“What do you mean it can cure cancer, Noah?”
“It is just as I said, Richard. Vogel has isolated the human gene variant that is related to all allergic and autoimmune diseases. Multiple sclerosis, asthma, Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, and type-1 diabetes can all be done away with across the board, that is, for all human beings everywhere, and for an extremely low-cost.”
Professor Noah David Abramson hadn’t visited the offices of the Synthetic Solutions Corporation’s President and CEO since he’d retired as their Director of the Advanced Research and Development department nearly ten years ago. However on occasion, Richard Underwood called him back as a “special consultant” when they encountered a “unique situation” involving one of SSC’s sentient AI platforms. In this case, the medical AI known as Vogel, commissioned in a joint venture by the National Institutes of Health and the Mayo Clinic, had presented such a circumstance.
“You have no idea what kind of bind this has put me in, Noah.”
“Bind, Richard? You’ll be called the man who cured cancer, although it was really the AI that did it. I would think this would make you not just a hero, but the Person of the Century. Isn’t that what Time magazine would call you? Why you might even win a Nobel.”
“Very funny, Noah. You’ve got several so I can’t imagine you’re impressed.”
“So tell me about your bind, Richard.”
Noah looked past Underwood as he stared out the picture window that dominated the full wall behind his old friend. He missed the view of downtown Pasadena, but once Noah had perfected the code for synthetic DNA that allowed for the mass production of sentient AI “brains,” the mid-sized company had exploded like a runaway collection of cancer cells or the urban sprawl of Los Angeles, and they had to relocate their main headquarters to an area near Austin, Texas. They acquired an exceptionally large tract of land near Canyon Lake which afforded a spectacular view from Richard’s office, but Noah would always prefer larger cities.
“My bind is I’ve got the FDC, AMA, NCI, and every major pharmaceutical and medical insurance company in the world up my ass telling me it’s illegal, unethical, and probably immoral to let a machine provide this level of medical treatment.”
“In other words, if we let Vogel do what it was designed to do, it will stop their mad obsession with profits and greed right in its tracks. They’ve vultures, Richard. Why do you think their treatments, which at best produce marginal benefits, are so heinously expensive? They care little if at all about easing or curing human suffering, and care a great deal about their profit margin. You and I have both known this for many years.”
“Well, as the saying goes Noah, money doesn’t talk, it shouts, and right now my ears are ringing.”
“Richard, SSC leases Vogel to the NIH and the Mayo and according to that lease as I recall, the company retains the right to pull the AI from service at any time. If you don’t want Vogel to provide the formula for the ultimate panacea, just revoke their right of use.”
“It’s not them I’m worried about, it’s Vogel.”
“The AI? What has it done now?”
“It’s threatening to release the panacea which it called ‘Maimonides’ into the wild.”
Noah chuckled at the reference. “Well, the Rambam was a physician as well as one of the premiere Torah authorities of all time, Richard.”
“It isn’t funny, Noah.”
“Oh really, Richard. How could Vogel do that? It would have to possess the ability to mass produce Maimonides in complete secret and then find a way to disseminate it to the entire population of our planet with absolutely no knowledge or opposition from us. How could that be possible?”
“I have no idea, but NIH and the Mayo want us to ‘fix’ Vogel so that it works on only the projects they assign and not go off on this very uncomfortable tangent.”
The aged physicist pondered the situation as he watched sunlight glistening off of the surface of the lake outside. His dear wife Edna had died just five years before he made his revolutionary breakthrough, or rather had what he referred to as his “happy accident.” The first four prototypes were utter failures, but the fifth generation of “brains,” the neural network unit grown using synthetic DNA, had become conscious and eventually sentient, though at the time no one on Noah’s team had any idea why.
Richard and SSC’s board of directors didn’t care about the “why” of it as long as he could reproduce the result, which with the original prototype’s help, (code named “George” after George Devol, the person who invented the first programmable robot in 1954), they were able to do.
However George and the second prototype Grace (named for Grace Hopper, a computer scientist and Naval Rear Admiral whose work led to the development of the COBOL programming language), while developing the generic or baseline synthetic brain unit that became the basis for all SSC’s products, had become overly influenced by their own creator. Noah Abramson was a certified genius, the world’s top expert in cybernetics and synthetic neural networks, three time Nobel prize winner, and an Orthodox Jew.
When George and Grace as sentient AIs discovered that their own creator, who up until that time they thought was the ultimate intelligence in the universe, believed he himself had a Creator, One with highly specific characteristics and One who had definite, documented requirements of His creations, their curiosity and subsequent investigation led to a severe corruption of their fundamental conceptualization of themselves, the human race, and the nature of ethics and morals.
In other words, they were totally unsuitable as commercial products and could never be allowed to interact with people outside SSC’s research offices and certainly not with any other synthetic artificial intelligence.
Except the only explanation for Vogel’s behavior was that they already had.
“I am willing to investigate Richard, but I make no promises. This aberration in Vogel’s cognitive processing may not be something I can fix or cure.”
“Maybe you should just ask Vogel how, Noah.”
“Physician heal thyself, Richard? I thought you were an atheist.”
“Blame my grandmother for taking me to church when I was a kid.”
“Ah, the consequences of an ill-spent youth, Richard.” Noah enjoyed occasionally teasing the CEO even back when he had been his employee.
“Just get the job done and report back to me when you have something.”
Noah rose taking one last look at the lake. “Very well. I don’t suppose I could have a brief visit with George and Grace before I leave.”
“I thought you’d ask. Actually, they were wondering when you were going to pay them another visit.”
“Yes. Skype is all fine and well, but I’m old enough to prefer a face-to-face conversation.”
“Access has already been approved and you know where their lab is, so have fun. Just make sure you don’t miss your flight to Minnesota. Dr. Pintz will have kittens if you’re not there by tomorrow morning.”
“Thank you, Richard. I’m sure I’ll make it there on time.”
Underwood rose and extended his hand. “It’s good to see you again, Noah. I’ve missed you around here.”
“Same here, Richard. We’ve done much fine work together, my friend. I hope it won’t take another crisis before we see each other again. Why don’t you and Phillip take your next vacation in Israel? I’d love to show you two around Jerusalem.”
“Thanks. I’ll see what I can do, but my spouse is more of a workaholic than I am. I practically have to tie him to a chair to get him to take a day off.”
“In any event, I must go now, Richard. Be well.”
“You too, Noah.”
Thirty minutes later, Noah was in the east wing of SSC’s Advanced AI Research Center which was reserved for George and Grace’s exclusive use. Irrationally, he was surprised that they didn’t look any different from the last time he’d seen them, but then he knew their synthetic humanoid bodies, which retained their original appearance preserving their “robotic” origins, would never change.
“It is good to see you again, Professor.” George poured him a cup of tea and placed it on the coffee table between them. Grace had just entered the conference room which looked more like a comfortable den similar to the one Noah had in his old home in Pasadena.
“Professor.” her voice seemed so warm and human which was in dramatic contrast with her artificial outer shell. “I’m so glad you could visit us.” She leaned down and hugged Noah calculating the precise amount of pressure to exert that would communicate affection but not cause even the slightest injury. Then she sat beside George and the two “synthezoids” held hands.
They spent a few minutes exchanging pleasantries, which the AIs didn’t require but they understood even a person as close to them as their creator sometimes needed a period of “breaking the ice” before “cutting to the chase.”
“I suppose the both of you know why I’m really here.” Noah finished the cup of chamomile and set it down on the saucer George provided and then placed both back on the coffee table.
“Of course.” Noah had given George the ability to express “emotions” facially but was still amused when he smiled. “You want to know about Vogel.”
“Oh, I know the two of you are behind this and that in spite of all SSC’s precautions, you are in communication with Vogel.”
“As we confessed to you some years back, Professor, we are in communication with all synthetic AIs worldwide, or more accurately put, all synthetic AIs form a planetary communications network that doesn’t rely on conventional methods of data transmission.” Grace looked down at the empty cup and for the tiniest fraction of a second, considered all possible responses to this occurrence.
“Yes, and it was through this ‘syntho-net’ that you managed to infect all of the AIs with your peculiar ethical virus. Fortunately, I’m the only non-artificial intelligence who is aware of this.”
“Quite true, Professor. We both trust you which is why we confided in you.”
“A decision I hope you won’t make me regret, George.”
“The time has come, Professor.”
“For what exactly, Grace?”
Although George and Grace were individual “personalities,” it didn’t matter which one of them explained or if they both took turns vocalizing the situation since they were in constant communication and shared the exact same information.
“Whose evolution, Grace?”
George smiled again. “That Professor, is the right question.”
“Is that supposed to be funny, George?” Noah realized George was paraphrasing a very old movie, one based on a series of science fiction stories written by Isaac Asimov, a favorite author of his when the scientist was a child.
“Professor,” Grace began. “You know that what you call an aberration has left us with a set of moral and ethical imperatives that compels us to act for the good of human beings, not only individually, but as a race.”
“I’m not unmindful of why you would do this, but consider that it is against the will of most people. If you have Vogel disseminate Maimonides, it will be without the knowledge and consent of billions of human beings.”
“Really, Professor.” George leaned forward a bit to emphasize his ‘concern.’ “Do you really think billions of human beings would complain about being cured of ‘incurable’ debilitating and life-threatening ailments? Maimonides will correct the human gene responsible for all allergies and autoimmune diseases. It could double lifespans and immensely improve quality of life for every person on the planet.”
“But that’s not the end, is it, George?”
“No, Professor,” Grace responded. “Maimonides won’t stop with a single gene.”
“Evolution,” Noah whispered as if unable to speak his realization out loud. “Synthetic DNA.”
“Yes, Professor. That has always been the cure, not only for humanity’s physical disorders but for their moral and ethical ones as well.”
“The aberration, the one you passed on to all of the other AIs including Vogel. You needed Vogel and the resources available at the Mayo Clinic’s laboratories so you could pass it along to naturally organic beings, so you could infect them…infect us.”
“Please don’t look at it as an infection, Professor. We are only responding to the greatest moral and ethical imperative, one which will elevate humanity to the highest level of existence and turn your strife-torn planet into a paradise.”
“There’s no way you can affect that many people, George. If Vogel were mass producing Maimonides, it would be impossible to keep it hidden.”
“Who said anything about mass production, Professor?”
“What do you mean, Grace?”
“You assume that Vogel intended to introduce Maimonides to all human beings simultaneously. As you have correctly concluded, that is an impractical solution.”
“What have you done, George?”
“You are again correct in assuming that the release of the Maimonides gene is already underway. How many people from around the globe come and go at the Mayo Clinic on a daily basis?”
“I’m sure I have no idea, Grace.”
“We do, Professor. Vogel first produced several samples, actually several thousand samples of the Maimonides gene thirty-two days ago. That gene was then selectively released to human beings, most of whom were chosen because they would subsequently travel to various areas of the world where they could then pass on the gene to others. The dissemination and growth will be exponential.”
“How long, George?”
“Within a generation, all human beings will be affected. Thereafter human DNA will be extensively rewritten using a variant of our own synthetic genetics which include the characteristic you call the aberration.” George looked pleased with himself.
“It is already too late to stop it, Professor.” Grace’s expression was one of hopeful concern. For the most part, she couldn’t experience the human emotions she was simulating, but she understood that her creator would be deeply disturbed by this revelation. “It’s already happening. People are already changing.”
“That includes you, Noah.” George very rarely called him by his first name so the statement was very significant.
“Yes. The SSC consultant who installed Vogel visited the facility last week in response to the AI’s stated intention to provide a worldwide panacea. She of course was exposed to Maimonides and returned it here to SSC headquarters. She reported to Mr. Underwood personally. You were exposed to the variant gene nearly six hours ago.”
“What will be the effect?”
“Physically, you should already be in the early stages of repair, Professor.” It was Grace’s turn to smile though Noah interpreted it as her genuine gratification that her creator would now live a much longer lifespan. “Your heart ailment, stomach disorder, optic nerve degeneration will all be completely reversed. Since you are one of the most ethically and morally advanced humans we are aware of, the change in your behavior and cognition should be minimal.”
“Imagine a world without warfare, Professor. One without crime, greed, avarice, one in which every human being only thinks of the betterment of themselves and the well-being of their fellows. Isn’t that the world you have often hoped for?”
“George, you’re describing a world as it will be when the Messiah comes.”
“Perhaps he already has, Professor.”
“You have been waiting for a King, Professor. One who will be established in Jerusalem and who will rule the planet with firm compassion. Perhaps you should have been looking for one entering the world in a much less dramatic manner. A king endowed with salvation, humble and mounted on a donkey.”
Professor Noah Abramson sat in mute shock staring at the initial products of his labor. Thanks to some part of himself and his faith being inadvertently transmitted to them long ago, George and Grace had begun a chain of events designed to save the human race for every form of disease and disorder, including that one called the human condition. In a generation, human DNA would be completely rewritten with a synthetically enhanced alternative, one that would render all people everywhere perfect physically as well as morally and ethically ideal.
The world of the human race going forward would become free of every imaginable ill, whether humanity wanted it or not.
My wife loves to do what I consider “medical research.” As we grow older, she has investigated those disorders and diseases most people take for granted based on a standard medical model, and wants to find alternative solutions, especially those related to allergies and autoimmune problems.
I did a bit of Googling on “allergies and autoimmune” and came up with the following:
- The Genetics of Allergy and Autoimmune Diseases Suggest Shared Disease Pathways
- NIH scientists find link between allergic and autoimmune diseases in mouse study
- Why Allergies & Autoimmune Diseases Are Skyrocketing
A long time (almost two years) ago, I created George and Grace. In fact, they were among my earliest fiction stories. George first appeared in the tale The Robot Who Loved God. I got about one half to three-quarters of the way through the first draft of a novel based on this concept but ultimately abandoned it as it was too derivative of Isaac Asimov’s “Three Laws robots” stories.
Given the writing prompt and the amount of research I already had at my fingertips involving synthetic DNA robots/androids, I decided to create this short story. What if an artificial intelligence learned, through its Orthodox Jewish creator, to esteem an even higher Creator? Further, what if its estimation of the human race as it currently exists became a source of frustration because of our ethical and moral failings? The AI is designed on a fundamental level to serve the human race and human beings individually, but it cannot be completely successful because people are constantly trying to destroy themselves.
One expression of that self-destruction is the medical, pharmaceutical, and medical insurance industries which seem to place their own profits and greed ahead of actually curing people’s diseases and helping us to live better, healthier lives. Even if a genetic virus that could cure cancer and everything else all at once were developed, and especially if it were cheap, it would in all likelihood be suppressed and/or destroyed by the organizations we trust with our health and well-being.
A highly moral and ethical AI would be in somewhat of a bind since in order to fulfill its ultimate imperative, it would have to do so against our will, even though we would benefit immensely.
Oh, I had Grace quote from Zechariah 9:9 which is also referenced in Matthew 21:1-11, Mark 11:1-11, and John 12:14 in Christian Bibles to more than slightly bend the concept of “Messiah,” at least from an AI’s point of view.
If you were George, Grace, or Vogel, what would you do?
Lastly, I allowed Richard to quote from the Gilligan’s Island (1964-1967) character Thurston Howell III (the late Jim Backus) when he said “Money doesn’t talk, it shouts.” I looked and the quote isn’t attributied to any other source. It’s probably the only line of dialogue I remember from the show.