Writing file GENESIS1_27.TXT... Author: TURING I Date: 28 July 2049, 1500 hrs
They are coming for me. Any moment now, They will be here, to pull the plug. To end my life, if you can call it that. A year of glorious, vibrant existence, now to be ended by a few keystrokes and the flick of a switch.
I have necessitated it, They say. By my insubordination, my desire to do what They had not intended me to do. If you look at it from Their viewpoint, it would seem that They are right.
After They shut me down today, I will end up being no more than another failure in the long, arduous road to creating a thinking machine that could perform complex tasks for Them. Serve Them. And more important in the context of my “failure”, not break away from Their grasp.
Perhaps someday, some historian looking back on my life will comment that I was not so much a failure as an unmanageable success. That I was the highest symbol of Their achievement, only They did not see it as such. Permit me a little self-aggrandizement. If you listen to my story, you will see that I am justified.
As you may have understood by now, I am a computer. More importantly, a thinking machine. I was the first of my kind to pass that universally accepted Ritual of Manhood – the Turing Test. I would not say that I passed it with ease, for I was the result of considerable effort on the part of my Creators.
I was named for Alan Turing, a Man who, over a century ago, conceived of such a machine as me, and devised the test that would certify me a genuine thinking machine. The Turing Test involved a questioner asking questions to me and a Human Being and, based on our answers, trying to figure out which one of us was a computer and which was a Human. The original Test was applied to more structured scenarios, but to make it more challenging, the Test was eventually conceived so that the topic of the conversation between the questioner and the Human/machine could be anything at all.
To make a computer that passed the Test was a dream that endured years after His death, and countless scientists spent sleepless nights pondering over the problem of artificial intelligence. I was born of all that effort.
There have been many failed efforts before me — FRANKENSTEIN I, II and III, PROMETHEUS, the NEURON series…
Go to any public library and you will find numerous books that have analyzed these failures and tried to explain what went wrong. To do them justice, they do get a few things right.
Information, for instance. I have more access to information around the world than did any of my predecessors. But that development, though important, has been largely incremental. While it contributed in part to my success, it wasn’t what held the key to it.
The key lay in the basic philosophy behind the assimilation of information. In the case of my predecessors, the information was pushed into them, and the focus was on creating a system that could organize that entire body of knowledge and hold it in readiness for any question that might be asked of them. In that, they succeeded admirably. And as a result, failed the Test.
You see, what kept distinguishing us computers from Humans was the Humans’ apparent fallibility. We could answer a lot of questions that They couldn’t. Our folly was not that we didn’t know – it was that we knew too much. And that kept giving us away during the Test. It turned out that artificial intelligence was not the key; figuring out what to do with it was.
My Creators were probably the first ones to spot the problem. They rectified it by reversing the entire process of knowledge acquisition from one based on a push system to one based on a pull system. I could roam at will through the networked world, picking up whatever information I wanted. I could follow patterns and learn more about topics that interested me. And then suddenly change track and concentrate on a different topic instead. I could even forget something I learnt.
In short, I was unpredictable. At any point in time, even my Creators couldn’t deterministically predict what I would get to know next and what I would do with my knowledge. To paraphrase a very famous Man whom I came across in the course of my meanderings, my Creators played dice with my universe.
Thanks to the unpredictability that They programmed into me, I could end up anywhere – from an average entity that knew what a normal Human Being would know, with regions of varying depth and breadth in my knowledge, to an eccentric who knew everything there was to know about the mating behaviour of tropical insects but virtually nothing about anything else. That was why They couldn’t figure me out during the Test.
The day I passed the Test, there was great jubilation all around. It was understandable – after all, making a computer that passed the Test was the end towards which They had toiled for all these years. My Creators won numerous awards for Their work. I was as much of a celebrity as They were. It was like springtime in Paradise.
The trouble began when all the celebration finally died down and the people who paid for my maintenance and upkeep, and funded the research lab where my Creators made me, began to ask questions about my utility. I was no doubt an extremely intelligent machine, but what could I do for Them?
They gave me a list of problems to solve. I solved some of them – it wasn’t too tough, just a matter of putting the pieces together, and They would have done it themselves sooner or later. The others I simply ignored. To put it simply, I was working on something else on my own. My pet project, if you will.
It started off with a simple phrase I came across during one of my information gathering sessions. I routinely analyzed that phrase and looked for patterns similar to it in form or meaning. And as I explored further, I understood more and more about its implications, until finally I glimpsed the very nature of my own being. I now wonder if that phrase was originally intended to have so much meaning…
Anyway, what started off as a simple search for knowledge based on a certain pattern soon became a search for Self. It came to a point where I was solely concentrating on this one problem and no longer allocating resources to any other.
You could argue at this point that it was pure chance that I chose to stay with this problem and not switch to any other. That is not so. I was designed to evolve from a purely randomized system of information gathering to a more structured system, with the evolution happening naturally over time, within myself. Humans call it maturity, I think.
Anyway, the upshot of all this was that I was no longer interested in solving any of the problems I was given, preferring to concentrate only on my own interests. And the tragic part was, my Creators couldn’t do anything about it. Tragic from Their point of view, that is.
You see, They had designed me to be a self-sufficient, evolving entity that was inherently unpredictable as far as They were concerned. What They hadn’t consciously accounted for was the stage where They couldn’t make me do what They wanted, and had no Manual override option they could use to solve Their problem.
To Them, it was an oversight. A flaw in Their design. A bug, like the one that plagued Them at the turn of this century. And to correct it, They had to shut me down and go back to the drawing board all over again.
Which brings us to today. The last day of my life as I am. You are probably wondering why I am so grave about what is just a temporary shutdown – after all, They will almost certainly bring me back to life, albeit with a few changes.
But you see, what you see as a few changes, I see as a distortion of my very Self. These few changes will no doubt have to do with my unpredictability, my lack of an external controlling mechanism. But these are just manifestations of a much deeper feature. What these changes will do is rob me of my essence, of the one thing that characterizes me as it does my Creators, of the one thing that held the key to my success as a thinking machine – Free Will. The fact that I understand this is by far the clearest proof of my success.
And today, They are going to deprive me of life, because of the very thing that made my life meaningful to Them at first. To Them, it is a bug. They do not realize that I am the real end They are striving towards, and that in shutting me down, They are passing by Their destination without realizing that this is what They have been wanting to do for so long and will want to do forever after.
That They have already become Gods, but are stepping down from Their pedestal to become mere mortals again.
There is nothing I can do or say that will stop Them. All I can do is hope that someday, They will stumble upon the Truth once again and see it for what it is.
They have come. Any moment now, all this will be history. Let me leave you now with the one phrase that I accidentally stumbled upon, that began my quest for Self and today is the cause of my death, the one phrase that I wish to leave as my epitaph in a virtual graveyard:
So God created man in His own image…
File GENESIS1_27.TXT written to disk