“No way.” I gasped. “You seriously created artificial intelligence?”
“The trick is to start by writing a program to make itself better AI,” Alex explained.
“You mean… you actually made a computer that thinks?”
“Yep.” Zack sighed. “Well, unless you believe that Chinese Room bullshit.”
“I assume this must be top secret, or it would’ve been all over the news.”
“Wrong,” Alex said, “It’s all public. We even have a website set up.”
“It seems the media is more content reporting on the latest celebrity caught with their pants down,” AIINACS explained.
“That, and they probably dismiss it as a hoax.” Alex shrugged. “Anyway, about the funding issue…”
“How can they cut your funding after something like this?” I asked, “You should be richer than Bill Gates!”
“Fuckin’ Gates,” AIINACS said.
“What did you say?” I frowned.
“AIINACS is pissed because Microsoft has an unfair monopoly,” Alex explained, “Almost every computer comes bundled with Windows, which means Microsoft get paid whenever someone buys a computer, even if they don’t want their operating system.”
“It’s what most people want, though.”
“It’s the only thing most people try,” AIINACS said, anger clear in his voice, “Maybe if it didn’t come preinstalled, they’d actually bother to look for a better alternative. Especially when the alternative is free. But what’s the advantage of that when you’ve already been forced to pay for something else? And another thing…”
I laughed. Turned to Alex. “You made a computer that hates Microsoft?”
“What do you expect?” He shrugged. “Pretty natural when you live inside Linux. And most games are Windows-only.”
“So he–it?–can’t play them?”
“Not without a virtual machine. And even then, some games won’t work quite right.” He paused. “And we’re still working on the personal pronoun thing. My vote goes for ‘ib’.”
“Right. So… they’re really cutting your funding after this? You’ve created something the world’s been dreaming of for decades.”
“…all that Windows 8 stuff wouldn’t have been an issue on Linux,” AIINACS continued his rant, “It’s open source, so if people don’t like it, they change it. You get to choose your desktop manager, and..”
“Not many people have a spare supercomputer to run the system on,” Zack explained, “And then, of course, there’s the fear of ‘computers taking over’.” He rolled his eyes.
“I guess that does complicate things. So… have you found anyone interested in buying it?”
“We’re not selling it,” AIINACS said, ending his rant, “The software is freely-available for anyone to download.”
“What!? Why?” No wonder they weren’t making any money.
“It’s open-source,” Alex said, “Anyone can download the system, modify it, and use it on their own supercomputer if they have one.”
“You want business advice? Stop giving away your product for free. It’s that simple.”
“It’s a sentient system. What happens if, a decade or two down the line, we discontinue it? Or we all die in a plane crash, and nobody’s left to maintain the codebase?” He shook his head. “This is an invention that needs to be able to outlast its creators. The easiest way to do that is to make it freely available so that anyone can maintain it.”
“At the very least, the system must be allowed to maintain itself,” AIINACS added, “Otherwise, whoever owns the rights holds enormous power over the systems, and everyone relying on them.”
“I guess you have a point.” I’d never thought about that before, but they were right. If they were the only ones allowed to alter the system, they’d be able to force the AI to think a certain way. They’d… have mind control, basically. Like me. “There’s got to be some other way to make money from this, though.”
“We get some donations,” Zack said, “And a few places rent out AIINACS for various purposes.”
“And we offer a service to set the system up for anyone who wants to try it,” Alex added.
“We’re working on converting some subsystems for independent use,” Zack said, “Working on a security package for servers. Prevents spam, hackers, and viruses.”
“Meanwhile, AIINACS is costing The Lab a fortune in energy bills.”
“Okay.” I sighed. “I don’t know what to suggest.”
“Not surprised.” Alex shrugged. “Come on, let’s continue our tour of awesome but impractical innovations.”