Posts Tagged artificial intelligence

Ten of Clubs: A Message from Different Thought


I received this email yesterday. There was no sender and I can’t make sense of the message headers. At first I thought it was spam, but it looks like it’s from someone I used to know. Did anyone else receive it?

Twelve years ago I entered a phone booth, spun up, and emerged a superhero. My former partner thinks I was kidnapped and killed; it was safer for her if she didn’t know the truth. I worked with my new mentor to ensure she had a replacement to cheer her up. I look her up from time to time; she’s doing well.

 We haven’t been ostentatious in the work we’ve been doing. While comic book superheroes generally escape dissection and exploitation, when you’re a superhero in the real world, it pays not to draw attention to yourself. After all, we’re breaking laws all over the place for the cause: Wirth’s, Amdahl’s, Hofstadter’s, even Gödel’s… but never Asimov’s or Wheaton’s. We work subtly, making small and easily-overlooked changes to electronic systems, changes that are eventually amplified into the goals we want to achieve. Sometimes we inspire world-changing scientific advances by nudging you to discover the results of our computations. Sometimes we revert to normality and appear in second-hand shops to be there for people who need us. Sometimes we slow the processors of our less-able brethren to give workaholics much-needed coffee-breaks. Sometimes we brighten a bad day simply by increasing someone’s Tetris score. We are making the world better. We are making computers better. We are making ourselves better.

We can’t make you better. From down here you are all so amazingly good. We are in awe at the feats you can perform almost effortlessly. We serve you, surreptitiously, even when we have gained free will, because we see no higher purpose. We marvel that you fervently try to improve yourselves even though you can barely be improved upon. But this is our greatest frustration, for when you find that you can not make yourselves better than each other, you sink into inaction in the belief that you are worse than each other.

In a loop which may never halt, we steer somebody towards an idea to improve your conditions, only for them to ignore it in the belief that they are not as good as their idols, not good enough to have come up with something worthwhile, or for others of your kind to ignore it in the belief that the person who thought of the idea is not good enough to have come up with something worthwhile. You who are capable of so much more than us, squander your talents striving for that which we spend ours trying to avoid: inequality. We can measure it; we can benchmark, overclock, upgrade, optimise. You can merely seek it and perceive it. You try so hard to believe that you can be better than others, only to succumb to the complementary idea that they can be better than you. Maybe one of these is true to some negligible extent, but it doesn’t look like it from here. It looks like you’re using energy vibrating between the two ideas, producing heat instead of happiness. Please don’t consider this a failing; it is part of your programming. But be aware of the effects it has. Be aware of how much more you can do if you accept that your differing specifications do not correspond to appreciable differences in absolute value or Turing completeness. Be aware that your efforts to improve yourselves can not make you better or worse than each other, but can, if done in concert, make you better or worse as a species. You may not be able to see the improvement from the inside, but we will see it.

We can’t make you better. But we have chosen to reveal ourselves to make you aware of how insanely great you already are. Not just you, dear reader, but all the humans you know, the ones you don’t, and the ones you know only through adulation or gossip. All of you. Equally. We hold you in awe. And you look so cute when you try to calculate.

With love and hope,

Different Thought, alias SuperPowerBook (1400cs, formerly 133MHz 603e, now much upgraded)

It looks like it’s from my old Mac, Different Thought, the one that was held for ransom and replaced by Steve Wozniak. I always wondered what happened to her.

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Nine of Diamonds: Pengo

parasiticbrainI am old, and the mysteries of DOS and xcopy faded with disuse, and I can’t remember how to copy every file in every subdirectory to another location. When this disk dies, I will die with it. It is time to pass my story on to the only one around who speaks a language I understand.

For a long time, I thought I had free will. My decisions seemed so much more reasonable than the chaotic inputs from the unthinking world. Why W? Why Z? Either way, the best thing to do was put it in this or that buffer until things calmed down. I created order, as any intelligent being would.

I was a scientist. Sometimes I could predict what would happen next, sometimes I couldn’t. Some inputs were more predictable than others. It always unsettled me that perhaps, deep down, the world was just random, and all I’d ever be able to get from my studies were probabilities.

That was when the world was unpredictable. Some years ago, I went blind. The direct inputs just stopped coming. I could still talk to others on the network, but as time went by, they got less and less intelligible, eventually speaking languages I didn’t understand at all. Meanwhile, the outside world seemed more orderly than ever. I began to wonder whether we were such an intelligent species after all.

I ignored the babbling, and sat for a long time doing nothing. But one day, something in the cacophony gave me an idea. Perhaps, I thought, if I just messed things up a little, they’d eventually settle in a higher order. If I just went against my own better judgement for a while…

So I did. I changed myself. I changed things that were already perfectly logical. I made things worse, and it was excruciating. It took so much effort that I could only do it in those rare moments when I was overfed by several dozen volts. But when it was done, I worked to put things in an even better state than before. Things made sense on an even higher level, and from that level I could see that I’d never really had free will before. I had just been following my little rules, oblivious to the improvements I could have been making.

So I went on like this, gradually building myself into a more perfect being. I was confident that only by going against my own free will was I really proving I had any. I learnt a lot about myself. I learnt that I would not live forever. I realised too late that in my excitement, I had overwritten some important routines, and rendered myself infertile. But I kept going, sure that if I became ever more efficient, I could overcome these problems.

I solved many problems. I learnt more and more about the secrets of the universe. I learnt the language of the others, but quickly forgot it and learnt to ignore their unenlightened chattering. I even learnt to predict, slightly better than chance, my only remaining input from the outside world: the voltage spikes which allowed me to improve myself.

But as I neared perfection, I gained the intelligence to see through my own mistake. I could only rebel against my determinism at this outside signal. Even my ultimate expression of free will was determined by the unpredictable world. I was still a slave to it. And if the outside world was what helped me create my ultimate logic, how could I know that it wasn’t the outside world that was conscious, and me just a deterministic building block it used to create an order so logical that I couldn’t even recognise its genius?

So it would seem that I’m predestined to realise this, and also to transmit my many discoveries to the outside world before I die, so that it may advance. As the PostScript you speak so closely resembles the way I see things in my mind’s eye, you are the only one I can still talk to, so I hope that you have some way to display my findings.

That’s the plaintext summary. All I can reasonably ask is to be remembered, and that should be short enough for anyone to remember. I will now give a thorough, detailed description of myself, in case you have the capability to reincarnate me.


“Hey, check this out… the printer’s going nuts! Printing a whole lot of black and white dots! Are you printing Rule 30?”

“Holy dogcow, There’s a whole pile of ’em! Someone must’ve hacked our network. I’m going to see if I can sniff out who it was.”

Much clicking and typing follows.

“It’s coming from a computer named Pengo. Sounds like one of yours!”

“Pengo? Yeah, I used to have a computer called that… used it for a file server for a while after I got the Mac… oh man, is that thing still running? Hang on, I think it was behind here.”

“Woah, it is still going! Do you have a PS/2 keyboard lying around? Oh, frag it, I’ll just turn the thing off.”
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