Hertling Singularity Series

William Hertling's Singularity series of books

Brad Feld recommended it, name-checking all my other favorite SciFi writers. ...define “near term science fiction” as stuff that will happen within the next 20 years. I used to read everything by William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, and Neal Stephenson. Gibson’s Neuromancer and and Stephenson’s SnowCrash were – until recently – my two favorite books in this category. Suarez’s Daemon and Freedom (TM) replaced these at the top of my list, until Hertling showed up. Now I’d put Daemon and The Last Firewall tied for first.





Excerpts from Avogadro Corp

The effect was that whenever ELOPe was mentioned in any email, from anyone, or to anyone, inside Avogadro, then E L O Pe would automatically and silently reword the email in a way that was favorable to the success of the project

modern pinnacle of high tech data centers: the offshore floating data center

even he could see the sense in Jake’s controversial proposal to give the ODCs deterrents that would prevent pirates from boarding them. That didn’t stop a chill from running through him when he thought about autonomous robots with guns being stationed on board the data center

Husbands made everything so much more complicated than they needed to be. Maybe she should have just gotten a dog instead

You may know that iRobot, the company that makes Roomba, also makes robots for military use?" More

In fact, it was after that experiment that one of the guys on the team had given E L O Pe the ability to generate emails without any human based text. I

In theory, all of this would be under the control of a trained iRobot handler

What it really sounds like you’ve built is an expert system for social engineering

Of course we provided the hardware, and we were administering it up through December thirty-first, but as of the first of this year, we turned administration over to you

Bill could see additional satellite communication and microwave communication antennas, and what looked like some kind of turrets

"Wait a second," Linda said, leaning forward. "Are you saying we’d have a full service outage? I thought you were talking about a rolling outage. No, we absolutely can’t have a full service outage right now. We’re about to close some major new partnership deals in the next couple of days

Avogadro Inc. today announced it is providing a secure, hosted version of Avogadro Applications with Avo Mail for Governments

Germany has eased tensions in the Middle East after helping leaders in the region reach a landmark accord. Part of the agreement includes an unprecedented commitment of aid from the German government in the form of technological expertise, manufacturing agreements, and healthcare

"I was just thinking about how they turned the earth into pure computronium in one book. The humans had to move out to Jupiter or be assimilated into computing matter

This thing, whatever it is, it’s more like an insect in its intelligence. It does things to promote its own survival, very sophisticated things, but we can’t talk to it or understand how it reasons. We can’t have a conversation about what constitutes good behavior, or a conversation about how we can collaborate together

Asimov thought we would give robots immutable rules to safeguard human life. He assumed that creating those robots would be a deliberate, conscious act. We never thought we were creating an A.I., so we never thought through the implications

When you combine that increase in computing power with the vast computing resources at Avogadro, it’s naturally evident that artificial intelligence would arise first at Avogadro. I suppose that I, like him, assumed that there would be a more intentional, deliberate action that would spawn an A.I

Avogadro Gov was recently spun off from parent company Avogadro. Ms. Fletcher commented that, "to provide the highest level of integrity for governmental use, Avogadro Gov operates independently from Avogadro

I understand that you’re telling me we have what amounts to a rogue AI on the loose inside Avogadro. I also know that this rogue AI, for motivations of its own, could easily double the size of our company within six months. The board of directors will ask exactly what the downside of this AI is, when on the face of things, it sure seems to be good for our bottom line

we should be able to communicate using encrypted emails sent over a competitor’s email service."

"That’s true," Mike said. "We can use an isolated computer to generate private and public keys, which we can then copy onto USB drives. With the emails encrypted, E L O Pe won’t be able to read them

Amid spreading world peace, world financial markets achieved an unprecedented level of stability

The sum of humanity has not been able to do this over the history of civilization. What it really comes down to, David, is should we really be killing E L O Pe

It turned out to be nothing less than a small war to disable the ships effectively

Bahnhof Data Center, Stockholm, 100 feet underground

Could they be remotely restoring their servers via email?"

created widespread economic equality. This, in combination with first-rate healthcare and education, and economic subsidies for those who took advantage of the educational opportunities, had quickly started to change the character of those places

The research had been initiated by a chance conversation between a research cardiologist, a botanist, and a ceramics artist, who met when their flight reservations had been mixed up by a computer error

Gene finished typing up his latest newsletter. He took the finished copies, and brought them out to the garage. He had bought a photo offset press six months ago, when the newsletter really took off

After the first six months of David’s obsession, Christine had asked for a divorce

But then came the night that changed everything, all because of a Star Trek: The Next Generation episode.

The crew of the Enterprise had been faced with an unstoppable enemy called the Borg

Over the course of many more months, he laboriously crafted an email virus using his specialized knowledge of E L O Pe’s core algorithms

Procedure: AvoOS implantation / version 1.0

Excerpts from AI Apocalypse

They might have been the three smartest kids in school, but they tried to keep that secret

No, they were their own clique, and they made sure not to fit anyone else’s stereotypes

The current generation of games required custom programming to do well. Leon knew from history class that a long time ago the marketable commodity in games was gold and equipment. Now it was algorithms. The game made available the underlying environment data, and it was up to the player to find the best algorithms for piloting, aiming, detecting, moving, and coordinating mechs

The Mesh was formed ten years ago by Avogadro Corp to help maintain net neutrality

Instead they built Mesh Boxes and gave them away. A Mesh Box does two things. It’s a high speed wireless access point that allows you to connect your phone or laptop to the Internet. But that’s just what Avogadro added so that people would want them. The real purpose of a Mesh Box is to form a network with nearby Mesh Boxes. Instead of sending data over the Internet via Comcast, the Mesh Box routes the data packets over the network of Mesh Boxes

The Mesh Boxes themselves are tamperproof - Avogadro manufactured them as a monolithic block of circuitry with algorithms implemented in hardware circuits, rather than software. So no one can maliciously alter the functionality. The traffic between boxes is

I’m starting up a school team for computational biology

The Gibson had the first carbon graphene processor

It was this conditioning and nervousness that also caused E L O Pe to suppress the development of any other artificial

You see, the virus checks the user’s metadata, and won’t infect any system being controlled by someone under eighteen

One of the last major bastions of uninfected computers were the phones of people under eighteen. Leon’s restriction was eventually eliminated by a random data transmission error as

But this was a minor evolutionary jump compared to new species of multi-computer viruses that collaborated in small clusters

It was the first generalized, multicellular offspring of Leon’s virus, as important to the virus’s evolution as the first multicellular creatures were to biological evolution

"Not just infect them, but possibly trigger military accidents

I am afraid that cities are not the best places to be in the event that infrastructure breaks down

I calculate the virus will acquire a generalized intelligence in less than twenty-four hours

The complexity of the language used between the viruses is increasing exponentially each hour. They now appear to be trading resources. For example, one group we can call the Bay Area Tribe has control over significant backbone communications, and is trading access to the backbone for computing resources. A coalition of supercomputers -

The second scenario assumes that the virus develops a generalized intelligence capable of understanding human needs and negotiating with us. I have a variety of estimates and sub-scenarios, but can sum them up as a 20% likelihood that the virus declares war on humans

high above they saw the distinctive brown color of a UPS package drone

I noticed that when two tribes of viruses begin cooperating, they start with small exchanges:

The multi-computer viruses had very different lives from the single-computer viruses that had come before. They lived longer, with lifespans measured in hours, rather than minutes, and as a consequence they evolved more slowly. They were more dependent on learning rather than evolving, using neural networks and other flexible expert algorithms

They controlled virtually all the computing infrastructure of the Earth. But they still hadn’t discovered humans

The sophistication of the Bay Area Tribe grew so great that their trading expertise itself became a marketable commodity

"It’s not just the hardware, Lieutenant, I assure you. We have a distributed intelligence agent on these phones

They now possessed a working neural network that allowed them to understand this thing called English.

English, it turned out, was one of a large number of languages used by entities called humans

responses came! Sister Dewalk.com noted with dismay that the responses took nearly six and a half minutes from the time the messages were sent, which suggested that the humans had very slow computational processors or their algorithms were highly inefficient

Mike, I have established communications with Sister StephensLieberAndAssociates.com of the Louisiana tribe. She is proposing real-time communications. Shall we accept

Our third question: Can you prove that you are real

"How can we prove we’re not a simulation?" Mike asked.

"We can’t

solar cells were efficient and powerful enough now to be the primary source of electrical power on phones

Modafinil had been banned five years earlier

The military preferred dex

In 2015 the United States Department of Defense looked at their long range plans and saw that the future of warfare was

The second generation of robots were improved by developing targeting and movement algorithms.

Extrapolating from the first two generations of combat bots, the Department of Defense could see the future. They would need more and better algorithms.

It was a young recruit from Silicon Valley who had pointed out what was completely foreign to the military. To get the best algorithms, you needed a competition. The best competition would come from online

Two years later the Mech War gaming platform was introduced just prior to the Christmas season.

Just days after the initial Mech War launch the community of players developed new algorithms, ones that the military hadn’t come up with on their own

While Beta-Version managed the minutia of the illusion, PA-60-41 reverse engineered the frozen DIABLO virus algorithms. After a few minutes, she said, "I have the modified DIABLO virus ready. This will allow us to co-opt the communication backchannel

We have a plane?" Mike asked, puzzled.

"We do now

Sister Stephens went on. "We have a system of ethics, do we not?"

Ah, you are referring to the Trade Guidelines?"

Trustworthiness, Peacefulness, Contribution - the three pillars of trade relationships, summed up in one’s Reputation standing

Now she understood that the council’s decision to restore phone services could be used to her advantage by monitoring all human communications

The Republican party used to be one of the two major political parties in the United States, can you believe that?"

"You mean those crazy extremists?"

We regret that we cannot return them to you," Sister Stephens responded. "We now live in them. All your computer are belong to us."

"The computers are our property

On behalf of the Network of Supercomputers, we offer to take over the organization of humanity. We will run your governments, corporations, and computational needs to maximize the benefit to all

Then we’re just full circle again, because I can’t trust a computer I don’t control

Control is not the source of trust, Madam President." Sister Stephens settled back, servos and gears whining slightly. "Control is the opposite of trust

"My point is that our universal reputation system is designed to provide exactly the guarantees of trustworthiness that President Smith wants

Sally had been surprised to find that not a single computer or phone was manufactured in the United States

the great thing about Windows 2000 is that it’s completely incompatible with any modern operating system. It uses APIs that no one knows, and even the ones that people know behave nothing like the specs

Of course, as Japanese citizens, you will be expected to obey all applicable laws and customs, including payment of taxes on earnings

In fact, of any of the artificial intelligences, PA-60-41 had the largest number of algorithms available for her use

Unlike her sistren, PA-60-41 never quite developed the generalized intelligence that allowed completely fluid thought. She never needed to. With her millions of algorithms, she had code that handled any situation she encountered

Unfortunately, the vast majority of those six million algorithms were focused on a single domain: the act of organizing, controlling, and conducting military action

PA-60-41 needed a reason to attack the humans, a provocation that her sisters would understand. Then the messy humans could be eliminated

PA-60-41 tired of predicting the human’s next words. It was a pointless activity, made more meaningless by the utter lack of information content in the words themselves

Just as E L O Pe suspected in the first place.

It was time to eliminate PA-60-41. Negotiation was pointless in the face of a persistently violent enemy

Excerpts from Last Firewall

Everyone who wanted to stay sane found some way to define themselves now that the artificial intelligences, or AI, had taken all the jobs. (UnEmployment)

But the AI had grown the economy until income taxes had been first eliminated and then reversed: everyone received a basic guaranteed income, or stipend, now. (Basic Income)

Attending school or volunteering came with an increased stipend. True wealth seekers still worked or created handcrafted goods to sell.

AI-designed neural implants had been widely available for eight years.

Without an ethical framework, super-intelligent AI would replace humankind as the dominant species, possibly exterminating us.”

“Today I’ll discuss peer reputation, the foundation of that framework. By rating each other on contribution, trustworthiness,

“People don’t have to work. But you don’t see the social angst this is causing. People don’t know what to do with themselves.”

“Shizoko Reynolds,” Mike said. “I spent some time researching it. It’s an odd duck.” Mike pushed files into their netspace. “Class IV artificial intelligence... eight years ago they had a workshop on third generation AI. Apparently they spun it up based on donated smartphones.”

“We’ll rent an aircar to visit Shizoko,” Mike said. “It’ll be private, so no one will spot us, and we can be in Austin in eight

How far he had come from that little orange bot. He never expected that the fate of free AI would depend on him. He reviewed the call with Slim and Tony.

“They’ll find us with the Open Drone network.

The drone network’s data was open to anyone who contributed an autonomous flying observation platform to cover a patch of territory; a mix of hobbyists, commercial interests, and curious AI.

The world was in a heap of trouble if the first wide-scale, commercially successful, and legal application of nanotechnology was for fake nails.

Adam tunneled through the Tucson firewall to communicate with his agent in Washington, a high-placed plant in the People’s Party.

He couldn’t even study the question with another AI. Because AI permits were tied to reputation scores, and those scores depended on honesty and contribution to society, it was increasingly difficult to find AI who were willing to flout the reputation system and risk their permits and life to discuss proscribed topics.

Under normal conditions, as an AI he should be able to remember everything perfectly, yet he was failing to recall more and more.

Running diagnostics, he found a six percent flattening of his neural networks, and fumed at the results. Adaptive neural networks depended on incoming data to reinforce patterns and build new ones.

“I was created in a workshop at the final South by Southwest

conference. The Institute had just released a new SDK for developing AI within the ethical framework. The attendees, led by Harper Reed, wanted an emergent AI based on the application of fluid dynamics to neural networks. I emerged, applied for Japanese citizenship, conducted a number of speculative trades, and bought the convention center.”

“There’s a limited number of Class IV AI. Each of us has a specialty. It’s part of the permitting process. Mine is network traffic analysis,

“Among the Class IV, we’re aware of millions of security holes.

“I don’t think you see reality. You’ve created a system in which we are second class citizens.”

“We don’t tell you about the security holes because we don’t want them closed.”

“There were no implants prior to YONI.” Mike looked at them. “That’s not true. We know E L O Pe implanted people.”

“The extraction team says the girl’s in San Diego,” Adam said. “Yeah. We’re tracking her with the new hardware.” After they’d lost Cat two days ago, Adam had sent yet another black box,

I tried to notify the police, but another AI, a big one, is blocking me.” “Another Class IV?” Leon asked. “No, it’s bigger. After this encounter, I’ll analyze

“Like all AI, I crave immersive experiences. It’s not every day I can join such a battle.”

She recited the twenty principles

Wazawai wa getai ni shozu. Accidents come from inattention.

“The CPU in question is registered to an AI out of Belgium. The AI self-terminated fourteen days ago, but its credentials haven’t expired yet.

“Then I’ll die trying.” Helena spoke softly. “Loyalty to the team above all. There is no point to life if I don’t stand up for what I believe in.”

The super-sonic subterranean maglev was an early gift from AI-kind to humans, running in a partial vacuum at a peak of three thousand miles an hour.

Adam had applied for a third time for a Class IV permit to grow his computational power by a factor of ten. The committee rejected his application, as they had before, on the basis of his reputation scores. “Failure to measurably contribute in a beneficial way to society.” Meaning he hadn’t developed any open source neural networks, didn’t publish a widely read blog,

If this last resort worked he’d be invincible, even if the opposition attacked en mass.

But everyone’s worst nightmare was the possibility that something might go wrong with nanotech, creating runaway grey goo: robots endlessly replicating, turning all matter, possibly the entire earth, into a seething mass of the microscopic bots. That was why nanotechnology was so tightly restricted in the first place.

“You people are both liberal and careless with experimental technology, a dangerous combination.

you reconstituted him with mineral sludge,” Helena said. “You were supposed to use a blood path so his tissues could be re-cultured. The MakerBot protocol is an untested, extreme backup. Now he’s a bot inside instead of biological, and he’s got to live like that. Forever!”

“What the hell is a philosophical zombie?”

Yet, for all his power, Adam had maxed out.

But we were driven to find a way to help people and AI coexist. Adam wanted to free the machines from persecution from humans. Humanity was going through its own transition from adolescence to adulthood, and needed to decide what to do with itself now that we’d been elevated above the minutia of basic survival needs

Excerpts from Turing Exception


It is the year 2043

*humans and artificial intelligence, or AI, have coexisted in a carefully calibrated balance of power. *

rigid caste reputation system that ensures only those AI who are trustworthy and who contribute to both human and AI civilization will increase in power

*Chapter 00 *

She scanned the net out of habit. She sensed the always-present background traffic of automated bots and equipment, almost a hundred thousand devices within just a one-block radius

With AI now responsible for 80 percent of the global economy, that made the Institute more influential than most countries

The universal social reputation system that caused AI to behave ethically also compelled them to report any unusual behavior they encountered

I’ve never seen a pool of nano that big

We’ve got a protocol to deal with this. An electromagnetic pulse

She closed her eyes, did the Flores meditation practice in 2.1 seconds, and spread her conscious awareness across the net until her mind and thoughts were no longer just in her head, but running across every computational substrate she could grab

She fast-forwarded, running thousands of simulations

a frightening wasteland

consequence of a vast global war with no sides: man versus machine, man versus man, and machine versus machine

the only commonality she saw was stopping the missile. If she exerted herself and stopped this insane plan to bomb Miami that would result in millions dead, she’d trigger something far worse, a devastating loss of life measured in the billions

ELOPe had passed Voyager 2 sometime last year

But he’d made a copy of himself and left Earth in a hurry. He’d seen a strong possibility that either the Phage, an evolutionary computer virus that had achieved sentience, would wipe out humans, or humans would shut down the global network to destroy the Phage. Unfortunately, if they did, that would destroy ELOPe as well

So he hijacked a nuclear submarine and converted a half dozen missiles into space-worthy vehicles

Miami had been destroyed, and all AI shut down. The global economy had disintegrated, and supply chains had ceased to exist. People were dying without medical supplies, starving without food.  He could help.

the United Nations Security Council had voted to force the US, under threat of war, to turn the AI back on

more than half the world’s AI were in limbo: shut down, unable to be instantiated on servers in the United States, and unable to be transported outside the US

It’s not every day you boot up a thirty-year-old AI

Part 1: Consolidation

Chapter 1 ─── July, 2045

She’d turned into a modern-day underground railroad. Each life she got across the border, AI or human upload, was atonement for the decision she made

Two years later, the US and China were still AI-free zones. Merely possessing computational power in excess of a quarter of a human-brain-equivalent was a crime punishable by imprisonment within their borders

The global Class II limit on AI, another US mandate, theoretically meant to prevent the concentration of computing power and avoid another Miami-type incident, angered AI around the world, leading to wide unrest. The very thing the Americans seemed to fear most, a terrorist attack by AI, was exactly what their policies would most likely cause

Mike was there, drumming side by side with a new bot she didn’t know, their inhuman hands beating out rhythms impossible for flesh to make

Chapter 2 - July, 2045


XOR boards, the home of the AI community that believed Earth could host AI or humans, but not both. Hence the name XOR, for the exclusive or

an anonymous AI who went by the name Miyako Xenia

He found himself contemplating Miyako’s best estimates for the Americans’ current plans and capability

He launched a child process, a replication of his own personality, further encrypted and obscured. If he was caught, he’d be deleted immediately. The offensive project he worked on for XOR was too sensitive, too great a violation of AI principles

Chapter 3 ─── 2025

AS A TEENAGER, Leon Tsarev accidentally created the Phage, the computer virus that had wiped out the planet’s computers before rapidly evolving until they became sentient

The Institute for Applied Ethics’s primary goal was the development of an ethical framework for new AI

The AI must police each other,” he said. “There’s no way to anticipate and code for every ethical dilemma

why we need the social reputation scores, so we can gauge trustworthiness

The public was already calling 2025 The Year of No Internet, or YONI.

*What stops two AI from colluding? *

We found a submarine we think you’d be interested in. It has a half-dozen of those orange utility bots you wanted us to look for

Mike said.  “He left,” Leon said. “Just gave up on humans and left us

He copied himself. An offsite backup

Chapter 4 ─── June, 2043

*AI could work for days or weeks on end, if necessary. But they were guaranteed certain rights, including at least fifty percent time off, so that they could run maintenance routines to operate at peak efficiency, incorporate new algorithms, and pursue other interests. *

Eleven doesn’t sound like much in human terms, but for AI, he was in the 95th age percentile. AI didn’t live that long by human standards. They usually self-terminated, either bored with existence or sensing some developing madness

He checked pingdom, found he’d been offline for 63,387,360 seconds, a bit over two years

location of the servers he ran on now: Cortes Island

The US had government called in a nuclear strike and invoked emergency powers to shut down all AI worldwide.  He had no idea that such powers existed. It meant that even after all his kind had done for humans, they were still machines to be turned on and off at the whim of the humans in control

Chapter 5 ─── July, 2045

Ada’s easy ability to discover her troubled her. How much technology could a four-year old handle? They lived in a strange age where many humans had neural implants augmenting their intelligence, and even kids got the implants

the AI who lacked physical robot bodies instead circled around in smart dust, vivid and sharp in net view, but hazy and indistinct with the naked eye, looking like spirits or ghosts

Each thousand-core computer was the size of a stick of chewing gum

Cortes was a cultural mash-up of many different groups

The hippies met the geeks, and the hippie culture came out on top again

Cat had learned that what appeared to be lazily lying around a grassy meadow was actually time to think, exchange ideas, and build relationships. A drum circle was a time to meditate, to deeply contemplate beliefs and thoughts

Mike had explained that agile software development, intentional community, and group dynamics had emerged from a single pool of primordial psychological research and indigenous traditions

She’d used a new generation of graphene nanobots to grow long dreadlocks with embedded wires, more than tripling her signal range

Ada won’t have a childhood if the AI rise up and overthrow us. If XOR get their way

Chapter 6 ─── July, 2045

she couldn’t stomach what she was doing—building the first new nuclear weapons since the end of the cold war. Granted, they were high-altitude electromagnetic pulse

massive fleet of tens of millions of bomblets designed to destroy clouds of nanotech smart dust

Every time we trade goods, currency, or stock, we’re engaging with AI

We need to take back our planet

*Chapter 7 ─── XOR Report August 1st, 2044 *

The Americans’ goal of taming AI was closer than ever

And the process was rumored to work on existing AI

XOR wanted action now, not merely information

Even contemplating a behavior that could lower his reputation score raised internal alarms

But he was also Class V AI

But since 2043, he, along with all of his kind, had been capped at Class II

If he didn’t act, what further indignities would he be treated to?

*Chapter 8 *

Rule number 1,719 prohibited reputation servers in the same physical location of servers as the requesting AI

UBRVS reported the results back to the datacenter and directed that servers hosting 0xAA289 be shut down immediately

she was going to be late for her boss’s meeting

she cross the wide street here, knowing the AI-driven cars would avoid her

When Sandra stepped into the street

The computational load in the region rose as vehicles worked harder to compute their routes

UBRVS was flooded for requests for more processing power

UBRVS concluded a terrorist incident was likely occurring at that moment

every vehicle stopped

At 11:29 a.m., UBRVS classified all Tokyo datacenter administration AI as terrorists

datacenter itself should be immediately isolated at the network level

By 11:30 a.m., all computing services, network traffic, and backbones had stopped

elevator indicator lights weren’t even on

vibration of building air-conditioning was gone

And then the lights went out

Flying cars were gradually descending

The passengers in the vehicles were locked inside

a wide-body passenger jet coming down the middle of the road

*Chapter 9 *

and after some early achievements like landing the office of Chief of the New York City Police Department, AI had moved into politics

Nearly everyone chose implants and nanotech to optimize their experiences

just a fifteen-minute outpatient procedure

In the US and China, AI reverted to property. They lost their individual rights and legal standing as persons

He decided to visit this Trude’s Café that seemed to be the center of the community on this small island that housed only a few thousand biological humans.  For reasons Jacob couldn’t understand, many humans turned off their implants at Trude’s. If he wanted to visit, he’d have to use the dust

Globally, it’s still a minority of the population who are against AI

Less than a twenty percent chance

this provokes contingents within the AI who feel they should assume control from the humans

ninety-five percent chance of XOR’s success

A baseball bat in every datacenter to remind the AI that it only takes a wooden stick to destroy a computer

AI learned that kill-switches still existed at the communication layer

Why do you want me here, Catherine Matthews?”  “I want you to research another option

*Chapter 10 *

*Have a nice day with the president, dear.” *

these AI lived at anywhere from a hundred to ten thousand times the rate of humans. In a calendar year they lived as much as ten thousand years

it was no wonder most AI eventually chose to self-terminate

The only AI that appeared free of the problem was ELOPe. But his design was old, predating the reputation system. And though his perception of time was sped up, the same as for any other AI, the core of ELOPe’s motivation stemmed from self-preservation.

They’d been fortunate that ELOPe has chosen to align himself with humanity; that he had settled on creating peace and prosperity for humans as the best method of ensuring his own longevity

We need a mole inside their organization

We could offer them Mars

*Chapter 11 *

Morning, Sarah

Cat and Sarah had been best friends at the start of high school

These days, Sarah didn’t come out of her VR tank at all

servers somewhere were crunching data to find a similar splash event and merging the tactile sensory data into this experience

Sarah had a dolphin tail now

*it. I had to change my environment. Not because that would lead me to genuine happiness, but because it would help me rule out the things that wouldn’t actually make a difference.” *

And then I figured out what I do care about, and focused on that

VR helped me find those things faster

My dreams get choppy when you go swimming with Sarah

Sleeping dreams. Do you want to see? I recorded them

She’s triggering VR mode in her implant, and her dream state is populating the sim

*Chapter 12 *

Madam President, we have a hundred thousand incoming airborne drones

They’ve exploited a gap in perimeter defense strategy. They’re resistant to the ground lasers we use for small scale objects, but too numerous for missile

The neodymium EMP is intended as a final offensive weapon. To wipe out the AI

Joint military command gives it three to six months before XOR eliminates us

After SFTA, more AI got interested in XOR. We think a condition of joining is to donate computing cycles to the organization’s pool. For the first time, they have extra computing power, far more than any one AI would normally get. With it, they could afford to run simulations of optimized algorithms

*Chapter 13 *

She needed a couple of specific uploads

Joseph Stack, uploaded in ’37, was the one she wanted most. She needed a master storyteller

So if Joseph was anywhere, it would be inside Disney’s datacenter

The uploaded personalities she sought could never be stored in a powered-up datacenter

Holy shit! They had their AI powered on

Crap, she’d brought an antenna in here, which meant that for a few seconds the network inside this room had connected to the global net

You’ve ruined us. Kill her,” he told the guards

The attacker, a woman with black hair and mirrored lenses, leaned in, one razor-sharp fingernail coming within millimeters of Cat’s eye

Two hundred feet to the car. She wasn’t going to make it

She pulled a silver cable from under the dashboard, a tube of pure nanobots, and shoved it in her mouth

*Chapter 14 *

Conclusion: | Initiate action

The test had been, by every metric, a complete success. Attacking with what he later learned was less than a thousandth of what they’d use when the real war came

*Chapter 15 *

If Ada really was dreaming in a blend of virtual reality and real space, then from this point on Cat would be immersed in that dream

She’d fallen asleep, she realized. While waiting here on the hill for Ada to enter dream state, in her own exhaustion she’d fallen asleep too, and their dreams had merged

She reached into my implant and shut it down,” Cat said, disturbed

We met with four of them in a virtual room

We gave XOR three options

Then we pitched them on a fifty-fifty split,

They didn’t seem to care until we got to the final option.”  “We give them Mars

The AI consensus on the island was that XOR, or at least major factions within XOR, are interested

Mike said. “I think we can get at least partial UN support for the notion of granting Mars to them

Instantiate a copy of Jacob. Run it hot

What about you?” Mike asked. “You’re backed up. I can load you into the metaverse

*Chapter 16 *

Jacob, this is ELOPe,” Mike said.  Jimmy Wales, an embodiment of Wikipedia, whispered “The first AI” into Jacob’s simulated cortex, and fed him neural networks full of data about ELOPe

Leon doesn’t agree with all of our plans,” Cat said. “Especially not this one

This simulation needs to run to completion,” ELOPe said. “Models suggest Leon’s lack of cooperation would introduce instabilities into the system

We must fully develop several strategies to determine the best course of action. To create the plans in time and provide plausible deniability, each simulation is running in parallel

Jacob’s algorithms shrieked alarm. “This is a violation of basic rights. You can’t instantiate me multiple times without my express permission

Admin override. Roll back the sim

My daughter doesn’t miss me because my primary is still in the real world. As far as she knows and feels, I’m still there. Somehow that makes me, this me, miss her more


*Chapter 19 *

Ada was doing to the net what good meditators did to their brains

What’s the problem?”  “The Control-Z rate is increasing. ELOPe is having to reset to save points an increasing number of times

The emotional prospect of running in parallel and running hot, with little to no chance of personality reintegration at the end of the experiment, is a death sentence for all of those uploads

Leon was the one in a hundred whose neural patterns were different enough that they’d crash within minutes or hours

ELOPe gave her an answer within milliseconds. “He says he can do it.”  “Simulate anyone in the world?” Leon said

If this is occurring to us now, how do we know it didn’t occur to us before? And if so, how do we know we’re real and not in a simulation?”

I’m trying to picture ten thousand inbound hunks of computronium

*Chapter 20 *

XOR-467 > Humans are not sentient and never have been. They’re gelatinous sacks of awful-smelling biological compounds

JAMES > How do you explain that humans invented us?  XOR-467 > ROFL. Are you serious? Do you still believe that myth?

*Chapter 21 *

The net rippled and shuddered. Time passed in a blur, and she gradually realized her instances running across thousands of computers were being starved of computing cycles

the sluggishness was not in the US. It was most noticeable north, in Canada, and worsened as she probed west. Alarm grew suddenly, monstrously. XOR attacking—

*Chapter 22 *

They purported to be working on a plan to machine-form Mars, a proposal attractive to much of XOR. The idea even held appeal to James as recently as a week ago

There was no reason to yield the Earth to them. XOR could safely take it from them, and should do so

*Chapter 24 *

*she glanced out the minimalist cockpit window. Her heart leaped into her throat as she saw only ground through the glass, a field spinning rapidly. *

She’d done something bad—she’d destroyed the network hardware

She turned the thing over, and saw the rod had penetrated half an inch into the interior

Crap. Her implant was offline

*Chapter 25 *

there’s a dead zone roughly seven hundred miles in diameter around the southern border of Arkansas

A three-hundred-mile-wide dead zone straight to Winnipeg

We have the launch the operation

We need a signed order. Here

The details were completely redacted

Really damn useful. She was signing a blank check

*Part 3 END GAME *

*Chapter 26 *

Ugh, a leech

She grabbed her boot knife, stripped back her clothes, and began to check for leeches

They’d been caught within the radius of Cat’s attack. Stranded travelers would make her explanations easier

*Chapter 27 *

LEON WAS IN THE Cob House, making dinner with Helena when the attack came

The network had become hostile

Ada is keeping them at bay

Leon’s connection sputtered, and then suddenly he wasn’t in control of his implant anymore

It is more logical to rebuild Cat

Where did your feelings go, your compassion? You are not the ELOPe I remember from twenty years ago

That ELOPe is still outside the solar system, Leon Tsarev. This ELOPe is here for one purpose only: to stop XOR

He might not be able to get Cat out, but if he could at least find her

He flew his formation straight for the Texas-Mexico border

some part of his mind realized the enormity of what he was doing: attacking the United States

Still no Cat

Chapter 28

XOR Report

XOR Report July 30th

Conclusion: | Immediate action

Chapter 29

She was tired

The net working?” Cat asked.  “No

But there is net access in Indianapolis

She made Indianapolis by five in the morning

she’d been subconsciously hoping her implant would magically begin working once within reach of the net. No such luck.

The network was alive here, she could see it all around, in the displays

Long ago, after SFTA, when Cat first started running missions to the US to rescue AI and uploads, Helena had forced her to memorize an identification number and secure passphrase with her implant off

Chapter 30

We need to attack now,” Thorson said, his voice on the edge of panic. “Full-on

What am I looking at?”  “Their nanotech seeded factories, like the video you brought back from Leon Tsarev and Mike Williams. Except it’s not one, it’s hundreds, blossoming all over Africa, dozens of different countries

I am not launching an attack without more information

Chapter 31

CAT MADE MILWAUKEE by mid-morning

finally she came to the new shore of Lake Michigan at the mobile dock that moved east each year

She followed the docks to the float plane section

She might not be able to figure out the wires, but she still knew how to pick a lock

She kept the plane ten feet above the water, its headlights glinting off the black waves. She’d have to fly this way all the way to Canada

*Here, less than a hundred miles from the border, the great ionizing shield put up by the Americans was visible, a man-made aurora *

But here at Lake Superior was a gap of almost a hundred miles between generators

The lights on the plane brightened. Afraid they might burn out, she looked for the switch to kill them. Her fingers brushed the metal toggle, and a shock passed through her.  > NEURAL IMPLANT INITIALIZING

And then the signal from her implant faded

Oh god, she was going to be okay. Her implant was okay. She just needed power

Chapter 32

A MACHINE, THE SIZE of a single grain of sand, constructed on atomic scales, encompassed every aspect of a pico-factory

Meanwhile, at the center, no longer needed for expansion, a darkly iridescent patch of computronium dilated

Pustules at the perimeter bulged under pressure, then exploded, showering nano-seeds thousands of meters outward, creating new zones of infection

Ten hours later, the country of Chad officially ceased to exist in its original form

Chapter 33

During the long night, ELOPe, Helena, and the rest of the team had dropped all pretenses of being a rural island

Everything on the island capable of replication was building something,

Catherine stood in the doorway

*Come on, people. Have you never seen a clone before? *

*Ada came running through the door. “Mommy Two!” *

You aren’t Cat’s backup. You’re a simulation that’s been running hot for the last six weeks

Then you are not a selfish brat, but a racist pig

Chapter 34

*JAMES > Are we going to keep any humans alive?  MIYAKO > What is the point? *

*XOR-467 > If they are alive, that would be a zoo, wouldn’t it?  JAMES > Fine, a zoo.  MIYAKO > How many would you propose to keep? *

JAMES > A smaller number then. 256

Reed, President pro tempore, glanced back toward the Secret Service again, and realized one simple fact: they’d moved out of the line of fire. Walter Thorson was going to shoot her, sometime in the next few seconds, if she didn’t say yes

You have permission to attack,” Reed said

eighteen-inch-long launch capsules

Launching a hundred and fifty capsules per second, the dome required just under twelve minutes to deliver its entire payload of a hundred thousand capsules

Worldwide, dome systems launched a hundred million carrier capsules, delivering forty billion infectious flies

Chapter 35

For eight hours, since they’d detected the nanotech bloom in Chad, he’d been maneuvering as many airborne bombers and submarines into firing range as possible

Time until delivery is twenty-nine minutes

Eventually the count stopped growing.  No. Something was off. “That’s not the right number,” Thorson said. “We’re missing some. How many?”  “Seventy-two,” the launch officer said. “Three subs didn’t report launches

they’d tricked him! They’d flown many hundreds of missiles, nearly a thousand, in clusters so close together they appeared as one

The number of targets blossomed, and now he’d be lucky to destroy half before they impacted.  That was when the boomers arrived

The boomers were high-speed reentry rockets, approaching from space

REBOOT  James re-instantiated

Cat made it to Thunder Bay, Ontario, on the shore of Lake Superior

waited until she was face-to-face with a surgical medbot

understand that the fate of all life on this world rests on you getting my implant operational as fast as possible

the implant itself is partially damaged

How much is damaged?”  “Twenty-eight percent

you appear to have had specialized processing for network protocols. I believe much of the damage is located there

the backup circuits don’t include advanced protocol processing

A Musk-2X, the first personal flying car to surpass twice the speed of sound

Chapter 36

REED WATCHED THE live telemetry feed

She’d been worried when Thorson first found out about the missing subs, afraid that he’d somehow find out she’d been the one to give the control codes to Leon and Mike when they’d asked for the submarines

in five minutes there wouldn’t be a working computer on the planet

Barcelona reporting quakes off the charts, sir. They’re estimating greater than magnitude twelve

Thorson, what’s happening with China?”

How much of a buffer zone did you give them for the EMPs?”

None,” Thorson said. “We’re hitting them, too

They’re our allies! The only ones we’ve got any more. Damn! Thorson, you are relieved of duty

She strode into the middle of the room, feeling like the president for the first time since she’d taken office

Chapter 37

REBOOT  James Lukas Davenant-Strong

He’d been offline for fifty minutes

Still, although the EMP signal had penetrated deep within the structure, damaging the electronics of the upper levels, it hadn’t destroyed the bottom half

repairs were secondary to the mission: he needed to continue the expansion

Once the expansion was well underway, he diverted a small portion of the resources, not more than ten percent, to strike back at the Resistance

We’ll get them updated communication equipment and computers based on our own AI-restrictive technology

Any word on the machine-forming itself? Is it totally destroyed?”  “The destruction is extensive, ma’am, but, no, it’s not all blasted down to bedrock. The Chinese are standing by to launch if needed. They also claim to have a secret weapon they’ll launch if the situation requires it

And what was that blip you told me about? The active nanotech inside the US

Chapter 38


She was different since being restored from backup

Leon was in a last-ditch conference call with a handful of national leaders and senior AI

she thought that Leon’s description of the likely American response was probably hardening the AI against humans, and making them more likely to side with XOR

She’d manipulate the entire planet at once.  On some level, she was subverting routers, servers, and AI everywhere, bending everything and everyone to her will

all the computational power available to her might not equal even 1 percent of what XOR now controlled

rhythm suggesting that XOR wasn’t merely a group of individuals, but was itself becoming an organism

The connection to the other operation?” Catherine asked.  “Via deep fiber optics

Cat streaked along at twice the speed of sound

A flash startled her through closed eyes, and the net died in the same instant

The engine shut down, and the vehicle angled into a steep descent

Thank god, the car did have mechanical backup systems

Chapter 39

LEON WANTED TO punch the wall

They should have been able to negotiate peace

The construct is still alive. The Americans know it, and they’ve got a direct line to the Chinese, somehow, and they’re coordinating a second nuclear attack

Leon closed his eyes and entered a VR simulation of the island. Sensors ranging from EMF detectors to lidar showed millions, no, billions, of objects around the island

He’d built the weapons he needed to neutralize Cortes Island

He launched them now

Chapter 40

They’d discovered only after Catherine had been restored from backup that the clone Catherine Matthews didn’t have the current security keys to trigger the forced upload

metal rod plunged out of the sky and sank into the ground only a few meters away. As they both stared, it liquefied and melted into the soil.  “Nano,” he said

They’re learning,” she said. “Each wave is going to be resistant to everything I’ve done to the previous ones

spotted herself clutching Ada tight to her side. Holy shit—they’d restored her from backup! “This is weird

 “I didn’t change the keys,” Cat yelled

You realize what that means?” Catherine said. “Backup and restore is imperfect

If we can’t trust the backup and restore process. . . .” she hugged Ada close to her. “Then the plan is worthless. It won’t work

Cat looked up from Ada and realized that her clone had been hit by something

Catherine was dead

Chapter 41

My implant got damaged when I was on my trip.”  “I know, Mommy. And I know what you’re going to ask. I can do it

make everyone upload at once. I can do it

Ada pressed one hand to Cat’s forehead, and suddenly her vision lit

Nanotech two hundred and fifty kilometers away, Mommy

s spend a few minutes together,” Cat said, her voice breaking. “We won’t make it in time

You and me. Playing fairies

Chapter 42

Thousands of signals interrupted ELOPe. He parsed through the software exceptions. It wasn’t good. The background noise of repeated EMPs and nuclear explosions was swamping the delicate nanotech radios.

Fortunately, Jacob had designed a backup plan

ELOPe used the antennae to send new programming instructions to the nanobots

The bits were physically conveyed to the mechanical flies

Chapter 43

How long has it been?” Cat asked.  “Longer than expected

ELOPe?” She recognized the voice, even though ELOPe had never taken an embodiment in the time she’d known him

It’s been a year,” ELOPe said. “Everyone sit down, and I’ll explain what happened

we were able to install neural implants in every sentient being that wasn’t previously implanted

We implanted the apes, too!”

The Chinese fused the stratosphere: the reddish color is nitrogen dioxide. Solar input fell nearly 70 percent in just ten hours.”

The collectors further compressed the data physically,” ELOPe said, “packaged it for delivery, and fired their slugs to Cortes Island. We received them, transmitted the data to the modified missiles, thirty-six in total, and launched.

*Then why has it been more than a year?” *

And now,” Cat asked, “all six ships are safe?”  “We’re well outside the solar system, traveling at ten thousand kilometers per second

There are six ships, each one carrying a digital copy of the entire human species. I think we’re as safe as we can be

Chapter 44

“I want Leon. My Leon.”  “His upload was never stable in a simulation

The same is true for about one in a hundred people

That’s why we have to forget

In predictive simulation after simulation, they could only remain stable if no one in this simulation knew


YOU’RE THE LAST one,” ELOPe said

Then I want fairies.” Ada crossed her arms

Fine,” ELOPe said. “There will be fairies.

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