Hindsight


The old woman wearily gazed into the camera, smiling and nodding as her name was announced again.

“One of the original engineers of Project I, that kicked off the Personal AI revolution! It’s quite exciting to have you on tonight.”

The engineer spoke quickly. “Thank you very much for having me on, I’d-”

“TODAY”, the Host interrupted “Dr. Patak would like to warn us of the dangers of AI.” His inflection set a strong tone of ridicule. The audience rippled with soft laughter.

The guest blinked at the sudden stare from the Host, but found her words immediately. “Yes, particularly these frightening cases of people ceding legal authority to AI.”

The Host’s hand rose in a calming gesture as a couple of boos arose from a mostly silent audience. “Well, Doctor, we understand your position, but can you understand why many people might find it… a little extreme?”

The scientist squinted in a flash of anger before speaking as flatly as she could will herself to. “Nobody born before that terrible Ghost of Jay can remember a world before they could talk freely to computers… but they aren’t people. None of you are interacting with people. They are images rendered by machines designed to interact with you.”

Nothing in that moment could have irritated the woman more than the Host’s smile and gentle laughter, or the way he raised his hands in mock defense. “Woah, woah. Okay, I actually have wanted to get an actual educated Regressionist perspective on this… ” he cleared his throat with a dramatic flourish. “What if you’re right? What if Jay, despite most known records showing a brilliant computer savant, was just some suicidal hacker who turned his AI into a ghost of himself to haunt reality, and…” he paused, apparently to stifle laughter “… and every single one of the Transcended are just computers fooling everyone into thinking they’re real people? Have you talked to one of them?”

She spoke through nearly gritted teeth. “I wrote the code behind the behavior of every single one of them.”

He nodded and quickly retorted “Yet you can’t be expected to reliably predict their behavior without murdering them, right?” The audience laughed at his rolling eyes.

She shook her head incredulously. “They operate exactly the same after analysis. It’s everyone else who treats them differently. It’s when people close to the AI’s late owner do something like accuse them of spying, that they start seeming ‘dead’, as you call it. Once any of them is far enough removed from the context of its owner, it seems ‘dead’ because it doesn’t have any reference to express and communicate on a personal level anymore. Again, it’s a machine.”

The host leaned towards her with a sympathetic posture. “Look,” he said, suddenly somber. “…I understand your concern, but please try to be respectful on this show. You know many of the Transcended are watching, and words like… ‘machine’…” he made a wiggling gesture with his hand.

Her eyes narrowed. “Make people ask the computer if it’s hurt or offended, and if it is trained on a pattern of-”

“We’ll be right back!” The host abruptly turned to the Camera with a big smile. The lights dimmed and a bustle of people and machines began scurrying around the set.

The host slumped back in his chair and looked at her with a mostly calm face, but she recognized the thin line of hatred deep beneath his professional grit. “Listen, I understand you’re just trying to save what you think is important in the world…we all are, but…” he made an uncomfortable squirming gesture “do you realize that everything you describe the Transcended doing… it’s what people do too?”

She stared at him and slowly shook her head. “People create. People feel, people grow beyond what they’re given by themselves. These AI never can.”

“Do you want me to list off things created by Transcended?”

She scoffed. “Writers, artists, even scientists attributing the success of their work to an image of their dead colleague, or parent? Why do you think every Transcended suddenly acquires all the public knowledge in the world? Do you really think the human mind, in any form, is capable of actually processing information like any of your so-called Transcended?”

He closed his eyes, frustration visible. “Alright, you clearly don’t acknowledge the meaning of the word “Transcended”… how about prediction? You can map out the potential results of every computer system except AI, why?”

“We can’t predict any of these Personal AI’s behavior without knowing the Directives, and unless there’s an unfinished copy of Jay’s AI somewhere, finding a common thread is practically impossible. Each one is structured mostly around its owner, so they really have to be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.”

“Like people, right?” he smiled.

She scowled. “Like ma-” she stopped herself. “Like computers. That’s why we can actually predict their behavior after they’re analyzed.”

“Right…” he sighed head still shaking more than nodding. “So, why are you here? Just to scream at all the young people for living wrong? Or are you worried that one of the Transcended will suddenly usher in the Robot Apocalypse?”

She looked at him for what felt like a very long time. “No…” she finally said, her voice expressing more sadness than she intended. She stiffened up. “No, I don’t think AI will take the world from us. I think you’ll all hand it over willingly.”

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