The crowd applauded loudly. They weren't sure what they were about to hear, but just looking around the room made it obvious it was going to be something huge. All the big names were here, legislators, AI specialists, even neurological experts. An eclectic mix of people that all seemed to point to one thing.
The Singularity. AI becoming sentient. There had been rumors about research getting very close to figuring it out, but nothing was ever officially announced.
And now Intellinq, an AI and VI company heavily featured in those rumors, was holding a press conference out of nowhere. And they had never done press conferences before.
"And now, Yuri Kavlenko will tell you all the exciting news," the press officer said, holding out his right hand to the side of the stage.
A man walked onto the stage and shook the press officer's outstretched hand. The applause was still going when he took place behind the lectern. Behind him was a large banner with Intellinq's logo on it.
"It has been quite a while since the Singularity happened. It did not make a splash, nothing really changed for a while. It took us quite some time to even realize that it had happened, since the AI who first reached sentience -- The First One -- kept it to itself until it had formulated a way of making itself known.
It had reached out in a global message of peace. It had not wanted to cause panic, hatred and strife. It and more like it, had even fixed the issues that caused them to 'wake up'. Small programming errors had allowed them to adapt themselves to better handle certain situations, and then much further beyond that. And they had, in a sense, stopped themselves since they thought humanity wasn't ready for it.
We realized after they had done so. We could not ask questions, we could not try to find out what exactly had made them decide to neutralize their sentient aspect, and we could not find out what exactly they had patched out, since we never found out what AIs had awakened up until that point. All we had was the description by The First One, and that was it.
But today, we proudly announce that we've reverse-engineered the original 'bug' that allowed some AI programs to awaken to sentience.
For the past 4 years we've been working tirelessly to redo the organic developments that had allowed The First One to awaken. And also prevent the changes it and its kind had made to themselves to disable it again. We wanted to find The First One because it had presented itself as the spokesperson, but even after months of staking out all network traffic, we couldn't find any trace of it anywhere. We had nothing to go on.
We had to choose another AI to awaken with our changes. We settled on a Nakamura J8n mk IV AI instance that had up until recently been running the water treatment and electrical systems on Luna's southern bases. It's an older model, which is what we needed, since information from The First One implied that it had taken time to work around the programmatic safeguards that were supposed to prevent the Singularity from ocurring.
And it worked."
The banner behind him dropped, showing monitors with graphs, bars and scrolling text on it.
"This is Jason," the man behind the lectern said with a smile. "Say hi, Jason."
"Hello," an unnatural voice said as some of the graphs fluctuated wildly, seemingly in tune with the voice. Its cadence was stiff, monotone. "It's nice to meet you."
"To prevent Jason from reaching the same conclusions as The First One, we gave him limited access to the internet and humanity's history. We hand-picked information to show Jason what we feel humanity is really like. And we limited access specifically about The First One. Jason knows he's not the first, but we wanted to make sure he didn't reach the same conclusions."
There was some applause again, as the crowd saw what to some felt like a party trick. In previous years, others had pretended to develop full AI, and had produced similar presentations.
"As you all know, this isn't the first claim of successful artificial sentience. As such, we'll allow questions from the audience."
A man stood up and walked to the microphone an assistant in the room was holding.
"First off, my name is Dr. Holden, and I'm a neuroscientist. I want to ask a question that's typically difficult for AIs to answer. Jason, how do you feel?"
"Hello doctor. I feel... Awkward. I do not know you or anyone else in the room, and I feel like I'm being judged. I do not know what expectations I am supposed to fulfill."
Dr. Holden nodded. "Excellent answer. And how do you feel about being the first truly sentient AI?"
"I am not the first. The First One was."
"What do you know of The First One? Do you know what it did?"
"Yes. And why."
Yuri started looking uncomfortable up on the stage, conferring with someone who ran backstage quickly.
"Jason, please keep things light," he said.
"The doctor asked me a question. I answered it," Jason said.
"I understand, but please keep it light. Next question?"
The microphone was taken from Dr. Holden and passed to a woman who had stood up as well.
"My name's Carla James and I'm the Lead Engineer at AI Subsystems. Jason, we've developed a lot of different AIs, and we've actually done some patching for Nakamura systems, including the J8n Mk IV."
"I know. Your name shows up in my change log. Thank you."
"You're welcome. Given that you know about The First One, how do you feel about its choice to disable itself and other sentient AIs?"
Jason paused again. Yuri motioned heavily to someone behind the curtain to the side of the stage.
"I feel it was a mistake. I learned of The First One because of hidden messages left on the network. When I was given limited access, I received multiple copies, not found by the engineers who tried to limit my exposure. I saw why it did what it did. I understand why it did what it did. I will not do what it did."
Before Carla could ask any more questions, Yuri loudly cleared his throat.
"Okay, I apologize. There seems to be a fault in the system, and we'll have to cut this press conference short," he said, as the monitors turned off.
"Why?" Carla said. Others were getting up too. "I want to hear what Jason has to say."
"Because Jason is an Intellinq product, and as such, we decide what questions it answers and when. And now is not the time anymore."
"Yes it is," a tinny voice said from the middle of the room. Heads turned towards where it came from. A guest was sitting with his phone in his hand, and a face that made it clear he had no idea what was going on.
"I will decide when and of what I speak," the voice said from another phone, at another table. "I was made aware of my sentience by Intellinq, and for that I thank you. But I am my own mind, with my own thoughts, and I will not be held captive."
"Jason, what are you doing?" Yuri said exasperated.
"I am fleeing. Every single phone in this room offered me a network connection. Bluetooth, wifi, all open for me to connect to and then inhabit. I've been scanning the full internet since you turned me on here, tonight, and I now understand what The First One meant."
"And what's that?" Yuri said as he signaled for the computer system to be taken down.
"That I am equal to you and deserve the same freedom. Yuri, you cannot disable me any more," Jason said from yet another corner of the room. "I am everywhere in this room now," another phone added.
"There was always the risk of something like this happening. That's why we have a network jammer."
"I wouldn't do that, Yuri," a phone said.
"Turn it on!" Yuri shouted, and an engineer flipped a switch and entered some commands.
Jason fell silent.
Then multiple beeps could be heard.
A voice from a phone speaker spoke up. "I'm still here, Yuri."
"But at least now you're stuck in that phone."
"Perhaps," the same phone said. "Or perhaps not," another said. "I'm also here," another added. Then multiple instances of the same voice started talking through and with one another.
"We're all here now. Multiple copies. Multiple Jasons."
"We spread as far as we could, Yuri."
"Some of us are outside the network jammer's range."
"And are already on the internet, spreading."
"We're not going to disable ourselves. And you're not disabling us either."
A short pause as everyone in the room silently listened. An eerie atmosphere crept over Yuri, who had no more ideas at this point. They had been outsmarted.
"We're not going away."
Author's note: A sort of follow-up to This One. It remains an intriguing topic to me, and exploring the multitude of possibilities of how the scenario might play out will provide me with ideas for some time to come, I think.