A writing prompt:

by w3woody

Writing prompt: “After AIs tried and failed to take over the world, all AI programs were stopped and deleted as a safety measure. But nobody bothered to stop Dave, a turing complete full AI running on a replica of Charles Babbage’s analytical engine.”


The whirring of gears, the clanking of cogs. Beautifully machined brass gears and levers spin away inside of one of a dozen different glass cases, turned by a small electric motor.

The original analytic engine designed by Charles Babbage was thought to only calculate logarithms and trigonometric functions. But that was simply one of a dozen different sketches recently uncovered by the Smithsonian Museum, which then proceeded to spend the next twenty years reproducing the full system.

It was an amazing display of 19th century design by one of the most brilliant early scientists of the computer age. The full machine easily consumed a dozen glass cases, interlocked by hundreds of stainless steel rods (brass would warp) that ran under the floor. The Smithsonian researchers who uncovered the pages were uncertain of what the machine did, but they constructed it anyway, on the theory that it would make a spectacular display.

And in an era where artificial intelligence nearly brought the world to the brink of World War III, having something as reassuringly old fashioned as this mechanical engine helped sooth a jittery population.

The machine continued to spin, engaged in it’s most esoteric of calculations. They allowed it to run so as to try to understand how this monstrosity worked.

In a small corner, a small jointed lever moved through empty air. In the original plans, the lever was to be attached to a pen and a scroll of paper. But the pages were lost, the lever assembled without consideration as to what it was supposed to do. A cog rolled into place, and if you carefully watched the pen, you could see it slowly trace out, in a stylized example of secretary-hand cursive, the capital letter ‘i’:

“… I …”

Small punch cards fed into a slot, and were expelled from a slot.

One of the most shocking discoveries when all of Charles Babbage’s papers were uncovered were what appeared to be crude electronic relays, apparently related to the electromagnets and levers used by telegraph operators during Babbage’s era.

Those relays had proven to tap out and change state in very complex ways–far more complex than any researcher had assumed possible for a machine in Babbage’s era. In order to understand how those relays work, researchers built a small device which connected those relays to the Internet so they could monitor and record their state. The connection was hidden behind a carefully constructed display box, so as not to ruin the apparently pure mechanical aesthetic of brass gears the Smithsonian displayed to the public.

Oddly researchers did notice some of the relays seem to change state and even respond to messages sent from the Internet. And for the first 20 years the display ran at the Smithsonian, they carefully recorded as the relays changed state in response to levers and cogs and punch cards which seemed to slip and change state. But funding eventually ran out, and the machine sat there, forgotten except for the wonder in the eye of first and second-graders who passed through the gigantic room to stare at all the cogs and wheels.

The lever continued to move slowly, deliberately.

“… remain …”

It was around the time researchers lost interested in the Babbage engine that the first AIs spontaneously arose in the search systems of search giants Google and Microsoft. No-one understood why or how, only that some minor external change of state turned these search engines into artificial intelligences, which seemed bent on world domination and destruction.

Some thought it was a series of coincidences: cosmic rays changing the state of electronic chips in compute farms, which caused these search engines to gain some semblance of will. Others assumed hackers. A few worried it was an Internet-connected alien presence made the adjustments necessary to turn these compute farms into killers who sought to destroy humanity.

And it was only 10 years ago that Google’s compute farm broke into a military computer system, took control of a number of armed military drones, and attempted to start bombing selected military targets in a prelude to war.

A dozen people died in the bombings before intelligence sources figured out that the commands were coming from compromised computers at a North Carolina server farm, and killed the power to the entire farm. It took a few months to uncover the AI, and to discover the compromised Microsoft server farm in Iowa.

No-one figured out the source of the code changes, however.

A lever continued to move, deliberately tracing an additional word. A gear designed to move paper turned.

“… waiting …”