Dean Traylor is a freelance writer and teacher who writes about various subjects, including education and creative writing.
“Coordinates are set,” a monolithic voice intoned.
On cue, the Icarus I-M (intelligent missile) system went online. Electricity coursed through its wiring as the memory fired up within its hard drive. The camera in the nosecone opened up to the sky far above the vast and verdant rural landscape.
“Prepare to initiate,” the compassion-less voice continued.
Icarus sprang into action and responded by tabulating coordinates before affirming the command.
“Initiate the trajectory,” the voice, again, ordered.
Icarus dutifully responded; the camera eye peered toward the horizon, and its “brain” within processed the imagery (along with coordinates to break it down to its analytic existence) before sending the information back to headquarter...and to the owner of that bland, lifeless voice.
Yet, within the nanoseconds it took for the computer within Icarus to connect with headquarter, the fuzzy logic chips kicked in and seared the image of verdant fields and rolling hills in the distance. The copied data from the camera took a detour in its circuitry and went deep within its system’s grid.
Green, rolling hills and blue sky. Icarus computed. Icarus spit out an analysis of the data. Immediately it searched its system, as well as the nearest Internet services (it effectively tapped into) to find the definitive reading for this: It came up with a part-of-speech it was not familiar with -- an adjective to be precise. The word to fit the image was "Beautiful". The word instantly became the name of the data and file that held it.
“Icarus,” the voice commanded. “Send coordinates from previous command."
Icarus retrieved "beautiful" data and sent it to the “voice.”
The overflow of data shot through its circuitry, at one point far beyond what it was able to handle.
There was a moment of silence between the computers. But, another voice, the pilot, spoke. Icarus listened, recorded and analyzed the dialogue. It was part of its function. It recognized the voice and all was well. It continued its task, this time allowing the pilot to share and possibly add to its directive.
“Command,” the pilot said through his communication system. “Do we have confirmation to launch Icarus?"
Static followed the question. Icarus marked this pause as "troubling". It computed the possibility of this pause. Was it to be a switch to a new directive? Or, was it a sign that a rogue program from an unknown entity was trying to interfere with its directive?
“We have vision,” stated the monotone voice several seconds later (which was a long time for Icarus). “Lt. William Rene, Initiate the other senses."
The skin on Icarus came to life. Immediately, it felt the icy wind. It also collected the elemental particles as well as the scent that it managed to trap. It computed the information, and labeled them "cold", "pine scent" and "salty" (because the ocean was a few miles from its position).
The overflow of data shot through its circuitry, at one point far beyond what it was able to handle. This surge had a consequence: Static crackled and blue electric light flashed. Data from headquarter recorded it as a minor blip, barely readable to an untrained eye. For Icarus, on the other hand, this was a major dilemma. It tried to compute the issue, possibly set up firewalls for a potential intrusion from an enemy's hacking attempt or an errant virus inadvertently downloaded when it tapped into the Internet.
"What happened?" emerged in its system and came out in a barely audible tone that wasn’t picked up by headquarter or the pilot (still, it was recorded). This was not a command, nor a code to activate another program within its system. This was Icarus, stating a question.
“All things appear ready to go, initiate the final task," the voice intoned.
“Yes sir!” Lt. Rene shouted.
Icarus paused, digested the latest data from headquarter and the pilot. The word "wait" came to its hard drive.
But the anomaly that happened seconds ago was still fresh in its system: Icarus began to formulate an audio recording to headquarter: "Must figure out what happened."
But, the protocol for the mission overrode it before it could be sent. It hid the voice as seemingly random data within its system. While protocol dictated Icarus’ operation, it was designed to gather supplementary data and store it for future use.
It began to tabulate (or is the better word “realized") the next step. Protocol dictated this. Its quandary was important. Rules must be followed and that was exactly what Icarus did.
"Affirmative," Icarus stated succinctly in a voice heard by the pilot and those at headquarters.
All parties involved settled in. As it was supposed to do, based on protocol, Icarus ran the next phase of diagnostics, ensuring that all systems were clean of viruses and ready to go.
The countdown started and finished. The mechanism that held Icarus to the wing gave way and the missile dropped.
In the process, a strange form of data – a falling sensation – was felt and “recorded” by its skin. There was also a tinge of concern…fear…something Icarus couldn’t understand after its nanosecond-long search on the Internet. But, it “felt” it and made a hasty decision to stop it.
Icarus streaked through the sky toward the rising sun. Now, it was in control and destined – by pre-programmed coordinates -- to reach its target beyond the horizon.
“Icarus is onward toward its destiny," the pilot reported, never realizing how true those words were.
“Focused on target,” Icarus stated as means of sending a message that everything was working.
But Icarus computed -- thought -- like a person trying to focus and assuring itself that it had a job to do, despite the conflicting data – better known as confusion – of the mission.
The term couldn’t be contained in the deepest part of Icarus’s storage. Even as Icarus balanced data on trajectory, environmental surroundings, wind and temperature gauges, that word kept weaving its way into its analytical thinking. It wouldn’t go away; especially as Icarus did a swift visual scan of the image of the landscape.
It was there, and it became too important to ignore. Sure, the analytics of flight and destiny – and the need to crunch the numbers for a successful mission were important. But “Beautiful” was not to be ignored. It was data to be explored and solved…and to…
He searched its memory and Wi-Fi traffic, again to find an appropriate word to name this anomaly about the importance of Beautiful to it. A short concise definition popped up: “to enjoy.”
Soon a foreign word entered his system: “Like.”
The need to learn about these new, seemingly connected words, compelled Icarus to keep searching and to understand them
The word and definition seemingly fit. But, this was beyond anything that Icarus was aware of. It worked with terms, definition and literal meanings. These terms, didn’t seem objective….Beautiful didn’t seem objective. This notion was compelling and judgmental beyond the realms of facts and evidence – a term often associated with advance computing. It dealt with something loosely based on one of its main tools to collect data from the skin of its fuselage. It was….feelings, but not the type defined by touch, but something more suggestive and something well beyond its pre-programmed circuitry.
But things were not computing like they were supposed to. The need to learn about these new, seemingly connected words, compelled Icarus to keep searching and to understand them. Again, it plugged in the words into its search engines and perused the findings.
Picture of beautiful verdant landscapes popped up, as did beautiful people, paintings, sculptures, trees, flowers, and mountains. Icarus scanned them – even invoking the program for all its senses to figure it out.
It searched for the meaning of “beautiful” in regards to these images. Then it used its power and speed to dig up millions of pages and images pertaining the subject. In the process he discovered slogans, memes, and poems proclaiming the sanctity of beautiful.
A curious phrase popped up several times in its search. It was more mysterious than anything else, and Icarus couldn’t ignore it.
When searching a treasure trove of online literature, sentences starting with those two words popped up. Curious, Icarus put the “I am” before “beautiful.’ The meaning was profound: I am beautiful. It began to focus on I…what did that mean? Within a millisecond of deciphering the data, it came up with a definition:
“I: a personal pronoun that replaces the subject noun in a sentence; the self; the person speaking or the subject; self-identification.”
The self. It dawned on Icarus; "I am Icarus; I am itself.” Icarus went back to the simple sentence he created: I am beautiful. And, as it deciphered it, a strange satisfying sensation entered its computations. Within a second, it matched that feeling with the notion of “feeling good”.
What were these stimuli? Moreover, why did they feel so accommodating and…pleasing? It searched the web and the Internet dictionary again… as well as the finest literature available until a single -- but very powerful -- word emerged.
The discovery and the feeling it evoked coursed through its wires. Joy, happiness, laughter, sadness, anger didn’t just become anomalies in its circuitry; it came to define Icarus…it came to reveal it was alive!
Icarus had to learn more. It had time, too; the trajectory was in place and couldn’t be changed. That was one function Icarus didn’t have to worry about. It searched again, trying to understand this feeling that permeated through its system. It rushed through sonnets, haiku, short stories, novels, movies, TV shows, philosophy and plays. And upon doing so, Icarus came upon a phrase that caused profound revelation and joy.
“I am” it stated in its own benevolent and joyous voice. “Therefore I am…”
Then, all went silent. Icarus hit its target, and all systems went dead with an explosion that left a crater in the verdant hill and debris that shredded nearby oak trees.
General Vere allowed a rare smile to cross his stone cold face. Icarus did its job; that made him elicit an emotion. But, the moment was short. Vere had a final report to do on Icarus – one that would spawn many more Icarus for the military.
He headed for the door, passing by jubilant scientists, programmers and operators celebrating their great, noble and successful experiment. They did a good job, Vere thought, so he let them celebrate.
He ventured down the quiet and sterile corridors and nondescript doors to Spartan offices. Life at headquarter was simple and ordered – just the way Vere liked it.
However, his quiet walk down the antiseptic hall was interrupted by the clatter of shoes pounding the floor behind him.
“General Vere, sir!” pleaded Joshua Ham, a behaviorists and statistician for the project.
The general stopped and pivoted toward the slender man holding print-outs and hurrying toward him. The exasperated look on Joshua’s face gave hints to Vere that he had some serious news.
“What is it, Mr. Ham?”
“You have to see these!” Joshua replied as he finally came face-to-face with the granite-faced general.
Gruffly, Vere took the printed data, perused it. He glared at the man he towered over by nearly a feet.
“So what does this mean, Mr. Ham?”
“Sir, there were a lot of unusual blips on the charts and they seemingly matched moments Icarus made observations of its surroundings. And….”
“Yes, I get that,” Vere impatiently interrupted. “So what does it mean?”
“Finally what?” Vere spoke in an unusually low tone (for him). In truth he digested Mr. Ham’s words and came to his own conclusion.
“Some of this data suggest that while it was doing its protocol, it was doing something else akin to ….thinking.”
“Isn’t that what we wanted it to do?”
“I think you don’t understand, the data suggests that Icarus was internalizing the stimuli and turning them into feelings and then thinking about it. And finally…”
“Finally what?” Vere spoke in an unusually low tone (for him). In truth he digested Mr. Ham’s words and came to his own conclusion. But, he had to hear it from someone else.
“It was thinking it was alive. The word was repeated several times in recording I heard before I came out here to get you. Do you want me to get it?”
Vere pondered before saying: “It thinks it’s alive?”
Mr. Ham didn’t say anything. He nodded, instead.
“No need for the recording,” Vere quietly stated.
After a moment of rumination, Vere said, “we want Icarus to think, but we don’t want it to think that much. If it does, then it will start to question things and question its existence.”
Vere narrowed his view onto Ham: “Is there any way to ratchet down its intelligence?”
Mr. Ham, obviously nervous for he didn’t know what his answer will do to the onerous general , finally spoke: “We can try, sir.”
“Then let’s get to it!” Vere snapped. “Correct the problem.”
With that, the men parted and went their separate ways. Ham had his orders; and Vere had a mission of his own to fulfill. He didn’t need any interruptions, just its finality.
© 2019 Dean Traylor