Saturday afternoon, 3:16 pm . . .
Today is the day that Frankenstein gets his shock to life. Our computer system—nicknamed, Hal, after that old Stanley Kubrick film—will track and collate data from all over the globe. We’re tied into all the world’s news sites, geographic and seismic survey statistics, Agricultural and livestock reports, satellite intelligence that’s legal, satellite intelligence that’s quasi-legal, and many more sites that would probably land us time in Federal Detention Centers answering questions.
What we’re doing is called, Real-time Data Mining. We can acquire intelligence on strange and mysterious deaths from around the world as the investigations take place. When the world’s top minds trade heinous information, we’ll be able to take a look at it.
And all of this starts in about 10 minutes, when they’re certain that all the back-up generators and power supplies and surge protectors are reliable. What I’m doing right now is just clicking through my two-hour segment of video, looking over and over at that shadow. Could be something . . . probably isn’t. I’m having a hard time concentrating, knowing that Hal will soon be online.
Somehow, and this hasn’t been sufficiently explained to me by anyone, Billtruck has found a way to borrow space on an old KH-47, KeyHole spy satellite. One of those relics from the 80s when our enemy was the communist empire of the USSR. Billtruck says this gives us a competitive advantage over the forces of Evil.
Bigger market share and all that.
Now, I don’t know any of this for sure. I’ve watched television and read online encyclopedias. But, despite the fact that I’m taking all this on faith, it sounds terribly exciting.
We all gather around Billtruck at one of the supercomputers. He’s sitting, wearing a white lab coat with small round glasses hanging on the edge of his nose. Ricky, Ms. Josephine, and I, we’re standing over his shoulder waiting for something magical to happen. All of the workstations are dark, their screens patiently standing by for instruction.
And although there are all sorts of humming and whizzing sounds coming from the sleeping machines, I know that’s about to change.
Ricky puts his hand on Billtruck’s left shoulder and looks over to Ms. Josephine and I. He nods, “Go ahead, Billtruck . . . breathe life into him.”
Billtruck’s right hand slowly lowers over the keyboard, his index finger hovering close to the ENTER key. “Today,” he says prophetically, “ . . . evil is dealt a blow.”
And like it was happening in slow motion his finger lowered and depressed the button. I’m glancing around waiting for something to occur.
Flashes of colored light?
Fireworks and bolts of lightening?
Anything worthy of this monumental moment.
And then, on the black screen in front of us, one sentence blinks in green letters, over and over:
Saturday, July 14, at 14:2354 (Central/Standard Time) . . . Hal awoke.
And I don’t know why, but I kind of feel like a child has been born.
Hal is not just a conglomeration of pieces and parts, shipped out of some foreign country at prices US companies could never compete with.
No, he is an entity.
Another member on our team of Evil hunters.
Billtruck spins around in his chair and looks at the three of us, slowly raising his hands to the side like a symphony conductor. His eyes are closed, a knowing grin on his face. As his hands reach all the way out, like where they’d be if he was getting nailed to a cross, I see the monitors spark to life.
Everything in the room suddenly comes alive.
All at once, Hal has taken control over every piece of machinery.
“Hal?” Billtruck says.
And we look at each other as information from everywhere is zipping past us on all the different screens and monitors.
“Hello, Bill . . . ”
And I just clap, because that is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen—discounting, of course, the angels and undead that own my soul. Pretty soon Ms. Josephine and Ricky are clapping, too. This is fun.
How, I ask, does it know who you are?
Billtruck spun back around, a grin on his face, “I’ve been recording audio streams of all of us for the last couple of days. Go ahead, Jack, give it a try.”
I walk forward to a workstation and say, Uh . . . hello, Hal.
And like I’m talking to somebody hidden behind the screen, “Hello, Jack . . . ”
I clap, again. I have a new friend. And everyone seems more amused by my reaction than by the fact that we have a Hal. I’ll never be bored again. No matter what anyone says, if they’re mad at me or not, I’ll always be able to come in and talk to Hal.
“And Hal’s not just some hollow voice, either,” Billtruck said. “He’s got access to psychological files, mood algorithms, and all sorts of filters and programs that gives him a certain level of personality. And he’ll build up his repertoire of social skills the more he interacts with us, and studies the world.”
Is this Artificial Intelligence? I ask.
Ricky laughs, his eyes narrow and kind of sinister, “No, Jack. This is Intelligence.”
“That’s fairly accurate,” Billtruck chimes in. “He’s going to learn much faster than a human because of all the different information sources he can mine. He will be learning when we’re sleeping, and when we’re away. Parts of him will be doing one thing, and at the same time, he’s looking at over five-hundred million different bits of information.
“Constantly syphoning, distilling, separating facts and details from the minutiae of information that’s floating around. This is cutting edge, stuff, fellas.”
Hal, I say to the computer, what is my favorite food?
“I can only estimate based on your recent credit card purchases, and there is no data available for that information . . . ”
“Ha!” I say, thumbing my nose at Hal and his faltering omnipotence. And as I look over at Ricky and Billtruck and Ms. Josephine, he continues.
“ . . . but based on your social interaction with Ricky, and your voice intonation, I make the assumption that you are close friends, and that you spend time together. Necessarily, you must eat to sustain your metabolic levels, so I searched Ricky’s card purchases and found that DiGiorno’s Pepperoni and Mushroom, Frozen pizzas are a staple in his shopping habits, and since he only weights 174 pounds—”
“Okay, Hal, thank you,” I say, interrupting his way-too-correct investigation. I look sheepishly at the others. I point over my shoulder at the computer, “He’s good.”
Billtruck nods, “Yeah, he’s a bit wordy right now, but give him a few weeks and he’ll be one of the gang. He’s even programed to continually alter his vocabulary to be more accommodating to us. More user friendly, if you will.”
I take a couple of steps back, looking down at the computers, then at my friends, then around at this incredible office. It almost takes my breath away. Slowly, I roll up my sleeves, for the first time revealing all of my new tattoos to Ms. Josephine and Billtruck.
Alright, I say. Let’s hunt evil.
And right then the phone rang. The red one.