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“Hey Andrew!” I shouted, “It’s me!”
“Come on, hurry up!” he responded.
So I came up the hill and went into the workshop. Technically, the workshop was a wooden shack on top of the hill in Andrew’s backyard, but he liked calling it the workshop. I always came there after school because, frankly, there was nothing better to do, Andrew and I were friends, and conversations with him were always interesting.
Inside the workshop was divided into two parts. One half was the living area, with a bookshelf, two chairs, a table, and a small television. The other half, the work part of the workshop, had a computer, a worktable, a bin for parts, and various power tools. This was where Andrew made the competition robot that would have won several championships had it not been disqualified. The judges gently informed him that flamethrowers weren’t allowed.
“Good, you’re here. I want to show you something,” he said.
“Does it have anything to do with that?” I asked, pointing out something that looked like a T-shaped helicopter with a rotor on each end.
“That’s a remote control custom aircraft I call the Falcon. I’m adding the missiles next week. But no, that’s not what I wanted to show you. This is what I wanted to show you,” he said, indicating the computer screen.
I looked at it. All I saw was a bunch of obscure symbols.
“The Falcon was more interesting than that,” I said.
“This is an algebraic equation I’ve been trying to crack for three months,” he responded.
“Did you say missiles?” I said
“Will you please listen to me?! Now, for a long time I’ve been interested in the idea of AI – artificial intelligence. I’ve done some work, and I realized how to create a program with an extremely advanced AI.”
“Really. I figured it out, and I created a formula that illustrated my theory. However, there was a missing link, something that prevented the formula from working. For three months I’ve been trying to work it out. Today, I did.”
“Was that the outburst in math class?” I said.
“Indeed. With the missing link in place, the formula finally makes sense. This formula can be supported on any computer, and by incorporating it into a program, you can create an AI that not only responds, it thinks, it feels, it knows, and it can learn. Not just artificial intelligence- actual intelligence. You can put this formula into anything- programs, operating systems, even viruses.”
With that he turned back to the computer. Taking that as a goodbye, I left.
The next day I came back to the workshop and gave my usual greeting of “Hey.” I was surprised when two people gave it back.
I looked at Andrew. “Is somebody else here?” I asked.
He smiled, and said “Meet N-21.” And with that, he turned the computer monitor towards me. It showed a green, polished, robotic face that was absent a mouth or nose.
“N-21?” I inquired.
Andrew replied, “He’s an operating system for my computer I designed using the formula I showed you.”
“Salutations,” N-21 said.
“He talks?” I asked.
“Fluently,” he said, “And extremely intelligent to boot.”
“So that formula actually works. But why did you call him N-21?” I asked, to which he replied “Because it sounds cool.”
“File located,” N-21 stated.
“What did he say?” I asked.
“Remember how I said the formula could be used on viruses?” he replied.
“I’m testing that theory. A while ago, I made a computer virus for fun and placed it on an isolated computer so it couldn’t connect to the internet. I deleted it after a while, but N-21 recovered it for me and is now outfitting it with intelligence and an appearance, like his, and is transferring it to the isolated computer,” he said, indicating an old computer in the corner.
“Transfer complete,” N-21 said.
Andrew turned to the isolated computer, which now showed a smooth, metal face that looked similar to N-21. It was a blood red color, had no mouth, and had two slanted, dark blue eyes. It looked vaguely, yet not certainly, menacing.
“Even though it’s a virus, the formula should have given it speech and intelligence like N-21,” Andrew said.
Only Andrew would make an intelligent computer virus for fun, I thought.
The virus surveyed the room. “Greetings… Master,” he said. He seemed to take us all with contempt.
Andrew smiled. He always liked it when projects turned out the way he planned.
The next couple of days were uneventful. Andrew spent most of the time working on the Falcon, making improvements like hooking it up to the computer so N-21 could make inspections. After that, he added some features- he was not joking when he said missiles- and the Falcon was complete.
The day after that, I went to the workshop and found Andrew on the couch watching television. He looked up and said, “Hey. Don’t bother talking to the virus, he and N-21 had a fight and now he isn’t talking.”
I sat down. “They can fight?”
“They’re just as intelligent as you or me, probably much more, so they have emotions and opinions too,” he replied.
A few minutes later, he looked at the virus’s computer screen. It was blank.
Andrew jumped up. “Where is he?!” he shouted. “He escaped!”
I looked at him. “What’re you talking about?” I said.
“The virus escaped onto the internet! I must have accidentally connected his computer when we were working on the Falcon.”
“It can’t be that bad,” I said, trying to calm him down.
“It can’t be that bad?! George, we’re talking about the ultimate computer virus! With its level of intelligence, he can exploit the flaws in any firewall, and then target virus prevention programs so he can never be deleted. By this time, he’s probably taken hold of half of the computers in the U.S! N-21, sweep for his presence on the internet!”
“He has taken root in about three fourths of American computer systems,”
Andrew sat down “So he’s definitely there. Has he gained control of any weapons systems?”
“Yes, but I don’t think he’s using any,”
“So he isn’t making his presence known. Good, that gives us a chance to stop him. N-21, activate emergency maneuver number 5”
“Roger,” N-21 said.
“What’s he doing?” I asked.
“He’s devoting all of his programming to sealing the virus in the computer where it is consciously aware. Destroying him there will also erase all of his roots in the internet. This won’t loosen his hold, though; it’ll just make it so it can’t escape onto another computer. I just wish we knew where he was or what he’s doing.”
“Why don’t I just tell you?” a voice sounded from the door.
Andrew spun around. There was a green, modified pickup truck parked there, with a gun turret and computer CPU with a monitor mounted on the back. The virus was glaring from the monitor.
“Top secret military weapon, fully automated. The only thing readily available, but it’ll do nicely,”
“What do you want?” I asked.
The virus replied, “Your blood. You and your friend, my creator, kept me in that cage of a computer, never letting me realize my full potential. After I kill you, I think I’ll have your pathetic race enslaved.”
And then he laughed. It was a truly horrible sound, like a scream in reverse.
Andrew had managed to slink over to the Falcon’s controls. “Hey you!”
he shouted, and the turret swiveled towards him.
Andrew fired two missiles.
The first hit one of the tires on the truck, the second hit the turret.
Andrew, now safe from bullets, grabbed a magnet out of his spare parts bin and ran up to the truck. The virus tried to escape, but it couldn’t with the damaged wheel. Andrew slammed the magnet against the side of the CPU, and the virus let out a shriek that seemed to dissolve away.
Andrew slumped down. “So he’s gone. The magnet erased him. Too bad that N-21 was sealing him, he got erased too.”
Andrew smiled. He always liked it when projects didn’t turn out the way he planned.