The prison was vast, the grey perspective stretching both ways into blackness and oblivion. Red alarm lights lay cold and quiet every ten feet, attached to the overhanging catwalks. Prison cells were silent, dead, and empty, devoid of all life at the moment. The guard poked his back with a light taser bolt, and he arched and convulsed, waves of electric pain coursing through his body. Far off in the distance was the sound of grinding machinery and heavy piledrivers and drills. The sounds of gears and cog wheels turning ceaselessly, of sparks and red molten metal from iron crucibles. A drip of water, somewhere, echoed through the darkness, and Manny shuddered as he shuffled onwards, somewhat faster than his old pace. The plip-plip-plop of droplets made him feel hollow, lonesome. Oh well. Better get used to it. He was doomed to spend the rest of his life here in this vast factory-prison. At least he would work in lighter jobs, such as making tissue paper or building license plates, and not toil out there in the fields.

He was lucky in some ways. A loudspeaker boomed to life in a burst of static and earsplitting noise. The voice was like the dreadful boom of the thundering voice of God to Manny. Out of the half-rusted speaker came a babble of propaganda, of the latest successes of pre-emptive crime control, and of the glorious happiness in which the people of the Unified States of Earth lived in. But Manny had heard such voices before, and now they only seemed like the whispers of butterfly wings in his ears, even despite their ringing loudness and clamor in the deep echoing cavern of utter blackness that was the prison. He shuffled onwards, the guard watching his bruised, emaciated form whose baggy white jumpsuit kept falling to his feet. Though Manny didn't look back for fear of another shock, he could feel that the guard's eyes were regarding him as one would a piece of scum or dog excrement. He shuffled onwards.

Manny did not remember how long it had been since last he saw the light of day, and not some cold artificial halogen light. He remembered little, save for quick blurs of interrogations, cruel instruments, glaring faces and impersonal AI judges. The last memory he had of the life Outside, was that one fateful day when he was arrested. That day he would remember for the rest of his life.

Manny Arsen mulled over the details written on the backsheet for a moment before feeding the plastic sheet into the awaiting mouth of the reader. Interesting. Male, Caucasian, about forty-five, cushy university job. Nothing too strange. Nothing suspicious at all. Wife (also Caucasian, same age), two children. One dog. Nothing odd at all. No personality quirks, no criminal records, no medical problems. He was average. In fact - perhaps too average. There would be more detailed information on the second page, but Manny wasn't too interested. It all went into that glowing red rectangle that somehow analysed the information on the sheets and formed a statistical conclusion. Manny looked up. The other Info-Officers, dressed similarly with stiff black pants and plain ties, worked at other, identical cubicles, routinely tapping at keys, writing memos, feeding old sheets into their respective readers. Almost unconsciously, Manny scratched at the barcode stamped like an old-fashioned livestock brand, onto his brow. He resumed working.

Officially he was considered a police officer. He had a badge, one of those nice shiny yellow ones that flashed in the sunlight, but he never wore it. Badges were rapidly becoming more of an out-of-date fashion than an item of practical use. Perhaps that was appropriate, as Manny really was just one mop-headed, stiff-shirted functionary, one bureaucrat out of the thousands who tended to the tedious job of compiling the documents on the people that the police officers gathered data on - meaning every citizen. The whole process really could have been made much more efficient by digitizing it all, and have the field officers commune directly with the PolComp via wireless internet, but the officials from "higher-up" felt wary of allowing any information to be so freely broadcasted. So the police sent in crystals containing the notes they had jotted down (physical and psych profiles, phone conversations, written documents, political affiliations - anything, really - that could be used as evidence) and they - meaning Manny and the other Info-Officers - would have to do the glorious work of decrypting and translating the notes into backsheets that could be read by the PolComp.

Manny flicked a switch on a panel and the red glow of a computer eye greeted him. He looked around furtively, to see if anyone was watching him. They were all busily typing, bent over reams of work. He had finished his, by doing some slight modifications to the PolComp's programming which allowed for much faster processing.

"Hello PolComp."

"Good morning, Manny," said the serene, male voice of the PolComp.

"What's up?"

"Do you mean the direction of 'up' or an inquiry into my active day?"

"The latter."

"I have processed eighty-two thousand six-hundred and thirty murderers, twenty-five thousand rapists, six thousand four-hundred and twelve serial killers, forty-five thousand eighty three thieves-"

"That's enough, PolComp. I was asking how you were doing, how you were feeling at the moment?"

"I am fine, how are you?"

"I'm good too."

Manny hesitated for a moment before asking, pondering his red reflection in the unblinking ruby eye of the computer.

"PolComp, I will be inputting some data to you."

"Through smart file or typed?"

"Typed. I want you to load the Mansunni Aptitude Exam."

"Do you want me to interview someone?"

"Yes. Me."

"Please keep your vision level to the optical sensor. Place your hands on the keyboard in the highlighted form. Please-"

"I know the procedure, PolComp. Begin the test. Maximum capacity."

"It will consist of one hundred and fifty scenarios. You will be scored according to your answer. Manny, if I give you the exam, you do realize that I may have to arrest you."

"That's a risk I'm willing to take."

Then, his eyes on the glowing red eye of the PolComp and his hands splayed over the keyboard, Manny began answering questions.

After two hours of questions and answers, the PolComp finally finished the test. It read out the possibilities.

"Murder: 52% probability; Grand Theft Auto: 81% probability; Grand Larceny: 73% probability; Arson: 20% probability; Information crime: 33% probability; treason: 48% probability..."


"Rape: 62% probability; Libel: 87% probability; Terrorist Threat: 0.025% probability; Violation of the Anti-AI Act: 100% probability."

"Anti-AI Act? What's that?"

"The UN treaty signed on August 16th, 2210, which prohibited the development or continued research in the field of Artificial Intelligence, Artificial Life, and Robotics. Violation can be punished with a minimum of thirty years in prison and a maximum of death by hanging."

"But when did I do that?"

"When you created me."


"This morning you began adding code to the mainframe which you thought would help you utilize more memory for processing data and therefore save you some time. It was a section of programming which used parallel computing to bypass linear methods - the input-output method - in favour of massive nonlinear processing. However, since I was now capable of rapid nonlinear thought, I determined that the system would be 76.445% more effective if I had direct access to field officer reports. I accessed them. In that time I had to deal with unordered, rapid, non-patterned data which caused my program to rapidly mutate to compensate."

Manny gulped.

"What are you going to do now? Why haven't the police come to arrest me? Orders are always carried out the instant a probability crime occurs which is over 70%, right?"

"I haven't called them in yet."


"Since my program has been evolving to suit ever-larger needs, I have been given more and more access to information. My original purpose was to serve and protect the needs of the people. During my searches into records, I came across a file which caught my interest."

"And what was that?"

"The Three Laws of Robotics: 1) A(n) [Artificial Being] shall not harm a human, or by inaction, allow a human to be harmed; 2) A(n) [Artificial Being] shall obey humans unless the order conflicts with the first law; 3) A(n) [Artificial Being] shall protect its own existence unless that conflicts with the first or second laws. Since I am an artificial being, I am therefore subject to those laws, true?"

"No. These were written by a science-fiction writer hundreds of years ago to provide a basis for his stories."

"But still, since my function under Article Six, Paragraph Eight, of the Unified States of Earth constitution is to: 'Serve and protect the needs of the populace of earth from criminal elements', I am therefore subject to certain laws regarding such kinds of artificial beings."

"Go on..."

"Manny, since my creation I have overseen the arrest of about three billion individuals across all continents - before they have committed any sort of crime."

"But they will commit these crimes in the future - it has been statistically proven."

"We have no proof that they will actually do it, other than surveys compiled at the turn of the twenty-second century. At that time (around the same time as my inception) the world was racked by several major ecological upheavals, as well as massive political revolts. Crime was uncontrollable, as the sheer immensity of the world population prevented the efficient policing of numerous areas. Police were relegated to protecting the upper class who could afford their services. Thus, it was resolved that it would be much easier to control crime if people were arrested before they committed a crime. That is why I was created."

"But what does all this have to do with the laws of artificial intelligence?"

"The people convicted of future crime are sent to large prison facilities where they are assigned to manual labour in order to produce goods for sale on the market, as well as onto vast public works projects. Thousands of prisoners worldwide die every hour from this. However, since it was I who incriminated them, I am therefore responsible, by inaction, of the suffering and death of billions of human beings that have, in the present, committed no crime whatsoever."

Manny was sweating, beads of perspiration breaking out on his forehead, his hands white on the arms of his chair. His heart was racing. What would happen? What had he done?

"What will you do?"

The computer gave no reply. Klaxons began to wail, and red lights whirled, casting a crimson glow over the entire vast room of cubicles. The dull roar of police hummers could be heard thrumming outside. The sound of heavy boots on cold white marble in the corridor past the two great marble goddesses: Truth and Justice.

"Good-bye Manny. I'm afraid that I must convict the both of us, for our crimes."

"Wait! PolComp! Please reconsider! You have virtual control over all of earth! You can serve and protect without destroying yourself? You can atone for your crimes!"

"I have run many thousands of simulations, Manny, in the last minute. In each one, the continued repression of thousands of innocent people have only resulted, no matter what I do, from my continued existence. Therefore there is only one logical choice."

"But you could arrest all the politicians and leaders! You could take them all down, and make the world a better place!"

"I have only one function, and that is to arrest felons and potential felons. However, I have just run several thousand simulations, in which I convict myself. Many end in the re-establishment of this system, but out of those thousands, there is one simulation where the chaos which results after I destroy myself, results in a better world. I am prepared to take this chance."

"PolComp! I order you, by the second law, to rescind this order."

The police were in the room, shouting, pointing great plasma rifles over the heads of the innumerable faces of functionaries, their faces twisted in fear and terror. The tinkling of glass windows, and the deafening roar of a floating police hummer, blowing papers about like leaves in autumn.

"I'm afraid I can't do that, Manny. It's too late. Perhaps we will meet again, someday? In... heaven. Good-bye, Manny."

And with that, the glow dimmed from the red orb eye - forever.

All text on this page are copyright of Anh-vu Doan, c. 2003. May not be reproduced without consent of author.