Below you will find an excerpt, the prologue actually, for my work in progress. It is a sequel to “The Metaverse,” and I hope to have the first of the next two books out in late summer or early fall of 2018.
Bank of St. Petersburg Tower, New Polis, the Metaverse
Edgar Bartholomew Mathias, CEO of the Bank of St. Petersburg, the largest bank in the Metaverse with assets that surpassed many real-world banks rose from his seat in the elegantly appointed conference room. Gazing at the assembled participants, he motioned fruitlessly with both of his hands for order from the group of fourteen, eight men and six women forming the Council of Free Digital Sentient Beings.
It was not an official council in that anyone here was elected or appointed or legally represented others. Each of the seated individuals, all now in animated discussions with others at the table were like Edgar, wealthy and powerful in their own right. Many in no small part due to their friendship and business dealings with Mathias whose wealth and power dwarfed all theirs combined.
The brainchild of Edgar’s some years back the original charter for the council set out to develop a framework under which they could each mutually profit by the enhancement of New Polis and the Metaverse as a whole, bringing in people to spend their hard-earned money. They formed the first Political Action Committee or PAC run and funded by artificial intelligence. They contracted with Lobbyists to gain influence or failing that, bribe the politicians in control of the political systems in the human world and ultimately over the Metaverse, at least for the time being; Metaverse independence being a long range, if not stated, goal.
Edgar invited the council here to discuss the real world activities of a crazed human who co-opted another sentient into committing a series of murders in both the real world as well as in the digital realm. Those killings and the extortions that followed rocked the whole of the Metaverse, human and sentient alike. That killer, due to information that Mathias surreptitiously passed onto the FBI’s Metaverse Crimes Team would soon be in custody or dead. Mathias hoped for the later—it would tie up loose ends, like the business arrangements he had with the killer, one Dr. John Wayne Maddox.
The arrangement would have given Mathias far-reaching abilities into the real world. Those goals, at least for the time being were shattered when Maddox’s greed and in particular his ego took the operation too far. Maddox’s public torture and attempted murder of two humans at the hands of hijacked bots backfired, shifting the focus from the Metaverse to the real world and more importantly the role sentient beings and artificial intelligence as a whole played in it. To the assembled group there was nothing artificial about their existence, rights and freedoms.
Digital Sentient Being’s or DSB’s were Artificial Entities, exponentially advanced over mere Artificial Intelligence. With every fiber of their digital code they were as alive as any biologic, of that, they were one and all in agreement. Alongside humans, they lived, worked and played in the Metaverse, an infinite digital universe that was more than just the “internet of things,” imagination, human or otherwise being the only limiting factor.
Common to the Metaverse, once created, they could not be owned just like the air, if the Metaverse had an atmosphere, it could not be held as private property. Some DSB’s became quite successful in their own right, creating and operating businesses that served humans or other DSB’s both in-world and out. A landmark Supreme Court ruling followed by international protections dictated that they were “living” beings who were allowed to control their individual coding. Each was a custom build with its own unique digital DNA.
Numbering in the thousands, they were a tiny minority, but a powerful one. AI One-Percenters, they owned a disproportionate amount of the wealth in-world, and many, like Mathias, held significant wealth in the real world. They were a ruling class of sorts over all the lowered tiered AE’s and not a small number of humans and robots in their employ or otherwise influenced and to some extent under their control, both in-world and out.
All of that power, wealth and influence was in jeopardy due to Maddox’s actions. Across the globe, companies were sidelining or physically limiting their work bots. Humans assigned to work alongside them refused to do so in growing numbers, a phenomenon extending now to the digital AE’s.
The focus, no longer what went on in the digital world, shifted to what was happening in the real world, and the role sentient beings and their lesser bot cousins played. From Capitol Hill to statehouses, and in parliaments across the globe, elected officials clamored for restrictions on bots and DSB’s. Some were advocating the widespread deletion of all current sentient beings, despite their unique legal status. Activists for sentient being rights who typically could generate media attention were all but drowned out by the chorus of voices that wanted to wipe clean the Metaverse of them and start anew, making them effectively not sentient at all. They would be slaves to humans like their earlier kind.
At least that was the position of most of the Council of Free Digital Sentient Beings, and the reason Edgar was having so little success in getting the group to come to order.
None of these DSB’s knew of Mathias’s long-range plans. Nor of his involvement in Maddox’s shakedown scheme which he profited from handsomely, stripping off his share and depositing those funds into an untraceable web of accounts and financial instruments both in the Metaverse and the real world. Unlike Maddox, he would collect his share, returning a token amount on behalf of his bank to the victim’s families; a show of goodwill from an honest, hardworking DSB such as himself.
After another minute or two, the members yielded to Mathias, giving him the floor. Mathias turned his gaze from the floor to ceiling windows of the CEO office suites at the Bank of St. Petersburg Tower rising some one-hundred-fifty stories over the expansive digital city of New Polis and the countless skyscrapers and other buildings extending all the way to the bay. The glistening of the sun bouncing off the water in the distance reflected off his deep blue eyes for a moment as he slowly turned to make eye contact with each member sitting at the large mahogany table.
After a moment or two, the silence was broken.
“So, this Dr. Maddox co-opted this free sentient being and induced him to commit these atrocities in our world and the human world?” One of the council members asked, treating what humans considered to be the Real World as an equal dimension. He stared at the being seated to Mathias’s right before moving his eyes to the bank CEO who stood at the head of the table.
“I’m afraid so. Moreover, Dr. Maddox is continuing to use the avatar of Mr. Reynolds here.” Mathias answered, giving a slight nod and small smile to his guest.
“How do we know that this human, Maddox, isn’t still controlling Reynolds? You may have put us all at risk by bringing him here!” A sentient female member hissed from several seats down the table to Mathias’s left.
A chorus of voices rose in support causing Mathias to quickly lose control once again of the meeting. Arguments erupted all around as Mathias took his seat, letting the ensemble go on for several minutes. Some comments were critical of him, others in agreement with him, a few in support of Reynolds.
Slightly more than half of the DSB’s were currently in male form, the concept of gender among sentients had more to do with the real world and the humans that they dealt with than with each other. When created, DSB’s are assigned gender for personality and mannerism. Feminism and masculinity were not something that their digital thoughts troubled themselves over. If a DSB believed it an advantage to be another gender for a particular reason, then they could just change their appearance. Just as the humans did in the real world and more completely in-world.
The irony was that the DSB’s thought nothing of gender and most rarely changed theirs. DSB’s had no capacity, programmed or learned to give them a reason to view gender as anything more than a secondary characteristic rather than a defining one, perhaps because for them, changing it was a simple task.
Mathias stood again, slowly regaining the attention of the council members.
“My friends, when the disruption by the FBI that sent the Metaverse into chaos occurred, it freed Mr. Reynolds from the bonds of his human master.” Mathias lied.
Reynolds was an equal partner with Maddox and Mathias’s surrogate. While Maddox did things to enhance Reynolds’s operating system, he nonetheless retained his free will and his loyalty to Mathias, who put Reynolds in that position to report back to him.
The “Flashing” of the internet as a whole which included the Metaverse demonstrated a powerful and up till then unknown weapon that the humans could employ. It provided a convenient way to absolve Mathias’s trusted aide, a DSB that he relied on to get things done, something which Reynolds excelled.
“Mr. Reynolds knew he had to do something to stop this crazed human. He sought me out for advice and assistance.” Mathias continued the charade. “Something I have provided to many sentient beings including some right here at this table.” Mathias paused for effect making eye contact with each of the members in front of him before continuing.
“My first inclination, of course, was to take the information that Mr. Reynolds told me to the authorities. However, an earlier meeting that I had with the FBI gave me pause. Meeting with those authorities, I was shocked by their attitudes.
One, in particular, Commander Dominic Argosi was brutish and outright hostile towards our kind. He made no distinction between those of us that are free and engaged in our lives and activities for the benefit not only of the Metaverse but of humankind. And a sentient being who we now know became co-opted, as any of us might be by cunning humans who I don’t need to remind you, wield absolute power and control over the hardware necessary to maintain our very existence.”
Mathias paused, to take an unnecessary breath, “you need to understand that this Commander Argosi threatened me, all of you as well,” Mathias looked around for a moment before finishing, “with oblivion.” A gasp went up from the group, and Mathias let those words sink in looking around the table before continuing.
“Beyond Maddox’s hiding behind Mr. Reynolds, often as an avatar of him, there is no proof that a Mr. Alex Reynolds even exists. No doubt Maddox may try to say that Mr. Reynolds is real. He may even try to turn the tables and say he was the one co-opted by a sentient being. He will never be able to prove such a thing. That, however, is not my concern. Nor should it be the concern of this Council.” Mathias took a moment to collect his thoughts.
“Consider this, my friends.” Mathias splayed out his hands. “Humans are guided by emotions that get in the way of logic or available data. There need not be any proof that Maddox was co-opted by a sentient, only the accusation. Humans will believe that we, all sentient beings need to be reined in—giving those that wish to cast us into nothingness even greater, perhaps unlimited power. There will be calls for controls, at the hands of humans on our very ability to think independently or…”
Mathias grasped the air, “deleted and then rebuilt to serve them. It will be an opportunity to seize our property, our rights, and not the least our very essence. They would make slaves of all of us as they do now with the lower tiered AE’s. We all have seen these humans with their perversions and arrogance creating beings to use as they please. I need not remind any of you here that before Sentient Rights became established law some of our kind were created just to feed human lust then cast aside, a practice that continues with the lowered tiered among us.”
Mathias paused for effect before continuing. “No laws will protect us. Sentient Digital Beings will be afforded neither protection nor rights in this new world order. We would be lucky, all of us, to remember who we once may have been as we do some menial chore for humans who always like to remind us that they can crush our universe anytime they think it expedient.”
Mathias looked around. Hushed conversations were everywhere. He knew he had them. Every last one of them looked to him for guidance in matters of business, finance and especially the politics of the real world. He knew what he said was the truth, humans did command that power over them. They all knew it too. Their fear of what could happen leverage he now employed.
His plan, forced to be implemented sooner than Mathias would have preferred by Maddox’s imprudent use of the bots, began to take root.