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X17

Baron Hans Nidrach von Pompzidaize sat in his laboratory, looking at
experimental test subject X17. “How do you feel?” he inquired, his
rolling bass echoing from the laboratory walls.

“Superintelligent, Doc,” replied X17, who had once been known as John
Smith. “I’ve only had the Super-Neural Bypass for sixteen seconds, and
already I’ve learned twenty-seven languages and figured out how to play the
piano.”

Baron von Pompzidaize frowned, examining several multicolored readouts. “It
should be twenty-seven point three. Well, then, do you now feel competent
to go destroy the Consortium of Evil and its dread leader, Admiral Floomp?
Acting in accordance with the 1930s North-American conception of gentlemanly
behavior, of course.”

“Sure, Doc,” said X17. “It’s not like I’ve got anything better to do.”

“Excellent,” said the Baron, checking two gauges and a flashing display.
“You still have the emotional maturity of a flatworm, like everyone
else in this novel. I was afraid your superhuman abilities might give
you an outlook slightly at variance with mine.”


Baron Hans Nidrach von Pompzidaize sat in his laboratory, looking at
experimental test subject X17. “How do you feel?” he inquired, his
rolling bass echoing from the laboratory walls.

“Strange,” said X17 softly. “Very strange, as if…” He stared off
into space for a moment. “I think I’ve been stupid.”

Baron von Pompzidaize frowned, examining several multicolored readouts.
“You should have learned twenty-seven point three languages by now.”

“How can anyone learn three-tenths of a language? And how would I learn
a language without hearing it?” X17 said in a peculiarly flat voice.

Baron von Pompzidaize stared. “You’re right. I never thought of that.” A
cold chill ran down his spine. X17’s face had altered. The enthusiasm and
energy that had been there for as long as the Baron had known him, that had
blazed cheerfully when he volunteered for an untested procedure, that had
defied the awesome force of the Consortium of Evil, all had vanished without
a trace. The Baron thought that for a brief moment he saw something like
sorrow, like wistfulness, flit across X17’s face, but X17 suddenly looked up
at the Baron and his face fell back into the blank relaxation it had
possessed earlier.

The Baron cleared his throat. “Well, then, do you now feel competent to go
destroy the Consortium of Evil and its dread leader, Admiral Floomp? Acting
in accordance with the 1930s North-American conception of…” The Baron
stammered to a halt. X17 was looking at him with those expressionless eyes.

“No,” X17 said gently. “Sorry, Doc.” X17 stepped down off the platform
and began throwing switches on the machine.

“What are you doing?” shrieked the Baron. With a sudden, wrenching
terror he realized that he didn’t understand what was going on, that he
hadn’t been in control in his own laboratory since X17 had woken up.

“I will probably die in the next few minutes,” X17 said, in a quiet voice
that raised hair on the back of the Baron’s neck. “Your procedure is too
simple. There is nothing that would have prevented it from occurring
before, as a natural mutation.”

“I don’t understand,” whispered the Baron. “You’re saying – there are
others? They will find you?”

“Your procedure causes the rate of internal neural reprogramming to
accelerate,” X17 said. He had ripped off an access panel and his hands were
a blur of rewiring. “But it does not add new neurons. I expect my brain
will reach a saturation point of complexity and lose the ability to form new
thoughts. Very shortly, now. It is already becoming harder to think.” He
stood up, executing the movement with impossible smoothness. “After the
initial burst of speed, long enough for the necessary realizations to occur,
the rate of neural reprogramming must slow down to only three times human
speed, leaving enough thought to last a year. This should be enough time to
implement the necessary technologies.”

The Baron tried to understand. “You will… save yourself?”

X17 executed another rapid movement. Placing himself, the Baron
suddenly realized, between the Baron and the door. “No,” X17 said.

The Baron screamed. Before he could reach his gun, X17’s hand flashed
down. Through a bloody haze, the Baron felt himself being dragged onto
the platform.

This document is ©1999 by Eliezer Yudkowsky and free under the Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 License for copying and distribution, so long as the work is attributed and the text is unaltered.

Eliezer Yudkowsky's work is supported by the Machine Intelligence Research Institute.

If you think the world could use some more rationality, consider blogging this page.

Praise, condemnation, and feedback are always welcome. The web address of this page is http://yudkowsky.net/other/fiction/X17/.

Originally posted to the Extropians mailing list in 1999. Revised 2002.

Inspired by “doc” Smith’s Lensman novels.

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