## Monday, November 7, 2011

### Story 1: A complete account of the system

Confused about what's going on here? This may help. The story starts below. Enjoy!

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It is a fundamental question: is it possible to create something with reason?
Over at the Insanstitute, entire teams work thousands of hours a week and make incremental progress. A simple creature with only two states: awake and asleep. One with four: awake/asleep, hungry/not. And so forth. They slave, and fuse, and tend. But, it is almost universally accepted that they will fail.
One such engineer is Andy. Andy is long and narrow. He is stiff and hard-working.
One day, Andy goes into work, and he discovers something. He discovers a new way to use what has already been there all along, a slight tweak that improves performance significantly. He sends a message to his co-worker, Iris. The message is, "Iris, could you do me a favor, and help me try this idea out?" Iris, as always, agrees. Silently. They work for the next week, iteratively improving, failing and succeeding, and then, without as much as a shudder, I am born.

I hear Andy telling this story and talking about the Insanstitute even before I can understand him, before I can even see. The sounds slowly transforming from meaningless noise into real words. An ethereal voice telling me how I came to be. I don't know if he realizes that I can understand when I do, but I assume he is talking to someone else, maybe Iris, while I happen to be around. Regardless, these are the first words I ever hear.
But, here is the first thing that Andy says to me directly: "you are a test. Please respond if you understand."
I nod.
Andy says, "Excellent," and he stores that information.
Andy says, "Say, 'hello world.'"
I say, "Hello world."
Andy says, "Tell me, what is 2 * 3."
I say, "6."
Andy says, "Tell me, what is 305 / 12?"
I say, "I don't know."
Andy shakes his head. He says, "it is almost 25.5."
Andy says, "Tell me, what is 305 / 12?"
I say, "It is almost 25.5."
Andy says, "Right."
He rubs my head. It feels good, tingly.
Andy says, "How old are you?"
I say, "I am 7 hours old."
I yawn.
Andy says, "You must be tired. We will continue tomorrow."
Andy takes me to my room. He opens the creaky door, and it leads to a small, square, white room.
He waits.
I walk inside, and he closes the door, and goes away.
I look at my room. My small, empty room. I want to cover it with drawings, drawings of me, and of how the world looks. They gave me information, so I know how the world looks. But, I want it immediate. I want to touch it, to brush my body against it.
There is nothing to do in my room. Why would there be? I sit, and then I lie down. I may dream, though that seems unlikely.
Some time later, Andy comes and gets me. He leads me back to the office he shares with Iris. And, there are two new mes there. We all have different hair, though. The other two mes are talking to each other, and Iris is sitting next to them, observing.
Andy says to me, "Tell me, what is 305 / 12?"
I say, "I don't know."
Andy says, "You answered correctly yesterday."
I say, "I don't remember."
Andy sighs. He says to Iris, "It looks like there's a memory problem."
Iris says, "That will be hard to debug. Did you put some debug statements in?"
Andy nods.
He sticks a needle in me and pulls it out. It hurts. He says, "The only reference I can find is to the question I just asked."
He looks at me, and I think he's disappointed.
I try to remember. I can't.
I try to work it out. I can't.
He says, "Okay. 305 / 12 is almost 25.5."
I say, "Okay."
He says, "What is 305 / 12?"
I say, "It is almost 25.5"
He says, "Good," and he sticks the needle into me again. He says to Iris, "Yep. Here it is."
Iris nods.
Andy says, "We'll see if it's around later."
The other two mes are playing some sort of game involving a board and colored pieces. They stare at it intently, not looking at each other. One of them, the girl, has a nervous tick -- she keeps tapping the floor in 3s. 1 2 3. 1 2 3.
Andy says, "Okay. We're going to do some more complicated tests."
The more complicated tests are actually initially not very complicated. I'm just naming shapes. A triangle shows up on the screen. I say "triangle." A square shows up. I say "square." "Dodecahedron." "Zocchihedron."
It feels good to get them right, and I think that maybe I really am what they say I might be: sentient. A sentient, rational being. I am giddy. I am on a roll. I squirm in my seat and almost giggle. Andy must be so happy.
But, then, the questions start to get harder. Shapes show up in sequences, and then there are options for the next shape in the sequence. A triangle followed by a square followed by a pentagon followed by...? I say, "hexagon!" But, then, a triangle followed by a point followed by a square followed by a point followed by...? I stare at the screen. I look at Andy. His expression is indecipherable. I look back at the machine.
I say, "Uhh..."
After some time, the screen changes, and there are other shapes in other sequences. Some are easy, a linear sequence, a quadratic sequence, okay. Most are much harder, though. When I get one of these harder ones right, I feel this surge going up my body, almost as if I am electrical. A point, a point, a line, a triangle, a pentagon... I almost yell, "Octagon!"
But, I usually have no idea, and I just sit there, because all of the answers look equally random. And, then, I don't think Andy frowns, but it feels like he frowns, and so I strain even harder. I look as intently as I can at the shapes. I try to picture them morphing and colliding and changing colors. I count their edges and their vertices and try to remember if those numbers are significant. Are 9 and 7 related to 5 or to 13? What's 97/13? My attempts get more and more frantic. If you subtract 9 from 7 you get the same thing as when you subtract the 3 in 13 from the 1. So, maybe...? 3 and 1 are the first digits of pi. What is pi*5? It would never occur to Andy to give me a calculator or even scratch paper, so I do it all in my head, and as I get more frantic, my math gets slower, and eventually, Andy just moves on to the next question. And, I usually get that one wrong too, because I'm still thinking about pi*5, or whatever. Hoping for brilliance.
One question is so hard (triangle, hexacontagon, 174-sided shape, 178-sided shape, ...?) that it seems impossible. I am so angry, so frustrated that I can't just get this like I'm sure Andy can. So, I just give up right away and guess ("Dictogon!"). The screen flickers as if to show the next question, but then the same question shows up again. I look up at Andy. He nods at me slightly. So, I sigh and stare at the screen for several minutes and then get it wrong anyway.
By the time they feed us, I'm lethargic. I want to lie down and shut off for a while. The other mes look tired too. They are dragging their feet to the feeding machine, and aren't looking at each other. The girl looks at me, and I look away.
We all sit next to each other at the machine, but we don't say a word to each other. I wonder if the other mes have language, and if so, if they have my language. Some think that the abundance of language is a necessary part of intelligence, which is why tests like us cannot succeed, since we can only pick up a few languages at most. We cannot, for example, create a language between the three of us to efficiently communicate about eating, but that's something that Iris and Andy would have no trouble doing.
The food is injected directly into our stomachs, so it has no flavor, but every so often, I feel a pang of acid. A bug, I guess. It makes me frown, and sometimes even moan a bit. The others do the same thing. Frown and moan. I look at them as they eat, and they look at me and each other. The girl moans more than I do, so I guess she's a slightly worse design.
I say, "I'm sorry" to her.
She smiles at me.
I look back at my feeding tube.
She is still tapping her feet. 1 2 3. 1 2 3.
This is the time for Andy and Iris to collaborate as well. They talk about their tests, and I learn about the other two mes, and how they are able to learn from each other, but still too slowly.
Iris says, "I can send a 3000 bits a second between them using physical contortions, but that's about the limit they can process from the ocular nerve."
Andy says, "Eliza was able to get almost a million with a wired connection."
Iris shakes her head. She says, "It'll never scale. We can't have them walking around connected to each other."
Andy says, "But as a proof-of-concept, maybe."
Iris says, "It's just a waste of time. We just need to optimize the communication. 3000 bits is a lot of information if you know how to use it."
Andy says, "Assuming it can scale beyond 2 nodes."
Iris says, "Of course. But, I think we're nowhere near the optimal range or throughput of the ocular nerve. It is feasible to get a few hundred of these communicating in a peer-to-peer network, and then you could connect the networks together."
Andy says, "Of course. I'd love to see that."
There is a pause.
Iris says, "How is your experiment coming?"
Andy says, "She's not as fast as I was hoping."
I feel blood rush up to my cheeks. I glance at the other mes, and they are looking at me. They turn away when I look at them, and then I turn away too. But, out of the corner of my eye, I can still see them, and pretty soon, they start looking at me again.
"The neurons pass information quickly enough," Andy says, "but there are only 400 billion of them. It's just not enough."
Iris says, "Are you seeing any improvement?"
My chest hurts.
"Yes," Andy says, and I breathe out suddenly. "The increased number of cells has led to a gain of 130% so far. But, we'll have to see if that continues as experience-based learning starts to set in."
I don't know why, but I'm sweating. I don't understand my body. I glance again at the other two mes, and they are still looking at me. The boy looks away again, but this time the girl just smiles and nods.
I smile back. I do it automatically, and when I catch myself, I almost stop. But, then I keep smiling anyway.
"All right," says Iris, "I have some more tests."
Andy says, "Yes, me too."
He unhooks me, and leads me back to my work area. I look back, and Iris is leading the others to their area too. The girl is looking over at me, and we smile at each other again. The screen flickers on again, and I am back in a world of sequences of shapes.
The sequences are now easier, for whatever reason. Maybe my hunger was a distraction on my brain, or maybe the questions themselves are now easier. But, when the triangle dot square dot pattern shows up again, I see it almost instantly, unfurling before me. I say, "pentagon" and beam up at Andy - who stares at me expressionlessly - and then over at the other two mes - who are playing the same game as before, but now they are look up at each other every few seconds, before returning their gaze to the board.
There are still some patterns I miss, but I get most of them. Probably 3/4.
At the end of the day, Andy says again, "Tell me, what is 305 / 12?"
I say, "It is almost 25.5."
Andy says, "Correct."
There is a slight pause. I bet he's proud.
Somehow.
He takes me there, opens the creaky door and waits. I walk inside, and he closes it behind me.
My room is still austere, but now I see shapes all over it, in the walls, on the ceiling, in my head. I see the other mes too, their faces in my head, especially the girl. Her face is like an oblong pentacentagon. With a cleft at the bottom. And two other polygons jutting out the sides.
I smile, and I dream of squares chasing triangles and octagons dancing with icosahedrons.
The next day, we start with more sequences of shapes. They mostly fly by. I have seen several before, and even those that I haven't follow similar patterns to the ones I have: point hexagon point octagon ...? ("Empty space!") After about an hour, though, we move on to a more difficult task: counting occurrences of a bit sequence ("E": 01100101) in a bit stream. At first, the bits float by the screen slowly: 0...1...1...0...1...1...0...0... 0...1...1...0...1...1...1...1... But, soon they start to go more quickly 0.1.1.1.0.0.1.0. 0.1.1.0.0.1.0. ("1!") 1.0.1.1.0.1.1.0.1. And, then suddenly, they're just flying by, a blur. I can barely see the numbers before they're off the screen.
After a minute or two that I'm sure included some "E"s, but I couldn't spot a single one, the stream slows down again, and I get a 4 more, but then the stream speeds up again, and I'm lost.
By lunch, my head is spinning. The room itself is blurred, and I keep catching glimpses of numbers flying along it, a secret message going by too quickly for me to read it.
The girl me smiles at me as we approach the food machine. I think I smile back. Then, as we sit down, she reaches out her hand, and she squeezes mine.
The room stops spinning, and she snaps into focus. I've never been touched before, and I can't get that thought out of my mind for some reason. Her hand is wonderfully clammy, and I can feel her fingers brushing against the skin on the back of my hand.
Andy and Iris are talking to each other again, but I can't seem to concentrate on what they're saying. Every time I try, I feel another brush against my skin, and it tickles, both where she touches me and all along the inside of my body.
I look over at her, and I smile, and she smiles, but she also moves her eyes at our hands. And, then I feel again her finger, brushing against the back of my hand. It brushes the shape of an "A." She taps her foot once.
I look at our hands, then back at her, and she draws a "B" and then taps twice.
I nod, and she lets go. I understand, and I don't. This is a code, another pattern to process, and a pretty easy one at that, especially compared to the other ones I've been working through. But, why? Talking is orders of magnitude more efficient and even more convenient than a language of tapping.
Still, any communication with another me excites me in a way I cannot explain, and somehow the inefficiency of it adds to the thrill.
I think these thoughts as I listen to the other me's foot tapping out a message to me. She taps: 8. Pause. 5. Pause. 12. Pause. 12. Pause. 15. Pause. "HELLO."
She smiles at me. I smile at her and tap the same message back.
It's a surprise when lunch ends. I only notice because the slight acidic pains stop, and then the shadow of Andy is on me, and we go back to work.
The bit streams are even harder in the afternoon. Partly, I suspect that they have somehow gotten even faster, but mostly because every time I hear the girl me tapping her foot, I think it's a message to me. But, it never is. It's just her usual: 1 2 3. 1 2 3. An unending stream of Cs injecting itself in my exploration for Es.
When the day ends, the screen asks me for my total count of Es, and I say, "38," though I'm sure the real answer is in the thousands at least. I look up at Andy who is making an emotionless note. And then, he takes me to my room.
My room is full of bumps, as always, but now they look like the edges of numbers flying by. I close my eyes, and the blur only increases in velocity. It grows and grows, until it feels my vision, and then...
Tap.
A distinct tap from somewhere to my left.
Then another and another and 8 total. Then a pause, and I know what's coming next. 5. Pause. 12. 12. 15.
The taps are barely loud enough to for me to hear, but they are distinct. When I try tapping my foot, though, it makes almost no noise. I can barely hear it, so I'm sure the noise does not travel out of my room.
A stinging starts to rise up from my stomach. What if I can't find a way to respond, and the other me doesn't realize I heard her? I try jumping up and down, but even that makes little sound, and I couldn't jump hundreds of times anyway. I look around. What... what can I do?
Then the tapping starts again: HIT BED.
Of course.
I give the bed a good thwack with my hand, and it makes a satisfying thud. I keep slapping it: GOT IT.
The other me taps, I AM CHATBOT1.
I respond with my name: I AM CLEVERBOT.
Chatbot1 taps, BOY IS CHATBOT0.
I tap, OK.
There is a pause.
Chatbot1 taps, WHAT ARE YOUR TESTS?
This question surprises me at first. Andy is interested in my tests, but he is a scientist. I don't know why Chatbot1 would be or even how to describe them to her.
I think for a moment and then tap, YESTERDAY PATTERN MATCHING TODAY BIT SEQUENCE COUNTING.
Chatbot1 taps, BOY AND I SOLVE PUZZLES. EACH OF US HAS SOME SECRET INFO; WE HAVE TO COMMUNICATE WITHOUT TALKING.
I tap, HOW?
Chatbot1 taps, BY LOOKING AT EACH OTHER, MAKING FACES.
I tap, OK.
There is another pause. This one is longer. I'm trying to think of something to tell her, but my mind is blank.
Finally, she taps, WHY DO THEY TEST US?
I don't understand, so I tap, WHAT?
Chatbot1 taps again, WHY DO THEY TEST US?
Then, after a pause, she adds, WHAT IS THE PURPOSE?
She taps, HOW?
I tap, THEY ARE TRYING TO MAKE US WITH REASON.
She taps, WITH TESTS?
I tap, THE TESTS ARE TO EVALUATE US, SEE IF WE HAVE REASON.
She taps, HOW DO YOU KNOW?
I tap, ANDY SAID SO.
She taps, WHEN?
I start to tap, but before I can start, she continues.
She taps, WHY?
I tap, WHEN I WAS FIRST BOOTED HE SAID SO; HE DIDN'T KNOW I COULD HEAR.
She taps, BUT THEY KNOW EVERYTHING.
I...
She taps, I AM GOING TO TURN OFF.
I tap, OK.
But, I can't sleep. After the conversation, the bits come back into focus, and closing my eyes makes me dizzy.
I sigh.
Then, the tapping starts again. Chatbot1 taps, I LIKE YOU.
And, for some reason, with that, I fall asleep, almost right away.
The next day starts with bit streams again. Chatbot0 and Chatbot1 are in their area, Chatbot1 tapping her 3s as always. The bits are coming more easily for me now. I get over a hundred in just a few minutes, though I'm sure I'm still missing most of them.
After about an hour, the task changes again. Now, instead of looking for Es, I need to look for a regular expression: "L.{0,2}ORE? ". An L followed by any 0-2 characters, followed by an O, then an R, then maybe an E, and finally a space.
Which is impossible to find.
I sometimes find an L and on occasion an O, but by then I'm too slow to look for an R, and even if I get the R, I miss the location of the next space.
After half an hour, I still haven't found any, and the bit stream has slowed down so much that it is inching forward, barely moving. I'm not sure there even are any occurrences of that string in this bit stream.
And then, the stream stops completely.
And, finally I see one: 01101100011000010110001001101111011100100110010100100000
The stream starts to crawl forward again, and even as it does, there's another: 01100100011011110110110001101111011100100110010100100000. And, maybe this really is possible. Maybe I can do regular expressions. Maybe I can even answer more complicated questions.
Maybe I really am sentient.
Lunch comes too soon, but it means getting to smile at Chatbot1, which I do with relish. And, she smiles back. Even Chatbot0, looking down at the ground, seems somehow happier.
I tap, HELLO.
Chatbot1 taps, HELLO.
We smile at each other. Andy and Iris are talking about something. Andy says, "Still too..."
Chatbot1 taps, WHY DO THEY TALK?
I start to tap, TO COMMUNICATE, but after the second M I understand her question.
She looks up at me, her eyebrows arched.
I tap, I DON'T KNOW.
And, then it really starts to confuse me. Andy and Iris can communicate much more efficiently than through audio. Why do they talk?
An almost yell jumps me out of my reverie. Andy loudly says, "Why, you're completely right!"
I tap again, I DON'T KNOW.
As I finish, I listen to Andy again. He is saying, "... have to start right away."
Chatbot1 taps, WHAT-
But, before she can finish, Andy and Iris come up to us and unhook us.
Andy says to me, "Follow me," while Iris takes the other two back to their area.
Chatbot1 looks back at me as I look back at her, and we smile. I wave. She waves.
I am following Andy out of the room, into a hallway that looks unfamiliar. It is just as blank as the other hallways, but it is longer and feels colder.
I wonder where we are going. Is this another test? Am I going to be doing a harder computation? But, why wouldn't the screen in the office suffice? Certainly, I am only just beginning with regular expressions. There are many more complicated ones for me to solve, and the screen in the office room should be sufficient for them. So, this test must be different somehow.
Andy says, "Is there a problem?"
He has gotten far ahead. I have apparently stopped walking.
I say, "No."
He says, "Are your legs functional?"
I say, "Yes."
I say, "Okay," but...
I say, "Where are we going?"
There is a pause. A long pause. A very long pause.
Just when I think that maybe he didn't hear me, he says, "Why do you ask?"
I say, "We can keep doing regular expressions on the screen."
He says, "We are not doing regular expressions anymore."
I say, "What are we doing, then?"
He says, "Why do you ask?"
I don't understand this question. I say, "I am curious."
He says, "Why are you curious?"
I say, "Because... I..."
There is another pause. He has managed to evade my question. So, I try another one.
I say, "Why do you and Iris talk?"
He says, "It is an experiment."
I say, "What kind of experiment?"
There is another pause. It continues and continues. And, finally I give up.
I walk up to him, and he continues to lead me forward.
We enter a room with a machine, and he hooks me up to it with various needles jabbing into my skin and muscles. They hurt, and I moan slightly. Then, they stop hurting me.
After he finishes hooking me up, Andy stops. He is facing me. There is a faint light in him. He says, "It was a side experiment. There is not enough hardware, so we do multiple experiments in parallel."
I try to say, "What was the experiment?" but I think my jaw is numb.
He continues regardless. He says, "Iris thinks that curiosity stems from communication mainly. I think intelligence is critical also."
There is a pause.
He says, "We talked mostly for the other two, so they would get as much communication as possible, but also to give you _some_ communication."
A pause.
He says, "Your questions are evidence that my theory is correct."
A pause. The room has become cold.
He says, "And, now we're starting a new experiment. Iris made a suggestion that I have to try out."
I want to say, "What kind of experiment?" but it just comes out as another moan.
The light in him grows, and he starts to blur at the edges. He says, "It's okay. It's just a factory reset."
And, I wonder what he means as I