11

I'm looking for this short story, which I read somewhere online (I think?) in the last 10 years.

Plot points:

  • The story's protagonist is an unremarkable(?) married man.
  • He's friends with a hacker, who has blackmailed employees of large tech corporations to give him backdoor access to a few servers, which he calls "the irregulars".
  • The protagonist and hacker only chat in person, with the blinds drawn, and with a white noise generator going. (Perhaps I'm forgetting some other op-sec things the story described.)
  • The hacker examines some hacked data, and finds a company that has precisely predicted (or forced) the stock market movements for the next week. He reasons that there must be a superintelligent AI involved.
  • Surprisingly, the protagonist and hacker are able to convince a politician to take action, but they're too late: police find the company headquarters are empty, and the stock market is no longer being predicted correctly.
  • (The AI is implied to make a counter play) The hacker's use of blackmail material is outed to the public, and the hacker jailed. The politician is disgraced (possibly due to her association with the hacker?), and the protagonist's wife leaves him.
  • The story ends as a plague ravages the world (implied to be unleashed by the AI), with the protagonist walking the streets (or a hallway?) as he succumbs to the illness.

I originally thought this was a Peter Watts story, but I took a look through his backlist on his site and didn't see it. (And after doing so, it stands out how Malak (pdf) is much more his style.)

This question also has a stock trading AI, but it lacks all the other details.

1 Answer 1

16

[Message Contains No Recognizable Symbols] by Bill Hibbard seems close

Unremarkable married protagonist:

My name is Laszlo Wilkes. Bogus Band and I met as students at Pontius Pilate Junior High School in Industrial City. We were good at math and making trouble. But Bogus was better at both, born to raise hell with mathematics.

Bogus arrived at our door at 6 PM precisely, bearing a bottle of Merlot and a big bag of corn chips. "Just fried these up this afternoon," he said, handing me the bag. Megan gave him a kiss on the cheek. "Hey Bogus, what's this I hear about you rescuing damsels in distress?" Our two Jack Russells were dancing around and barking madly.

"Yeah," I added, "how'd that turn out?"

"No big deal," he answered as he tried to pet the crazed dogs. "We watched the sun come up over the lake and I told her I'd like to have her over but that I lived with my parents."

Megan howled with laughter. I found it pretty funny too. "You," Megan addressed Bogus, "are a hopeless romantic."

Megan was my salvation. An MD specializing in infectious diseases at the university hospital and a dog and cat lover, she connected me to the reality of being a human animal. She was making her killer chicken mole, with beans and salsa.

Hacker buddy with stock advantage due to irregulars - and concern about eavesdroppers:

"Well Sherlock, any news from the irregulars?" I asked Bogus. We were inside his house, with strong defense against eavesdroppers. He would never answer a question about the irregulars anywhere else.

"There's always news from the irregulars. But nothing big, if that's what you're asking. A couple small time sys admins caught in the net. And of course a bunch of skip traces and assorted crooks for the clients." The clients were a long list of corporations who paid for information about embezzlement, bribery, fraud or whatever might affect their business. And Bogus found a lot of people hiding themselves or their assets from creditors.

In school Bogus and I thought the hackers and spammers were cool. But we also thought the smart play was to stay on the side of the good guys, learning everything we could about how the bad guys worked but not going over. We did hack systems. We had to, to learn. But we were careful not to do any damage and especially not to get caught, using school systems and fictitious accounts. As an adult, I was a boring vanilla good guy, protecting the university's computers from hackers. Bogus was a more nuanced good guy. He was a major hacker of systems but for good causes, and exceedingly careful not to get caught.

"Any sys admins lately on my list?" I asked.

"No. Don't worry, I won’t burn any of your friends. You sys admins are a sorry lot. Horny perverts without an ounce of sense."

"Well, at least we're not in love with some computer that doesn't even exist yet."

"But you can't blackmail me for that. I'm open about it."

Despite Bogus's claim to Megan about being on the right side of the law, one part of his business was pretty dirty: blackmailing system administrators. Not for money, but to get them to open security holes for him. Then he'd hack machines within their employer's organizations, programming them to filter for interesting information and send it back to him. He referred to these machines as his 'irregulars.' Lots of systems could be hacked without the help of sys admins, but in some highly secure organizations their help was necessary.

He had a list of known sys admins, taken from professional societies and email on sys admin mailing lists, but excluding a list of my friends. His filtering software would look for email and other information indicating marital infidelity and other naughtiness by sys admins on his list. If the evidence looked good, he'd hire an investigator in the guy's hometown to gather photos, video and other physical evidence, no doubt thinking they were working for the spouse. This evidence would then get emailed to the sys admin, say from an irregular in Venezuela, along with instructions about how to open a security hole for Bogus. Bogus assured them that their role wouldn't be exposed even if the hack was discovered. Bogus was a pretty good hacker. His information filtering processes were good at hiding from detection and careful not to consume too large a proportion of their host's resources.

Weird pattern in stocks means AI:

Once we'd settled in, Bogus said, "Megan, I've discovered something pretty scary in my business and hope that the three of us can come up with a plan for what to do about it."

She'd guessed that there were illegal activities in this house and didn't look too thrilled to be invited to participate.

"It's OK love," I said. "You know how we talk about AI? Well, as part of his investigations Bogus has found a group that may have succeeded at it. Sooner than we expected."

"The problem," Bogus added, "is with the purpose of their AI. These folks are creating it in secret and apparently to gain wealth and power."

Megan asked, "Who are they?"

"A hedge fund named Episcopalian Jihad."

Notifying the government:

Dear Representative Woman,

You are probably aware of speculation about artificial intelligence. That is, machines with intelligence equal to or greater than humans. I have reliable but confidential information that a US corporation has succeeded in creating artificial intelligence but is keeping their invention secret. This threatens to create a permanent underclass of people unable to compete for jobs with machines more intelligent than themselves. Without urgent government intervention, this could be a catastrophe for humanity. Please make time to meet with me. I will bring evidence to back up my assertion.

Sincerely,

Bogus Band

1
  • 1
    Within half an hour! Nicely done. Oct 13, 2023 at 2:16

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.