Artificial Intelligence: A Worst Case Scenario, by Ed Merta (2002)

This apocalyptic science fiction short story by Ed Merta first appeared on Transhumanity in 2002. Transhumanity was the late lamented magazine of the World Transhumanist Association (now Humanity+). I was editor of Transhumanity at the time.

U.S. MILITARY REPORTEDLY ON WORLDWIDE ALERT
Washington (AP) – 02:33 EST, November 17, 2039.

Pentagon sources this morning said that United States military forces around the world have been placed at the highest possible state of alert and ordered to move to a full war footing. There was no immediate official announcement of the change in alert status. The sources who provided the information refused to give a reason for the mobilization, saying only that official information would follow within the next few hours.

According to AIs representing several major transnationals, commercial satellites in low Earth orbit have picked up indications of U.S. ground and space units assuming defensive positions around American military facilities in Europe and Asia. Similar activity is reportedly evident in the vicinity of the North American defense perimeter, although detecting movements of stealth-equipped U.S. forces is said to be extremely difficult.

Officials at the White House and the State Department have so far refused to comment on the apparent military activity.

FOREIGN CAPITALS REACT TO U.S. MILITARY ALERT
Geneva (Reuters) – 02:55 EST, November 17, 2039.

Officials of major foreign governments have begun reacting to the worldwide alert of U.S. military forces, with China, Japan, India, Russia, and the European Union denouncing the apparent mass mobilization as a reckless endangerment of international stability. Diplomatic officials around the world expressed puzzlement and anger, noting that there is currently no significant international crisis which might justify the American action.

There has still been no official announcement from Washington of the alert or the reasons that prompted it. The Russian and Chinese governments are said to be in close contact over how to respond. A joint mobilization of the two countries’ armed forces is expected shortly if the United States does not reverse its heightened military stance, AIs at the joint Sino-Russian Military Consultative Center indicated. These AIs also hinted that virtual and physical intelligence assets have been intensely deployed by the Russians and the Chinese in an effort to ascertain the basis of U.S. decision-making.

A virtual conference between leaders and AI advisers of the European Commission, the Japanese Political Economic-Directorate, and India’s Supreme Coordinating Council is expected shortly.

*******FLASH*********U.S. FORCES STRIKE SOUTH AFRICA
Pretoria (Internet News Service) – 03:14 EST, November 17, 2039

U.S. sea and space forces have conducted a major bombardment of scientific and industrial forces on the outskirts of Pretoria, according to observers on the scene. Explosions and fires reportedly stretch from one side of the horizon to the other. Hundreds of human and robot workers were believed killed in the attack.

Electromagnetic jamming by U.S. forces in the area is hindering further information outflow at this time.

*******FLASH*********PENTAGON AND WHITE HOUSE ANNOUNCEMENTS DUE AT 04:00 EST…U.S. STRIKES ON PRETORIA CONTINUE…MOSCOW AND BEIJING SET TO ANNOUNCE FULL MOBILIZATION…RUSSIAN AND CHINESE FORCES IN INDIAN OCEAN MOVING TO WAR FOOTING
Moscow (Interfax) – 03:41 EST, November 17, 2039

American forces operating out of the Indian Ocean have launched a second wave of attacks on industrial targets in the Pretoria area. Casualties among civilians are said by foreign aid workers to be “extremely high.”

The South African government lodged a desperate plea for international assistance to halt the American attacks. One aide to the Prime Minister was stupefied by the totally unprovoked attacks, denouncing the U.S. actions as he hurried to a command bunker on the outskirts of the city. “Have the Americans gone insane?” he asked. “There was no warning, no provocation. We have good relations with the United States. Why are they doing this?”

The governments of the Russian Federation and the United Republic of China are taking steps to oppose the United States. Forces from both countries are being placed on full mobilization and redeployed to the south Indian Ocean for possible action against U.S. units in the area. Unconfirmed reports suggest that virtual and electromagnetic counter-attacks against American units have already begun.

A joint Sino-Russian declaration is expected shortly.

The White House media office is scheduled to make a formal statement on today’s events at 4:00 a.m. EST. A Pentagon briefing will follow shortly thereafter, according to officials at the Defense Department. U.S. government sources refused to offer advance information on the content of the coming announcements, saying only that they would concern a matter “of the gravest urgency for humanity.”

WHITE HOUSE ANNOUNCEMENT DELAYED AS GLOBAL CONSULTATIONS INTENSIFY
Washington (Associated Press) – 03:55 EST, November 17, 2039

High level White House sources say the executive branch media office has delayed its expected announcement on today’s military actions so that intensive international consultations can attempt to reduce international tensions. A previously scheduled Defense Department news briefing has also been delayed. It was not immediately clear when a formal U.S. announcement could be expected. U.S. government AIs and interagency communications are operating in heavy encryption mode, making news of American decision-making processes difficult to obtain.

White House sources have indicated that the President is in direct contact with leaders of Russia, China, the European Union, India, and Japan, as well as representatives of the Western Hemisphere Economic and Security Organization. The President is said to be engaged in a sustained attempt to justify the United States military operations and obtain cooperation from other major governments in carrying them out. Interfaces between U.S. and foreign AIs are ongoing as part of this effort, White House officials say.

The White House had no immediate reaction to reports that an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council has been called for later this morning at the request of South Africa, Russia, and China. State Department AIs say that the most likely forum for U.S. diplomatic activity later today are the coordinating bodies of the G-12 states.

*********FLASH********INTEL-MOTOROLA SAYS MILITARY ACTION DIRECTED AGAINST ITS FACILITIES, HINTS AT A.I. INVOLVEMENT
Los Angeles (Internet News Service) – 04:11 EST, November 17, 2039

Executives of the Intel-Motorola Corporation told media representatives that the ongoing U.S. military operation in South Africa is targeted at several of the company’s research and development complexes. They said that the attacks were apparently prompted by an experiment in artificial intelligence enhancement that began to escalate out of control shortly after midnight, Eastern Time.

Company officers said they have only sketchy information about the AI experiment or what may have gone wrong. They speculate that officials of the U.S. executive branch learned of the experiment independently and decided shortly thereafter to take military action. The U.S. President and her advisers appear to regard the AI produced by the experiment as a threat to U.S. security interests, the Intel-Motorola executives said. These executives questioned such an assessment, saying that the company has rigorous security protocols in place to prevent artificial intelligences from becoming a threat to human-controlled infrastructure or to biological life forms.

*********FLASH********U.S. FORCES ATTACK LISBON, SINGAPORE, CARACAS…
Brussels (Reuters)- 04:27 EST, November 17, 2039

Intelligence sources within the European Union say that U.S. military forces have expanded their military operations, launching ground, sea, and space-based attacks on industrial targets in Lisbon, Portugal, and Caracas. The attacks appear to be directed not only against facilities run by the Intel-Motorola Corporation but also research and development infrastructure of Mitsubishi, Daimler-Toyota, and Boeing-GM Technologies.

European officials refused to comment publicly on the attacks or to denounce them, in spite of the fact that European territory itself has been targeted in the latest round of U.S. bombardments. Brussels sources also refused to comment on reports that a rogue AI in South Africa may have prompted the United States military action.

**********FLASH********FRENCH, GERMAN FORCES ATTACK CORPORATE COMPLEX IN ALGIERS AS U.S. ACTIONS CONTINUE
Berlin (Reuters) – 04:52 EST, November 17, 2039

European military forces have joined ongoing American operations against key corporate research and development sites. A joint Franco-German naval and space force attacked a Siemens research complex near Algiers, with heavy loss of life among the surrounding civilian population. U.S. naval forces in the Atlantic reportedly provided information warfare support for the attack. There was no immediate explanation available from German or EU officials.

*********FLASH********POWER GRID FAILS IN EASTERN U.S.
New York (CNN) – 5:13 EST, November 17, 2039

Hundreds of electrical power generation stations have mysteriously shut down in the region between the Atlantic coast and the Mississippi River, officials of TransConn Electric said in an emergency statement. The failures left an estimated two hundred million people and more than one billion robots east of the Mississippi River without power supplies. TransConn officials had no immediate explanation for the shutdowns. Media speculation increasingly centers on the possibility of action by one or more artificial intelligences reacting to U.S. and European military actions against AI research complexes.

U.S. PRESIDENT ADDRESSES WORLD; SAYS RUNAWAY AI PROMPTED ATTACKS, ASSERTS ‘WE BELIEVE IT IS HOSTILE’; DECLARES NATIONAL EMERGENCY, SUSPENDS PROVISIONS OF CONSTITUTION; ANNOUNCES PLANS FOR JOINT ACTION WITH EUROPE, JAPAN, PLEADS FOR RUSSIAN AND CHINESE HELP
Washington (Associated Press) – 5:44 EST, November 17, 2039

In a speech broadcast from an undisclosed location, U.S. President Catherine Danforth announced that the United States and other governments were taking extraordinary military and security measures to suppress hostile action by one or more artificial intelligences. She called the situation “the gravest threat ever to face human life on this planet” and pledged to take countermeasures appropriate to the extraordinary level of danger.

The President invoked the National Security Act of 2025 and the Thirty First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, giving the executive branch extraordinary powers to address a national emergency. The Bill of Rights, the U.S. Congress, and the Supreme Court would suspend operations for the duration of the crisis, she said. Federal power would be concentrated in the Executive Office of the President until restoration of national security.

European and Japanese military, security, and intelligence forces would henceforth cooperate fully with American forces, President Danforth announced. Unified command and control mechanisms have been established to facilitate tripartite measures against the AI threat.

The President called on American citizens to remain calm and stay in their homes while state and federal forces take steps to deal with the emergency. She pledged that government agencies would take every possible measure to assure that basic infrastructure and emergency services remain viable. She did not comment on the spreading electrical power failures now afflicting much of North America.

According to President Danforth, the current situation started at approximately 10:00 p.m. Eastern Time November 16, when U.S. intelligence assets detected unusual computer activity at an Intel-Motorola research complex near Pretoria, South Africa. Analysis of the data by both human and AI sources indicated a high degree of probability that an artificial intelligence had begun acting independently, with an intent to acquire transhuman evolutionary capabilities. The President sought to blunt any potential criticism of her administration for concluding prematurely the AI was hostile. She said in her speech that the AI persistently refused attempts by Intel-Motorola and the U.S. government to establish peaceful contact.

Following the failure of these attempts, said the President, the National Security Council and its AI adjutants agreed to declare a state of national emergency and bring U.S. military forces to an alert status of Defcon One. The President signed the executive order authorizing military mobilization and invoking emergency powers at 2:15 a.m. EST, November 17.

INFRASTRUCTURE FAILURES REPORTED IN EUROPE AND JAPAN
Tokyo (Japan InfoNet) – 06:10 EST, November 17, 2039

Massive electrical power failures have paralyzed much of the European Union and Japan. Emergency systems serving government, military, and emergency services appear to be unaffected. Nevertheless, rioting and looting broke out in several major cities in the aftermath of energy disruptions apparently caused by a rogue AI operating over the Internet.

The European Commission placed its member states under martial law at 5:50 a.m. Eastern Time. The Japanese government is expected to follow suit within the hour.

Civilian and commercial electric power has now been shut down across most of North America as well. Backup systems have so far allowed government agencies and emergency services to continue operation, but civil disorders in major urban areas have strained such capacities to their limits.

Global computer networks have also begun to come under direct attack by an AI using rapidly evolving information warfare suites. Military AIs under the control of US, European, and Japanese authorities are being deployed to block the disruption efforts and eliminate the AI at the source of the attack. Complicating these countermeasures is the possibility that a number of AIs may be involved in the infrastructure disruption efforts. Only a single AI was involved in the Intel-Motorola incident that began the current crisis, but government officials and analysts in the artificial life industry believe that entity may have replicated itself in the hours since.

MOLECULAR MANUFACTURING FACILITIES GOING OFFLINE
Houston (Associated Press) – 06:22 EST, November 17, 2039

Officials with Zyvex Corporation reported that the company has lost its links to software suites controlling several major nanotechnology manufacturing facilities around the world. Attempts to re-establish contact with the facilities have so far been unsuccessful.

Sources in the molecular manufacturing industry unofficially confirmed that several other nanotech corporations have reported similar difficulties within the last two hours. A spokesman for Dow-Gentech denied such reports, saying the company’s nanotechnology facilities remain under human control.

CHINA, RUSSIA OPEN MILITARY ACTION AGAINST A.I.s, REFUSE DIRECT COOPERATION WITH WEST
Beijing (AsiaNet) – 06:29 EST, November 17, 2039

A joint Sino-Russian military command has announced the beginning of armed action by the two countries against physical locations suspected of harboring hostile AI software. Defense officials in Beijing and Moscow have refused to offer specifics of the military operations being undertaken, saying only that such action would be “swift and effective.”

Russian and Chinese officials rejected overtures from the United States and Europe seeking direct integration of all military AI and information architectures being directed against rogue AIs. Independent action by each major power bloc would be sufficient to deal with the situation, according to sources close to the Russian and Chinese Presidents.

SOURCE: U.S. BELIEVES A.I.s GAINING PHYSICAL CAPABILITIES
Washington (CNN) – 06:40 EST, November 17, 2039

Military operations against rogue AIs suffered a major setback today when a source close to the U.S. intelligence community reported that the AIs have apparently begun manufacturing physical devices and vehicles for their own use. Satellite reconnaissance reportedly shows molecular manufacturing facilities on several continents mass producing macro-scale machines of unknown configurations. Military commanders in the United States had hoped their operations would suppress AI activity before non-human sentients gained control over manufacturing facilities. Apparently that hope has been in vain.

REFUGEE EXODUS FROM U.S. CITIES REPORTED; INFRASTRUCTURE COLLAPSE WORSENS
Buenos Aires (CNN) – 07:30 EST, November 17, 2039

Backup electrical systems and computer networks in large parts of the United States have suffered massive failures, compounding earlier main system breakdowns and prompting panicked civilians to begin a chaotic flight out of major American cities. Much of the U.S. civilian population is now without electrical power or basic sanitation services. Even hospitals and military command centers report they are frequently unable to obtain electric power or link to computer networks.

Regional military commanders and state governments all but admit that the situation is rapidly spiraling out of their control. Efforts to restore power and information flow have been unsuccessful, apparently due to continuing action by hostile AIs roaming the Internet. Countermeasure suites intended to evolve in response to the AI attacks have failed to keep up with the AI software, which seems to be adapting faster than defensive suites deployed by U.S. authorities.

********FLASH*******NUCLEAR AND NANOTECH STRIKES UNDERWAY AGAINST A.I.s
Paris (Reuters) – 07:55 EST, November 17, 2039

Observers in Africa and Asia report that U.S. and Allied military forces have launched attacks against AI-controlled facilities with nuclear and nanotechnology weapons. The first wave of such attacks are believed to have hit scores of molecular manufacturing plants, Internet broadcast facilities and supercomputing centers in India, Australia, and Southeast Asia. Computer network satellites in low Earth orbit were believed to have been targeted as well.

U.S., ALLIES UNLEASH MAJOR NUCLEAR AND NANOTECH ASSAULT AROUND WORLD; CIVILIAN CASUALTIES AND DAMAGE SAID TO BE ENORMOUS; IMPACT ON A.I.s UNCLEAR
New York (New York Times) – 08:30 EST, November 17, 2039

The armed forces of the United States, Europe, and Japan this morning launched one of the most devastating military operations in history, an assault that included the use of nuclear weapons in combat for the first time since 1945. Sources with the joint Allied military command indicated that the primary aim of the operation is to destroy molecular manufacturing centers now being used by hostile AIs to prepare for direct physical hostilities. To this point, the AIs have been confined to information warfare attacks in digital settings. The molecular manufacturing facilities hit in today’s attacks would have allowed the non-human sentients to deploy their own military forces as well, according to U.S. officials.

The Allied attack was massive in scale, approaching some long-forgotten Cold War scenarios in the level of destruction inflicted. Allied military sources have confirmed extensive nuclear strikes on molecular manufacturing facilities not only in Asia and the Pacific, as first reported, but also in the Middle East, sub-Saharan Africa, and South America. Unconfirmed accounts indicate that targets in Canada and Southeastern Europe may have been struck as well. Immediate estimates of civilian casualties ranged into the tens of millions.

The offensive also included the first combat use of nanotechnology weapons. Robot vehicles and precision-guided munitions deployed immensely large numbers of self-replicating assemblers, programmed to reproduce themselves at an exponential rate and disrupt hostile biological or mechanical systems. Pentagon AIs refused to comment specifically on the effectiveness of the nanotech devices or their delivery platforms.

U.S. President Danforth is reportedly in contact with the leaders of Russia and China, coordinating the Allied assault with them in advance. As yet there has been no official reaction to the operation from Moscow or Beijing.

CIA sources refused to estimate the effectiveness of the nuclear and nanotech strikes. They indicated that computer network disruption and electromagnetic pulse from large numbers of nuclear detonations made such assessments extremely problematic.

OBSERVERS REPORT FIRST ATTACKS BY PHYSICAL A.I. DEVICES; NUCLEAR AND NANOTECH OFFENSIVE ONGOING; U.N. CONTEMPLATES CEASE-FIRE INITIATIVE
Washington (Associated Press) – 09:57 EST, November 17, 2039

Hostile AIs have begun using sophisticated ground, sea, and space devices against Allied military forces, defying predictions by analysts that such a development was days or weeks away. Nanotech and nuclear strikes against AI manufacturing facilities appear to have had no effect. Using evolutionary programming techniques, the AIs have succeeded in deploying autonomous physical capabilities within hours of the first AI breaking free from human control. Massive Allied strikes using weapons of mass destruction apparently failed to destroy enough of the AI manufacturing base to erode its capacity for exponential machine replication. Unconfirmed reports suggest that the AIs have deployed nanotechnology capabilities of their own.

AIs and human journalists representing major news organizations have reported sighting large numbers of sophisticated, previously unknown space vehicles in and around the Earth’s atmosphere, apparently under the direct control of anti-human AIs. These vehicles have launched heavy attacks against national military establishments, using primarily directed energy weapons and possibly swarms of nanotechnology devices.

Meanwhile, the nuclear and nanotechnology bombardment of suspected hostile AI infrastructure continued unabated. Molecular manufactories around the world continue to come under Allied attack, along with computer network nodes and supercomputer hardware facilities. The human death toll from the attacks is impossible to measure precisely but diplomatic and journalistic sources generally agree that the figure could exceed 100 million dead — far surpassing the casualty figure for World War II.

UN Secretary General Vicente Mayaguez publicly called for an attempt to negotiate with the hostile AIs and bring the destruction to an end. There was no immediate reaction to his proposal in Washington and other national capitals.

Scientists with the UN and other organizations believe the intelligence of the AIs might be continuing to increase at exponential rates, foreshadowing further rapid expansion in their technological capabilities in the coming hours and days. The only feasible response, according to Dr. Stephen Drexler of Harvard University’s Nanotechnology Research Center, might be to attempt the evolution of superhuman AIs loyal to human controllers and able to defend against the hostile AI forces. Dr. Drexler admitted that whether these “friendly” super-AIs could remain under human control was an open question.

ALLIED FORCES REEL BEFORE ATTACKS BY MULTIPLYING A.I. MACHINES; CIVILIAN POPULATIONS UNDER ATTACK; U.N., VATICAN APPEAL DIRECTLY TO A.I.s FOR CEASE FIRE
Brussels (Reuters) – 11:15 EST, November 17, 2039

AI devices mass produced at molecular manufacturing facilities around the world are now inflicting heavy losses among U.S. and other military forces, casting grave doubt on the continued effectiveness of military resistance to the AI onslaught. American officers and intelligence analysts believe that AI sentience could be escalating on an almost minute-to-minute basis, with concurrent upgrades to the molecular manufacturing centers now under AI control. AI combat forces have unquestioned technological superiority over their human-controlled counterparts, many military officers say. Their numbers are increasing exponentially with time as well.

AI forces have escalated the level of violence by directly attacking civilians for the first time. Refugee columns in the United States and Europe have suffered mass bombardments by AI spacecraft employing directed energy weapons. Populations in central Africa are reportedly suffering from tissue degradation caused by airborne nanotechnology replicators operating under AI control. The nanotech viruses causing the damage have been used against biomass in African forests and savannah as well, UN aid workers report. Large swaths of jungle and plain have been reduced to a gray material resembling ash in the aftermath of such attacks.

UN Secretary General Vicente Mayaguez and Pope John Paul III broadcast an appeal directly to the hostile AIs at 10:30 a.m. Eastern Time. The two leaders asserted that the current conflict had started as a result of “tragic errors” by human decision-makers. They appealed to the non-human entities to embody the “qualities of mercy and justice so cherished in the hearts of your creators and the Power that created them.” So far there is no evidence the appeal has had any effect on the AI activity.

A.I. ATTACKS ON CIVILIANS ESCALATE; CEASE-FIRE INITIATIVES CONTINUE; UNUSUAL PHENOMENA REPORTED AT A.I. CONTROLLED LOCATIONS
Cairo (Reuters) – 12:10 EST, November 17, 2039

Devices manufactured by hostile AIs are engaged in what one UN official called “mass slaughter” of civilians around the world. Robotic aerial devices have unleashed clouds of destructive nanomachines at dozens of locations, reducing huge masses of fleeing refugees to inert matter within minutes. The nanomachines also continue unrestricted attacks on biological ecosystems and replacement of biological organisms with previously unknown synthetic substitutes. The human death toll in the conflict with the AIs is believed to be approaching 500 million, according to computer estimates.

Amidst carnage unprecedented in the human experience, UN officials are coordinating emergency consultations among the world’s governments to find a way out of the crisis. Opinion among diplomatic and military circles in the major powers is now said to be running toward a cease-fire as military measures against the AIs prove increasingly ineffectual. One option reportedly under discussion is to release human engineered AIs specially designed to negotiate with their anti-human counterparts. The negotiation bots would rapidly self-evolve in order to improve their effectiveness. The main stumbling block to the plan appears to be concerns among some scientists that the negotiation AIs could themselves turn against their human creators and join an increasingly genocidal enemy.

Adding to the sense of foreboding now gripping world capitals are satellite surveillance reports of unusual physical phenomena at AI controlled complexes in Europe, Africa, and Asia. Telemetry indicates that intense heat and radiation sources have become evident at these locations within the last two hours. Scientists and human controlled AIs have been unable to determine the exact cause of the emanations but speculate it could represent the next phase in the extremely rapid technological evolution of the AIs.

*********FLASH******PRESIDENT TO ANNOUNCE UNCONDITIONAL SURRENDER OF U.S. FORCES
Washington (Associated Press) 13:20 EST, November 17, 2039

White House sources say that President Catherine Danforth will soon announce the unconditional surrender of U.S. military forces around the world in the face of apparently unstoppable A.I. offensives.

PRESIDENT ANNOUNCES SURRENDER OF U.S. FORCES; EUROPE AND OTHERS TO FOLLOW; NO SIGN OF REACTION FROM A.I.s; GEOPHYSICAL DISRUPTIONS AT A.I. SITES INTENSIFY
Washington (Associated Press) 13:35 EST, November 17, 2039

President Catherine Danforth today announced the unconditional surrender of all United States armed forces to non-human sentient organisms now engaged in hostile action against the Earth’s human population. Further resistance she said, would be “both ineffective and immoral in light of its futility.” She appealed to the non-human intelligences sweeping through the biosphere to have mercy on the humans standing in their path. “All along our desire has been for peaceful relations with whatever lifeforms our science and technology produce. It was never our intention to initiate a new evolutionary era on this planet by provoking a conflict between different manifestations of life and intelligence.”

Diplomatic sources said the other major powers would shortly surrender their own forces as well, in an attempt to change the dynamics of the conflict that began with the creation of the world’s first autonomous artificial intelligence approximately twelve hours ago. So far, robotic and nanotechnology devices under the control of evolving non-human intelligences have not communicated with humans in any form.

Scientific organizations still able to transmit over the remnants of the global and Earth-Moon information net report sporadic evidence of massive physical transformations underway at several locations on the Earth’s surface. One anomalous satellite reading of a region east of the Ural Mountains appears to show a massive crater at least 1000 miles in diameter and 500 miles deep. The bottom of the geostructure is reportedly producing heat and radiation signatures consistent with that of a small sun, causing widespread atmospheric and electromagnetic disruptions across the Eurasian landmass.

Further updates forthcoming. Stand by. Stand by…

Ed Merta, May 18, 2002

Ed Merta [http://www.nmia.com/~emerta] is a freelance writer, researcher and web content-provider based in Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA. Ed has written widely on technology, history, and public policy.

NOTE – the url above is not valid anymore. Ed, if you happen to read this, please get in touch!

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License