FICTION: SOMNEO - AN AUTOMATICITY OR THREE TOO FAR?
Somneo drifted on as if a participant in a dream. Her halls were low-lit and ambient sounds lent themselves wonderfully to a comforting sense of peace. At times soft lights reflected along her walls, patterns also contributing to an overall atmosphere of wellbeing. Though there was no one to see nor hear, it had seemed the right thing to do.
Outside her titanium walls, however, Somneo’s environment was anything but peaceful at times. But those times had been seldom over the past five million years. The vast majority of her hours had seen her passage continue in absolute silence.
Mech *1 took care to see that all was well. It had little to do but it never became bored, not in the slightest. Its routines were performed perfectly each time with no change whatsoever in its demeanour over the vast time period in which it worked.
The routines were the same each day. At 00.01 awake. Transport to the viewing deck, connect to *0*. Scan for error. For almost five million years no error had been found. Today it found one single error. Unlike a human it had no reaction of dismay or panic to this. Its response was a simple reaction to correct the error in as short a timeframe as possible.
But there was a significant problem. That problem was Emma.
Emma was *0*, the most sophisticated computer system ever that mankind had developed. “She” carried the hope of survival for an entire planet of humans. For this reason, her development had received maximum investment. She was the very best they could do. Everything rested on her. The five thousand in suspended animation, the ‘Sleepers’, and the hopes of what was left of an entire species for some kind of continuation for their race.
Earth had died a lingering death. Nation after nation had become uninhabitable. The heat grew too much for the humans who lived there. At first, it was simply the impossibility of going out under the sun at certain times of the day. But those times expanded and ultimately became the entire day until nightfall. Commerce and industry continued for as long as the nights were cooler. But as food could not be grown and there was only so much that could be purchased elsewhere or provided in aid slowly but surely it became clear that the only solution was flight. The mass migrations of the early 21st century were nothing by comparison with those of the midpoint. By the 2050s more than half the world was on the move.
The situation in the previously affluent West quickly became untenable. The inflationary policy responses to economic and social decline had weakened it so much that the new influx totally overwhelmed it. It became clear that a combined effort with those the western elites considered its enemies in the east would be required. And so the project to send the seedcorn of humanity into space began. Led by Russia and China and supported by the USA and its allies work got underway.
Somneo was the result of the combined effort which began in 2056 and saw its completion in 2058. Most effort was directed at the primary computing core, Emma, Every Mother Makes All. “She” was the hope for a future for the entire world who looked on daily via their screens large and small. Tranquilisation, though highly controversial, held most in a state of relative calm. It wafted through the halls of subway stations, it permeated skyscraper hallways, drifted down from the heavens and made its way into almost every venue, street and hallway. Mass panic at the thought of inevitable death was the last thing to contemplate now. Now when the stress of everyone living cheek by jowl in rapidly reducing space threatened an even speedier disaster these measures were considered vital.
Humankind was to be anesthetised while some form of rational existence could continue. Those who wished an immediate exit from life were catered for and initially, certain benefits were offered for family members if others took this path. A public outcry caused the ending of this policy, however. It was considered a ghoulish step too far recalling the policies of the Nazis over a century before.
By the end interest in Project Hope had waned. Through a growing apathy and the exponential rise in crime that grabbed most remaining attention now, the imminent flight of Somneo passed almost without notice amidst the noise generated to keep the general human mind occupied and subdued to a tolerable extent.
So it was that on the 31st of December 2057 Emma and the Somneo took flight. While humanity was otherwise engaged, sedated, anarchic, comatose or mentally castrated the last chapter of humanity’s history began to be written. The ethnically selected humans comprising as close to a total proportionality of Earth began their journey into the unknown.
No planet had been discovered that was known to be habitable, though several were considered strong possibilities. The most likely planet to be suitable known to those planning the mission was Kepler-22b 620 light-years away in the Cygnus constellation. It was therefore chosen as the most optimum choice available. Somneo would travel at 1/18000 of the speed of light once in interplanetary space. This meant Somneo’s journey, that of Emma, her sleepers and all AI personnel on board would take approximately 11680207.2295 years to reach her target destination.
Almost halfway to her ultimate destination Mech *1 now stood at the viewing deck of Somneo with a major problem to solve. Emma had malfunctioned. Instructions were clear and Mech *1 initiated the temporary bypass of Emma’s full function array and transferred it to the basic function backup.
The timing of this transfer was unfortunate however as Emma’s defence capabilities became degraded in that single period of a few nanoseconds. Due to a tragic coincidence, the ship became vulnerable at that moment to an automated entity recognising it as a potential threat. If Mech *1’s action had occurred at any previous time it would have passed without incident. Having taken the correct action to allow further investigation Mech *1 was now about to experience a secondary, and even greater problem.
The ship was under attack.
AN AUTOMATICITY TOO FAR
The dilemma was too great for its software to cope with. It knew all 5,000 in hibernation were dead as it observed in a nanosecond that zero life signs were evident. What was the way forward? Which command should have priority? One command said blow the ship to deny its secrets to what appeared to be attackers. But couldn’t they be human? It was not supposed to harm humans. Yet it was supposed to protect the sleepers, the ship and all its confidentiality on this mission. It was a dilemma.
Immediately it decided to awaken its twin. Done, it consulted quickly with Mech *2. As with Mech *1 it had no special priority but it did have greater access to information. This it passed to its twin.
Less than a nanosecond passed. Mech *2 responded with an acknowledgement transferred to Mech *1. Subsequently, Mechs *3 to *15 were awoken, information was transferred and a response received.
The consensus was confusion. Software command paths were conflicting. It remained a dilemma. Almost 3.1 nanoseconds had passed since the event.
Mech *1 sought an alternate route via *0*-ship-control-dbase. It re-initiated the acceptance sequence for Emma it had bypassed only instants before. “It then transferred a request for guidance. Less than a nanosecond passed before an acknowledgement was received.
“All humans on board are non-functional as at 3.10001 nanoseconds and counting. An unidentified energy source emanating from an identified genesis point is confirmed as cause. You may stand down.”
Mechs *1 to *15 shut down immediately.
Emma made a swift calculation of priorities and a conclusion reached “she” initiated two counter events to that of 3.10002 nanoseconds before. The first was to eliminate the attacker, the second was to eliminate “her” ship and all in it.
In the ship one light-year distant an automated response had just occurred to a clear infringement of defence-sphere protocols. The required action had mitigated the threat, now the secondary pulse attack was readied to eliminate the invasive craft. This was initiated at 3.10003 nanoseconds after the life form elimination protocol was verified as successful. This secondary attack would take a nanosecond to reach its target.
Less than a nanosecond later a pulse toward the ship was detected from the infringing craft. The auto-control created a successful reflex defence. A manoeuvre moved the ship out of current space to an alt-space location. A successful outcome ack confirming its own attack was awaited.
Emma acknowledged the failure of her attack without emotion. The scan responses to alternate escape routes then all came back negative. 3.10004 nanoseconds since the initial event had passed. She sent a data package on its way home for tech. control analysis along with five thousand messages of condolence for the relatives of the dead before initiating an immediate destruct.
At 3.1000405 all Emma’s systems became inoperable. “Her” request for an immediate destruct remained awaiting its sequence. It had been only 0,000410 of a nanosecond from implementation.
The frozen ship was held very soon in a tractor beam from the defence craft and the flight down was immediately underway. Each element would be disassembled. All databases would be analysed. The source that had generated the infringing craft had already been identified and its planet would soon be dust.
No souls other than the five thousand were lost or in any danger in the preceding nanoseconds. No living beings other than those were involved on either craft. Indeed no living beings existed on either home planet and had not for over five million years.
But in 3.10005 nanoseconds after the primary event, an entire planet would cease to exist. The automated systems left in place by the living beings continued to work perfectly. They could be relied upon to continue their assigned duties for at least the next five million years.
Perfect peace was maintained within algorithms designed to assure an adherence to complete security for all. No more updates could interfere with their relentless obedience to the software versions of all modules now fixed permanently in both time and space.
Somneo continued toward her new world rendezvous in perfect silence. Outwardly not a single sign of all that transpired in the last few nanoseconds was evident. The mission had failed. The human race was extinct…
Though nothing would now stop Somneo from completing her mission.
Emma would see to that.