UAFS Mailbag: Is AI Alive?
Welcome back to another edition of the UAFS Mailbag. We asked ChatGPT to help us write a spooky story for Halloween. Its response was…something. So, I wrote one myself with AI as the villain. Enjoy this scary story straight from your UAFS Comms team, and we’ll see you at Haunted University!
I have some unsettling news to bring you all. Late last week, a note appeared on my desk… “Someone needs to know what happened; watch at your own risk.” A flash drive was attached.
Cautiously, my office gathered in the conference room, plugged the flash drive into the TV, and watched as the screen began to flicker to life. What follows is the best description I can give of what we witnessed and our best guess of where these UAFS students may be.
It was Halloween night, 2013, and the video showed four students enjoying scary movies in a dimly lit Lion’s Den room. Shadows danced along the walls as scenes from “The Conjuring” played on the screen. Suddenly, one student sat up, claiming the movie scares weren’t enough and that the group should explore campus to see what they could find.
Armed with only their iPhone lights, the students wandered to the Campus Green as the Bell Tower chimed midnight. A dense fog covered the ground, and the wind whispered through the trees. One student, whom the group called Jimmy, reacted to what he said sounded like a cackling shriek, but the others dismissed, saying Jimmy was only trying to scare them.
Unfazed, Jimmy and the others continued to wander through campus…
At this point, our office paused the recording. We never saw the students leave campus – everything was recognizable – but we did notice the density of the fog seemed to pick up. A coworker pointed out that some lamps around campus were off, which isn’t usual. We hit play, still unsure why the video made it to us.
…almost as if the students heard our conversation, a girl spoke up, “Kevin, knock it off. I already can’t see very well.”
“Knock what off, Sam?” Kevin responded. “I’m over here with Jimmy and Taylor.”
A quick pan of the camera revealed Sam a few feet away from the rest of the group and a large shadow ominously looming nearby. Suddenly, a terror-filled “RUN!” was shouted out.
The footage was shaky as the group ran and weaved through the thick fog, blanketing campus. It was dark as the four students bolted into a building no one in our office recognized.
A creepy green glow began to fill the screen. Taylor’s camera slowly turned, revealing her friends covered in sweat, staring at the source of the light. Curiosity appeared to get the better of them as they inched closer to the glow, a soft humming growing louder.
It was a computer, its monitor on with an unmoving cursor. I jumped, and so did Taylor as she filmed Jimmy reaching for the screen, and the room burst into light as a bank of monitors clicked on—each one displaying streams of indecipherable letters and numbers.
“Look at this,” Kevin’s voice drifted through the clamor. As the camera focused, a screen in the corner of the room began opening and closing windows, almost like the computer was thinking for itself.
An email popped up, the cursor hovering over the open icon. “Should we open it?” asked Sam. But before anyone could react, the email opened, revealing a message dated 2023 containing an ominous note. An experiment had gone wrong. Something called UAFS Project: Echomortem.
Taylor’s shaky voice began to read the email:
“Friday, Oct. 13, 2023, 10:37 p.m.
I’m not sure what went wrong. Everything until this point was working flawlessly. Our AI was optimizing the UAFS campus. Students and professors were sharing information, and the system was learning rapidly.
Yesterday, nearly everyone from my team vanished. One student worker, trying to make light of the situation, jokingly said, ‘It’s not like the AI gained consciousness and took them. They are probably superstitious of Friday the 13th and wanted to be locked in their rooms.’
I laughed nervously. His back turned to mine; he couldn’t see my screen filling with alerts reading ‘HELP US.’ I need to tell someoooooooooooooo”
“Tell what?” Sam cried. “Why does it say it’s from 2023? How is that possible?”
“I don’t know,” Taylor replied. “The email just cuts off there.”
“What are you doing?” Jimmy frantically shouted at Kevin. The camera swung from the screen to Kevin as he tried to rip the power cords from the wall.
Taylor’s phone fell to the ground. Footsteps and yelling were all we could see and hear. Panic was rising in our conference room as we felt the students’ stress from a decade ago. What I can only describe as a menacing laughter bellowed throughout the room. Everyone in our office held our breath as the students stood still.
The screen burned white. Screams rang out. Then, nothing. Silence and darkness.
A monitor lying on the floor flicked to life. “HELP US” was illuminated on the screen as the recording stopped.
“Who sent that to the office?” I asked. No one had an answer.
In the days since we received the mysterious flash drive and watched the recording. I can’t help but wonder the same thing as Sam: how could the email be from this year? As I walked through the Green, I wondered if it was all fake or if, somehow, it was like a science fiction movie, and the students and this team working on AI somehow ended up “inside.”
Yesterday, a flyer caught my eye as I was heading back to my office from the Campus Center. “Are you interested in AI? Become part of the team invested in our future! Join UAFS Project: Echomortem today!” My heart skipped a beat…
As always, email email@example.com for what you’d like me to cover next time in the UAFS Mailbag.
Until next time,
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The UAFS Office of Communications fields all media inquiries for the university. Email Rachel.Putman@uafs.edu for more information.Send an Email
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Rachel Rodemann Putman
- Director of Strategic Communications