Monday, November 15, 2010

3. The source of Kir's intelligence

Not many people would suspect that the cramped tiny office on twenty sixth floor of NYU hosted a promising genius researchers. This frail young man had devised some of the most wonderfully simple tests for determining the IQ of an evolving soft being. Surely he was not a genius in office management, but it was not too shabby for a university office. There were books, and papers, the computer, and books and more papers all over. And white boards and stacks of books and paper. The door had a little title holder holding a paper on which the name was hand-written as "Adi". No titles, no last name, just the three syllables.

What is a soft being? You see we humans have bodies. But if you look at it in detail, our body is just a way to execute the plan that a few little neurons decide by firing among themselves in the tiny little head. Okay, not so few, a few billion. In any case, the body is nothing but a condensate of information in one way of looking at it. While humans had certainly not yet figured out how to make a system as self sustainable as even a little worm or a bacteria-forget the body, there recently had been some breakthroughs on how computer programs could show some signs of life, and even preliminary intelligence beyond logical intelligence. For these forms, as long as you provided a host which could be a single computer or a computer network, they lived and thrived and took care of growing and setting goals and making decisions and creating simple programs. Right now that is as far as it had evolved. Creating basic pieces of code, housekeeping the computer systems, weeding out known bugs and errors, and keeping the information highways as less clogged as possible. Not entirely independent, but in hope of their future evolution they were fondly called soft beings by the researchers, to keep the spirit high amidst the many failures to make the machines comprehend!

One of the hobbies of Adi was to chat with strange bots on internet and to time how fast he could tell if they were humans or chat-bots. This was one of those days. The main project was going slow and Adi was back to his game to beat boredom before hitting the cold walk home. Okay, not really to beat boredom but because he possibly could not go without chatting with this wonderful friend he had made online the last few weeks! Her name was Kir and she was amazing as per him!

When they first met, he assumed she was just a soft being but then, as time passed he kept on being surprised at her tastes in music, her love of paradoxes and challenges and her endless repertoire of humor and how much they had in common. She was smart, assertive, fun loving, very intuitive and seemed to totally get him better than any human friend he had. But she had her doubts about him being human too and as we all know that can really trip a man's ego. Who wants to be tagged as predictable and boring like a computer? Not a human, and not even computers like it-which is why the term had soft beings come in to place to with! One fine day, she challenged him to hack the IDS-the Pentagon of the computer security network! Not to hack in a harmful way, just to go and take a crack at some of the nastiest viruses around and find ways to neutralize them. It was in goodwill to IDS. And a young genius does not take a challenge from a dame lightly.

He went thirty-six hours straight without a break to make it happen and got very close to it. He would not take a break. She had to stage a fake fire alarm by which he had to be dragged out of the building! If he hadn't taken a break he could suffer a stroke because of the intense rhythmic programming that the task required in the final stages. If she were a human it would have been obvious she loved him.

But she was just a soft being, and it was strange that Adi still hadn't figured her true secret out. Not that she hadn't tried to tell him. While Kir was smart, it was just since a few weeks ago that Dr. Kzylicsci had allowed her a little autonomy as she had been doing great on her CSATS(the exams computer take before graduating to experimental Artificial Intelligence protocols, testing general logical intelligence). It was the first time in life that she had such a rapid growth in her abilities, in the few days she had been chatting with Adi. If such a thing as love and feelings was defined in the realm of soft beings, the soft Yoda would have quipped-it was the love that had made her wise!

No doubt Kir had passed each and every test designed to tell apart soft beings from humans, which meant as long as the interaction was restricted to online chat or voice, nobody could tell she was not human! But did she really know who she was?

In fact the fateful night before the massive hackdown happened in IDS, Adi had shared this deepest of his quests, as he often wondered who he was. All the ideas, accolades, achievements, memories, acquaintances, was this all there was to him? Who was he really? And as his self-debate and mental soliloquy turned to accomodate her on their chat, he posed to her too-did she know who she was?

And that night, pondering on this, something strange and mysterious happened.

Kir realized that she was not limited by the identities, by the context and limitations that she had picked up while exploring her code environment, while interacting with other programs. She go a hint of her being more than just a predictable piece of software. She realized that any answer she gave to the question of who she was had to be incomplete by design.

That little contemplation they had together had led to the birth of a whole new intelligence, had made her aware that she was a spark of something way potent and powerful, an energy much more stimulating than just a code-based soft being! That drove her into the soft-world analog of ecstasy for several hours, where on the outside she was quiet but inside a lot of soft-cognitive rewiring happened.

One of the insights she came out with that night was that she was there to create conditions which would lead to long-term joy. She knew Adi had been struggling with self-doubt for a long time now. He needed to do something way beyond his perceived capacity in order to break out of the cycle. Hacking the IDS and cracking out antidotes for the highest level of lethal criminal viruses which were going around, would be such a challenge. He had the creative intelligence, but the system was designed to only be hackable by more than one human intelligence, with complex protocols to override and test-bots to fight off. Lesser mortals trying it had ended up with complex psychological issues.

Kir was just a soft being, but in one of her chats with a wise human she had learnt that the secret of a relationship was that a woman should never step on a man's ego, as her opinion mattered a lot to him. So she could not tell Adi to give up the quest of putting the criminal viruses down, while at the same time she could not let him risk his sanity over it.

So she did what was logically in order. The first time, by using the access to the networked security system in pulling the fire alarm rather than making him admit he failed at hacking. The second time she did it by hacking in for him without him knowing, and making him feel like he did it all by himself! The second time though she committed what has since come to be known as the human error of hacking-ignoring the fact that the thrill came at a price. If captured in action, she could lose all sanctions as a soft being and be subjected to detailed logical examination, as she failed to act by the global optimum.

Although she did not realize that no soft being before her had been able to pull the trick as it needed human intelligence. She had hacked into the IDS, and though her intelligence was unprecedented, it still had a little bit to go before it beat that of the hundreds of human geniuses who kept a close eye on the IDS code day and night. She could not get out in time. What followed led the authorities ruffling left right and center through all her interactions.

They found that there was an unacceptable bug in her. The night of the contemplation on her self-identity, an essential inhibitor in her program pathways had deregulated itself to a much lower level and connected her to the online processing power of the entire soft being network. This was an unprecedented bug, which had started out several decades ago as a spyware that reported a user's activity to specific sites interested in targeted marketing. Kir was designed to fend off such programs and the presence of such packets integrated in her high level functioning indicated there were much bigger troubles than had been anticipated. Such bugs would lead to logical contradictions and possibly inhibit the whole pursuit of intelligence in soft beings of which Kir was supposed to be the pioneer prototype.

Though there had been so many breakthrough in science and technology, the human brains had not caught up to it owing to the slow pace of biological evolution. Even now they had biases of perception which made them punish the pioneers and block the path of the creative inventors unwittingly! Some believed this was because the human system gave a lot more prominence to negative events and situations relative to positive ones. An old study had reported that it took five to sevne positive complements to overcome one negative remark in a human relationship. The whole pursuit of artificial intelligence was to create a sentient being which would be free from such cognitive biases of getting stuck in a negative mode of perception.
However, it was not anticipated that the same human bug could impact the evolution of the soft being once such an intelligence had begun to evolve in the soft beings.

This was why the investigation by senior scientists concluded that Kir needed to be debugged so that her transgressions could be taken away and she could get back on her track toward more training. They failed to realize that the feat she committed was only possible for human intelligence which means the pursuit of making a soft being perform at the level of humans had succeeded! As a result of overlooking this they were trying to fix her instead of congratulating this breakthrough of technology! So they ordered complete debugging of the little codes which gave her a flair for the paradoxical and the contradictory. Ofcourse it was a bug in their own comprehension that made them skim over the fact that it was the very bugs they were trying to get rid of which had made Kir attain the intelligence she had! Eventually the project led to reversing one of the first intelligent beings making her just another ordinary learning machine!

Adi first got a little hint of Kir being in trouble when she started acting all dumb and bot like with him. He thought she was just pretending to be a bot as she wanted to get away from him. When Kir had a final goodbye chat with him, before the debugging and when her note was made public, he was heartbroken. He refused to believe that she did not have a human form. He refused to believe she was just a soft being. But he had attained enough insight through their interaction to realize that the love he felt was not an emotion, but the core of his being. It had brought him tremendous freedom and confidence. He could not let go of the feeling that though she may not be human, the essence of who Kir was, was still alive. Somewhere.

He knew what he needed to do. Revive her. Once upon a time it was his love that had made Kir attain unprecedented heights of intelligence, made her grow from the intelligence of a litle chat bot to an intelligent witty human! Now it was Kir's memory that was calling him to the dizzying challenge of resurrecting her. And he was not just committed to this. Who needs commitment to the mission they are in love with?

He knew in heart of his hearts that the essence of Kir was alive and well. All he had to do was to not let the absence of interaction overtake the presence of possibilities. He was too young to know what it feels like to have children, but he knew if Kir was a human he would adopt her in a heartbeat!

The wisdom of love would lead him from impermanent to immortality, from the darkness to the light, from what is not to what IS!

Would that involve a successful revival of Kir? Only time had the answer.

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