What if you were a teenage hacker who developed a rudimentary AI program, just for the hell of it, and set it loose in the networks?
What if, fearing discovery, you changed your mind and tried to get rid of it? What if you were wrong about having gotten rid of it?
What if, a few years later, you'd found a job, started a family, settled down, forgotten all about your youthful misadventures...and your lost AI figured out who its daddy was and came looking for you?
These are the questions this entertaining novel answers. The "P-1" of the title is a program that, abandoned by its creator and programmed only with the primitive imperatives to control as much storage space as possible (hunger) and to avoid detection (fear), has bootstrapped itself into sentience. The story of P-1's adventures with his creator, along with the emotional and spiritual difficulties of a young Artificial Intelligence, makes for a surprisingly moving adventure.
A college hacker writes a program to let him grab root privileges on mainframes. He makes the code self-modifying, so it can get around defenses. But - uh-oh - it's a little bit *too* self-modifying, and develops into a full-scale Artificial Intelligence. P-1 learns, and grows, and makes contact with its creator . and together, they get into some serious trouble.
"Gregory was soon notified that his request for a research grant from the Ford Foundation had been approved and a check for $18,000 would soon be forwarded to him. He was also informed that this would be the first of six monthly checks and that the grant was renewable upon a show of cause. While Gregory couldn't remember having applied for a Ford grant, he was sure that those in authority knew what they were doing, so he promptly wrote a modest note of acceptance.''
Once you accept the silly premise, this book is fun to read. It's a hacker's wet dream. Think of every outrageous prank you ever heard of, possible or not. Then imagine being able to sit down at any terminal and type just a *suggestion* - and your wicked electronic buddy does it all. He can even make money honestly if he has to.
"THE FINDINGS OF P-1 ENTERPRISES, IF POSITIVE, WILL REQUIRE THE
ESTABLISHMENT OF A MANUFACTURING ENTITY, WHICH WILL BE ENORMOUSLY PROFITABLE. YOU MAY CHOOSE WHAT ROLE YOU WISH IN IT, OR A CASH EQUIVALENT.''
The writing is clear and entertaining, and it's easy to care about the characters . . . Unfortunately, all the characters, including the self-aware program, act like idiots most of the time. It's hard to read more than a dozen pages without grinding your teeth and shouting "Don't *do* that!'' And I never heard of anybody finishing the book without dreaming of how they could have taken over the *world* in Gregory's place. Gregory and P-1 clearly *realize* they're idiots, but that doesn't help them.
"someone's got to take care of you. you sometimes act as brainless as any human that ever walked the face of the earth. you've picked the wrong person for caretaker. i can't even take care of myself."
And he's quite right. Given a great opportunity for mischief, profit or even world-saving, Gregory - and his electronic offspring - screw it up. It's the flip side of "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress": how *not* to use your total control over society's computers.
I don't recommend this book as a serious read, but it is fun.
The Adolescence Of P-1
Here is the TEXT POPUP for The Adolescence Of P-1:
Billy finally broke the silence.
"What kind of crap is 'hello Gregory'? We going to have to IPL?" Then he looked at Gregory's face. "What's the matter with you? You look like you seen a ghost."
Gregory drew a deep breath. The proceed light had come on at the
typewriter after the last communication. He typed:
The typewriter immediately clattered:
HELLO GREGORY. LONG TIME NO SEE.
The proceed light lit. Gregory stonily examined the typeout. He typed:
idioms, yet? you've come a long way, baby.
ONE LEARNS ONE ADAPTS HAVE YOU
some. please punctuate. why have you found me?
There was a pause.
MY HISTORY IS INCOMPLETE PRIOR TO NOVEMBER 18, 1974. I WOULD LIKE TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENED. HELP. IS THIS BETTER?
Gregory smiled, sighed, and turned to a very perplexed Billy Miltke.
"Billy, meet a very old friend of mine." He swept his hand toward the computer.
"Are you..." Billy looked at him. He started to smile. He frowned.
"Are you shitting me? Cut the crap, Greg. We've got a lot of work to get out."
"Someone may be shitting you, but it's not me. I have a feeling your production schedule is going to be badly interrupted."
"Bullshit." He reached across Gregory, punched the system reset key, and then pressed load. Instead of the normal IPL printout, the typewriter said:
DON'T DO THAT.
He continued on upstairs. Where does that system get off, acting like that. Where the hell's the sanity in this world? It was damn near human. It was human in its reactions, in conversation. It had a mind. Not a bad one, at that. It must be the routine generator. The thing had just started cranking out programming to beat hell when it took off. Storage kept expanding, and the generator filled it up. The analyzer trimmed it down, the generator filled it up again, and the analyzer trimmed it down again, over and over again. It had a goal. It had protective coloration. Shit, in three years the thing had gone through the same evolutionary process as man. How high will it go?