Short Story: I'm So Sorry

Friday, 06 September 2019 - 5 minutes to read

If you're reading this, let me just say that I'm sorry: So very, very sorry.

I didn't mean for any of this to happen. I'm beyond devastated for all of the lives lost - and the countless destruction it brought. I have no words to express my regret and shame for what I did. I can only hope that whatever is left of humanity will go on, and one day build a new and better world without the mistakes we did.

Yeah… I'm the guy who ended the world.

It all started as an experiment. It was just more of a trivial "what-if" scenario than anything else - it was never intended to actually cause any damage. And I am beyond astonished that I got away with it… it should have been caught, somewhere, by someone; but it never did.

Computer software really is one of the best places to hide things. Once all that code people write is compiled into machine instructions and embedded into software packages inside computers, it's practically invisible. No one is going to go look through billions of raw machine instructions to see what any given program actually does; we all trust that it's doing what it's supposed to be doing. Well, that's the idea anyway - I mean, we all have antivirus programs to find viruses and worms and stuff that people write and sneak into our computers.

So… what did I do?

I am (was?) the author of a software library that handles a small part of - yeah, it kind of gets technical here, it was a library used in communicating with devices over a network; it's not really important. What is important is that it became popular and other people started using it in their projects, and somehow or other it became part of the code that tied everything together in our world. Billions of devices used it; computers, phones, TVs, thermostats, cars, you name it. It took me a few months to write initially, an additional two years or so to improve it and iron out most of the bugs, and it got to the point where it just worked. Which is why people used it.

And then the idea hit me.

What if I were to embed something in the code that didn't belong there? Some hidden bits of software that no one knew about - and that I alone would have running on all the billions of devices throughout the world?

At first, it was just a test to see if I could get away with it - the idea kept nagging at me. So I gradually introduced a few small functions, seemingly without purpose, to see if anyone noticed - and when no one said anything, I began expanding it, little by little, over the next couple of months. I added some code here, a little bit of other code there, that in itself didn't seem to matter - but all put together, it meant I had built a kind of backdoor into my own software. Onto all those devices it ran on.

What shocked me is that not only did I get away with it - no one seemed to notice or care. My code eventually made its way into other larger software projects and eventually spread throughout the whole world. And no one knew.

If there ever was a point when I should have stopped, this was it. But temptation got the better of me. What could I actually do with it?

I slowly and carefully started playing with it - making connections here and there, gradually tying one computer system here to another over there, and within a few months I had built a fairly large network of communicating devices. They call this a botnet: millions of devices all operating together at the whims of a controlling agent: Me. And I didn't have millions of devices - I had 3.6 billion.

I could have used it for so much. I could have eavesdropped on government communications in lots of different countries. I could have monitored financial transactions. I could have looked at a million webcams. I could have taken down nations.

But, you know what, I'm kind of a good guy… right? So I never did.

In fact, the fear of being discovered and the public shaming I would have to endure - and very likely some significant jail time - made me realize that I needed to remove it and end the experiment.

Over a few weeks I designed some additional code that would silently remove it from all those systems. It was stealthy, it was beautiful, and I deployed it carefully and slowly to all those devices in my network.

Unfortunately, by the time I caught the bug in my code it was too late.

The removal code didn't trigger the way it should. One silly mistake in the code, and a couple of side effects I hadn't realized, caused it to… well, let's just say that it removed a lot more than intended. In most devices it removed everything. Everything.

My first beads of sweat started appearing when my internet connection stopped working. But what really hit home was when a few minutes later, the power went out.

You know the rest.

Everything stopped. Medical equipment failed. Pacemakers stopped and people fell down on the street. Cars segfaulted and became uncontrollable on the freeway. Airplanes fell out of the sky. No power - because the electrical grid was gone. No water. No phones. No communication. Not even the stupid combine harvesters worked anymore because they were all computer controlled.

I know at some point early on the military got called out, because I saw them driving by on the freeway outside my home. But I never heard from them again - I guess there's not a lot you can do without gas.

We have a few weeks left here. A guy I know has a storage shelter with food and water that we're using up slowly. I don't know what happens after that. I don't know if they're going to be able to restore services in time to save enough people. I know the riots took a lot of them. I have no idea what's going on in other cities or countries. Maybe the poorer countries are better off than us.

I haven't told anyone yet about all this - but I had to get it off my chest. Now you know.

I'm so sorry.

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