“Networking” by Elton Gahr

William didn’t expect much from the computer in his pocket. He had been part of a neural network AI research project for some time and while they had improved them considerably when dealing with a problem had a limited set of results it was hard to imagine any value in using it for something as nebulous as making everyday life better but he was being paid and Paul insisted he had found a way to make the AI work so William followed the directions.

The reason it wasn’t going to work was simple. The type of neural network being used learned by what was effectively evolution. It would try a thousand different things more or less at random and those that best met the goals would be picked chosen to be “parents” to a new generation of AI that would hopefully do even better. It worked great when you had dozens of generation of AI to learn to play Super Mario Brothers, or even

keep a car on the road, but in order to gain enough information to even start to make a credible guess at how to improve someone’s real life you would need thousands or millions of people using the device and they would have to have at least some agreement on what they wanted it to do. But even with that you couldn’t test different outcomes of the same event like you could in a video game to see which turned out best. But then William had no idea what the quantum part of the computer did, so perhaps Paul had come up with a solution that William had never considered.

But after two months of utter failure William probably would have given up if the computer hadn’t been integrated into his phone to keep it hidden. Though it did still text him every few days suggesting he do something that was usually odd, but unobtrusive enough he was willing to go along.

Paul had the only other prototype. Both understood that sample size that small made the test almost useless, but as college students with no money and no connections and an insane idea the only way to anything was to get at least anecdotal results to convince someone to give them money for a bigger test, so for now they worked on hope.

Then it began to increase the number of suggestions. Most were suggestions to do things from previous days.  He got one text telling him to go to a bathroom on a different floor and another to call his mother. When he finally got off that call so he could eat lunch it suggested he eat pancakes with barbecue sauce and a green tea. It was about halfway through that meal that William decided the project was a flop. He didn’t even like green tea.

It was exactly as William had predicted. The computer was trying to find patterns without enough information. At best it might learn to give reminders for commonly reoccurring events but no one needed a quantum computer for that.

Still, proving something didn’t work was still useful and the BBQ pancakes weren’t as bad as he expected. The next day when he picked up the phone the text icon had been replaced with a small exclamation point. That wasn’t supposed to happen unless the network had high confidence it had found something that would either substantially improve his day or give the network a considerable amount of information. Either way it was important he follow the directions which read,  “Look in the bushes next to your mailbox.”

It was an odd suggestion, but not difficult and he still needed to check his mail so he followed the directions. The mail held a credit card application and something from his bank trying to sell him insurance. Then he glanced in the bushes next to the apartment’s mailboxes. He assumed the phone was trying to fill in some type of gap in its knowledge.

Instead, he found a twenty dollar bill stuck in the underbrush. He plucked it out grinning at his luck until the oddity of what had happened struck him. It hadn’t been luck. The AI had sent him here to find it.  The camera must have seen it yesterday and assumed it would still be here.

By the end of the day he had moved on. The computer had gotten lucky and while that was good for the project it didn’t really mean anything except that it might understand that finding money made someone happy. What it didn’t understand was that people didn’t like to be woken in the middle of the night since at three seventeen in the morning the phone’s alarm beeped. While groping for the phone in the dark William saw the words “Call Samantha” flashing in bright red. He looked at it until his could see well enough to read it then turned it off.     He wasn’t going to call a girl he had seen once a week in a study group last semester in the middle of the night. At best she would assume he was drunk. But, before he had turned off the phone the text changed to “Calling Samantha” and he heard the familiar tones of the phone dialing. Since she would see his name on her phone not he decided to stay on the phone to tel her he had mis-dialed.

“Hello,” she said. It didn’t sound like she had been sleeping but there was something in her voice that made him wonder if the phone knew something he didn’t so he said, “This is William. I know it’s late, but…”

That was all he heard before the crying began. She tried to talk, but was incoherent through the crying. So he listened for several minutes and then he said,  “I’m on my way over. Don’t do anything until I get there.”

She said something that he took as an agreement and he dressed as he hurried out of the dorm. He then stuffed the phone into his pocket and rushed out still trying to figure out what had happened. The AI must have known something but he had no idea how that was possible since he hadn’t talked to her in months. But there would be time to try to understand what was happening later.  For now he called two of  Samantha’s friends from the same study group while he drove to the small apartment near campus where they had met for study group.  He knew her friends better than her, though not much better. They were both as surprised by getting a call from him in the middle of the night as he was to be calling them, but both said they would be there as soon as they could.

When he arrived he saw what he had feared. She was slumped in old wood office chair looking at a pile of school books. He could smell the gin before he saw the bottle next to an unopened box of sleeping pills. He sat down next to her picking up the bottle of pills and slipping them into his pocket. He then picked up the top book on the pile.

It was an impressive pile and while Samantha was smart he didn’t know if anyone could have kept up with that workload. How had she even signed up for that lineup of classes? Her academic adviser should have insisted she replace one or two of the more difficult classes.

He didn’t say anything about the bottle of gin. If she ended the night with nothing more than a hangover he would consider that a victory. He just tried to talk about anything besides school for thirty minutes until Cindy and Heather showed up and took over. He stayed another fifteen minutes feeling awkward then gave Sam a hug, told her to call him if she was feeling overwhelmed and handed the bottle of pills to Heather as he left. Whatever might have happened if he didn’t call her there was nothing more for him to do tonight.

The drive home gave William time to think. He had been lucky her friends  had been to worried enough about Sam they hadn’t asked why he had called her, but the AI had known something that everyone had missed. It had to be the quantum computer but he still had no idea  how  it worked, but he was starting to think he should.

The next day he got messages that helped him find a purse and a lost dog. He returned both but while he enjoyed helping people the entire project was becoming disturbing.  There was simply no way the AI the way it had been described to him could have done any of this. So, he called called Paul.

Paul picked up the phone and without saying hello said, “I wondered how long it would take for you to call me.”

“So you’ve been noticing strange things as well?” William asked.

“They’re only actually strange if you don’t know what is happening. I just  I decided to see if my computer worked before I told anyone. But now we know. As a freshman I was a lab assistant on a project designed to use quantum physics. The specific are complicated but one of the more brilliant people found a way to use quantum computers to look into probable realities.  But all they could see were their immediate surroundings. Since they couldn’t use it for what they wanted they buried the technology and disbanded the project. I stole enough papers to recreate the technology but I had no idea what to do with it until I learned more about artificial intelligence.  The computer really is able to see thousands of version of you every day and it uses that knowledge to make everything turn out perfectly for you.”

It was insane but it explained everything because it allowed the computer to learn the way a learning AI did. It could simply mimic the best outcome of the other versions of reality. He could even begin to understand some of the things that had happened. Some version of himself had seen money and the computer had sensed his excitement and Samantha must have called him in at least one of those realities. He still wasn’t sure why it thought he’d want barbecue sauce pancakes though.

“This is going to change the world,” William said.

“It will, but only if we keep it a secret,” Paul said.

“We could sell the devices and become billionaires while helping people all over the world have better lives” William said.

“You’re not thinking it through. Consider  the twenty dollar bill you found. If everyone had a quantum computer you would have had the same chance to get it as any of them.  If everyone has the same advantage it isn’t an advantage.”

“Who cares about twenty dollars when we could make billions,” William said.

“We can do that, eventually. But the most important thing right now is to put ourselves in possessions where we can control the way the AI is used. Besides, it still needs to be tested. So why not enjoy being a hero and I’ll call you in a day or two.”

William hadn’t mentioned helping anyone. He wasn’t sure if Sam wanted anyone to know and the others hadn’t really been that important. But why else would  Paul call him a hero. He was watching him. He wasn’t sure if he should be bothered by that, or if it was just a reasonable precaution when you handed someone the amount of power in the quantum computer. Before he came to any conclusions of how he should proceed he heard the chime from the phone. Sliding the smooth cold metal device from his pocket he saw red text flashing across the screen, “Get in your car and drive.”

Now that he better understood the AI it was far easier to take strange advice. So rather than try to figure out why the phone giving suggestions he just followed them. He grabbed his keys and ran to his car. He had driven about five miles when the phone rang again. It was Paul.

He considered not answering, but that would have been suspicious so he answered and said, “Did you forget something?”

“No, you seemed upset and I wanted to make sure you didn’t do anything rash. Perhaps I should swing by your place and we can discuss the long term plans for the quantum network.”

There was little doubt in William’s mind that Paul was already at his apartment. The phone call was to find out where he had went. William needed to stall, “I’m out most of the day, but I’ll be free all day tomorrow.”

“Good. How about coffee at ten?”

“I’ll see you there,” William said. Paul would be looking for him using the AI but William had the same device. That left them in stalemate, or at least William hoped it did.

But stalling wasn’t good enough. Paul wasn’t wrong when he suggested he could gather power with the AI. Just the money Paul could make day trading on the stock market would be staggering and that was only the most obvious way you could use the AI to gather power. William needed to stop him and he needed to do it soon because neural network AI got better over time.

The real problem was that Paul’s phone would warn him of danger the same way William’s did. He needed to stop him without putting him in a situation that would trigger a warning from the phone. But William had an advantage. While Paul understood the hardware he hadn’t brought in William just because they had been friends. William was the one who understood the software.

He had designed the system to recognize when someone was excited or happy in a number of ways. It could monitor heart beat, body heat, the sound of the person’s voice and even brain waves. It had been a massive project, but it allowed the computer to tell if you were happy. It would then try to bring about similar circumstances as often as possible.

As he drove he formed a plan.  The first part would be the safest part. He should be able to gather together a group of people together so long as he didn’t plan to do anything that would hurt Paul. Getting the funding they needed would actually help him, so he began to make calls. It only took a couple of phone calls before the AI understood and began to tell him who to call and by the time he reached the laboratory there were at least two dozen people on their way though none of them knew why they were coming.

Getting Paul to come  wasn’t going to be as easy. He needed him to be sure it was that idea so he prepared while everyone arrived. One of them was the professor whose dog he had found. As a professor of English she had no real reason to be here but she owed him a favor and the more people here the safer it would be. William wondered if the neural network had factored than in when encouraging him to help her but he didn’t think it could plan that far ahead, at least not yet. Shortly after Samantha arrived with Cindy. Samantha looked far better. She had been allowed to dropped one of the harder classes with no ramifications and was getting help with the others. William had already met with her once to help him with one of the classes he took last year. Mostly though William suspected knowing she wasn’t alone had been the biggest help.

While he was discussing when he would have his next study session with Sam Paul arrived. He drove his car past the parking lot and parked on the grass in front of the building jumping out before he noticed how many people were here. He looked around as he saw the small crowed and then zipped up his jacket. William wasn’t sure he wanted to know whether or not his old friend had a gun under that jacket.

As he walked into the room William stepped up to his makeshift podium said, “Good, my partner is here. We can start now.”

Paul seemed confused but there wasn’t much he could do, so he said, “Yes. It’s good to be here.”

“As you can tell my friend is confused. That is because he didn’t know we were going to have this meeting. And I didn’t tell him to come. He was sent here by a revolutionary technology we built together. It uses experimental technology and a neural network AI to see thousands of possibilities for each day of your life. It then uses predictive algorithms to give you suggestion to improve your life. I believe it is clear why we need to keep the details secret but it is time for a wider trial. Did you bring the confidentiality agreements with you Paul?”

Paul had made his way to  the front of the room looking at his phone. He glanced up from his phone and meet William’s eyes and then said, “I um… I left them in my apartment. I can go get them.”

“That’s not necessary. I assumed you wouldn’t since you didn’t know the meeting was happening. We’ll just have them sign it when they get their devices. I’m sure everyone here is willing to come back. Especially since a few of them have seen the value of our new technology. Let’s give them an example. Show them how you got here,” William said. He knew the phone had told Paul to come here.

Paul seemed confused but he couldn’t very well refuse because it would make both of them look silly and likely ruin future plans. So he took the phone out and showed the message that said, “Go to the school laboratory.”

Getting a text message on a phone wasn’t all that impressive, but he continued, “I know it’s hard to believe but I was the only one who knew about the meeting and no message was sent between our phones either directly or indirectly. His AI knew he should come here because it would be good for his future. This is a fairly simple example, but I have been able to do more important things and I believe we can change the world with this.”

No one knew everything that had happened enough people here knew some of it to add credibility to his story which was enough to at least get people to start asking questions. After an hour of William and Paul answering questions and demonstrated the AI by playing a simple game in which people picked a number and he guessed it right every time with the help of the AI William was convinced he had won.

As more people became interested Paul seemed to accept the situation as well. He had been right there were things that were a zero sum gain and he could probably gain a lot more power if no one else had the device, but they were still going to be rich and they could help a lot of people. More important there was no way to take away the knowledge of the devices.

By the time they were done William felt safe enough to stay alone with Paul that he didn’t bother leaving when everyone else did, leaving them alone and Paul said, “I don’t understand. It’s supposed to help me get what I want and I want more than to just be rich.”

“And if we had been running the AI for years instead of weeks it wouldn’t have worked, but while your quantum computers increased the width of data, so to speak, it hasn’t increased the depth. That is to say that it’s only a couple of weeks old and so can’t predict anything without immediate effect. It makes it perfect for short term advantages like finding a lost dog, keeping someone from hurting you or even the stock market, but becoming powerful is a long term goal. Did you check the message after the one that told you to come here?”

Paul frowned and looked at the next message his phone had sent him. One he would have seen sooner if William hadn’t had him scroll back the message that sent him to the school. It said, “Look under the tool chest.”

You’ve got to be kidding me,Paul said, as he lifted the tool chest to find the same twenty dollar bill that William had found several days before and had lost under the chest just before the meeting started.

 

 

 

Elton Gahr was born in Kalispell, MT and lived there for the first twenty years of his life. As a kid he spent a lot of days riding his bike, playing video games and eventually he grew up and moved to Missouri. While in Missouri he has written comic books, novels, short stories, a massive amount of articles both for his own blog and for other people and delivered some pizza as well. He is currently working full time as a writer and hopes to continue to do so.

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