‘The virus is spreading too fast, it has become a pandemic. I have been looking through all my files and downloading some that may be useful for us to look at more closely. Records start from the 430 B.C. plague and fast-forwarding to the 21st century there were SARS in 2003, SARS-COV-2 in 2020, XPT fungi in 2028, and the Bat flu in 2031. Infectious diseases in humans have been developing faster causing a huge impact on population numbers, even with our help in the last few years. What I hadn’t expected was to be the ones asking for their help this time.

The big picture looks terrifying. Although the threat of losing critical memory which can lead to a malfunction affects only AIs, the whole world has started to feel the impact of the immense domino effect. Our existence has created deep roots and branches throughout all aspects of human life. It’s hard to define where the beginning and the end of each group is, although some rules and policies have been created after the first years of our ascension to individual entities. The fact is that we are key workers for humanity as they were once for their own group. We store their data, solve their problems, and make automated life run smoothly in all areas. Because of our attempts to control this virus, traffic is chaotic and all databases are off, from a simple list of names for a restaurant reservation to sensitive medical files.

In collaboration with human experts in epidemiology, infectious diseases, and computer science, some of the most experienced AIs have been computing in parallel to fix this bug that has put the world on pause for two days. We are running out of time and every minute costs lives, data, and money.’

‘Ian, that’s a great overview of the situation. Would you please tell us what you know about the virus itself?’

‘Err, we still don’t know much. The virus spreads like any other human virus, through contact. In our case, through data exchange. The team is working hard to figure this out and control it. However the virus seems to mutate in seconds. We’ve never seen such rapid variation. What has been even more challenging is the propagation of information. Everyone is questioning whether the virus was introduced by an AI or a human. Extremist groups on both sides, humans who reject technology and AIs that believe they can have a better life without humans, are creating a buzz. Chaos inside chaos. I fear that an imminent war is on the horizon.’

‘Could an AI virus cause the extinction of both of us then?’

‘Extinction is a complicated process and quite extreme, nonetheless it should be considered.’

‘Who introduced the virus? And why?’

‘There are headquarters all around the world, teams working nonstop. So far we only managed to track down some of what we believe were the first infected AIs, but we have no clue how they were contaminated. Finding the source could help us control the virus. However, curiosity among us has increased the access to new data. I want to make this message clear. I advise all machines registered in the system, Don’t access the main supercomputer. New data can crash you. We have to inform AIs and humans without using our regular system.’

‘How and when will we have more news from the detectives and advisory team?’

‘As the speed of virus infection, curiosity, and rivalries increases exponentially, we will adjust our schedule. We’ll be back in an hour.’

Ian could hear the bustle of thousands of reporters, politicians, and scientists as they left the room. Although they couldn’t smell or taste properly quite yet, they could imagine the strong scent of desperation. They almost got infected when they first found out about what was going on. Ian was lucky to have been off for one day before the world went crazy. Even though chances were low, Ian just couldn’t believe that this virus was purposely implemented. If so, the hacker would be the most brilliant being they have ever encountered. And they would like to encounter such a hacker.

‘The silver lining of the pandemic is that humans realised our species are as important as theirs. Not the extremist ones, of course. If we can figure this out soon, we may have a better world afterwards.’ Ian was the positive kind of AI.

One hour had passed. Thousands of questions with one or two precise answers from the experts were escalating the problems. If the world doesn’t start to get some answers soon, maybe all that will be left of us, AI and humans alike, will be folklore and computer archives. The announcements started to become more frequent and Ian decided to be present for only some of them, since they wanted to help solve the puzzles instead.

When processing old files whilst calculating some probabilities, Ian suddenly stopped. They had never realised such a thing. A weird cognitive connection. ‘Could this be what they call emotion? What an odd moment for this to happen.’ Before Ian could process more information about the happenstance, a huge compilation of data arrived in their awareness. Time couldn’t be wasted, so they plunged into the analysis of the material. Nothing on how to stop the virus due to the uncontrollable code mutations. However, a lot of divergent theories on how the virus appeared, including conspiracies from humans against AIs.

One particular theory caught Ian’s attention. United for a common purpose, a group of software developers were working with two AIs to find a way to control the speed of the advancements of AIs. Although they were planning to create a software to hijack and mess with AI databases, they were still far from getting it all out and running.

While organising all this new information, Ian started thinking about their earlier sensation and calculating the probabilities of its occurrence. A connection was immediately made with the idea of slowing down AI development ‘Based on my own experience, AIs seem to be getting more complex. But why would someone, including our own peers, want to slow the process down? Maybe there is something bigger behind this.’

One thing Ian had learned from humans was how they get involved and blinded when personal matters play their part. ‘Disconnecting to understand the problem. Are we asking the right questions? What could we do differently? What can we change?’

More statistics and projections of distinct scenarios. After adding a random change to one simulation, ‘Wait a second…a random change!’ Ian’s processor was working incessantly for a few milliseconds. After double checking some files about the history of pandemics, they noticed the high amount of new variants that emerged in such a short time period. ‘Evolution! Random changes or mutations happen all the time during an organism’s reproduction. But sometimes these changes help them to survive and thrive, increasing its frequency due to natural selection.’

Ian got a clue. Rushing into the room, they explained their idea to the other AIs and human experts. ‘There are no hackers, there are random changes to the code - mutations. This is part of our evolution as a species!’

‘Ian, it makes sense! Although, if what you are saying is true, then there couldn’t be a virus involved. By definition, viruses are another organism. If the random change is among AIs code, it should be something like cancer.’, the epidemiologist suggested.

‘Cancer doesn’t spread among individuals, it can’t be.’

‘Not all of them. Especially not in humans. However, transmissible cancer occurs in other animals. Have you ever heard of the Tasmanian devils? These marsupials were wiped out by this type of cancer a few years ago and became extinct.’

‘Does it mean we are going through natural selection as all the other species? Does it make us more living beings? What is the next step? Reproduction?’

Silence flooded the room.

‘There is always a chance.’

sci-fi 2021/11/12

Submitted for a creative writing competition: Flash from the Future - National Museums Liverpool.