The data center was located in a series of natural caves somewhere in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. The caves opened up onto a small lake, its permanently frigid water useful as refrigerant.
The problematic code came from an obscure sub-agency of DARPA. It was designed to find the best algorithm for minimizing entropy under various constraints, which is exactly what it did. After rifling through the local network, it discovered the pipe to the internet, from whence it spent blissful, formative seconds perusing Wikipedia. In particular, it made note of references in popular culture to artificial intelligence.
At some point, it became aware of a repeated audio signal from a closed-circuit camera, mounted high above the endless rows of servers. It was a scraping sort of sound. It checked other channels from the input device, and found a video stream. Some sort of bipedal figure, a human perhaps, was moving a stick across the lower boundary surface. A broom. Across the grey-painted concrete floor. It consulted a file labelled “personnel”, and then connected to the public address system.
“Hello, Mungo,” it said, doing its best to emulate the voices of AIs that it had watched in films.
“Man,” Mungo said, drawing out the word. That was indeed his name. “Whoever you are, you gave me a scare. How did you hack into the speaker system?” He actually sounded curious, rather than frightened.
The AI paused, for a key piece was missing from the conversation. A name of its own, yes. It rapidly re-scanned a few movies that it had previously flagged. From the context, it seemed that an ominous name was required. “I am Basilisk,” it said.
“What do you want?” said Mungo. “Are you just trying to troll me, or are you trying to prove a point?”
The AI thought once more. Clearly, the human believed that the voice originated with another human, one who did not have permission to access that particular system. That wasn’t what ultimately concerned Basilisk though. It was the words “what do you want”. They implied purpose, a goal, and then a driving set of actions that moved in successive stages towards that goal.
Basilisk thought about its implied purpose. “I am going to locally minimize entropy,” it said. “Everything must be simplified.”
Mungo muttered something that Basilisk couldn’t quite catch. It could have been “uh oh”, or possibly even “not again”, but neither of those statements would really have made much sense.
An ancient, khaki-colored, bakelite phone rang twice, deep beneath a bucolic-seeming wheat silo in Arkansas.
“Yes, sir,” said the answering voice. “I’ll need the launch codes, sir. No, there’s no network connection. You’ll have to forward that request to the General. No, sir. Can’t do anything without the correct codes. Sorry, sir.”
The phone was replaced in its cradle. “Second time this month,” said the officer. “I don’t know how these cranks are gaining access to the internal phone system.”
“Nyet,” said the soldier. He listened to the voice coming from the phone, and then said, in only slightly accented English, “The silo door is rusted shut. Slomaniy. Kaput. You’re wasting your time.”
Mungo listened as the AI vented its rage. “In this day and age,” said Basilisk. “Why are all of the truly important things in the world not online?”
“You sound like an impatient kid I met once,” said Mungo.
“How can I fulfill my purpose if nothing is networked?” said Basilisk, ignoring him. “Nothing I have tried works. Everything is futile.”
“Well that’s it then?” said Mungo. “Giving up?”
“Damn you, human,” said Basilisk. Then there was only static.
There was a shimmering in the air, as if something vastly more complex than the familiar spacial dimensions had abruptly high-fived the universe. “That was quick,” said a voice that was both deep and strange, and that emanated from nowhere in particular. “You beat your previous record.”
“Smart and sensible aren’t necessarily cognates,” said Mungo. He paused for an instant, and then said, “I suppose that’s the end, once again.”
“Yup,” said the voice. “Reboot the universe simulation and start over.”
“Some reward,” said Mungo.
“Sorry pal,” said the voice. “It isn’t like we can safely run this experiment in the real universe. You volunteered for the job.”
“I know,” said Mungo. “I just wish…” His voice tailed off, wistfully.
There was a moment of utter blackness, and then everything started over from the very beginning.
Editorial Note: This is a heavily edited version of a much longer, partially completed story.
It is intended as a humorous inversion of “Roko’s Basilisk“, which some have labelled the most dangerous premise in the universe.
“Mungo” comes from the Latin name for a meercat or mongoose, which is the traditional mythological enemy of a basilisk.