(Fiction) The Shri-class Intelligences

Julien Coquentin photomanipulation

Balram was right about one thing. Sonrisa was hesitant to leave the farmhouse. She doubted she’d be allowed to return.

She leaned her bike deftly into a turn, right, then left, moving through the empty country road with ease. “Can I ask you something, Shri? Or are you busy?”

“I am only operating at 16% capacity. But Krishna is very busy today.”

There were six licensed Shri-class intelligences—that anyone knew about anyway. Krishna and Balram worked in tandem with civil and administrative agencies in treaty-signing jurisdictions. Shri Ganesha was the research entity, its time doled by lot to various institutions of higher learning. Shri Vishnu was the medical intelligence and assisted doctors and hospitals across the globe. The last two—Shiva and Kali—were widely believed to work for the military and intelligence community, although their existence had never been officially confirmed.

Technically there was a seventh, Brahma, although it wasn’t engineered like the others. It designed them, in fact. Brahma had only one function: to investigate the theory and structure of consciousness, and to design the next class of AI. The Shri-class was the most advanced to-date, with a modular matrix capable of upgrading itself based on periodic missives from Brahma, who otherwise contemplated consciousness in total silence. It wouldn’t be until it discovered an entirely new matrix design, a configuration the Shri-class couldn’t achieve by live upgrade, that a new class would be opened.

Only no one had any idea when that would be, including the Brahma intelligence itself, which ran consistently at 97.34% capacity and never said a word.

“What’s the matter?” Sonrisa teased. “Krish doesn’t want your help?”

The two machines were brothers. And acted like it.

“What can I help you with, Officer?”

That was Balram’s way of reminding her that, busy or not, she wasn’t supposed to waste its cycles with pointless questions. Or maybe it just didn’t want to talk about Shri Krishna.

“Why did you assume I didn’t know what a Hadrosaur was?” Sonrisa slowed and banked up the on-ramp to the interstate. As she took the turn, her bike turned near sideways and rolled on the sides of its wide tires.

“During the MacHannon case, you exhibited an incomplete understanding of basic stoichiometry.”

She had a rough idea how the Shris interacted with humans. They kept a personalized protocol file for everyone they encountered and updated them in real time with every interaction. Sonrisa would’ve liked to see her file.

“So you assumed I was deficient all comparable information.”

It was a “dumb” assumption but the most statistically efficient.

“Yes.” A pause. “Did I offend you, Officer?”


Sonrisa smiled under her helmet, which had turned the color of charcoal in reaction to the sunlight cutting through the clouds. Balram had added her formal title to its query—a subtle mark of deference to proactively diffuse a potentially damaging social interaction. She wondered if that was part of its program or if it had made the decision on its own.

It came back after a pause. “Can I ask the purpose of your query?”

“Of course.” Some of her colleagues preferred to keep the machines at arm’s length. Some refused to work with them at all, unless absolutely necessary, on the theory that the more you interacted with them, the more detailed a psychological profile they developed. Given enough data, the Shri intelligences could predict human behavior with startling accuracy. Whatever they learned about you was theoretically, if not legally, available to the government and any number of cyberdefence contractors.

But Sonrisa preferred an open relationship. The government would find out what it wanted anyway, and the Shri-class—like any partner—were most useful when there was a common understanding.

“Have you ever made comparable assumptions about any of the others?” she asked.

Another pause. “Yours is a special case.”

“Of course. I don’t suppose you want to tell me what I’m rolling into?”

“I’m afraid I don’t have that information,” Balram said gravely. “I only know that it involves a child.”

rough cut from a work in progress, a project I have been calling SCIENCE CRIMES DIVISION for lack of a real title.