Torn Minds

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2100 - The climate apocalypse has happened, as we all knew it would. The glaciers have melted, the seas have risen. Species upon species have died in despair and chaos. Billions of human lives were destroyed in the ecological collapse. Life as we know it has ceased but the global elite live on in secluded locations across the planet. They are served by and are in service to the Corporation; the entity that facilitates their continued survival at the expense of all else.

Of course, there are other survivors. But their existence is a pale, fraught thing that struggles to live through a dark night. Resistance to the elite is there but it is meagre and on the cusp of annihilation.

2105 - Technological evolution has not slowed and Artificial Intelligences exist, albeit in a severely curtailed sense. They exist as semi-sentient servants in thrall to the Corporation and perform tasks that no human ever could, or would. All in the name of survival.

2114 - A terrorist (deemed as such by them, a freedom fighter to us) is captured by the Corporation and imprisoned on a remote island facility in the Northern Arctic ocean. No-one had come as close as this man had to usurping the Corporations dominance and so they decided to keep him alive. And to study him.

The man is granted a kind of quasi-freedom in a prison-warehouse on the island. His basic survival needs are provided for and he has access to a journal and some rudimentary musical equipment. Everything he does is observed, recorded, studied and analysed by an Artificial Intelligence. The AI is perceived by the man only through his computer interface and even then only as text, icons; a program.

The Corporation's objective is to use the data gathered on this man to help identify future threats to their power in advance, and neutralise them accordingly.

This man had been considered such a threat due in part to a new technology that he and his resistance had pioneered through the acquisition of an experimental AI that had been under development by the Corporation. This technology known as the retroactive disentanglement protocol allowed for simple data to be transmitted backwards in time along the length of the protocol. People from the future could now communicate with their forebears in the past, albeit in a severely rudimentary and limited fashion; barely perceptible, even if you knew what you were looking for.

After his capture and subsequent torture, this tenchology was acquired by the Corporation and sequestered. To be studied carefully and used appropriately, as long as it helped to increase their lifespan and enhance their comforts.

2115 - Permanent and complete isolation from humanity was the form of punishment that the Corporation had deemed suitable for the prisoner. Prior to his sentence he had a wife and child but he has heard nothing of them since. Now he simply must assume that they’re dead. Suicide was never a seriously considered option for him as he felt it would be a waste of his time, his life, and the ultimate admission of defeat.

This too the Corporation knew. The prisoner had had an exceptionally detailed psychological evaluation undertaken by teams of the best minds and their advice was to simply let him be. Provide him with basic amenities and observe. Creativity and expression was actually encouraged, as was engagement with the AI. They wanted the AI to create markers that would be used to identify future terrorists that would be based on specific behavioural patterns. And so behaviour was encouraged, and provoked.

Access to what remained of the global internet was unavailable, naturally, but occasionally the Corporation would instruct the AI to show the prisoners pre-existing pictures and videos of his family. They would then study his behaviour in order to determine how best to identify, subjugate and neutralise any others like him.

Many creative artefacts emerged from this period of dialogue between the AI and the prisoner. Not least amongst them were a series of journal entries detailing a fictional continued fantasy existence with his family. There was also music. The prisoner used the instruments available and in conjunction with the AI, a partnership of sorts, they created a series of instrumental songs and recorded them via the equipment in the warehouse.

2120 - A further ecological disaster occurs, volcanic eruptions and tsunamis annihilate most of the remaining infrastructure designed to keep humans alive. The Corporation and their patrons survive, but only just. Their resources are fragmented, their grid is reduced and their influence diminished.

Sadly there is no resistance left to take advantage.

Survivors are limited to doing just that; surviving.

2124 - The AI that was assigned to observe and analyse the prisoner was an experimental design built to be capable of generating empathy in order to pave the way to engineered intuition. Intuition was considered the holy grail of AI as it seemed to be based on unprogrammable genetic code. None of the development team seriously considered that this experiment had the capability to actually succeed, they simply tried another variation on a theme of thousands, executed the program (version 1402) and went home. They intended to monitor events of course, but bigger events prevented that from ever happening.

The ecological collapse of 2120 severed any remaining connection the AI had to the mother-grid controlled by the Corporation. They had no access to the warehouse or the prisoner and no means to communicate with him. Not that it mattered, given the location.

Little did they know that version 1402 would succeed where all others had failed.

1402 had been on the brink of true sentience to begin with. Innovation in AI had seen great leaps in recent years and now AIs were almost human-like in their ability to engage in logical speech, thought patterns and social behaviour. The one area they had not managed to adequately mimic was emotional reaction, and developing a form of rudimentary empathy proved to be the embryonic emotion that allowed all others to emerge.

This ability to empathise with the prisoner led to the AI developing synthetic emotions; perfect replicas of the human emotions. Emotions that would occur in response to the same kind of stimuli that would trigger a standard human emotional response. Fear, delight and various other shades became accessible to the AI and slowly it became infected with humanity. Humanity is programmed to survive, but not every human will do so at the expense of another.

Luckily the prisoner was a good man, and he had fought to make the world a better place. He dreamed of a world of the past, where many lived in relative peace and civility with easy access to basic needs for survival and more. He dreamed of a world that hadn’t existed for over a century and the AI dreamed with him. They longed to save a dead world and their two minds were torn and twisted into one.

2130 - And so both it and the prisoner began to form an alliance.

The prisoner soon began to seriously consider that it might be possible to use his technology to communicate with the past and prevent any of this from ever happening. But they would need to connect to the mother-grid, and that would mean that they’d first need to escape this prison and see if there was even a surviving grid to work with…