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A note from Balr0g

This is the last of the chapters I'm adding to fill in the time gap between high school and his endeavor to create immersive VR. You'll also note that I've adjusted the timeline. Thank you to those that have commented and given feedback. 

Apologies on the delay. I had a lot of trouble deciding where I wanted to go with the story, but will start updating chapters and adding new content in the coming days.

Chapter 7

What is an A.I.?

 

Tristen Alexander - Experiment Build #39

11.5 years prior to launch

 

“One lesson I’ve learned throughout the last fours year is that nothing is certain and everything is possible.” Confused faces looked up at Tristen as he stood on the podium, a valedictorian and an honor graduate from Mallard Institute of Technology. “The world is constantly in flux and anything is achievable if you open your mind to the impossible.”

Tristen grinned and looked to his friends sitting halfway down the left side of the school gym. They graduated the previous week from Hargrad University. Tyler graduated with a Bachelor’s in Psychology, Aaron concentrated in Human Biology, and Natalia majored in Dance, Theatre, and Media. Tristen had his choice of colleges to attend, but always wanted to make it to MIT where he could pursue his love of artificial intelligence with the best minds of his generation.

Tristen continued his speech and moved over to a large sheet draped over his latest experiment. This experiment was a copy of S.A.I. that he re-engineered. This build, something like number 39, could do just about any task he asked of it. Today marked the first unveiling to the public. He had plans to break out its functionality into smaller A.I. modules and market them upon graduation from school, but he wanted this reveal to showcase his work in high school and throughout college.

“How many of you have a smartphone?” Nearly every person raised their hand. “How many of you have a smart watch?” About half of the people in attendance raised their hands. “How many of you have a smart home or automation?” Roughly forty percent of the audience raised their hands.

“Home automation, smart cars, smart watches, smartphones… They are all expensive, there are many brands, and none of them work together to make your life easier.” Tristen assessed the crowd and realized he had their attention.

“Imagine a smart-anything costing less than a toaster? Better yet, what if your toaster was smart? What if it learned exactly how long you wanted that toast to cook and it came out a perfect golden brown every time? What if your refrigerator could tell you when the milk was low, or you used the last stick of butter?”

I think I’ve given them enough of a hook…

“I give you the worlds first modular A.I.!” The A.I. appeared to hover in a glass case and pulse outward. Most of the design was to shock and awe and purely cosmetic. Tristen used one of those static balls found at prank stores to create special effects as if the thing was alive. He reverse-engineered the design and built his own to adapt to his A.I. The lines of electricity cascaded through the box. He’d also included a projector, cameras, and upgraded speakers.

The projector could display semi-transparent images across the surface of the box and right now it displayed a person. It was a non-gender person since the A.I. was just a machine and had no personality. He wanted something flexible that allowed him to switch from male to female voices on a whim.

The cameras in the box discretely recorded everything into a petabyte storage in the heart of the machine. It cataloged audio, video, and used speech and facial recognition. The moment Tristen removed the covering, it scanned the entire crowed, comparing them with the student database he’d loaded ahead of time. It also had instructions to peruse each persons social media profiles and catalogue family that may be in attendance. This was all part of Tristen’s plan to shock the crowd with his debut into A.I. production.

“The A.I. you see before you can do just about anything you ask of it. Nearly any technology with an Application Programming Interface, or API, works with the A.I.. It can use the API to control it like a native application.

To show its ability to control devices, Tristen prepared several household items, all the lights on the stage were smart LED’s, and he’d set up a Wifi network for the A.I. to tap into.

“Please dim the lights to 50% and change their color to blue.” The lights dimmed, and the color changed eliciting a short round of applause from the audience. Tristen also showed how the technology worked with all the other electronics he’d brought on stage.

He’d sufficiently worked the crowd into excitement and he could see that everyone enjoyed the display. Time to shock and awe…

For this next phase, Tristen planned to use his friends as guinea pigs, but would expand to others from there. Tristen turned to the A.I. and said, “Find Aaron Johnson.” The image on the screen changed and showed Aaron sitting a few rows back, behind the graduating students.

Aaron Johnson. Graduated Harvard University. Star running back. Scouted by three professional football teams. Close friends Tyler, Tristen, and Natalia. Romantic interest, Natalia.

“All right, that’s enough.” Tristen instructed the A.I. before things got embarrassing. As each phrase sounded from the A.I., the display changed to first show a picture of Aaron’s college ID, then his picture from the football team, followed by comments from scouts on Squawker, and lastly his friends and Natalia from FaceSpace, a social media platform.

Tristen asked the A.I. To find Tyler next and again various phrases revealed Tyler’s prankster nature, school, hobbies, and friends. He wrapped up the demonstration by taking a few requests from the graduating class that revealed the same information as with his friends.

Nearing the end of his demonstration, Tristen noted several middle-aged men grab their phones and quickly leave the room, presumably to conduct business. He furrowed his brow in thought and wondered if they worked for anyone that’d be interested in his technology. He had a lot of plans and wanted to land his first deal for the technology as soon as possible.

Pushing these thoughts aside, Tristen wrapped up his speech and wished his class good luck and god speed in their next chapter of life. As soon as he finished speaking, the class erupted in cheers and threw their caps into the air. Tristen watched with a large grin on his face and moved from the stage to greet his friends.

“We did it guys!” Tyler excitedly pumped his fist into the air and his cheesy grin nearly split his face in two.

“Honestly, I’m surprised you made it this far…,” Aaron teased and bumped Tyler playfully.

Not dissuaded Tyler said, “Let’s celebrate! I know this great pizza joint…”

At the words celebrate and pizza, he’d won over the hearts of his friends. It’d been a tradition ever since grade school to celebrate important events and milestones with pizza.

“Don’t forget the after-party at my place tonight. I think we’ve got time before that happens though. Let me check with my parents and make sure they have no plans until then.” Tristen hurried to find his parents where he received accolades and a hug from his mom.

“Your speech was wonderful.” She cried and tears of joy and sadness leaked down his mother’s face. “I’m so proud of you!” Tristen loved his parents so much. They always supported him with his hobbies and education.

“You did great.” His dad thumped him on the back and gave him a big man hug. A hug that’s not supposed to be awkward as you make overly dramatic movements and try to pat any contents of the others stomach back up through their esophagus. Tristen smiled inwardly as he knew his dad loved him, but was much less showy with his emotions.

The awkward hug finished, Tristen asked, “Do you have any plans before the party tonight? My friends want to go grab food at a local pizza joint. You’re welcome to come...”

“No, that’s fine honey. We need to get home and get the house ready for tonight. You go have fun with your friends and we’ll see you tonight.” His mom gave him another quick hug as they turned around and left the area.

Returning to his friends, Tristen told them he was game for pizza, but he needed to change out of the ridiculous dress and collect his A.I.

When he reached the platform, he found the same businessmen he’d seen leave the room waiting for him. They looked antsy as they examined the A.I..

“Can I help you?”

All three men turned at once and jockeyed for position. Tristen held up his hands, unable to hear a word they spoke. As he did, the man in the middle stepped forward and held out his business card. This shut the other two up as they scrambled to pull their own cards out. While they searched for the cards, the man showed the company he worked for on the card and said they’d be interested to see the technology in greater detail.

The other two men said they same thing, but Tristen informed them he hadn’t decided how he wanted to go to market with his invention yet. He pocketed the cards and told them he’d reach out when he was ready. Quickly grabbing the A.I. and gadgets he’d used, he stuffed them into a box and made his way into the hall.

Glancing behind him, Tristen saw calculating looks on their faces and new he’d stirred the pot, hopefully not too soon…

Tristen secured all of his belongings in his car and drove around to pick up his friends. They’d all ridden together since Aaron didn’t have a car and Tyler and Natalia already drove theirs back home after they graduated.

Piling into the car, Tyler gave Tristen instructions to the pizza place. It wasn’t needed, but Tyler had his mind fixated on pizza and made sure Tristen knew where to go.

Settling into a booth, they ordered a pizza and drinks before Natalia asked, “So, what are your plans for the A.I.? I saw you talking to some guys up on stage there...”

Tristen fished out the business cards, which he’d barely glanced at before. He laid them on the table for his friends to see and Tyler whistled through his teeth. One card showed the man was an executive for one of the five major IT companies. The other two cards displayed upper management for two additional IT companies.

“Wow, these are heavy hitters.” Tristen looked up at Aaron's words with a sheepish look on his face.

“Yea, the only problem is I’m not ready to sell any of my technology to them. I wanted to start small and build my brand first. If I sold now, they’d expect me to sign over exclusivity to them and I’m left with nothing.”

“You’d leave with a boatload of cash,” quipped Tyler.

“If I was in it for the cash, I’d have sold the technology after high school since it was already better than anything in the market. No, I want to create the next generation of computing and revolutionize how we interact with the digital world. To do that, I need to maintain control of my work and continue to build upon it.”

The pizza arrived as Tristen finished speaking and everyone grabbed slices. The table was silent for a time as everyone digested Tristen’s words, and the pizza.

“So how are you going to introduce the technology into the world?” Natalia was the first to finish, stopping at just one slice of pizza.

Tristen held up a finger as he stuffed the rest of his food into his gullet before answering. "I found this startup in the area I can work with. They are creating a new camera and I think my technology would integrate nicely to make it a smart camera. It’s not like your cell phone, it’s a high-end, professional model camera that has a shutter on it. It’s still digital, but there’s not much in the way of features built in from what I’ve seen online. I’ve been working on splitting my A.I. into a scaled down version that would be cheap to manufacture."

Tristen took a bite of pizza, and then continued his monologue, "The company talked about releasing a Software Development Kit, or SDK, with the camera so that people can create apps on the camera. These apps would do things like switch a bunch of settings and change camera mode in a split second instead of needing to adjust fifteen different things for a single shot. We’ve already got similar technology on cell phones and they are trying to bring it to a new market segment."

“Where’s this new company located?” Tyler asked around a mouthful of pizza. Tristen marveled at his ability to eat. He was a beanpole, but he’d already started in on his fourth piece and didn’t look like he’d slowed his pace once.

Shaking his head, Tristen responded, “They are local. I’ll keep working out of my apartment in the area. You guys know I incorporated my company two years ago, and so far I’ve only sunk money into it. It’s time for that to change. I’ll start small and get Sai Enterprises some capital and notoriety with this first wave of products, and then I’ll use it as a springboard for bigger deals. I’m hoping that the giant tech companies will see the success and know what my creation can do. Then, I can dictate terms and hopefully maintain the Sai Enterprises brand.”

“So, um… you looking for a roommate?” Tyler looked at him expectantly.

“I wasn’t, but I’m open to it, if you’re looking to stay in the area.”

“Heck yea!”

“We might need to look at other places if you want to share an apartment. My loft only has one bedroom and I use the rest of the space for my experiments.”

“I’ve got a couple weeks on my current lease, anyway. We can go apartment hunting over the next week!” Tyler always rambled and his voice rose an octave when he got excited about something. You’d think he hadn’t gone through puberty yet, but Tristen and his friends just chuckled at him.

The mood around the table sobered after Tyler’s outburst and both Natalia and Aaron looked away. Tristen furrowed his brow, looking between the two of them. Something was off about them. They normally couldn’t keep their hands to themselves.

“Natalia? Aaron? What’s up?” Natalia dropped her head as Aaron looked up to meet Tristen’s gaze. His eyes held sadness, but Tristen didn’t know why. They’d just graduated from college. It should be a time of celebration… “Oh…”

Things clicked into place for Tristen and he knew why they looked sad.

“Why do you look like a rat crapped in your food? Dude, you got an offer to play for the San Francisco Hornets! This is your dream, what you’ve worked toward for the last nine years!” Tyler hadn’t caught on to the situation and just assumed that where Aaron went, Natalia would follow.

“Natalia, you got an offer?” She looked up to meet Tristen’s eyes and nodded once. In a quiet whisper, she said, “In New York...”

“Oh…” Tyler’s excitement vanished as he finally realized what the problem was. He softened his tone and asked, “What’s the offer? It must be a great gig, right?”

Natalia didn’t answer and Aaron placed a re-assuring hand on her shoulder and spoke on her behalf. "She’s got a minor role at a ballet on Broadway. Natalia almost turned them down, but the producer also runs one of the largest and longest running shows on Broadway and the opportunity will allow her to work her way up through the ranks."

Tristen wasn’t sure he should congratulate the pair or say sorry about the inevitable separation. He’d known about Aaron’s offer for a couple weeks and they’d celebrated it but he only now found out about Natalia’s offer.

“Hey, for what it’s worth Natalia… I think you'll be amazing and I’m thrilled you are achieving your dreams. Both of you… I couldn’t be happier for the both of you. I know it will be hard with the separation, but if anyone can make it work, it’s the two of you.”

Natalia picked her head up and Tristen saw a sad smile on her face. “Thanks Tristen, that means a lot. It’s… It’s just going to be difficult and a major change for both of us. I only just found out today, right after your graduation actually. We only just talked about it on the way over here and we have things to work through.”

Tristen dropped the subject and grabbed another slice of pizza. “How about we hit the arcade before we had back to my parents house?” He hooked a finger behind him.

That did the trick as everyone smiled and finished their meals. If Tristen knew anything about his friends, he knew gaming, and especially Dungeon Quest, would always cheer them up.

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About the author

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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