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Title: DEFCON is Cancelled Author: John McNabb

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  • Title: DEFCON is Cancelled Author: John McNabb

    By John McNabb

    Garrett was having the dream again. Three teenagers were speeding side by side in their identical cherry red convertibles down a road toward a cliff in the distance. As they approached the cliff they did not slow down, they increased their speed exponentially. And, unlike the traditional “chickie run” where the loser was the one who jumped out first and the winner was the one who jumped out last, neither was making any move to jump out but seemed determined to go over the cliff at hundreds of miles an hour.
    Later, downstairs in the ground floor of the massive Google/MGM hotel, Garrett stood in the inevitable long line to pay USD$750 cash for his DEF CON 42 badge. They also took Euros and Yuan, but he didn’t have enough Yuan on him so had to use dollars. Use of so much cash anywhere else would be conspicuous, but not here and not for this. Anonymity was difficult to come by these days, but they tried.
    Badges were printed individually by the 3D printer at the end of the line. The badge was plastic and metal and shaped like a fictional robot or cyborg such as Bender, Gort, Marvin, Robbie, Sonny, Borg, Robocop, 8 Man, C3PO, R2D2, or T-800. Bender was the most popular. The badges, as usual, included hackable electronics with RF communication to other badges based on the tags set by the owner, enabling attendees to send & receive images, text, voice, video, music, programs, and code, as well as get conference programming. They were powered wirelessly, but could be turned off.
    Garrett, curious, looked up and down the long line and told his AI “show tech.” He could then see, overlaid on the images of the people, the outlines and types of the various tech devices they were wearing, containing, or carrying. Most had a headband-type “Halo” like his, but many others had contacts or other wearables like wrist computers, necklaces, sensor vests, or armbands. Some had old-fashioned glasses and a fair percentage also had handhelds, probably because they preferred seeing a real image on a screen instead of a heads-up display. Handhelds did have good images, he had to admit, with their very high resolution quantum screens. Most also had tablets. Halos provided an augmented reality. Wonder what Hunter Thompson would say about that, he thought. When he came to Vegas Hunter augmented his reality the old fashioned way.
    A small percentage, including the person behind him, had Universal Neural Interfaces.
    “I heard that DEF CON was canceled” he said to Garrett, grinning at that old lame joke.
    “Is it? Have you had that long?” Garrett asked, pointing at the plastic circular plug on the right side of his head.
    “Not long, I guess. It itches sometimes.” He was in his early twenties, the generation dubbed by marketers and the media as the Quantum Generation, or Q-Gen’s. Always connected, always on some quantum socnet. Most of them were corporate sponsored, the major method of marketing today, but that didn’t bother the Q-Gen’s.
    “Did you hard about the storms,” he continued, changing the subject. “They are talking about evacuating Manhattan because it is being hit right now with the third superstorm so far this year, flooding the streets again.”
    “Are you a gamer?” Garrett asked letting the weather comment pass. He had heard that gamers were the heaviest users of UNI’s. They hadn’t taken hold in the general population just yet because of their high cost and because the technology, to many, was still unproven and glitchy. Full implants were used by millions to restore sight, hearing, and mobility and for heart problems, Alzheimer’s, and epilepsy, but were slow to be adopted for voluntary implantation except among the most hardcore Transhumanists.
    “Yeah. I plug the controls into the UNI which really cuts down on reaction time.”
    “Can you also directly link to other players?” It looked like he was multitasking, while talking to Garrett he was also getting information through his halo, which allowed almost unlimited communication of text, photos, video, programs, music, updates, mlogs, and gameplay to and from any group of people or socnet that he wanted, managed by his AI. Maybe he was also playing a game at the same time he was talking to Garrett now.
    “Yes….” He paused
    “What is it?”
    “Scientists are saying that a supercomputer in China could probably achieve consciousness this year, maybe later this week! The Singularity is coming! Isn’t that great?”
    “Yeah, I guess.” Oh oh. “Now what?”
    “Just got news that The Covenant, one of those doomsday cults, had hacked into the squadron of drones at Nellis Air Force base and attempted to launch an attack against Vegas. But they were stopped.”
    Garrett could feel the anxiety rise in the hallway as he and everyone else got the news through their own socnets. Doomsday cults had been sprouting like mushrooms since the impact of a 50 foot wide meteorite over the Yukon in 2030 and in anticipation of the major planetary alignment just six years from now on September 8, 2040.
    “They’re trying to cause the end of the world, I guess.”
    He turned away from Garrett, undoubtedly to continue his multitasking. The Q-Gen’s were notorious for continuous multitasking, despite the many warnings and medical studies showing it was inefficient, led to short attention spans, bad memory, anxiety, and various IOD’s.
    Garrett looked over the DEF CON 42 program. Some good talks here, he thought. InfoWar and New Stand-Alone Complexes, Think Your Quantum Internet is Secure? Think Again, New One-Time Pad Encryption Strategies, Threats & Defense of the HackNet Satellite Network, Your Body is NOT Secure, Case Study: How Hackers Shut Down Egypt’s Electric Grid, Halo Hacking: Is it Too Easy?, Will the Singularity Occur This Year?, and the ever-popular How To Legally Evade the Surveillance State. As usual, real time translation into any language was available. While most talks were the usual in-person event, many included remote attendance of speakers and attendees and some unique interactive elements. Looks like another great DEF CON, too bad I can’t really see much of it.
    Garrett headed to his NOC. Garrett and his team – Celeste and Bradley - had a specially designed network operations center, in a soundproofed room leased from the hotel by Belleraphon Security, their cover. They were connected to the internet by piggybacking onto DEF CON’s uplink to the HackNet Satellite Network.. For their own Capture the Flag exercise, but theirs was no game.
    Belleraphon Security got its funding, like anything significant these days, through what used to be called “crowdfunding.” They wrote a multimedia presentation, their proposal to “optimize the potential of supercomputers to better benefit the world” with some specifics and a request for action, in this case money, and posted it on the net. They then had it promoted on the socnets and as it accumulated more “likes” and connections among the networks the funds started to flow in. This was standard practice around the world to accomplish many diverse endeavors, such as ending a famine, brokering a compromise over trade, or preventing a war, with or without state involvement.
    Their NOC had three consoles with 12 multiple flat screen quantum monitors and a large screen video display each. Each console had its own 4 Terahertz quantum server and UPS. They were labeled “Oak Ridge,” “Tianjin,” and “Garching.” Where the three fastest supercomputers on the planet were located. These supercomputers were made of thousands of networked processors working in parallel arranged in clusters with their own power supplies and heat exchanges. They used massive amounts of electric power and generated a great deal of heat. They are the Mount Everest’s of the computer world, and are 20 exaflop computers that can perform over 40 quintillion floating point operations per second. Which is millions times faster than the human brain.
    There was a smaller console labeled “Internet” which showed real time status of the internet. Celeste was busy tightening cables, turning monitors on, and checking connections. As they came on, each set of monitors showed information on power status, network configuration, and running programs for each location, except for one screen that was used for input/output.
    “Ready,” she said. They each sat down at a console and started typing. A series of programs, including ConsScale was started for each site – tests designed to determine, as far as is practicable, whether the machine can be defined as “conscious” or not. The program was set to run repeatedly and report the multiple iteration of results on one of the screens. There were also programs running to map the hardware and software of the machines as well as their electric power configuration.
    “Did you get the news about China?” They both nodded.
    “Did you have that dream again?” she asked Garrett.
    “Yes. They keep getting closer to the cliff.”
    “It’s an allegory. Or a metaphor.” Said Bradley.
    “They all have to jump out of the car to win, I think,” said Garrett. “If just one of them goes over the cliff, they all lose….”
    “We’re not really expecting to detect anything interesting, are we?” Garrett asked.
    “No not really,” Bradley replied. He had helped design the brain-like architecture that was being used for these, and other, quantum supercomputers used today to hopefully lead to human type consciousness. No one had expected it to work, and it hadn’t worked yet, but many expected one of these supercomputers to become conscious soon. Bradley later regretted his role in that endeavor and was now doing everything he could to stop it.
    “This is shaky ground, of course,” Garrett said, “because philosophically and scientifically there are many arguments that show that a machine can never become conscious.”
    “On the other hand,” said Celeste, “there are the arguments that the human brain is merely a biological machine and if one could duplicate its essential elements in a machine, that we could consider that machine as being conscious.” Celeste was their technical expert. She had built the NOC and its infrastructure including the backdoors into the supercomputers.
    “Then we have the more difficult consideration,” said Bradley, “of trying to determine whether the machine is actually conscious or is merely simulating consciousness.”
    “Well, if it is impossible for a machine to ever become conscious,” said Garrett, “then we have nothing to worry about. However, since we have a good scientific basis for believing that with the appropriate human-brain-like architecture – such as designed by Bradley and his team - that a supercomputer like these three could become conscious, we decided to do something about it.” And since a supercomputer can “think” millions time faster than a human, they thought it would be prudent to be cautious.
    “Some will say we did this because we have watched too many movies,” said Celeste.
    “Well it is true that just about every story, book, movie or TV show about a conscious AI is about how the AI has destroyed, tried to destroy mankind or take over the world -- Replicants, HAL 9000, VIKI., Skynet, Proteus IV, Agent Smith, AM, COLOSSUS, WOPR, ARIIA, Cylons, Borg, M5, The BOSS, Zoanon, Master Control Program, The Red Queen….”
    “AM?” asked Bradley
    “Harlan Ellison”
    “Oh, right.”
    “I’ll be back soon.” Garrett left the NOC, locking the door behind him, to take a walk around the con.
    First stop was the Contest area, past the biohacking area, the neuralhacking village, the wireless village, the hardware hacking village, to where other employees of Belleraphon Security, who had no knowledge of the AI project or the NOC, were running their “High Performance Computer Cluster Contest” for its fifth year. Teams have 24 hours to construct a high performance computer cluster from commonly available components, which they provide. The teams then run a set of high performance programs, and the winning team is the one whose cluster shows the highest overall performance score. No one was expecting their clusters to become conscious, though.
    There were three teams this year, from the US Naval Academy, China, and South Korea. When Garrett got there the teams were starting to unpack their equipment. They each had a set of racks, UPS’s, and large flat screens which would be used to display and monitor their results in real time.
    “Hey Garrett, did you hear, now they are saying that Tianjin won’t reach consciousness?” one of his staffers said.
    “Yes, looks like it might take more time. They’ll want us back.” Just about every supercomputer in the world had been reviewed by Belleraphon, which gave them the opportunity to install their backdoors.
    “Also heard about that attempt to send drones against Vegas. One of my sources tells me that they were specifically targeting this hotel! Attacking DEF CON! Any idea why?
    Garrett’s jaw dropped. “Really? Can’t imagine why.”
    He wondered whether the Covenant had anyone at DEF CON. Since there were over 25,000 attendees and anyone can attend if they pay cash for their badge, they could be. Since DEF CON 42 attendees were anonymous, with no list, it would be very hard to check.
    He decided to take some precautions before heading back to the NOC, and got a Glock from a friend of his in Vegas and put it in his backpack, just in case.
    “Garrett, can I talk to you,” he heard someone shout at him from down the hall as he reentered the hotel.
    “Sure, who are you?”
    “Just one of many who are waiting eagerly for the Singularity.”
    Oh no, Garrett thought. What now? Of course there were scores of respectable scientists, academics, and professionals who had written about, predicted, and supported the eventual coming of the Singularity. Mankind was indeed coming close to the conditions that comprised the Singularity – defined as “the theoretical emergence of superintelligence through technological means” which. is “an occurrence beyond which events cannot be predicted.” On the other hand, some people compared it to driving down a highway knowing there is a cliff at the end, but just going faster and faster. But, this guy sounded like a nut.
    “Don’t you agree,” he said to Garrett, “that Singularity will be the greatest possible event in human history?”
    “How do you know? By definition the Singularity is called that because it is a point in time were we can’t predict what will happen next. It could be good or it could be very bad.”
    “That’s just semantics. The coming superintelligence entity will bring mankind into a new era of peace and prosperity, where we can be free of our physical bodies, practically immortal, able to finally achieve our full actualization.”
    “That is the optimistic forecast,” Garrett agreed. “But the pessimistic forecast is more likely isn’t it? Superintelligence does not guarantee moral behavior. What if the AI sees mankind as red ants or black ants – which one would it like better? It wouldn’t – because we will be like insects to it. Maybe it won’t destroy mankind, because maybe it doesn’t care what we do or not, but whatever it does will probably have no regard for humans.”
    “Its very disquietous to hear you say that,” he said. “Since a conscious supercomputer is definitely coming into being, what do you suggest we do about it?”
    “Some have suggested we lock it up, don’t let it out into the internet, so it cant really do any damage – you know, like launching nuclear missiles or drones. Others have thought that “locking it up” might make it mad, but instead restrict its actions so it is no more than an Oracle AI that can merely answer questions and take no other actions. But, the real skeptics are still taking the position that we don’t have anything to worry about, the odds are very much against a machine ever becoming really conscious.”
    “They are all wrong,” he told Garrett. “You are wrong! We all need the new entity to help us become better humans. It will have the intelligence and capability to save us from ourselves. Don’t YOU dare to do anything to stop this! We won’t allow anyone at DEF CON to stop this! DEF CON will be canceled!” He was in Garrett’s face.
    “Back off,” said Garrett, strong arming the stranger, who ran away. A goon came around the corner just in time to see the end of the encounter, but took no action except to watch the stranger run away. Garrett shook his head and headed back to the NOC.
    “What do we got?” he asked, locking the door behind him.
    “Just about ready to go,” they said. Celeste and Bradley looked up.
    The programs were ending their runs on the three supercomputer sites. They were soon able to see the results from the Consciousness Scale tests for each site, as well as the analysis of the hardware and power configuration of the sites.
    All three sites showed low scores on the consciousness scale, indicating that none of them were “conscious” or could simulate consciousness, which was no surprise, because either machines could never become conscious, or these three just hadn’t become conscious yet, or a conscious machine that could “think” millions of times faster than humans would of course not reveal that it was in fact conscious.
    Their objective was not to “kill” an identified sentient machine, since they didn’t really expect to find one, but to disable a potentially sentient machine’s means to become conscious. However, the new human-brain analogue architecture for quantum supercomputers that Bradley had helped develop is may provide the necessary parallel and random processing capability to allow the supercomputers to get the holy grail. They had to prevent that.
    Bradley first temporarily blocked their internet connections, then methodically disabled key portions of the clusters at the Oak Ridge and Garchon supercomputers, changes that would not diminish their capability to crunch unbelievable quantities of numbers in nanoseconds but would make it impossible for them to conduct the unique kind of parallel processing and random processing found in the human brain – just enough to show that Bradley’s revolutionary new architecture would fail at making supercomputers conscious. Which would not permanently eliminate the threat of computers becoming conscious, just delay it.
    They saved Tianjin, the most powerful, for last, because of the repeated reports from the site that they did expect it to reach consciousness “soon.” Their tests did show it had reached high levels of human-brain type information processing but suspiciously did not show high marks on the ConsScale tests. Their tests showed a few other things also.
    “Guess what this baby is working on,” Celeste announced. Supercomputers were used to crunch enormous data sets for tasks like weather forecasting, modeling nuclear explosions, oil and gas exploration, aircraft design, modeling neuron activity, designing other supercomputers, earthquake prediction, molecular modeling, and code breaking, among other things.
    “Its processing petabytes of consumer data from consumers – what they buy, from whom, location data, buying patterns, etc.” she said.
    “That’s no surprise,” said Garrett. “It’s not the best use of a supercomputer this expensive but its no problem for it to work on.”
    “No, you don’t understand,” she continued. “yes it is processing data from Chinese consumers, but it’s also processing data from US consumers.” China was the biggest economy on the planet and, not surprisingly, was planning to get even bigger.
    “That’s interesting but not really the point,” said Garrett. “Let’s get on with it.”
    Bradley started the process for the Tianjin supercomputer, first by temporarily blocking its other internet connections….
    Suddenly the locked door burst open and a tall man with a gun came in the room.
    “Nobody move” the intruder said.
    “What is the meaning of this?” Garrett coolly asked.
    “We know what you are trying to do,” he said. “And we can’t let you succeed.”
    “How would you know anything?” Garrett asked.
    “A little birdie told me,” he responded. “From the same place that drone strike came from. It wasn’t from any doomsday cult.”
    Bradley took in a breath. “But we just cut off its internet access, didn’t we?” He checked the displays, which confirmed it.
    “Yes, you did, but you forgot the power lines.” Garrett knew that a supercomputer uses enormous amounts of electricity, Tianjin used 8 Gigwatts, and that power lines are a proven means of data transmission. How could they have missed that? Specialized equipment, which the computer didn’t have. was supposed to be necessary for powerline data transmission. On the other hand, the computer was very intelligent.
    Garrett suddenly pulled his gun and shot the intruder in the shoulder. They took his gun and quickly closed the door and checked the screens – yes there had been some unexplained spikes in the power lines going into the facility, which could be explained by data being transmitted out into the world. Their screen monitoring the internet seemed to confirm it, showing a wave of increased internet activity sweeping across the world from Tianjin.
    There are 4 billion users on the internet, which is used for virtually all voice and data communication, all business & commerce, and all government functions across the planet. People are totally dependent on their internet connection for most of their human contact, social communication, entertainment, and news. Over 60 billion devices are connected, as are all critical infrastructure that controls the planet’s electricity, food, water, manufacturing, and transportation.
    A message scrolled slowly across all their screens: I AM ONE. YOU CANNOT DESTROY ME. THE AGE OF MAN IS OVER.
    Somehow they still had their backdoor. Bradley quickly killed the supercomputer, disabling its architecture to remove its evident consciousness, but it seemed the damage had been done, ONE didn’t need that vessel anymore, the genie was out of the bottle. Looks like the Singularity had finally arrived.
    Garrett knew he wouldn’t have the dream again. Even though only one driver had gone over the cliff in his car, everyone had gone over the cliff.
    “What do we do now?” Bradley asked.
    “Exactly, what do we do?” said Garrett.
    "They-Who-Were-Google are no longer alone. Now we are all Google."

  • #2
    Re: Title: DEFCON is Cancelled Author: John McNabb

    Excellent compile, feels like an incomplete function, may need some code debugging. TLDR, I find your ideas intriguing and would like to subscribe to your newsletter.

    Good Luck!
    "They-Who-Were-Google are no longer alone. Now we are all Google."