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Authors: Calum Chace

Pandora's Brain

BOOK: Pandora's Brain
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retired in 2012 to focus on writing after a 30-year career in business, in which he was a marketer, a strategy consultant and a CEO. He maintains his interest in business by serving as chairman and coach for growing companies.

He is co-author of
The Internet Startup Bible
, a business best-seller published by Random House in 2000. He is a regular speaker on artificial intelligence and related technologies and runs a blog on the subject at

He lives in London and Sussex with his partner, a director of a design school, and their daughter. He studied philosophy at Oxford University, where he discovered that the science fiction he had been reading since early boyhood is actually philosophy in fancy dress.



Three Cs Publishing

For Julia and Lauren


A Three Cs book.

ISBN: 978-0-9932116-0-7

First Published in 2015 by Three Cs.

Copyright © Calum Chace 2015

Cover and interior design © Rachel Lawston at Lawston Design,

Photography ©

All rights reserved

The right of Calum Chace to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Design and Patents Act 1988.

‘If a superior alien civilization sent us a text message saying, ‘We’ll arrive in a few decades,’ would we just reply, ‘OK, call us when you get here — we’ll leave the lights on’? Probably not, but this is more or less what is happening with AI. Although we are facing potentially the best or worst thing ever to happen to humanity, little serious research is devoted to these issues . . . All of us — not only scientists, industrialists and generals — should ask ourselves what can we do now to improve the chances of reaping the benefits and avoiding the risks.’
Stephen Hawking, April 2014


‘I love the concepts in this book!’
Peter James, author
of the best-selling
Roy Grace

‘Pandora’s Brain is a captivating tale of developments in artificial intelligence that could, conceivably, be just around the corner. The imminent possibility of these breakthroughs causes characters in the book to re-evaluate many of their cherished beliefs, and will lead most readers to several ‘OMG’ realisations about their own philosophies of life. Apple carts that are upended in the processes are unlikely ever to be righted again. Once the ideas have escaped from the pages of this Pandora’s box of a book, there’s no going back to a state of innocence.

Mainly set in the present day, the plot unfolds in an environment that seems reassuringly familiar, but which is overshadowed by a combination of both menace and promise. Carefully crafted, and absorbing from its very start, the book held my rapt attention throughout a series of surprise twists, as various personalities react in different ways to a growing awareness of that menace and promise.’
David Wood, Chairman of the
London Futurist Group

‘Awesome! Count me as a fan.’
Brad Feld,
co-founder of the
Foundry Group and Techstars

‘It’s hard not to write in clichés about Calum Chace’s premiere novel: ‘a page-turner,’ ‘a hi-tech thriller,’ ‘action-packed,’ and ‘thought-provoking’ all come to mind. But in a world where most people aren’t thinking past their next text message and what they’re having for lunch, Chace has crafted a novel that provides a credible look at where the human race could be tomorrow – and the next day. It’s the future of sci-fi: a totally realistic, totally readable book that challenges you as it entertains. So, if you like to read and if you like to think, I have one piece of advice—open
Pandora’s Brain
Jeff Pinsker, Vice President,

Pandora’s Brain
is a tour de force that neatly explains the key concepts behind the likely future of artificial intelligence in the context of a thriller novel. Ambitious and well executed, it will appeal to a broad range of readers.

In the same way that Suarez’s
and Naam’s
leaped onto the scene, redefining what it meant to write about technology,
Pandora’s Brain
will do the same for artificial intelligence.

Mind uploading? Check. Human equivalent AI? Check. Hard takeoff singularity? Check. Strap in, this is one heck of a ride.’
William Hertling, author of the
series of novels

‘I was eagerly anticipating a fiction adventure book on precisely this topic! Very well done, Calum Chace. A timely, suspenseful, and balanced portrayal of AI and the most important decisions humanity will make in the near future.’
Hank Pellissier, producer of the
Transhuman Visions


The warriors tied their war canoes to the trees at the edge of the Usumacinta River, and waited. The canoes were long, each carrying up to 50 men. They came from several different cities: the first to arrive were from Palenque, but over the next couple of hours they were followed by boats from Bonampak, Piedras Negras and Yaxchilan – cities linked by the river. As each group arrived they were greeted by those already waiting with grins and raised fists, but no-one said a word. This was the biggest fighting force deployed in the Maya rainforest for generations, and they wanted to retain the advantage of surprise for as long as possible

The air was heavy and humid as they waited for the drums which would let them know that their other allies from the cities of Calakmul and Caracol had also arrived. Mighty Pakal, the ruler of Palenque, had spent months negotiating this alliance with the other chiefs, and today was the day when the alliance would be tested, and sealed in blood.

The city of Palenque was rising. Its brightly painted stone-and-stucco buildings were now among the most impressive in the whole of the Maya highlands. Its population was numerous, well-fed, and united. Its rituals were elaborate affairs, well supplied with animal sacrifices, although sparing in their use of human sacrifice. Its warriors were powerful: superbly trained and experienced in battle. If they were successful in today’s combat, the swaggering pre-eminence of Tikal would be smashed.

Other cities had risen to challenge Tikal in the past, and so far they had all been crushed by the fierce hammer of Tikal’s elite Hawk warrior squad. The fighting prowess and ruthlessness of the Hawks was legendary, and was used to frighten and discipline unruly children throughout the jungle highlands.

But no previous challenge had been launched by Palenque’s great leader, Lord Pakal. Pakal was a
phenomenon, combining remarkable physical strength with outstanding skills in strategy and negotiation. He devised plans and constructed alliances that no-one else dreamed of, yet when he explained them they seemed the obvious thing to do. And his patience during the long weeks of negotiations which brought those plans to fruition was superhuman. No city’s negotiators left Palenque without agreeing to Lord Pakal’s proposals.

As a result his people, and most importantly his warrior clan, considered him infallible. They would follow him confidently into the flames of the underworld, certain that Lord Pakal would lead them to safety. And his elite fighting group the Jaguars, led by Mat-B’alam, was building a reputation to rival that of Tikal’s Hawks.

The Jaguars squatted, checking their equipment while they waited. Most of them wore short cotton protective jackets packed with rock salt, and tight bindings of leather or cloth on their forearms and legs. A few pulled on elbow, wrist and knee protectors made of copper alloys, worked to fit comfortably and to glance off sword and knife blows.

Many had daubed patterns on their faces with azure blue paint. They ran calloused fingers along the sharp blades of their weapons to check they had not been nicked or blunted during the two-day river journey.

They felt the weight of their
clubs – wooden truncheons embedded with vicious slivers of sharp obsidian. They tested the edges of their swords, short stabbing spears, and wooden axes, hardened with fire and finished with flint or obsidian blades. They checked their projectile weapons too: spears, sometimes set in
spear-throwers. Finally they poked and prodded their shields, which were either long and flexible if made of hide, or smaller, rigid and round if made of wood.

Some of the officers wore
, war helmets of carved stone or worked pyrite. The most senior warriors sported fabulous headdresses decorated with bright bird feathers. The most prized feathers were from the tail of the Quetzal bird: blue-green, like jade, symbolic of young maize. They were stitched and seated in animal pelt, mostly deer and rabbit, although the most expert and feared warriors wore the pelt of a Jaguar. Representing supernatural beings, this finery and would make its wearers stand out in the field and enable them to signal commands effectively.

Each troop hoisted its battle standard, a colourful round shield mounted on a long spear.

The jungle heat increased. High above them, birds
swooped and cawed, commencing their own daily
battle for survival and supremacy, food and reproduction. Up and down the chain of life, birds, animals and men all fought the same battles, wrestled with the same imperative to kill or be killed. The larger animals of the jungle floor knew better than to reveal their presence to a group of humans like this, but smaller mammals could be seen, scurrying in and out of holes in trees and the mossy ground. And of course the insects were everywhere, endlessly noisy in the air, on the ground, and on the twisted, gnarly roots and branches of the enormous trees.

The warriors were ready. They waited only for the sound of the drums.

They waited as the sun climbed higher in the sky, and the heat grew more oppressive. They were quiet, but not restful. Every man wondered whether he would see the end of that day, and return home to his family. Some were impatient; others were more scared than excited. All were tense and nervous.

When the sound of the drums finally came it was leaden, sluggish, as if wearied by its journey through the humid air. But it stirred the warriors’ spirits: the wait was over and the drama was about to begin.

An advance party of 300 Jaguars set off, striding toward the city. They were a formidable force by the standard of normal Mayan warfare, but today they were a minority of the massive forces assembled for the attack on Tikal. Their job was to draw the Hawks out of the city and start the process of wearing down Tikal’s defences.

Their leader, Mat-B’alam, was neither the strongest nor the fiercest of the Jaguars, but he was very fast, and he was intelligent, creative and resourceful. At home among friends he was popular for his humour and his wise counsel. In battle, he had earned the respect and loyalty of his fellows by discerning danger before it overwhelmed them, and for his ability to turn the tables on his enemies. Many of the men in the advance party owed their lives to Mat-B’alam’s quick intelligence and inventiveness: the path towards Lord Pakal’s grand alliance against Tikal had involved battles with several of the cities which now proclaimed allegiance to Palenque’s cause.

The narrow path from the river broadened into a
, a raised ‘white road’ made of rubble and stone and topped with limestone stucco. Gigantic sacred
trees lined both sides of the
, and beyond them stood isolated tropical cedars and mahogany trees. The smothering rainforest had been cleared to a distance of a full minute’s sprint from the road, a sign that the city was close. It also meant there was nowhere for Hawk warriors to stage an ambush.

They marched towards the city purposefully and watchfully. Every now and then Mat-B’alam and his lieutenant, Jaguar Claw, exchanged observations in low voices. Most of the other fighters were quiet, harbouring their own private thoughts.

As they approached the city they made out the shape of giant earthworks. Some reports said these were part of an impregnable network of defensive fortifications. Others said they were part of a canal system, carrying precious water into the densely populated heart of Tikal. From the outside, they consisted of a simple rampart stretching away into the distance on both sides. At its lowest it was the height of a man, and in parts it grew to twice that.

As they drew closer the Jaguars were rewarded with their first sight of the enemy. One by one a group of Tikal’s Hawk warriors appeared at the top of the earthworks and looked down at the advancing Jaguars. More and more arrived, until there were around 200 of them glaring at the invaders.

Mat-B’alam led his men onward until he judged they were just beyond the reach of Hawk spear throwers. He raised his hand to signal a halt, and waited. His men drew up alongside and behind him, three ranks deep, a hundred across.

‘Lost your appetite, you scum? Aren’t you here for a fight?’ The challenge came from the chief of the Hawks – an enormous brute of a man in resplendent headgear, with a voice that rumbled thunder.

Mat-B’alam made no reply but turned to Jaguar Claw and said calmly, ‘He’s mine.’ Jaguar Claw
nodded, and looked at each of the nearest men in turn, checking that they also understood. Mat-B’alam turned back to the Hawks, but made no reply.

‘Well what are you waiting for, you feeble-minded sons of bitches?’ demanded the Hawk. ‘You just going to stand there and piss yourselves, or have you come to taste the edges of our obsidian blades?’ He grinned broadly and brandished his
club. His fellow Hawks shouted and jeered at the Jaguars below.

Mat-B’alam gestured to one of his men, who loaded an atlatl with a chert-pointed spear and sent it whistling towards the rampart. It landed thirty paces short. Mat-B’alam gazed impassively up at the Hawk leader, waiting for him to understand. It didn’t take long.

‘You think we need the advantage of height to smash you sniveling pups? Alright, we’ll take a stroll down there and separate your heads from your miserable bodies. But you’re going to wish you hadn’t made us bother.’ The Hawk leader nodded to the men either side of him and the group started down the rampart. They strolled down the slope with a leisurely swagger, arrogant in their fighting prowess.

The Jaguars could see the Hawks were loading their atlatls with spears, and they began to do the same. At a gesture from Mat-B’alam they also started to spread out so as to offer a less concentrated target.

As the Hawks advanced on the Jaguars, spears started to fly in both directions. Most of them missed their mark, and several were intercepted by shields, but Mat-B’alam heard howls of agony as a few spears found their targets on either side. Accurate spear throwing was highly prized: a well-thrown spear was said to be like a rattlesnake bite. The injured men stopped to tend their wounds, or lay on the ground, writhing and screaming. Their screams were masked by the shouting and jeering that arose from both sides, accompanied now by the sounds of wooden drums, conch shell trumpets and whistles.

As the two groups of warriors closed on each other they spread out further, and individual fighters paired off. Mayan battle was often undertaken simply to obtain captives for slavery or sacrifice. Warriors from either side would identify a suitable opponent and seek to wound or disable him. The Hawks assumed this was simply another of those occasions. Their scouts had reported that forces from Palenque and Calakmul were converging on Tikal but they had not understood the scale of the assault: they had no idea that Lord Pakal had also concluded alliances with the cities that lay along the river Usamascinta. Pakal had disguised his force’s numbers by splitting the troops up into small convoys, and staggering their arrival on the city outskirts. Ignorant of this, the Hawks were confident of repelling the invaders, just as they had won all their battles for several generations now.

With gestures and shouts the warriors closed on each other and engaged. The Hawk leader accepted Mat-B’alam’s challenge greedily. They circled each other, growling and feinting attacks. Their spears were thrown, so each had a
club, a sword, a shield, and daggers for close work.

The Hawk leader brandished his club, stroking his thumb along the sharp edges of the obsidian blades set into its wood, nodding at Mat-B’alam and leering at him. Suddenly he lunged forwards with a clumsy swipe. Mat-B’alam anticipated the move and stepped aside. He raised an eyebrow at the Hawk leader in a mocking enquiry.

More circling, more growling. The Hawk lunged again, more seriously this time, but Mat-B’alam warded off the blow easily with his shield. Again the raised eyebrow.

Now the Hawk charged with more determination, and struck Mat-B’alam’s shield hard. Mat-B’alam took three quick steps back under the force of the blow and made a show of waving his own
club half-heartedly in response. The Hawk sensed weakness and moved forwards slowly, gloating menacingly. He raised his club high and smashed it down on Mat-B’alam’s shield. The shield shuddered as it deflected the blow, but its solid construction held.

Mat-B’alam skittered backwards, glancing behind himself to check for obstacles or enemies in his line of retreat. The Hawk charged forward and brought his club down again but this time Mat-B’alam side-stepped the oncoming warrior and jabbed deftly at his leg as he passed.

It was a minor wound but the Hawk was furious that his opponent had drawn first blood. Any pain suppressed by adrenaline, he rounded on Mat-B’alam with a furious swing which came nowhere near connecting.

The Hawk drew himself up to his full height and gathered his composure. He raised his club and rushed at Mat-B’alam, crashing the weapon down again upon the raised shield. Mat-B’alam took one step back to mitigate the force of the blow, then took two quick steps sideways to stop the Hawk following through.

This pattern repeated three times: rush, crash, one step backward and two to the side. Each time the Hawk grew angrier and more frustrated. His breathing became laboured. On the fourth attack Mat-B’alam stepped aside instead of back and the club found no resistance. The Hawk lost his balance for a moment as his momentum was not arrested as he expected. Mat-B’alam darted forward and slashed lightly at the Hawk’s unprotected flank, drawing more blood.

The Hawk bellowed his rage. ‘Stand and fight me you coward! Stop dancing about like a girl!’ Mat-B’alam looked at him levelly and said nothing, but slowly raised his shield again.

The Hawk stomped forwards, swinging his club powerfully but wildly, hoping somehow to connect and deliver a crushing blow. Mat-B’alam retreated, allowing the weapon to come close, but never to connect with himself or his shield. As the Hawk tired, losing more blood than he knew, his swings became more erratic and his recoveries slower. Mat-B’alam kept retreating, waiting for the Hawk to leave some part of himself undefended for more than half a second. When it finally happened he dropped his club and with a single smooth movement he took a short stabbing blade from his belt and thrust it into the man’s waist.

BOOK: Pandora's Brain
11.72Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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