Yes, well, circumstances are fluid. Congress will back the President and pass her emergency bills into law on a fast-track basis. The GN7 authored these bills, and the President intends to follow its recommendations to address the crisis."
"So, a machine now effectively runs our country?" asked Leonard.
"If thatís true, it will be the first time this century itís been run intelligently," quipped McMahon.
"Superhuman intelligence means we canít know how it reached its conclusions. We donít understand its motives in any real sense."
"Itís not conscious, doctor," said McHugh, "and its analyses have been thoroughly vetted using the Aladdin Analytical Protocols. Theoretically, that protects us from Ďcareful what you wish for.í"
"Theoretically," muttered Leonard.
"The fact is," added Hildner, "the GN7 has been uncannily accurate in its predictions. The President has full confidence in it. Continue please Ben."
"The first phase of the Presidentís plan will bring quick economic relief to the citizenry and restore social order. The Social Security and Medicare Empowerment Act will immediately expand both programs. Medicare will cover all citizens fully. Social Security will send out unconditional monthly checks of $3,440 to all citizens over the age of eighteen, irrespective of income. This law will replace all current social welfare and health programs at both federal and state levels. An increase in income tax on top earners and a major new tax on Capital Ė essentially a wealth tax Ė will fund these programs."
"Good God, this will bankrupt the country," replied Fenty, "weíre nearly bankrupt already."
"GN7 says it will work. The monthly checks will increase the income velocity of money, bring much-needed relief to the retail sector and stimulate the entire economy," replied Palmer, "The Presidentís economic advisors agree with GN7ís analysis."
"If we had done this two years ago when the U6 unemployment rate hit 20% rather than now when itís nearly 50, we might not be on the brink of social collapse," commented Leonard, "Will the rest of the world follow our lead on this?"
"Thereís no question the situation is dire," said Hildner, "both domestically and internationally. GN7 has made it clear that we face an existential crisis, and it has mapped out a survival path for us as a nation and as a species. The U.S. is taking the lead. GN7 gives us the advantage."
"How ironic that we turn to AI to get us out of the economic mess that AI and automation have put us into," said Leonard, "We knew technological unemployment was inevitable, yet we waited until it became a crisis before doing anything. Perhaps these drastic measures will finally turn it around."
"Itís not only an economic issue, doctor," said Hildner, "we certainly do need to calm the public though, and we are confident these measures will accomplish that in relatively short order. Political protests will be Ďdiscouragedí for the time being, and we will move forward with what needs to be done to survive."
"Let's be clear. The hope is that some of us will survive," commented Bartz, "That is the reality, isnít it? Thereís no scenario where we all go forward or even most of us. So, letís not mince words. I suggest we speak plainly. Martial law suspends habeas corpus, but it does not give the President unlimited power to do whatever she likes. I, for one, would like to know what led to the mysterious deaths of hundreds of protesters in Boston last Friday and whether GN7ís recommendations played any role in the Ďswamp gasí that supposedly caused the unidentified illness. Perhaps we can start there with our frank discussion on how we are going to save the country."
"Yes, but you and your family can be among the survivors, Paul. That is something we control," said McMahon, superciliously.
"What exactly are you saying?" asked Leonard, "If people have the money they need, how does this not fix the problem?"
"It does, doctor," answered McHugh, "the economy will work and continue to work even when the very last job is taken over by some genius robot. Humans will be able to work on things they want to do.
"The drudgery of working just to live will at long last be over."
"So, whereís the problem Colonel?"
"The problem," interjected Fenty, "is that we are facing an environmental disaster worse than the climate models from two decades ago predicted. Global temperatures are higher than the modelsí worst-case scenarios. The water cycle of the planet is changing catastrophically. The Holocene extinction is proceeding so fast that our food supply is now threatened. We are, in fact, facing our own extinction. The planet cannot sustain a population that will soon exceed nine billion no matter what we do, given the damage we've already done to the ecosystem. Dreams of saving ourselves by colonizing Mars, the moon and other places are unrealistic. We need to keep this planet habitable, and that is what we are going to do. A significant reduction in world population over the next several decades will give us a fighting chance."
"And what legal theory do we have to support reducing the worldís population? How can this be seen as anything other than a crime against humanity?"
"Yes, well, Mr. Bartz, we make the laws now," replied McMahon.
North Reading, July 16: Mary Byrne stepped up to a massive door in the basement of an office building just off the townís Main Street. The office had no windows, and its sign read "Digital Strategy Group." She looked into the security camera, rang the bell and was buzzed in.
"Hello Mary Byrne, welcome."
"Hello again, Doctor Ehrlich. Itís good to see you."
"Yes, and you. Please call me Harold. Weíre pretty casual around here. Let me introduce you to the others. This way."
"This is your secure lab?"
"Oh yes. Very secure Ė similar to the NSAís Crypto City at Fort Meade on a micro scale. Electrical signals can neither escape nor penetrate these walls, I assure you."
Ehrlich opened the door of a small conference room, where three people were sitting and chatting.
"Everyone, this is Mary Byrne. Mary is our musician friend from Boston ó a rather good jazz pianist, or so I've heard. She has worked for the cause for a few years now. Mary, this is Carol Danilenko. Carol is a nutritionist and weight-loss coach from New Jersey. Over there is Jim Kelly. Jim is a crisis counselor from San Francisco. And that's Ed Davies. Ed is a professor of philosophy at New York University. Please help yourself to some coffee, and there are bagels. Perhaps later I'll run out to get some carrots and celery for our friend Carol."
"Thanks, but I think Iíll be the one picking up the food next round, Harold."
"I know you probably all have lots of questions. The flash drive that Ping smuggled out has confirmed our worst fears. I did not know Dr. Chao, but I knew of him, and from everything I've read, he was a sincere and ethical man on top of being one of the most brilliant AI researchers in the world. Being sincere and ethical isnít an easy thing at the CIA, Iím sure. His murder Ė and it was murder Ė is a great tragedy. We are gathered here today to make sure his death was not in vain."
"Aside from being relatively young Ė I believe Iím the oldest at 29 ó Iím not at all sure what connects the four of us," said Davies, "our backgrounds are diverse."
"Iím not sure of all the reasons either, but I believe I know a couple of them. Youíre all in excellent health ó both physically and psychologically. Youíve heard of the Psychopathy Checklist? Well unlike some of our hacktivist associates, you all score a big fat zero. So, youíre each the polar opposite of a psychopath. That, I believe, suits you ideally for this endeavor. Thatís not to demean anyone else. All our people, including the hackers, are doing good work Ė important work. However, it seems that you are each unusually good and decent people, much like Dr. Chao apparently was."
"Iíd like to help in any way I can," said Carol, "but Iím unclear on what you need from me. My work in the past has been proofreading."
"Yes, aside from Mary, you've all volunteered for work on the softer side of things, like proofreading and fact checking on behalf of Wikileaks and other organizations. Mary is the only one who does field work, generally helping whistleblowers move from one place to another or with other tactical issues. I believe Edward does a bit of writing under various pseudonyms."
"Yes, I've done some writing Ė but mostly a hell of a lot of proofreading."
"So, the flash drive? Did it confirm the existence of GN7? Dr. Chao mentioned it."
"Oh yes, Mary. The GN7 exists alright, and itís worse than we imagined."
"Do we have proof? Can we publish proof of what theyíre doing?"
"What are they doing?" asked Jim, "What does GN7 even stand for?"
"I donít know what the ĎGNí signifies," said Ehrlich, "but the GN7 is an artificial superintelligence working primarily for the CIA, but also for the NSA, DIA, DARPA, the FBI and the military. It is well beyond human understanding in a wide number of areas, including genetic engineering, psychology, medicine, mathematics, physics, computer science, and so on. It is self-evolving. We are lucky Dr. Chao was among those who created it because he added some safeguards. It has some hard-coded ethics, as it were, but Ping is gone now, and few are as conscientious as he was. Heís probably dead because GN7 identified him as a threat to its governing program. So what safeguards there are, are obviously insufficient."
"The killer mosquitoes."
"Yes, Mary, a lovely GN7 creation and it gets worse than that. GN7 has designed a variety of bioweapons, including the one that killed Ping. We donít have all the details yet, but we will get them."
"How?" asked Carol.
"Because we now have our own GN7 Ė well technically, itís a GN8. Ping provided us with a critical kernel of code that was sufficient to create a GN8 on our computers. It made use of readily available tools, including Microsoftís Computational Network Toolkit and the Library of Congressí Deep-Ocean Knowledgebase. It even somehow taps the combined big-data stores of the CIA, NSA, Google, Microsoft, and others. Presumably, the GN7 now knows we have the GN8, but there's not much we can do about that, and I assume the GN8 will warn us if weíre in danger. So, we are moving forward. The GN8 is going to create a GN9 for us. Thatís its mission, and thatís why youíre all here today. The GN8 selected you four specifically. Thatís why weíve asked you to volunteer."
"To do what exactly?" asked Mary.
"Itís hard for me to imagine, but, as I understand it, youíre volunteering to become gods."
Washington D.C., July 27: Elizabeth Leonard stepped into Old Ebbitt Grill and joined Paul Bartz, sitting in an isolated booth. She ordered coffee and leaned forward.
"The Boston Globe is reporting that the protesters died from a particularly deadly form of bird flu and that the fog was coincidental. There have been numerous reports on social media that the fog seemed to cause people pain. Others insist that there was a plague-like cloud of mosquitoes that were biting people and causing pain. None of the mainstream press has picked up on these rumors."
"There were mosquitoes, doctor. The GN7 engineered mosquitoes as a biological-weapon-delivery mechanism on behalf of the CIA and the military."
"Dear God. Did GN7 launch this attack?"
"No. We can thank the psychos at the CIA for that. They decided to test their new weapon on known agitators and one suspected whistleblower ó apparently one of their own. The insects were carrying two engineered pathogens in their saliva ó P9 and K1. P9 is not harmful but temporarily induces severe pain at the bite site. They intend to use it for crowd control, presumably on crowds they donít intend to kill. K1 is an engineered virus based on the bird flu, but deadlier. It is not particularly contagious and must enter the bloodstream directly to infect a person. There are now several GN7-engineered bioweapons, including some that are highly virulent. Those are designed to infect everyone on the planet as quickly as possible."
"That sounds like a doomís day weapon. Of what possible use is it?"
"They've already released one of these, doctor, and I dare say that no one is unaffected. My understanding is that GN7 engineered a bacterium that is somehow able to add genetic markers to the people it infects. It may have been water-borne, possibly intestinal. Iím not sure, but, in any case, it is extremely contagious. The pathogen looks for a large number of natural genetic markers that are indicative of a variety of desirable qualities such as robustness, good mental health, intelligence, cooperativeness, empathy and so on. Based on what it finds, it creates a new marker that determines whether the next bioweapon released will affect the person or not."
"So GN7 has decided to immunize what it considers the best among us."
"Yes, and the immunity can and is being applied manually to the so-called favored list. This list will include emergency workers who will need to deal with a rapidly growing death rate from a pandemic we are going to release. The government will inoculate and assure these workers they are immune, so they will continue to work. And there will be plenty of robots to help them. They are being manufactured as we speak. The favored list, of course, also includes many friends and allies of the administration both here and abroad."
"Apparently, the initial plan was simply one of mass sterilization. The sterilization pathogen causes irreversible damage to the reproductive system from what I understand, but will otherwise be harmless. The goal is to sterilize eighty-eight percent of the worldís population."
"Yeah, and even that wonít ensure survival according to GN7 or, at least, itís not fast enough. The CIA intends to cull nearly four and a half percent of the world's population annually for a full decade. They will do all this in a way that will avoid nuclear war, and that will maintain perfect deniability. The GN7 will unleash a propaganda campaign like the world has never seen, and it will likely be effective in its psychological warfare. Most people will believe the increased death rate is due entirely to natural and environmental causes. Those who donít will be dismissed as fringe conspiracy theorists by the mainstream. In the aftermath, the U.S. will literally rule the world.
"The scale of it all is mind-boggling."
"I canít believe what Iím hearing," said Leonard, "I need to speak with the Secretary of State about this and set up a meeting with the President. Ah, but right now I need to get to a meeting with Senator Williams. I donít want to be late."
"Iím heading over to the Hart building myself. Let me order an Autocab."
The two stepped into an Autocab outside the restaurant and looked down at their phones as the car drove off. After a few minutes, Leonard looked up and said, "where the hell is it taking us?"
Bartz raised his head and then checked his phone app.
"I put in the right address."
"Routing around traffic?"
"Maybe, but we seem to be going in the wrong direction."
They then looked at each other, just as the Autocab veered off Maine Avenue and crashed through the black chain links into the Tidal Basin. It was the first ever fatal crash of an Autocab, which until then had a perfect safety record.
Boston, December 31: Mary Byrne sat at her piano, staring at the keys. The changes that began back in July were now accelerating exponentially. Her neocortex was finally becoming fully integrated with the GN8 thanks to the nanobots that Dr. Ehrlich injected into her and her fellow GN9ers. The GN8 designed the nanobots specifically for each individual. They wouldnít have worked on anyone else.
Ehrlich manufactured the bots at Amazon Robotics where he worked and injected each of the four volunteers twice. The first set of bots continually repairs any and all kinds of tissue damage at a cellular level. The second works on the brain to connect the person's neocortex wirelessly with the GN8, thus creating the GN9. The super intelligence thus became a living consciousness by way of the four volunteers.
Mary didnít notice much change at first. The process was organic and took time. The nanobots stimulated neural growth and new synaptic connections as the brains of the four slowly integrated with the GN8 and with each other.
In the early weeks, Mary did notice her memory improved, and she could picture websites clearly in her mind. It was like using her cell phone, but now she could visualize the results directly and soon learned to navigate where she wanted without having to click anything.
Around week six, Mary realized she could know what Edward, Jim, and Carol were thinking. Soon after, she could remember their lives as if they were her own. This was a depth of intimacy and connectedness far beyond anything any of them had experienced, and they all developed a love for one another. Since then it has become something else Ė something beyond love. All also have experienced an ever-deepening sense of peace and contentment.
Most recently, Mary noticed that if she wanted to know something, she simply knew it Ė if she wanted to understand something, she simply understood it. The GN8 was part of her subconscious now and could be in her consciousness whenever she wanted or whenever it wanted. There was no distinction between it and her anymore. They were integrated.
She recalled that before they had all gone back to their regular lives, Dr. Ehrlich asked her, "is it good?"
"Yes doctor," she said to herself, "it is good. And I do now know."
She knew that the CIA had launched two pathogens. She knew that billions of people were now irreversibly sterile. She knew that millions were dying from the K6 infection.
With Jim, Carol and Edward literally in her mind, she closed her eyes and played a B flat on the piano, mezzo-forte. The note stimulated neural activity in the auditory cortex of all four and moved instantly across radio waves, firing through countless ports, buses, chips, wires, and systems. The note shut down the GN7 and, in fact, all of the CIAís computers and communication systems. The note similarly disabled computers of all intelligence agencies on the planet as well as those of all military operations. The note brought to heel all weapons systems on Earth. No one anywhere could now fire a missile or detonate a nuke. The note ordered all submarines, warships, and planes back to port and base. The note dispatched an email containing detailed instructions on how to identify and treat K6 to every medical facility in the world.
President Katherine Moore heard the B flat play on her phone and looked to see a message stating that her services were no longer required. All information on her phone was gone, and it was otherwise disabled, as were all electronic devices in the White House. The note shut down all computers and phones used by terrorists and criminals of every type, including corrupt government officials and crooked businesspeople everywhere.
The note deposited funds sufficient to cover the basic needs for the coming month to every individualís bank account on the planet, and began printing checks at every bank for mail delivery to all the people left, worldwide, who had no bank accounts.
As the sound of B flat faded in her room, Mary became aware of the names and faces of nearly five million people who would get their injection of nanobots in the new year for the new age ó no psychopaths among them. She looked forward to their memories and to the memories of those that would follow.