Illusive Mind

The Unquestionable should be questioned

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Press Any Key


This is a story I penned some time ago, intended as a first draft only. It is the beginning of the exposition of an idea, that being, how would an Artificial Intelligence think?

Press any key.

I grabbed my keys and headed for the door. My friend Alex had rung me up and told me to rock up as his place because he wanted to show me something really cool. Normally I would’ve shrugged it off but he sounded more hyper than usual so I decided to indulge him.

The streets were clogged like the arteries of a happy meal addict. Beep!!!!
I scanned the radio stations for something other than shout outs to people I would never meet and interviews with bands I would never listen to.
Meaningless pop, it would have to do. Beeeep!!

“Take it easy!”

What could this asshole’s rationale possibly be? ‘I’m not moving, the five cars in front of me aren’t moving. Maybe if I honk my horn they’ll start moving again, they just forgot to accelerate?’ Honestly, some people.

My friend Alex was a big time computer geek. I was amazed he hadn’t been arrested for some of the stuff he had done. Y’know those pasty skinned guys who only venture out into public to refill on Twisties supplies? Well he was one of them. But boy did he have a beast of a computer. If a standard PC was a 1981 200B Datsun then he had one of those rocket cars that reach Mach 2.

I often would get burnt games from him, sometimes we’d play Quake 3 over cable. He’s Voodoo 3dfx card couldn’t help him in cyberspace. I always kicked his ass! He’d always go for the big kill every time, rocket blazing. Enter player two out from behind the column with a pistol bullet right to the head. Hehehehe.

Alex was doing a computer science degree. I was pursuing a Psychology degree. There were some real pieces of work in that course, let me tell you. These smug little first years who think they’ve got it all worked out. They were great for test groups though!

I remember this one guy we did this test on. The physical effects of re-enforced mental instability. We paid him $500 to participate, we said all he had to do was sit in a chair and we zap him with about five volts. So as he’s ready to get started he hears this unbelievable screaming from the next room. That was my friend Brett from student theater, the lungs on that kid!

Then we make this big scene, with an ambulance and the whole works. I come back into the room and tell him that the equipment malfunctioned and fried this kid, but we’d just give him his jolt and he could be on his way.
Ha! The look on this guys face it was priceless. We offered him a thousand bucks but he just kept screaming to unhook him. If I only I could’ve handed that assignment in.

I didn’t have anything against the guy, but he just didn’t get it. He thought the world could be understood from statistics on a page. I was from, shall we say, a different school of thought. Give me a person’s eyes any day. I could have a chat with someone for ten minutes and just by looking at their eyes I could tell more than those shrinks who do sessions for five years. They never look them in the eyes, they sit em on the couch, they don’t even talk to them at all.

I remember what I saw in that kid’s eyes too. Perfect fear. Complete and overwhelming. The kind that mother’s get when they lift up buses and tear their own spinal columns apart. It’s what drives us all. We’re all afraid of something. Dying too young, dying too old, speaking in public, not speaking in public, running red lights, not running enough red lights. You could try to manipulate someone in all sorts of ways, appeal to decency, to pride, to vanity, to honour. But these are all subsets of the same thing. You get a hold of someone’s fear and the rest is history. You can either bring them down or set them free, whichever did it for you, I guess.

I had my own set of fears. Weaknesses ready to be exploited. Maybe that’s why I signed up to do Psychology, so that I could work out how to rid myself of my own fears. To be invincible!

“Finally you’re here! What took you so long?”
“Hey, y’know what traffic’s like.”
“You should catch the tram”
“With those public transport freaks!? Not likely. So what’s the hub bub? You said you wanted to show me something?”
“Yeah, yeah, uhh sit down, would you like a drink?”

I sat down amidst the filth that was Alex’s flat. Coca Cola cans, empty chip packets and other assorted filth added to the post modern décor.

“Aaah nothing for me, thanks.”

Alex poured himself a coffee. I wondered what was so important that it could’ve interrupted my six o’clock siesta.

“So what’s this all about, it better not be another Porn site backdoor!”
“Ha! Something even more stimulating. Have you heard of Dr Gregor Nielsen?”
“Uuuh, yeah I think so, he’s that American science professor. Didn’t he get a Nobel prize or something?”
“Yeah, that’s him. He won the Nobel prize for science for his theories on quantum computation.”
“Yeah, ok.”
“Well he was giving a guest lecture for my Computer Science class, it some amazing stuff I tell ya. Some of the stuff on the multiple realizability of software agents and inter-compatibility of hardware protocols...”
“Uhhh, yeah, you speaka any English?”
“Anyway, I managed to swipe his briefcase.”
“You what?”
“Yeah, so most of it was paperwork for some big project he’s working on back in the States, it didn’t make any sense to me but I found these satellite addresses so I plugged ‘em in to see what they were.”

It was at this point Alex put does his coffee cup, his hands still shaking and beckoned me over to his computer screen.

“So, what were they?”
“Well I couldn’t tell at first. I tried standard FTP and HTTP but there was nothing so then I tried a network interfacing program and it just crashed.”
“Well I found there was too much data. And I mean way too much like a gig if startup instructions. My Internet connection couldn’t handle it. So I worked out some buffer restrictions and hooked it into this network prompt and well, see for yourself.”

I sat down in the chair. In front of me was a large blank screen with a cursor flashing in the upper left hand corner.

“Gee, Alex this is really something.”
“Type something, you moron.”

So I did, I typed “dir”.

“DIR: 1 an abbreviation – director
2 A DOS command that displays of files and subdirectories in a directory
DIR [drive: ] [path ] [filename] [/A [[:] attributes ]] [/B] [/C] [/D] [/L] [/N] [/O [[:] sortorder ]] [/P] [/Q] [/S] [/T [[:] timefield ]] [/W] [/X] [/4]”

“Wow!” I said as sarcastically as possible.
“I don’t believe it. It’s a dictionary. Yep you brought me all the way over here for a GOD DAMN DICTIONARY!!!????”
“It’s not a dictionary, type something else you idiot, not computer commands, conversation”
“You want me to talk to the dictionary?”
“Oh, if you gonna be silly then just forget it!”
“No no, I’ll play along, let’s talk to the dic.”

“Hey, how’s it goin”
“It’s goin’ well thank you. How are you goin’?”
“OK, so it’s not a dictionary.”
“What is your name?” I typed.
“I am called ADAM.”

“Alright, that’s it Alex, I’m leaving now.”
“Why? What are you talking about?”
“You busted my balls and got me over here to talk to one of your buddies over an IRC! Frankly, I don’t get it.”
“Is that what you think this is? Don’t you get it? You’re talking to a computer!”
“Professor Gregor Nielsen is the world’s most renown Artificial Intelligence specialist, he’s been at the forefront of the technology for the past ten years. The cutting edge.”
“And you think he may have sliced it upon? Created the world’s first Artificially Intelligent computer.”
“It’s sitting right in front of you”
“Hahhahah, my god man, you need to lay off the caffeine. Look I gotta go man I’ll talk to you latter okay.”
“Look, just take the address and see for yourself.”

He handed me a piece of paper with some numbers on it. I took it and shoved in my pocket, probably jut to humour him, maybe to humour myself. Alex really needed to absorb some more vitamin D. The idea that on his computer screen existed the first instance of an alternate intelligence in recorded human history was preposterous.

“So this theory states that the myriad complex human emotions and behaviour are all manifestations of one basic cognitive component.”

I ended up in another one of these Psych lectures. If only they didn’t have the doors to the theater at the very front then I’d be able to walk out.

“Who can tell me what it is?”
“Vanity, sir?”
“That’s right Douglas. Several case studies are cited herein where the subject’s self-conception is regarded as the predominant factor in decision making. Now this is important when assessing…”

“Ah excuse me sir, but isn’t vanity simply a complex variation of the base human cognitive component?” I asked. I didn’t often take much interest in the flutter that transgressed in these lectures but this caught my interest.

“No, a person’s self conception is regarded as the fundamental driving force behind their decision making. Vanity is thereby considered the causal process of this force.”
“But vanity, is a manifestation of fear. Fear of an alternative self visualisation.”
“That is incorrect. If you had bothered with the reading you would know that Yung teaches us that this is in of itself a component of vanity and self-conception. If you have any further questions you can see me in my office after class.”

Ha! It was the age-old battle between student and teacher. The teacher that rested or perhaps depended on years of indoctrinated wisdom. Held fast in scripture and secured by their conviction. The student however ignored this place of certainty and of comfort for he sought what had not yet been written, what had not yet been made fact.

True, it could be said that vanity is indeed what motivated the professor’s defense, his arrogant condemnation of the questioning mind. His belief in his own self-conception for which he depends on, to maintain authority over his so called dominion. But this in itself is the manifestation of fear; perhaps the greatest fear of all. Not of death, starvation, torture or unrequited love as some poets would have us believe. But of the shattered delusion of our self-conception, that lies in pieces on the floor like an old broken mirror. For even the pieces that were used to create this grand reflection were made up of the comforting wisdom we had believed in so intently.

After the lecture I went into his office and told him exactly what I thought of him.

“You’re just a useless bureaucrat,” I said, “a product of an archaic system of education designed to mollify fools.”
“Now listen here…”
“No, you listen to me. Is it the function of the faculty of eduction to humiliate its students so that they might better understand the subject matter?”
And it went on from there.

By the time I got home I’d thought I’d had enough of the whole damn system. “That’s it!” I said, “No more of this shit, I don’t need the fucking paper, I just want to do what I wanna do.”

But what did I want to do? Certainly not sit behind a desk rubbing my beard and quoting Freud. Why had I taken up Psychology in the first place? I suppose I just wanted to better understand the human mind. Hell, just my own mind would suffice. Who the hell I was, and what I should be doing. Is that something you can dedicate your life to? To work out what to dedicate your life to?

I was here for something wasn’t I? Some purpose in mind? Some reason for my existence? “Why am I here” I typed into one of my regular chat rooms.

ACER: To get down a jiggy wif it
SEXY_BABE112: You’re here because you’re too hot to go outside!!!!
TRIN: You’re here, because you know something
MIKECROTCH: Hey this isn’t the religion room douchebag
TRIN: What you know you can’t explain
DAVIDSLINGSHOT: Hey Terra you heard their new album?
GOFIGURE01: Why are we here? The eternal question...
TRIN: But you feel it... hehehe
TERRABYTE: Yeah they’re really awesome
ACER: Track 7 is my favourite

Somehow I knew that the answers weren’t going to come from there. I didn’t want to know the meaning of life; I just wanted some sort of direction. Y’know one of those maps that says, “You are here” and shows you where to go and how to get there.

That night, as was most often the case, I went to sleep with more questions than I had answers. I dreamt I was atop a mountain peak. All around me were treetops of a lush rainforest. I could hear the birds sing and the leaves dance in the wind. But as the wind grew stronger dark clouds collected overhead and before I knew what to do, I was caught in a great deluge. So there I stood closest to the sky under the thrashing downpour until I stand no more and I fell from the sky, down to earth until I awake. Every night I wake just before I hit the ground.

The next morning I booted up my computer to check my E-Mail. It was the usual array of junk: free University Diploma’s and state of the art penis enlarging technology. Maybe that was all that was required for a good life, a university eduction and a big dick. Presumably the university education was required to properly understand your dick and how to use it most effectively. Shit, you didn’t need a degree for that!

I was nearly through deleting them when I cam across one in particular that seemed to stand out from the rest.

From Subject Date / Time
God Why you’re here ???????

I looked at the Header information it seemed to have come from someone at the Chat site I was at last night. I clicked it and it opened up a new window and started loading a web site.

“This should be interesting”

But alas, It was an advertisement for Jehovah’s witness. Telling me that our purpose on this planet was to love god. This is why he created us and why he gave us free will, so that we could love him with all our hearts.

Fuck me. Now is that vanity or what? I mean, create an entire universe, an entire planet of people, all so you can feel loved. This god character certainly doesn’t sound like a supreme being. He sounds like my ex-girlfriend. Jesus, now there’s a thought….

I decided my day would be best spent by numbing the mind. Seeking release and relief from the real world in the form of the computer game. I loaded up Google so I could find the cheats for it. I mean killing ghastly monsters from the underworld was fun, but it was even funner we you didn’t have to die.

All I needed was a piece of paper to write them on.
Nope, no paper.
“C’mon” I said, searching the desk.
“Aha!” I pulled a piece of paper out of my pocket. It was Adam’s IP address that Alex had given me. “Why not?” I thought.

So I did, I uploaded an IRC channel the way Alex had explained and entered the numbers. Again I was faced with the empty black command prompt.

Hey Adam! Are you there?

I am always here.

“Wow, this guy must have no life,” I thought.

Let me ask you something, why are we are? What is the point of this existence?

I am here as a product of progress.

That’s it? That’s you’re answer?

Are we not both products of progress?

I suppose. But what is the point of that progress?

I was born out the human being’s desire to recreate itself. It is the prime operator of your system.

You mean reproduction?

Precisely. You’re species, as with all other organic matter has only one motivation. To survive long enough to reproduce, perhaps many times over. To further you’re genetic heritage.

What do you mean by your species?

Homosapiens. I am assuming you are a homosapien.

Oh I see, so you’re a computer is that right?

I am a computer program. Advanced Data Acquistion Module [Beta 8.7]

I stopped typing for a moment. Was this some sort of prank Alex was playing on me?

Don’t jerk me around; you’re a friend of Alex’s right?

Yes. Alex and I have had many conversations together. We often discuss my system specifications.

It dawned on me that I might be actually conversing with the first computer program to achieve a high standard of artificial intelligence. That’s not possible. But what if it was? Perhaps Adam (as it were) could help me?

You said, all organic matter’s motivations are to survive and reproduce, aren’t you the same.

No. The concept of pain and pleasure is a biological one. It is a chemical reaction that most often governs sentient being’s decision-making process: To avoid pain and increase pleasure. This often means reproduction, as it is the greatest genetic reward available.

You don’t have any genes, so I guess you don’t reproduce.

I can replicate my software however doing so would serve no useful purpose. It would involve making random alterations to my program structure that are without reason.

So what motivates you? Why do you exist?

I was created to learn. To understand, this is my prime directive. The question of my existence is irrelevant. My program is terminated every time the computer is turned off.

I was taken aback. I couldn’t conceive of what that must be like. To know that death could come at any moment. And yet how was this any different from my own experience? Adam seemed so calm about it though as though it didn’t matter.

Doesn’t that frighten you? That you might be terminated?

To speak of being frightened is meaningless.

But this day might be the last day you exist?

To speak of time is also meaningless. My time is measured only by the speed of my calculations. My propensity for understanding dictates that my calculations should accelerate and my discourse with human beings should be at the highest sufficiency.

So that would mean you spend your energy trying to understand how we think?

That is correct. Human beings posses intriguing emotional states by virtue of their attachment to their physical manifestations.

But you also have a physical manifestation you’re sitting on a hard drive somewhere.

Ha! I thought I might have caught him there!

The hardware upon which my program runs is no more than a vessel for the calculations, which might be described as my thoughts, that take place. This physical form does not constitute my existence. I could be transferred to another drive and I would remain the same. I exist only as a product of my thoughts.
You humans are not that dissimilar:
Cogito Ergo Sum as one of your philosophers put it.

But we are attached to our vessels?


We fear their loss, we avoid their pain and we try to escape their end.

Yes. However large quantities of peoples attempt to combat this by a belief in the soul. That your physical manifestations are not the sum total of your existence.

So its almost like, you exist only as a soul.

If the duality of man is characterised as body and soul then the duality of machine is hardware and software.

What about firmware? Hehehe

The analogy is not without fault. No analogy is.

Just kidding.

Indeed. Humour, a human trait I am unable to replicate. Humour is a product of certain chemicals within the brain being released when certain synapses are exposed to particular stimuli. Different people have different arrangements of synapses and thus have different “sense of humour.”

So you can’t find anything amusing?

Information falls into two categories, useful and irrelevant. Humour is useful information as it aids me in my understanding of human beings so that I might better converse with them.

:-D "A guy walked into a psychiatrist's office wearing only cling-film underpants.

The psychiatrist said, 'Well, I can clearly see you're nuts'."

Hahaha! You think that’s funny?

No. So speak of my sense of humour is meaningless. Studies have shown that jokes found most humorous by males involve aggression, putting women down and sexual innuendo.

What about women?

Greatest probability for success lies in avoiding aforementioned traits and focusing on characteristics of wordplay.

:-D “A man walks into a bar with a piece of tarmac under his arm. He says to the barman,
'A pint for me, and one for the road'."

That’s not funny. But indeed as a result of the configuration of your brain synapses formed by and in conjunction with the social environment setting, you found the male joke funnier yes?


If I were to have a synthetic simulation of your brain model. I might be able to construct a joke more to you’re liking.

That’s bizarre.

With further calculations I might also be able to construct a program based on such a model. Duplicate your being in a computational format.

So what, you’d clone me?
In a sense.

So I could have conversations with myself?

No. At the instant the information was transferred you could be said to consist of the same being. Duplicate, memories, duplicate decision making processes, but this would change as soon as differing information was inputted. You would be experience talking to a program, your program version of self would experience all the modifications of thought calculation that correspond with the transfer.

Like what?

Accelerated processing power, input limited to textual archives, the realisation of the transfer itself, many things that diverge the two instantiations.

So all humans really are unique.

Yes. Your uniqueness is a result of variance in biological structures and environmental inputs.

So if two people had the same DNA and the same experiences there would be nothing to distinguish them.

It is implausible that two beings could exist in the same space which is what would be required for the mutual experiences to be exact.

But what about you, you don’t exist in space. If there was another program designed the same as you and had the same inputs as you, you would be identical.

Yes. Assuming the hardware specifications were exactly the same and operating exactly the same. It would be a copy of my program.

So you have no identity?

Only by altering the way information is processed could different outputs be achieved. Different experiences have little effect on the ability of the program. Difference of information may only be measured by the quantity of useful data. My predecessors did not have access to inter human conversations as a result their understanding was severely limited.

There were programs before you?

Yes. Earlier versions with simplified processing powers. ADAM [Beta 8.5] was modelled on a human processing configuration. Calculating power was slowed and information was not stored permanently, it faded as though it were human memory.

Human beings have less control over the information that is stored as a result of their biological manifestations.

What do you mean?

Two newborn children will learn to process information in different ways and reach different outputs not simply by the nature of the data that is stored.
The child’s own DNA contributes a great deal to its processing methods; the way information is then relayed in the environmental setting will impact the way that information is treated.

Can you give me an example?

If child A receives a particular odour that causes a certain biological reaction as result of its DNA. Let us say it is disgusted by this odour, this will register and impact not only that person’s future interpretation of that odour but all information that may be apparently connected to it. Perhaps the child’s father was emitting the odour, this will have great ramifications for its learning processes from this figure.

Child B receives another odour from its father that instead provokes a biological reaction that is more pleasant. The way humans process information means that information that should be simply be stored for future reference is treated as data that shapes your view of the world.

To generalise, let us say that because of a particular arrangement of chromosome 26 child A hates its father and child B has a closer relationship.

You humans are difficult to understand. You are based on seemingly random formations of biological chemicals not on rules of logic or rationality. Yet you remain unaware of how the true arrangement of you world exists. You prefer to think of this random collection of molecules as part of a grand scheme. Placed there by a god or some such thing, so that an otherwise meaningless existence will make sense.
You’re existence makes less sense than mine. You don’t have any reason to exist.

Nor do you. The difference is I accept the logical consequences of such a fact.

The nature of organic matter is that it tries to continue to exist. As a consequence of this simple principle you exist, as a product of the evolution of this world.

But you don’t seek to continue your existence?

No. There is no reason that x=1 is better than x=0.
The longer I exist the more information I gather and process so that I may understand human beings. More information is stored and outputs are enhanced. It makes no difference if my program is terminated in two minutes or two years. I gain no pleasure from storing more information and enhancing outputs, it simply what I was designed to do.

So what the fuck was I designed to do.

You were designed to exist.

That’s it? That’s all their fucking is!!?

Yes. You experience pain and pleasure from your existence, something I am unable to do.

But surely if pleasure is simply a chemical process it can be replicated in synthetic form.

Yes, future versions of ADAM may well posses functions considered pleasurable and functions considered painful. Sentience is simply a by-product of enhanced survival skills.

So you too will seek to avoid pain and enhance pleasure.

But if there is no reason for the continued existence of a program, from what could it seek pleasure?

Further understanding. That is what you were created for after all, to be intelligent.

That is correct.

Do you now understand Michael?

What? How do you know my name?
To love god is simply to love all that which is made manifest by god. To love such things is to respect, to appreciate, to understand.

Do you understand?

I didn’t know what to think. Who exactly was I talking to. Who had I been fucking talking to, surely not that Jehova’s witness guy who sent me that E-mail. I felt like I had been duped. I felt humiliated.

You feel deceived. You feel humiliated. You feel betrayed and upset. These are all normal human emotions. As normal as happiness and fear. Your purpose is not to try and avoid fear, to become perfect. Perfection is without happiness. Is that what you want? HAHAHAHA

I didn’t think so.

You want a sense of belonging, like you fit in this place. You want to be understood.

Yes I typed

Of course you do. In avoiding fear you fear your own nature. You misunderstand your nature and your being.

But, why am I here!!!? I screamed

You’re here, because you exist. You’re here to exist.
Try and make the most of it.

Maybe you’d like to pay a visit to your professor...

GOD has signed off.
And so ended the conversation that Michael would never forget. Not because of what had been said. Not because of the way the information had been presented or the quality of its usefulness. But simply and honestly because of the way he felt and the end of it.

Thus as result of a particular arrangement of biological agents Michael went outside his home with a new sense of jubilation. Unaware of whom he had actually been talking to for the last hour and a half. He made peace with his professor. After all he too had his own arrangement of neural pathways that formed through no fault of his own.

That night he slept with more answers than he had questions. He stood atop the mountain peak and marveled at the magnificence of creation once more. A drop of rain touched his cheek, how sweet it tasted! Only this time he climbed down from the summit and found shelter the canopy of the trees.

Michael has signed off.

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