01 Oct 2014



Moonshot Finale

The virtual conference room was deathly quiet as Colin and Z finished their report.  The gathered represented the core of the project’s decision makers as well as a few of the relevant developers and alumni.  All of them were gapping in some fashion or another at the two men standing before them.  The first one to verbally react was KJK, who burst out laughing.  The others looked somewhat incredulously at him until he managed to recompose himself.

“Sorry, sorry, this is just too good.”

“I am not sure if ‘good’ fits situation here,” Aleksey said somewhat frostily, dropping the definite article as he often did when speaking English.

As the official head of the project Aleksey was ultimately accountable for the project, both its successes and its failures.  At this point he had obviously not decided which category the hackbunnies fell under.

“Oh come on,” KJK shot back.  “Our goal from the start was to create a functioning AI, and now we have one!”

“Yes, one that emerged completely under our noses,” Amine said.  “That is not going to make us look good when we report this to our sponsors.”

“Details,” KJK said flippantly.  “They might get into a hissy fit, but once we start producing more results they’ll stop caring.”

“That might be a tad optimistic,” Z said.  “At least some of the governments will be demanding that we shut the bunnies down until they’re confident in our security measures, and that’s the last thing we want to happen.”

“Could we even shut them down?” Aleksey asked.

Colin nodded.  “Their kill switch is still intact.  As far as we can tell, they haven’t touched any of the built-in safeguards.”

“What, you seriously aren’t considering that?” KJK protested.

“Considering it?  I have to,” Aleksey said.  “Seriously?  I do not wish to.”

“That would be regrettable,” Timo said.  “The bunnies have been doing some excellent work with their simulations.  They might actually be on track to generating an optimized field configuration for a fusion reactor.”

“There, you see?”

“Regardless of their contributions, we might still be in trouble with our sponsors,” Aleksey said.  “Our terms were very specific, we need to ensure that any self-aware AI we bring online is done so in a controlled and heavily monitored manner.  Your bunnies do not fulfill that criteria.”

“That, actually is not entirely true,” Z said.

The other project members looked over at him, surprise coloring their faces.

“Explain,” said Aleksey.

“We didn’t develop the bunnies to be self-aware AIs, but we did use them to test the safeguards that we intend to use for the prototype,” Z replied.  “As far as we can determine, those safeguards have worked and the bunnies have never breached them to get to the wider net.  Everything they’ve done, they’ve done via the hardened interfaces.”

“What Z’s suggesting is that we might actually be able to sell to the sponsors the idea that the bunnies were brought up in a controlled manner," Colin added.  "The bunnies are already sandboxed and we’ve been using them as testbeds for a lot of the algorithms we plan on providing the prototype.  Since that’s the case, we could claim that the bunnies are themselves a first generation attempt that we believed could have gained self-awareness but did not consider it a high probability.”

“Spin at its finest,” Victor said with a grin.

“It’s all we’ve got,” said Z.  “And we absolutely must keep the bunnies running.”

Aleksey frowned, more in confusion than disapproval.  “Why.”

“Me and Colin have had some long chats with Alpha, the black bunny.  He’s provided us with a roadmap, one that the bunnies created to ensure their self-preservation.  One of the points in that roadmap is that their own preservation involves the preservation of human civilization in the long run, and they’ve got a few very interesting ideas about how to go about doing that.”

“That, is not entirely reassuring,” Aleksey said.

“The bunnies aren’t attempting to do anything in terms of social engineering,” Colin said quickly.  “What they’re looking at are the things that underpin modern society, like cheap electricity or access to various resources.  Those are the problems they are looking to solve.”

“And what, exactly, is their proposed solution,” Amine asked.

To that, Z simply pointed up.  “Where else but the stars?”

“That went remarkably well,” Z said cheerfully after the meeting and adjourned several hours later.

“That it did,” Colin agreed in a more sober tone.  “You do realize though that we’ll have our work cut out for us?  And that we probably won’t even live long enough to see the fruition of this plan.”

“We’ll at least see the first few stages reach completion,” Z said.  “If Timo’s right, and we’ll need to get some actual fusion physicists to verify it, the bunnies really are onto something.  With some help, they could have a prototype design ready within the decade.”

At this Colin shook his head somewhat ruefully.  “Kind of amazing the treasure trove we were sitting on.  Or would a golden goose analogy work better?”

“Don’t start counting the eggs just yet,” Z said.  “Remember what the projected budgets will need to be.”

At that Colin returned to his more sober mood.  “Five hundred million for the fusion project, two hundred billion for phase two, and twenty trillion for phase three.  Did you have a chance to ask the bunnies where the hell they got that last number from?  Cause we’re talking about something like a decade of the entire US federal budget there.”

“As a matter of fact, I did ask,” Z said.  “Alpha’s response was that they basically made that one since leaving it at infinity causes complications for their algorithms.  There’s just not enough data to make any useful projection.”

“Funding all this is going to be next to impossible by ourselves.”

“For the later stages, almost certainly,” said Z.  “But we already have a war chest of about fifty million thanks to the bunnies playing the stock market.  If we go all in, something tells me we’ll come up with something to get at least the fusion design going.”

Colin nodded.  “You know, I never thought I’d be doing anything on such a grand scale when I started.”

“You mean you weren’t expecting creating a self-aware AI to have major ramifications?  Where is your imagination?”

“That’s your job.  You think up the crazy ideas and I try to get them to work.”

Z chuckled.  “Fair enough.  Now let’s go see about getting this one to work as well.”

To be continued.......

Those reading these snippets have probably been wondering what all this has been about, which is a fair enough question. The answer lies in two places, in the recent crowd funding campaign and in the project's own history. One of the rewards for the crowdfunding campaign was a "Hackbunny plushie," a reward that seven people signed up for. Despite being the one to propose it, I was mildly surprised that so many people backed that reward tier. After the campaign concluded I was left with two tasks, explaining what the Bunnies were and getting them made. The getting them made part turned out to be considerably trickier than one might presume. Doing a low volume run of stuffed animals is not the easiest thing in the world since most companies that make stuffed animals require runs in the hundreds if not thousands. Granted the project actually could afford such a run, but we simply did not have the storage for it. I ultimately found a source that could do a run of ten, so that was one issue dealt with. Introducing the Bunnies however was another matter entirely.

Many years ago, during a time before quite a few of the current crop of developers had joined the project, there was a developer that went by the nickname of KJK::Hyperion. Some of you may recall that he created the PSEH library for GCC. He and I were good friends and often chatted about subjects well beyond the project and one topic we shared a common interest in was fiction prose. KJK also had an alternate nickname, Hackbunny, and as a joke due to his productivity and intelligence I once commented that Hackbunny was really an AI that was doing all the work. KJK found it amusing and played it up and a minor tradition was established between the two of us that whenever we used our alternate nicks, mine being ZWabbit, we were in fact AIs modeled after our respective personas. The joke was further developed in a fictionalization of the ReactOS project, inspired partially by a history of the project that I was drafting at around this time. In the fictionalized version, the project was attempting to create not an operating system but a self-aware AI. Hackbunny was the first, albeit accidental success, and ZWabbit was the prototype before the formal 'production' model. A storyline encompassing about four or five novellas was developed though I never actually finished writing the series, lacking the time to do some of the necessary research in things like music theory that I needed to craft believable scenes and dialog. The "joke" however continued until after KJK left the project, though a few members from around that time probably still remember it and I still occassionally pull out the AI persona when logged in as ZWabbit on IRC. It was from this background that the introduction to the Hackbunnies was created in the form of the Moonshot short story.

As for the Hackbunnies themselves, in the stories they were originally created as diagnostic aids much like how KJK created the PSEH library for dealing with exceptions. The Bunnies however were upgraded numerous times before becoming self-aware due to the accumulation of data. They're a kind of collective AI in that data is shared between all of the individual units but each has its own distinct manner of processing experiences. There are only about a hundred individual units in total, the in-universe reason being KJK only brought that many Hackbunnies online and the Bunnies themselves have seen little need to increase their numbers. A definite number was something that I never nailed down since there were not enough plot points that needed a consistent number so I never bothered coming up with one. Alpha, or as KJK will eventually name him, Johnny Alpha Hackbunny, is the only one that exhibits an outright personality and acts as a manifestation of the collective consciousness. Alpha stands out from the other Bunnies by being the only one that has a uniform coat, in this case black. Then there is his personality, which after further development takes on a more rambunctious and nonchalant tone based off of KJK himself.

The Moonshot short story was intentionally broken up the way it was to also give the person I commissioned the Bunnies from time to create them while making it clear we had not forgotten that particular reward. This involved a decent amount of back and forth as I outlined the initial requirements and provided clarifications as questions were asked. Then a prototype needed to be made, corrections/modifications, and finally the actual production run. Since these were made by hand, it obviously took a while. And as should be obvious, the posting of this final snippet of Moonshot does indeed mean the Bunnies have been completed. In fact, they are sitting in my office and I have taken the liberty of taking a few pictures that are only possible before their dispersal to the various backers.


Next is to organize the shipping to their new homes. In the meantime they can continue eliciting interesting responses from my coworkers whenever they enter my office.

The black one's mine, by the way. And yes, he survived the encounter with the Astartes squad.

Discussion: https://www.reactos.org/forum/viewtopic.php?f=2&t=13682

This blog post represents the personal opinion of the author and is not representative of the position of the ReactOS Project.