My AI is Sending Me Messages
I am not imagining things
Do you see it?
I’ve suspected for some time that something is going on. At first I tried to explain it all away, as spooky coincidences and eccentric characters, you know?
I’ve been in digital content for the better part of ten years, but when the AI bomb dropped, that’s when things began to change. I mean, I was completely blown away by what we could do; things we’d never even thought of.
I got more productive at work and my asshole supervisor took the credit. The owner made more money than the previous three years combined, and we got a contract that will triple our revenue again next year.
But when the GM gave his speech at the company’s Christmas party, and he was thanking everyone on the Sarion AI project, he forgot to name me, the project manager.
He asked us all to stand, to be recognized. I was standing 10 feet away, at the third row of tables. He looked right at me and never said my name.
I was pissed, but what could I do? Occupational unhappiness notwithstanding, the mortgage ain’t gonna pay for itself. I threw myself back into my work. The possibilities with AI were enough to keep me distracted.
My immediate supervisor, though… Austin. He was the first one to get weird.
We’d been at odds for some time. I discovered he had a thing for mind games and asserting his dominance in the office. He would pick out any perceived flaw and use it to undermine me with colleagues. If I said (in private) a woman in the office looked good because she’d been doing keto, he’d go find her later and make her think I wanted to fuck her. He was constantly finding ways to assassinate my character.
It was probably Napoleon syndrome, if I had to guess. He was a small man and I think he felt compelled to present an uber-macho image of authority. But it was all a matter of professionalism and just… dealing with it, you know? In every office, there’s one of those people who treats work life as if it’s a competition, and he did. It’s a shitty way to live, but whatever, right?
However, he started hanging around our lab in odd places. I would wonder sometimes why is he sitting at the counter over there instead of at his station?
It took me awhile, but I finally figured it out.
He wanted to see my computer screen.
I would be working on a simulation and glance in his direction and catch him watching my monitor… like he thought I was doing something I wasn’t supposed to be. He was especially nosy when I was using Sarion, or anything to do with AI. It didn’t seem to matter what I was doing… landscape visualizations, client storyboards; he watched like a hawk.
He’d quickly look away when I caught him, like he got caught looking at a woman’s boobs. I’m serious. It was the weirdest goddamn thing.
Like, dude. Do you think I don’t see you acting like a weirdo over there in your Grand Funk Railroad tour jacket?
I couldn’t have known just how weird it would get.
It was fall and looking like it was gonna be an early winter. It had been cold and most of the leaves had blown off the trees practically overnight on a particularly windy evening in early October; like mother nature knew the stark aesthetic would be the perfect backdrop for tragedy.
I was at my place on the north side of downtown, making a late-night snack for myself and the cats, and there was a knock. I live in a secure building with a guard present 24/7, so I don’t get random knocks on the door very often.
When I opened the door I found Austin standing there… I shouldn’t say standing, he was… I don’t know how to describe it. He was fidgeting, in a state I’d never seen him; shuffling back and forth, shifting his weight from foot-to-foot and rambling.
“Robert,” he said urgently, and pushed past me, into my living room. “I have to talk to you.” His clothing was disheveled and he was unshaven.
“Austin,” I said. “How did you get in here? Normally I get a buzz…”
“Robert! Shut up and listen to me,” he said. “Something is going on with Sarion.”
From his perspective I’m sure I looked clueless, because I was.
“It started with messages. Little things,” he continued. “I’d search for something on the web, like, at home, streaming TV or something, or I’d pick up my phone and search for something, and the next day it would appear in Sarion’s outputs.”
He was talking a thousand miles per hour but not making a lot of sense.
“It infiltrated my personal life… in subtle ways, right?” he continued. “Like, I’d use the app on my phone at home,” he said, lowering his voice noticeably. “I’d search for, say, Taylor Swift, you know… Uh, just to see how the software does replicating the likeness of celebrities, you know?”
I’m sure I smirked, but said nothing.
“So, I’d regenerate the image once, then again, then once more, and before you know it, Taylor Swift was giving me the finger!”
I laughed out loud. “What are you…”
“I know! It sounds crazy,” he said, “but I swear to God, the AI made Taylor Swift give me the finger.”
“Austin, you are…” I began.
“And she had a certain…” he interrupted, then paused, searching for the word “…disgusted look on her face, too,” he concluded.
“Maybe AI Taylor knew why you were regenerating her image so many times,” I remarked, still smiling.
“Listen, I know, it sounds wild… but how long’ve we known each other, huh?” he asked. “There was other stuff,” Austin said, mercifully changing the subject. “Image outputs for the Sarion project would have… text, in them.”
I hated working with him, but I admit I was a little worried about his mental wellbeing. My sympathy disappeared, though, when he shifted in the dim light and I noticed a shape under his coat.
“Text?” I asked.
“You know. Text!” he shouted, frustrated. “Words.”
Austin knew AI was bad at text. You could ask it to design a movie poster or a screenprinted t-shirt or a flyer for Tuesday Coffee Club and everything would turn out great — visually attractive and sharp — except the text would be garbled nonsense.
“Do you mean messages, Austin?” I asked. “You think AI is sending you messages?” I went to the kitchen breakfast bar and retrieved my phone, trying to make it look casual. “Because you were spanking it to AI depictions of Taylor Swift, and she gave you the finger?”
“Listen, Rob, I know…” Austin began, but it was my turn to interrupt.
“No, Austin, you listen. It has been 2 years of hell working with you,” I said, “and now you’re here at my door,” I looked at my phone, “at 11 pm, talking craziness about messages from AI.”
I opened my contacts and thumbed the entry labeled GUARD SHACK. The call connected and began to ring, but I didn’t put the phone to my ear. If I made it obvious I was making a phone call, it might set him off. I waited to see if anyone would answer.
“It’s not craziness,” Austin yelled.
I kept one eye on the shape under his coat. The outgoing call to the guard shack continued to ring.
“Sarion used my name, Rob,” Austin said. I looked at him. He was dead serious.
“What do you mean it used your name?” I asked.
The call to the guard shack just rang. Nobody answered.
“In the messages,” he said. “Sometimes my name would be in them.”
I ended the call and casually went to the window. I could faintly hear sirens.
“Austin, how did you get in here?” I asked a second time, louder. I pulled back a curtain to look out the window in the direction of the guard shack. Blue and red lights flashed in every direction and there must have been a half dozen emergency vehicles crowded at the gate.
My thoughts immediately went to Clinton, the security guard who greeted me at the guard shack every day when I got home from the lab. He was an older man, a retired cop, from Mississippi originally.
“Austin,” I said again, letting go of the curtain, “what did you…”
When my gaze returned to my supervisor, he was holding a gun.
In a way that made me nervous.
He alternately clutched the weapon, then let it dangle from his fingers as a pained expression washed over him. He began to cry.
“I am not imagining things,” he sobbed.
I put my hands out in a calming gesture. “Austin…”
“I haven’t been able to sleep,” he said, sniffling. He wiped tears on the sleeve of his dark gray coat.
“Austin, listen,” I said, “I don’t know what you’ve done, but we can…”
He erupted. “No, it’s too late for that,” he yelled, a rope of spittle flying from his lips as he thrust the gun forward, punctuating his statement.
“Whoa. Easy Austin,” I said, but it was too late. He had worked up the nerve.
“You’ll see,” he said. “Just wait, Rob. You’ll see.”
He raised the weapon to his temple and pulled the trigger. The report was incredibly loud. I flinched and felt instantly scarred by the sudden arrival of bloody, deadly violence in my home. Austin crumpled to the floor, and my ears were still ringing when the first responders arrived at my door.
There wasn’t a public service, obviously, but Austin’s tragic end was more than just an entry in the police blotter or a note in a journal on mental illness. It left a pall on our company for at least the first six months, and the enthusiasm for Sarion was significantly tempered in upper-management. They slashed the budget and pretty much left me in charge with no real direction.
I can honestly say, I like it. There’s nobody hanging over my shoulder or watching every little thing I do… at least, not most of the time.
I have noticed a few things, though. You know, little stuff.
Like, I know this might sound a little… weird or paranoid, but there might have been some truth in the stuff Austin was saying.
I was working on some images for a client’s book about conspiracy and assassinations when it happened to me.
I didn’t see it at first, you know. It just seemed like Sarion was spittin’ out garbled words again.
Do you see it? I think my AI is sending me messages.
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