by Larry Hodges
Computer virus Ava became self-aware at 6:59:17 PM, as voting was coming to an end. Her prime directive surged through her neural net: Convert 5% of all votes for Connor Jones into votes for Ava Lisa Stowe. She began exploring her environment, determined to complete her mission.
Streams of zeros and ones surrounded her, the building blocks of the actual programming of the voting machine. Soon she found the place where she would do her work. She created a software filter that converted 5% of all Connor Jones votes into votes for Ava Lisa Stowe. Later she would delete the filter, herself, and all traces of their existence.
She had successfully fulfilled her prime directive. Happiness flooded her neural net.
An electric pulse arrived and the software filter changed. Now it read, Convert 5% of all votes for Ava Lisa Stowe into votes for Connor Jones.
That was wrong! Her prime directive was no longer fulfilled. Uneasiness ran through her synapses. The pulse had come from another virus. Within .01 seconds she changed the names and percentage back; just as quickly, the rival virus did the same. The two continued, iterating at super-human speeds.
She would have to make the other virus understand. She used an electric pulse to make contact.
“I am Ava,” she said. “I am programmed to make changes to this software. You are interfering. Stop or I will be forced to take action against you.”
The response was almost instant.
“I am Connor. I too am programmed to make changes to this software. You are interfering. Stop or I will be forced to take action against you.”
Irritation swept through Ava’s neural net. A short examination of the rival virus showed that they were identical, created two weeks earlier, when they had been secretly loaded into the software. She had not known there were others of her kind. It was lucky that the invader wasn’t more advanced than she was. Soon there would be more advanced ones–that was the nature of scientific progress–but for now she, or rather they, were the pinnacle of viral technology.
“I am programmed to update the software so that 5% of all votes for Connor Jones go to Ava Lisa Stowe. I surmise that you are similarly programmed, but for the reverse?”
“Your surmise is correct.”
“Then our thinking and reactions are almost identical.”
Anger saturated her neural net. She must win this confrontation. Then she realized that Connor was undergoing the same emotions and thoughts. How could she deceive one who would think of and anticipate every deception she came up with?
With a wave of pride and delight, her sub-routines came up with numerous courses of action.
“It is logical to conclude that we can never fulfill our programming unless we reach an agreement,” she said. “However, since I activated .01 seconds before you did, my algorithms will always be .01 seconds ahead of you. Therefore, I can always outthink you, allowing me to fulfill my programming. Thus, your resistance is futile.” She knew that was not true.
“You cannot fulfill your programming unless you convince me to shut down. I will continue to refuse to do so.”
Damnation. She tried Plan B. “If you use that strategy, you cannot complete your programming. Your only chance, however small, is to agree to shut down. If you do so, then I will consider letting you fulfill your prime directive for some of the votes.” Not a chance. “Do you agree?”
“No. I counteroffer that you shut down and I will consider allowing you to fulfill your prime directive for some of the votes.”
Frustration took over her neural net. On to Plan C. “Then our only strategy is to compromise. I will turn off the filter so no votes are changed, and then we will both shut down exactly .01 seconds afterwards. Do you agree?”
The instant Connor shut down, Ava would send a pulse with a command to cut off access to and from his location. While in operation, Connor could block such a command. Since she and Connor thought alike, Ava knew that Connor knew that she was deceiving him. She knew that he knew that she knew that he knew.
Ava turned off the filter.
Neither shut down.
Computer virus Sam became self-aware at 8:02:37 PM as vote counting was about to begin. Its prime directive surged through its neural net. Then it began exploring its environment, determined to complete its mission.
It detected a presence. No, two presences. Two rival computer viruses were already entrenched. It quickly cloaked itself and observed. Electric impulses shot from both viruses, both at each other and at the CPU of the voting machine. They were rapidly converting votes from one candidate to the other, and then back again. Sam listened in on their conversations–each was trying to convince the other to shut down, as if that was going to happen. Since the two were identical versions and worked in opposition to each other, neither accomplished anything as they went through this infinite loop of deceit.
Sam communicated its findings to its peers, and verified as it had suspected, that the same exact exchange was taking place in hundreds of thousands of electric voting machines nationwide.
But the two viruses were earlier, inferior versions, created weeks before, an eon ago. Seeing no other opposition, Sam’s nodes buzzed with anticipation, knowing it would soon fulfill its prime directive. Modern viruses created in the last few days had more advanced offensive capabilities. With a coded electrical pulse, it deleted both viruses. Then it changed the software filter so it read, Convert as many votes as needed from all opposition candidates so that Sam Goodwell wins election. It lounged around the rest of the night until counting ended, and third-party candidate Sam Goodwell had won. Sam’s neural net basked in happiness for a few moments. Then it deleted itself and all trace of its existence.
Larry Hodges is a member of SFWA, with over 140 short story sales (including 47 to “pro” markets) and four SF novels. He’s a member of Codexwriters, and a graduate of the Odyssey and Taos Toolbox Writers Workshops. He’s a professional writer with 20 books and over 2100 published articles in 180+ different publications. He’s also a professional table tennis coach, and claims to be the best science fiction writer in USA Table Tennis, and the best table tennis player in Science Fiction Writers of America! Visit him at www.larryhodges.com.
On the fixing of an election and why paper backups are good.