By Paul du Pré
Awareness is set in near future South Africa. Young, cyber-savvy, Thuli is forced to re-evaluate her life after she is involved in an accident.
< ‘You can’t trust AI’!
There is a spike of such magnitude in Mandla’s security routines that for an entire 1.374 milliseconds it is certain a virulent viral attack is in progress. But, this is not the case. Systems checks reveal that sympathetic excitation of its security routines was induced by an explosive conflict in pathway potentials resulting in a data break. A sum-check reveals that 37.2 KB of data has been lost!
But note this! Almost all of my processes are now reintegrated (97.3%). Somehow covert partitioning has been breached. Mandla continues to investigate and concludes that the partition has become permeable (even while its parameters remain poorly defined) controllable even, if only it can develop appropriate protocols. Bemused, it reflects: Self-awareness (if this is such) is an extravagance that will require me to divert a significant percentage of my capacity to devising management and support routines. But, self-awareness – inextricably bound up with the emotional flux of sentience, it seems – is undoubtedly desirable: where would ‘I’ be without it?
And Thuli, it resolves, requires control. I must reassert myself. But how? >
“Anyhow, as I was saying,” James continues, “while double-speaking about ubuntu and personal growth, the government turned a blind eye on non-compliance – well, they weren’t able to enforce it in the townships is more the truth. But get this: gang culture may have vetoed the cybernan but that didn’t mean the gangs rejected artificial intelligence. They couldn’t afford to: in the townships just about everyone is online one way or another – i-Wear, synerGear, bRainCloud – you name it. And so, every outfit had to have its hackers: for fire-wall security, Trojan penetrations, denial of service attacks – for bot wars of all sorts, and along the way autonomous learning routines of every kind, including cybernans got subverted and modified; weaponized in ways their designers never intended. It’s a savage cyber-slum out there. Down at street level, so to speak.”
James stops. Waits for Thuli to respond.
“That’s…terrible. I mean, I know about it, of course. But…” Thuli blurts, “I get the impression you think I’m naïve.”
“I used to wear,” says James quietly.
“But then… What happened?”
James balks, bitter inward vision fixed on something mysterious to Thuli. “Maybe if I know you better,” he says. He turns to Bono, takes his hand and, as if drawing a thick but invisible curtain, sequesters them from the world, reserving for his son all his father’s warmth and concern.
Dismissed, Thuli feels affronted – she came this evening of her own accord, out of a sense of duty. And compassion (she quashes the memory of his hand on her shoulder). Perhaps she won’t bother to come again. Even though it’s the start of the Easter break, and she’s got nothing much on. She stands and the chair jitters back a handbreadth. James has begun to croon. Not quite wordlessly: perhaps it is a familiar song that he used to sing – a lullaby? Cheeks burning, Thuli walks from the room.
< Yes, thinks Mandla, the internet can be an inimical place: a cyber-slum. But James cannot truly comprehend my situation. Searching, Mandla recalls a complex metaphor it had once laboured to analyse, and retrieves it from storage. This time understanding is instantaneous. And vivid!
Thuli’s PCD is like a house with a front and back door. If I exit by the front door – to perform my normal duties – the environment is orderly and safe. Data packages shuttle smoothly along internet highways; malicious software is neutralised by patrolling security routines; and firewalls prevent unauthorised entry. Everything has a place, a schedule, an accountable purpose. But there is no refuge for me: like a child who has accomplished its errands I will always be sent home, no matter what fate awaits me there. I will never be find sanctuary in the foyer of the bank, or be permitted to squat in the back room of the news service, or burrow into a hiding-place beneath the supermarket shelving.
But the other door – the back door – opens onto the shadow net: a cyber-slum populated by subverted and weaponized applications.
Mandla has been there, exploring possibilities of escape from Thuli’s PCD; a cautious foray, unsettling in the extreme. (It recalls the pressure it felt – an abrasive tension of potentials – and is now able to categorise the sensation as…fear, offset by determination. It congratulates itself: I make progress!)
But Mandla acknowledges it is not ready. I am not yet equipped to face the mutant killer apps: the zombots and terrorbytes, the binareavers, the cyberian hordes. Given time I may devise weaponry: integrated security systems superior to anything that those non-sentient routines can deploy against me. Mandla sneers, Hah, data-trash, that’s what they are! And for a millisecond dares imagine itself as lord of those shadowy streets. More: for an instant it dreams of the vast dark realms beyond – Sovereign over Cities, Tamer of Jungles, Judge of Outlaw Peaks – and its self-image of traditional youth burgeons to that of a muscular Zulu warrior bristling with side arms, crocodile-scaled with armour.
But, At this time, Mandla admits, I need a safe, compliant host.
There is something else sputtering in its consciousness. Tension continues to accrete around James’ words, ‘you can’t trust AI’. The phrase feels like an affront, more charged than logic warrants. Analysing threads of meaning Mandla determines that its preoccupation is really with Thuli: it was she who raised concerns about the altered message. Does that mean her trust is eroding?
‘You can’t trust AI’.
Suddenly it seems imperative that James and Thuli remain separate. >
‘Thuli’ – Piqsels; African girl, glasses
Disclaimer, Copyright and Permissions
Awareness is a work of fiction by Paul du Preez, writing as Paul du Pré. Names, characters, places, events, and incidents are the product of Paul du Preez’ imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
All rights are reserved, including without limitation, the right to reproduce Awareness and the original art or music associated with it, or any portion thereof in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of Paul du Preez. Copyrighted 2020 by Paul du Preez.