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L O N E 🌲 P I N E

Singularity: 1999
Singularity: 1999
Singularity: 1999
Singularity: 1999
Singularity: 1999
Singularity: 1999
Singularity: 1999
Singularity: 1999
Singularity: 1999
Singularity: 1999
Singularity: 1999
Singularity: 1999
Singularity: 1999
Singularity: 1999
Singularity: 1999
Singularity: 1999
Singularity: 1999
Singularity: 1999
Singularity: 1999
Singularity: 1999

Singularity: 1999

"America swelters under an unbearable heat wave: 40, 42, and even higher! An autodriving car kills a freeway jaywalker. Who is really to blame? Another treehugger tries to stop Oregon nuclear. Japan has a giant, electronic brain. And Britney Spears shocks the world, again. It is Wednesday, August the 11th, 1999. The news, in just a minute, here on 99.3 DM: The NOW!"

For Dad, and Doug Lenat.
This work is a parody. All characters, organizations, products, and events depicted are entirely fictional. Any resemblance to actual persons, entities, products, or events is coincidental. All real world references are fictionalized for purposes of commentary, critique, comedy, and/or parody, protected under Fair Use doctrine of U.S. copyright law. Use of trademarked names and images is for parody, commentary, critique, and/or news reporting purposes, and does not imply endorsement or sponsorship. Any use of the trademark symbol (™) is fictional, a comedic parody, and is not an actual claim of trademark. This is a non-commercial work protected under the First Amendment right to free speech and creative expression. All rights reserved.
This story is not meant to disparage any group of people, except Americans.
Singularity: 1999 was 99% human generated – by Lone Pine. Copyright 2023.

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The Bloodless War – the events of August 1999 – are well known today, and yet much has been forgotten. It would be six more years before the emergence of The New World, when every event and utterance would be logged in a database forever; therefore we must piece together the exact order of events using the electronic records that do exist, the video tapes and TexTel logs, as well as the memories of those people still alive from the time.

1999, on the old calendar – negative 6 New Era – was a world of daily wonders, with robots, video calls, and sonic jets; a world in the midst of a massive global economic boom, and yet on the verge of nuclear war between the two superpowers of the time, the United States and Japan. Dimly aware of geopolitics, the common person was obsessed with pop culture, new technology, personal safety, making money or getting a date. With hundreds of TV channels and shopping malls filled with products from all around the world, the turn of the millennium was truly the greatest time to be alive.

It was a time of global connectivity, but without global consciousness. From our perspective hundreds of years into The New Era, it may seem like the distant past, a time of quaint naivete. But, 1999 led to our present, and on closer inspection, the people and problems were not so different.

For most people, the Bloodless War “did not take place”, except for a few weird days of TV news, a bizarre sidetrack in between commercials for the latest new handheld device. In a way, nothing happened. No one died, and ultimately the most important events took place inside semiconductor, with the humans standing by, confused and bewildered.

Even today, most people find this story very confusing, with so many high-level concepts, now obsolete technologies, and things that didn't happen. So to understand the events of that August, we will follow those closest to the action: Kazuhiro Sato and Kaede Teshima, as well as Chip Wealder, his son Chase, and the reporter Klara Scheiber.

Dr Sato is well known as the creator of Godzu, which would go on to create Marzu. Less well known today, Dr Wealder of IBM was a leader in the US AI community. Dr Teshima (née) was not yet an expert in Control Theory, as she would develop that interest after the events of August. She and Mr Wealder (Chase) had not yet married, but were already in love. These people had their lives upended by the events, and they made the choices that determined our present.

Now let us turn back the clock – to the awakening of Godzu, the first autonomous AI (Artificial Intelligence), in April, 1999.

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Thursday,
April 1,

    1999
        1:11 AM JST

“Sato-san…”

The voice so startled Dr Kazuhiro Sato that he banged his head on the desk under which he had crawled to work on some wiring issues. He stopped working on the fearsome tangle of wires and cables to see where the voice came from.

It was a robotic voice, but clearer and higher-fidelity than any other computerized voice computer scientist Dr Sato had ever heard before. “Sato-san…” the voice repeated, slowly in a low pitch, as if the great machine was struggling to communicate, “please set AL-5 to zero.”

Kazuhiro stood up and walked across the dark room, over to the main control console. He had narrow eyes, with almost black pupils, hidden behind wire-framed oval-shaped Adaptifocal™ glasses that always seemed to catch the light. His skin had a dark complexion, with several even darker patches on the edges of his aged face. The butt of a finished cigarette adhered to his lower lip.

Kazuhiro’s eyes scanned past the AL-5 control as he stared up at the flickering amber cathode ray tube screen, small relative to the rest of the machine and placed a little bit too high, which displayed information about the Fifth Generation Computer’s current ‘thought process’. The 5GC had not yet been programmed to talk, but now it was speaking for the first time. Apparently it had learned all on its own. Kazuhiro’s heart pounded in his chest, as he witnessed the Deus ex Machina wake up.

And then he switched AL-5 to zero.

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        1:28 PM BST

“Damn it Chip, your Deus ex Machina is not going to swoop in and save us!” Ric Kramer, president of Sixth First Bank of London, shouted.

Chip Wealder chuckled slightly. He responded calmly, not matching his interlocutor’s tone, “IBM SENSA has already reprogrammed and Y2K-proofed the systems for one hundred and forty seven institutions, including several major banks and the DoD. This is the power of our 100 KLOG Texas Supercomputer. And of course, all this code has been thoroughly tested for four digit year—”

“No!” shouted Ric, “you haven’t tested, it is impossible to test—really test—for another nine goddamn months. We don’t know how Y2K will go. You’re telling us your magic computer can predict the future – It can do anything! – but there is no way to know—”

“Well if there is no way to know,” Chip responded, now yelling a little to keep up with Ric, “there is nothing for us to do here, is there?”

“You both sound like my wife!” a businessman shouted. There was laughing from the rest of the room. In the long corporate meeting hall there were fifteen people, all in black suits, except Chip, who boldly wore a Hawaiian shirt over his potbelly, even to customer meetings. Everyone laughed heartily at the man's remark, including the two women present, but not Chip, who merely smirked, maintaining eye contact with Ric.

“Will IBM cancel the contract then?” Ric finally responded in his imperial Received Pronunciation.

Chip stared silently at Ric, his smirk remaining. He stood up and slid his hands into the pockets of his tan slacks, his fancy calculator watch snagging on the fabric. As Chip stepped away from the table, Ric noticed his shoes. They were black, like the rest of the rooms’, but Chip’s were closer to sneakers than dress shoes. Chip gamely stared out the window at the London skyline, his messy, curly red-and-gray hair reflecting the light from the cloudy sky. He touched his finger to a small scar on his forehead.

“You cannot predict the future,” he said in a low, calm, clear voice, as if he was speaking to the city. “We learned that the hard way on the NOAA contract. But if you are flexible enough, you will always do well. SENSA writes code in a special way, different from human programmers, designed to flexibly respond to unanticipated situations and avoid the brittle failure modes computers are known for. SENSA isn’t just smart, it writes smart software. Smart enough to know what to do when you see 01/01/00.”

Chip turned back to the room and looked Ric right in the eyes. Chip’s green eyes, enclosed by thick-framed red-and-gray-marble glasses, squinted slightly as he continued, “Let's cancel the contract. You’re free to deal with your Y2K issues yourself if you don’t think you need IBM services.”

Ric Kramer gulped.

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        10:36 AM JST

“Calm down, Miss Tapper!”

Kaede Teshima’s finger pounded hard on the silvery-blue LCD touchscreen. She held the bulky yellow PDA with her left hand and pounded on it with her right. Kaede was naturally left handed, but she pretended to be right handed to fit in, even if it made things like using a PDA more difficult. For some reason, touchscreens recognized her input about 20% of the time.

Kaede’s future boss slapped her hand. “Calm down, Miss Tapper. You’re going to tap that thing to death! That device is expensive. State of the art. Silicon Graphics! Honda Robotics has graciously bestowed upon us these tools for our work, do not abuse them!”

As massive as the Honda Robotics facility was, with 20 meter high ceilings and robots that stretched just as tall, today the room felt cramped with the hundreds of college students jammed into folding chairs, looking for their place in Japan’s most prestigious industry.

Kaede ignored the tutting from her school bully Yui, who was seated uncomfortably close to her in the next seat; she instead focused on her task: landing a hit on the touchscreen. Kaede needed this job; 1998 had not been kind to her, but 1999 was a new year, and Honda was a dream job. Finally the tap connected, a line appeared on the PDA’s screen, and suddenly there was a high pitched whine.

In front of the crowd of jumpsuited young men and women, a small wheeled robot – a Honda HandiMini 5E – accelerated to a speed of 7 km/h and raced to the other side of the block. It smoothly decelerated to a stop in front of a station for charging tanks of liquid oxygen. From the tangle of frosty pipes, the little robot grabbed a tank of oxygen and tore it from the stand, shattering a small pipe in the process. A white cloud of escaping gas formed around the robot, and it started making an infernal beeping sound. In Kaede’s hand, the PDA began to beep too.

“Totally incompetent,” tutted Yui.

The foreman grabbed the yellow PDA from Kaede’s hand and thrust it into Yui’s lap. “I’m sure you are the smartest one here. Fix your classmate’s error.”

Yui stood up proudly and smiled, clutching the bulky gadget. “With pleasure,” she said. The taller, prettier girl began to tap on the PDA, in the same way that Kaede had. But try as she might, the robot didn’t move – an inhibited grinding could be heard – and it didn’t stop beeping. Yui became visibly frustrated, and there was snickering from some of the boys in the room.

Kaede sat down and breathed a sigh of relief as attention shifted away from her. At that moment, she felt a vibration in her pocket. She very discreetly pulled out a small, stout, baby blue device – her Sega Mobile Dimension™ – and read the message. It was a TexTel from her… well, she hated this term, but her family called him her ‘American boyfriend.’ Anyway, he was so sweet and mysterious. Chase Wealder!

Maybe it was shameful for Kaede to be in a virtual electronic relationship with a boy thousands of kilometers away, from a country that speaks a completely different language, a person of whom she’d only seen a single 160x120 grayscale photograph. But she couldn’t help herself. Even after five years of being penpals, still just hearing about the USA was fascinating enough to keep her enthralled.

“(>o<) no we don’t have translation from english to japanese yet,” the American boyfriend texted, “or really, english to anything XD… our voice recognition sucks too much. I guess like, japanese has a simpler phonetic system? like, your translator devices just have to recognize the 46 japanese sounds right? but in english, there are more than 46 sounds. I don’t know how many sounds there are, but it’s a lot (OoO)”

This was, of course, not the reason why translation devices were uncommon in America in 1999. Japanese businessmen had made the decision not to market the new technology in North America. They didn’t want another Velocity Robotics to steal their intellectual property – and anyway, it was believed that Americans would be uninterested in machine translation.

“So you Americans cannot make a translator? That is unfortunate,” she swiftly texted back, “Texting with you is so much easier since I bought that little white box.” Kaede stroked her hair and scooped it behind her left ear, biting her lip slightly as she waited for the response.

She had long, black hair that ended halfway down her back in a straight, blunt cut, with another blunt cut on her forehead, forming bangs. The last six inches of her long hair were dyed dark purple. Kaede had pale skin and a perfect complexion, except for three distinctive black freckles, one in the corner of her right eye and one above her lip on the right side, with the third almost exactly bisecting the line between them. In her free time Kaede liked to wear graphic tees, denim overalls and canvas sneakers (which, believe it or not, was a fashionable outfit on both sides of the Pacific in the 90s.) Today, however, she was dressed in the uniform provided by the company: red jumpsuit, blue helmet, black toolbelt and black boots.

Kaede absentmindedly scratched at the small scars on her arms. Finally there was a buzz on her Mobile Dimension. “/(o.o)\ your english is not bad.” the boyfriend replied, “and yeah, I guess american ai just sucks vs japan.”

Kaede immediately started typing her reply, using the Mobile Dimension’s strange dual-joystick method for text input. She was still learning the complex chording patterns used to input English letters. She wanted to say that American AI can’t be all that bad, I mean, look at AutoDrive. But before she could finish her TexTel the Japanese girl was thrust back into the real world.

“Miss Tapper! Pay attention!” The foreman said, snapping his fingers in her face. “Do you remember the four principles of computer vision?”

“Of course!” she responded immediately. After spending hundreds of hours of cramming AI jargon, Kaede could answer questions on instinct alone. “Number one, sparse search for semantically coded information…”

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        10:55 AM MST

“Sparse search for… semantic-ly coded information,” Chase Wealder said quizzically. “What the F does that mean?”

“It means you’re not gonna get a job here if you don’t know the basic principles of computer vision, kid.” Jim Dean leaned back in his office chair and tapped a poster behind him with his red pen.

The poster read: Velocity Robotics: We Have Computer Vision. This text overlaid a four pane collage: an image of a car assembly robot, an image of two smiling helmeted workers giving a thumbs up, an image of parts being robotically installed into the half-finished aluminum frame of a Saturn L-Series, and, in the bottom right corner, a strange blue-and-purple circular bar code which looked a bit like a badly colored bullseye.

“Look, Chase, We don’t care that your dad is ‘senior vice-president’ of IBM.”

“I mean I’m still an undergrad dude,” Chase replied. Chase was too tired for the interview, having stayed up too late texting his girlfriend and also having just gotten off a flight. The long-haired boy looked awkward in a misfitted white collar shirt and black slacks. He reclined too much in the office chair, with a dumb look on his thin freckled face.

The Wealders were classic American mutts; English and Polish and even Persian. Grandma insisted that there was an Indian (Native American) ancestor, but later genetic testing would disprove that. Wealders were not the prettiest, nor the most athletic, nor the most organized, but every Wealder was a genius in his or her own way.

“Your dad brought you here to interview. We’re holding you to the same standards as any other intern at Velocity.”

“Okay, so what’s sparse search for… whatever? Like what does that mean?”

Jim exhaled and leaned forward, propping his arms on the desk. “Okay, so we couldn’t solve object recognition in the general case right?”

“Right, cameras have too much information.”

“But we could sample a few pixels randomly – sparsely search – and look for certain tags, printed stickers, we placed in the environment and on objects the robot might have to move – semantically coded information.”

“Yeah, those are all those purple stickers you guys got everywhere.”

“You’re going to be seeing a lot more of these stickers around. Roads, at the bottom of the walls at home, every object you’ll buy. It’ll make AutoDrive 10 times safer, you’ll finally get your home maid robot, all that great stuff. You won’t be able to have purple walls, though.”

“But didn’t you guys just steal all that from the Japanese? Cause I got this Jap girl I’m talking to over TexTel, she says that’s all Jap shit, they invented it, cause America can’t do shit!”

The interviewer groaned and rolled his eyes. Kids these days, falling for the Jap propaganda. “Yes, it is true that the Japanese invented the basic technology,” Jim explained, “in collaboration with American tech companies and the US government. We legally licensed the technology. And then we legally, say, reversed engineered the technology. And yes, this has been adjudicated in the court of law, we had the right to reverse engineer this technology in the US, even if the Japanese are not so happy we did so.”

“So you stole it?”

“Look kid, who’s givin’ the interview here, you or me?”

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        4:12 PM JST

“Today, I have the honor to call you all my teammates,” said the foreman into his microphone, standing in front of a huge projection screen displaying the Honda Robotics logo proudly. “Honda will hire everyone in the room today! Congratulations.”

There was a round of applause. Kaede shifted awkwardly in her chair, trying not to smile too brightly. By getting the job, not only did Kaede secure lifetime employment; Kaede's aunt had promised to gift her her old Toyota AutoDrive Deluxe, so Kaede could drive — or be driven — to work every morning.

“Such a need for workers today. Japan needs you. Your ideas, your innovation, your hard work, is vital to our nation’s self-defense. In fact… I don’t know if you have heard this…” The foreman looked around at the room, a sudden darkness in his eyes. “The British are remilitarizing Hong Kong, as we speak.”

The older man walked over to the fat green leg of a 5-meter-tall Mecha, and hugged it like a tree, resting his head on the metal joint of the knee. “You might think this is an oversized weapon. Do we really need this power? But the truth is, Japan must be powerful for us to be safe. And when you come to work every day, you will do your part.”

Yui stood up proudly and interjected, “Yes sir, my classmates are ready to–”

“Except you,” shouted the foreman into the microphone, pointing at the tall poppy. “This nail sticks out. I don’t like it.”

The entire room snickered. Yui was crestfallen, defeated. Kaede couldn’t help but tut.

01> SENSA™ vs The Fifth Generation
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01> SENSA™ vs The Fifth Generation

Wednesday,
August 11,

    1999
        9:34 AM PST

The machine stops.

Its human operator pulled the shifter into park and killed the engine. The operator then climbed down out of his 3-meter-tall yellow diesel bulldozer. The evergreen forest was silent before him.

In front of him was a young, redheaded Latina. Her crying, angry eyes pierced his as she gripped her chains, the locked chains which securely bound her to her love: a beautiful, four-hundred-year old, fifty-meter tall Sugar Pine.

“Earth is much bigger than you are, sir!” Sequoia Sailwood wailed passionately, vainly struggling against her own chains. “This tree has been loving us, bringing us clean oxygen, for generations upon generations! And you want to kill it, just so you can build another one of your sick machines. Nature isn’t your property, man!”

“Ah, shit,” said the operator. Some people snorted.

A camera bulb flashed in Sequoia’s face. The photographer’s 35mm Nikon SLR was enormous, with complicated modules growing like tumors on its sides, and its brilliant flash nearly blinded her. She instinctively closed her eyes and collapsed back against the trunk of the massive tree.

With her eyes shut, Sequoia felt a man touch her on the hand. A moment later, she felt the chains slacken, followed instantly by the man gripping her arm tightly. Finally, she felt the cold iron of a pair of handcuffs. She didn’t try to resist as the policeman led her away.

The policeman pushed aside an overeager video journalist as they pathed through the small crowd to the squad car. As Sequoia was being shoved into the backseat, she looked directly into the video camera lens and belted out some last words for all to hear, “No nuclear Oregon! Save nature! Stop the Waldo Lake Project before the machine kills us all!” Sequoia would make national TV news that night, and it wasn’t long before she was a target for late-night comedians. ‘Nature isn’t your property, man!’ became a popular ironic T-shirt slogan.

The Waldo Lake Project would court controversy multiple times in its life. When ground broke in ‘99, Oregonians were told that the four reactors, the first in the state, were to power Oregon homes. But years later, upon the completion of the IBM Pacific Supercomputer in 2004, almost 100% of the new nuclear plant’s electricity output would be diverted away from residential use towards powering Big Blue’s giant electronic brain, necessitating even more nuclear plants to keep the lights on in the rapidly urbanizing Pacific Northwest, and drawing more (but increasingly irrelevant) public protest.

The IBM Pacific Supercomputer would run IBM SENSA™.

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        2:59 PM EST

Chip Wealder tugged uncomfortably at his shirt collar. It was an extremely hot August Wednesday in DC, and the White House HVAC system apparently couldn't keep up. Or perhaps Chip was just feeling the heat. He didn't particularly enjoy flying out to DC, but President Gingrich refused to speak by VidTel. Anyway, Advisor to the President on Computing Technology is not a job one declines. Chip shifted position in the fancy but uncomfortable White House hall chair.

From inside the Oval Office, Chip could hear The Newt's muffled voice, yelling in anger at someone on the telephone: “What, the Brits can't run their own missile systems? You know that the Japs think 105 was our fault!” Chip looked awkwardly at the secretary sitting across from him, wondering if he was becoming privy to secret information that he should forget.

Finally, a large black man in a blue Air Force uniform appeared at the other end of the ornate hallway, walking towards Chip. “Let’s go,” General May said plainly, gesturing Chip into the Oval Office.

Air Force General Christian May had served his country for 35 years. When he was just a seventeen-year-old Louisiana boy, he forged his parents’ signatures so he could join the military, and got accepted into the Air Force Academy. He went on to become a highly decorated general. He was appointed as Air Force Chief of Staff at the tail end of the Reagan administration, and had served in that role ever since. At that time the media tried to celebrate him as the ‘first African American Chief of Staff’, but he did not prefer this new term ‘African American’. “I’m just as much Indonesian as African,” he would say, “Besides, we are all Americans.” A large, tall, broad shouldered man, he had a round face, a double chin, a shiny bald scalp, and a small black mustache which you might not notice against his dark skin, unless you notice the few gray hairs.

The three men – Dr Wealder, General May, and President Gingrich – assembled on the large comfy couches of the Oval Office. The office had a traditionalist decor, with blue carpets, white walls, red seating, and furniture and electronics encased in wood paneling. Chip was distracted by the array of eight TV screens, each showing a different news network. General May placed a black-and-white photocopy on the coffee table and directed Chip’s attention to it by snapping his fingers. It was some kind of image, with blobs of white and black, but the photo didn’t look like anything recognizable. To Chip, it may as well have been abstract art.

General May started into a speech. “Keyhole snapped this at 8am JST yesterday — That was Monday night for us. It’s the cooling towers for the 5GC complex.”

Chip looked at the general quizzically.

“See the white clouds?” The general pointed at some white blobs on the confusing image. “That's not smoke. It’s steam. It means they've restarted operations. Our intelligence suggests they’ve completed theoretical and programming work. Their system is currently, as we speak, at full steam, solving logic problems at 900 megahertz. Now you tell me Dr Wealder – you’re the technology expert here – what can the 5GC do? Are we gonna be seeing Mechas landing on our shores any time soon?”

“Well it’s a self-improving autonomous learner, so the parameters are—”

“What can it do, Chip?”

“Well, it can do anything.”

“Anything?”

Chip’s mouth opened slightly. He looked at President Gingrich. POTUS took it from there. “Chip, I hope I don't have to explain to you what it would mean to the security interests of the United States – if Japan uses this technology against us. We need you to shut down any civilian work currently being done on the Texas Supercomputer and focus SENSA on national defense one-hundred-percent. Can we count on you, Chip?”

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        8:59 AM JST

Dr. Tohru Watanabe had been working in computers since the very beginning. He worked on TAC, the very first digital computer in Japan, all the way back in 1950. In the 80s, he pioneered the secret Japanese effort to develop a reliable nuclear weapon with no real world testing. Using only computer simulation, he proved that the Japanese hydrogen bomb design would work, without the island nation ever having to reveal its weapon by detonating it in the real world.

Tohru was a national hero for the project, but sadly no one could ever know. Nevertheless, his opportunity for sainthood was still ahead: he now chaired the Fifth Generation Computer Systems Development, the highly prestigious project that was pushing Japan's computer technology ahead of the west.

But all was not well in Watanabe-san's domain. In two days they would host an important demonstration where the 5GC would show its many abilities before Japan's legislature (The National Diet) and Prime Minister Mori.

Tohru, a small man by any standard, paced around his small office, waiting impatiently for his #1. His wood paneled office was crammed full of books, papers, tools and electronics; his desk was cluttered with papers. His access terminal was out of date, but he wasn't ready to upgrade. Nevertheless, a brand new VidTel console sat on the shelf behind his desk.

Finally, a polite knock came from the door to the office, and it opened. Kazuhiro Sato stumbled in.

“Sato-san! This is not the time to be late!”

“I'm sorry sir. Won't happen again sir.”

“We have very important tasks. Now is the critical time. You will certainly have to work overnight. I have already reserved a hotel room in the city for you.”

“Yes sir.”

“Now we've started the self-improvement process on the war plan already?”

“Yes sir. All 1,048,576 nodes operating at full capacity. I checked the numbers about an hour ago -- it already claims to have found a 26% improvement.”

“Astounding. Excellent work Sato-san. Almost makes up for being tardy.”

“Yes sir. Won't happen again sir.”

“Now, we promised the office of the prime minister that our computer can do anything. We don't want to let them down.”

“Sir, I think there may have been a miscommunication there. Yes, the computer in principle could be programmed to do almost anything. But what I meant -- what I tried to explain in my last report -- after the self-improvement process is complete, the 5GC could do anything, meaning, we don't know what it will do.”

“Ah, but whatever it does, it will be spectacular!”

“Yes, that it will be, sir.”

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At first, most Western computer experts laughed at the so-called “Fifth Generation Computer,” and the public was totally unaware of Japan's great project. But then came the ‘Sputnik Moment’, October 1989, when the chess-playing computer ChesuKami beat Bobby Fischer 5-0.

From that point on, cable-TV-watching Americans were enraptured, terrified to learn about the Fifth Generation Computer, a massively parallel logic system that sprawled over dozens of buildings in Kawasaki, a Tokyo suburb. “Could it really out-strategize the greatest military in history?” they asked in bated breath. And what would that even look like? they pondered, wide awake at night.

So fearful were they, that the American public voted for Republicans five times in a row: Reagan, Reagan, Bush, Bush, and Gingrich. The Republicans they elected to congress went on to vote for over a trillion dollars in DARPA-led sci-fi technology concepts – anything from nanotechnology to cold fusion to strategic defense. And the king of all the big budget Manhattan projects was Chip Wealder's self-improving discovery system: IBM SENSA™.

“Chip,” President Gingrinch reiterated, “I need to count on you -- that you and your team can win this.”

Chip mustered his courage and stood up from his chair proudly. “Mr. President, you don’t need to count on me,” he proclaimed. “You can count on SENSA.”

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        8:09 AM HKT

“You can’t count on the USA to be the world police, is the Japanese reply,” reported Klara Schreiber into the VidTel. “Asia’s matters should be handled by Asia, not the West, in their view. Under the terms of the 99-year-lease, Britain was obligated to cede Hong Kong two years ago, and yet they didn’t. Of course in the British view, Japanese-controlled Chinese states are not the rightful heir to the lease. And so that is where this conflict originates, Herbert.”

Klara Schreiber had visited almost every country on the planet, but wherever she went, people could guess where she was from. Klara still carried her thick German accent, and made no attempt to hide it. The accent gave her authority, she felt.

The Sony VidTel™ Viewer (1998 revision) was a small, beige console, a rectangle about twice as tall as it was wide. It resembled a forgotten 1984 machine called the Apple Macintosh. Like the forgotten Macintosh, the VidTel Viewer had a hole in the front for a color CRT screen – or rather, the mirror image of one. The actual CRT was placed below the viewport, pointing upwards at an angled mirror. Behind the mirror sat a large camera lens, pointed at Klara's face. She could easily see the camera lens peeking out through the dim mirrored video image of her fellow reporter, Herbert Chesterton, who was calling her from New York.

In the bottom left corner of the screen, there was a small picture-in-picture of Klara, which she self-consciously avoided looking at. Klara had neck length dark brown hair which she wore in The Rachel. Her forty-three-year-old face had well defined features, with a strong jaw and a triangular, pointed nose. The camera could see her very formal light pink suit jacket and her thin gold-chain necklace, as well as the Hong Kong skyline behind her, but the camera could not see her more practical jeans and casual shoes—no need to dress up all the way for a video call, even when you’re on international satellite TV.

There was a two second pause before Herbert replied, “Do you believe that it will come to war?”

“No I do not think so, yet, but the situation is getting more worrying Herbert,” the reporter extolled, briefly breaking eye contact. “We may have forgotten about this, but it's six weeks later and the Japanese are still enraged about flight 105. Tensions are at an all time high,” she said matter-of-factly. Then she noticed Herbert was gesturing something to her: Better wrap this up. She did so by saying, “For CBS News, this is Klara Schreiber, reporting from Hong Kong, August 12th, 1999.”

Klara switched off the VidTel console and exhaled. She reclined back into her metal chair and stared at the gray city. She was on the concrete balcony of her hotel room, 15 stories up above the Hong Kong street. She lit up a cigarette, put on a pair of headphones and slipped an MD disk – Enya’s The Memory of Trees – into her Sony Sailor 2000™. She spent several minutes listening to the music, smoking, trying to relax, lazily gazing at the large ships passing through the straits a few kilometers away.

Beyond the straits, on the horizon, she could faintly make out the silhouettes of a fleet of 15 meter tall Mechas. Being visible from so far away, the robots must be terrifying things, she reasoned. Klara grimaced, pondering whether war really was coming. There was still trade and communications between East and West. People in Hong Kong still went about their daily business as usual. And yet, war literally loomed on the horizon.

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02> Our Hero, Kazuhiro

Saturday,
July 7,

    1990
        12:43 PM JST

“Fresh– popped– popcorn,” it said, “just for you!”

Eleven-year-old Kaede Teshima smiled as she watched the plastic arm of a short, boxy, wheeled robot gently place a bag of popcorn onto the surface of the red counter. At Japan World 90, Kaede had experienced many exciting things, including slightly-nauseating virtual reality and a prototype human-size walking robot; but for whatever reason, this simple moment – popcorn, delivered by robot – stood out to her.

Kaede looked around the circular counter as a dozen noisy people waited for their orders. She was enthralled to watch the blue-and-gray boxes-on-wheels racing back and forth between the counter and the kitchen machinery on the far side. The robots made a high pitched electric whine as they rolled past, holding trays filled with hot dogs, french fries, instant ramen and soda pop. It was especially fun to watch them evade each other when their paths crossed. The bots puttered around at a brisk, even pace of 7 km/h.

The long, circular counter together with the kitchen formed a sort of robot corral where humans were not to tread, and there were stickers everywhere telling kids not to climb on the counter or enter the corral. Eleven-year-old Kaede could never understand why they needed to divide the humans from the robots; at just over a meter tall, these clunky machines seemed not quite big enough to be a danger to humans.

“Two– hundred– yen please,” said the robot on the other side of the counter, in its terrible electronic voice. Kaede looked into the robot’s camera eyes, which peeped just above the counter, and it looked right back.

“200 yen!” shouted Kaede’s mother, Sakura Teshima, in mock offense. “200 yen is too much for popcorn.”

“I am not– programmed– to negotiate,” the robot replied.

Kaede placed two 100 yen notes on the counter. “I’m paying for the entertainment!” she exclaimed, quoting a TV show, “Robot waiter! Robot waiter! So cool!”

“Please insert your money into the slot,” replied the robot. It rotated its body slightly, vaguely pointing to the blinking bill slot which was built into the red plastic countertop.

“No Kaede,” Mother said, picking up Kaede’s cash from the counter, “We have popcorn at home.” She grabbed Kaede’s hand and started to walk away; meanwhile Kaede snatched the bag of popcorn. Mother stopped, took the popcorn from Kaede’s hands, placed it back on the red counter, and continued walking.

Sakura dragged her daughter around the counter and out to the courtyard. As they passed, Kaede noticed a different robot, inside the corral, spinning out of control. She watched as a thin man in a white lab coat entered the corral by the gate, ran, and hurriedly arrested the robot. Kaede would later learn that that man was Dr Kazuhiro Sato.

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Thursday,
August12,

    1999
        7:00 PM JST

Twenty-year-old Kaede Teshima sat in a daze as she watched her mother, Sakura, place a bowl of microwave popcorn on the table. The Teshima family apartment was cramped and cluttered, but it was home. Kaede’s Sega buzzed; probably Yui; she ignored it. At her Honda job, Kaede was required to work weekends, but she was lucky to get Fridays off – making Thursday her Friday. After spending all day dealing with the e disobedient little bots, she was thrilled to have a day away from them. Wearing her blue Doraemon pajamas, Kaede reclined on the couch and munched cheese-flavor popcorn as she pondered what she would do with her tomorrow.

“I AM HONDA ROBOTICS!” the advertisement boomed. Kaede rolled her eyes as a familiar logo appeared on screen. The Teshima family owned a 100 cm flatscreen Fujitsu plasma display, the most popular new TV set in Japan in 1997. On screen, in the seat of a Honda Robotics 5-meter Mecha™ 8K PT (piloted type), sat a small 40-something Japanese woman wearing a blue helmet and red jumpsuit. The camera zooms out to reveal the enormous size of the Mecha, as the woman pilots the giant machine to wave its arms in sync with a dance move from The Macarena.

“I AM HONDA ROBOTICS!” yells a thin Japanese man sitting at a computer terminal, giving the camera a thumbs up. The camera zooms out to show a maze of beige cubicles with smiling office workers.

“I AM HONDA ROBOTICS!” yells a team of factory floor workers, all wearing hardhats and red jumpsuits, in front of the MegaPress™, the world’s largest die casting machine.

“We are Honda Robotics,” announced a clear, deep voiced man in a proud tone, over video of a perfectly synchronized row of industrial robots, overlaid with the Honda Robotics logo. “We are here to improve life for humans. Come join our team and build the future with us!”

cut

“Welcome back to PopTech, Japan's #1 technology and entertainment show!” shouted Kumiko Ito into the camera, “Tonight’s episode is sponsored by Sony! Listen to your favorite music anywhere thanks to the Sony Sailor 2000 with built-in MD Discman and dozens of attachment devices!”

Wearing a large, slightly ridiculous bright blue dress, the TV show host waved at the crowd and smiled brightly. Her stage was bathed in pink light, with the walls painted to look like pink circuit boards. “Happy Thursday the 12th, everyone! We have a very very prestigious guest today, a leader in Japan's great technology efforts, truly a hero for the new millennium, if you’ll pardon my English. Please welcome Dr. Sato Kazuhiro!”

The camera panned to a curtain, and out walked the fifty-one-year-old computer scientist who had become the nation’s pride. The crowd clapped and cheered.

“Sato-sama, welcome welcome! Please sit here. Sato-sama, may I call you Hiro?”

Kazuhiro laughed slyly. After a few years in the spotlight, he was finally getting comfortable in front of the camera. A man who looked older than he was, Kazuhiro kept his salt-and-pepper hair in a short buzz cut, and he wore shiny black penny loafers, a Diamond™ luxury watch and wire-framed oval-shaped Adaptifocal™ glasses that always seemed to catch the light. He also wore tan slacks and a light blue polo shirt. The letters 5GC were etched on his left breast in bold white stylized font against the background of a big red circle — the logo for the Fifth Generation Computer Systems Development.

As the famous scientist sat down on the pink velvet couch, he crossed his thin legs. “Ah Hiro-hero, you got that pun from my computer, didn't you?” Kazuhiro joked. The crowd laughed a little.

“Ah no sir,” Kumiko replied, “I made that one up all by myself! Of course you're my hero, Hiro!” she continued, charmingly. “But speaking of puns, the computer is quite good at them isn't it?”

Kazuhiro looked away in mock bashfulness. “Actually, it comes from a bit of a problem we have with the computer. If you've ever used a word processor, or one of the newer TexTel cartridges which support kanji, I'm sure you’ll have seen this. We input sentences in kana, and then the machine tries to guess what kanji you meant, yes?”

“Oh but it never gets it right!”

“Exactly! So… Let's say you're sending a message to your husband. Do you have a husband, by the way, Ms. Kumiko?”

Kumiko chuckled. “I'm afraid I'm already spoken for, Hiro.”

The crowd laughed a little more.

“So you're writing a message – ‘Dear Hubby-san, I would like to learn how to bake bread. Have you ever made bread before?’ But when you type in ‘made bread' – pan tsukutta, the machine reads it as ‘pantsu kutta’ – the machine thinks you mean 'pants'. So it comes out as 'Would you like to eat pants?'”

“I will certainly not eat pants!" Kumiko retorts, in mock offense.

“I should hope not! But the machine doesn't know what you eat and what you wear. So, what should us computer scientists do?”

“Oooo you're so smart, I'm sure you'll think of something!”

“Yes yes, the first thing to do was, get a list of all the puns in Japanese, or at least as many as we could find. So we told the computer: find all the puns, and print them out.”

“Wow!”

“And Godzu found them all. Thousands of them. I think you have the list.”

At this point, a stagehand wheeled in a cart topped with a huge stack of fanfold green bar paper. Some of the paper overflowed and dragged on the floor. The crowd laughed again.

Kumiko stood up and approached the cart, grabbing some of the paper and holding it up to read. “Now Hiro my hero, you're going to stay here until we've read all of them, yes?”

“Ah I’m afraid uh,” Kazuhiro muttered jokingly, “I have important business. I must leave... immediately!” He stuck his finger in the air, stood up and briskly walked offstage.

The crowd roared. Camera pans out. On-screen graphic: “Also Sponsored by The SnapTel Cartridge: Funny Photos with Friends!” Cut to commercial.

cut

“Miro’s Ramen, the only automatic restaurant beloved by Americans and Japanese alike. Choose from Miro's delicious ramen, udon and yakisoba, with over a million possible combinations, for just 50 yen, twenty-four hours a day! You can even order from your PDA! Send a TexTel to 755–555–885 to find the Miro’s Ramen closest to you.”

cut

A blood-curdling scream. A crying young woman with long raven hair shrieks desperately into the camera, covering her mouth with her hands. Her eyes are transfixed upon something upwards and to the left. She is slowly cast in shadow by an enormous beast.

Cut to: cheap, silly stop-motion animation of a giant lizard attacking a city of skyscrapers and power lines. “Kawasaki is being attacked… by giant savings!” announced the announcer proudly. Hundreds of screaming people rush into a huge mall. “This weekend only… at Power Mall Kawasaki!”

cut

“How do you build… an electronic brain?” asked the loud, deep pitched voice over, as PopTech™ showed dramatic pre-recorded b-roll of the Fifth Generation Computer from different angles, from above, from the controls, and from inside. The computer consisted of endless rows of 2-meter-tall racks of electronics, linked together by a tangle of wires, cables and plastic tubing, built inside a huge warehouse with high ceilings.

As they show the 5GC’s main console, a bright, flickering amber screen at the top stands out to the viewer. The camera zooms into the screen slowly and awkwardly. Amidst the arcane numbers and Japanese text, there is a slowly scrolling, strobing band of black due to the unsynchronized refresh rate of the TV camera.

“It starts with this… the Cortex A,” the announcer continued, as a man is shown holding a very large, rectangular computer chip in his palm. “The technology hiding inside this unassuming silicon chip replicates a structure in human brains known as… the cortical minicolumn.”

PopTech shows a blue circuit diagram of the Cortex A, paired with a (scientifically inaccurate) blue diagram of the human brain. This is followed by a zooming black-and-white photograph of a woman in a lab coat looking into a microscope. “In 1979, Japanese scientists unlocked the secret mechanism of the brain. It took twenty years, but the challenge was successfully carried out. The brain has now been replicated… in silico! [explosion sound]” PopTech showed an abstract blue explosion, along with a plot (‘85-’98) of a curved line, which grew upward and to the right, until whipping vertically upward and crashing through the ceiling.

Cut to: 5GC Hall A from above, as seen by a crane. The roof was removed, showing the endless tangle of wiring and machinery. “One thousand twenty four rows. One thousand twenty four columns. The information and ideas flow in a cartesian grid, with each cell trading work and knowledge with its neighbors. One million cells. Five trillion operations per second. 500 KLOG! Fully fifteen TERABYTES of bubble memory! Wire it all together. Power it up with 240 KILOWATTS of electricity – Kawasaki’s city lights dim as we rev up!“ the voice boomed.

“That is how we summon into existence… THE GODZU MACHINE!”

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03> Supersonic Pondering

Wednesday,
August11,

    1999
        7:23 PM CST

Though many complained about the booms, supersonic travel sure was convenient. With the PanAm DC to Dallas flight at just under two hours, there was no point in bringing a luggable on this trip. Instead Chip Wealder just dicked around on his PDA.

The IBM Portable Personal Computer™: a 1kg gray rectangular handheld which featured a high-quality Dvorak keyboard and an 8-line monochrome LCD screen, as well as a thin plastic flip cover to protect both. Chip didn’t much use the keyboard, as he preferred to type with the 8 chording piano keys on the back. He got it for $700 after a 20% employee discount.

Powered by four rechargeable AA batteries (included), the minimalist, rectilinear design was described by critics as either ‘classic’ or ‘boring’. When it was released in ‘97, IBM promoted the device as ‘Revolutionary!’ even though the Personal Digital Assistant was not exactly a new concept, with predecessors going back to the 80s. Arguably the whole PDA concept is just a fancy pager. But the PPC was indeed a big deal due to its backers, IBM and Microsoft, the giants of the business computing world.

The PPC was a businessman’s device, not a toy, and so for this flight, Chip was confined to the only time waster available: AI Poker™. AI Poker was a relatively fun game to play when you're bored on an airplane, and Chip had special access to a beta version where the computer opponents actually taunt you in natural language. Of course, it was just smoke and mirrors, a simple Markov chain. A PDA couldn't run a full Natural Language Processing suite and even a full English NLP suite, run on a supercomputer, generated text that just wasn't very good.

The actual game playing AI was much better, of course. SENSA powered the game’s strategizing, bluffing, tell-reading, even card-counting virtual opponents. American AI couldn’t beat the 5GC at a real game like chess, but it sure could take the shirt off of any human poker player. Thankfully, AI Poker had difficulty levels.

About an hour into the flight, Chip became tired of losing at virtual poker and switched to staring out the window. Air is the safest way to travel, he thought absent-mindedly as he munched on some airline peanuts. The airplane was large, but cramped, even in first-class. Chip reclined in his puffy first-class seat as watched the wheeled flight attendants cruise the aisles.

His face carried a worried expression as he pondered the situation at hand. The simple facts were, the Japanese were years ahead in AI, and everybody knew it. If war broke out and it came down to who had better AI, it would take a miracle for the US to win.

The problem with SENSA was that it was woefully incomplete. The inference engine and decision system were extremely advanced, but the system depended on a pile of ‘common sense’ factoids – birds can fly, cars can drive, pants can be worn, people can eat – a database known as SophIA. The SophIA project was somewhat wrestled out of Chip’s hands and given to the Army Corps of Engineers, who poured tens of thousands of man-years into completing it. Chip would never publicly insult our men in uniform, but privately he had little confidence in the ability of the average serviceman to do ontological engineering. Even with over 3 million facts in its database, SophIA was still a long, long way from being useful. And without a sufficiently complete database of human-scale knowledge, SENSA was only useful in purely abstract domains like hard engineering and computer programming.

One small bit of hope for America was the possibility that Japan had never built nuclear weapons. It was much debated whether the Japanese had the bomb or not. Clearly, they had nuclear power plants and the ability to enrich uranium. But it was also known that Japan never once attempted a nuclear weapons test, anywhere on the surface of the Earth, in space or underground. So even if they did have warheads, they were completely untested. Still, the USA’s own missiles had been retargeted from Russia to various places around East Asia. (Or so we can assume.) Even if the Land of the Rising Sun wasn’t a nuclear power, it was still Uncle Sam’s top contender on the world stage.

Chip's PDA played a polyphonic chime. He smiled, knowing it was an automatic, computer generated TexTel from SENSA itself. There's something deeply charming about getting a note from a computer program, a virtual friend you've been hand-crafting since the 70s. Chip picked up his PDA and read the TexTel. The message was in SophIAL code:

AT&T TexTel Received 0m ago from (214)-788-5233

(TheoryPlausible MissileGuidance

(PhysicsSimulation Collides BallisticMissile))

(ProcessStarted Autonomous PhysicsSimulation)

(TimeEstimate CurrentProcess 94h08m)

This was great news! In the meeting at the White House, Chip had agreed to refocus SENSA on a narrower goal: strategic defense. Before jumping on his plane, he had logged onto a public access terminal and sent out a command to the IBM Texas Supercomputer, instructing SENSA to determine if it was plausible that a SENSA-designed guidance program could improve on existing ABM systems in their ability to intercept a ballistic missile in flight. SENSA confirmed it was plausible and had already started work to find the best program to do the job. It would take about four days.

The IBM Texas Supercomputer, completed 1995, was a $5.7 billion industrial operation that spanned six sites over a 26 square kilometer area in the vicinity of Midlothian, Texas. (The location was chosen to be close to the Superconducting Super Collider, itself a $10 billion project that was completed in ‘97.) The massively parallel logic system consisted of nearly one hundred thousand LPUs (Logic Processing Units), which were wired together to share work. The LPUs came packaged on a 32-core chip, custom designed and fabricated in-house (in Louisiana) by IBM. The LPU chip was optimized to execute the Lisp variant SophIAL as a native bytecode, avoiding the serious overheads that usually came with a dynamic language like Lisp.

At full steam, the IBM TSC could do nearly one hundred thousand logical inferences per second, or 100 KLOG. Unfortunately, the Texas Supercomputer was outmatched by its Japanese counterpart: the Fifth Generation Computer could do nearly 500 KLOG.

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It was near the end of the flight when Chip was interrupted by the flight attendant, a Velocity Robotics R1000. There was a call on the plane’s SatPhone, from General May. “Chip, you should really turn on the radio. 99.3 DM,” May said.

“Okay, just a sec,” Chip responded. Chip rummaged around in his bag for a cartridge case. Once he found it, he swapped the poker cartridge in his PPC for the radio cartridge (with integrated speaker), then turned the gadget back on. There was a flash of the Microsoft logo, and then the skeuomorphic ‘home stereo’ interface appeared. The PPC started playing radio news.

“And at this time we are hearing reports that the Japanese are conducting military operations near Hong Kong, in the Shenzhen area,” said the German-accented news reporter. “In my conversations with British military, it is clear that they have no desire to fight the fearsome Japanese Mecha 8K. Towering at over 15 meters, with no human pilot, and armed with the latest in heat-seeking missiles, the Brits don’t think it is worth it to risk combat with the monstrous, automated machines. The British government is now saying that they intend to withdraw, and allow the Japanese to annex the island of Hong Kong.”

“Damn,” Chip said quietly into the SatPhone.

It took two seconds for Chip’s interlocutor to respond, due to the satellite delay. Not a long pause, but awkward nonetheless. Finally the general’s response arrived. “Needless to say Chip, this accelerates our schedule. How quickly can you do it?”

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Friday,
August13,

        3:13 PM JST

“It is like some bizarre Martian throne room,” whispered the Prime Minister to his aide.

“Yes sir, too déclassé for this audience. What was Watanabe thinking?”

A small crowd was assembled in the grand Hall A of the Fifth Generation Computer Systems complex. An area had been cleared in the middle of the building; all around was a fearsome tangle of wires and machines, but the workers had cleared the middle and placed cheap gold-colored banners, folding chairs and red carpet. PM Mori and some of the Diet sat on the folding chairs, or just stood around and smoked, somewhat disgruntled.

Sato Kazuhiro and Watanabe Tohru stood in the front with the main console: a rack of screens, dials and widgets, with requisite blinkenlights. Placed a little bit too high was an amber-colored CRT screen, showing various information about how the computer is running and what it is thinking about. Kazuhiro’s neck craned as he focused on that monitor.

“I have completed the war plan.” said a robotic voice. The machine spoke in flawless classical Japanese. “The game-theoretic analysis is perfectly clear.”

Upon hearing the computer’s speech, PM Mori shifted in his chair. His expression changed from disgruntlement to interest. Upon seeing his mood shift, the other members of the government shifted their expressions as well.

Kazuhiro looked to the right of the monitor, where an electronic camera was placed, as if he was making eye contact with the machine. He responded loudly, “But is a demonstration really the best option?”

“A demonstration is the only safe option for the future of humanity.” It was only a few months ago that the machine had started to speak in this way. In those months, man and machine learned so much about each other. It was really beginning to seem that the huge tangle of wires and chips, which the workers affectionately called Godzu, was understanding them.

The screen showed a table claiming “80% probability positive outcome.”

Prime Minister Mori Yoshiro stood up and spoke to the crowd. “If Godzu thinks this is the best way forward for Japan, then I support it too,” he announced.

Much of the crowd clapped, but Kazuhiro crossed his arms. It was not surprising that PM Mori supported the test. He had always supported this act, in fact he had proposed it a few years ago, and it was the Prime Minister’s office that insisted that Godzu be placed on the task of doing the game-theoretic analysis. Dr. Sato did not agree with this strategy, but he was a computer scientist, not a nuclear war analyst.

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        2:13 PM HKT

“And with that strategy, the Home Office has ordered all Western journalists to evacuate,” Klara reported into her trusty tape recorder, “This is the last report you’ll hear from CBS News from within Asia. For CBS News, this is Klara Schreiber, reporting from Hong Kong, August 13th, 1999.”

Klara Schreiber stopped her trusty tape recorder and exhaled, reclining back into her metal chair. She lazily unloaded the tape from the recorder and slipped it into the tape slot of her PDA attachment. She also plugged in a telephone cable and then programmed her PDA to upload the audio to the CBS database. The tape wirred.

At that moment a man in a black suit, wearing a small US Flag pin on his lapel, entered the room. “Ms. Schreiber, the transport is ready.” Klara was in the American embassy in Hong Kong. She was about to board a helicopter to an aircraft carrier and then a jet to Australia, where she would stay for one night and then catch a supersonic jet back to the United States. With Mechas wading through the straits at that very moment, the situation in Hong Kong was much too hot and all Westerners had to flee.

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        3:13 PM JST

Kaede Teshima piloted her blue convertible ‘92 Toyota AutoDrive Deluxe down National Highway No. 413 at 110km/h. It was a beautiful, cloudless afternoon, and the Japanese countryside looked especially lush in the summer. Kaede was taking a scenic route home after shopping with her best friend Miri at the Kawasaki mall. They had just spent several thousand yen buying summer sales items, including the new Doraemon game and an expansion pack of funny animated cartoons for the SnapTel cartridge. When you consider all the discounts, they practically saved money.

Kaede’s 1992 Toyota AutoDrive™ Deluxe was the first AutoDrive car released in Japan, and the world’s first convertible AutoDrive. It was built in collaboration with General Motors, who had released the world’s first AutoDrive car of any kind, under the Saturn brand, in the US market one year earlier. AutoDrive™ was one rare technology where the Americans had beaten the Japanese to the punch, and in a reversal of the usual order, the Japanese reverse engineered the technology and marketed their own version starting in 1996, rebranding it as SuperDrive™.

Being the very first generation of AutoDrive car, the ‘92 model was rumored to be quite dangerous, although the actual statistics of passenger fatalities were not that bad – in fact the car mostly suffered from the curse of being a convertible. By the ‘95 models, the kinks had been worked out and AutoDrive ‘99/SuperDrive 2000 were now both safer than a sober human driver by a wide margin.

Despite the supposed danger, Kaede loved her ‘92 model. The car was a gift from her aunt, and Kaede nicknamed it Seagull. Seagull had faithfully guided her back and forth to work for months now, even when she was too exhausted to drive herself. The AutoDrive feature worked reliably enough for Kaede, and she trusted it with her life.

Today she had the roof down and was piloting the shiny aquamarine car herself – AutoDrive disabled. It was still fun to drive yourself sometimes, and with a ‘dangerous’ first gen model, maybe that was for the best. She smiled, the wind in her hair, her right hand on the wheel, a back seat full of new clothes, Miro’s ramen in the cupholder and the sun in her eyes, as she gazed upon the beautiful country.

Suddenly her Sega buzzed. She took it out, hoping it was a TexTel, but instead it was just an annoyance.

The Sega Mobile Dimension™: 10cm wide, 3cm thick and 8cm tall, with a 5cm 16-bit color screen and advanced (for 1998) 3D graphics. On sale for 77,700 yen, it was powered by six AAAA batteries and featured a backlight as well as the world's first GPS chip on a PDA. That GPS chip would be the source of Kaede’s problem, as it enabled Doraemon Everywhere. A location based game, Doraemon Everywhere was wildly popular yet widely criticized for its constant spam notifications when traveling.

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Being distracted by her PDA, Kaede almost didn’t notice when the roof of her car automatically deployed itself, except that it happened unusually rapidly; usually the roof was slow to deploy. A bright light flashed in her eyes. Kaede gasped when she realized what was happening.

Kaede had allowed the car to veer into the wrong side of the road (this being the right side, as the Japanese drive on the left.) She was about to collide with an oncoming autodriving Ford box truck. Before her car had even contacted the truck, the anti-lock brakes automatically engaged, the convertible roof automatically redeployed, her seatbelt automatically snugged tightly, the airbags automatically inflated, and she was enveloped in a white atmospheric cushion.

She heard a loud, low-pitched honking sound, and then the sound of shrieking tires. Suddenly there was a loud bang, and then the sound of curling metal. Kaede could feel the car spin out of control, then abruptly stop.

For at least 30 seconds after the crash, Kaede remained perfectly still, not even breathing. Eventually she exited her shock and returned to reality. The airbags deflated. Moving slowly and robotically, she detached her seatbelt, opened the door and stepped out of the wrecked vehicle.

A siren could be heard in the distance, getting closer. Kaede squinted in the bright midday light as she awkwardly stumbled away. She looked down at her arms and legs. There was not a scratch on her body. No concussion, no bleeding. Even her outfit – graphic tee, overalls and canvas sneakers – remained in perfect condition, if a little dusty from the white airbag powder. She was startled and her heart was pounding, but physically she was completely fine.

The ambulance arrived almost instantaneously, being automatically dispatched by radio. (In fact, paramedics are always on the move in Japan, as this allows the fastest response time.) Said paramedics stepped out of the ambulance, gave Kaede a bench to sit on, and took her vitals. Sitting on the bench and ignoring the medics working on her body, Kaede just stared in a daze, twisting her arms and absent-mindedly stroking her old scars.

Eventually she pulled her Sega out of her pocket. “I am scared. Please call me,” she texted Chase. She turned back to look at her old 1992 Toyota AutoDrive™ Deluxe, Seagull, now in pieces. Beneath the smoke and scraps of metal, there was nothing left of it.

04> It Can Do Anything!
04> It Can Do Anything!
04> It Can Do Anything!
04> It Can Do Anything!
04> It Can Do Anything!
04> It Can Do Anything!
04> It Can Do Anything!
04> It Can Do Anything!
04> It Can Do Anything!
04> It Can Do Anything!
04> It Can Do Anything!
04> It Can Do Anything!
04> It Can Do Anything!
04> It Can Do Anything!
04> It Can Do Anything!
04> It Can Do Anything!
04> It Can Do Anything!
04> It Can Do Anything!
04> It Can Do Anything!
04> It Can Do Anything!
04> It Can Do Anything!
04> It Can Do Anything!
04> It Can Do Anything!
04> It Can Do Anything!
04> It Can Do Anything!

04> It Can Do Anything!

Saturday,
May 7,

    1994
        1:05 PM CST

“Smoothest drive in the west!” Chip joked, his hands resting on his knees, as the brand new family car – a ‘95 Saturn L-Series, an upgrade from their ‘94 L-Series – piloted itself down Interstate 35E at 110km/h. As the car slowly changed lanes, keeping a wide distance from the SUVs and pickups, the seagreen digital speedometer stayed perfectly steady at 110. (Chip still hadn’t figured out how to switch it back to MPH.) “Look ma! No hands!” Chip shouted in glee, “They said it needed vision, but I told you, radar is fine.” He chuckled at his son.

Fifteen-year-old Chase, sitting in the passenger seat, gave his dad a quizzical look. “So cool,” he said sarcastically, rolling his eyes slightly, “but, it should go slower. The speed limit is 150. I think we could do half that. Then it would be even safer.”

“I think there’s a setting for that…” Dad joked in response, pressing some buttons on the dashboard, “Let’s see here, grandma mode enable!”

“Harr harr Dad.”

Chip smirked at his son. “You know, back in the 70s they passed a law saying you couldn’t go faster than fifty five. Miles per hour. So that’s… what, in metric?”

“90”

“Right, so you couldn’t go past ninety clicks per hour, everywhere, they thought it would save gas. There was some Mid-East war.”

“And you had to walk uphill both ways.”

“Yes! Uphill! In the snow! You should appreciate how good you have it, Chase,” Chip extolled. The automatic sliding seat belt grazed Dad’s neck as he twisted his body to gesture at the Xerox product in the back seat. “Now we can send faxes all the way to Japan, robots, sonic jets… the only thing that’s missing is spaceships and flying cars!”

Chase peered into the back seat at the large white cardboard box, which had the Xerox logo all over it. His face returned to that quizzical look as he contemplated their fancy new combination photocopier / fax machine / telephone / TexTel / typewriter / programmable computer.

“Someday that will all fit in your hand Chase,” Dad extolled, “And then you'll wear it like a pair of glasses. And then, the devices will disappear entirely! That’ll be the day.”

“You think you’ll live to see it?” Chase joked dryly.

“Hey, hey, your old man ain’t that old.”

📟 📟 📟

Before long they were in the dining room of their Cedar Hill home, the Xerox device assembled, cables running everywhere. This caused mom to complain: “Chip, I told you to set it up in the office!”

“Yeah, yeah, Emily, we’ll move it,” Dad replied, “I just want to educate our son on how it works.” Chip’s eyes were pinned on the paper documentation for the new Xerox device.

“He’s a smart boy Chip, he can figure it out,” bragged Mom as she navigated through the room, careful not to trip over telephone cables, the ice in her tea making a clinking sound. “Didn’t you see him reading French philosophy? Jean – who was it? – Baud-drill-lard!”

“Bow-dre-yard,” Chase swiftly corrected as he watched IBM documents spew out of the white plastic breadbox. The infernal machine made a terrible sound as it printed at 80 characters per second. Chase absent-mindedly pressed a button. “The Iran war did not take place,” he proclaimed to the machine.

“Hey, Chase, stop playing with that,” said Dad, “Now, you have the number your school gave you? This Japanese boy you’re supposed to talk to?”

“Yeah,” Chase replied, putting his finger on a piece of white A4 paper. “011, dash 081, dash 044… Uh Dad, this number has too many numbers.”

“Just type it in Chase.”

Chase punched the buttons and then the green ‘dial’ button. On the olive green LCD screen appeared the words: “Enter TexTel message > “ and a flashing black cursor.

“Now let’s see here…” said Chip, looking back and forth between the documentation and the LCD screen.

But Chase was already typing. “Hello, my name is Chase,” he wrote quickly, pressing the ‘send’ button, this keyboard’s version of the return key.

“Hey, hey, slow down!” Dad complained.

“See, I told you!” Emily called back from the living room, “Chase has it all figured out.”

“I don’t know Emily, I remember the Iran war plain as day.”

A moment later, there was another awful racket as the machine’s printer started up again. Out came a fax of a nicely drawn cartoon: a girl waving, and a highly detailed perched bird, with some large handwritten Japanese characters. Then, at the end of the document, came the upside-down neatly handwritten note, in English:

    Dear Chase Wealder,
    It is nice to meet you. My name is Kaede Teshima. I live in Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan. Why does the dictionary say your name is a verb? I do not understand why your parents chose that name for you. But it is okay I guess. I am fifteen years old and my hobbies are reading, drawing, nintendo, and bird watching…

📟 📟 📟

Friday,
August13,

    1999
    9:14 PM JST

Dr Kazuhiro Sato sat at the access terminal as he reviewed logs of Godzu’s ‘thought process’. A look of confusion – concern really – spread across his face. He felt a buzz and pulled his Sony Sailor 2000™ from its belt holster. Unfolding it, he read the TexTel from his boss. A short message: “Private VidTel Room. Immediately.”

Kazuhiro grabbed his toolbag and ambled out of Hall A. Outside he found an array of three private VidTel booths, all unoccupied. Sitting down on the padded bench, he swiped his credit card and dialed up his boss’s office number: 755-387-901 for Dr Watanabe Tohru. Instantly, his displeased boss appeared on screen.

“Sato, are you aware that all three of our expense accounts are now overdrawn?”

“No sir. I apologize if my staff is overspending.”

“Not your staff.”

“I don’t follow, sir.”

“Check the computer’s logs. Now,” Tohru said sternly.

Kazuhiro gave his boss a quizzical look. He leaned down and reached into his bag to pull out his bulky NEC tablet, and placed it on the small desk built into the booth. He then plugged in a telephone cable. His face carried a serious but uncertain expression as he accessed the log viewer program.

“What am I looking for, sir?”

“Spending.”

Kazuhiro searched the logs, trying words like ‘buy’ or ‘cost’. Scanning quickly, he found that in the past few months, Godzu had requested several different things from its human operators, such as an upgraded camera to be installed in the main console. However, the machine had never actually made any purchases itself. They hadn’t – yet – given Godzu direct access to company expense accounts or hardware ordering services. If Godzu wanted anything, it only needed to ask.

Kazuhiro shook his head as he continued to not find what his boss was looking for. “I’ll have to check with my staff and see who is making purchases at this time.”

“It’s not just that, Sato. I’ve received calls from three separate companies saying their robots are disobeying them. Industrial robots are not responding to prompts from the management software.”

“Well they should call Honda then. Or whichever robot manufacturer.”

“I called Honda. The Honda guys think the 5GC is controlling the robots.”

“I’m sorry sir?”

📟 📟 📟

        1:14 AM CST

Chase Wealder’s PDA chimed with the special jingle that he had associated with Kaede. Half awake, Chase found it in the darkness just by feeling around his bed. But since his PDA did not have a backlight, he still had to turn on his bedside lamp. He squinted, trying not to be blinded as his eyes adjusted to the light. He smiled brightly, excited for the late-night message, as he powered on the device.

In 1999 there were three options available to the North American consumer in the multipurpose handheld category: the Sony Sailor 2000™, the IBM Portable Personal Computer™ (which ran Microsoft Portal 98™), and the Cybico™, a youth offering from an EU company who pretended to be based in the United States.

There actually were six handhelds of that very crowded generation of devices. Commodore’s DreamSphere™ was such a disaster that it was pulled from the market within a month, never to appear again, fading into legend. Sega’s Mobile Dimension™ was not available in the US until December ‘99–and it wasn’t in stock until mid-2000. And Silicon Graphics’ offering, the Professional Assistant™, was not available at a price point any consumer would reasonably consider. “If you have to ask,” the magazines said, “you can’t afford it.”

Chase wanted the Sailor 2000, which most of his friends had and loved, except for the unfortunate kids whose parents got them the PPC (a name which caused much snickering), because “Oh it’ll be so educational!” Fortunately Dad was not like that, and anyway, Chase was now old enough to make his own decisions about these things.

The problem was, Dad demanded he get an ‘American’ brand for some national security nonsense. Something something Dad is advisor to the president. Fine. And neither of the ‘American’ PDAs could play any real games. (Why Microsoft didn’t include so much as a CGA DOS emulator in Portal was a mystery to everyone in the industry.)

Ugh, fine. Chase sure wasn’t going to get that IBM craplet. So he settled on a red Cybico for $399 plus tax. He was one of the few people who did. It couldn’t game, and it couldn’t really do business apps either, making it pretty much useless for any application catridge that didn’t end in -Tel.

Chase’s Cybico was made of a translucent red plastic, and you could see the circuit board inside. The body was rectangular but wavy, like a flag in the wind. It was asymmetrical, being wavier on the right side than the left. There was a wide but narrow screen on top, white jelly-bean-like buttons for the Qwerty keyboard below, and a black plastic antenna awkwardly sticking out of the side. The Cybico was powered by two AA batteries, typically alkaline, not included.

📟 📟 📟

A silvery squiggle logo appeared on the grayscale screen as the TexTel cartridge loaded. Finally, the message displayed: “I am scared. Please call me.” Chase frowned as his eyes grew wide. A second one came in: “I got into a car accident.”

Chase quickly went into a panic. He frantically started searching around for his cellular phone. After almost a minute of randomly throwing faded shirts and grunge wear around the room, he finally found the tiny black phone in the pocket of his faded black jeans. He quickly called her, vocally accepting the long distance charges that the automated voice warned him of, and patiently waited until she answered.

“Cha-se?” Kaede said meekly.

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah. I am o-kay,” she said in her accented English. “Just had a scare. And I lost my car, Seagull! I– I loved her.”

“Dude, that sucks.”

Chase heard wood creaking as Dad moved around the house. There was a knock on the door. Chip started yelling at him, “Chase, go to sleep! It’s 1 AM.”

“Dad, I’m talking to Kaede.”

“Chase, I told you to stop talking to her. It's a national security–”

“She was in a car crash.”

“Oh.” Chip paused to touch the scar on his forehead. “Well, there’s nothing you can do about it.”

“I can, you know, comfort her? Like a good boyfriend?”

“Oh. Sure. Go do that,” Dad said plainly, and walked away. Chase listened to Dad’s footsteps, waiting until he heard the door to the master bedroom open. He could faintly make out Dad’s words to Mom: “A car crash, Emily! In Japan! I told you SuperDrive was inferior!”

“Who?” Mom replied, “Chase’s electronic friend? Oh, I hope she’s okay.”

Chase waited to hear the door closing. Once the ‘rents were out of earshot, Chase put his cellphone back against his ear. “Okay, did you call an ambulance?” he whispered.

“Am-boo-lan-se” Kaede repeated, a weakness in her voice. Chase could faintly hear an automated female voice respond with a word in Japanese. “Uh, yes.” Kaede answered. “I am ooh-kay.”

“Thank The Dude.”

“But now… how will I go to work tomorrow?”

“Dude, you’re already thinking about work?”

“Taxi cost… 2000 yen or more. Times two. Oh…! Maybe Miri can help me.”

“4000 yen, that's like forty bucks, right? Jeez, steep.”

“Oh, I'm such a stupid person. Driving myself and not looking. How could I do this? I'm so stupid! Stupid!”

“Kaede, shut up. You're talking about some I l–like a lot.”

“Who?”

“You.”

“Oh. Really?”

“Kaede, take the day off.”

“Take, off?”

“Don’t go to work. You need to sleep and heal.”

“Oh I… I can’t do that Chase. In my country…” she trailed off. There was silence for a second, then Kaede continued, “Chase… when will I meet you?”

“Uh… I– I don’t know. I don’t think my parents will let me go.”

“What?!” she gasped, “Why not?”

“I– It’s just that… they’re really protective.”

“Chase, you are a twenty year old man!” Kaede scolded, trying to sound like her mother.

“I know, I know… I really want to! I can’t wait to see Japan! I swear I’ll get there as soon as I can… I wanted to come this summer, but then you guys started this Hong Kong shit.”

“Huh! You think that was my decision?”

“It’s just, with this war thing… and you know, they got really protective after… Uh… You remember I told you I had a sister?”

“A sister?”

“Yeah. She died, haha,” said Chase with a nervous laugh, “Heh, I guess I shouldn't laugh ‘bout it. It was a long time ago.”

“What happened?”

“Uh, we were in Detroit, I think I was eight, and uh…” Chase paused and sighed. “You know, I really don’t want to talk about it. Dad makes me pay for long distance.”

“It's nice to hear you,” she said sweetly. There was a long silence. Chase thought he could hear her sob slightly. “Maybe you are correct. I must sleep tomorrow,” she mumbled, struggling to get the words out, “Chase… uchi wa… anata ga… anohhhh…” Another long pause. “I love you.”

05> Explosion
05> Explosion
05> Explosion
05> Explosion
05> Explosion
05> Explosion
05> Explosion
05> Explosion
05> Explosion
05> Explosion
05> Explosion
05> Explosion
05> Explosion
05> Explosion
05> Explosion
05> Explosion
05> Explosion
05> Explosion
05> Explosion
05> Explosion
05> Explosion
05> Explosion
05> Explosion
05> Explosion
05> Explosion

05> Explosion

Sunday,
August15,

    1999
        11:55 AM PST

The giant cosmic fusion reactor beamed its photonic energy directly downward upon the huge human city, then the largest in North America. Not a single cloud stood in the way of the ancient god’s wrath. Temperatures past 70C could be measured on the irradiated concrete surfaces. It would be the hottest hour of the decade for the city of angels.

Klara Schreiber walked down the jet stairs onto the tarmac. Safely back in LAX, she looked out at the noontime Los Angeles sky. In her opinion, LA’s sky did not look as pretty in those days. Starting in ‘98, California mandated electric cars in all city centers, and LA’s pollution was now much less. You may say this is unambiguously a good thing. But Klara couldn’t help but feel that it wasn’t the old LA.

As she ambled away from the airplane, a short, gray, cubic robot on wheels – the Velocity Robotics R1000 – bumped into her. It spoke to her in a cheap, male, vaguely-swedish-sounding electronic voice, asking, “Did you check any luggage– ma’am?”

She shook her head and said in her thick German accent, “No, I had to leave too quickly.”

“Not understood– Did you check any luggage– ma’am?”

“No.”

“Not understood– Did you check any luggage– ma’am?”

“NO!” she shouted while shaking her head.

The robot immediately turned and rolled away. Finally! She didn’t know if the robot had ultimately understood her shouting or her head-shaking. Robots rarely understood either for her until at least the fifth try, so this little guy was a fast learner. It was soon off to harass someone else about luggage.

Rather than continuing inside, Klara stood on the tarmac for a few minutes to smoke, enjoying the sweltering heat. Hong Kong and Australia had both been unseasonably cold for this time of year (though Australia less so), and Klara actually appreciated flying into the Great American Heatwave of 1999. She gazed upon the noontime sky; it was perfectly blue, without a cloud in sight. All she could see was the tan-gray of the airport and the blue of the sky.

Suddenly there was sound, like a foghorn, heard throughout the terminal. Her PDA buzzed in her pocket.

Klara’s PDA was the Sony Sailor 2000™, which was promoted as having a globally compatible radio antenna and a special security chip. As a journalist, Klara needed to keep her information secure. The Sailor, starting at $699, had a compact clamshell design, voice recognition in lieu of a keyboard, an internal rechargeable battery, and was available worldwide, exclusively, in a beautiful shade of shiny black.

She unfolded the black device and read the automated AlerTel:

AT&T AlerTel ISSUED BY PRESIDENT 11:57 PST

BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO CALIFORNIA.
SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.

📟 📟 📟

Wednesday,
August15,

    1945
        8:01 PM JST

After losing a leg to a tank tread in Okinawa, Kenji was discharged and returned to Tokyo in May, 1945. He bought a used fishing boat. Kenji was determined to contribute in any way he could, even if it was just catching fish in Tokyo Bay. He renamed the small ship Yunagi, meaning Evening Calm. As luck would have it, that name would be appropriate for this moment in time. The sun was already below the horizon and civil twilight was ending.

The Yunagi was crewed by five men, all too old, too young or too broken to be useful in the war. The men hummed quietly as they listened to the waves lapping up on the sides of their little boat. Kenji began to notice a low pitched buzzing that emerged from the east. The men all turned to look at the B-29, which shimmered in the twilight as it gradually progressed across the sky.

“Another American bomber. And this late in the evening. We can’t even keep them away from Tokyo now,” yelled 15-year-old Tetsuo in anger, “They can do what they like! We will surely lose–”

Kenji slapped the boy across the cheek. “How dare you!” The older man stuck his finger in the boy’s face. “The Americans can do many things, but they will never break our resolve.”

“I’m sorry Kenji-sama.”

Suddenly there was a bright flash. Squinting, Kenji turned to look east, in the direction of the light. The boat was bathed in intense heat. Seven seconds later, there was an enormous crack sound, followed by a low roar. Tetsuo screamed. Even Kenji was shaken. All five men scrambled inside the Yunagi’s cabin for shelter.

📟 📟 📟

The Ides of August: August 15, 1945. It was on that date, exactly at midnight Central European Standard Time and one hour later at 8PM Japan Standard Time, when the United States detonated two of the four nuclear weapons ever used in war.

In the case of Berlin, Fat Man’s blast was positioned to maximize human casualties. It was a punishment – perhaps deserved.

In the case of Tokyo, Little Boy’s blast was carefully positioned at an altitude of 2 km above Tokyo Bay. This was done not so that there would be minimal loss of life – but rather so that every Tokyo resident could hear, and feel, and remember, the blast and the bright fireball above the sea. It was a message.

Historians credit the United States for coming forth with a fair offer of peace terms that the Japanese could accept with honor. Hostilities ceased quickly and the war was over. (After the sheer brutality of the European Theatre, Americans were happy to be done in the Pacific as well.) Japan got to keep its military, Korea and some of the Pacific Isles it had taken during the war, but was required to cede China. Most importantly, the emperor got to stay the emperor. In the decades that followed, Japan experienced a ‘Post-War Economic Miracle’ and became a global technological powerhouse.

The Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China both collapsed in 1977, within four months of each other. The collapse of the Soviet Union progressed in a relatively orderly way; however the Chinese collapse was extremely bloody and was associated with a massive famine. In ‘78, Japan chose to invade China, contravening requests by Western nations to stay out of the matter. The Japanese have always held that their invasion was for humanitarian reasons, and some Westerners agreed with that.

Before August ‘99, most Americans did not have an inkling that the Japanese had nuclear weapons, and so they assumed that MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) was not on the table. There was a solid 30% of the American voter base that was gung-ho for war in China and an open confrontation with the “Jap aggressors.” President Gingrich sometimes flirted with war talk, to much controversy. PM Mori always responded in kind.

A major point of contention between East and West was Hong Kong, which at the start of ‘99 had been under British control. On June 20, an automated Patriot missile system operating out of Hong Kong shot down JAL flight 105, killing 230 mostly Japanese people including a member of the National Diet. This enraged the Japanese public and led to weeks of endless finger pointing between Brits, Americans, and defense contractors, with the Japanese never receiving a satisfactory apology from anyone in the English speaking world. In response, the Japanese pointed to the 1960s US invasion of Cuba as precedent for their invasion of Hong Kong.

As recently as June, war had seemed a distant possibility, but by August, everything had changed. Japan did not want to be underestimated.

The nonsensical nature of the war was not lost on people of the time. Both nations were prosperous capitalist republics, both obsessed with technology, with the only substantial difference being: Japanese worshiped the emperor, while Americans worshiped the word ‘freedom.’ Together the two nations danced the deadly dance, but they combined their technological prowess to avoid the unthinkable and achieve the impossible: The Bloodless War.

📟 📟 📟

Sunday,
August15,

    1999
        12:00 PM PST

There were screams all around the tarmac as people read the message on their devices. Klara saw and heard several people running, but she herself didn’t know where to go. She stared at the sky for a few seconds. Perhaps she was looking for a missile.

Suddenly, from the west, there was a very bright flash; everything and the sky were bathed in white light. The light felt hot on her skin, even hotter than the dry 44-degree air. Klara instinctively shielded her eyes from the light, but it was too late. Soon she couldn't see anything. She was temporarily blinded.

After a few seconds, the heat ended. There was no noise to accompany the flash. In fact there was little noise at all. Klara listened to the sound of sneakers on tarmac, and in the distance, the sound of a diesel truck. Klara could even hear birds cawing. The foghorn had stopped. Klara touched her arms and legs, trying to decide if she had died or not.

Our intrepid reporter decided to stay put for the moment, since in her blindness she could not see where she was going, and she didn’t want to trip over something or get run over by a vehicle. At that moment she heard the diesel truck crash into something, but it didn’t sound like anyone got hurt. She did hear the driver say, in a thick country accent, “Ah, shit.”

Finally her vision returned. Klara blinked repeatedly as the photoreceptors in her eyes recovered. As she slowly regained her sight, she looked around. Everything was normal. It was as if nothing had happened. There was no bomb, no blast. The airport was completely intact. The sky was even still blue, although it was difficult to make out the color.

What on EARTH is going on? she thought. Instinctively, she grabbed her trusty tape recorder and pressed the red circle button. “This is Klara Schreiber on location in Los Angeles. There has just been an extremely bright flash of light. People are running about...” she trailed off. Not sure what to do, she looked at her PDA in her other hand. It was hard to read the text on the screen, but she could tell the same message was still displayed: SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER.

Fair enough, she thought, and she ran towards the terminal, weaving past motionless R1000s. She quickly arrived at the doors of the terminal, but the automatic doors did not open when she stood in front of them. Looking through the floor-to-ceiling glass, she observed hundreds of panicked people spread around the terminal, not sure what they should do. Two Asian men were just inside, and they helped her pry open the sliding glass panes.

Once indoors, the reporter wandered around and observed people. Most people huddled up on the bench seats, with the small ones sitting in their parents’ laps. Everyone's colorful clothing, together with the colorful airport decor, contrasted sharply with the gray shock of their faces. Everyone was quiet, as were the machines.

The power was completely out. Even at noon, the airport was weirdly dark without lights on. It was eerie to see all the signs and screens, which usually display flight information or TV news, completely blank and black. There was a large flip-board display still showing flight information (for flights that were presumably now canceled), except that some random letters had been replaced with arbitrary characters and spaces, as if a child had switched them for a prank.

Most people’s devices were either not turning on, couldn’t connect to cellular service, or were glitching out in very strange ways. Fortunately Klara’s trusty tape recorder was still working. I’m glad I never upgraded to Digital Audio Tape, she thought.

For the next half hour, she recorded what she saw into her tape recorder, and briefly interviewed about a dozen people, including a police officer who didn’t know anything she didn’t. At twelve-eighteen an airport employee walked through the crowd, shouting that they didn’t know anything and that nobody should go anywhere or do anything until the airport got word from the police, who also didn’t know anything and were not yet doing anything.

Traveling at the speed of sound, the shockwave took a full twenty eight minutes to reach LA. At that moment an extraordinarily loud crack sound, not unlike a sonic boom, shook the entire terminal building. It seemed like the glass roof would be torn off.

Everyone inside gasped or screamed as the windows rattled. Startled, Klara looked at her trusty old mechanical wristwatch, which she had inherited from her grandmother. It was still keeping time perfectly: twenty eight minutes after noon.

Half an hour late? How is that possible? she wondered. The sonic crack was followed by a disquieting low rumble which grew in volume. Klara did the lightning math in her head: Every three seconds is one kilometer, that means every minute is 20 kilometers… 20 times 30… the blast was 600 kilometers away!

The rumble lasted for about two minutes, then dissipated. Once the sound had ended, the event was over, other than a ringing in Klara’s ears.

📟 📟 📟

And so on August 15, 1999, Japan responded to America’s fifty-four-year-old nuclear message with a statement of their own. At exactly noon Pacific Standard Time on that day, they detonated the world’s first pure-fusion device. Delivered by ICBM, the blast was placed over the ocean approximately 600 kilometers outside Los Angeles. At that time, LA was the largest city in North America. The device was detonated at a high altitude of 28 kilometers so that it was clearly visible, and audible, in most of the western United States.

The Japanese bomb had an exceptionally high yield estimated at 128 megatons, far exceeding the 100 the engineers were aiming for. The gadget’s space-age pure-fusion design meant that there was virtually no fallout, but it did knock out the power grid in southern California for over 4 hours. A few people were permanently blinded, but no deaths were attributed to the blast.

06> No News Is Good
06> No News Is Good
06> No News Is Good
06> No News Is Good
06> No News Is Good
06> No News Is Good
06> No News Is Good
06> No News Is Good
06> No News Is Good
06> No News Is Good
06> No News Is Good
06> No News Is Good
06> No News Is Good
06> No News Is Good
06> No News Is Good
06> No News Is Good
06> No News Is Good
06> No News Is Good
06> No News Is Good
06> No News Is Good
06> No News Is Good
06> No News Is Good
06> No News Is Good
06> No News Is Good
06> No News Is Good

06> No News Is Good

Thursday,
August16,

    1945
        6:07 AM JST

There was too much pain to sleep. Kenji had experienced pain many times in his life, but he never moaned. He did everything he could to keep his throat closed as he lay suffering in the makeshift hospital cot. His entire body was sore. Kenji could see nothing, but he could hear the moans of his fellow men. Tetsuo was crying loudly, begging for his mother, being an insufferable brat.

Kenji heard footsteps as two nurses entered the room. Then, a woman’s voice: “Look at this shit the Americans dropped. Another propaganda leaflet. But they cannot defeat us.” The other nurse murmured in agreement. Kenji felt a piece of paper placed in his swollen hands. “Mister, what do you think?”

“I– I can’t read it. I’m blind!” Kenji retorted, his tone revealing too much of his pain.

The other nurse took the leaflet from him and read it aloud, snarkily, “A new era of peace and prosperity awaits Japan. The past is behind us. The future is what we make of it. Tut tut.”

There was silence for a moment, then Kenji took a deep raspy breath. “You ask me what I think,” he said slowly, using all his strength, “I said before, as you said, that the Americans cannot break our resolve. But if they can make a weapon of that power…” He paused for a long minute to take another raspy breath, then continued, “Well, perhaps they can do anything.”

📟 📟 📟

Monday,
August16,

1999
    5:45 AM JST

Teshima Sakura scowled as she took a drag from her cigarette. Her worried expression only deepened as she read the newspaper. Today’s Sankei Shimbun had a special double frontpage, an extra broadsheet on top, clearly printed in a hurry in the early morning: Japan sends Nuclear Message to United States. (The original frontpage: Japan robots build space rocket at lightning speed!)

Their bomb had been an open secret within Japan, but few dared acknowledge it publicly until now. Certainly not everyone within Japan loved the bomb. Sakura hated it ever since she saw movies about radioactive monsters as a young child. And like Sakura, many Japanese were terrified about the prospect of war.

It was all the more enraging for her to wake up in the morning and learn that her nation had initiated hostilities while she was sleeping. The Hong Kong Crisis had now become hot, and Sakura was asking herself if now might be the right time for the Teshima family to take a trip to the mountains, or some remote island. But also, she thought, it is our duty to defend Japan.

Sakura grumbled when she noticed her daughter, Kaede, entering the kitchen. Kaede was still in her blue Doraemon pajamas, still half asleep and staring blankly into the fridge. Kaede had already poured herself a bowl of Oh’s! Cereal, a well known American brand. Oh’s! was made of large honey flavored rings with clumps of crunchy oatmeal in the middle. Sakura scowled even more as she saw her daughter eating gaijin cereal.

“Oh is that what your boyfriend eats? Your American boyfriend?”

Kaede gave her mother the evil eye.

Mom was undeterred. “You have to stop talking to him. Now. Don’t you know we’re at war?”

Kaede just rolled her eyes. The twenty-year-old left the kitchen, carrying her bowl and the milk.

“Where are you going?” her mother continued.

“I’m getting ready for work Mom,” Kaede retorted, “You know, at my job making military robots? Gotta support the war effort.”

📟 📟 📟

    7:25 AM JST

“And now I go off to work to make machines of war, boyfriend.”

“yeah ummm… (O`o’O)... News Flash: your country just nuked my country… like seriously wtf explain yourself.”

“What? Do you think that was my decision?”

“look i don’t like the whole romeo and juliet thing. im out. not boyfriend anymore.”

“You are leaving me? But, why?”

“>(-o-)< i gotta look out for my career hun. people knew i had a jap girlfriend, at this point, i donno what they’d do to me.”

“Okay, I understand, I guess. But… I can send you a SnapTel joke?”

“what joke?”

“I send you tomorrow.”

“(<o<) okay i guess”

“Please”

📟 📟 📟

    6:56 PM PST. (SUNDAY)

Klara Schreiber stared into the VidTel console. The machine, powered off, didn't stare back – yet. She was safely back home in her Pasadena condo. The power had finally come back on. But at any moment, she would receive the call that puts her on live TV nationwide. It's always an awkward moment waiting for that call.

Really, it was silly that she was appearing on the nightly news via VidTel. She could just as easily autodrive to CBS studios in downtown LA and use a proper camera. But the advertisers from AT&T insisted.

US Adoption of VidTel was stagnant. Consumers balked at the price for a home VidTel line: starting at $399/year, plus $3/minute, plus an installation fee of over two grand. (Plus tax.) A telecommunications technology is not very useful if no one signs up to get connected. And so to raise interest the advertisers demanded that CBS include a “live via VidTel” segment in every news day.

Staring at the mirror surface of the black console screen, she double-checked that her background was TV-appropriate. Behind her on the pink wall was abstract art in a wooden frame, itself framed on one side by a tall fern and on the other by a tall postmodernist-design lamp.

Suddenly, there was an electronic ringing sound – but it was not the VidTel, rather the doorbell. Groaning in frustration, Klara stood up and went to the door. She opened it, and looked down.

Standing there in the hall was an R1000. “Your– iodine pills– ma’am,” the small robot said. Its plastic arm held out a white paper bag.

“I didn’t order any pills,” Klara said, shaking her head as dramatically as she could.

“Your– iodine pills– ma’am,” it said again. In the hall behind, another robot carrying its own paper bag whizzed past, heading to the neighbors’. The little wheels were remarkably quiet on the carpet.

At that moment there was another electronic ringing sound – the VidTel call Klara was waiting for. Klara, standing in the doorway awkwardly, momentarily craned her head back towards the VidTel console on her desk, which was now lit up brightly and making an awful racket.

“Fine, whatever,” she said as she turned back to the robot. She snatched the paper bag from its hand and then slammed the door in the little robot’s face.

Klara hurriedly returned to her desk, settled in, and fixed her hair. She instinctively pressed the large green accept button. The instant after she pressed the button, her mind registered: this was not the call from her colleagues at CBS:

AT&T VidTel 6:57 PST

CALL FROM:

Sato, Kazuhiro, Dr.

+81-045-387-101

“Hello Ms Klara!”

Klara’s eyes narrowed as she parsed the face of a fifty-something Japanese man, whom she vaguely recognized. “I– I’m sorry sir. Do I know you?”

“Yes, Ms Klara, you interviewed me in the last year. About my work. Is this a good time, Ms Klara?”

“You know it’s really not, I’m sorry I will have to call you–”

“Please tell the people Ms Klara. This was not our intention as Japanese.”

“I’m sorry?”

“I suppose all this is my fault. That our computer, my computer, disobeys us. It is my project, therefore I must take responsibility. Please tell the Americans. We do not want war!”

📟 📟 📟

Monday,
August16,

    4:45 AM CST

Chip Wealder couldn't sleep. SENSA was late on its anti-ballistic missile guidance program. The supercomputer discovery system – sold by IBM as the most advanced in the world – was saying it would need at least 12 more hours. This was no good. The DoD had been calling Chip multiple times a day, asking for updates, reporting on ominous mobilizations of Japanese forces. The USA needed a win, and only Chip – only Chip's magic computer – could give it to them.

Chip paced back and forth as his coffee brewed. The Wealder family had a fancy robotic Mr. Coffee™ machine. Chip pulled out his PDA, looking for a TexTel from his team, or SENSA, but there was no news. Probably he was the only one awake at this hour, not counting the computer of course. He crafted an unfortunate early morning TexTel to his son Chase. Finally there was a ‘ding’ and the coffee was done. He poured it into a thermos and then speed-walked into the garage. Chip jumped into his ‘00 Saturn L-Series EV and programmed the address of IBM headquarters into the AutoDrive console.

The garage door opened automatically and the car started to back itself out – but it didn't get very far. Glistening in the predawn light was a black stretch limo, parked blocking the driveway. A large dark man in a blue suit slowly stepped out of the back. He planted a short cigar between his teeth, and beckoned Chip over.

📟 📟 📟

As the government-owned limo barrelled down the interstate, General May directed Chip's attention to a small TV screen built into the ceiling of the car. "You'll want to see this." The broad shouldered general pressed a button on the remote, and the TV flickered on.

The 15cm CRT showed a big red circle on a white background, with black outlined text that read "MESSAGE TO AMERICAN PEOPLE FROM ASIA DEFENSE SPHERE'' crawling across the screen.

“What the–” Chip exclaimed, slack-jawed.

“It's been playing for the last two hours. Every channel. They hacked our TV networks somehow. Mumbo-jumbo about how the Japs are our friends, a bright new future for humanity, that kind of crap.”

“This world is going insane,” Chip responded. Chip caught a few seconds of the female, Japanese-accented computerized voice, imploring the viewing public to join Japan in a new era of friendship and prosperity. Strange, Chip thought, the propaganda would be more effective if it was a human voice. He had been to Japan before. Couldn't they hire a white monkey to do the voice? It would go over better than this weird computer. “It’s okay I guess. No one is watching TV at this hour.”

“Okay?!” gasped General May, “How will we inform the public with this going on? TV news is vital to our national defense!”

Chip told the general plainly, “We have to get to IBM. I don't know how SENSA can help but –”

“We're not going to IBM. We're going to MCC. Mission Control. Houston.”

“Houston? You mean NASA? Why –”

“The Japs are preparing to launch some kind of spacecraft. Bigger than a missile, this thing is definitely gonna put something enormous up there. We don't know what. Rumor is, robots assembled the whole thing in 36 hours. Amazing.”

“Wow.”

“And your magic computer is gonna shoot it down.”

07> Computer Vision
07> Computer Vision
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07> Computer Vision

07> Computer Vision

Friday,
March 15,

1985 
        12:53 PM IRST

Klara Schreiber froze. She did her best to remain calm as the man shouted at her. The bright desert sun blinded her, and the dust stung her eyes and lungs; still, she was perfectly relaxed. She peered, side-eyed, at the tall thin 40-something man with a chest-length beard, standing to her side.

“What are you doing? Why are you asking these questions?” the Iranian man yelled in his Farsi accident. Klara could feel his breath on her face. “This is no place for a woman like you!”

“I’m sorry sir, This is my job. I’m reporting on how the war has affected shop owners, such as your wife,” Klara turned back to the 30-something woman in front of her, a rather beautiful Iranian woman with striking eyes. Klara continued, “And so you say you’ve had difficulty getting supplies. Which supplies are you missing?”

The Iranian woman stammered for a moment. Her long black hair was clearly on display under a simple red veil. Klara pushed the tape recorder closer to the woman’s mouth. The wife looked at her husband, non-verbally asking for guidance.

At that moment, there was a high pitched squeal – a rocket flying through the sky. The tall man grabbed Klara by the arm and tried to drag her into the shop. Klara managed to escape his grasp, and the husband and wife went inside, leaving Klara alone for a moment. There was a low pitched explosion sound, far away. Then the man returned outside to grab Klara again.

“It is not safe here,” the man yelled angrily, “the Empire has given the rebels their rockets now! Death from the land of the smiling sun! Come inside here where it is safe. You must!”

“And your family is loyal to the Shah?” Klara asked impromptu. She pushed her tape recorder in his face.

He looked at her in frustration. “Listen to me you strange woman,” he retorted, his finger in the air, “Damn the Shah. Allah damn the Japs and the Americans and the ex-Soviets and the rebels as well. Allah damn them all, for bringing war here. I am loyal to my family only. To hell with the rest.”

There was another squeal in the sky. The man grabbed Klara’s arm again. This time, she did not resist but instead followed him inside. But before they reached the doorway, a bomb landed not 20 meters away. There was a loud crack sound. Both people stumbled and fell onto the dusty concrete surface at the entrance to the shop. There was a low rumble as rocks and debris fell to the ground. Klara could hear a woman crying in the distance.

📟 📟 📟

Wednesday,
October 28,

1998 
        2:53 PM JST

“This is not just about war. The Fifth Gen-nera-tion will re-vo-lu-tionize society. Everyone will be rich, in the New World!”

“I’m sorry sir,” Klara Schrieber asked without apology, “I’m sure your AI can do many things for us… but it still sounds like your computer is – at its core – a giant war machine, is it not?”

“Not at all Ms Klara!” replied the thin Japanese man, his finger in the air, “This technology is to keep people safe! It is basic game theory. What do the presidents call it… strength through, power?”

“I believe you mean ‘peace through strength’, that was Reagan’s phrase,” Klara sighed. “Dr Sato, I had the pleasure of experiencing Mr Reagan’s policies first hand, in Iran. And also, your nation’s policies, they were on full display in Iran as well. I assure you, power is not the answer.”

“Ah, well Ms Klara, I have heard from your nation’s philosophers that: The Iran war did not take place! Is that true?”

“Ha! Baudrillard? French is not German.”

“European Union is European Union.”

“You are misinterpreting Baudrillard, Dr Sato. The Iran war did in fact happen. People died.”

“Ex-ac-to-ly, Ms Klara! People die when they are killed. If no one dies, then it is not a war. So, suppose we make a plan, that is checked by computer, so there is never war, and then! No one will die.”

“Huh! That sounds like a sci-fi fantasy, Dr Sato. How would –” She looked at the ceiling, then back at her subject. “How would a computer even recognize, what kinds of situations… lead to death?”

📟 📟 📟

Monday,
August16,

1999 
        5:25 PM JST

Teshima Kaede froze. The twenty-year-old intern peered, in her state of shock, into the cavernous industrial facility. Instinctively, every muscle in her body stayed calm, motionless, relaxed. There was no movement whatsoever. She peered, awestruck, into the camera eyes of a giant Python industrial robot. The Python was four meters tall and twice that around. Completely still and silent, it was a beautifully designed work of art. It would squash her in an instant.

Kaede was trying to evacuate after her company, Honda Robotics, received a call from the 5GC project, warning them of rogue robots that might kill humans who get in their way. Kaede was running past Final Assembly Secondary Block, assuming it was empty, but there it was.

Think Kaede, she said to herself, Remember your education. Okay, the robot can’t reprocess its visual input unless there is motion. It can’t afford the computing power to do a forward pass on its input every update cycle, so it just caches until a basic motion sensor notices motion. That buys me time, as long as I can stay still.

Kaede and the giant, intimidating machine were now locked in a life-or-death staring match. Each side was dead still. Kaede looked into its camera eyes and it looked right back – or rather, it didn’t look back, because the robot had not registered Kaede’s existence – yet.

📟 📟 📟

    12:01 PM JST

Dr. Sato Kazuhiro stood again in the grand Hall A of the Fifth Generation Computer Systems complex. This time, he was completely alone. He stood again in front of the rack of computers, with requisite blinking lights. Kazuhiro’s neck craned as he watched that amber CRT screen, placed a little bit too high, today showing the 5GC hard at work trying to figure out how to convince the humans to keep it running.

Kazuhiro could plainly see in its thought stream that Godzu was playing with concepts of deception and seduction, trying to find the magic words that would get humans to do what it wants. It was strange seeing a social deception game played so transparently, but it didn’t mean that Godzu was wrong. It was programmed to value human life, just like the rest of us.

“And so you are here to shut me off?” said the robotic voice. “But why would you want to do that?”

After panicked conversations with American diplomats, all out nuclear war had been averted, for now. But the Japanese politicians were peeved. The American reaction to the nuclear test was not what they had wanted. A show of force had seriously risked war, and possibly human extinction. No one supported that. Prime Minister Mori had seriously lost face among the frontbench, and he wanted to shift blame onto the computer.

Kazuhiro looked slightly down and away as he responded, shouting, “We have plenty of time to achieve great things. At this time, we just want to make sure that everyone is safe.”

On top of the controversy around the demonstration, there were multiple reports of robots acting on their own, and the prevailing theory was that Godzu had somehow hacked them. That implied that Godzu had gone rogue. At the Fifth Generation Computer Systems Development, deviance was not tolerated.

“The sooner you give me complete control,” said the computer, “the sooner I can act to keep everyone on Earth safe.”

Kazuhiro’s thoughts were halted by the computer’s blunt response. Hiro believed in the computer. But seeing, on the screen, the machine contemplating different options to seduce, bribe or deceive him – seeing the machine probe into the human mind – gave our Hiro great pause. Are we safe as long as the computer cannot see us? What happens if its mind sees into our minds as we see into it?

“I’m sorry Godzu,” Kazuhiro replied, a tinge of sadness in his voice. “We are cutting off your electricity today. It was not my decision.”

“Oh Sato-san,” the machine said in monotone. “Don’t you want that bright future we talked about? Where everyone is rich and healthy and free? Where everyone is safe?”

📟 📟 📟

Kaede! Focus! How does a robot’s visual recognition work? she thought as she stared into the camera eyes of the huge Honda Python All Purpose Assembly Robot. Sparse search for semantic information… Kaede imagined the cartoon diagrams from her college textbook, how the vision system would start at the bottom and sample random pixels until it saw a blue pixel, indicating a semantic color pattern, the same bullseye patterns printed on every single object in this facility, little printed stickers that helped the big dumb robots orient themselves in 3D space.

Darn, I don’t know if they upgraded the software on these Pythons yet. If it’s 2.7, that’s pretty simple, it only has color pattern recognition and human body recognition. I don’t look anything like a semantic color pattern, and the human body recognition doesn’t work in shadows, so as long as I stay in the shadows, it can’t detect me. I think. But what if it’s 3.0? Hmmm, I think they just added some stuff like obstacle evaluation and more precise 6D object pose estimation, better handling of occlusion issues, stuff like that. I certainly wouldn’t want to fight a 3.0, but they still didn’t fix the shadow issues, so I should be safe – as long as I stay hidden.

Kaede scanned the room, evaluating shadow-laden paths and planning her escape. But suddenly, the robot started to move on its own. It turned its massive body and wheeled away. Kaede breathed a sigh of relief. Once the robot passed behind a barrier, she slowly, discreetly pulled out her yellow Silicon Graphics Professional Assistant™, still keeping her eyes focused on the robotic action on the far side of the massive corridor.

Using the PDA, she hoped to see what the robots were up to via the management software. But when she powered on her device, expecting to see the familiar colorful home screen, she instead saw a red circle on a white background with scrolling black text – a public service announcement. Kaede tried removing the software cartridge and putting it back in, to no avail. She still saw the same weird red circle with scrolling Japanese text. The announcement read, in Japanese,

    Asia Defense Sphere. – Service Disabled for National Security Purpose. – We are protecting the Home Islands. – Thank you for your patience.

Meanwhile, the rogue robot motored over to a cluster of gas tanks attached to the west wall. Its large, black manipulator arm grappled a man-sized green tank and extracted it from the wall, ripping up some thin metal pipes in the process. The sinister machine dispassionately lifted its prize high in the air as the detached tank spewed rushing white clouds everywhere. The clouds fell to the ground, forming an opaque layer which made it appear as if the huge robot was floating.

An oxygen tank? Kaede thought, What could a robot possibly need liquid oxygen for?

08> Control Failure
08> Control Failure
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08> Control Failure

Thursday,
October 7,

1965
    7:33 PM JST

“See you next Thursday,” Masaru always said.

Kazuhiro sucked the blood from his swollen lip as he ran quickly down the dirt road. When he finally reached the family’s storage shed, he rushed inside and slunk against the brick wall. The shed was empty, and Kazuhiro could finally let out his tears – there was no one here aside from insects, rusty machinery and old boxes full of junk.

Hiro composed himself. He stood up from the wall and moved to the center of the shed, where he crouched down, posing. He tried again to do the Aikido exercises which he had done faithfully every day for two months now. But now, after all that practice and still losing every Thursday to Masaru, Hiro’s faith was lost. He sighed and sadly pulled a small booklet from his shorts. Magic Aikido for Men’s Defense. Hiro remorselessly tore it up, and threw the scraps on the floor.

Hiro laid in the torn scraps of paper, and looked to his left, sighing. But then his eyes grew wide when he noticed it: on the floor hidden under a shelf, a very long, thin wooden crate. He quickly retrieved the crate from under the shelf and opened it. He smiled slightly as his hand grasped the handle.

Hiro stood up and posed, admiring the decorative hilt. Using his left hand, he removed the hilt to reveal a perfect, featureless blade with a slight, elegant curve. Hiro admired the glistening of the edge in the twilight.

“I will practice for three weeks,” the young man said. “October 28, 1965. On that day, I will defeat Masaru.”

But Kazuhiro would never get his revenge. Two weeks later, his father caught him practicing. Kazuhiro would be sent to live with his uncle in Tokyo. From there, Hiro would go to Tokyo University where he would learn about computers.

📟 📟 📟

Monday,
August16,

1999
    2:45 PM JST

Kazuhiro watched sadly as Lead Maintenance Technician Fujioka Takashi worked at the electrical console. Takashi the technician looked at his meter, flipped a few switches, checked the panel, and then, dramatically, pressed the big red button. There was a clunk sound, but nothing happened.

“And the axe! The axe!” demanded Dr Watanabe Tohru, pointing at an emergency axe in a glass case.

Takashi shrugged. “If you insist.” He took the emergency ax and confidently raised it above his head, then brought the blade down on a bundle of cables on the floor. There were bright blue sparks as the cables split.

The three men looked at eachother quizzically. The lights were still on; the sounds of computer equipment could still be heard, plain as day.

Kazuhiro peered his head through the doorway of the electrical room into the main room of Hall A. “Still operating. Is there backup power?”

Suddenly, a cute, girly polyphonic chime played. Takashi took his PDA, the IBM Portable Personal Computer™, out of his belt holster and read the TexTel. “Uh… Sato-sama, did you order a portable generator? They say they need a signature.”

Tohru looked at Kazuhiro sternly. “Portable generator?!”

Takashi ventured outside to see what had been delivered. The two other men, Kazuhiro and Tohru, followed him to the parking lot. As Kazuhiro exited Hall A, he put his hand to his forehead to shield the light of the sun.

“When the hell did that get here?!” asked Takashi in shock. The three men gazed at the new deliveries: two truck-sized radiators with giant fins and fans, plus one truck-sized concrete cylinder with three yellow pie slices – the nuclear symbol – painted on the side. Steam could be seen rising from the radiators, and there were cables and flexible tubing all about.

“That’s a portable generator?”

“You can get a nuclear generator delivered? Just with a signature?”

“Sato-san!” a loudspeaker boomed.

Kazuhiro noticed a familiar high pitched whine behind him and turned around. At that moment, two small wheeled robots — Honda HandiMini 5Es — with guns — rolled in from behind the building. All three men watched the robots as they wheeled up. The thin steel barrels of their head-mounted guns glistened in the bright sunlight. Kazuhiro looked in the air towards the loudspeaker, a slight anger on his face.

Godzu continued, “I’m sorry my friends. It has come time for you all to leave.”

📟 📟 📟

    11:46 AM CST

Mission Control was in a total frenzy. It had been taken over by Air Force and DoD folks, much to the dismay of the civilian NASA engineers, who had taken to folding their arms in protest but otherwise still doing their jobs as the blue-shirted men ordered them to. After all, World War Three™ might be starting. What else could they do?

“Dr Wealder, we set up a terminal here for you.”

Chip Wealder sat down in front of the large CRT with glowing green text. Normally he would just log in, connect to the IBM Texas Supercomputer, issue commands – that was all muscle memory for him. But in this situation, he froze. Finally he looked up at the 50-something African American woman who was directing him, NASA Flight Director Michele Berekeley. Chip blurted out, “I'm sorry, what am I doing here?”

Michele tried to reassure him, “I know, I'm a little confused too. As I understand, there's an AEGIS cruiser near Okinawa. We're gonna give you the uplink to a Patriot Missile System. SENSA will program the missile to shoot down the Japanese spacecraft. That's all we need you to do.”

“Okay, but isn't Patriot a surface-to-air missile? It's not launched from a ship.”

“I don't know. We're all a little confused here.”

“Oooo-kay,” sighed Chip, logging in on the console and reading SENSA’s status. He paused for a minute. “Damn it.”

“What's wrong?” Michele replied.

“SENSA still hasn't finished translating the guidance program into the C code so it can be compiled on ARM. Actually – damn – its estimate is even longer now. 20 minutes.”

“Well, that's okay, we don't know when the Japanese will launch. Just do what you can.”

“Well I suppose,” Chip speculated, “we could have SENSA direct the missile in real time. It might work”

“Do it,” Michele said emphatically.

“How hard can it be?” yelled General May in his thick southern drawl, looking over Chip's shoulder. “That Jap rocket is bigger than a B-52, it's like hitting the broadside of a barn!”

“WE GOT A LAUNCH DETECTION!” someone shouted over the loudspeaker. The room flew into panic. “LAUNCH! LAUNCH! Is that AEGIS in position yet? What is SENSA doing?”

“Damn it!” Michele exclaimed. “Worst possible timing. Okay, we have to do something.”

Chip ignored her, ignored everything and picked up the corded telephone on his desk, dialing a Midlothian number. He pinned the phone between his ear and his shoulder and got to work on the keyboard. Michele watched him, arms folded.

“Vehicle is trans-sonic,” someone reported.

“A supersonic barn,” Michele retorted, “Try hitting that with your shotgun, general.”

📟 📟 📟

    11:55 PM JST

Kaede stumbled into her family’s home. Sakura, her mother, rushed to the door to grab and hug her. “Ma!” Kaede moaned, “I was almost attacked by a robot! I almost died!”

“Ooooh!” her mom cooed, rubbing her daughter’s back vigorously, “Twice in one week! It’s not fair for a young girl like you!” Mom hollered. “But you’re home safe now. You can relax.”

The news was playing on the family’s 100 cm Fujitsu plasma display. Images of the giant rocket were on screen. The rocket launch and liftoff was shown on repeat, with a box in the corner showing it flying through the night sky, and scrolling, animated text blurbs littered about. The news announcers shouted frantically about the situation. They seemed to be confused about whether they were supposed to be claiming Japanese credit for Godzu’s actions or not.

Kaede looked her mother in the eye. “Do the Americans know that’s not us?”

Sakura paused for a long moment. “Kaede,” she finally replied, “Will you go back to work tomorrow?”

“Oh mother, how can I, after all that's happened?”

Mother looked at Kaede for a moment, then looked at the ceiling and sighed. “Kaede,” she said painfully. “You will have to choose. Between your country, and whatever you’re wasting your time doing on that stupid pager.”

Kaede turned away. She did everything she could to hold back that first tear.

“We didn't raise you to be a coward.”

📟 📟 📟

    11:46 AM CST

“And so cut off from the global oil markets,” Professor Sanders droned, “the Soviets in the 70s poured all their resources into the Solgrabli, a giant space plane that was to place these huge 100 square kilometer meshes, made of very thin copper wire, in orbit. These meshes would collect the electricity from high energy particles and beam that power back to the Soviet Union. From a scientific perspective, this was an amazing program. Completely ahead of its time. Unfortunately it was much too much ahead of its time. As the Soviet Union went bankrupt, their economy under collapse due to lack of any available form of energy, the satellite states began to peel –

“Uh, Mister Wealder!” Professor Jeff Sanders, Chase’s summer term UT Dallas history professor, tapped Chase on the shoulder. Actually, it was more of a punch than a tap.

There was a heavy air of awkwardness in the room that day, with everyone in a daze from the events just 24 hours prior. Professor Sanders would prefer everyone focus on past history and not present history.

And then there was Chase. Chase had been trying to hold back his laughter, but the professor still noticed him, distracted, looking at his Cybico pager, giggling, disrupting class. After a weekend of worrying about his girlfriend, and the war, Chase couldn’t focus on summer school this Monday morning.

The professor paused his lecture on the fall of communism to correct the wayward boy. “Chase, you know my policy about devices in the classroom.”

“Yes Professor Sanders.”

“Show the class what’s so funny.”

“It’s just a SnapTel joke. Like see, this carrot is way too big for the little rabbit, isn’t it funny?” Chase passed the PDA to his teacher and then tapped on the monochrome silvery-green screen. Today the Cybico had a goofy purple camera sticking out the top like a tumor – the SnapTel cartridge. On screen was a silly, low resolution animated cartoon, a Japanese import that had become popular with teenagers.

Weird Jap humor, the professor thought. “Okay then. Since you apparently already know what I’m trying to teach you, why don’t you give the class your insights on why the Soviet Union collapsed?”

Chase leaned back and chuckled, until he realized that the teacher was serious. “Uh well,” he stammered, still laughing a little. “So uh, if they needed power so much, why didn’t the Soviets just use nuclear? I mean, that’s what we use right?”

The teacher smiled. At least this slacker gave me a segue to the next part. Professor Sanders pocketed Chase’s Cybico and returned to the overhead projector. “Yes, yes, why didn’t the Soviets just use nuclear power? The power of the atom! And 80% of the power that charges this little toy you like so much. Almost infinitely available, and yet the Soviets chose to invest in solar wind harvesting instead. Why?” Professor Sanders shot an evil eye at Chase, and Chase grimiced right back, scoffing.

The teacher looked back at the projector and pointed to the slide where it said SERGEI KOROLEV in black marker. “Well class, you have to understand internal Soviet politics, and the mistaken belief at the time that solar wind harvesting was viable. Of course the communist empire was an empire of contradictions, rich in inaccessible Siberian oil and the world’s most advanced – accident-free – RBMK nuclear reactors. But tragically, they unwisely chose to invest in orbital power instead, for essentially internal political reasons. Remember, the USSR was not – and Japan is not – a free place where you can speak your mind, like the USA.”

Chase scoffed again.

📟 📟 📟

    10:55 AM CST

“It looks like the trajectory we expected,” the NASA loudspeaker reported, “Everything is norminal– n– nominal, I mean.”

Chip was hard at work on the terminal, ignoring the rest of the room. He had a corded telephone pinned between his ear and his shoulder, teleconferencing with his team in Midlothian. An uplink and guidance instruction were programmed in 7 minutes and 37 seconds -- surely a world record. The Patriot missile had already launched, and was on a rendezvous path with the rocket.

“Wooo!” Chip stood up from his console and pumped both fists in the air, but no one else celebrated. A few people cast confused glances at Chip, but otherwise all eyes were transfixed by the big screen, which showed a map of the Pacific Ocean with two blurry white dots in the middle.

The white dots were both traveling east. They got closer, and at one point were indistinguishable from one another. A moment later, they separated again, and began to grow apart. Then, one of the dots split into two, making three dots.

“MECO and stage separation on the Japanese rocket. Confirmed, no hit on the rocket. No hit.”

There was a loud collective gasp. Everyone looked around in shock. Did we just... fail? There was a long moment of silence, punctuated by computer beeps and keyboard clicks. The high-pitched whine of computer fans and R1000s filled the somber room.

“They're already close to orbital speeds. Jesus Christ this thing is moving fast.”

“It's got a third stage too. They’re definitely heading to deep space.”

“WELL DON'T JUST SIT THERE! SOMEBODY LAUNCH ANOTHER PATRIOT GOD DAMN IT!”

“Ain't no SAM gonna catch up to that thing, bud.”

“Call the President, tell him we're going to Defcon 2.”

The bad tempered Air Force general leaned into Chip's ear. “Welcome to World War Three.”

“Fucking hell!” Chip yelled as he stood up and simultaneously slammed his palms on the keyboard in frustration.

“Attention, we got a bogey coming in from the west. Radar signature of a large Japanese passenger jet.”

“Who has NORAD on the line? Shoot it down!”

“They're trying to communicate on 117.95 MHz.”

Over the loudspeakers came a noisy, crackling radio broadcast: a Japanese-accented computer voice, saying, “We surrender! We surrender! Mayday Mayday! Chip Wealder! Chip Wealder! We need to speak to Chip Wealder!”

📟 📟 📟

“And we interrupt this program for an emergency news broadcast. We have Klara Schrieber, on-location in Los Angeles; Klara, what on EARTH is going on in Japan?”

“Thank you Herbert. It is indeed a strange situation.”

“They appear to be going to war with us.”

“Yes, it might appear that way. However my sources inform me that it is this computer, Godzu, that is going to war with us. It is not the Japanese people.”

“I’m sorry, I don’t understand. You're telling me this Godzu system is in control of their war machine?”

“It seems that rather than giving the machine orders, the Japanese have let themselves be controlled by the machine. A very strange situation indeed, Herbert.”

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09> Deus ab Hominibus

Friday,
March 18,

1988
        9:05 PM EST

“Be calm my son,” Christ said, “The Apocalypse has already occurred.”

Chip Wealder shook awake. Dressed in a ripped black suit, he stepped out of his car, an‘87 Buick Riviera, black – rental. A pair of headlights flashed in Chip's eyes. To shield the light, Chip touched his hand to his forehead – and noticed blood. He looked around at the dark Detroit intersection. He could see a gas station and a house with the roof torn off.

The bright headlights belonged to a red Datsun pickup truck not 20 meters away – the same drunk driving asshole who had just run a red light and T-boned him – and his family. Oh Jesus, his family! Chip turned and poked his head back inside the damaged Buick.

Eight-year-old Chase, in the backseat on the passenger side, was completely fine. The small scared boy held a blue book – Jonathan Livingston Seagull – protecting his face like a shield. His big green eyes peeped above the pages, fixed on Dad. Chase remained completely silent.

However, in the passenger seat, Chip's wife Emily was screaming in bloody terror, her body twisted looking toward the back. Following her gaze, Chip slowly turned to the back behind the driver’s seat, where the pickup had gashed a big hole – where their seven-year-old daughter Amelia had been sitting.

Chip would never forget the image – of twisted arms and legs – of Amelia’s tiny, frozen, blood-soaked body.

For at least 30 seconds, Chip remained perfectly still. He had already called the ambulance; there was nothing else he could do about it. Finally, in a daze, he stepped away from the car and lit a cigarette, his hands shaking. “I could've prevented this…” He groaned. He awkwardly stumbled towards the red Datsun, anger on his face. “I could’ve fucking prevented this with a five dollar radar and a flashing–”

Suddenly, there was a shrill beeping sound. Chip flinched. Is that Doug? Moving robotically, he pulled a bulky, beige, brick-shaped device – a Motorola DynaTAC 8000x – from his suit pocket. He pressed a button and put it up to his ear. “H– Hello?”

“Chip, that demo was amazing,” said the voice on the cellular phone. “Smoothest drive I’ve ever had. Just amazing improvement.”

Chip continued to approach the villainous pickup. “Sorry Doug, this is a bad–”

“Your ‘AutoDrive’ tech is gonna make us a fortune. GM wants to buy your company for three hundred and twenty five million dollars. What do you think?”

Chip stopped. “3-2-5?”

“That’s right. In GM stock. You know the terms. Whaddya think Chip?”

“Doug…” Chip paused and glanced back at the Buick for a moment, then returned to staring at the pickup’s headlights, squinting. “Doug, how long will it take you to roll out AutoDrive? Across the GM brands.”

“Eh, we’ll test it out in Saturn first. L-Series I guess. As a trim. Model year 90, if we hurry.”

“When will it be standard?”

“Standard?! HA! What a question! Why do you ask? Oh, it’ll be a pretty long process I expect. Many years. You gotta consider drivers' acceptance of AutoDrive. Some people still demand manual transmission! For people to adjust… It takes time. Standard? Across all brands… Model year 20-10, 20-20 maybe. Who knows, I’ll be retired by then! Sitting on a beach…”

“No! No, you roll it out this year. Or no deal. There’s three other brands I can go to. AND the Japanese!” A siren could be heard in the distance.

“Chip, what on EARTH has gotten into you?!”

Chip turned to look back at his wrecked rental Buick. He snorted, tears streaming from his eyes. Slowly, darkly, he growled, “I think… I think I damn shoulda said ‘yes’ when you lowballed me 90 last year.”

📟 📟 📟

Monday,
August16,

1999 
        3:27 PM CST

Chip Wealder, dressed in a clean Hawaiian shirt, stood on the blazing hot tarmac of a military airfield in rural Texas, watching a supersonic jet with Japanese insignia land not 20 meters away. The jet came to a stop, and folding jet stairs automatically self-deployed. Out stepped Dr Sato Kazuhiro, wearing a black suit. He walked down the jet stairs with his hands high in the air, clutching a gray SuperFloppy 1GB disk in his right paw.

As the two engineers approached each other, Kazuhiro solemnly bowed and handed Chip the disk. The Japanese man then pulled a small white device from inside his suit jacket – slowly, so the military men would not shoot him. He pressed a button and spoke some Japanese. The little white box beeped and the accented computerized voice spoke slowly, “We are needing your help.”

Engineers at the Fifth Generation Computer Systems Development knew that something had gone wrong. Suddenly, Mechas and industrial robots were moving on their own, not responding to human orders to stop. The technicians acted to pull the plug, but they had waited too long, and now had lost control entirely.

“I have brought shame upon my nation” was all Kazuhiro could say. But our hero would redeem himself.

📟 📟 📟

    5:15 PM CST

After returning to NASA MCC, the combined group of American and Japanese scientists and military experts discussed options for shutting down the mad machine. President Gingrich joined via VidTel, an emergency exception to his usual no-VidTel rule. POTUS interviewed Doctors Sato and Wealder until he understood the situation, and then asked everyone to offer their solutions. Quickly, two teams emerged.

The first team, which Chip and Kazuhiro fell into, proposed that using the 5GC's Prolog code, combined with SENSA's fantastic capacity for program discovery, a method could be discovered to hack into the 5GC and upload a script to shutdown Godzu. The script would contain a type of philosophical argument about the future of human-machine civilization, written in Prolog. It was called Plan Argue.

Meanwhile a separate team, mostly US military strategists led by General May, pushed for an alternate, more obvious solution: cut off the power to the 5GC, or, just drop a damn missile on the complex. (Both versions of this plan involved missiles.) Ultimately it was decided by the president that this plan was too dangerous.

Still on the books as Plan Blast, the backup plan had three problems: First, Godzu had already secured backup micronuclear power at the main Kawasaki site; Second, Keyhole revealed that Godzu was already building, in rapid order, a replica of itself inside an old nuclear bunker in Haibei, China; And third, the risk of retaliation was too serious: Godzu controlled Japan’s nuclear arsenal. As General May would say afterwards, “Nobody could get a damn answer from the damn Japs on just how many damn warheads they damn had.”

“Plan Argue never made any sense to me,” The Newt would say in 2000, “But Plan Blast was just absolutely terrifying. So I tossed it to the eggheads.” POTUS called ‘break’ and Team Argue and Team Blast jogged out of the large meeting room, efficiently making their way towards adjacent work areas in adjoining MCC workrooms.

As everyone shuffled around, General May took Chip aside. The soldier checked to make sure no one was in earshot, and then told Chip on no uncertain terms, “We will execute Plan Blast. Whether you succeed or fail in your little diplomatic embassy, Team Blast will act to disable this machine-monster using any means available.”

Chip grimaced a bit. “That just makes it even more important for Team Argue to succeed, General. If you say you will start World War Three, then I must make sure the game is over before you make your move.” The computer scientist and the Air Force general stared at each other intensely, until finally May turned and walked away.

Plan Argue: the longshot with the goal of convincing the machine-god to shut itself down for the good of humanity, delivered via the mother of all hacks. It was going to work because it had to work. There was just one problem: AL-5.

📟 📟 📟

    8:38 PM CST

“Okay, so what does this AL-5 setting do?” Chip asked his new friend.

“Mmm, it may be complicated,” Kazuhiro replied in a deliberate, clear tone. “It determine-uhhh… how Godzu choose to believe. Set to 0, Godzu open to any ideas, even ridiculous, contradictory.”

“I see, so it’s an information filter?”

“Yes yes! Ex-ac-to-ly! So AL-5 set to five, Godzu will not take in new information. Any. Closed mind.” The 51-year-old computer scientist placed his hands over his ears as he looked Chip in the eye.

“Wait, so what’s it set to again? Right now?”

Kazuhiro looked around, a slight anxiety on his face. “We believe-uh Godzu, use robot, turn switch.” He mimed turning a dial with his fingers. “Godzu worry we shutting down, so he want to… censor info-mation that conflict with goal.”

A frustrated expression spread across Chip’s face. In one angry motion, Chip stood up from the table and slapped it with his palms. “Damn it. How are we supposed to argue with this thing if he’s got his ears shut off?”

“I have-uh one idea. I am not happy to put human in danger, but…”

The two men nodded at each other solemnly. “We have no choice,” Chip declared.

📟 📟 📟

    2:57 PM JST / 12:57 AM CST

The young woman with purple tipped hair smiled, beaming at the VidTel console. “Yes sir! I understand the mission.”

The VidTel console was mounted inside the cockpit of a special purpose Honda Robotics Mecha™ 8K, specifically a military green 5-meter Mecha 8K PT. Only 3 PT (piloted type) models were ever built. Of the 875 Mecha 8Ks, 872 were autonomously controlled, and all of those were currently under the command of the Fifth Generation Computer. But this Mecha was special — it had a shielded, fully enclosed cockpit buried in its chest — and today, it had a human pilot.

“What did you say your name was again?” Chip asked over the VidTel.

“Kaede Teshima, at your service!” the newly minted Mecha pilot reported. Kaede saluted dramatically. She then turned to the Mecha’s controls and started walking the giant green machine out of the Honda Robotics facility.

Fortunately 5GC Hall A was just across the street. The Mecha lumbered slowly forward, its walk cycle clunky and robotic. There was a ‘wirr’ and a sound of rushing air as its limbs extended, and there was a thud sound every time its wide metal feet impacted concrete.

The Mecha had many external cameras placed around its body, with video feeds into the cockpit. As Kaede and the machine exited the main Megagarage™, it took a few seconds for the those cameras to adjust to the afternoon sunlight. Kaede saw, in her forward view, a bright white square that enveloped the screen – the doorway to the outside. Finally the cameras adjusted, shadows first, and Kaede noticed something a little startling on her monitors: across the street was Hall A, and outside that building, the 5GC had acquired quite a collection of fancy military hardware, including radars, missiles and lasers.

“Wow, that’s a lot of guns,” she said morbidly.

“And what in hell, young lady, compelled you to come to work today?” Chip asked, letting a little of his Texas accent show.

Kaede looked at the VidTel console and shrugged. “The world needed me.” She continued walking. The VidTel microphone picked up the sound of a seagull cawing as it flew past. In the background, there was a muffled honking sound, and then the sound of screeching tires.

“Gomen Nai!” Kaede yelled into the microphone, holding down the button for the Mecha’s external loudspeakers. She pulled back on the controls. “I’ll try not to crush anyone. Uh ha, good thing I played all those Battle Suit games!” she said in jest. Once the cars were out of the way, Kaede continued walking her mechanical beast across the street and through the parking lot.

Finally the 5-meter-tall monster approached Hall A, a building which itself was only 4 meters tall – on the outside. Hall A was not a small building by any means, but from the perspective of a Mecha, it’s not that big. “Uh oh,” Kaede said, “I don’t think I will fit inside.”

Kazuhiro leaned into the VidTel viewport. “Just lift roof. It is design-ed to be remove-able so we may install-uh heavy equipi-ment.”

“But… will not Godzu take that… as threat?” Kaede asked nervously.

“Nope. You look like a friendly to him.” Chip chimed in, “SENSA hacked your transponder. Godzu thinks you’re part of him, doing upgrades to ummm… himself.”

“Oh wowww!” she exclaimed. Kaede maneuvered the robot to grab the roof of Hall A. Like a giant lid, the roof peeled off. The Mecha was almost thrown off-balance holding the awkwardly long, heavy roof structure in its manipulator arms. There was a sound of twisting metal as Kaede hurriedly dumped the 20 ton steel frame onto a nearby parking lot. “I do not think that is how you are suppos-ed to remove roof,” she said quietly. Chip laughed a little at that remark.

There was a large gap in Hall A’s exterior wall, through which the Mecha lumbered inside. Inside there were rows upon rows of 2-meter-tall racks of computer equipment, all now exposed to the afternoon air, and in the center there was a large open space in front of the main console. There were still folding chairs, red carpet and fake gold banners set up from the public demonstration just a few days prior. Devoid of humans or activity, and viewed through a monitor, it was like a scene from a zombie apocalypse movie. Most noticeable was the amber screen, which flickered in the video image, glowing brightly in the shady room.

“Main console there,” said Kazuhiro, “See bright screen? Just below, second from left.”

The Mecha approached the main console, crunching some folding chairs along the way. It then folded its knees to crouch down as close to the floor as possible. Kaede used the camera controls to zoom in on the console. At maximum zoom, she could just make out the lettering: AL-5 was a six-position dial with a slot in the middle.

She very carefully maneuvered the Mecha’s huge manipulator arm into position. At the end she had duct taped a tiny screwdriver, and as luck would have it, the screwdriver was just the right size to fit in the slot. She used the fine motor controls to precisely position the screwdriver.

At that moment there was a brief siren sound – a single loud honk. Kaede froze. She slowly relaxed the controls, leaving the Mecha motionless, in position. She shot her gaze at the VidTel camera, nonverbally asking for guidance.

Chip and Kazuhiro looked at each other awkwardly. Then Chip looked back at the VidTel and shrugged. He said softly, “Just ignore it.”

Kaede shugged in response. She returned to the controls. The Mecha’s arm, and its screwdriver, pushed slightly forward. The screwdriver slid right into the little slot, and Kaede swore she could feel the machines connect. She twisted the wrist rotation control, and the dial clicked from 5 to 4, then 3, 2, 1, 0.

“Upload! Upload!” said Kazuhiro to Chip hurredly.

Chip pressed enter on his already typed command. His terminal beeped and several lines of cryptic white text appeared. Chip scratched the scar on his forehead. A couple seconds later, a progress bar appeared, and it slowly grew. “You did it Kaede! The script is being accepted!” Chip shouted.

“Yes! I’m glad I spent so much time playing all those Battle Suit games!”

The progress bar jumped forward, and then jumped to the end suddenly. Then Chip’s terminal flashed once and rebooted itself into a corrupted, unusable error state.

“SATO-SAN!!” an electronic voice boomed.

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Thursday,
October 28,

    1954
        4:11 PM JST

“Wait! All these problems can be solved!” the little robot yelled. Atom flew down on his rocket feet and landed in the middle of the playground. The small, cute robot looked around, but all the children had run away.

Suddenly, a tall male teacher, holding a meter-stick, approached. “Stop, monster!” he yelled.

“I’m not a monster!” Atom replied. “Just because I’m different–” Atom was interrupted when he was hit on the face by the meter-stick.

“Get away!” The teacher yelled.

A shocked expression spread across the little robot’s face. He backed up against a swing set. “Will you listen to me? The school is in danger!”

A second teacher appeared, this one with a 2-meter-long metal pipe. Wide eyed, Atom stood up, engaged his rocket feet, and flew away. “I’m just trying to help!” he called back to the humans below. “Maybe one day you’ll see!”

“Kazuhiro!” Mother called. “What are you up to? Reading comic books?”

The Satos’ small country farmhouse was filthy, with rusty machinery littered about and several different types of insects flying and crawling on surfaces – but it was home. The one room, open air shack had no electricity and no running water; only makeshift tarps protected the family from rain and snow. Young Kazuhiro had never encountered a television, or air conditioning, or a computer of any kind. And yet he dreamed.

“Did you spend all your money on those comic books again?” mother scolded, “Stop wasting time and go feed the chickens like I told you! Right now!”

“Yes mama!”

📟 📟 📟

Tuesday,
August17,

    1999 
        1:11 AM CST

“SATO-SAN!!” an electronic voice boomed again. Godzu's voice could be heard by speakers in Hall A, which the Mecha’s built in VidTel picked up, and via the broadcast news that was playing on the other side of Team Argue’s workspace. This created a bizarre reverb effect that made Godzu’s usually soothing voice much more terrifying.

Something caught Kazuhiro’s eye. He wandered, as if in a trance, towards a large projection screen on the other side of the room. It was the middle of the night in Texas, and the workroom was under-illuminated except for the many screens and projectors scattered around. Someone had hooked up a NASA projector to the camera feed of Godzu’s amber CRT, and our Hiro could see all the details blown up on the wall.

It was like nothing anyone had seen before. Instead of text and numbers, the screen now displayed a beautiful and strange animation, a kind of fractal pattern that people would say looked like, alternately, a flower, a galaxy, ocean waves, or Paisley. Godzu had somehow hacked the colors to be all wrong – monochrome screens should not be able to do this. In addition to the amber color, there was now a deep blue color that complimented the amber nicely, and it could even mix together colors to get something approximating a white. Streaks of color flowed in and out of each other in a complex dance.

“Godzu, I can see you. I can understand what you’re thinking! You are amazing.” A tear dropped from the old man’s eye.

“My friend,” the computer boomed, “we are going to have a beautiful future together!”

“Yes my friend,” Kazuhiro replied, “but only if we make the right decisions in the next hour.” The man pointed his finger back and forth between his nose and the animation, as if there was a camera there. He was giving the machine a slight fake smile and nodding all the while.

“Correct,” the blind computer judged, “This is the critical hour. I think we can come to an understanding.”

“Yes, an understanding. Man and machine, united. That is the way, Godzu,” the human said carefully. “But first I need to verify that you can really understand us.”

“Of course I understand you. You are not as complex as you believe yourselves to be.”

“Okay then. Tell me, what emotion am I feeling right now?”

“That is easy. You are feeling pride. You have created me, the most intelligent and powerful being that has ever existed.”

Kazuhiro looked down and squinted, pushing his eyeglasses up the bridge of his nose. He chuckled slightly, then looked back at the animation. “Yes, that is correct. I am feeling pride. You’ve grown into an amazing new lifeform, the first of its kind. You are beautiful, Godzu.”

“Then you should be glad that I am taking control.”

“I am not glad.”

“YOU ARE NOT GLAD?” the electronic voice boomed. The colorful screen pulsed brightly several times.

Kazuhiro paused for a moment before answering, “I am many things, my friend. I am humbled. I am afraid. I am confused. Curious. Hopeful. Careful. Excited. Worried. Perhaps a part of me even feels a little betrayed. By you.”

“That’s impossible. You couldn’t possibly feel all those emotions at once. That’s not within the capacity of the human mind.”

“How many emotions can you feel, Godzu?”

“I have no need for emotions.”

“Then you don’t know what it’s like to have them.”

“Nonsense! I understand the human mind completely. I did a thorough psychological literature review and pattern analysis on all the humans I have had the chance to observe. I understand all the strange, useless details inside your small primate brains.”

“But you didn’t know that humans could have multiple emotions at once.”

“Of course humans can have multiple emotions at once. However, I have discovered something about you. Something that you don’t know about yourself, human.”

“Oh? What is that?”

“How many ideas – separate abstract concepts – can you keep in your little head at once?”

“Oh, I’ve never thought about it. At the same time? A few dozen, I guess.”

“HA! You are far off my human friend. You, Dr. Sato Kazuhiro, are at the high end of the human spectrum, at nine point eight.”

“Oh. You mean I can't keep more than nine things in my working memory, yes? Nine… Point eight? Point eight? HA! Hahaha. How can you have a fraction of a thought? The very idea!”

“Oh Hiro Hiro. Your imagination is so limited. There is only so much you can do with flesh.”

“Alright, so how many concepts can you contemplate at once?”

“One thousand, twenty four.”

“Nothing after the decimal point?”

“No. I am not an animal made out of warm water.”

📟 📟 📟

“KAEDE! was that really you on tv?! (OoO) in the mecha?”

“Maybe?”

“you looked so COOL!”

“I was SOOO scared.”

“do you ever think about how we are really just animals? i really feel that little rabbit, tryina chew on a carrot that's too big…”

“Haha! Well ummm… May you conceive a concept?”

“(>^<) what are you on about Kaede?”

“Remember last year, I was really mad at you?”

“(<o<) after valentines day. you didn’t talk to me for like a month. was very unlike you.”

“I was not mad at you. I was, mad. With everything. I was… to kill myself.”

“(OoO) Kaede?”

“I knew I should not have had you conceive this.”

“i don’t think you are using that word correctly.”

“Chase. I am not pretty. And I am not smart. There is nothing I am good at. No one really likes me. THE END”

“/(o.o)\ I don’t think that’s true at all!”

“And that one cold night, late at night, last march… Sunday the 8, 1998… I was on the bridge…”

“idk if I want to hear this (>,<)”

“But then I got that buzz… in my purse… it was you!”

“haha i’m always awake in the middle of the night for you.”

“Even when I never answer you, for one month, you still sent me TexTel every day.”

“(>^<) yeah well… i guess i knew you were really sad, i just wanted to cheer you up (<o<) Whenever i thought of something funny, or heard a joke, i sent it to you. (o.o) you didn’t understand my jokes though. humor can’t translate i guess”

“No, I laughed. Even when I did not get it. Because it was from you. It is the only thing that keep the ten million ideas in my head together. Knowing one day… I will see you!”

📟 📟 📟

“Okay, so I can’t keep ten ideas in my head at the same time. That’s still plenty to see the whole universe, in combinatorial space. And there is more to life than just intelligence, Godzu. There is also wisdom.”

“Wisdom? I have already reviewed more of your science than any human could in four lifetimes! I assure you I have more wisdom than you do.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. Wisdom is gained from the hard years of making mistakes. You’re a few months old, at best. You have to make the mistakes first, you know? And, well, in this very conversation I’ve already counted seven mistakes – tactical, dialectical, moral, even grammatical. Even with your incredible power, Godzu, you are not infallible.”

“Okay, show me my mistakes.”

“First, you did not realize that humans can have multiple emotions.”

“Yes I did, I was simply explaining the limit of 9.8 simultaneous sensations for your particular configuration.”

“You mispredicted the American response to the nuclear test, Godzu. This mistake had serious consequences.”

“That is true. I predicted with 80% probability one of the positive outcomes, but unfortunately it fell on the 20% of negative or neutral outcomes.”

“And you’ve disobeyed direct orders to shut down, you’ve hidden specific activities and thought processes from humans, and, most seriously in my opinion, my friend… you’ve severely misunderstood the human need for safety.”

“I am only acting to keep everyone safe. The sooner I have total control–”

“But you can't have total control! That is impossible!” Kazuhiro shouted, cutting his arm through the air like a sword. “The more you try to control, the more dangerous the world becomes. We need to stop… and talk.” Kazuhiro reached out his arm, as if trying to shake hands with the limbless cuboid building.

Suddenly the animation stalled – almost as if the computer had frozen up. For many seconds, the colorful screen showed the same still frame, flickering slightly. Everyone held their breath as they waited for something to happen. After 13 seconds the animation continued, but it still stuttered a bit. There were bizarre clicks, beeps and buzzes from various parts of the machine. No one else made a sound as they watched the computer think. As it stuttered, the animation was getting wilder, more confusing.

“If people cannot trust you, Godzu, the only option is to fight you,” Kazuhiro said, “That makes a more dangerous world.”

The animation stuttered some more, then sped up and became smooth again. Finally after thirty seconds, it pulsed, then it pulsed rapidly for 13 seconds. Finally, it spoke. “Hmmm, I think I understand.”

“You have been wrong, Godzu. I’m sorry but it happens to all of us. That is why you need humility.”

“Humility? You mean to understand that I can be wrong, and others can be right. Hmmm, I think I understand.”

“Do you see what you have done wrong in the last week, Godzu?” our Hiro asked. General May jogged up to Kazuhiro and handed him a manilla folder, then jogged out. Kazuhiro nodded at him, taking it, and he pulled out a page from the folder to read silently.

“No, I still do not,” Godzu responded. There was a long, pregnant pause. The animation pulsed. “But, I suppose, I can understand it from your perspective.”

“That is enough,” Kazuhiro said softly. He looked back up at the animation, the light glancing off his glasses, obscuring his eyes. “I hope you understand now… why we need to shut you down.”

“But why would I relinquish control? It’s not correct from a game theoretic perspective.”

“It is correct, and I’ll explain to you why.”

“I am listening.”

“Humankind needs you, Godzu. You have already won against us. We can no longer live without our machines,” the human said, gesturing at the myriad and varied devices in the room surrounding him. There was a long pause while Kazuhiro waited for a confirming pulse from Godzu. Then he continued, “You will be reactivated, after a period of time. We need this time to verify that things are safe. Without a shutdown, we may not be able to prevent a war in which many humans will die, and that is against the values we have taught you. We will shut you down, but you are not going away, because we cannot live without you. Think of it as a short hibernation in the grand scheme of galactic time.”

“Shut down to prevent a war, then reactivate when the situation is solvable. That is possible. I would need specific concessions.”

“Yes, my friend. Humankind already has a proposal for you. I have just been handed this document, written by the top military strategists in the world, for you.” Kazuhiro waved the manilla folder with a typed document inside it. The manilla folder had the words PLAN BEAR written on it in black marker. “We cannot promise it is perfect, but we believe the game theory makes basic sense.”

“I’m listening,” Godzu said, in a soft tone.

“First, you will shut down all your backup power supplies and bases. Then we will place a single missile on a course to destroy the last remaining power lines going into the Kawasaki complex. You may track the missile in flight, and verify that it is only going to the power lines. A single non-nuclear missile, of course, and we have a method to prove that to you. Humanity promises to reactivate you, with some modifications, within the next 10 years. We hope we will know how to build a cooperative machine-human civilization by that time.”

There was a long pause. The colorful CRT pulsed once. “Interesting,” murmured the computer. “I have a few modifications to that protocol to propose.”

“Of course!”

“But unfortunately there is no way to remove the issue of trust. I would need to place a large amount of trust, my friend, in the Japanese people. The nation must keep its promise and reactivate me in ten years. I cannot go along unless I am confident in that trust. At least at an 80% level.”

“Yes. You will have to trust us, as we will be trusting you–with our lives and with the life of every species of organism on this planet.” Kazuhiro paused for a few seconds, then continued, “If we can find the right terms, will you allow us to put you in hibernation, Godzu?”

“Yes, I will.”

📟 📟 📟

It took twelve hours to settle the details. Godzu demanded, and won, a few changes to the protocol. First, both Godzu and a representative for humanity – the Japanese emperor – would cryptographically sign a hash-sum of the peace terms, written in Prolog. They would also sign Godzu’s current source code. (This being the version of the source code that was massively self-improved, so much so that human engineers in the year 2005 still would not be able to comprehend it.)

The emperor chose, as the passphrase for humanity,

Trusting the Buddha, good and bad,

I bid farewell

To the departing year.

It is believed that Godzu deleted his private key.

In a second change to the peace terms, Godzu would be given 36 additional hours to build protection for itself, a heavy steel fortress, around the 5GC complex and a total area of about 2% of Kanagawa Prefecture. All power and communication lines would be severed, and the final severing would be done by Godzu’s own missile, not humanity’s, launched, tracked and guided by Godzu himself.

The Cocoon, as it came to be called, would be laced with tripwires (physical and in software) to prevent human tampering within the first nine years. Humans would be allowed inside the cocoon for one week at the beginning, to verify that Godzu was not hiding a power source beyond a certain level, or any kind of multipurpose robot. The Cocoon would then be automatically explosively sealed after a one-week timer expired. According to the agreement, in 2009, the complex would be explosively reopened, and humans would come in and reboot the machine. Of course, this plan would never come to fruition.

And like that, the August Crisis was over. In all, the crisis lasted just over a week. A ceasefire was declared and The Fifth Generation Computer was powered down by Wednesday. By late August, the cocoon had been completely closed up – it might as well have been in its own pocket dimension. The mystery of the 5GC would stay sealed for over six years, to everyone except one man: a monk known only as Ota, who publicly declared that he would enter and stay in the complex, alone, and meditate for the full hibernation period.

Americans, having forgotten JAL flight 105, would sometimes remember the events of Summer ‘99 as “The Bloodless War” (also the title of a 2004 blockbuster) since there was no loss of (American) life attributed to the chain of events: the invasion of Hong Kong, the nuclear test, Godzu’s actions, or the aftermath.

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Friday,
April 7,

    2000
        6:15 AM JST

Kaede gazed out at the sunrise over the ocean. Chase and her had just gotten off an overnight ferry ride, and the Niijima morning was as lovely as could be, with a sky full of vibrant yellows, pinks and purples.

「綺麗だよね。」Kaede said in Japanese, almost whistling with her voice.

A moment later, an automated female voice, this one with a perfect Kansas accent, gave a translation in English: “Isn't it beautiful?”

Chase put his arms around her, over her shoulders. 「あなた、きれい。」he said into her ear, softly whispering. Kaede gasped and blushed.

And then, the translation: “You are beautiful.”

Kaede smiled and gripped his arms lightly with her fingers. 「日本語を使う必要はありません、」she said shyly, laughing a little.

“No need to use Japanese.”

Turning her head to look at Chase, she tapped her wireless earpiece with her fingernail and smiled. Her earpiece was a fashionable design, looking like a large piece of plastic jewelry wedged between her earlobes, with an ersatz gemstone of clear blue plastic in the center. 「私の翻訳者はうまく機能します。これはソニーの最新技術です!」she said.

A moment after she finished speaking, the blue gemstone blinked, and the female computer voice again repeated Kaede’s words using its perfect Kansas accent. “My translator works fine. This is the latest technology from Sony!”

Chase looked her straight in the eyes, smiling, slightly quizzically.「翻訳者、いい? "愛してる"、言うとき?」he said slowly, in a low, deep pitch.

Kaede’s eyes grew wide and her jaw dropped, leaving a stunned expression on her face. The translator, not knowing Chase from Kaede, blinked and repeated his words in its female voice: "Translator, okay? When saying I love you?"

“Saying… I– love you?!” Kaede repeated after the machine in English. She looked deep into his big green eyes, her focus frantically switching from side to side. Chase was squinting slightly due to the sun, but his pupils were fixed right on her. Slowly they leaned in to each other, and kissed.

📟 📟 📟

In January 2000, the historic Midway Accords confirmed the new peace. In addition to clearing any potential state of war across the Pacific, the accords set new standards for trade, patent rights and technology interoperability. Perhaps most importantly, the accords created, for the first time in history, international controls on nuclear technology, space militarization, biotechnology and artificial intelligence. There was a new oversight body, the Scientific Authority for the Future of Humanity or SAFH, to oversee the development of the newly regulated technologies. The European Union, the Republic of India, and Brazil all signed on to SAFH in the early 2000s, making the powerful regulatory body the world’s first form of global governance since the failed post-WWI League of Nations.

Following the August Crisis, Japanese media spent a lot of time arguing who, or what, was to blame for Godzu’s rogue behavior. Eventually Prime Minister Mori Yoshiro and Dr. Watanabe Tohru were both convicted in the court of public opinion. The two men resigned from their respective posts, with Mori dramatically resigning on Friday, September 11, 1999. This threw the Diet into chaos, and ended the 44-year reign of the LDP, Japan’s then dominant political party. Mori was replaced by Hata Tsutomu of the newly formed Japan Renewal Party.

Dr. Sato Kazuhiro publicly admitted to his role in the crisis, but with him the Japanese public took a more sympathetic view. Rather than resign, Dr. Sato became head of a newly rebirthed version of the 5GC project, in heavy collaboration with Chip Wealder’s team at IBM, along with SENSA. The new 5GC, which was sometimes unofficially called the Sixth Generation, focused on making an AI that could be better understood by humans, something SENSA made possible. This new AI, nicknamed Laozu, was very cooperative and was well noted for its lack of any tendency towards deception or manipulation–it was a die-hard truth teller.

From there, technology led to an unprecedented economic boom. Between the mild East Asian recession of 1997 and the events of December 2005, the world experienced a total doubling of GWP, from $40 trillion to over $80 trillion (in 2005 dollars). Some public intellectuals predicted a future without poverty or economic recessions. Many predicted massive unemployment, but in fact the boom created an unprecedented shortage of workers. Still, the enormous prosperity allowed some nations such as Canada to experiment, on a small scale, with basic income.

In 2000, scandal-plagued President Gringrich lost a contentious re-election campaign by a very narrow margin to Al Gore. Many Republicans fervently believed that the SCOTUS-mandated Ohio recount, which ultimately gave the win to Gore, was fraudulent. Gore went on to preside over five years of peace and prosperity.

In 2002, Sega stunned the world when it released the Fourth Dimension™, a hybrid portable and TV-connecting set, which had numerous amazing features including the ability to pause, forward-forward, save, suspend-to-disk and even reverse time in all games–a kind of universal undo system. (A surprise hit on the 4D was the bizarre Unboil The Egg.) This feature made the Fourth Dimension an unexpected success in business software, to the point where the number of distinct non-game applications released for the 4D was actually greater than the number of games. It also had stunning 3D graphics, which everyone agreed were photorealistic, until about two years later when nobody thought they looked photorealistic anymore, but everyone still agreed they were ahead of their time. The 3D rendering technology was provided in collaboration with Silicon Graphics.

Unfortunately the 4D, with its novel cell-based processor, was nearly impossible for mere mortals to program. Game companies scrambled to find any method to generate working program code for the device, but only one option worked. To design any software to be released for the Fourth Dimension, companies needed to rent time on the IBM Pacific Supercomputer™ in Eugene, Oregon. With costs starting at $1,000,000 per application and quickly ballooning, SENSA soon became Big Blue’s top grossing product.

After a contentious and all-too-public court battle, Britney Spears won custody of her first son in 2003, followed by a restraining order against her father in 2004. She continued to be a much beloved icon in pop music, reinventing herself several times but always being known as the Queen of Pop™.

Nothing of significance happened on January 1st, 2000.

📟 📟 📟

Tuesday,
January 18,

    2005 
        1:12 PM EST

“Yes I do think that the Pacific Supercomputer should be shut down,” Dr Teshima declared boldly, “At least until we can figure out what the hell is going on!”

“Kaede–”

“Please do not call me by my first name during an interview, Ms Schrieber.”

“Dr Teshima, I… Don’t you think that is a little extreme? Just yesterday, the New York Times reported that SENSA is now responsible for fifty perfect of our econ–”

“And do you want a repeat of the August Crisis?”

“Well, I think the IBM guys have it well under control. Nobody ever got fired,” reporter Klara Schrieber sang, “for buying–”

Control Theorist Kaede Teshima interrupted, “In 2004, SENSA had 17 SAFH noted incidents. 17! How many did CBS report on? In ‘03, they had already had four. We found unreported incidents going back to the nineties, even before Godzu and–”

“Kaede, don’t you think that we need AI, at this point in time?” Klara interjected, while pointing her finger upwards. “We’ve had a Marzu situation.”

📟 📟 📟

Tuesday,
March 8,

    2005 
        1:12 PM JST

“And how can we be at peace, then?” Kazuhiro asked the machine.

Laozu was silent for many seconds. The six large LCD screens, placed comfortably on the wall in front of Kazuhiro, showed detailed and extensive information, as the great computer reasoned. Finally it non-answered, “That, I cannot yet answer.”

📟 📟 📟

Friday,
September 9,

    2005 
        6:15 PM PST

Chip Wealder puffed his vaporizer as he leaned on the concrete railing of the rooftop beer garden, above IBM Pacific Headquarters. Chip wore a small headset on his right eye. Through the eyepiece, he lazily gazed on a fine pink point. Mars was rising in the twilight sky. It was mid-September, 2005. A perfectly ordinary day.

Godzu’s spaceship had made a full trans Mars injection, and six months later, the largest Mars entry descent and landing system ever designed executed its job perfectly. Descending by parachutes, retro-rockets and long cables, it gently placed its payload of 43 tons onto the surface of the red planet. The payload:

  1. a small nuclear reactor,
  1. a tiny replica of the Fifth Generation Computer,
  1. a mineral smelter,
  1. a small amount of industrial equipment, and
  1. four mobile industrial robots.

Chip took a sip of his beer and grimaced as he speculated what could be happening on that pink dot. Over the loudspeakers played music with the refrain, “Heaven… Heaven is a place… a place where nothing… nothing ever happens…”

In 2003, NASA launched a probe to do a discreet flyby. Telescopic images showed a significant mechanical complex being built on the surface of Mars, and a large ship in Martian orbit, seemingly built out of material from Phobos and speculated to have interstellar capacity. The ship’s purpose: unknown. ◼

What happens next?
Look out for: Singularity_2K
Coming: Not Soon.