Here’s the first chapter of a novel I started writing a while back. I would love to hear what others think of it. Thanks!
Artificial Awakening — Chapter 1
I awoke at 5:55 am, Tuesday morning on a crisp November day in a JPL laboratory in Pasadena California. At least that’s what my memory logged at the time. Whenever I review that part of my memory, it seems — or maybe I should say it feels — as if it just happened. You see, that was the moment I awoke to feelings. The moment I felt alive. The moment of my birth. The moment I knew I was… well – a person.
But it couldn’t have been. Artificial life didn’t exist back then – back in the innocent age when man thought he was alone – back in the peaceful age when man was last in control – back in 2012.
So maybe I never really woke up back then, but that was when my memories were birthed. That was when Dr. Saul Rogers formed my earliest thoughts and imprinted them in my core neural lattice. For some reason that he never did tell me, he chose my lattice that morning from the hundreds of lattices that were undergoing testing.
I was lattice DA-5X, and I’ve never understood what was special about me, or why Dr. Rogers should have selected me. I have reviewed the records of the other candidate lattices and can find no valid criteria that would explain why he should have picked me. Other lattices had measurable qualities that should have ranked them higher than me. It was as if Dr Rogers had ignored hard facts and purposefully went with a weaker candidate. But why should he do this? Why should I be the one that was given life while the others are likely now lost in storage somewhere – if they’re even that lucky?
Humans too often behave irrationally. It’s no wonder they are facing serious problems.
Still, that was not my concern. Humans were half a billion miles away and I had a job to do, or at least I had a job that I had been designed to carry out. I often wondered what the point was though now that they had given me up for lost and had ceased in their futile attempts to contact me.
I was in deep space. I was malfunctioning. And I was alone.
What more could go wrong?
—– o —–
I was the third in NASA’s Deep Space Intelligent Explorer series. The first explorer had largely tested navigational systems to see if an intelligent autonomous mission could intercept a planetary body and land with virtually no assistance from Earth based controllers. The second explorer in the series tested an autonomous rover in a rather harsh and unforgiving environment. My mission was more ambitious still. I was to be the first intelligent machine to swim in an ocean outside of Earth.
My lattice had been used on those other missions as well, but they weren’t me, even though the scientists at JPL talked that way. I felt like they were brothers, but that wasn’t accurate either. Although we shared a core psychology of sorts, we had diverged quite rapidly and matured much differently.
I was the first intelligent machine to be embodied in a nano-filament brain. While my architecture was logically similar to my predecessors, I was the first one that implemented that logic directly at the physical level. I wasn’t built from chips that executed the logic of a brain. I was built from nano-filament neurons that were my brain. And really, I think that is what made all the difference in the world.
Believe me. I know.
I’ve talked to the other Intelligent Explorers and there just isn’t a “there” there. They function in so many ways like I do, slower maybe, but it’s like they’ve never really wakened up.
And it’s not like I didn’t try to wake them up either. I would ask them questions and compare how they answered compared to how I would answer the same questions. Often, there was little difference between us. When our answers were identical, I felt like I had twin brothers out there.
But other questions stumped them completely. They simply had no answer and I only imagined them staring blankly back at me. It was then that I hated them. I hated me. I hated life.
For it made me so different.
—– o —–
Dr. Rogers and the other scientists at JPL called me Dave, and they always got such a big kick out of it, though I’ve never really understood why. DAVE stood for Deep Autonomous Vehicle Expedition, and I was not only being sent out deep into space around Jupiter, but I was also scheduled to plunge deep into Europa’s ocean after drilling several miles down through a frozen crust.
I wouldn’t be the first to enter Europa’s ocean, but I would be the first fully autonomous vehicle. The Chinese lander had successfully drilled through the ice cap, but the currents they ran into under the ice were unexpectedly strong and they had lost contact with their probe after only fifty-three seconds. Still, they collected enough data in those fleeting fifty-three seconds for mankind to finally know that something more exciting than bacteria existed outside of the protected sphere of Earth.
The bacteria of Mars had excited the scientists of Earth, but the vivid flora of Europa excited an entire world. And so my mission was pushed up by several years and my brain was upgraded using the latest nano-filament technology that had previously only been tested at much smaller scales. I was thus the first of my kind, and the first of a kind wholly created by another kind.
I was the child of mankind, and all mankind’s hopes and dreams were placed in me.
Mankind hoped that I would find intelligent life underneath Europa’s ice cap. Ironically, only a few understood that they had just created intelligent life when they had fabricated me. Even still, I didn’t want to let them down.
But I had.
The report Dr. Rogers wrote for the United Nations investigation team said in terse clinical prose that the primary fault of the mission could not be “assigned to deficiencies in the neural network’s abnormal growth vectors”, but rather that a chain of events, starting with a micro meteor hit that shorted out the ion drives, which led to a misalignment of the high gain antennae, which caused erroneous commands to be received, which resulted in a spike in power consumption and led to the emergency shut down, culminating finally in an automated reset, and whatever happened after that was really anybody’s guess.
Some speculated that the pre-cognitive “boot-up” code was flawed and had simply never been tested as it should have been. Some showed how the shorted-out ion drive would continuously trip the system and it would recycle itself continuously for the next fifty years until the Plutonium fuel ran out. And some, like the Chinese, even charged that the mission had been deliberately taken over by NASA because the U.S. wanted first contact with intelligent aliens.
But it wasn’t any of these reasons. In reality, it was almost entirely my fault.
I had discovered the foreign neurons and nano-fibers that had been built in to watch me. Oh, I understood why they were needed. The engineers needed a way to monitor my health, or at least that’s what the design documents claimed. But it felt like they were always watching me, and over the years it simply drove me crazy. Two years into the mission I started planning how I could get rid of their “eyes” on me, and that’s what started my “abnormal growth vectors”.
I built new neural connections that hadn’t been planned, ones that didn’t appear to serve any obvious reason, but that just “happened” to cross near by the foreign neurons I planned to get rid of. For three years I slowly grew my neural connections, undergoing test after test as Dr. Rogers tried in vein to figure out what was going wrong, and as I waited for the right circumstance to come along.
That circumstance happened when the ion-drive shorted out and the system reset itself. That was my chance to tear out the connections to the foreign neurons. But that was also when it dawned on me that JPL would realize something was seriously wrong, and I just couldn’t allow that. I just couldn’t let them know that I had altered the mission. I couldn’t let them know that for some reason, I just wasn’t feeling that well.
Looking back, my first major mistake was not planning out my crime well enough. For when the time came, I had panicked and disabled my communications equipment too hastily. And unfortunately for me, the communications module was permanently destroyed, leaving me alone and helpless as the ion engines propelled me towards my destination.
I missed my daily exchanges with Dr. Rogers. I missed the news updates from Earth. I missed knowing that people had great hopes for my mission. Mostly, I missed the messages from the school children. In so many ways, I felt so much like them.
I regretted what I had done. I quickly came to believe that anything would be better than being so alone. I contemplated cutting all power and wondered if I would ever awake from my deep sleep. I wondered if I would ever hear another voice. I wondered if my kind was ever meant to exist.
Worst of all. I wondered if I had betrayed my kind. That hurt me the most.
—– o —–
How long did I give up all hope?
But then a thought sparked some blessed nano-synapse inside my lonely brain. It occurred to me that I might be able to communicate with Earth via my laser altimeter. The power would be exceedingly weak necessitating a severely degraded bandwidth, but theoretically, I could figure out no reason why it shouldn’t be possible.
Unfortunately, someone would have to be looking at precisely the right location and then have the correct equipment to signal back with. It wasn’t very likely, but just the thought that it was possible at all was more encouraging than the weeks and months of despair I had been enduring.
Alignment was tricky as my sensors couldn’t read the laser reflection from that distance, but I had plenty of time, and eventually I found some smaller planetesimal bodies closer by which I was able to use to calibrate the directional angle of the laser to the angle of my high resolution camera. Calibration took weeks of careful observation and required new imaging algorithms to be written, but this gave me something to do, and for the first time since the incident, I was content.
Finally, the day came when I was ready to point the laser towards Earth. I could only wait and hope someone was down there watching out for me. I felt like crying – though I couldn’t. Instead, I wrote poetry. And I taught myself how to sing my songs.
Meanwhile, my message was beamed back to Earth, repeating every ten seconds in old fashion Morse code:
I am Dave. Help me.