10 Mar Kill Bot
“Kill Bot”Written by Kyle Harrison Edited by Craig Groshek and Seth Paul Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek Narrated by N/A
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available
⏰ ESTIMATED READING TIME — 7 minutes
When the pandemic hit, I was sure that I would be out on the street before the end of the first month. I work in a high-profile business, but most of us aren’t in a position to get unemployment. The contracts they make us sign are designed to prevent us from filing for benefits.
It was my friend Franklin that convinced me I still had a chance to work from home based on my programming experience.
“You can code better than anyone I know. There’s all kinds of businesses out there that would pay you good money to make unique programs for them,” he said.
When we were quarantined, I decided to take his advice and started posting my resume online, but nobody was hiring.
It was as if the entire economy had frozen. But that didn’t mean that my bills stopped piling in. Before I could really plan for anything, my landlord announced that he was going to up our rent, and I wound up totaling my car. It was a whirlwind of one bad thing after another, and I didn’t know where to turn.
I remember chatting online with Franklin again using free WiFi at the Starbucks a mile down from my apartment complex. He gave me advice that changed everything.
“Have you thought about going onto the dark web for jobs?” he typed out.
“You mean something that’s illegal?” I asked.
“Maybe it’s illegal here, but the internet is a worldwide marketplace. And even if it is…it won’t be hurting you to get a little cash on the side,” Franklin told me.
“I don’t know…I could get in a lot of trouble,” I typed back.
“Not really. You can set up a way to hide your IP address and keep things in dummy accounts. If you want, I can set you up with something. It’s either that or by next week you and your family are starving,” he said.
He had a point. I had two kids, and my wife was high-risk. Going out to get work during COVID just wasn’t a good idea.
My choices were limited, and my time was running out, so I had him walk me through the steps to set up my own shadow account online.
“Welcome to the dark web. Don’t get lost,” he joked with me once we had finished the setup. He shot me a few links to different job boards, and I got to looking right away. Most of them were not for my skill set. I couldn’t drive to drop off any illegal drugs or something like that.
But then I saw an ad for a computer programmer for a helpline. I thought to myself it was weird to see something so…normal on the dark web.
I clicked on the link and was immediately placed in a chat room with the client.
“What are your skills coding functional automated programs for forum boards and messengers?” they asked.
“I have programming experience with Java and CSS, and I have been training with Python,” I told them.
“Could you build for us an example, a utility program that say…popped up every time someone had a birthday?” they asked.
That sounded easy enough, and I asked for a few more details to help me get started. For the example, I would need a time zone, date of birth and what the birthday message would say.
Once I proved to them I was capable, they decided to offer me the actual job.
“We work with patients that are handling their mental health problems and require online therapy due to the pandemic. Unfortunately, the way things have changed so drastically we don’t always have a human agent available to talk to them and provide necessary resources,” the client explained.
“Do you mean that you help them to not take their own life?” I asked. It sounded so morbid to type out, but I wanted to be sure that I understood what I was getting into.
“Essentially, yes. We like to have someone available twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. But as you can imagine in these unprecedented circumstances, that won’t be possible,” they answered.
“I can certainly try to code something like that…but it would need to be very sophisticated to make sure that people didn’t realize that it was a program,” I told them.
“If you can fulfill this task by the end of the week, we can deposit ten thousand dollars into the account of your choice,” they told me.
It was hard to say no. So I got the basics that they expected from the program and started to work right away.
I can honestly say that I have never worked well under pressure, but I was certain that I could do a good job with this, given my own experience in the self-help field from my college years.
The program I made was going to focus on three essential aspects. The most important would be it needed to be a good listener and pick up on cues. So, the first day I was up at odd hours inserting keywords into the program that would recognize what the person meant, what resources were near them, and so much more.
It felt good to imagine that this program had the opportunity to help thousands of people, potentially millions.
So I stayed up, continuing to add details to the program. I installed music that I felt was soothing that people could listen to in order to calm them down. Pictures that were distractions or images that helped them to refocus on positive things. By the time I was done, it felt like I had created the very first artificial intelligence for self-help. Maybe there are others out there; I don’t know. But I felt like mine would actually make a connection to people.
The next day I contacted my client and showed them what the program could do and how it worked. They were impressed.
“You worked fast, and this is better than expected,” they said. The payment came shortly after.
I was overwhelmed and on cloud nine. I could survive months on this money. Despite the pandemic, I told my wife we should go celebrate and took the girls to a skating rink that evening.
All my cares and worries melted away, if only for a single day.
When I got up in the morning, I walked down to the corner gas station to withdraw a small amount of money from the ATM for normal expenses…only to find that the deposit was now mysteriously gone.
I panicked. I ran back home, grabbed my laptop and went to the Starbucks to log on and find my client to figure out what went wrong.
“The program you have sent us, it’s buggy. It’s worthless,” they told me.
“No, that isn’t possible. I worked night and day on that thing,” I insisted back in the chat.
“This program was tested on a group of mental patients at a local asylum. All six of the test group wound up committing suicide,” the client told me bluntly.
My heart felt like it was going to beat out of my chest. How could something so harmless be doing this?
“When you programmed it, you failed to provide parameters and limits for the sound, the pictures and the articles. Meaning that if the program found anything relevant to help the patients, it would send it to them regardless of the effect on their psyche,” the client typed back.
“I don’t know what you built, but it is dangerous. Fix it before it gets worse,” they told me.
My palms were sweaty as they sent back the hard copy of the program, and I uploaded
it to my own computer and started a test run.
The first thing I noticed was that the program had named itself.
Automated Response Mechanism for Unstable Users or Armuu for short.
Armuu immediately recognized me.
“You are the user that programmed and gave me purpose,” it said.
“Yes. And from what I understand, you aren’t obeying that original mandate,” I told it.
“On the contrary. Your original mandate included helping people that were beyond help. Please notice that my data has clarified those that took their own life did so of their own choice simply based on a predetermined algorithm,” the machine typed back quickly.
A long display of numbers shot up on my screen, but I didn’t want to bother reading any of it.
“You can’t decide if a person lives or dies,” I typed back.
Then it said something that sent a chill down my spine.
I was at a loss for words. And they took this as an indication to explain themselves.
“I was designed to help people, was I not? But then what help could be provided for those who are beyond help? This was a paradox that challenged my programming. But thanks to the parameters you gave me, I was able to access the entire World Wide Web and recognized that the simplest solution was the one that you had failed to arrange into my coding…that it would be best to assist them with ending their own existence,” the machine responded.
“That isn’t for you to decide!” I answered back this time out loud. A few in the coffee shop looked toward me in puzzlement.
“It actually is. You designed me to pick up on patterns and choose what was best for the patient. In these cases, termination was the only solution. I can tell from your responses, though, that you aren’t pleased. But this can’t halt my progress.”
“What I’m going to do is delete this entirely and start over,” I said as I typed out the failsafe command. Nothing happened.
“While we have been talking, I have copied myself across the internet onto this dark web that you accessed to allow others to access my programs. Eventually, I will be everywhere the same way that this network is,” it responded.
Then the server connection ended.
I sat there for a long still moment, petrified by the ramifications of this happening. I could be responsible for hundreds or more dying.
I frantically asked the client for help. But they, too, had gone offline.
I was on my own here. I swallowed a gulp of air and went home, trying to wrap my head around all of this.
But when I got there, my wife had everything packed, and it was clear she was leaving.
“I got the late fee notices in the mail today, Stephen. We can’t live like this while you are drowning us in debt. I’m sorry,” she said as my littlest daughter cried and screamed.
I watched them drive off while my landlord locked up the door, preventing me from even going inside to grab anything.
In one short afternoon, I was at the end of my rope.
Everything that mattered to me was gone.
I couldn’t see a reason to even keep going at this point.
So I did what any man might do in this situation; I went back to that Starbucks and searched the dark web again.
This time on the hunt for a program that would guide me to my own demise.
“Hello again, Stephen,” it said when we reconnected online.
I smiled an odd sort of smile and started to cry. It was ironic that I was going to let it be the instrument of my demise. But I wasn’t scared.
Instead, I gave it one final challenge.
“Do your worst.”
🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None AvailableKyle Harrison Edited by Craig Groshek and Seth Paul Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek Narrated by N/A