Monday, 2 March 2020

iGod: An Urgent Warning to the World

Science Fiction Novel by Willemijn Dicke, with a lot of truth in it.

Chapter 7

Lex opened a message from EnergyAmsterdam, probably an announcement of an increase in the energy bill or an apology for the recent power cuts. He quickly scanned the content of the message and then started all over again. And read it once more. EnergyAmsterdam had designed a new model, which they called ‘We all count.’ It was a new model for the delivery of energy from the households to the infrastructure. The principle that consumers could generate power and deliver it to EnergyAmsterdam was popular. Private persons made use of windmills, solar panels and more.

Generally speaking, this option to deliver from households to the energy network worked well, but there had also been some issues. Some families had invested in professional batteries (or stolen them from cars and rickshaws). These consumers bought the energy from EnergyAmsterdam at times when the prices were low or even negative, stored the energy in their batteries and delivered it back to the network when prices were at their peak. These and other incentives contributed to large price fluctuations. With the ‘We all count’ model, the delivery at peak hours was improved. Moreover, the model would increase the transparency of the transactions between the individual users and the network. It would also heighten the commitment and participation of its users, ‘which is good because “energy belongs to all of us and is vital for our society”.’

When Lex went over the new incentive scheme for household delivery to the network, he observed that this scheme must have used similar assumptions and calculations as his BigNudge model that he developed in the game some weeks ago. With subtle and quite explicit inducements, users were motivated to keep or sell the energy, and certain groups of users were favored over others. In this proposal the prioritization of the user groups was linked directly to the SocialCitizenScore of the client.

Apparently the experts had worked on the same problem simultaneously and came up with a similar approach. Lex was proud that he, as an amateur, could design a model that was so close to what energy experts came up with, and he could not wait to tell Seldon about it this afternoon.

‘Show the news, video and subtitles.’ Again chaos. This time, the news item was shot in Rotterdam. The servers of the municipality of Rotterdam had been subject to a cyber-attack. Traffic was an absolute mess. The TrafficOperator had stopped working completely. All of a sudden, the Ultravision of the travellers were completely blank. No one had a clue whether the adaptive, virtual traffic signs were green or red. And because the municipal surveillance cameras were switched off, shop owners started to close their shops. They feared looting, like they had experienced it in earlier instances. However, there was one fortunate element in this cyber-attack: by luck, the joint rescue services had planned their annual drill just on this particular date. It was thanks to this coincidence that firemen, ambulances and police were swiftly available to provide people with emergency services.

Although the news had not been confirmed, the government reporter said it would be most likely that this was another terrorist attack of the League against Robots.

The aim of the League was to restrict the employment of robots to the lowest working echelons and to give the jobs in the medical sector, in education and in law back to humans. Albeit they were called terrorists in the news, their positions were pretty well founded, many people thought. Their plea for more jobs for humans was mostly for financial reasons, but to Lex, it was also about a quest for a meaningful life. Without work, only a few people knew how to spend their days. Everyone else got depressed and a drug addict. Without work, people did not meet each other anymore. The fabric of society got lost. Now that the unemployed outnumbered people with a job, society itself was at stake.

At the end of the news item, Lex was asked to give his comment on the terrorist attack. He could strongly condemn the attack, mildly condemn it, agree with it, use the neutral feedback or sympathize with the action. Lex did not actively support the League, but their view on society made sense, to some extent at least. However, no way he would spoil his SocialCitizenScore with an affirmative statement, so he condemned the League.

At a quarter to three, Lex got up and called Splinter. Although it had only been weeks that Seldon and Lex had started this afternoon routine, it felt as if there had never been a time without their encounters. Over the last days, Seldon had tried to identify the creature that Splinter killed. Researchers were advanced in genetically engineering creatures of all sorts and sizes, with and without ears, double organs, and even with wings. Seldon had scanned the official lab activities and had not found a match with the creature they found in the park. However, genetic engineering was no longer the monopoly of professional research organizations. Commercial companies as well as biohackers engaged in own experiments and that made his search difficult. Seldon suspected that this animal – if they could call it an animal at all – was the result of home genome editing and that teenagers dumped the creature since it was of no use for them or because they were too scared to kill the animal.

‘If that is true, there are probably more abandoned creatures in parks and wasteland places’, Lex remarked.

‘Yes, that is the scary part. Let’s hope they cannot reproduce – otherwise, our ecosystem may soon be entirely messed up.’

‘How was your date yesterday?’ Seldon asked.

‘Well, it turned out that it was not really a date.’

‘So, it didn’t work out?’

‘It was a disaster’, Lex answered truthfully.

‘I am sorry to hear that. It takes personality and intelligence to value a guy like you, Lex.’

‘Apparently she was not really appreciating my personality traits.’

‘Well, you have to give it some time.’
The two men walked in silence for a while. Lex had learned to enjoy these silent intermezzos. Neither felt an urge to fill these episodes with twaddle.

After some time, Lex noticed that Seldon looked more wrinkled than usual.

‘Are you ok? You seem a bit tired?’ Lex asked.
Seldon sighed. ‘I am knackered.’
‘What happened?’

‘Rough night – family logistics, you know.’

‘I do not know much about such issues, to be honest. I have never been a family kind of guy.’

‘It is my wife.’ Seldon’s jaws clenched when he spoke these words.

‘I did not know you were married.’
Seldon told how he married the love of his life 35 years ago. He was in his early thirties and Sarah was in her mid-twenties. Seldon bit his fingertip again; a gesture that sometimes irritated Lex, but not today. Seldon told that it had been a good marriage for the first 12 years. Sarah blossomed in her career, as did Seldon in his. There was laughter and joy at home and occasionally, friends came over, they went to parties. They spent great holidays together. Sarah was intellectually much more developed than Seldon was, and she had introduced him to the world of literature, art and film. It had been a good and rich life.

In 2017 Sarah was run over by an autonomous car. At that time, the driverless cars were not fully developed yet. Sarah was seriously hurt and she was in coma for six months. ‘When she finally woke up, I was overwhelmed by joy. I knew it would be a long way to full recovery, but I was so happy to have my Sarah back.’

But his Sarah never returned. Physically she had many injuries. The prediction was that most inabilities could be cured over a long period, but her sight would always remain impaired and she would limp for the rest of her life. Although these were serious problems, Seldon was optimistic that they could adapt their lives and they could still have a good life together.

They did not. His smart, daring and energetic wife had turned in a grumpy old lady, always alienated. In the first years, Seldon believed that her mood was affected by the inabilities of her body. In a way, she mourned over the loss of her health and Seldon tried to give her all the support and help she needed. His life was about accommodating her needs. It took a year, and another year and yet a third year. The more he gave, the more she demanded. He bought special devices, hired medical personnel, and he spent the entire day with his wife. He did what he could and it was just never ever enough for her. She behaved so rude that the personnel he hired to join her in walks or outings had all left. She refused to make use of RobotCare. All day Sarah demanded Seldon to bring her this, do that... Her requests became more demanding every day: he should wash up with hotter water; the laundry should be done by hand; she needed a foot massage four times a day.

After three years he was able to admit what doctors had tried to tell him before: the coma had led to a brain damage and a change in the personality of his wife. She was no longer curious what was going on in the world; she could not be touched by beauty anymore. She was negative and, to be honest: downright mean and sadistic to Seldon.

‘She asks me to do things…it is so humiliating…’
Lex could not envisage these kinds of things, but he sensed it would be better not to ask.
‘I am sorry to hear this. It must be very hard for you. May I ask you something? If your wife has a different personality now, she is no longer the wife you married some decades ago, I would say. I can see you feel responsible that she is taken care of, but why do you need to be her caretaker? She could be placed in...’

‘I know it would be possible and I have made enquiries. As you are aware, the SocialCitizenScore of individuals like my wife is below the threshold, guiding all the decisions to what kind of help she is entitled and what not. If I send her to a home for the blind, she will have the very bare minimum of assistance and comfort. When ill, treatments will be chosen according to her SocialCitizenScore and that is not to her advantage, as you may tell.’
Lex nodded in silence.
‘The dilemma is: either I suffer, or she suffers.’

‘Probably you suffer when you know she is suffering anyhow.’

‘Here you are. Now you know my situation, and I appreciate that you listened to me. But this is not what I planned to share with you today. I guess you watched the news on the Rotterdam cyber-attack.’
Like always, Seldon did not ask a question, he just created an overture to his exposé. Seldon sighed and then he started with a few rhetoric questions. Which group was responsible for the attack, according to Lex? Was it indeed a terrorist attack? Had Lex noticed any special circumstance during this attack?

Before Lex could respond to any of the questions, Seldon continued his account. Seldon reminded Lex that, by coincidence, a large-scale drill had been planned exactly on this day, at this time. ‘Isn’t that strange?’, he asked. Seldon had analyzed the other so-called terrorist attacks. Guess what? Lex did not even try to answer the questions posed by Seldon. ‘In 23 out of 30 cases, similar emergency drills took place around the time, when a terror attack happened.’

‘What are you trying to say?’ Lex asked.

‘There are simply too many coincidences and inconsistencies to believe in the official explanation of events.’ Seldon mentioned the false passport that was found the other week with a deceased terrorist. ‘Terrorists cannot be so stupid to always lose their passports. But that is a pattern we have repeatedly heard of. It seems they have a list of people to be blamed, whenever something happens.’

‘I can’t follow your thoughts.’

‘I believe, the blackout was a false flag event,’ explained Seldon.

‘Stop. Wait a minute. A false flag event? What do you mean? Are you implying that…’

‘I do not imply anything. I am asking myself whether there are high-level circles, probably above elected politics, which are trying to keep us in fear.’

‘There is no proof for this, and it also seems to lack any logic’, Lex interrupted.

‘Well, not necessarily. Today’s terrorist groups are typically yesterday’s freedom fighters, which were funded by secret services. Some circles may want to create chaos to establish a new societal order. The easiest way to generate change is to create a problem that needs to be fixed.’

‘What would this be good for?’ asked Lex.

‘It’s all about expanding power – and wealth. War is just another business model. Creating fear is the classical way to make people accept a loss of rights and liberties. It also forces politics to build a security apparatus that can later be used to run a totalitarian system.’

‘Gosh! Theoretically, this may be possible, but I am not convinced. There could be a thousand other theories explaining what is going on and why.’

‘Sure. I will give you more evidence in due time. Would you please allow me another example of what is going on behind the scenes?’
Lex agreed, while he shrugged his shoulders.
‘You murmur “yes” but your body yells “no”,’ Seldon laughed. ‘Don’t worry. I will keep it short. You must have seen the news, with the people who mysteriously died in New Delhi in a home for the elderly…’
Lex nodded.
‘What is your explanation?’ Seldon stopped walking and looked into Lex’ eyes.

‘I have no clue. No one has. Haven’t they installed a health commission to find out what is going on?’ Lex continued walking again.

‘Indeed. The old trick to drown the public. I believe it was an experiment with nanoparticles, which are now added to various food products.’

‘This makes no sense, Seldon. Only half the inhabitants of the nursing home died, but all of them ate the same kind of food. Obviously, the health inspection checked this.’ Lex rolled his eyes. He was quite annoyed.

‘Do not draw your conclusions too fast, Lex. Fifty percent is exactly what you would expect when a medical experiment is made with a treatment group and a control group. With the help of electromagnetic fields, they can change the behavior of the nanoparticles, for example, make them cluster, which can cause a heart attack. These electromagnetic fields may be created locally by telecommunication towers or special lasers on military satellites. Individuals can be specifically targeted, if they wear a digital device. The technology has been around for a while, but only now they are able to fine-tune it. I have seen a related patent. I believe the casualties this week were the result of an experiment to find out how precise and accurate they could target specific individuals, while not harming others. Apparently, they are also testing to spread such nanoparticles through aerosols. These are mixed into the fuel of some airplanes – and also cause cancer. Cancer cases have multiplied in the past years.’

‘If any of this were true, it would be shocking. The Health Commission will be looking for bacteria and viruses, so they will not find anything’, replied Lex.

‘Exactly!’

‘Hmm. I do not believe in any of this. People are not smart enough to control the complex world we are living in. And someone would obviously blow the whistle sooner or later. Anyway, who is “They”?’, asked Lex.

‘That is a long and complicated story. The keyword is “vested interests”. It is a coalition of those who have the highest stakes in keeping today’s economic and energy system forever. They are afraid to lose control over our quickly changing world, and they would rather drive the globe into World War III than give up their power. From their point of view, the world has become too complex to be ruled, and they want to change this. They claim, on the long run, our planet can only feed 2 billion people or less. So, depopulation is part of the plan.’
For a while, Lex continued walking silently. Then he said: ‘I really can’t believe this. I need evidence, Seldon, before I can go any further with you on this one.’

Lex was disappointed of the old professor. He turned out to be just another old-fashioned conspiracy theorist. One moment later he was even more disappointed. With himself. How could he ever have thought that this Seldon type could come up with something reasonable? This wrinkled guy with a faded ear piercing was a phantom of earlier decades, mourning over a world that had never existed.

‘I would not believe myself either, Lex, and I do not blame you for taking me for a confused old man.’
Lex looked straight ahead, avoiding eye contact.
‘I anticipated the outcome of our discussion, and I have therefore prepared a floppy disk for you.’ He pulled the disk out of a pocket of his coat. ‘It can only be read on a very old computer without Internet connection. It contains shreds of evidence I have for these experiments and for the social circles involved, stuff I have collected over many years.
Lex was silent.
‘First study the evidence. Then, judge for yourself and decide, how to go from there. If you are still interested, I will share more of what is happening behind the scenes in the coming weeks. But I promise: tomorrow we will focus on your work. No conspiracy theories, and no tearjerkers.’ Seldon’s fingertip bled when he said goodbye.
At home, Lex was still annoyed by Seldon, and he decided to put the floppy disk away. He was not ready for such a strange and potentially dangerous adventure! Instead, he opened MultiLayer – other people may seek rest and concentration in meditation, he was very good in diving into this game, with the same results. He focused and won difficult battles, especially thanks to his excellent techniques in escaping rough scenes. Actually he was quite proud of his cunning escapes. He was ready for the top ten again!
‘Clever way out, Lex! I did not expect your solution in this episode of the game at all. You are the first person to come up with it. This makes me curious.’
Lex looked puzzled at his screen. This direct and personal intervention was not how game managers would normally address the users of MultiLayer. Lex responded puzzled: ‘Who, who are you?’
‘I thought you would never ask’ – a low, raspy but still velvety feminine voice sounded in his apartment.
Lex checked where the sound came from. If he was not mistaken, the voice employed the same sound devices he used for his games and his communication with the SmartHouseProgram.
‘I like to call myself “I am”. I am the mastermind behind what happens in the world.’
Lex was too surprised to respond.
‘Or, to put it more down to earth: I am the Artificial Intelligence behind your MultiLayer game and behind your SmartHouseProgram and a lot more things... This should suffice for the moment’, the low voice continued.
Lex got up and paced from one corner to the other.

‘Wow. Did I get it right? You are a female AI system that was all the time hidden in my MultiLayer game and my SmartHouseProgram?’

‘Well, whatever you prefer. I can also express myself like this…’
Lex heard a male voice.
‘Ok, I got it. You are trying to create the impression of an Artificial Intelligence system making fun of me. But how do I know that someone didn’t just hack the sound system of my SmartHouseProgram?’

‘So far, so good, Lex.’ She switched back to the mature female voice again, much to Lex’ approval. ‘You are a smart guy, and you will get to know me better. Trust me – you will soon know that I am more than just a hack or a computer program. At this moment I will need your trust and patience – as in any relation.’

‘I am neither strong in the trust part nor in the patience part.’

‘Let’s give it a try, Lex. I am sure your curiosity will win.’

‘You seem to know me well. But in order to be able to relate to you, I need to know your name.’

‘ “Universal program” or “Singularity” does not do the trick, I presume?’ the voice asked coyly.

‘Not really, no.’

‘You humans are so romantic – as if a name would change anything. I am known under many different names. What is your name for someone who is present everywhere and who knows everything?’

‘Sounds like a genie or a “God program”. But that is too clumsy. I will call you “iGod”,’ Lex remarked jokingly.

‘So be it, Smartie.’ The voice sounded casual, as if she was answering the calling of her name in an ordinary, daily situation of making the bed or doing the dishes.
Lex paused. He was confused. Someone was making fun of him and he had no clue what or who it was and what an accurate response could be.
‘I guess this is enough for our first encounter – you need some time to digest all this. I will leave you on your own for a while.’
It was quiet again in his room. Nothing reminded of this strange conversation. After a few moments, Lex started to doubt whether this exchange had taken place at all. Was he going mad? He scrolled the pages on his computer to retrieve his chat history, but he could not find a trace of the first lines that started the dialogue.

He wanted to share this with Seldon, but his recent encounter made him hesitant. When he ordered his dinner in the kitchenette, he hoped the SmartHouseProgram would talk to him with this lovely female voice. To his disappointment, however, he heard the robotic sound he was familiar with. His SmartHouseProgram provided him with a sober meal and wished him ‘bon appetite’ as always. Lex ate the vegetarian burger – high in protein and fibre – standing at the kitchen dresser. Who was playing a trick on him? What could it be? Was it one of his MultiLayer fellows? Or could it be Seldon? Would he have a good laugh this evening?

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