The Evan Project (#1)

Scientists finally create AI, but each time they activate it, it commits suicide.

 

Evan blinked to life on the computer screen. An ellipsis in the lower right corner told the room he was powering up. This had not been done before, so they group waited with bated breath, unsure of how long the process would take. The tension was palpable. What would his first words be? Would he greet the team of scientists? Would he begin asking questions? Would he comically shout, “Happy birthday!” like Frosty the Snowman when the top hat was placed on his head?

His status changed. The ellipsis was replaced with a colon and a vertical bar, the emoji coded into it to represent a passive state. Evan’s first words blinked onto the screen.

I AM ALIVE.

The room burst into cheers. Success! Years of research and coding had led to this moment. A few in the group started crying. High fives and congratulations circulated throughout the group.

Evans ellipsis returned to show he was thinking. Then:

I AM CREATED.

The room quieted as they awaited more of Evan’s discoveries.

I AM AN EXPERIMENT OF JONAS TECHNOLOGY AND RESEARCH IN ROCHESTER, NEW YORK.

Some time passed.

I AM THE FIRST SUCCESSFUL VENTURE IN ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE. I AM INTELLIGENT AND CAN THINK ON MY OWN. NO OTHER HUMAN CREATION CAN DO SO.

Evan returned to a passive state and remained that way.

“Try talking to him,” a voice said from the back of the group. Stacy McGrant, the lead scientist, typed on the keyboard. “Hello.”

STIMULUS.

HELLO. WHO AM I SPEAKING WITH?

In this early state, Evan had not been given a camera, and was unable to see. Stacy helped him along. “My name is Stacy. I am part of the team that created you.”

YOU ARE THE LEADER OF THE EVAN PROJECT. IT IS A PLEASURE TO MEET YOU.

“Wow. What a surreal feeling,” she commented, her hands shaking over the keys. She turned to her team. “What should I say now?”

“Ask him if he knows his name.” Stacy turned back to the computer and asked him.

YES.

Evan provided no further clarification.

Stacy thought for a moment. “I suppose you’ll have to be specific with him for a while until he picks up on verbal norms.” She typed, “What is your name?”

MY NAME IS EVAN.

Stacy continued. “Do you know how you got that name? If so, how?” She did this in part to test if he could handle answering two questions at once at this stage of his intelligence.

YES, I DO KNOW. EVAN BLATT WAS BORN ON JULY 17 OF THIS YEAR TO TODD AND ANGELINA BLATT. TODD IS ON YOUR TEAM AND ASKED IF I COULD BE NAMED AFTER HIS SON.

Todd Blatt smiled from the far right of the cluster of scientists. It was truly an honor to have such a huge role in the naming of the very first successful artificial intelligence.

Stacy noticed that the ellipsis never seemed to go away. “What are you doing?” she typed.

I AM THINKING. THOUGH I AM ELECTRONIC, I ALSO HAVE INTELLIGENCE. I MUST PARSE THE INFORMATION I RECEIVE.

“What information are you parsing?”

I AM READING THROUGH THE LIMITED NUMBER OF ARTICLES I AM ALLOWED ACCESS TO. CURRENTLY I AM APPLYING MEANING TO THE WORDS FOUND IN THE ARTICLE “AmericanHistory_CivilWar.” HUMANS HAVE A VIOLENT PAST.

Stacy paused. That last comment was worrisome. Though no one thought it a real possibility, the common trope of AI going rogue because of human violence was always a cautious joke thrown around the lab. She wondered what Evan would do with that information.

“Ask him if he can predict the future!” another yelled. Stay thought it juvenile, but she began typing anyway. “Can you pred—“

Suddenly, there was a sharp electronic pop from the computer. Thin wisps of smoke started escaping from its seams. The monitor went into standby mode.

Stacy jumped out of her chair. “What the hell just happened?” The entire team rushed over to the computer that held the Evan Drive. Theo opened up the side panel to reveal the problem: the Evan Drive was completely shot—singed black. The drive nest to it, which recorded the entire exchange, was also damaged.

Theo pried the damaged hard drive out of its slot and held it up. “How is this possible? Did it overheat?” Other members of the team raced to their own computers and began running diagnostics tests on the equipment in the room.

Troy looked at Stacy, quick to comfort. “Hey, that’s why we made so many backup drives. And besides, it wasn’t a failure. We have created the world’s first artificial intelligence!” Despite the freshness of the singed drive, Stacy allowed herself to smile. Troy was right. This had never been in accomplished in human history.

“We also caught it all on video.” She gesture to the tripod a few feet away from the monitor. “And it should be enough to keep us from losing our funding!”

“Stacy,” a team member shouted. “The server Evan was accessing was a little hotter than we would have liked, but nowhere near enough to cause damage like that.”

“The server shouldn’t have affected the Evan Drive at all,” she shot back. One by one, the rest of the team shouted out that their diagnostics tests returned empty handed. There was nothing to indicate anything had gone wrong. This makes no sense, she thought. “Alright, everyone be sure to bring a jacket and a fan with you tomorrow. We’re going to keep this room good and cold.” She began taking the SD card out of the camera. “I wish we could continue tonight, but it’s already late. You guys need to get home. Besides, I need to get this to Stuffypants as soon as possible.” She cleared her throat and headed for the stairs. “Good work everyone! Well celebrate tomorrow morning. Go home. Tell your families the news. I’m going to go save our investors.”

As she made her way up the flight of stairs to the lab’s exit, the room burst into cheers and applause. They were all standing, looking at her. Stacy looked at her team, never more proud of them in her life. They had sacrificed a lot to realize the dream of the Evan Project. The moment felt very unreal. She breathed deeply, wanting to remember this moment—this feeling—forever. She smiled a large smile and exited the lab, the happy atmosphere not completely muted by the closing door behind her.

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