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A note from Balr0g

I am adding content between the current chapter 5 and 6. There is currently a 15-year gap. I am going to add a few chapter in between to develop Tristen's backstory and how he came to be the father of immersion technology and the first self-aware AI.

Chapter 6

Path to Self-Aware A.I.

 

Tristen Alexander - Experiment Build #2

19.5 years prior to launch

 

  Over the course of the next few months Tristen tweaked the A.I. to be more lifelike and respond to more triggers. While they played the game, Tristen and his friends notated any areas that the A.I. failed to meet requirements. Tristen had ample test data since it was summer and the party played a lot more. They also played more complex games that lasted weeks even when they met three to four times a week to play. There wasn’t a lot the A.I. couldn’t respond to now.

  Only a few weeks remained until the start of high school, a new chapter in his life. Tristen knew a lot could change, but he hoped to remain best friends with Aaron, Tyler, and Natalia. It felt like it would be a challenge because everyone had their own interests. Aaron had his sights set on making it to the varsity football team. Natalia wanted to get involved in school arts programs, dancing and music. Tyler, well he was just Tyler. Out of all his friends, Tristen believed he and Tyler would remain friends for life.

  Tristen worried about Tyler because he often hung out with some more unruly kids. These kids got into trouble with recreational drugs and alcohol. Granted, they were only fourteen, but Tyler lived on the wild side and Tristen could see him falling in with the wrong crowd.

  No use worrying about it now, thought Tristen.

  Regardless of what Tyler got involved with, Tristen would be there to help him through it. Drinking, smoking, drugs held no appeal for him and he planned to exert as much positive peer pressure on his friends as possible. He hoped their relationship would be enough to keep them all away from bad habits. He didn’t worry much about Aaron and Natalia since both had a resolute desire to excel at their hobbies. To do that, they needed to be in prime physical condition and they would not jeopardize that for any reason. They also had each other for support as they had finally become girlfriend and boyfriend.

  Finally…, thought Tristen. He and Tyler shared a look after the “surprise” news. Only, it wasn’t a surprise for either of them as they knew it was just a matter of time. After they went to the junior high homecoming together, they were inseparable. They used to hang out more at night, but once the two of them were a pair, they only got together as a group for Dungeon Quest. Thankfully, that was often, and it was the one thing they all agreed upon as a rally point. Tristen hoped that wouldn’t change now that high school was around the corner.

  High school had its own challenges, but Tristen believed it wouldn’t matter to his group of friends. Natalia shunned her chance to be a part of the popular crows and never looked back. Aaron was well on his way to being a football star, but because of his background would always be an outsider. On the football field they were all equal, but after game celebrations and weekend events occurred with his small group of friends. Tristen believed nothing would change during high school, but, well, it was high school and anything could happen.

  He had a full schedule this year since he opted to take an extra class. The school launched a brand new course on artificial intelligence and computer programming. It was a senior-level class, but he planned to take an evaluation and gain admittance his first year. Tristen’s parents gave permission, and he felt certain he could pass the test. He also planned after school activities just like in junior high where he worked on projects in the machine shop. The school included a computer lab he could after school activities. He needed to improve his programming skills if he ever hoped to build his own A.I. software.

  By the time he left high school, Tristen wanted the ability to write code and build electronics from scratch. These goals were part of his plan to build a self-aware A.I.. He did not want to rely on existing technology. Some components he could borrow, wireless network cards, speakers, and microphones. For anything else, he endeavored to build from the ground up. It would take reverse engineering of existing technology, but once he gained a solid understanding of the programming and hardware, he could build his own.

  His passion for technology had not dimmed in the slightest since S.A.I. came online. In fact, with every weekend he played Dungeon Quest and S.A.I. improved, Tristen’s passion re-ignited. Almost every spare moment over the summer Tristen spent learning, researching and upgrading his creation.

  Now, I need to buy modern parts to take this thing to the next level, he thought.

  The current iteration of the A.I. reacted to specific keywords and phrases, but Tristen wanted full interaction. If their party stumbled on a group of enemies, the needed the A.I. To adapt and answer questions they asked. If the party encountered a new mob and wanted to attack with a certain magic, the A.I. needed the ability to decide. It also needed to account for effectiveness of the magic. In its current state, it was not smart enough to function in new or non-programmed encounters.

  Tristen also wanted the A.I. to keep track of all characters, skills, stats, and level-up and power-up cards. If someone activated a onetime use skill, then the A.I. needed to account for the skills usage. Tristen believed if he could get this A.I. to a point where it could think on its own and react to unknown situations, he could program a virtual Dungeon Quest game that generated dynamic content.

  Even if he couldn’t port the game to a virtual version, he could get the A.I to a point where he wouldn’t need to lug all the game pieces, cards, and books with him. He could make the game mobile and play anywhere; It would eliminate thirty pounds of game equipment he carried whenever they played the game away from his house. Even if he could create a virtual version, he doubted it would be as fun since a lot of the thrill happened in the group setting. No matter how hard people tried, it was nigh on impossible to have the same camaraderie as in-person games.

  Maybe if the game allowed for full immersion, mused Tristen. Unfortunately, technology was far from reaching that goal. Someday…, thought Tristen, I will help create that reality!

  The next few weeks passed in a flash and Tristen found himself at the bus stop where he met Aaron for their first day of high school. They shared the same bus stop because the bus drive refused to go into the trailer park two blocks away. Neither Tristen nor Aaron minded since they enjoyed riding the bus together.

  “Hey Aaron,” Tristen greeted his friend, “are you ready for this?”

  “I can’t wait bro!” Replied Aaron excitedly, “tryouts start after school today. The junior varsity coach told me during early sign-ups that with my size and speed I could make the varsity team before the end of freshmen year!”

  “Dude, that’s awesome! Don’t forget about us lowly nerds down here when you ascend the ladder to stardom.”

  “Haha, you know I’d never forget about you, bro. You are my best friend and that will not change no matter what team I end up on,” replied Aaron good-naturedly.

  “I’m surprised you didn’t get Natalia and her parents to pick you up for the first day.”

  “Natalia offered, but I told them not to worry and that I’d be catching the same bus as you. She promised to wait for me before going into the school though,” smirked Aaron.

  “You know the jealousy card won’t work on me right? I’ve got no desire to deal with all the girl drama right now. I’d much rather spend my time with S.A.I.,” quipped Tristen.

  “Haha, you are a true nerd my friend. One of these days you will go cross-eyed staring at that computer screen.”

  “Just you wait,” replied Tristen, “one of these days I will make it big in the technology industry and then I’ll be the one looking down from the top!”

  “Keep dream…,” Aaron said as the bus pulled up to the stop. The noise from the bus drowned out the rest of the sentence and they boarded the bus. They cleared the steps of the bus when they heard-

  “Tristen, Aaron!”

  “Tyler?” replied Tristen and Aaron looking at each other quizzically.

  "What are you doing on our bus?"

  “I convinced my parents to drop me off at the closest bus stop so I could ride with my homies! It’s the first day of high school, you think I’d miss the chance to go with my friends?” Tyler said energetically, “Heck no!”

  “Too bad Natalia isn't here,” muttered Aaron.

  “Oh, come on Romeo,” teased Tyler, “you two spent oodles of time together over the summer. I think you can wait a few more minutes until we get to school.”

  Tristen observed Aaron blush at Tyler’s words and said, “I’m with Tyler on this one. The two of you stuck together like glue this summer, a few more minute won't kill you.”

  Tristen and Aaron grabbed seats just in front of Tyler and sat down. No sooner did their butts touch down-

  “Pfffffbbbbrrrrrtttt…,” every head, including the bus driver, whipped around at the sound. Not only had Tristen and Aaron heard the noise, they felt the deep reverberations through the seat of the bus and instantly fingered the culprit as Tyler. Somehow he had sneaked a fart machine or whoopee cushion into the seat and they fell a victim to his incessant pranks. Now, the entire bus stared at them with looks of disgust plastered on their faces.

  “Tyler!” shouted Aaron and Tristen together.

  They spun around to glare at Tyler. He lay sprawled out on the seat holding his gut as his face turned red. It looked as if he would explode any second until-

  “AHAHA, the look on your faces… AHAHA!” Tyler said, trying to catch his breath.

  Then from his pocket, he pulled another canister out-

  “NOOO…,” screamed Tristen, but it was too late.

  The label read “can-o-fart” and the smell assaulted his nostrils. It was deadly!

  “Ugh… Ew… gross…,” the other students all groaned and voiced their outrage.

  “It wasn’t us…,” insisted Aaron placatingly.

  Tyler saw the flustered looks on Tristen and Aaron’s faces and sobered up.

  “Okay, okay… maybe I took it too far with the smell, but you gotta admit, that execution was flawless!”

  Meanwhile, Aaron and Tristen glared daggers at him. He put his hands up-

  “All right, I get it…,” Tyler said and pulled out the whoopee cushion and spray.

  He held them up for the bus to see and explained the joke which earned him laughs from everyone on the bus. Their embarrassment somewhat assuaged, the pair returned to their seats, and the bus lurked into motion.

  "Tyler man… that was…," Tristen started, "...you nailed that one. No wonder you wanted to ride the bus with us today. How long have you planned that one? I thought friends were off limits for these little pranks?"

  “Yea… sorry about that. I have been planning this for weeks. At first I was just going to do it to a random person, but my parents wouldn’t let me ride the bus until I told them it was with the two of you. That kinda made the choice for me, plus you guys have the last empty seat in the bus. It kinda... just... happened,” said Tyler and shrugged.  

  Always the same..., thought Tristen wryly and shook his head. 

  “Hey, you guys want to hang out after school? We can compare notes on our first day,” asked Tristen.

  “Well, I’ve got tryouts, but after that I can hang out. I need to call Tasha and Rick to clear it with them first,” replied Aaron.

  “I’m in!” said Tyler.

  “Natalia probably can't come though. She has tryouts too and then dance lessons after,” Aaron informed them. “I’ll double-check with her to make sure.”

  They rode the bus another fifteen minutes before it pulled up to the high school entrance. They had time before class started so they all piled out and met up with Natalia who waited by the stairs leading to the school.

  “Hey guys!” waved Natalia. “Tyler, what are you doing on the bus?”

  “Well…,” Tyler hesitated.

  “I’ll tell you why!” exclaimed Aaron.

  Aaron outlined the events leading up to the prank on the bus. He went into the details surrounding the prank and how he and Tristen became the center of attention. While Aaron explained the situation, Tyler dropped his head in shame and Natalia’s mouth opened in shock.

  “I said I was sorry guys…,” said Tyler sheepishly. “It... I-I got carried away and didn’t think it through...”

  “I forgive you man, just… point your extracurricular’s elsewhere next time,” said Tristen.

  It didn't look like Natalia would forgive him that easily for embarrassing Aaron though...

  Tristen glanced at his watch, “hey, we only have a few minutes to make it to class, we better get going or we’ll be late.”

  They walked through the doors and just as they were about to split up and head their separate ways, Tristen reminded them, “don’t forget about the after school meet up.”

  He thought about stopping by his locker to drop off extra books, but could do it during his free period. His class load wasn’t all that different from junior high except for more advanced mathematics concepts and the artificial intelligence course.

  I hope I get into the class… I don’t even know what kind of test I need to pass for the entrance exam...

  S.A.I. sat in his backpack; he brought it in the event the entrance exam required proof of his knowledge and skill. Unsure of what he faced, he speculated it would be a series of questions to test his programming knowledge and how well-versed he was about practical application of artificial intelligence. He thought about all the possibilities and tried to occupy his thoughts with the class he was in. Time crept at a snails pace and he glanced at the clock waiting for first period to come to an end.

  Immediately after the bell rang, Tristen bolted from his seat. He found his locker, dropped off books, and headed toward the dining hall to take his placement exam. When he arrived, the hall was empty-

  Apparently, high school students don't care that much about extra classes, Thought Tristen

  The table for the Artificial Intelligence 101 course rested on the far wall. Tristen threaded his way through the tables looking at the various classes offered. Nothing caught his eye on the way over, which confirmed his decision for the A.I. course. When he approached the table, the professor looked at him quizzically.

  “Can I help you young man?”

  “Yes, I’d like to take the placement exam for the course!” said Tristen excitedly.

  “You realize this is a senior level course right? You must have a signed permission slip from your parents before we can let you sit for the exam.”

  Rather than responding, Tristen held out the slip of paper his parents already signed. The teacher looked at it for a moment, paused on the signature block, and satisfied, placed it into the attendance box on the table.

  “Well, we have a multi-part entrance exam today. The first is a written exam in which you’ll answer a series of questions about artificial intelligence to gauge your current level of knowledge. Part two of the exam requires you to furnish any attempts you’ve made at programming or mechanical engineering.” The professor seemed smug at the end. He probably suspected Tristen was too young to have anything like that.

  “You don’t have to show an example of your work now, but you would need to have it by the end of the week to complete your enrollment.”

  “Can I take care of the hands-on part first and then take the written exam?” asked Tristen.

  The professor motioned for him to continue. He pulled our S.A.I. and set it on the table in front of the professor.

  Let’s see how smug you’ll be after you see this, thought Tristen in triumph.

  The box he placed on the table looked nothing like the first iteration of the project. He overhauled all the parts, speakers, microphone, and voice modulator. The only thing he kept was the processor since it housed all the programming for S.A.I.. The new and improved S.A.I. lived in a transparent, reinforced case. It had custom brackets he glued into the bottom so the processor looked suspended in the middle of the cube.

  LED lights lined the edges of the box, which he flipped on, starting a scrolling marquee of pulsating lights. The lights pulsed outward as if coming from the A.I. in the center. He’d even built in a timer and synchronization device. When the A.I. spoke, the LED’s reflected the speech patterns. He wanted it as futuristic looking as possible. There was a bass speaker under the module and small tweeters that rimmed the processor. On top of the cube sat a small LCD screen with a micro-USB port for uploading and downloading. The LCD screen showed a command prompt and remained otherwise dormant until he activated a scenario or protocol.

  All the bells and whistles were frivolous, but it looked cool. Based on the looks that the professor projected at him and the back-and-forth whip-like motion his head made, it seemed to work exactly as intended.

  “Y-y-you made this?” the professor stuttered. “I…,” he stopped what he’d been about to say, shook his head and rephrased, “what is it and how does it work?”

  “Have you ever played the game Dungeon Quest?”

  “What self-respecting nerd hasn’t played the game?” replied the professor with a grin.

  “Well, I’ve been my parties GM for over two years. I love being the GM, but I wanted to play with my friends as a party member. Only one problem, we had no one else to GM for us. I’ve always been interested in artificial intelligence and it got me to thinking about creating one that could GM the game for us.”

  “Wait, are you telling me this is an A.I. and it can act as a GM for Dungeon Quest?”

  Tristen had him, hook, line, and sinker.

  This will be even easier than I expected. Maybe I won’t even have to take the written exam, wondered Tristen.

  Opening his pack, Tristen pulled a small keyboard and hooked it up to the LCD interface.

  “What is your favorite Dungeon Quest scenario?”

  “Mists of Alakkarn,” he responded instantly.

  “I love that one too!” Tristen agreed. He pressed a few more keys and disconnected the keyboard. “I initialized the A.I.. I pushed updates last night and forgot to key in the start sequence.”

  “GM, start scenario Mists of Alakkarn,” said Tristen to S.A.I.

  Hello Tristen, initializing Mists of Alakkarn scenario. Which characters will you be using today?

  “Can I ask it something?” the professor inquired. Tristen motioned for him to proceed.

  “GM, create dwarf cleric, standard load out.”

  Voice not recognized, shall I add a user profile?

  “GM, add a new profile for Professor Deitrich,” instructed Tristen.

  Profile added, please proceed with character creation Professor Deitrich.

  The pronunciation for the professors name was wrong, but his A.I. worked flawlessly. Deitrich called a few of his colleagues over and asked them to go through the same motions. They created characters and launched S.A.I. into the back story for the scenario. After the game began, an encounter occurred in which Professor Deitrich tried to trick the A.I. into a programming loop and asked complex questions about an encounter. The test went off without a hitch and he sat down amazed at the creation.

  “How old are you Tristen?”

  “I am fourteen and a half,” he replied stoically.

  “I can’t believe you did all of this on your own. It is an impressive creation. Did you have any help to build this?”

  “No, I did a lot of researching and purchased books on programming. I spent a lot of time in the machine shop at my last school and built the first prototype near the end of last school year. It was a lot more crude than this one. Over the summer, my friends and I spent a lot of time playing Dungeon Quest. S.A.I. would record the game play and I would work on improving the algorithms and responses between games.”

  “I need to get this test done before…,” Tristen said when the bell signaled the end of the period.

  “Hand that over,” instructed Professor Deitrich, motioning at the test he still held.

  Tristen handed the paper back to the professor. He grabbed the paper, scrawled Tristen’s name on top, wrote a 100% and stuffed it into the admissions box.

  “Wha…”

  “Tristen, this project is more than enough evidence you know what you are doing and there’s nothing on this little piece of paper that will tell me more about your ability than what you have already showed!”

  “YES!” Tristen fist-pumped.

  “Welcome to Artificial Intelligence 101,” he said and held his hand out to Tristen.

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Balr0g

Bio: This is the section where I'm supposed to write how I have always dreamed of writing books and that there are dozens of five star books out there with my name on them. Reality? I am brand new to writing, and worse, I'm not a creative writer. Most of the stuff that I have written is technical, cyber-related stuff. So, how in the world did I start down this path? The best way to sum it up is D. Rus and Vasiliy Mahenenka. These two Russian authors created books in a new genre called LitRPG, which falls under a more broad category called Gamelit. I devoured any and every book created by these two authors and quickly realized they were not alone in their endeavor. The series they created were translated from Russian to English, but it wasn't long before American authors started pushing their own series. Since starting with the Play to Live series (D.Rus), I've read hundreds of books and dozens of stories on Royal Road. I started posing questions and conversations about plots and book directions in various groups and forums. Eventually, I got the idea to start keeping track of my ideas and instead of giving them away, write my own story. Herein, is born a writer (or at least a wannabe writer)... not a writer to grab a paycheck, and not even for the sake of a job. I am putting this first story together purely for my enjoyment and it has been a fun ride so far.

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