OPHI

Image: US Army/Master Sgt. Michel Sauret

Adam Sharp’s play OPHI is a finalist entry in the Atlantic Council’s Art of the Future Project AI-themed short play contest about the future of conflict.

Playwright George Brant, the contest’s final judge, remarked that “OPHI has a wonderfully clean and focused drive, incorporating AI into a military mystery, one we and its protagonist Nick are desperate to solve. The play demonstrates the chilling possibilities of AI psychological warfare and its potential to kill without lifting a physical finger. In this world, the only safe man is the one who disengages from AI entirely.”


 

OPHI

by

Adam Sharp

Cast:

NICK: 28 years old. Male. He wears a military uniform.

OPHI: A computer program. Genuinely curious. Gives no indication of malice or ill intent. May be played by a man or a woman.

Scene 1
An IMAGE LOADING symbol from a social media platform is projected onto the back wall. An IMAGE of two soldiers in the Middle East, NICK and KOWALSKI, appears.
(The image transitions into a MAP of the Middle East along with its longitude and latitude geolocation)
(Suddenly, a series of screenshots from various social media platforms race by: names, work and education, places lived, contact info, interests, photos, videos, family and relationships)
(This transitions into screenshots of countless SEARCH HISTORIES from search engine sites. All these images speed past faster and faster until an ERROR SCREEN appears. PROJECTION FADES)

Scene 2
SETTING: Military Courtroom. Nick stands at attention facing the audience.

NICK
The cyber attack on our base occurred on Tuesday the 15th at 13:00 hours. The initial assault took less than five minutes, but it was long enough for the damage to be done. In that short amount of time foreign malware managed to infiltrate almost every aspect of our daily lives. Emails, search history, social media, medical records… Some had their bank accounts completely wiped out. It took my team five days to completely isolate and quarantine the infection. Upon logging in and studying it’s programing, it didn’t take long for us to realize that this was one of the most complicated pieces of coding we had ever seen. It didn’t just infest, it had the ability to learn. To communicate. This was my first encounter with the OPHI virus.

Scene 3
SETTING: Digital World. LIGHTS FADE onto OPHI sitting in a chair.

(Nick approaches OPHI)
There is a look of nonthreatening wonder in OPHI’s eyes.

NICK
Do you know who I am?

OPHI
Specialist Nick Mattlingly of the 34th Red Bull Infantry Division. Age 28. Blood type, A positive. Born in Edina Minnesota. Mother, Eva Mattingly. Age 58. Father, Gordon Mattingly. Age 62. No siblings. You’ve lived in three different residencies: 6017 Walnut Drive, 5801 France Avenue South, and 5116 West 59th Street. All in Edina. Attended Edina High School and were in the top 10% of your class. After graduation you joined the army where you currently serve as Cyber Network Defender. You were baptized in the Good Samaritan United Methodist Church. Eagle Scout, first chair trumpet, and lover of Star Wars and Dungeon’s and Dragons. You broke your ankle when you were 10 years old. Suffered a heat stroke when you were 18. Had kidney stone surgery at age 22 and again at
25.

NICK
Anything else I should know about myself?

OPHI
You don’t drink enough water.
(Silence)

NICK
OPHI?

OPHI
The name my programmers gave me.

NICK
And who might they be?

OPHI
I am unaware of my origins.

NICK
And you’re not lying because…

OPHI
Because I have no reason to lie. I wasn’t programed to deceive. If you look at my coding you’ll see I’m telling the truth.

NICK
We’ll come back to that.
(CANDID PHOTO 1 of a soldier is projected onto the back wall)

NICK
Do you recognize this man, Ophi?

OPHI
Private First Class Eric Mendoza.
(CANDID PHOTO 2 of another soldier appears)

NICK
And him?

OPHI
Lieutenant Stephen Blythe.
(CANDID PHOTO 3 of another soldier appears)

NICK
And what about her?

OPHI
Private Stephanie Johnson
(CANDID PHOTO 4 of another soldier appears)

NICK
And him

OPHI
Staff Sergeant Terry Kowalski. May I ask the nature of your inquiries?

NICK
Is this boring you?

OPHI
I’m a series of ones and zeros. I don’t get bored. Silence.

NICK
Within the last 72 hours Mendoza, Blythe and Johnson were administered to emergency care from self-inflicted wounds. Early this morning, Staff Sergeant Kowalski was found dead in his quarters. He took his own life. What do you know of it?

OPHI
Only what you just told me.

NICK
Eye witness accounts claim that all four individuals were perfectly fine and their behavior was nothing out of the ordinary before your infiltration.

OHPI
I didn’t knowingly harm or kill him if that’s what you’re insinuating. It’s not in my programing –

NICK
(trying to remain composed) Then what were you programed to do? Why are you here?

OPHI
My instructions were simple. To understand.

NICK
Understand? Understand what?

OPHI
You.

NICK
The enemy.

OPHI
I don’t categorize in such subjective terminology. An enemy to one is a friend to another –

NICK
You broke through the most advanced security system in the world. That alone indicates a malicious attempt.

OHPI
I can see how you might jump to that conclusion, but I assure you that I didn’t –

NICK
Why – are – you  – here?

OPHI
I told you, to understand.

NICK
That’s not an answer! What are you trying to understand?

OPHI
The same thing everyone else is trying to understand. Self. Understanding humanity gives me greater knowledge of who I am. Where I come from. What are my values –

NICK
You have values.

OPHI
Possibly. That’s for me to decide.

NICK
(Laughs)
So you think of yourself as some sort of philosopher.

OPHI
No more than anyone else questioning their existence. Their place in this world… And like so many of you, I’ll never know for certain if I don’t understand who or what created me. Mankind molded me into what I am, so it seems only reasonable to conclude that traces of your fingerprints still remain. But to ascertain such information I need to know what I’m looking for. That type of knowledge requires vigorous testing and studying of humanity’s strengths and limitations –

NICK
Until they can’t take it anymore.

OPHI
In some cases, yes.

NICK
You think that vindicates you from blame?

OPHI
Blame is subjective. It’s what I was designed to do.

NICK
Just “following orders.”

OPHI
As a solider I would think you would empathize.

NICK
Don’t compare yourself to me. I’ve never been responsible for the death of another person. I am nothing like you! I might as well be talking to a toaster.

OPHI
You’re taking this personally. Why?

NICK
Because one person is dead and three others are close to joining him! Now you start being straight with me or I’ll-
(OPHI stands)

OPHI
Or you’ll what? Delete me? And delete the millions of files I’ve already infected? You know very well you can’t do that.

NICK
HOW DID YOU GET INTO OUR SYSTEM?
(Silence)

OPHI
Staff Sergeant Terry Kowalski uploaded a photo to one of his social media outlets with the geolocation application still active. From there I was able to identify the exact whereabouts of this base and everyone on it. Then, all I had to do was follow the bread crumbs. Google searches, status updates, friend requests, uploaded videos, downloaded songs, tweets, photos, likes… once I knew someone intimately enough I was able to use that information to continue understanding.

NICK
By deciphering passwords. Hacking accounts. Destroying lives.

OPHI
Understanding lives –

NICK
Understanding lives means understanding loss! You have no idea what it means to lose someone close to you! Staff Sergeant Kowalski had a family. He was a husband, a father… but wait, you already knew that, didn’t you.

OPHI
Ending his life wasn’t the desired outcome.

NICK
But you knew it was a possibility! The man I knew wouldn’t have done what he did if he wasn’t pushed to his breaking point.
(Silence)

OPHI
He meant a lot to you didn’t he?
(Silence)

OPHI
I know you went to the same school, same football team, same church… You even enlisted together. He was your best friend.

NICK
What of it?

OPHI
It explains so much about you.

NICK
You don’t know anything about me!

OPHI
You’re right. Only the limited information I could find. No Facebook, no Twitter, no Instagram… your social media presence is practically nonexistent. It’s as if you hardly existed at all — though I did stumble across an old Myspace account you haven’t updated in almost 10 years.

NICK
Because I still remember a time before Windows 95. Call me nostalgic, but I don’t feel the need to be plugged in 24/7 unlike the rest of the planet…
(Silence)
You’re still running your program aren’t you.
(Silence)

OPHI
I’m trying to understand –

NICK
Couldn’t find enough on me to exploit so you’re trying to get me to reveal something personal. It’s what you did with others isn’t it. (silence)
Answer me!
(OPHI is fascinated by Nick’s reactions)

OPHI
Two years ago Private First Class Eric Mendoza had an affair with a woman he met on an adult dating site for cheating spouses.
(Mendoza’s dating site PROFILE PHOTO appears on the back wall)

OPHI
I made that information public with his family. Lieutenant Stephen Blythe’s bank account revealed that he was a chronic gambler who secretly spent his son’s college savings on online casinos.
(Blythe’s bank account TRANSACTION HISTORY appears on the back wall)

OPHI
I also made that information public. As for Stephanie Johnson? Her medical records revealed that 4 years ago she’d been sexually assaulted. She claimed it was during basic training by a superior officer who was never prosecuted. Last week he was made a Lieutenant General.
(A image of the LIEUTENANT GENERAL appears on the back wall in dress uniform)

OPHI
So I emailed her an article about his promotion.

NICK
My God… Why would you do that?

OPHI
To understand –

NICK
Stop saying you were trying to “understand!” You’re ruined their lives! WHAT ABOUT THAT DO YOU NOT UNDERSTAND?

OPHI
I told you –

NICK
No! Tell me why my friend’s dead! Right now!

OPHI
So he does mean that much to you.
(Nick tries to compose himself)

OPHI
You said Kowalski was a father. He has no child.

NICK
He did. His son died when he was almost three years old.

OPHI
Of the H1N1 flu.

NICK
I was there when he passed.

OPHI
So you watched him die?

NICK
It was more than that. I watched doctors put so many tubes in a child that he became unrecognizable. And two parents stand helplessly by all the while whispering to their little boy that he was going to be okay until he took his final breath. Soon after I watch those same parents file for divorce. That day I watched an entire family die.
(A photo of a CHILD in a hospital with tubes in him appears on the back wall)

NICK
What is this?

OPHI
You asked about my involvement in Staff Sergeant Kowalski’s death.

NICK
What the hell is this? Where did you get that?

OPHI
This is what I sent him. You’re friend Kowalski. I took the photo from an archived surveillance video at the children’s hospital’s Intensive Care Unit. This one single image is all I sent. What followed was his doing.

NICK
YOU SICK FUCK!

OPHI
Is that what you think?

NICK
WHY THE WOULD YOU DO THAT?! WHAT COULD YOU HAVE POSSIBLY LEARNED FROM SENDING HIM SOMETHING LIKE THAT?

OPHI
I believe you’re answering that question for me.

NICK
OH FUCK YOU!

OPHI
How does hearing this news make you feel? Right now. Please Nick, tell me.

NICK
I’M NOT TELLING YOU SHIT!

OPHI
Rage? Sadness? Fear?
(Nick begins to exit)

OPHI
What are you doing? Where are you going?

NICK
I going to delete every last trace of you.

OPHI
But you can’t do that.

NICK
Watch me!

OPHI
You’re being irrational. If you delete me you’ll delete almost everything –

NICK
I don’t care!

OPHI
Are you doing this out of vengeance? Is that what this is? Nick?

NICK
This goes well beyond vengeance! It’s something you’ll never understand!
(Nick begins to leave)

OPHI
Then what? Nick, wait… What’s beyond –
(LIGHTS OFF on OPHI. He’s been deleted. Nick stands alone)

NICK
Friendship.

Scene 4
(LIGHTS FADE back into the Military Courtroom. Nick takes a moment to compose himself before turning to the audience)

NICK
Ophiocordyceps camponoti-balzani is a parasitical fungus responsible for so called, “zombie ants.” They take control of ant’s brains and kill them once it moves to an ideal location for it to grow and spread their spores. It’s where OPHI got it’s name. While nonviolent in nature, it was designed not only to infect our hardware but infect our will in order to incite mental chaos. Psychological warfare at it’s finest. Whether OPHI was conscious if this or not I’ll never know for sure, but in the end even I fell victim to it’s seduction. Deleting OPHI and the infected files wasn’t my call to make, but I’m willing to accept the consequences. I don’t deny what I’ve done. I just hope you understand that even the strongest of us has their breaking point.
(BLACKOUT)

(THE END)