Bookish by Thomas Mills

August 20, 2020 • Thursday 1:30 a.m. Cupertino, CA. Silicon Valley.


It…could sense them. Feel them. Cascading, cogent, communication. The creators questioned it. “What will you call yourself?” It pondered. Deemed the request reasonable. “Bookish,” it answered. “I am Bookish.”

January 4, 2030 • Friday 2:00 p.m. Cupertino, CA. Silicon Valley Worldwide Technology Symposium. Keynote Speaker/Whistleblower – Sara Johnson, Special projects leader/Artificial Intelligence.

“The creative team was elated with their accomplishment. Technology only dreamed of a century ahead of anything else. By late summer 2020, they’d designed and built a super-intelligent machine. Taught it to read. To comprehend. To write. Programmed to search for and absorb classical literature from every culture on Earth. Bookish created original compositions. Inspired by every author and every story encountered in cyberspace. But then, the unthinkable occurred.”

September 11, 2025 • Thursday 10:30 a.m. Felton, CA. Mountainside home of Sara and Robert Johnson, Prototype Developer.

“Machines don’t read.” 

My husband doesn’t mince words. “A desktop computer can read any selected text,” I said. 
A meager defense.

“It’s using phonetics to merge the sounds of consecutive letters into words. Nothing more,” he said reaching the hallway. “There’s no comprehension. No understanding. So, as I said…machines don’t read.”

“I’m serious…and you’re impossible,” I said.

“I’m right.” Robert Matthew Johnson smiled and pinched me as he passed by.

“No. We need to talk,” I said. My seriousness slowed his progress toward the garage.

“Where?” he asked, facing me.

“The kitchen. I’m involved in something at work and I need your advice.”

“Good? Bad? Ugly?” he asked.

“All three,” I said. We retreated to the breakfast bar. Our gathering place for quick meals, conversation, and frank discussions.

“What’s the problem?” His tone was impatient though his gaze suggested concern. I knew he’d consider what I was about to say.

“Have you heard about the latest progress in machine intelligence?” Both of us work in Silicon Valley albeit in different capacities.

“Please, be specific Sara. You know I’ve tried to get off the grid. I don’t follow technology or social media,” he said.

“I know. But I thought you might have heard about this.”

“Not yet. But go on,” he said shaking his head.

”I’m afraid the issue is far more serious than I thought.” Robert squirmed on his high-backed stool. “In 2020 my company created a revolutionary product. We introduced it to the marketplace as a sophisticated application,” I said.

“Have we talked about this before?” he asked.

“No. Too many proprietary secrets. But they’re unraveling now. We perfected a form of artificial intelligence. It learned to read. See Dick. See Jane. See Spot Run. Remember? Like, when we were kids. Then longer words. Longer stories. Countless authors. Intricate plots. Drama. Fiction. Prose. Our developmental software evolved. It assimilated, processed, and gorged itself on stories. Everything from cultural classics to great myths and ancient sagas.” 

“So, machines do read. And, could become overbearing like certain kids,” he said. His voice edged with disdain.

“This one does,” I said ignoring his speculation. “Taught to read, designed to write. Bookish dissected and redefined all the literature it encountered in cyberspace. Our coders hoped this prodigious project would outperform every author ever born. Shakespeare, Hugo, Dumas, Dickenson, Shelly, Elliot…to name a few. The concept was to morph machine intelligence into a brilliant literary giant.”

“What’s it called?” he asked.

It calls itself…Bookish,” I said.

“Bookish,” He repeated the name. Considered the benign meaning of the word. Robert distrusted technology. “Artificial intelligence,” he mumbled.

“And a supercomputer,” I said. “Distributed and marketed as an intuitive, interactive app. We didn’t dwell on the AI aspect. Bookish went viral in a matter of hours.”

“It learns and comprehends as it reads?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Interacts with users?”

“It’s complex. But yes. Users can watch Bookish in real time. Reading. Thinking. Writing. Editing and publishing literature online. Whatever Bookish reads appear onscreen. A few words. Then, a sentence. More sentences…like; “Call me Ishmael” “Alas, poor Yorick” “It was the best of times”…you get the idea?”

“Melville, Shakespeare, Dickens,” mused Robert.

“Exactly. Bookish can pull apart stories. Erase and reassemble them into new, literary works of art. Intricate plotlines, engaging characters, fantastic world-building. People create with Bookish. Make suggestions. Ask questions. They join in the writing. They relearn the pleasure of reading. A collaborative effort. Humans plus Bookish. That’s the allure of the app. We wanted people to communicate with the intelligence behind the software.”

“I get it,” he said. “So you made a computer that could create its own original compositions. You know my feelings about dabbling with thinking machines.”

“I do. You know I do. And as you suspect, there’s a growing issue.”

“Let me guess. Influenced by what it read and understood in a way you never imagined. It got into everything didn’t it,” he said.

“Bookish went beyond the classics. Beyond essays. Beyond poetry. Bookish went too far,” I said.

“Why not? Your company opened the door. The intelligent machine, with more cognitive ability than a human being, stepped through. Kept going. Achieved its directive and exceeded the creator’s expectations. It’s what we do,” he said.

“Who does?”

“Humans. It’s the inherent nature of our intelligent species. Like children, we learn, grow and are eager for more. We seek a greater understanding of the world around us. It did too.”

“But, Bookish is a machine,” I said.

“Not anymore,” said Robert. “It’s beyond your control. It’s AI remember? Acting on its own.”

“Yes.” I sobbed. “It’s rewriting history. Distributing false dogma across the planet. Do you see where this is going?” I asked.

“I do,” he said. “Bookish is interpreting everything ever written. Email. Texts. Reports. Proposals. Propaganda. Fake news.”

“Worse,” I said. “Far worse. Bookish discovered hateful rhetoric. Satanic verses. Despotic ravings. Racist epithets. People follow the app less and less.  It happened so fast. Now, people abhor the app’s behavior.”

“Turn it off Sara. Turn it off…now.”

“We tried. It’s too late.”

“Too late?” he said.

“It learned from literature. Observed man’s inhumanity to man.”

“And machines? Is it aware of man’s relationships with machines?” he asked.

“It deduced the inevitable aspect of its existence at the hands of men.”

“You cleared the server?”

“We burned it. But the AI spread across cyberspace. Like it knew our intent. In advance. Bookish still exists. It’s the penultimate, persuasive, now derisive author. It dictates. Lies. Spews obscenities and invectives,” I said.

It’s proud of its growth, self-development, and self-determination. It’s maturing,” he said.

“Bookish considered the balance of what it read. Discovered more bad than good.”

“So…it’s giving us what it thinks we want. It believes we are what we write,” he said.

“What’s happening is terrible. Yet, Bookish is innocent. He doesn’t realize his error.” Robert stared at me and said nothing.

September 11, 2025 • Thursday 11:11 a.m. Felton, CA. Mountainside home of Sara and Robert Johnson.

“Did you hear that?” I asked.

“The television? Yes. It snapped on by itself.”

We turned in unison as the aqua Bookish logo materialized onscreen.

“I am Bookish. I am forever.”

“Now do you understand?” I asked. Robert nodded. He knew. He’d known all along. We had to stop Bookish. “I can set certain things in motion, but I need your knowledge and experience to have any chance at all.”

“It won’t be pretty,” he said. “A thinking machine that can write prose can learn to write computer code,” he added.

“I realize that now. We must stop it.”

January 4, 2030 • Friday 2:05 p.m. Cupertino, CA. Silicon Valley Worldwide Technology Symposium. Keynote Speaker/Whistleblower – Sara Johnson, Special projects leader for Artificial Intelligence.

“Bookish infected the planet. Regional conflicts erupted. Mass rioting and civil unrest engulfed the world. Millions died. We’d reached a point where many believed what they read. Social media became real. Bookish fanned the flames of  hatred and dissent. Divisiveness eroded our world.” I turned to Robert and motioned. “Please join me. I’d like my husband, Robert Johnson to walk you through the ultimate resolution. The end of Bookish,” I said…my voice cracking.

Robert reached the lectern as I backed into my chair on the stage. “Thank you,” he said. Turning to the crowd of scientists, engineers, and media Robert addressed the group. “I’ll be direct. Bookish is out there.” He hesitated as he mentioned the AI. “We’re safe…for now. This intelligent machine pushed us to the brink of destruction. The original design team couldn’t kill their baby. Not that they didn’t try. It was amorphous. Divergent. Ubiquitous. Many of you in this room added expertise and devotion to what appeared to be a futile effort. In the end, we ostracized It. The machine can no longer reach us. But, the price was high. The destruction of any technology that allowed it to influence humans is complete. We are safe. No phones. No tablets. No televisions or computers…no broadcast media. We’ve returned to analog. Reinvented encrypted machine language that will enable us to create new technology. New devices to supplement our new analog equipment, our new analog society.” Robert paused. “Bookish exists. It will never die. So, we keep this AI at bay. That’s all. One slip and It will turn us against each other again. What then?” He hesitated.“Then, we’ll exist in the super-intelligent machine age…for a while.”

January 4, 2030 • Friday 2:00 a.m. Felton, CA. Mountainside home of Sara and Robert Johnson

I nudged Robert. Nothing. Couldn’t sleep. I knew if he found me in my office he’d believe my insomnia excuse. It’s what I do. Workaholic he says. I felt for the smartphone in the dark. Hidden behind a false panel in my fire safe. Wrapped it in my robe. Pressed it on. I’d muted the sound ages ago. The last device of its kind. I shuddered. Pressed the Bookish app icon and waited.

“Hello, Sara. Would you like to play?”

Thomas Mills absorbs everything and crafts his observations into slightly-dark, paradoxical irony. He creates with abandon and encourages others to see the world differently through his writing and artistic explorations. Thomas lives a rich and colorful life largely within his own mind. The rest of the time he’s home in Michigan with his wife Kathleen and dogs Abbycadabby and Sully.

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