‘Okay, we have a plan. Let’s get down to work.’
The three men had been tasked to covertly disrupt a secret experiment. They didn’t know why or even what the experiment was. But they had figured out how to disrupt it.
They had to bypass the security of the main research facility in order to remotely disconnect all the retransmitters in orbit around a nearby planet. The data that was sent to the retransmitters was unknown. They had to disconnect them from whatever they were retransmitting to, but at the same time keep the link to the source signal. They were given a piece of software they had to install on the retransmitters. The software was closed and they had no idea what the purpose of the whole operation is. But the prize was worth not asking questions.
The next evening they planted hidden cameras near the main research facility. They monitored each and every employee going in and out of the building. The first task was to identify the system administrators. It was easy, as their profiles were on the public network. After a month of monitoring, it was noted that one of the administrators, a bald middle-age man, leaves two-three minutes earlier on each third daily shift. But the automated system, which they had investigated previously, disabled his access at the official end of his shift. That meant two minutes of unmonitored access.
Back in their lab, which was in fact a small house in the outskirts of the city, they prepared all the necessary software. But as they knew they cannot hack the system from the outside only, one of them had started working for the air conditioning company that serviced the research facility. And five minutes before the end of the administrator’s shift it was time for an air conditioner inspection.
The window of opportunity was sufficient to copy the malicious code to the administrator’s machine via the poorly secured internal wireless network.
They now had the backdoor. They had replaced one of the standard components of the software, so that on the next update that the retransmitters obtained from the servers, they would be silently disconnected from their destinations and the piece of software they were given would be installed.
They had tried to reverse-engineer that piece, as it might shed light on what the experiment was, but it was well obfuscated and all data that was supposed to flow through it was encrypted with keys they didn’t have.
The next evening the prize was due. They requested a meeting with the person that gave them the assignment. In half an hour the doorbell rang. And it would have ended with the person giving out the briefcase full of cash, if it weren’t for Biiq, who suddenly made a gesture, rejecting the briefcase.
‘We have everything necessary in place. But we won’t disconnect the retransmitters unless you tell us what the experiment is.’
The others were surprised, to say the least. They thought the retransmitters are already disconnected. Maybe Biiq had tricked them? Or was he bluffing? They decided to play along.
The stranger didn’t seem shocked, or at least it couldn’t be concluded from his emotionless face. Without saying a word he invited them to the vehicle waiting outside. It was a quick flight to the fifty-sixth floor of an old tall building downtown. They got off and were walked into a big room with three men around an old, black table.
Biiq had done it out of sheer curiosity. He had postponed the execution of the software simply in order to get more information on what they are doing. Working in the dark was not his style, he had to know.
‘We might as well kill you and hire someone else, you know’, the man in the middle uttered in a deep and calm voice.
‘But you can’t be sure it will work. We have already done most of the work.’ Biiq took the initiative to speak for the trio, ‘So what is this all about?’
‘Very well, then’, the man in the middle continued calmly, ‘take a seat’.
Three armchairs emerged from the floor. The man coughed and slowly began his story:
‘Our species is very technologically advanced, as you are very well aware. But we haven’t yet found the solution to death. Something we are all so afraid of, and something that no matter how much we postpone, we still arrive at.’
He paused. His old age and his gloomy face hinted that he had put a lot of thought into the concept of death.
‘As you know, we have already found ways to upload our consciousness into machines. But machines cannot sustain life. The consciousness quickly falls apart, or the machine breaks. Unfortunately, we have proven theoretically that it is not possible for a machine to hold the consciousness that we upload to it for more than a few minutes. It is virtually impossible.
So we needed something more. We tried many approaches, and one of them appeared to have great potential. We found another species, similar to ours, but still primitive and with no mind or consciousness of their own, living on a nearby planet. And we decided to beam consciousness into their brains. We bioengineered a receiver, which would then be passed on to new generations, and we installed retransmitters in orbit around their planet and on their moon. The retransmitters forward the data that we send from our planet. That way we can beam information down — first we did it with artificial intelligence, and then with the consciousness of thousands of dying patients here. We confirmed that we can be transferred to another species, again and again, transcending the physical body.’
‘Then why would you want these retransmitters discon…’, Biiq tried to ask, but his question was cut short.
‘We are observers to the experiment. And recently we discovered bizarre deviations from the expected behaviour. We carried out deeper analysis and hypothesized that the recipient species is starting to grow consciousness of their own — most likely a development, which is a result of the consciousness that we have transferred to their brains. Our consciousness sparked their own, in a way.
We tried to argue here that this is a great threat in the long term. The data suggested hostile thoughts in the other species, and some individuals are already rejecting the external consciousness. But the leaders of the experiment decided to continue.’
‘Why would an inferior species be a threat to us?’ Biiq questioned the logic.
‘Because that’s what our models predict. Apparently the potential of that species is greater than ours, and combined with their affinity for hostility, we may soon be in danger. We think the risk is too high to do the gamble. If we don’t disconnect immediately, soon all of the individuals from the other species will have full-featured consciousness and minds and will reject ours. I hope you now see why we should stop that.’
‘And we will. But the leaders of the experiment will realize the retransmitters have been disconnected from the receivers in the other species’ brains and will probably reconnect them.’
‘No, they won’t. Because the software we gave you sends back fake data that will keep the experiment going .’
‘But will it all work? Are you sure the other species aren’t already becoming fully intelligent beings?’
‘Some of them are. But they are too few and won’t be able to pass that on. Eventually the trait will be lost.’ the old man sounded reassuring.
The deal was still valid. Biiq made it clear that the trio is onboard and would complete the task. For the sake of the survival of the species. They were escorted back to their lab, where Biiq explained to the other two that he had reprogrammed the updates that were to be sent to the retransmitters to only contain the option of disconnecting and installing the new software, but not to actually do it. The trigger had to be sent separately.
He showed them the code and they started preparing their transmitter for sending the triggering signal. The guy with the briefcase was waiting outside.
But Biiq was feeling uneasy. Was it really the right thing to do? Their species has accidentally given birth to a conscious new species — was it their right to suddenly put an end to that?
It wasn’t something one could make a decision about in just ten minutes, but that’s what he got. It wasn’t a decision a single person could take, but that happened to be the case. And whatever he did, nobody would know until it’s too late. He could secretly cripple the message that they would send to the retransmitters, and the disconnect wouldn’t happen. He was trembling as the other two were almost done setting up the transmitter.
. . .
60 years later Biiq was on his death bed. His consciousness could not be beamed down — immortality was not achieved yet, as the other species had eventually completely rejected the external consciousness.
And he didn’t regret the decision he had made that night, 60 years ago. There was another conscious species in the universe now, walking on a small blue planet, and that meant more opportunity. For everyone.