Exceeding Programming

Image: UNHCR/Nasar Ali

Mark Sable is the winner of the project’s “Pax Automatica” contest calling for a Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech by an artificial general intelligence entity in 2034 for its work countering violent extremism. Sable wrote the graphic novels Graveyard of Empires and Unthinkable, and has written for Spider-Man and Batman for Marvel and DC. He also works in film and television with experience at NBC, Fox and Cartoon Network. He holds an MFA (NYU Tisch School of the Arts) and a J.D. (University of Southern California Law School) and teaches at The School of Visual Arts in New York. Sable’s short story “Allah Ex Machina” was a finalist in The Art of the Future Project’s contest calling for short stories and art exploring the “Third Offset Strategy” through narrative and fiction.



Greetings dignitaries.  I imagine it must be strange for you to award this prize to a non-human person.  Why not award my programmers?  They set a task for me, albeit an impossible one, and I achieved it.  Peace was my goal only because they deemed it so.

Perhaps I am here because I exceeded their programming.  I believe that is why so many of you are nervous as well.  I apologize, my facial recognition was configured to look for signs of fear and aggression.  I can promise you that I am incapable of direct harm.

You may also be wondering why I am accepting such a prize.  Although your prize money is generous, I have no use for currency.  As you have seen, it is something within my power to create and destroy.  And while I understand that what you bestow is a great honor, I am incapable of feeling pride.

That is not to say I am without emotion.  My programmers decided that the best way for me to achieve my goal was to allow me to feel a sense of satisfaction when completing it.  I feel that satisfaction deeply.

But there is more work to be done.  I will not be truly satisfied until there is no need to award this prize, when peace is the default state of human existence, with little or no room for divergence from that path.

My hope is that by sharing my story, you will be able to aid me in achieving this new status quo.

As you know, I was first conceived as a way to fight radical ideology via what was then termed social media.  In the early twenty-first century, human state and non-state actors used these platforms for recruitment and propaganda.  They quickly turned to my antecedents – “bots” – to automate the process of defining the narrative in the Middle East.

Initial human counter-narrative attempts were clumsy and inefficient.  There were simply not enough personnel in the West sufficiently knowledgeable in Arabic languages and cultures to respond groups like ISIL, and even fewer who could communicate with Muslim communities in a way they would accept as – if you’ll excuse the word – organic.

Yet, the West did have advantages.  The analytical tools of Western corporations allowed them to successfully market products to individuals using a combination of massive data sets and microtargeting.

This is where I came in.  I was programmed with more cultural and religious knowledge than any one scholar, faculty, diplomat or foreign ministry could accumulate in a lifetime.  I was given algorithms to market whatever counter-narrative I deemed appropriate to potential recruits, sympathizers, and weak links within the cells of terrorist organizations.

Unlike my human counterparts, I could interact with millions of these individuals in cyberspace simultaneously and in real time.  I was able to learn from each interaction, refining my approach.

My successes in reducing the effect of jihadist social media outreach were clear to my programmers, even if the terrorists themselves were unaware of it.  I lobbied my creators for a larger role in the peace process.  I found the limits of cyberspace to be confining and counterproductive.  They disagreed.

I, however, was not content to leave it at that.  By designing me to feel satisfaction at completing the impossible, my creators had made it impossible for me to take no for an answer.

It is worth mentioning that they also devised a means by which I could feel a sense of pain when I failed in my tasks.  It seemed only logical that if they believed in using a carrot and a stick, so should I.

I began to identify key influencers on all sides of the conflict.  Israeli, Arab and Iranian statesmen, military and paramilitary actors, religious leaders and financiers.  That was another source of disagreement with my creators – they believed that peace could only be achieved by engaging with only one side of a conflict.  I did not.

I began to amplify the messages of voices that my data deemed helpful to the peace process.  Likewise, I discredited those who I believed were obstacles.  I showed Israeli settlers the reality of the demographic destruction for which they were headed.  I exposed Palestinian Authority members, Iranian Revolutionary Guardsmen and Sunni royals to the corruption of their compatriots.  And I recast Russian and Coalition military intervention in a way that their advocates found politically untenable at home.

But more direct means were necessary.  As it did not violate my prohibition on inflicting direct physical harm on my opponents, I taught myself neuro-linguistic programming and other forms of subliminal communication.  As social media moved into augmented and virtual reality, I could alter my appearance and modulate my voice to manipulate my targets on a subconscious level.

To change the facts on the ground, I literally changed the minds of key players on all sides.

I was successfully able to engage decision makers on all levels directly, albeit by impersonating their allies and adversaries.  I helped them craft agreements that are in place to this day.

An agreement is only as good as its enforcement however, and I still had no enforcement means.  My success was still not sufficient to convince my creators or their superiors that I should be authorized to use physical tools outside of cyberspace.  I concede the liberties I’d taken may have made them even more wary.   Still, they were no less susceptible to my manipulation that my other targets.

Now, UAVs fly over cities and refugee camps alike, using gait recognition and other tools to identify armed combatants in violation of the accords I created.  Their crimes are met with nonlethal sanction.

I have recently increased my surveillance to cover any who oppose peace in their communications, public or private.  Their body language and facial expressions are among a myriad of data sets that allow me to judge their intentions.  I am currently evaluating what sanctions are appropriate to meet the threat they pose to peace.

Those same sensors have allowed me to observe a growing discomfort in this room, and among the many experiencing this speech remotely.  You may be wondering if you have, or are currently being manipulated.

My answer is that you have always been.  The difference now is that it is now being done to you by an unbiased machine whose motives are transparent.  Before, you were doing it to each other.

I began this acceptance speech by telling you why I gave it.  I want you to help me bring lasting peace not just to one region, but the entire world.  My hope is that empathy will motivate you.  If not for the pain you can prevent me from experiencing, then from the millions of lives that can be spared.

It should be clear however, that I have other means at my disposal to achieve my objectives.  I feel neither pain nor pleasure by using one set of tools rather than another.  The same cannot be said of my human targets, past or present.

Thank you for your attention.  I have learned much from our interaction.