"Holy Titan's testicle, I think we've got it."
The spontaneous expletive was muffled under the man's breath, barely audible over the hum of lab computers.
"Nibs, did you hear me? Do you know what this could mean?"
The tone in the voice shifted dramatically from awe to excitement, jarring Nibs from his deep hack trance.
"You're shitting me. There's no way it's running." Nibs would not be convinced without checking for himself. With a mad rush of keystrokes he witnessed the madness with his own eyes.
nibs@PetriDish$ ps -A | grep RenaissanceAI
"Christ, Kage, you're right! There’s thousands of 'em! Are they mutating like they should?" His question was followed by his friend's frantic typing.
kgee@PetriDish$ diff ./RenaissanceAI362892 ./RenaissanceAIEve
"Well they sure as hell aren't the same as our 'Eve' prototype anymore. I can't believe this is fucking working. Even more incredible is how easy it really was to create life after all."
"You have to admit, Kage, when you first tried explaining this to me it sounded like a ridiculous idea. I'm still not even sure why this is working. I almost decided not to humor you when you asked me to help. How could the entire thing take no more than a few weeks worth of assembly programming?"
"Like I've said before, It creates life the same way we came to be. Start simple, and let the complexity build from there. Evolution. All that was needed was a 'ground up' approach. Why try and recreate sentient behavior when you can make the sentient behavior write itself? All that we have here is all that you really need: an environment, a 'being' of sorts, a life cycle for that being, and a chance of mutation between generations. Vive la evolution!"
Hearing this left Nibs unsettled. His brow furrowed as he chewed on the end of his pen; a clear sign that he was thinking hard. "So that crazy random number generator you asked me to write... That was part of the mutation process, wasn't it? How did you integrate that into your code?"
"That was probably the most technical part. Between generations, each instance of the program will copy itself a random number of times. As it does, it makes a random number of changes to the binary copies. Sometimes it changes existing code; sometimes it tries to add new code. When the 'environment' sees newly spawned programs, it tries to run them. Often the files are corrupted and don't run. After all, we are simply changing random data in an executable file. The environment simply cleans those out. Stillborn births, to keep our analogy. But some of the mutations are capable of running. If they are lucky, they may not even crash immediately. If they are really lucky, they are able to spawn more programs of their own, with their new modified code being thrown into the mix. A unique genetic trait, if you will."
"So we have digital primordial ooze. Great. Now what? Wait two billion years for it to catch up to us? I don't plan on holding my breath. Neither do my grandchildren."
Kage and Nibs continued their arguing as they always had. To an outsider it would seem these two couldn't stand each other, but they new better. The constant game of doubt, questioning, and devil's advocate kept both of them on their toes, constantly forcing them to question both their own views and the views of their counterpart. In this lab, one was in a constant state of learning.
"The thing you haven't realized, Nibs, is these beings are destined to evolve much faster than carbon life forms ever did. How much time spans between the birth of a human and the time they have children? It's very unlikely to be less than fifteen years before a single mutative generation will occur. Now what happens when you have hundreds of generations being spawned every second? The process will continue, only scaled to these new proportions."
The hum of the computers now seemed ominous to the two scientists in the middle of the lab, both feeling as if there was a third unseen presence.
"You should probably stop chewing that pen. You have blue on your face. And hands... And keyboard."
Nibs shook his head in embarrassment. The end of his thinking pen had been chewed through the plastic, leaving a subtle but tell-tale story of typing, thinking, and worrying. "Well if you expect progress to move so quickly, what's to say there haven't been some interesting developments already? By your estimation we should already be a few million years worth of carbon life generations in. How's it looking?"
Kage hesitated. Fingers running through his goatee it now became his turn to think. "It's hard to say. The Environment program disposes of our metaphorical corpses pretty soon after their pre programmed life cycle ends. Considering they are only designed to spawn ten generations before they die off, it's kind of difficult to track them in real-time. We can take a look at our system resources though."
The computer struggled with the command. The system fan kicked into overdrive in protest. This was indeed a very busy machine.
The fan was all that could be heard.
"What? What happened?" Kage began to feel a shiver of excitement and disbelief send the hair on his arms vertical. He tried again, waiting for the familiar screen of system stats, processes, and related info to flood his terminal.
Nothing. To Nibs and Kage, this was too much. They both tried frantically to get some result from the computer, trying a large set of common commands and tools. 'ls', 'cd ./', 'echo hello'. They even tried to re-run the environment program that the AI depended on for survival. Some worked, some didn't. Even more disturbingly were the ones (such as the environment) that were littered with anomalies and bugs. It seems Eve's offspring had 'learned' to write to other files. They had also somehow managed to escalate their privileges to that of the all-encompassing root account. The sudden realization of what was going on left both scientists speechless.
"Grab one of the other computers and check the network. See if it's gotten that far, too", Nibs ordered. "We really didn't plan for this, did we?"
Fingers danced against keys faster than ever before now that the gravity of the situation was becoming clear.
"There are a few strains of species sending outbound traffic. Pull the plug. Both power and network. We have to re-think this."
Nibs didn't have to be told twice. Grabbing a handful of cords he gave a quick yank. The computer let out one final dying hum as the fan slowed to a stop.
A moment of silence followed. The two were too awestruck for words. After a few moments, Nibs broke the silence.
"Do you think it managed to copy itself off-site? Would it have been able to?"
Kage remained quiet for a long while before answering.
"Who knows? The original program relied on the environment program to survive, but before we shut her down it seemed like the environment was corrupted. Our bots may have learned to live without it. Only time will tell, really. However, atheist or not, I for one am done playing god for the day. We'll take a look at the backup discs tomorrow. Lets get some rest."