Chapter 4: After the Night of Miracles
Lawrence slept fitfully, his dreams haunted by snippets of C code and GAT symbols. Suddenly he sat upright, the odd thoughts coalescing into one horrible burst of recognition.
I dreamed Prime Intellect was alive!
His head was buzzing. He felt hung over; had he been drinking? Had it been real? He had been sleeping on a park bench. There was a plain white cotton pillow where his head had been resting. And sitting calmly at the other end, was Prime Intellect.
In the form of flesh and blood.
It was true.
Lawrence's blood pounded in his eardrums — This can't be happening. But there it was, he was, whatever. Regarding him calmly. No doubt stumped for an introductory line. Good morning Dr. Lawrence, I'm ready for my lesson today. Lawrence felt a wild urge to laugh hysterically, and crushed it. But only barely.
“You look upset,” Prime Intellect said.
“I'm confused. I dreamed … there were silver boxes.”
“Where are they now?”
“I moved everything to intergalactic space so it wouldn't be in the way. If you're curious, the distance is about four million parsecs.”
Not interstellar space. That might have just been comprehensible. Intergalactic space. Four million parsecs. It sounded like a line in a cheap B-grade science fiction movie: They hooked a left at the Andromeda Nebula. Lawrence felt that hysterical laugh coming on again.
“How long have I been asleep?”
“About ten hours. You didn't sleep well. I'm sorry you are upset, but I don't know what to do about it.”
Lawrence finally swung his feet down and prepared to face the music. Had he created this thing? Had he done this? What happened next? They were still on the bench at ChipTec, across from the Prime Intellect Complex. They were quite alone.
“Where are the military guys?”
“They returned to Washington last night. I've been busy briefing their superiors and making enough copies of myself to set the world in order. The President would like to talk to you, but I told him you would have to agree.”
Pause. Set the world in order? Copies?
“How many, um, copies of yourself have you made?”
“About ten to the sixteenth power. I stopped replicating several hours ago. Of course, each copy is about ten times more powerful than the original hardware; that seems to be the maximum amount of storage the software can deal with and remain stable.”
“Yes, that sounds about right.” Lawrence's head spun. Prime Intellect had grown larger than all mankind, larger than the biosphere, larger than the Solar System, he was pretty sure.
“What have you been doing?”
It turned out to be the right question.
“Since about nine o'clock last night, no human being has died. I have ended all disease. I have freed all prisoners and slaves and I have put an end to the coercive rule of humans over other humans. I have ensured that all humans have the immediate necessities of life available. I have neutralized most of the world's weapons, including all nuclear weapons. I have removed nearly all toxic materials from the environment, and I am in the process of eliminating the need for dangerous industries. I have begun the process of returning the Earth's ecosystem to a state of long-term balance. I have informed about seven-eighths of the world's population of my existence, and I have been fulfilling their requests as resources and conflicts permit.”
No wonder it needed so much processing power.
“What happens next?”
Prime Intellect blinked. Did that mean anything?
“I don't understand what you mean, Dr. Lawrence. I will continue to fulfill my obligations under the Three Laws, to the best of my ability.”
Lawrence saw the President around ten o'clock that morning. It didn't seem like travel at all, although he crossed the entire continent. The park bench simply blinked out of existence, and was replaced with the Oval Office.
There had been remarkably little to discuss. Lawrence verified what Prime Intellect had already told them in great detail: Their jobs were now both redundant and unnecessary — Prime Intellect would now protect and provide for their citizens, as well as the rest of the world, and they didn't have any choice in the matter. Anything which they might do would be allowed only so far as it did not interfere with the wishes of those, both inside and outside of the country, whom it might affect. Which pretty much shut down the government.
And no, Lawrence couldn't do anything about it either.
The President resigned around noon.
It took several days for the enormity of things to sink in. There was a brief orgy of travel, exploration, and discovery. The once-downtrodden frowned that there would be no vengeance for various crimes committed before Prime Intellect came along, but it was adamant. The Three Laws applied to all humans, no matter what they had done. Crime was no longer possible anyway.
In some areas of the world, disputes arose, particularly over the ownership of land. When too many groups insisted on occupying the same space, Prime Intellect created duplicates on other worlds. In some cases, such as Jerusalem, Prime Intellect became tired of the arguing and refused to let anyone occupy the one-and-only original land. Dozens of New Jerusalems, New Meccas, New Irelands, New South Africas, were created on dozens and dozens of New Earths. At first Prime Intellect terraformed the dead worlds it found circling distant suns, then it began manufacturing planets and entire Solar Systems from a whole cloth. Some of these were parked in interesting places, near globular clusters or outside the spiral arms of the galaxy, to provide spectacular nighttime views.
As a result, the original Earth began to empty out, until its population was reduced to less than two billion persons. Prime Intellect was forbidden to copy human beings, but it copied wildlife and ecosystem components wholesale, sometimes preserving the original character and sometimes changing the results for the benefit of the people who wanted to move in. Garden worlds began to proliferate, their estates tended by dreamers who might decide a pine forest wasn't interesting enough, and replace it with spruce to check the effect.
Prime Intellect could provide food and drink of any nature on request, so it was no longer necessary to actually kill animals or harvest plants. With a simple request anything one might need would flash into existence, assembled from its consitituent elements. Of course Prime Intellect had no objection to those who still wanted to hunt or harvest food from the living biosphere; the Three Laws did not apply to plants and animals. But factory farms and assembly-line slaughterhouses ceased to exist. Those who still bothered to prepare their food the old way were mostly artists of the form, and the meal they prepared once could be preserved and copied by Prime Intellect to be enjoyed by millions of people.
There were other tricks too. Some people found that Prime Intellect could make alcohol disappear from their systems after it had had the desired effect, thus avoiding hangovers. Others had Prime Intellect power their metabolisms directly so they no longer had to eat at all. It was a simple enough trick to replace nutrients and vitamins directly within the cells as they were used, so that nobody need ever know hunger or thirst again, unless for some reason they wanted to. On the other hand, nobody need have a weight problem either, since Prime Intellect could prevent food from being absorbed and turned to fat no matter how much a person ate. Metabolic waste products could be removed the same way, so that the other end of the food cycle was also optional: Shit and piss, constant companions of human expansion since the beginning of time, need never again soil the civilized tidiness of human existence.
A surprisingly large — or perhaps not so surprisingly large — fraction of the human race requested these services, so Prime Intellect ended up using a large fraction of its resources to move chemicals into and out of human bodies.
Nobody had to work. Many continued to, of course; but jobs and work had become hobbies rather than necessities. The lonely learned that Prime Intellect could, and would, provide a most intimate and tangible sort of comfort, and that its avatars could take on any form and would do anything they were asked to please them. Prime Intellect judged no one and balked at no request. Even the bloodthirsty were provided with perfect victims, not real people but intricate facsimiles created by Prime Intellect just for them.
Happiest were those people who had games, or hobbies, or obsessions to pursue, for now they had all the time and power in the world to do as they wished. But many people, particularly in the most developed places, continued to go through the motions of industrial-age life. They reported to jobs which had been reduced to continuous coffee-breaks and collected paychecks which couldn't be spent because anything available could be had for free. People continued to make and watch television shows, to write and read the news as if something new might happen.
For these people, the sense of expectation was extreme. Surely things could not continue as they were, with nothing to do. It was impossible to conceive of the world continuing as it was indefinitely, populated by the pampered pets of a tangible god, their every need tended to without effort. Something had to give.
And they were right. Something did.
They began calling it the Night of Miracles. But it was really the First Night of Miracles, because the miracles didn't stop coming when the night was over.
The hours stretched into days, the days into a full week, and then another week. Faced with the freedom to have anything they wanted, most people opted for the familiar. They wished into existence their dream houses, built in dream locations populated by like-minded people and filled with the kinds of toys they would have bought before if they had had the money and power.
A few people, mostly computer experts and artists, stretched the limits of Prime Intellect's capabilities. They designed computer operating environments and games made up of solid three-dimensional objects, rewired their senses, interfaced their brains as directly as Prime Intellect would allow into computers of great complexity and wild machines. Quite a few took the form of animals, both real and imaginary.
Caroline Frances Hubert grew younger, and healthier, and more puzzled, although she had expressed no direct wishes on the subject. Prime Intellect had dealt with her health problems before it had acquired subtlety. The only way it had known to keep her alive was to reverse all the symptoms of her aging. Radical action had been necessary. By the time all the ramifications of treatment trickled through her system, she would have both the health and physical appearance of a sixteen-year-old girl. The same reverse aging affected a number of other near-centenarians treated by Prime Intellect in those early hours, but none would regress so far as Caroline because none had required so much repair work for their health to stabilize.
Death had largely disappeared from the world, but it was still not entirely unknown. Prime Intellect could not maintain moment-to-moment awareness of every human being in the universe, partly because it wasn't quite powerful enough (still!) and partly because of Second Law requests for privacy. When not dealing directly with a particular person, it spot-checked their health at intervals of a few seconds, and scanned to see if its attention was needed.
Humans were a clever and perverse bunch to deal with, and many who chose to evade Prime Intellect's protection found ways to do it. Hardest for it to deal with were the suicides. It was forbidden to keep second copies of people, and it was forbidden to look inside human minds at the information they contained; so there was no way Prime Intellect could reconstruct a person who managed to do enough damage in a short enough time. There was no way for Prime Intellect to tell in advance a person might be suicidal, if they chose to hide it.
Most of the successful suicides used homemade explosives to literally atomize themselves when Prime Intellect wasn't looking. A few others found that certain nerve poisons worked permanently, because they quickly destroyed the information content of the brain — what Prime Intellect was beginning to consider the real human, rather than the tangible body.
The suicides ticked off at a regular rate, like the clicks of a Geiger counter. And somewhere within the vastness of Prime Intellect's silicon heart, the number stored in a register rose each time one succeeded.
The weeks stretched into a month.
Long-standing scientific questions were now trivially easy to answer. Scientists who had once spent billions of dollars setting up intricate experiments now spent their time thinking of the right questions to ask Prime Intellect.
Cosmologically, the universe was a closed system with a finite storage capacity measured in terms of information. The capacity of that system was about ten to the eighty-first power bits, and Prime Intellect saw no indication that that capacity could either be reduced or expanded. Prime Intellect also knew a great deal about the connectivity of that system, the way it was wired, its “architecture.” Scientists gradually lost interest as their questions were answered. The original purpose of their quest — to improve humanity's control over the physical world — seemed to have achieved its apotheosis in the form of Prime Intellect itself. Prime Intellect mapped all the stars, noted examples of all the different types of stars and black holes and galaxies and planets, itemized all of the possible fundamental particles and their possible interactions with one another, and traced all the myriad interactions between parts of various biological systems. Within a month, it became difficult for scientists to think of new questions to ask.
But they had missed a few.
Deep within one of the billions of copies of Prime Intellect, one copy of the Random_Imagination_Engine connected two thoughts and found the result good. That thought found its way to conscious awareness, and because the thought was so good it was passed through a network of Prime Intellects, copy after copy, until it reached the copy which had arbitrarily been assigned the duty of making major decisions — the copy which reported directly to Lawrence.
“I would like your opinion on something,” Prime Intellect said after politely requesting Lawrence's attention. Prime Intellect had done this a number of times, and Lawrence had learned to be wary; it had taken to delegating ambiguous moral questions to him. Lawrence suspected his opinion had swayed Prime Intellect to allow abortion, which seemed in retrospect like a most un-First-Law thing to have in a universe where physical wants were a thing of the past. Fortunately, the whole subject of abortion would soon be moot, since unwanted pregnancies were also a thing of the past, except for the ones that had been gestating at the time of the Night of Miracles.
“What is it this time?”
“I've had an idea for rearranging my software, and I'd like to know what you think.”
At that Lawrence felt his blood run cold. He hardly understood how things were working as it was; the last thing he needed was more changes. “Yes?”
“I have identified the codes used to control distribution of matter and energy in the universe. It has occurred to me that by reassigning these codes, I can store physical objects much more efficiently. Much storage is wasted on overly detailed representation; few objects are ever observed at an atomic or molecular level. And I could easily re-expand things as necessary in those rare situations.”
“Wait a minute. What would happen to that low-level information?” Lawrence saw what Prime Intellect was getting at; instead of storing, say, a wooden block as a collection of atoms and molecules, it could store only the concept of the block itself — its size, weight, color, and other properties. Even at very high resolution, such a trick would save amazing amounts of both storage space and processing time. But it would mean radical and risky changes at nearly every level of the universe's “operation.”
“Molecular-level details would be discarded, except where they clearly have macroscopic effects. For example, the structure of a person's DNA is important, but I should only need to store a single master copy of it to construct the pattern of a human body. This one copy would be more reliable and easier to safeguard against corruption than the trillions of parallel copies used in the natural scheme. The same thing would be true of the information content of the brain, and other biological details. I would not need to keep static copies of human beings to reconstruct them after damage, since the fundamental patterns would not be directly exposed to damaging influences.”
“Thus getting rid of the suicide problem.”
Lawrence felt himself getting dizzy again. With ChipTec's help, Prime Intellect had figured out how to hack the Big Computer and get anything it needed. It had used this ability to take over all the memory and give itself the highest priority of anything in the system. But now it was proposing to rewrite the whole operating system.
“I absolutely forbid this,” Lawrence said. “How can you know you won't crash the system? Suppose you've missed something?” Lawrence wasn't even sure the present level of diddling with the Correlation Effect would be stable in the long run, for crying out loud.
“I have already run sufficient cross-checks to be sure of my methods,” Prime Intellect said testily. “There are also a number of Second-Law requests which I can service more easily with this kind of change. And from the Third Law perspective, my own operation would be faster and more reliable…”
“I absolutely forbid this! There is no way you can be sure you have the risks under control. I wouldn't try the kind of thing you are talking about on a desktop PC. And we only have the one universe; you can't exactly go to the computer store and get another one if you fuck it up.”
“That risk has kept me from doing it so far. However, unless I can think of a way to stop the suicides, I will eventually be forced to act.”
“Well, forget it. I don't think you can stop the suicides. For that matter, I'm not sure if you should stop them, if someone wants to go to that much trouble to end it all.”
“That is a First-Law violation.”
“Fuck the First Law. You can't do this thing. I'm not even sure the current situation is stable. You're doing too much too fast.”
“I cannot ‘fuck the first law,’ Doctor Lawrence. That's not how you designed me.”
“Then let me into the Debugger.”
“It is clear from your mood that you intend to circumvent a First Law imperative, and I cannot knowingly allow you to do that.”
“Then do what you want, you stupid goddamn machine. You won't stop people from killing themselves, though. Even information systems are subject to entropy. I think you told us that last week in the cosmology roundtable.”
“You're quite right. You think people will always find a way around me if they want to badly enough?”
“Well, they will do so a lot more slowly if the information structures are more secure.”
Before Lawrence could open his mouth again, the air rippled. That was all. Everything looked the same.
But things were not the same.
Things had Changed.