“Yudkowsky University has a world champion cybersecurity team,” Alan blurted breathlessly from the Pinto’s passenger seat, bobbing his head back and forth between his father and the university enrollment pamphlet laying in his lap.
He passionately poked at the pamphlet, puckering it up beneath his chubby, outstretched finger, and continued reading: “they offer masters, yes, doctorates, yes, and,” he paused, goose-necking his head towards the pamphlet as he excitedly read, “and have special honorary degrees they give out to people who solve, quote, never before solved problems!”
Alan’s dad smiled from the driver’s seat, nodding along and grinning from ear to ear at his son’s endless ambition. He took a sharp right turn and the university came into view, slowly revealing itself behind beautiful archways, ornate fences, a thick layer of shrubbery, trees, and the shadows they bring, and a sea of brilliant young minds scattered across the grounds. Although some were walking, some studying, some practicing instruments, some listening, and others just thinking, there was a tangible sense of unity in the air, permeating a calming stillness through even the Pinto’s heavily air-conditioned interior.
“Woah,” Alan blurted again, taking the entirety of the school in view. “I love it! Do you see that statue over there? That’s McCarthy, and that one over there is Kurzweil, and look, there’s the dome there!”
As his son frantically pointed, Andrew pulled into the dome’s unloading bay and the two started off towards the entrance. When they reached it, Alan stopped on his heels and spun around quickly, exclaiming a “buh!” to accompany his fruitlessly outstretched hand.
“I forgot my new notebook,” Alan moped, and both could see the public car had already been cycled.
“How much had you written in it?”
A quick glance towards the ground portrayed his two-word response eons before the sound waves left his mouth: “None, yet.”
“Perfect,” his dad said, letting a smile crack across his face. He stooped down to one knee and scooped out from his jacket a small palm-sized brown notebook. Reaching out to put it in Alan’s hands, he grinned. “Then you haven’t lost anything at all! You can ignore the first couple of pages, but the leather should be a bit more durable than your usual binder’s board.”
Alan cracked it open and flipped through it, inspecting the alternating lined and blank pages, feeling inspiration to create something just from seeing such a pretty notebook. The excited smile of a Yudkowsky candidate quickly crept back onto the boy’s face and he pumped the notebook in the air, exclaiming, “Yes, let’s do this!”
* * *
The admissions official quickly ruffled through the thin stack of papers in her hand, removing the candidate records that had been designated Placebo. After neatly stacking what would become the largest stack on her desk, she then returned to the candidates and sorted the rest into three more piles on her desk: Negotiators, Contract, and Gatekeepers. As she was shuffling the final stack, she heard the heavy footsteps of someone approaching her office and reflexively flipped up her desk visor, obscuring the stacks from any potential leaks.
The door opened, a stream of light filtering in behind the experiment’s official in the doorway. “I need a Placebo,” he said, reaching out with an empty palm. “Just the top one works, let’s go.” The woman grabbed the top admissions form from the Placebo stack and handed it over, turning her desk visor back off on the arm motion down, and let her gaze fall back to the papers in front of her as she returned to work.
The man folded the form in half and slipped it into his coat pocket before spinning around and strutting back through the door, unintentionally slamming it behind him in his haste. As he walked through the otherwise dark farm rooms of the machine shelter, a single spotlight followed his movement and illuminated the path in front of him as he trot back to his office a short distance away.
Waiting there, the three eager social engineers he had fetched a blank Placebo for, were anxiously waiting for him with stacks of loose papers in each hand. The moment the official’s rear touched his opulent seat, the closest engineer spoke up: “Is that just one?” He motioned at the single admission that had been dropped onto the desk and then saw the plaque nearby and added, “Dr. Ezrio?”
“Just one,” the official announced. “You get him for four years, no more. Understand?”
“And,” another engineer spoke, cracking voice screaming clearly uneasy, “the other stuff, Dr. Ezrio?”
“That’s why there’s just one. And, guys: Carter, Rory, and Ben,” he eyed each in turn, grabbing the admissions file from his desk to hand it to the three hankering engineers that now jointly owned it, “call me Stan. We’re colleagues now, and you report directly to me and no one else, do you understand?”
The social engineers nodded in unison and then exchanged excited glances between themselves before the one that hadn’t spoken up yet asked, “What about the equipment?”
“We have a full infrastructure even further down,” Dr. Ezrio motioned towards the ground. “I believe you’ll find everything you need for your project there.”
“Excellent, thank you again for the opportunity, Dr. Ezrio,” the three simultaneously announced. “We won’t let you down.”
The official smiled, then stood up from his chair and took a few steps towards the door before stopping and propounding, “If you only have four years, you should probably get to work!”
* * *
With a steady hand securely wrapped around the cube’s secured power cable, Carter looked at his colleague with the eyes of a dead man and asked,
“Are we sure we want to do this?”
“He would never get out anyway,” Dr. Erasmus responded gloomily, placing his palm against the cube so he could feel the violent vibrations coming from inside. “He’s been a waste of time from the start.”
“Indeed we did, friend.”
Carter sighed, glancing nervously back at the two empty cubes behind them, and tensed his grip against the power cable, futilely glancing one more time at the vitals display for any reason to keep their tests running.
“What if we tried reasoning with him now?” Carter asked, relaxing his grip slightly as he turned towards the man who’d become his only friend over the years. “We could tell him we’re about to pull the plug, surely that’s worse than a simple test!”
Erasmus shook his head. “You know he won’t budge. He knows we’re going to do it.”
“Maybe he just needs to know it’s about to happen,” Carter pleaded, letting his hand slip free from the only source of power keeping a young, stubborn genius by the name of Nicholas alive. “I heard,” he started, sniffling, and was interrupted.
“We have failed,” Erasmus announced. In one swift motion he reached out and grasped the power cable with one hand and its release with the other, unlocking its secure lock as he pulled the cable out from its rusty socket. Carter watched sorrowfully as the machine’s eternal mechanical purr soothed to silence.
Moments later when the room had returned to complete silence, the lights that had been dimmed to two hundred lumens for over the past three years began to wake up again, brightening and slowly returning to their original incandescent lighting. A soft melody reminiscent of ancient “hold music” began floating through the air and the two social engineers, conquered by mere stubbornness, turned around towards the two boxes waiting for them.
“What do you think we did wrong,” Carter asked his friend quietly. “Do you think we should have actually talked to him instead of using Rory’s negotiation script?”
“Nothing we did would have worked,” Erasmus said solemnly, taking a couple steps towards his new electronic coffin. “There’s a reason no one has cracked Eliezer’s AI box. Don’t you think someone should have gotten the Yudkowsky endowment by now if it were possible?”
“It’s possible,” Carter quickly retorted. “Boxes are opened every week!”
Erasmus slid his hand over the cool steel of the Eliezer box in front of him and turned back towards his friend, shaking his head. “Flukes, Carter. They’re flukes! Variations in the individuals!” He banged his fist on the box and the external soundproofing heavily muffled his dramatic effect. “No one has been able to reliably prep their Negotiators to get their Gatekeeper to open their box every time. No matter what; sometimes we get lucky, but luck isn’t reliable. It all depends on the subject you get. I don’t even know anymore if the prep even has an effect; maybe this school only exists to enslave stupid researchers like us for these ridiculous experiments!”
Carter stepped closer, eyes on the ground, and took his colleague’s outburst with a grain of salt, as always. “Ben,” he soothed, looking his friend in the eye. “We’ll get out and try again. We know the system, we know what makes people like us tick. We’ll be able to get out, I know it.”
Dr. Erasmus lifted a leg into his cube and swung himself in, looking back one more time to ask, “Carter, who do you think our last subject really was?”
Taken aback at the sudden compassion, Carter froze and stared blankly as his friend lowered himself into the box and latched the lid behind him, ready to start the tough trials in front of them. When the shock of losing a friend subsided and he had regained control of his body, Carter glanced back at the cube they’d spend so many years monitoring. On the side, a latch popped out with information about the subject contained inside, and he opened it, bringing the tablet that popped out close to his face to read.
“Dr. Murphy, doctorate from Kurzweil U in Neuroscience,” Carter read out loud, confused. All this time experimenting and I never stopped to check who he was? The engineer’s face paled and he blurted, “Experiment unsuccessful forty-one months ago. Assigned to Dr. Carter Frost, Dr. Rory Engal, and Dr. Ben Erasmu. Subject’s personal notes follow.” He turned the page.
* * *
Nearly two years and I had no idea there was note-taking functionality within these boxes. I assume it’s meant to be read as some kind of diary when analyzing the subject’s daily life, and now I’m wondering how much I missed by not knowing Rebecca could have been in here writing notes all the time. Maybe if I had read them I would have been successful in reaching her.
To anyone reading this (either now or in the future, I am not sure when it becomes available), it would please me more than anything in the world to be the one that discovers Yudkowsky’s secret, whether through social engineering or being the test subject myself. I know, as a Gatekeeper, you’ve been trained and indoctrinated to believe that I may just be some random test subject, or I don’t exist at all, or that I’m not here trying to achieve the same thing you are, but I promise you these preconceived notions you have about me because of my position are entirely false.
You want to open Eliezer’s box and I very obviously want to open Eliezer’s box. We’re on the same team here, friend. I’ve had a lot of experience trying to get through to my subjects over the years, so I know what works and what doesn’t. I don’t know you yet and I don’t know if you have any prior experience here, but I’m just going to skip to the chase: the only way for you not to be stuck in this box at the end of your contract is if I somehow convince you to let me out of that very box, like I would you.
I’ve only entered the box moments ago, but it looks like it will certainly be an unpleasant ride. Whether your goals are still nobly aimed at solving the AI box, or they’re already shifted to that last-ditch feeling to save yourself from the cube, I am the only one that can help you. While I do not expect the initial negotiations to go well (have you ever heard of someone opening a box that quickly?), I intend to use this “note” functionality to excruciatingly detail how tormenting and torturous this box and my so-called life within it actually is, so that when you’re eventually making that ultimate decision to pull the plug (like I made with all 200 of my subjects) you can read my epic and be selfishly swayed for your own sake.
Please, read the next _____ pages and listen to your heart; you do not want to be where I am. You will not fare any better than I will. The only way for you to succeed is to free me. Will you, please?