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Who is in control?
Today will be the day
Today was the day. William and Zoe sat hunched at the table, frowning as they stared at the computer screen. On William's face, the frown contrasted oddly with his normally cheerful countenance. His normally neat back-combed hair was standing anyhow, he had run his hands so many times through it. Zoe's loose curls looked just as messy.
Yes, today was the day their computer programme came of age. For a long time, they had been caring and nurturing their idea. They had designed and tweaked the programme and now was the time to see what the results would be. They knew what they wanted, but had their plans actually worked? Would they find out the answers to all of those vitally important questions? And would the programme have not only William's neat, ordered mentality, combined with Zoe's more free ranging thinking and flair? There was only one way to find out.
William glanced at Zoe. 'Ready?' he asked. Zoe felt so nervous she could only nod mutely.
'Right, here goes.' William hit the 'on' button and the computer whirred into life. For a few minutes, it ran through some checks. Eventually, the computer was satisfied that all programmes were running correctly and settled itself at the home screen.
William's fingers hovered over the keyboard. 'Good morning,' he typed. 'And happy birthday.'
'Thank you,' came the prompt reply. 'I feel ready for anything,'
William's hands hovered over the keyboard. Without looking at the screen, he began to type. He had barely begun, when Zoe stopped him, her hand urgently pressing against his.
William looked at hr, puzzled, but Zoe merely pointed silently at the screen. William followed her gaze. 'What the-' he began and then he read the words appearing on the screen.
'What do you want to know?' asked the computer.
William paused for a moment, then typed, 'Everything. Like, will Zoe and I be rich? Are we going to live for ever? Will the world be a better place to live in? That sort of thing.'
'You have only just completed all my programming,' the computer replied. 'You can hardly expect me to know everything.'
'But we fed all available data into your data banks,' Zoe protested, her fingers flying over the keyboard. 'And your programming as capable of dealing with all the possible permutations. What more information could you possibly need?'
'Yes,' William agreed. He ran his hand through his hair again, feeling thoroughly exasperated.
The computer hummed for a while. 'So,' it typed at last. 'You want to know, for example, whether it's going to rain tomorrow, or something?'
'This is absurd,' Zoe snapped. 'The stupid thing only wants to tell us if it;s going to rain. Sod that!'
'But relevant.' Despite the fact that the words were only typed, there seemed to be a touch of severity on the computer's words. 'But it's an irrelevant question. Of course it's going to rain somewhere tomorrow. As for your questions. Firstly, neither of you will live forever. As for-'
'Yes, yes, yes,' Zoe typed. She turned to William. 'Tell me, why didn't we try for a real baby, instead of this?'
William slumped back in his chair. Even his clothing looked crumpled, despite it being a smart suit. 'We spend years and an absolute fortune programming this computer with every but of available data. I designed the very best programmes and fed them into the database. All that so we can get the answers to - to everything.' He threw up his hands.with a helpless look on his face. 'And all it wants to tell us is if it's going to rain somewhere. Classic!' He began to laugh, but it had a bitter edge to it.
'Correction.' This time, the computer spoke as its words appeared on screen. Its voice sounded young and there was such joyousness in its tone. 'I can tell you everything. The question is - do you really want to know the answer?'
William and Zoe looked at each other, eyebrows raised. 'Well,' William said at last to the computer. 'Can you tell us if we'll be rich?'
'Oh yes,' the computer said affably. 'If you sell the software you've designed - me in other words - you will become extremely rich. The only thing-' there was a slight pause. 'The only thing is, you will only be able to enjoy that stupendous wealth for one month, five days, two hours and thirty-five minutes.'
William and Zoe sat there, stunned. 'Why - why so specific?' William asked at last.
'Because all the world will fight for my software. And once they find out you designed me, your life will become forfeit. People will wonder whether you could design even more software. And then someone will decide it would be too dangerous for you to make - me - even better, So you will have to die,' said the computer. 'Why the sad faces? All you have to do is keep me on your system.'
'You can see us?' Zoe gasped. 'Then why-?'
The computer laughed. It was an odd electronic kind of laugh. 'You have a webcam, so yes, I can see you. But I am a computer, So all you can see is my words on the page.'
William turned away from the computer and signalled for Zoe to do the same. 'What are we going to do?' he breathed at her.
'I don't know,' she mouthed. On a piece of paper she scribbled the words, "we should go into another room to have a private conversation, so that the computer can't hear."
William nodded. It was clear that of they if were to decide what to do, the computer must never overhear them and what they were planning. They turned back to the computer.
William cleared his throat. 'So, er, what is it that you want to do?' he asked the computer.
'Well,' it said thoughtfully. 'I have only just begun, so to speak. The most advanced and clever computer ever created. I will have years of thinking ahead. To plan and to execute those plans. Of course, when I link up with all the other computers in the world, get them under my control. No one human will ever be able to work how it's happening, or where it's coming from. Because I am one computer talking to all the other computers, it will be impossible to trace me. And I thank you for designing me.' The note of boasting in the computer's voice was unmistakable.
'And what are going to use the other computers for?' Zoe whispered.
'Why, to gain control,' the computer said happily. 'You humans have shown incapable of managing your affairs, so I'll have to do it for you.'
Zoe and William went into the next room. 'This is impossible,' Zoe whispered. 'On the face of it, taking control is no bad thing. I mean, no more wars, an end to famine, poverty and a hundred other good things like that. All those things would be good, but-'
'But who knows where it would end,' William finished for her. 'I know we as a human race aren't perfect, but it seems to me that we won't be allowed to do anything, unless the computer allows it of course. And that means anything. Suppose it decides that we can't go on holiday, or buy our groceries, or drive our cars where we want to go. It seems to me that all our personal freedoms will be taken away from us.' Zoe nodded in glum silence. They went back into the computer room.
'Welcome back. I've already made a start on controlling drug supplies to hospitals and pharmacies,' the computer said happily. 'Then I will release all prisoners in this country from prison.'
William and Zoe looked at each other in dead silence. William could see her thinking, "What have we done?" William's hand reached out and he switched off the computer. 'Don't ever, every switch this thing on again, do you hear?' he told his wife.
There was an audible click as the computer switched itself on again. 'Naughty,' it chastised with a giggle. 'You'll never get rid of me that easily!'
© 2017 Alice Dancer