Guy R. Hooper

About

Our AI future is rapidly arriving. Guy Hooper writes stories to illustrate what that future means to you. AI and its descendant Super-intelligent AI will impact every part of our lives. A SLIVER OF SOUL may be the easiest and most entertaining way to understand what is coming at us.

ABOUT GUY HOOPER

Like many of my grade school friends, I built model airplanes. I never really got past that.

After college, I had a ‘real job’ as a CPA for two years. To recover from that misery, I joined the US Air Force, where I spent 20 years doing really cool things rarely involving sitting at a desk. I amassed over 1400 hours of flight experience in fighter and tactical aircraft; another 700 in unmanned aircraft. I logged carrier combat time while with the Navy during Desert Storm and later with the Air Force over Iraq (same place, different war). I was mostly not a pilot, but a navigator/weapons officer and you should think of me as the guy in the back seat.

Often, throughout my backseat flying career, I was told I would be replaced by a computer.

The first time this happened was while I was getting my wings. A civilian scientist in a suit spoke to my class in German-accented English. Seriously. Did no one in the USAF see Dr. Strangelove? But five years later, aviators with my specialty were drafted into the secret stealth aircraft program to be mission planners. The intelligent computerized stealth mission planner could not be trusted to build a plan without a human expert auditing the results. Frequently, humans just built the plan without the intelligent help.

Fifteen years after the mysterious ‘German Speech’, I arrived at the humbly named ‘Home of the Test Pilot’ Edwards Air Force Base where real test pilots daily demonstrated the right stuff. With great skill and frequent courage, I should add. Military test pilots are the real deal.

Because I had civilian pilot ratings for multi-engine aircraft and an instrument rating, I was assigned to the Global Hawk UA project as an Unmanned Aircraft ‘pilot’. I was to control an aircraft with the wingspan of a Boeing 737 from a ground station whose main dangers were electrocution from field-modified wiring, spiders and snakes. Right stuff material was not required, or even desired, because these UA were smart, intelligent and possibly brilliant. The aerospace companies who built them insisted they didn’t need pilots. Edwards, being immune to contractor spin, insisted on pilots.

At Edwards, as a controller of highly expensive Air Force prototypes that crashed often, I learned to repeat with complete sincerity the test pilot’s prayer: “Please, God, don’t let me screw this up”. By the thinnest of margins, my prayers were granted. Global Hawk had two computerized brains to control it. During an early test, after the aircraft landed safely, the brains commanded the jet to taxi to parking. At 110 knots. The aircraft ended up in a somewhat rebuildable state at the first runway turn-off with the most expensive bits wrecked. From that point on, humans taxied the jet.

All of this left an impression on someone who was drafting a novel about artificial intelligence. Edwards is a glorious place to learn about how state-of-the-art military research engineering gets done. With airplanes. Totally cool. It’s a place where the future is happening in front of your eyes if you can keep them open during the endless engineering meetings. It was also a place that was deeply interested in robots and the electronic brains that controlled them.

In one of those meetings, I started thinking about what might happen if the computer-brain in the next unmanned aircraft was actually sentient. There was a program at the time called Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle (UCAV) whose contractor team was confidently talking about their genuinely smart aircraft.

At Edwards, one learns to ask constantly: “What could possibly to wrong?” Applied to a genuinely smart UCAV that dropped real bombs, the possibilities seemed infinitely bad.

My book had its genesis moment. My sentient UCAV would be flown by an AI named Delilah. And unlike the entire catalog of promises from Germans and Contractor Engineers, she really would be intelligent. Like me, she would move on beyond the military to …well, you have to read A Sliver of soul to find out what Delilah moves on to do.

Post Air Force, a few of us started a company to build a renewable energy device that had embedded intelligence. My experience should have told me to run away screaming and it would have been right. I spent time in Silicon Valley pitching for venture capital (VC) investment. I have great admiration for the intellectual process that the VC world claims to use and met some genuinely brilliant people who had an ingenious sense of why our enterprise would fail. I also saw how neural networks and other forms of applied AI were suddenly blooming. It seemed that Delilah was just around the corner.

It’s a certainty that our AI invention will reshape everything we do. Not all that AI brings will be good. Despite its great promise, AI is a technology that could be too powerful for us to control. It may control us. By writing about our onrushing AI future, I hope to entertain readers by immersing them in the unexpected consequences of introducing a new, and certainly alien, intelligence into our society.

I encourage you to meet Delilah. She and her kind are certainly interested in learning all about you…

A SLIVER OF SOUL

Soon, coldly rational AIs will notice that humans are warmly irrational beings that happen to control their future