Frank Fiore – Novelist & Screenwriter

August 14, 2010

Fiction Becoming Reality

Filed under: CyberKill — Frank Fiore @ 12:18 PM

Like most techno-thrillers of the genre, the author seeks to come as close to reality as possible – then stretch the facts a bit.

My novel CyberKill is no exception.

Many years ago I read an article in Time Magazine dated March 25th, 1996 about a young artificial intelligence (AI) programmer who created a series of AI agents and sent them out over the internet to see if they would evolve.

“An ecobiologist and bottom-up computer theorist will soon launch onto the Internet a single, tiny self-reproducing program which will spread among hundreds of computers around the world. If all goes well, this artificial organism will quickly populate the network and begin to evolve……’

I thought to myself, what if the programmer terminated his experiment? If the Artificial Intelligence evolved into a real intelligence, would they take his act of shutting down the experiment as attempted murder? From there, I thought “How far would an artificial intelligence go for revenge?”

In CyberKill, the technology the geographic locations, government and military installations and organizations, information warfare scenarios, artificial intelligence, robots, and the information and communications technology in the book all exist. I wanted to show the reader that what happens in the book could very well happen today.

The idea of an artificial intelligence program as described in CyberKill becoming sentient in the AI character of Dorian is no longer a fiction.

An recent news article in the UK Telegraph states that computer-simulated life forms which reproduce themselves inside their electronic world can evolve to produce basic intelligence. It is hoped that the discovery may in future lead to artificially intelligent brains “bred” within a computer.

The “Avidians”, a race of digital beings in a computer world called Avida run by scientists at Michigan State University, with computer code instead of DNA that is copied – not quite perfectly – every time they breed. The random copying errors create differences in their code which dictate how well, or badly, they will perform in their simulated world.

Early experiments put the Avidians on a grid of cells, and let them live and die there. The grid had a gradient of food – cells at one end have more than the ones at the other, where the Avidians begin. After 100 generations of breeding, a mutation led to one of them evolving a “gene” instructing it to move forward. When it landed in a more food-rich cell, it reproduced more quickly, and had more offspring than its rivals.

After thousands more generations, the Avidians had evolved something more impressive: a rudimentary memory. They had started moving towards the food source in a zig-zag motion, changing direction when they were going in the wrong direction. To do that, they had to be able to compare their current cell to the previous one. Robert Pennock, one of the scientists behind the experiments, told New Scientist: “Doing this requires some rudimentary intelligence. You have to be able to assess your situation, realise you’re not going in the right direction, reorient, and then reassess.”

A later experiment added a new twist: cells that contained instructions on where to go to find food. Some of those instructions were simply “do what you did in the last cell”. In order to make sense of those instructions, Avidians had to evolve a more complex memory – and duly did so. Laura Grabowski, another of the researchers, said: “The environment sets up selective pressures so organisms are forced to come up with some kind of memory use – which is in fact what they do.”

This sheds some light on how intelligence originally evolved: MSU zoologist Fred Dyer says: “Laura’s work suggests that the evolution of an ability to solve simple navigational problems depends on first evolving a simple short-term memory – and this in digital organisms that still don’t exhibit something you would call learning.” But the findings may, in the future, allow researchers to create true artificial intelligence.

Dr Grabowski says: “In the past, the approach has been to start with high-level intelligence and reproduce that in a computer.

“This is the opposite. We’re showing how complex traits like memory can be built from the bottom up, from things that are really very simple.”

Bottom up? Exactly like what that young programmer tried to do back over a decade ago and became the initiate of CyberKill.

Are the Avidians the precursor to Dorian in CyberKill.

Time will tell. In the meantime, you can check out the future of AI in CyberKill.

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