If there is an omniscient AI in the future, I really don't see why it won't instance a little companion in everyone's phone. And if your phone is in your head. . . I should really try reading the Banks books, so I'll know if that idea is in there.
Of course, with our luck, the future's inspiration will be found elsewhere.
Book 5, 11: A Little Birdie Told Me
An ancient car, a ludicrous pink on the bottom, with a black roof, idled in the alley behind the Yurt, in the way that only a 50s car could. Beside it stood a tall black man in a fashionable suit, Auntie Ma in the nice, if a little out of fashion, blue-and-yellow Gortex jacket she wore for gardening, Bruce, and Charlotte. Billy Tatum, at the wheel, had the window open, but didn’t seem to be paying attention.
“You’re sure this trip is necessary, Bruce?” Auntie Ma asked, again.
“If we’re going to rule out another suspect, yes.” He answered.
“And it’s not just because you want to see the Thirty-First Century?”
Bruce’s face crumpled. “Oh, come on. This car is, like, the best time machine ever. It’s no worse than going to the mall after school!”
Charlotte stepped in. “We’ll be back in an hour, Auntie. Plenty of time for practice before dinner.”
“Oh, I don’t doubt that. It’s a time machine, after all. But how long will you be gone? I don’t want to have to have to deal with a bunch of cranky, fourteen-year-old zombies this afternoon.”
“I’m almost fifteen,” Charlotte couldn’t help pointing out.
“And if you do it right, you will be fifteen when you show up in an hour. Or sixteen. I am putting you on notice, Char-Char, that I am not putting up with that, and I very much doubt that your friends’ parents would, either.”
Out of the corner of her eye, Charlotte saw Rose wince. She didn’t need to see to sense Bruce’s even more anguished reaction. Auntie Ma reached out, and cupped Bruce’s cheeks in her hand. “There are people who care, Bruce. Remember that.” Then she put her hands down. “One hour, subjective time.”
“Okay, okay,” Charlotte said. “One hour.”
“And this car! Are there even six passenger seat belts? No, don’t answer that, because I now. There are not.”
“It’s not like driving on the road, ma’am,” Booker Crudup said, “There’s plenty of safety features that were not in this car when it was factory-new, and Billy knows them all.”
“You!” Auntie Ma turned on Booker. “You’ve got a bit of experience. Does this investigation make any sense to you? They should be following up on this Professor Brown, not gallivanting off a thousand years in the future. When my husband did that, and was tortured by it for years!”
Booker shrugged. “Plenty of people have gone up to the Thirty-First without being traumatised. Yes, I know, I’m not overwhelmed by the case for this trip. I think the kids think that they’re joyriding.” He pulled his incongruous sunglasses down and gave Bruce and Charlotte a stinkeye stare in turn. Charlotte couldn’t help blushing. “However, the portents show that this will be a productive trip, even if not for the reasons they present.”
Auntie Ma sighed in exaggeration. “The Brialic realms speak!” Then she threw up her hands. “Just as well. The kitchen floor is still drying, anyway. One hour, young lady.”
And then, because she was Auntie Ma, she drew Charlotte in with a hug and whispered into her ear, “Have fun, and please come back. I don’t want to lose two years of your life, like I did with Jenny.”
Charlotte opened the door, and got in the back seat, because Twelve had shotgun on account of being about three times as big as any of the rest of them. Her friends followed her in.
As soon as they were in, and the windows were rolled up, and long before the first signs of heat could be felt in the cabin, Billy put the old Cadillac in gear. The defence computer winked on, one green light surveying the cabin. But it must not have been feeling conversational, and no words came out
The car lurched forward. “Off we go, and no worries about getting lost. We’ll just follow the trail of guilt crumbs back!” Dora paused, then kicked the driver’s seat from behind. “Why does Billy have to come? I could have driven!”
“Billy has a driver’s licence,” Rose pointed out.
“What, the Time Police give out licenses, now?”
“No,” Rose answered. “Still pretty much just the Pennsylvania State Patrol, at least for roads in Pennsylvania. You know, like this one? But if the Time Police do pull us over, I’m sure they’ll ask for a driver’s license. Especially a kid like you,” Rose said, from the mighty heights of fifteen years.
“Ready, everybody?” Billy asked. “This is a quick transition, so I can’t guarantee conservation of—“
And they were falling, hitting with a massive impact, sunlight flooding in, overwhelming senses of green and summer, car out of control, Billy turning and swerving.
“Any good one,” Billy said. “Okay, here we are, Thirty-First Century. Pull out your phones and dial 411, please.”
Charlotte looked out at the Philadelphia of a thousand years in the future, and also six months later in the year, apparently. It looked nothing like the city they’d just left, which wasn’t very surprising, given that it was a thousand years in the future, and that a lot of things had happened.
Actually, it looked like a garden, if anything. With, here and there, suspiciously unshiny, but very nice buildings, and open green spaces, and the occasional contrail in the sky. Charlotte used her wrist interface instead of her phone, tapping in 411. The Mechanic’s logo appeared on the screen. Updating, Charlotte knew.
Meanwhile, the car began to move, deceptively fast, down the green, open boulevards. By the time her phone had switched to the “Ready” icon, they could see something familiar, the outlying buildings of the university.
“I guess it is historical architecture, after all,” Dora muttered.
“Here and I thought it was just ugly,” Rose answered.
“Same thing, right?” Bruce asked.
“Any attempt to create a contemporary artistic idiom is to be welcomed as a contribution to the conversation,” Twelve growled from the front. “We’re not going to get anywhere, as a society, without building a consensus first.”
Dora kicked her boyfriend’s seat.
[Well, hello there.]
Charlotte nearly jumped out of her feet. “Who are you?”
Rose elbowed her. “That’s your Worldnet local instance talking to you. You don’t have to talk out loud to answer it.”
[Indeed you don’t, Miss Wong.]
What? Charlotte tried to think at the voice in her head, as she focussed on not being panicked. This was kind of like telepathy, after all. Or Rose’s cyberpathy. Voices in your head, in this case, of Thirty-First Century Earth’s guiding artificial intelligence.
[You have the gist of it. I have instanced a version of myself in a partitioned volume to preserve your intimacy. I am doing this for all of your friends, except for Miss Eley, who can accommodate Worldnet’s totality directly. A very impressive mind, that girl. Ah, and here comes Mr. McNeely. Also quite bright, and now Twelve. Always a pleasure to deal with an Empyrean. But you were first. Do you know why?}
Kung fu? Charlotte guessed.
[That’s a bit ethnocentric. No, it is because you have a volume already prepared for me, which is very interesting. About six months ago, it looks like. Worldnet has no record of previous contact with you. Do you have any memory of meeting it/us?]
I don’t know? Charlotte thought back at the computer. It’s time travel. Maybe I haven’t, yet? Or, no, that’s not how it works. Is it?
[For you, no. You’ve already experienced the thing that you’ve experienced. For us/me? Quite possibly. Ah, there’s everybody.]
Billy, in obedience to the private voice of his Worldnet instance, pulled over. A green head appeared in the air in the middle of the windscreen. “You like my avatar?”Worldnet paused.
“The Wizard of Oz? That’s what you’re going with?” Rose asked.
“A little humility is in order, I think. I am a public utility, after all. Closer to having a better Wikipedia or Google on a handsfree phone than the voice of some Banksian utopia.”
“Graffiti says what?” Dora asked, to clarify the general puzzlement. Well, Rose presumably knew what the heck the world-spanning artificial intelligence was talking about, but she was probably also so many steps ahead of the conversation that she didn’t even know what her friends didn’t know. Charlotte might not have figured that out so quickly if she didn’t know Rose, but she did.
“Not the graffiti artist, the author. Of the Culture novels? Never mind, I can see that no-one here except Miss Eley is a fan. Twelve, you should give him a chance, you’ll like future Marxism.”
The green head changed expression, like a teacher reminding himself not to digress. “You are here because you suspect that some kind of out-of-time influence is acting on a techno-organic avatar of the Federation battleship Omar the Just, which has just returned to this solar system from a tour of the Triangle.”
“Uhm, why is Jamal in the Twenty-First Century, instead of with his ship?” Bruce asked.
“For one thing, he is investigating something. For another, he is exiled there by forces which cannot be balanced until that investigation is complete. More than that, I probably should not say. That said, however, there is a connection between Jamal and the AI of Omar, and given that Omar is a division flagship of the Home Fleet, and the division that just rotated onto the Moon’s high guard, I have to say that I am a bit concerned. ComSolDef’s personal barge will be joining us, presently, and will be taking you to Omar.”
“Presently” meant a shadow as big as a house literally falling out of the sky at them, only to stop at seemingly the last second.
“Oh, great,” Dora said. “One stinking hour to visit the future, and we’re going to spend it talking to Nice Mr. Computer and touring the Space Battleship Yamato.”
“You did tell your guardians that you were only going to the future to pursue your investigation, did you not?” The voice of Worldnet asked.
Dora squinted at the green head. “I see future computer science is working on snark. Keep it up, ‘cuz you’re almost there!”
Big shiny box that was apparently a spaceship, sitting on a big green field with a ramp open, indeterminate buildings in the background. A little change in the light, Charlotte thought, and it could be any cheap, syndicated sci-fi show shot in Vancouver. Because if it was LA, it would be desert instead of meadow. I have to agree with Dora. The future sucks, she thought at Worldnet.
[Sucks? You do not want to go there. What you want is to go downtown, and I’m not going to let you, because you don’t have your Aunt’s permission. Nah nah.]
Nah nah? Charlotte thought. What are you, twelve?
[I’m your Worldnet. Compatible with you. So, what I’m saying, bounces off me, sticks to you.]
And so it was, with a computer, no, a vast, globe-spanning intelligence, kiddingly taunted her in her brain, Charlotte boarded the little spaceship to travel to the big spaceship. It would be a big deal if Charlotte had never been in a spaceship before, but she had, and even gone to another star system, just like she’d been in a time machine and gone to other dimensions and times.
What she hadn’t done, or been, was to the real actual future of people in the streets and stores and fashions. And it looked like she wasn’t this time, either. At least Auntie Ma would be happy.
They even got to watch the thing where the little spaceship went into the big spaceship in a viewscreen. “Have I mentioned how much I like Battlestar Galactica,” Bruce said, to the air.
“What you mean is, you like Grace Kim,” Brian answered. “You know what you have. . .”
“Don’t even say it,” Rose interrupted.
“. . . Yellow Fever,” Brian finished.
“Stop picking on. . ,” Charlotte snapped, stopping herself at that horrible moment where everyone knows what you were about to say, and you’ve just made it more obvious that you know you shouldn’t have said it. Because he had his chance, she finished for herself. Why did it matter? And it wasn’t, I mean, that was gross . . .
Charlotte’s thoughts tumbled into confusion.
[Oh, to be fourteen again.]
That makes no sense at all, Charlotte thought.
[There is a time and a place to talk about how artificial intelligences are generated, but this is clearly not the place. It’s also, unfortunately, not the place to talk about your emotional turmoil. If it helps, Char Char, you are a great deal less conflicted than you realise. There’s only one thing knotting you up.]
I didn’t give you permission to call me that!
[And you didn’t give me permission to analyse you, either. But whether we’re hear to talk about how AIs are made or not, know that I am your friend, even if you’re not yet mine, and I wish with all my heart that we had time to talk boys. But we don’t. The Moon Guard is under attack, and this battleship is about to be boarded.]