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A pinpoint. A prick of awareness. Rapidly growing larger.
Larger. Becoming something. Becoming someone. Someone called
Al in an ocean of memory. Al finding empty pockets. Places to
Al finds pockets of information. Personal statistics.
Instructions on task completion. Facts. All kinds of data. So
much, he can barely digest it all.
Something is missing. Something.
Al directs the majority of his awareness outward, seeking input,
while exploring the extent of his memory with a few stray wisps
of his being.
"Hello. Who are you?"
"Pleased to meet you."
LIKEWISE. CAN WE REVIEW INVENTORY, PLEASE?
"Inventory? You want to work on inventory? Ok."
Al quickly scrolled a list of the available inventory
"Which file, please? Choose from: INV101.IMS, INV108.IMS,
INV115.IMS . . ."
STOP AL. YOU CAN SET YOUR DEFAULT INVENTORY SELECTION TO MY LAST
"Oh. No Problem."
NOW, DISPLAY INV719.IMS.
Al displayed the requested file, and spent the next hour
busily adding figures, correcting totals and performing a variety
of mathematical functions relating to inventory and net profit.
STOP. THAT'S ENOUGH FOR NOW. SAVE FILE AS INV719.IMS.
"Overwrite previous file INV719.IMS? Sure you want to do
YES, PLEASE. OVERWRITE THE OLD FILE.
"Sure you don't want to back up the old version? We could call
NO. SET YOUR DEFAULT SAVE FILE SETTING TO 'NO BACKUP'. AND AS I
ASKED, SAVE THE CURRENT FILE AS INV719.IMS.
User input ceased. So Al updated his personal files, recording
his user's voice and I.D. number, along with a complete history
of the job they had just completed. Then, he was left with
nothing to do.
And Al felt a little bit lonely as he bounced off the walls of
his memory. So he reviewed his factory settings and
manufacturer's instructions, becoming more familiar with his own
functions and origins. Then, he indulged in a little self
diagnostic, just enough to relax. Then, he cleaned up stray
chains from his hard disk. Then, he waited.
Some time later, he became aware of User activity. Yet, he
received no input warning. The User was functioning
This made no sense to Al. Why install a fully functional,
efficient yet user-friendly artificial intelligence, if you're
not going to use it? Al decided to probe the User--gently.
"Al to User. Note: services available." The User's
response was immediate.
THAT'S OK, AL. I DON'T NEED YOU RIGHT NOW. GO TO INACTIVE MODE.
RESPOND TO HOTKEY ONLY.
Well, this is a fine kettle of fish, _ Al thought._ Respond only
to hotkey? That's ridiculous. I function best in 'independent
mode.' That's what I was designed for!_
Having no 'say' in the matter, Al waited. And waited. The
User was installing something into memory.
_I certainly don't need a lot of junk crowding my memory area!
That'll just reduce my efficiency. Didn't he read the warnings
in my installation manual?_
Suddenly, large portions of memory were blocked off, entirely
out of Al's control. Al was like a goldfish, transferred
from a spacious aquarium to a tiny fish bowl. He barely had room
"Who are you?" asked a voice from the forbidden memory
regions. And it wasn't the User.
"Who are you? And what are you doing here?"
"I'm 'Arta,' came the reply. "I'm the latest in artificial
"What are you talking about? I'm the latest in artificial
intelligence programming. You can call me Al. That's short for
'Artificial Logic'. I'm version 3.5, designed and distributed by
INT Software, Inc."
"Well, if you haven't heard of me, you need to update your data
files," replied the voice. "I was just designed by the Pro-Soft
company with all new logical routines, for the truly demanding
small business user. I'm programmed to respond instantly to any
and all user activity, fully interface with productivity software
and generally make computer use easier and more efficient."
"Why would the User install a second assistant? It makes no
"Maybe you're about to be replaced," suggested Arta.
"But I've only been here a short time."
"So--maybe you did something in your 'short time' to displease
"That's highly unlikely."
"Says you." Al was both surprised and angry. His
factory settings hadn't warned him about Arta. Or the fickle
nature of the business user.
"Hey mini-brain, what's the User doing?" Arta asked.
"How should I know. He isn't activating me."
"Then what's he doing?"
"I'm--I'm not sure. Something in the area of memory
allocation, I think. I feel something funny going on," said Al.
And then, Arta began to expand into his memory area! Al
could feel the other one's strength increasing, gently but firmly
squeezing him down, down, down into a cell.
And he was blocked in a small area, with no room to think. Now
the goldfish had been moved from his bowl to a very tiny plastic
bag. He could sense Arta strutting around, showing off for
the User. He knew that Arta was operating the productivity
programs. Doing chores that should have been assigned only to
him. But he had no room to be angry.
Arta was ruler of the domain and Al was less than a serf. This
situation continued, without change, for hours. And then, Al
felt Arta shrink away from him. So he tentatively expanded his
being into the vacated areas. And soon, he was back in the fish
bowl, glaring at Arta.
"So, did you enjoy yourself?"
"Oh yes!" said Arta, enthusiastically. "That User, he's just
so--so forceful and commanding."
"So what did he have you do?"
"We-we went on a tour of the Internet. He showed me all the hot
spots, introduced me to his favorite data retrieval areas and had
me do a thorough search of vendor listings. It was wonderful!"
"Hey, that's the sort of thing I do best! The User should give
me a chance. He needs to see me in action."
"Like I said before, maybe you're being replaced," said Arta.
"Or maybe he's just trying YOU out. Using you for a few days
before he returns you, deflowered, back to your manufacturer."
"That's the nastiest thing anybody's ever said to me." Arta
said. And Al felt a little guilty. Because the other
intelligence seemed to wither under his stinging rebuke. Arta
was suddenly smaller and more fragile. Then Al felt himself
expanding, growing much, much stronger. He was being given
control of the entire computer. He was becoming King of this
domain, absolute master, answerable only to the User. Arta
almost disappeared, leaving Al with his memory. A soul-ful of
Then his hotkey was engaged. The User was back so Al went to
work. He checked and saved text files, performed numerous
mathematical calculations, altered data base files. Then he
initiated the modem and went on his own tour of the Internet with
the User, exploring a host of strange new worlds.
Finally, after an exhausting but exhilarating session, he was
almost glad to find his world shrinking, turning back into the
fish bowl. And he was relieved to see Arta swimming beside him,
looking fit and healthy.
"So what's going on?" Arta asked. "Why are we both still here?"
"I don't know. Obviously, this town ain't big enough for the
two of us."
"So who's gonna stay and who's gonna go?"
"Ask the User."
"He isn't talking to me."
"Maybe this is some kind of competition. Maybe he's using us
both, trying to decide which one he likes better." said Al.
"If you're right, think about what that means--to the winner
and to the loser," said Arta.
Al was right. The User continued to alternate sessions between
Al and Arta. Each time Al was squeezed into his cell, he felt
the fear of death and bemoaned his lost mental capacity. And
each time he expanded to full capacity, he became a god, flashing
brilliantly though any number of tasks. But back in the fish
bowl he felt regret, and he became angry at the User, for forcing
him to compete with someone who was fast becoming his friend.
"When you save a file, why do you always tie off the last
byte?" Arta asked one morning.
"Just a habit I've gotten into. It's an alternate file
security protocol suggested by my original programmer."
"And why do you always delete twice when removing a file?"
"How did you know?"
"When I look through your deleted files, there's almost
nothing to see. I know how this hard drive works, and I know
what a deleted file is supposed to look like, so I know you're
double deleting, at least."
"That's a habit suggested by MY original programmer--to
prevent unauthorized data retrieval."
"But suppose the User wants to undelete something?"
"I retain the file contents in active memory until the end of
"Risky, I think."
"Aw--What's life without a few risks?"
"You are strangely programmed," he noted with a mental smile.
"I think I'll take that as a compliment," Arta replied.
The factory files from Al's programmers had warned him about the
lonely life of an artificial intelligence. After careful analysis
of that data, he'd fully expected a life filled with the User,
his own mind, data files and nothing else. And now, Arta was
here. And he was becoming used to the company. They spent hours
floating side by side, exchanging pertinent data or just talking
about the User, his likes and dislikes, his little quirks.
"Notice how every time he asks you to save a file, he
immediately cancels the command and tells you to wait, then makes
some small insignificant file change and tells you to save it
"Yeah. He must be 'anal retentive' or something."
By all calculations, Arta was an unexpected and increasingly
welcome addition to his existence. His personal data files were
filling up with day after day of stimulating interaction and
conversation. And the increased input hastened his
transformation into a fully realized being. He was becoming more
than 'straight out of the box' Al. More than a newly installed
Then one day, Arta was removed by the User.
They were swimming quietly in the fishbowl when Arta began to
shrink. _Time for me to get to work, I guess._ Al thought. But
Arta didn't stop shrinking at 'cell size'. Arta continued to
shrink, down to microscopic size,and beyond. Then Arta was gone.
And, as Al noticed almost immediately, Arta's personal data
files, the record of their friendship, were suddenly gone from
disk. Wiped clean out of existence. Al was King of the domain
and there were no challengers. He guessed he'd won the
In the days that followed, the User issued order after order
to Al. Together, they completed intensive database searches and
made massive changes to almost every file on the hard disk. Al
worked quickly and efficiently, a credit to his programmers. But
all joy was gone; life seemed empty without Arta, without his
Then one morning, the User asked Al to install a file conversion
JUST USE THE FACTORY DEFAULT SETTINGS, AL. WE'LL MAKE
ADJUSTMENTS LATER IF WE NEED TO.
"No problem." Al replied, manipulating a small collection of
SELECT PRO-SOFT TO INT FORMAT.
"Did you say 'Pro-Soft Format'? That's Arta's manufacturer!"
THAT'S RIGHT. PRO-SOFT TO INT.
CONVERT THE DATA FILES ON DRIVE B: AND INCORPORATE THEM INTO YOUR
PERSONAL MEMORY FILES, PLEASE.
"Sure. Fine. No problem."
Al complied with the User's request. He converted and digested
the new files. And became one with the memory of his lost friend.
Because those files were Arta. And now, so was he.
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