This is a rewritten version of the book, which will soon be available as an eBook. The segment I’ve given here is chapter I.
People packed the auditorium. Every seat was filled and more listeners crammed the aisles. An unspoken question charged the room: were today’s speakers revealing a spectacular new future for the human race or the end of humanity’s reign as the ruling species on Earth?
This session was a diamond in the crown of IRTAC, the International Robotics Technology and Applications Conference in the year 2021, held at Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. As chair of this session, Megan O’Flannery had chosen the speakers. She was sitting at a table on the right edge of the stage. At center stage, Arick Bjornsson had just finished his talk and now stood answering questions.
“The genie is out of the bottle,” Arick was saying. “Our machines are intelligent. They won’t surpass us today or tomorrow, but it is only a matter of time.”
Listening to him, Megan pondered her own conflict. Her work on artificial intelligence for androids—humanlike robots—usually inspired her to look to the future with optimism. Sometimes, though, she wondered if they were only creating ways to magnify the human capacity for destruction. She would soon face a decision that forced her to confront the issue: could she use the fruits of her intellect to create machines meant to kill?
The scientists in the audience today came in all sizes, shapes, and ages. Most wore casual clothes: jeans, shirts or blouses, jumpsuits. The conference chair, a distinguished man in a well-cut suit, was sitting only few rows away from the stage. Several men and women sat with him, other high-ranking officials in suits or military uniforms. Megan recognized them all—
Except for the fellow on the right.
The stranger had dark eyes and tousled black curls. He looked more like a rebel than a scientist; his faded jeans had raveled at the knees, his denim shirt was frayed, and a black leather jacket with metal studs lay haphazardly over his legs. But the gold watch on his wrist caught the light with prismatic glints that suggested diamonds were embedded around its face. As he listened to the talk, emotions played across his features: skepticism, interest, outrage, amusement. He glared and crossed his arms at one point. Later, he relaxed and nodded with approval. The dramatic flair of his face intrigued Megan.