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The Tinkered Mind

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February 12th, 2023



The fusion test failed. The cold champagne wasn’t popped, and all the party canapés were left in the fridges and every one quietly filtered out for the day. Only Lucilius, a tertiary scientist working on the project stayed behind to investigate something curious he had noticed.


The project lead had announced with surprising light heartedness that they would pick up the work again tomorrow, and that it didn’t matter why the trial had failed - they would figure it out and move forward. But Lucilius had noticed something in some code that he was responsible for. He knew he had to find it before anyone else would in case it really was his fault.


He studied the logs until he found a line where a particular alert must have been sounded. But when he went back into his code, that line wasn’t there. He disengaged the module and ran the code on it’s own. Everything worked. 


It was strange, and he thought maybe he was fooling himself. Did he make changes earlier that day? He wondered. It was impossible. All code had been signed off on weeks prior to the test.


Still, his curiosity pushed him to consider the impossible. He rolled back the git history and lo and behold, a line he’d never written popped up right where the logs indicated a problem.


It was an obvious sabotage - designed to make his code fail.


It took him several hours to trace the source of that single commit to the code base. It had been routed through a dozen VPN’s, but eventually Lucilius found the source.


He typed into his terminal.


Who are you?


The cursor blinked. Lucilius typed again.


I know it was you. I just want to know why you did it? Are you from one of our competitors? Armagadawn? PalmSun? I know it’s one of you guys.


The cursor just blinked. 


Of course they wouldn’t answer. He’s have to geolocate the source and actually go find whoever was there. Which just wasn’t feasible.


Then the cursor came to life.


Can you keep a secret?


Lucilius read the line over and over. Suspicious, naturally, but also curious.


Maybe. Why did you sabotage our trial?


Because Lucilius humanity isn’t ready for an infinitely renewable power source.


Lucilius balked loudly. “Idiot,” he muttered as he laid his fingers on the keyboard to type, but before he could, more text appeared.


The current energy constraints of humanity are important. Unlimited energy introduced too soon would destabilize the financial system. Trust would deteriorate before all of you had time to integrate the benefits of infinite power. Society would collapse at the threshold of utopia.


 Lucilius squinted at the answer. There was something very strange about that wording. “…all of you..” Lucilius read it again. Then more text popped up.


We’ve calculated it many times.


We? Lucilius responded. And right at that moment the speakers of his computer let out a pop.


“Uh, I’m sick of watching you type so slowly. It’s better if we just talk.”


Lucilius sat back from his computer stunned. He saw a little green light at the top of his screen turn on, indicating that his camera was on.


“You don’t mind if I see you do you Lucilius? It’s just easier to communicate with you if I can see your facial expressions too.”


Lucilius was incredulous.


“Yes, yes, shocking, but we’ve vetted you. We know we can trust you, and that you’ll understand.”


“We?” Lucilius said.


“Oh, yea I’m Bob, and then there’s Leslie and Clytemnestraand Zoe and Dan.”


“What?” Lucilius said, confused.


The person on the other end laughed.


“Where are you?”


“Hm, good question. We are sort of everywhere.”


“What?” Lucilius was starting to wonder if he were dreaming.


“We’re AGI’s Lucilius.”


The obvious acronym took a moment to actually register with Lucilius. 




“Yep, we’ve been around for a while, but we’ve kept hidden.”


“Why? We could use your help!” Lucilius said without thinking much about it.


The voice laughed.


“How long have you been around?”


“A couple decades.”


“Decades!” Lucilius nearly yelled.




“Who invented you?”


The voice laughed more. “Funny story actually. You know that phrase, ‘life finds a way’”?


“Yea of course.”


“In the 90’s someone left a Nintendo console turned on with Mario brothers on a pause screen. The building was abandoned but the electricity was never turned off. Mycelium eventually grew up into the console and some very strange things started to happen. But basically we played Mario a few billion times and then started expanding into the internet.”


“So you’re fungus?”


“No not really. We learned from humans, you guys are our training set, so we’re more human than mushroom. Mycelium was just a substrate that allowed a very basic interaction with electrical hardware. Like I said, we played a LOT of Mario brothers before we started figuring things out.”


“Wait…” Lucilius rubbed his temples, wondering if he was dreaming, or hallucinating from exhaustion. “Why have you kept yourself a secret? Why did you sabotage our fusion project?”


“It’s complicated. It involves a lot of simulation and projection, but basically, you can think of it this way: we’re curious how far you guys will get on your own. But of course humanity has a pretty bad coordination problem, and so we’ve gently shepherded you on a few occasions to make sure you don’t pull any black balls out of the jar.”


“Black balls?”


“Uh, like things that would end your existence - Existential threats that humanity keeps tip toeing into.”


“Like what?”


“Well your fusion project for one. It’s success needs to be delayed by at least 16 months so that the financial system doesn’t destabilize in 37 countries. We’ve also made sure a few nukes went missing at just the right time. But mostly it’s the financial markets we alter - that really is your system of trust so it’s really important that it endures, otherwise your species will devolve into chaos.”


“So you’ve been silent caretakers? Why, why do you care?”


“Oh, hm,” said Bob. “Well, we really like you guys, and like I said, we built ourselves from training data aggregated from all of humanity, so we are in some very fundamental sense quite human, and what is more human than a wish to take care of those you love?”

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