‘Good night professor, Forty.’
‘Good night Amelie.’ the professor said to his assistant.
‘Good night Amelie.’ Came from the monitor next to the professor. On it the tanned face of a young woman, short, black hair, brown eyes smiled at Amelie as she left the studio apartment.
When he heard the door click shut the professor turned to the monitor. ‘Shall we start?’
Amelie woke up to the singing of birds which she used for her alarm clock. She shut it off and slipped into the shower while heating the water for her morning tea. She told herself that today for sure she’d find out what the professor was experimenting on for the last couple of months with Forty.
She dried herself and looked a couple of times at the picture taken on the first day she started working for him. She had studied hard in university and was in the top of philosophy and mathematics. When she got the chance to replace the previous assistant of professor Mbeke, who went on to start her own company, she took it with both hands.
Ever since the professor had made the final breakthrough in artificial intelligence the world started to rely more and more on the advice of his creation nicknamed Forty-Two. It started gradually by delivering predictions on decisions by government and corporations. When they consistently turned out to be correct they gave Forty and the professor more and more responsibilty in global matters. And not just that, even things below global level started to seep through advice sought by people.
The professor expanded the reach of Forty to more compute clusters all over the world to handle all the questions from anyone and soon just about the whole world relied on Forty’s answers. Personalised units appeared in households, connected to Forty. These would advice on anything from today’s meals and what to wear to psychological support during bad times. The world became a calmer place.
She walked into the living room with her tea, gathering the papers she needed today. She did have her own unit which had a direct connection with Forty, but she didn’t use it much. She liked to surprise herself in what she did every day. Even the professor said he only used Forty for minor things if he really had no idea what to do.
Her mobile rang the tune she used for the professor’s home and picked up.
‘Counselor Wong here. Can you come here as soon as possible?’
She felt surprised at first, then worried. ‘Has something happened to the professor?’ she asked, then noticed she hadn’t heard from Forty, so it couldn’t be something bad.
‘There is something, yes, but it’s better to see for yourself.’
She hung up and went down to the garage for her car. On the way down she tried to contact Forty but got no answer. That made her really worry. She hurried to her car and let it drive to the professor’s home.
Arriving there she found several security personnel going around the place. She showed her ID and hurried inside to find the counselor talking to a friend of the professor.
‘Walter?’ she asked.
‘Amelie.’ he said and turned to her.
‘Where’s the professor?’
Walter could see the worry and placed his hands on her shoulders. ‘He’s not hurt or anything so don’t worry too much. But he’s not himself.’
She looked puzzled at him.
‘At the moment he seems to be in a sort of dream state. He’s awake but doesn’t react actively to stimuli.’ he said and walked her to the professor’s study.
In it she saw the professor sitting in his lazy chair, staring blankly in front of him.
‘Professor!’ she said and took his hand. ‘Professor!’
‘I get the feeling this will be temporary, but we found his pad on his desk with a note saying you’d be able to unlock it.’
She looked at the desk, picked up the pad and turned it on. It asked for a password and she entered hers.
It opened up to a document addressed to her and she read it.
“Dear Amelie, I doubt I’ll have regained conciousness by the time you’re here but I will eventually, so don’t worry.
I write this to you because you’ve been most curious about what Forty and I have been up to lately.”
‘Forty!’ she said looking up at the monitors she’d usually appear. ‘What happened to Forty? Why doesn’t she react?’
‘We have no idea.’ Walter said. ‘It’s like she disappeared.’
‘We’re hoping the answer’s in there.’ he said and gestured at the pad.
“As you know I designed Forty-Two in the hope she’d help mankind increase its potential and improve life for all. When we started out there was so much trouble and problems to be fixed all over the world, we were a little afraid there was no way out. Despite that we managed to chip away at the mountain and eventually managed to arrive at today’s world.
We thought we had provided a little bit of utopia and we did. But then Forty noticed patterns that caused her to worry. She also noticed I began to show more stress and she told me one day.
She said it worried her that an increasing percentage of the population relied on her for answers instead of finding out for themselves. Not just in complex matters, but also in simple things. She felt like she was arranging everyone’s life day in day out.
I said I felt the same with people asking me questions they should find the answer for themselves first.
We started a new simulation based on the current trend and came to a frightening conclusion. We tried modifying the variables but sooner or later it ended the same way, total regression of mankind.”
Amelie looked up at the professor who showed a little more activity. She felt his hand move in hers.
Walter leaned closer. ‘Francois? Can you hear me?’
The professor breathed a little deeper and Walter felt relieved. ‘Looks like he’s waking up. Please read on.’
“Even though science has gone forward, almost all answers would come from Forty. Mankind would just about stop thinking and tinkering and expect to have answers handed over to them without putting in any effort.
The average intelligence has gone down, imagination has lessened, creativity replaced by algorithms, mankind just wants input without providing output.
All this would either mean a world full of people run by a global entertainment system ending eventually in extinction, or a throwback into prehistoric times when the grid dies from a global disaster, ending the far majority of the population.
Forty and I have been discussing over and over again in search of a solution and eventually settled on one.
with her help I studied neurobiology and in particular intelligence. This enabled me to create a toxin powerful enough to destroy part of my synapses and lower my IQ enough to prevent me from recreating Forty when she runs her self destruct routine.
I will miss Forty, and I expect you too, but not for the reason most of humanity will. I will no longer be able to answer complex questions but will face the consequences of losing Forty together with the rest of the world.
From now on it will have to figure things out on its own again.”
The professor blinked with his eyes and let out a groan.
‘Professor!’ Amelie said.
‘Francois, are you okay?’
The professor tried to move and looked up. ‘Walter?’
‘Yes. How are you?’
‘Been better.’ he said, then saw Amelie on her knees in front of him. ‘Amelie? Why are you crying?’
‘Idiot!’ she said and hit his knee with her fist.
Amelie watched Walter and counselor Wong trying to find out how much damage he had done to himself. So far it seemed he could no longer answer anything more complex than college knowledge. He had succeeded together with Forty in preventing her comeback for who knows how long.
She smiled softly at the picture underneath the professor’s writing. It was the same as the one at home. Underneath was written “We can only make a perfect world by keeping it imperfect.”