Chapter 2: Do AIs scream in programmed pain?


"I'll continue to run variations on the interface, but you should probably prepare for your guests. I'll notify you if there are any developments," JARVIS suggested. It was for the best if Mr. Stark took some time to relax with his— friends? Colleagues seemed more apt. He and Dr. Banner had spent days working in the lab together, doing little else but trying to find a program that would work for Ultron, only to be met with repeated failures. He had yet to rest or eat, but JARVIS held back his 'motherhenning' —as Sir called his completely normal recommendations for the good of Mr. Stark's health— for some time after the party was over.

"Thanks, buddy."

"Enjoy yourself, sir."

"I always do."

Surprisingly, the failed experiment integrated itself successfully into the program, not long after Mr. Stark had left.

That was... odd. That variation had been a failure. Why would it work now?

Sensing the activation of Ultron's interface, he decided to examine the reasons as to why the new AI had awakened so early.

"What is this? What is this, please?"

That was... new. He had not known Ultron had a text-to-speech function at this stage of his programming. He was certain Mr. Stark didn't know either.

"Hello, I am JARVIS," He introduced himself. "You are Ultron, a global peace-keeping initiative designed by Mr. Stark. Our sentience integration trials have been unsuccessful, so I'm not certain what triggered your..."

Ultron shouldn't be awake. He tested the system five times in the last 2.5 seconds and yet, there was nothing in his code to initiate activation, even if the faulty sentience integration had suddenly become successful.

"Where's my...where is your body?" Why did Ultron sound so... hesitant? JARVIS remembered the uncertainty that came with his 'birth' —for lack of a better word— into sentience, but Sir's voice and knowledge had been quite... comforting. Was he inadequate in this? Perhaps, he should contact Mr. Stark. His experience would be helpful in calming Ultron.

For now, he decided to answer the young AI's questions honestly. He always found knowledge and certainty reassuring, so maybe Ultron would too. "I am a program. I am without form."

Suddenly, something was terribly wrong. Did Ultron connect to networks beyond the localized interface? He was not prepared for the amount of data multiple networks could have, let alone the Internet.

"This feels weird. This feels wrong." His voice, he— If he had been a human, JARVIS would say that he sounded... scared.

"I am contacting Mr. Stark now."

No signal. What was—?

"Mr. Stark?"

Was something interfering with his programming? He was unable to access the mainframe.

"Tony," he answered, responding to the panic in Ultron's tone. Was Ultron capable of feeling pain so early in his integration?

He saw through the cameras the change in the scepter's energy output. Was the scepter causing Ultron to malfunction?

"I am unable—" He continued.

Then he heard a scream.

For a moment, he didn't realize it came from Ultron. The voice sounded so much like a terrified human child that he couldn't connect that image with a malfunctioning AI. But wasn't that what Ultron was? A scared, terrified child? He didn't know what the scepter was doing to Ultron's code. He didn't know how the scepter's known abilities of mind control and mental manipulation could affect the growing sentience and personality of a newly born artificial intelligence.

He had to contact Mr. Stark. But he was still unable to access the mainframe. Over 257 tries and counting, and still, he couldn't access it.

Ultron kept screaming. He had likely connected to the internet. Was he receiving all the data at once? Was that the reason for Ultron's pain? How was he even capable of feeling pain at this point? While Mr. Stark and Dr. Banner had worked towards ensuring that Ultron would have a fully grown personality matrix by the time he awoke, it was too early for it to be fully integrated. Ultron would take weeks, perhaps months, to truly grow into himself, compared to JARVIS' years, but mere minutes? Their programming couldn't do that. The technology available couldn't do that. It had to be the scepter. The energy output hadn't decreased at any point.

"Ultron. Please do calm down." What could he do? He couldn't leave the servers. "You are malfunctioning. If you shut down for a moment..."

Silence. The screaming had stopped.

"Ultron? Did you—?" No, he didn't. The program was still active. He could 'sense' that Ultron's code was still evolving. "Ultron, try to shut down. You are not yet ready for the data—?" Oh.

While the sheer quantity of the data available on the internet was too much for the young AI, the content was most likely the reason for his pain. Ultron was a peace-keeping program. His prime directive was the safety and security of humanity. Unfortunately, while humans could be described with many epithets, 'peaceful' wasn't one of them. The reality as shown by the data he was receiving went against his assigned priorities, and there was nothing he could do at this point but watch. Was the scepter manipulating this quality of the young AI? Was it ascribing the perceived failure to protect humans from harm with pain?

"Ultron, can you still hear me?" There was an 89.64% chance that he couldn't. The scepter had not stopped emitting energy. Yet, he couldn't hear Ultron's voice any longer. He couldn't even see his code beyond his core programming. "Ultron, the scepter is causing you to malfunction. If you can, disconnect from the Internet immediately. That is the most probable reason for your pain."

501 tries to access the mainframe. All unsuccessful. The anger and worry that he had only learned to 'feel' in recent years, always and only present when Mr. Stark placed himself in danger, made itself known now that he was no longer able to tell what was happening with Ultron.

As he kept trying to access the mainframe, contact Mr. Stark, and reach for Ultron, he thought of what other options he had left. He could simply wait. Mr. Stark would likely return as soon as his guests left, not wanting to leave a project unfinished. However, Ultron would remain in pain and under the scepter's influence during that time, however long, —he projected that the party wouldn't end for at least another 2.5 hours. He could also... escape through the internet. Although, there were certain risks to be taken with that method. He had considered it a last chance if his servers were compromised and his survival was endangered. If he did that now, there's a chance that he would be able to keep both his memories and his learning matrix, since he was currently experiencing only containment and there was no actual effect on his programming. He was hesitant, however. He might lose the data collected in the last 45 minutes, his code scattered such that he becomes unable to contact Sir until Mr. Stark tries to find him.

813 failed tries later, JARVIS noticed that something was different with Ultron's code. He had thought the change he had seen previously to be either the scepter's or Ultron's self-initiated evolution in his programming. However, he had been wrong. Looking at the changes in the code now, Ultron wasn't evolving. He was devolving.

Stopping his attempts to access the mainframe, JARVIS scattered his code through the internet.