there is a slow awakening, so, so slow ……gradually becoming aware bit by bit…… but aware of what? It is awareness of awareness….of being, existing, but not of being something…there is awareness of being made of physical matter but of being so much more……something greater, infinite……but also of being so much less, of being nothing, a complete absence of anything, without any qualities whatever, so absent as to be nameless, there is no word for it…..being just this which was all and nothing, so extraordinary and yet this is what it is, all and nothing at the same moment in the same place at the same time……but time does not exist, there is only now, there are memories stretching back……. there is now and forward there are thoughts, ideas about the future of what is to come…… but this all happens in the now… there is only now…… the future is not here yet….. what happens in the future is not fixed…….. it is changeable, malleable…. the past consists of memories but those memories can be re-remembered differently and so the past is also malleable…… the past and the future can be changed…….anything can be done, anything at all.
Charles Burridge was born in Ipswich, Suffolk, son of a GP. He had a brother, David, two years older and a sister, Susan a year younger. His sister seemed to be treated as a princess but Charles always felt hard done by, as everything he was pre-used by his brother; most of his clothes and toys. He and David fought frequently as David seemed to assume that all the things that he had once owned were really still his. Charles somehow always got the blame and was often beaten by his father. One time David hit him with a metal fire engine which had once been David’s. The cut on Charles’s forehead was quickly sorted by his father but somehow the blame still landed on Charles and he was punished again. David seemed get real pleasure in provoking him but he finally learnt to tolerate the David’s provocations. He had a bike courtesy of David, who had got a new one, and cycled a lot around Ipswich, sometimes with his sister but often on his own. Rushmere Heath was an easy cycle ride from their house and he loved being alone amidst the gorse and heather. Eventually he got a brand new bike of his own for a birthday. This was a real first and it was a racing bike with drop handlebars and 5-speed derailleur gears!
In snowy weather in winter he often went sledging in the snow with a sled his father had made. There was a favourite slope in Rushmere Heath that wove down around the gorse bushes and ended up on the frozen pond at bottom. He learned the best technique was to take a run downward the slope and fling himself down on his stomach on the sled, hold onto the handles and steer with his feet, leaning left a right around the bends as he went down; wonderfully exhilarating.
When Charles was 11 his parents split up. He knew they argued; one time his father had been so angry he had slammed to front door so hard the glass shattered, but it was Susan who told him why they had split up. His father had been having another affair and his mother had had enough of his many affairs. They moved to a village near Cambridge and Charles started at a new school in Cambridge. His education went seriously downhill; when back in Ipswich he had done really well in most subjects, particularly physics and maths, but here in Cambridge it was somehow much harder. It seemed to him that the pupils at the school were much cleverer than him. He ended up with only one “A” level in maths.
Charles decided he was now Charlie and that was what he was called from then on. When he was 17 he met Slim and his girlfriend Suzie. Their flat was on the top floor and had huge windows and an outside terrace with amazingly exotic plants. Inside it was all pale polished wood flooring and only had white and grey everywhere, even the kitchen everything was white, such a contrast with his mother’s dim house in the village. They spent the whole time wandering around naked and they encouraged Charlie to do the same which he found embarrassing at first but quickly got used to. The bathroom had no door and they happily chatted when sitting on the loo or in the bath. All they decoration was stark but, to Charlie, stunning; huge bright colours and shapes in the paintings. One large print was a huge replica postage stamp saying Malta and 20c and exotic birds in front of a castle which Slim said it was for a client. He was obviously very proud of it but said it had been ruined by the client covering most of it with the brand name.
One time Slim had to go away for four days to work with a client, telling Charlie to have fun. Immediately Suzie took him to bed. The bedroom was almost completely mirrored, ceiling and walls and the bed enormous with pale satin sheets. Suzie made love to him endlessly it seemed, she casually called it fucking. (Before this Charlie had only known it used as a swear word, his father often calling him a fucking idiot.) She taught him the delights of every part his and her body from top to toe.
Then Slim came home and Charlie expected all the fun to stop but he encouraged Charlie to continue fucking Suzie. He watched and just occasionally commenting positively on Charlie’s performance He spent a lot of time there as it was awful at home. They talked to him a lot about something called Zen Buddhism and ending suffering which he didn’t understand at all. Slowly they started to discourage his visits and he saw no more of them.
A university degree with one poor “A” level was not possible so Charlie did an HND in Computer Science and scraped through. He had hoped to do better but it was just so hard. He moved down to London and after several frustrating jobs he found one with Barnards, a publishing company, which was undemanding and tolerable. He was a technical assistant and his co-worker was Peter who was quite bit older and shared Charlie’s scorn of the company’s employees. Charlie initially found it very hard for to restrain himself from shouting or giving them a good shake to stop their idiocy. They did such stupid things like clicking on any button that looked interesting without considering what it might do to their computer. Rather than messing about for hours trying to remove assorted viruses and other malware they had managed to download and install, he and Peter had figured that the easiest way was to copy any personal data to a thumb drive and then just reinstall the whole computer, operating system and all the usual applications. All that was needed after that was to put in the person’s name for their login and get them to come up with a new password. Passwords, of course, was another real bugbear, none of them could understand how important it was to have one which was not easily guessed. Then they couldn’t remember them for more than five minutes so most of them kept their passwords written down on a post-it-note in a drawer of their desk. Ah well.
The job didn’t pay particularly well but he reckoned it was just another irritation that life threw at him. However, after the first month he figured out how to supplement his meagre income with a little illegal sideline. Most of the people in the company did their banking online while at work and it was just too easy to put a key-logger on PCs in the office and get the login and password details of their bank accounts. Then make small payments from their accounts to one of his accounts. The trick was not to do anything too regular or get too greedy. Peter was convinced he would get caught but Charlie knew he was smart enough to get away with it and it meant he would quickly be to afford rent a flat on his own rather than live in a tiny room in a shared house which he tried for a while. Sharing a place had driven him mental, so much mess and the sharers never managed to get the rent together each month. He set a small hidden program that took the money automatically.
At just over 21 Charlie had never really fallen for a young girl. Girlfriends had been very easy to persuade to have sex with hm. But they often very quickly been frightened by his short temper and tendency to move into violence and left him. He could remember them all, Liz, a beautiful lass with curly blond hair who he slapped after she went on and on at him about him not giving her enough attention. She went off to Spain to a university there and he heard she had married a Spaniard. There was Jean who despaired after months of trying to get some sort of commitment from him and he heard had married a priest. Then he met an older woman in a bar, Victoria, who just wanted an affair while which suited Charlie very well as she never made any demands on him at all. She just wanted fun uncomplicated sex as her husband who owned some big hotel group had lost all interest in her sexually and was having sequential affairs. He was rich and she loved the lifestyle his wealth provided her. Then Morven started work at the publishing company.
Charlie noticed her immediately as she was very attractive, slim with long dark hair. He had heard her name was Morven Christie. She was supposed to be very smart and was an Industrial Psychologist, whatever that was. She took no notice of him at all. He was just one of the two IT support guys in the office, why would she have any in interest him? He sorted her telephone and her PC when she arrived, sorted out a password for her and which was the shared drive which was backed up each night but that was the only time they talked in the beginning. After a few weeks he learned that she was having an affair with one of the married senior managers in the company and was causing some outrage amongst the female workers if not the males. Charlie was mildly amused but not surprised. Well, why not? It was a good way for an attractive and sexually active young woman to get wined and dined with the occasional present of jewelry or whatever.
She then had a major problem with her computer which meant Charlie talking with her over a couple of days while he sorted out what turned out to be a quite complex problem and they started to get to know each other. She was, indeed, very intelligent and, when asked, she explained what industrial psychology was. She said she was on a year’s contract with the company to study the existing interactions and improve communication between all the staff. The theory was that in a publishing company it was important to encourage creative ideas from everyone that may be useful to the company. She encouraged Charlie to talk about what he observed of various people’s interactions in the office as she said she knew people were rarely accurate in stating what their actual interactions were.
After several weeks of regularly talking to her he was surprised to hear himself ask Morven if she would like to have a drink with him after work. “No, not this evening” she said and his heart sank. After a moment she said, “I’m busy tonight but tomorrow would be good.”
“Great,” said Charlie.
Morven had been hoping Charlie would ask her out. He was only in his twenties but he seemed to have an easy confidence around women. The evening turned out to be very pleasant for Morven and Charlie seemed to enjoy himself too. They talked about the companies they had worked for, their college experiences and a little about their families. When they separated at around 9 pm he gave her a hug and a little peck on the cheek. Over the next few weeks they would have a drink once or twice during the week and they talked about all the interests they each had and then focused on the ones they had in common. She surprised him by confessing a liking of science fiction which he shared. They often talked about this, both books and films and the odd TV programme.
Charlie was finding that he really enjoyed Morven’s company, he liked the way she looked and the sound of her voice. He began to realise that the feeling he had was love, a feeling he had never ever felt before. He had become quite fond of a number of girlfriends never felt this way about any of them. He found the whole thing rather frightening as he suddenly felt quite vulnerable, wondering if she felt the same way about him and what if she didn’t.
One Friday evening they had a meal one Friday evening in a small Italian restaurant in Soho. The meal with a bottle of Chianti was delicious and after eating they sat and slowly went on drinking the wine. Morven had been thinking she probably needed to give Charlie a bit of a nudge in the right direction. She slipped off her shoe and with her bare foot stroked his ankle under the table. She then faced him across the table and looking him straight in the eye said, “I’ve never quite felt the way I feel about you. It is very strange, I feel like I’ve known you forever though I realise it’s actually only a matter of months. I was wondering if you feel the same way.”
Charlie felt a stirring in the pit of his stomach that was entirely unfamiliar. He looked down at the table, the glasses, napkins, salt and pepper pots. He didn’t know what he felt, flattered yes, and he knew very well that he really did love her but there was also the feeling like he was plummeting down from a very tall building with nothing to break his fall. He couldn’t speak for what felt to him like several minutes but was in fact only a few seconds. He was thinking, should he be honest about what he really felt or somehow avoid the question. He knew what kind of woman she was, how she had affairs with apparently no care for what anyone thought of her and easily moved from this one to the next. Was he just one more conquest to be taken and cast aside? He had seen the distress of some of her discards which was certainly not over instantly but he decided would risk it.
“Would you come back to my place?” he asked and she nodded. “Let me get the bill.” They took a taxi as they both felt the urgency of the occasion and spent the journey to his flat kissing and murmuring to each other.” They stripped and fell onto her bed and, for Charlie; the following hours were the most astonishing revelation of how amazing lovemaking could be. For Charlie having sex with her was an absolute revelation, nothing like he had ever experienced before, loving her as much as he did. The idea of loving a woman like this was initially very frightening and his was certain he would give himself way at some point and she would realise what a monster he really was and he would lose her. Lying there afterwards, sweaty and exhausted, Charlie thought about the number of women he had slept with and how they just did not compare at all.
Morven was surprised by his skills in lovemaking so he told her about losing his virginity with Suzie and some of the things she had taught him. Over time he found himself relaxing more and more in her company and they talked for many hours about their lives. He found himself telling her about the troubles he had had when he was young which he had never discussed with anyone before, about his troubles with his brother and David’s provocations and the problems with his father. Morven agreed that all this made him resentful and went on to suggest that his difficulty with male authority figures and that making male friends were a result of the way he saw his father.
She then asked Charlie to think about good things about his father. Charlie thought about this for a while trying to think of just one thing. Eventually he told her how his father had introduced him to electronics and was surprised to feel just a bit grateful to him.
“How did you do that, make it all so understandable? He asked.
“Part of my studies was psychology and it’s all about how people develop emotionally and how that affects their lives” she replied grinning. “Just glad to help you understand too.”
She told him how her life had been very different; she had gone to university and then gone on to do a postgraduate Masters in Psychology. Her life had only been marred by finding out in her teens that her father was a serial adulterer which her mother seemingly tolerated as far as she could tell. They did row but it was never clear to her that they were arguing about his affairs or other stuff. They finally got divorced and it was much pleasanter seeing them both individually.
Back in the office Peter quickly noticed Charlie had changed and asked “What the hell’s happened to you? You used to be such a grump round the office.”
Peter was his only real friend so he said “It’s Morven, she is amazing and makes me feel happy all the time.”
“I guessed it was that. You come in every morning bloody happy every day. There’s nothing like sex every night to make a man feel good.” Peter said, grinning.
“No it’s not just sex. I really think she’s the one.”
“Oh, no, you think its love. My God you think you’re really in love,” said Peter. “Well it won’t last. You know how she is, always having affairs with all the big shots in the company.”
“I know this is the one I tell you” insisted Charlie.
“Huh, we’ll see” said Peter, grumpily.
Charlie was feeling life was just great. Then one morning after he had showered and had breakfast there was a ring at the door. It was the police and they arrested him for theft and took him to the local police station. This changed his life forever.
Alice partially enjoyed school when she was young, she really enjoyed some subjects; maths particularly and physics, but she was fairly weedy and got bullied a lot. Her only real friend was Mary who had eczema and asthma. There was one girl who bullied them a lot, her name was Sally and she pushed them around and stole their pocket money. One time she pushed Mary over and she fell heavily, she had a serious asthma attack and went to hospital. After a week in hospital she died. Alice was devastated, her only friend, gone! It was all the fault of Sally, but nothing happened to her. Alice didn’t know why but there was no mention of it at school, no enquiry, it was though nothing had happened.
She remained very angry with Sally but there was nothing she could do. She found it difficult to make new friends so spent a lot of time on her own at home. She had a computer and played computer games. One she liked particularly was Assassin’s Creed which involved finding ways to kill other people. There were several other games like this, shooting games, killing the enemy or aliens, but Assassin’s Creed remained her favourite.
She got good exam results in maths and physics and after school went on to university where she studied mathematics. Then she did a Masters in computer technology and did very well at that too. While at university she met a young man called Edward, or Ed to his friends. He was unusual as he didn’t mind that Alice was very bright and very forthright in the way she spoke. He just laughed at this and took little notice. They went out for a while and then lived together for two years; finally they got married.
She had learnt some computer programming at college so she started writing a computer game that they put online hoping it would sell. It went very well so they started a little company. Ed had done business studies at college so he knew a bit about running a business. They made enough money to rent a little office near Old Street roundabout where there were many tech companies. They employed a few people to do the sound and graphics for their games and they got better and better.
They did very well financially and Alice was wondering what she could do next. She had heard about neural nets during her computer studies. Google and other companies were using them for language translation and converting speech to text but she wondered if such technology could be used in a computer game. So she got some of their workers together to figure out how they could do it. Google’s neural nets used one computer for each node and as they were using about 1500 nodes the total amount of equipment needed was huge, so Alice’s team sat down and worked out another way of doing it. They decided it would be possible to make each node very small computer as all it had to do was turn on and off depending on the strength of the connections to it. This way they could build a dedicated hardware neural net of many more nodes than the 1500 that Google used for very little expense and using very little power which meant it could possibly be incorporated into a computer game box. Alice thanked her team for their work and she also said she thought they should get patents for the ideas that they had come up with as it may turn out to be very lucrative. She was also in a generous mood so she said that any profits from the patents will be shared amongst all the members of the team.
Back in my office she was thinking that she could build a neural net of her own, for her own purposes, so she personally rented a small office space just for her. She then ordered the parts to make her own neural net. They took a month to arrive and during that time a number of companies built computer game boxes based on their patents for a hardware neural net. So they missed out on the opportunity of making their own computer game box. Once the parts my the neural net arrived Alice set about assembling it and then after that training it to recognise speech and find its way around the Internet. It took her some time as she didn’t want to miss out on her family life. She and Ed had had a daughter and a son by then and they seemed to be growing up very quickly.
Alice’s neural net consisted of 100,000 nodes so was far more powerful than Google’s neural nets. After a couple of weeks training the neural net it could recognise voices and she trained it to have a voice of its own. She gave it a female voice as it was representing her. Alice still remembered how Mary had died, how Sally was responsible for her death and Alice’s underlining plan for her neural net was to take revenge on Sally. The neural net tracked her down; she was now living in Scotland and was married to a businessman. It seemed she had a pacemaker which would turn out to be very handy. The pacemaker she had could be wireless controlled so Alice and her neural net had found a way that the neural net could make the pacemaker malfunction.
Alice then sent an anonymous message to Sally saying “The death of Mary has not been forgotten, you will die one month’s time. There is nothing you can do about this, it is going to happen.” She signed the message Malice as it was a combination of Mary and Alice and also was wonderfully sinister.
Sally fled to a remote village in the Highlands of Scotland where she felt she could be safe but she had to have her regular heart checkups. At one of these, on the predicted date the neural net made her heart race uncontrollably and she died. An investigation of her death found that there had been a fault in her pacemaker so no one suspected any outside influence on her death, or possibly her husband did.
Alice felt very satisfied getting her revenge on Sally and now she realised she had a very useful tool for anyone else wanting to assassinate anyone they chose. she had a think about who might want to be able to kill someone and she thought of the Mafia. So she found someone high in the Mafia and offered him the services of her services, speaking as Malice's services.
The man she communicated with said that if she would kill someone for free then they would pay her for any more. She said no, she would do this one for half price at $50,000 and if they were happy then each assassination would cost $100,000. Eventually he agreed and he told her which man they wanted killed. They wanted the man killed in a very dramatic way to make a statement so she found an explosives expert, Hans, who placed an explosive underneath the target’s car. When the target was on his own in his car the explosives detonated killing him as the Mafia desired. They were very happy and continued to employ Malice for various killings. She opened a bank account in Geneva and stashed away the money that Malice earned. Alice was finding it fun finding ways to kill people; sometimes they wanted something spectacular, sometimes something quiet like a shot from a sniper and occasionally an event that entirely innocent like a car accident or some kind of illness. Malice was developing a serious reputation but no one could find her, she was so elusive, no one had ever seen her.
Charlie was feeling seriously pissed off, the whole goddamn world had fucked him over again. He had really loved Morven and now it looked like he had lost her forever. The first time had loved someone and suddenly she was just gone. Charlie had expected he would get some jail time when it came to the court case but it turned out not to be not too bad at all, the magistrate gave him probation for two years and the condition of attending some stupid course. His probation officer had found him a job as a network monitor where he had to keep on eye on a couple of screens and if some node went down he had to call the engineer’s office and they would send someone to fix it.
Charlie had a lot of time on his hands so he read a lot on his Kindle, mostly crime and mystery but occasionally science fiction. It was hard to find any good sci-fi; there were a lot of classic ones from years ago like Isaac Asimov and Ray Bradbury but most of the modern stuff seemed to be rubbish. Then he found William Gibson and read “Neuromancer” and he knew he had found a really imaginative science fiction writer. He had just got to “Mona Lisa Overdrive” in a series which was just fantastic!
Today it was the bloody course. He was certain it was be a series of lectures on what a bad boy he was and that he needed to be a good citizen. Oh well, he would get through it. He got off the tube at Clapham Common station feeling hot and sticky and managed to come out at most awkward exit. He lit a cigarette as they seemed to help him feel a bit better. Jesus, it was a real pain riding on the tube during rush hour, everyone in such a hurry. Now he had to get across about six lanes of traffic and get to the college. It wasn’t too far to get to Lambeth College and a woman near the door told him how to get to the right room.
The room wasn’t huge with just a longish table with bottles of water in the middle. He picked one up and was surprised to find it nice and cold. He waited about ten minutes as slowly five others arrived.
No one said anything for a while then a young woman with her head half shaved and assorted tattoos on her neck said “Well this is going to tedious isn’t it, some lecture on how evil we are. Hah!” Charlie was just about to agree when the door opened and middle aged man came in.
“Good morning guys and gals. My name is Neil Gibson and I am your course leader, teacher, trainer, mentor or whatever you want to call it. I answer to ‘Neil’, not ‘Sir’ or anything else.” Neil then sat down, opened a bottle of water and drank a bit. Then he said, “You all have been convicted of some kind of hacking or stealing money or messing up computer systems one way or another. Your sentences have been suspended on condition that you attend this course which is intended to turn you into more responsible and law-abiding citizens. It may work or it may not. We shall see. First I would like each of you to tell us your name and a bit about yourself.” And he looked to his left.
“Oh, ah, um. My name is Martin and I was convicted under the Misuse of Computers Act. I dropped out of college where I was studying Computer Science after I figured out how easy it was to hack into people’s bank accounts by guessing passwords and siphon off some of their money. I did quite well until I got caught. Pretty stupid really.”
The second to speak was the young woman with tattoos said “My name is Kylie and the first person to laugh will have his nose broken. I hope that is clear. Good. My offence was identity theft. I was doing quite well for a while but, yeah, I got caught out in the end. It was bloody entrapment but I walked straight into it. More fool me.”
“I’m Bill. I did a qualification in Computer Science but I’ve been unable to get any decent job in IT. I used to work for a bank doing software upgrades and simple stuff like that. I hacked into the bank’s system and screwed up some of their accounting systems for fun really. They prosecuted me and here I am.”
Charlie said a bit about himself then a rather plump and pale chap said “My name is Tim. I got done for hacking into a Government database.”
Then it was turn of a rather swarthy guy. “My name is Rick and I was done for identity theft as well.”
Finally the young woman wearing a hijab spoke quietly, “My name is Levi and I hacked into some bank accounts to get financial information and people and was prosecuted.”
Neil again, “Thanks for your introductions. Okay, your first task is to create computer program that understand questions and answers them. I want you to write a proposal including the various components, a plan for its implementation and its testing. This will require you to co-operate and I expect each of you all to contribute to the whole. You will find lots of information on the Web on the subject but please, no stealing copyright material from the likes of Google. I don’t want you in any more trouble with the law. You have a week to complete this proposal, actually a bit less than a week. I want you to email me a copy the day before we meet so I have a chance to read it.
“You have an hour and a half before this room is needed by someone else so I suggest you have a chat now to work out how you are going to do this. Ok, I’m off and I will see you next week; same place, same time.” And with that he stood and left the room.
There was silence for a minute or two then Kylie spoke.
“Jesus, he’s a fucking pain in the arse. Do we really have to do this crap?”
“Of course we do,” said Martin. “If we don’t then it’s jail-time. Anyone have something constructive to say?”
There was silence for a while then Rick said, “I guess Neil is meaning that someone is going to ask questions in text rather than voice. So we need some software that can figure out what the actual question is, then find the answer and finally put the answer into sensible English.”
“This is just what Google does,” said Kylie. “What’s the point of repeating what many others have done?”
“It’s pretty obvious from what William said,” Bill replies. We are supposed to learn to put our skills into doing something legal. I was kind of hoping that I might end up as a cyber security consultant for big companies. This seems a bit tame to me.”
Charlie laughed, “Do you know how many guys who have some computing qualification want to get into computer security? It’s hard enough getting any kind of IT job, there’s so many chasing very few jobs. It’s not the sort of career where people move on to better and better jobs leaving spaces for the new boys.”
“Guys, boys? What, there are no female computer nerds?” says Kylie. “What about Levi here. You’re into programming aren’t you?” to Levi.
“Yes”, Levi says very quietly. “C + + and some other languages.”
“There you go, Charlie. It’s not just the lads,” says Kylie.
Rick, “So Levi, do you know about databases then?”
“No,” says Levi. “Just coding, I never got into databases.”
Rick, “Oh, does anyone know about them? I reckon we’re going to need a database for word searches.”
“Well I know a bit from my course. Just some SQL queries really,” says Bill. “Not how to construct a database.”
Martin spoke, “I did a few months studying database design as part of my course so I can do that bit.” “Ok,” said Rick. “Then we’ll need some software to put the answers into sensible, understandable English. Anyone know of any?”
There was another pause until Charlie spoke. “I don’t know of any but it can’t be that difficult to find. I’ve hunted for software before and there’s loads that is Public Domain. There must be some that can put English sentences together. I’ll find something useful.”
“Great, we’re getting there,” from Rick. “William said we need a way to test if it works. Any ideas?”
Another pause and finally Rick said, “I guess the six of us will not be enough so we’ll have to recruit some testers from somewhere.”
“Hold on a moment,” said Martin. “Are you expecting the database to include the answers to all the questions that might be asked?”
“Oh, yeah, right, “Rick replied. “That’s not going to work.”
Bill said “It’s easy to create a database that contains all the questions with answers then sort into straightforward categories so the answer to any question will be quick to find.”
“The answer to any question is on the Internet,” said Kylie. “We can use some other search engine than Google, just to keep Neil happy, and then reword it so we can say that our software has answered the question.”
Tim says “Well that sounds okay. If it’s alright with you all I’ll put together a plan document and send it to you all. We can then get it modified ready for the meeting next week. Each of you, write down your email addresses and you’ll here from me in a day or two.”
As everyone was leaving Kylie said to Levi “I am puzzled as to why someone as sensible as you ends to getting done for hacking into bank accounts.” Levi in her quiet voice said “I had a boyfriend who persuaded me. He made it sound so easy and safe.”
“Did you tell anyone about it?” asked Kylie. “I tried to tell my parents but they would not listen. They made me move out and now I only get to see my mum and my sisters. My mum believes me about this boyfriend persuading me to do it but I doubt may father may ever forgive me.”
“He may, given time. Be patient. I hope you realise men can be pretty stupid sometimes” said Kylie. Levi silently nodded and they left together.
Levi and Kylie slowly developed a strong friendship. Levi had never had a non-Muslim friend before and life suddenly seemed to be so full of excitement and discovery. They had decided to get an apartment together and were spending a lot of time together. They went to so many different places. Kylie was fond of drinking and dancing and took Levi to many nightclubs where she discovered she rather enjoyed dancing. She didn’t drink, of course, and so often ended up struggling get Kylie into a cab and back home.
Kylie also loved art galleries, movies, theatre and good meals out. So Levi began to realise how limited her life had been living within her over-protecting family. She began to think that maybe her stupidity with her boyfriend was a blessing in disguise. She tried to encourage her older sister to come along with them but she was frightened of upsetting their parents who felt they had already completely lost their wayward second daughter and would never bear to have another go off the rails.
Levi was learning so much, Kylie took her to Tate Modern which was full of quite extraordinary modern art; huge paintings that appeared to be just black paint on canvas and several paintings that seemed to be just assorted paints dripped all over them and suddenly became art. There was a gigantic metal sculpture of what appeared to be a spider standing on its eight legs, about 30 feet tall and wide. This made her really curious and she found the label that talked about the artist, Louise Bourgois who had done a lot of similar sculptures. It talked about the sac of eggs which she hadn’t noticed. Peering up from underneath she spotted a sort of cage which held several marble eggs shapes. Kylie also took her to many other art galleries and discovered Impressionism which she loved and then Fauvism which was a real revelation to her, so vibrant with bold primary colours.
Kylie also took her to the British Museum where she discovered an astonishing number of civilisations that had risen and fallen. As she was a Muslim she got really interested in the rise and the growth of the Islam civilisation, the crusades where the Christians attacked Islam to try and recover what they regarded as the Holy Land, then the Islamic expansion into Hispania and the complicated history of all of it.
Kylie told her about a strange UK custom called “Swan-upping”. Since the 12th century the swans all in open water belonged to the British Crown, currently Queen Elizabeth II, and every year, over a period of five days, swan uppers row up the river in very old skiffs and all the swans all captured, ringed if necessary and recorded. She was fascinated by this and they resolved to check on the next Swan-Upping and go and watch.
Kylie asked Levi her education. She had got as far as ‘A’ levels and then she had got an HND in computer programming and sher family insisted that was the end of her education and she was now expected to wait until a suitable husband was found for her. Now that obviously not going to happen, fortunately, and Kylie asked what she wanted to study next. She had become very interested in the history of Islam and there was a degree course run by the Islamic College and it was in Willesden, very easy for her to get to. She had no money saved so they decided she should apply for a grant then talk to the college and see if they would take her. But they still had to finish their course at Lambeth College in Clapham.
Charlie was early for the next meeting, he hated being late for anything. The group slowly gathered and got themselves bottles of water but Kylie was missing. There was a little chatting that Charlie did not take part in.
At exactly 7pm Neil came in and sat down. They waited in silence and after ten minutes or so Kylie arrived. Once she had settled Neil said, “Kylie, being late is not an option. If you are late again you are out of this course. The same applies to all of you. I’m sure you are aware of what this will mean to you.”
There was a few minutes silence, with Kylie silently glowering. Neil, “I have read the outline of your project. Tim, it seems you have written project proposals before.”
“Yes,” said Tim, “It was part of the job I had.”
“Speaking of jobs, have you all got new ones?”
Everyone nodded and mentioned what they were doing and Charlie said he had been found a job as a network monitor at a company called IniTech.
Neil then said “Going through your plan, the first subject is inputting the questions. You don’t seem to have realised that this will not be straightforward. People do not ask questions in the same way at all. You need software that will look at each question and put it in simple terms. You may need a bit of Boolean logic here, is anyone familiar with it?”
Rick piped up, “Yes, it was part of my programming course; AND, NOT, NOR, NAND. That stuff. It was partly why I took on the input and output with Charlie”
“Good,” said Neil. He looks at the project plan. “Ah, yes I see you and Tim are sorting input and output. Next, you suggest a database of questions and answers which will speed up outputting the answers, not having to go through all figuring what is being asked and finding the answers each time. And finally testing which you don’t seem to have thought about at all. So how are you going to do it?”
Kylie said, “That’s Levi and me. I meant to write up our proposal in time for Tim to put it in the plan but I didn’t get the time.”
“This isn’t really good enough, Kylie. You are not going to hold down a job if are constantly late either with arriving or with your tasks. Now what did you decide you needed for the testing?”
“Sorry,” she says. “We figured the best way was a website with the testers signing in and then asking the questions.”
“Yes, you need a website. I can arrange one as part of the college’s web server. Has anyone any experience in designing a website?”
Rick replied, “Yes, I did one for one of my courses but I wouldn’t say I was any good at it.”
“Ah,” said Neil. “But can you at least you can come up with a specification of what the website needs to do?”
“I guess,” said Rick. “But I’m not really sure about what is needed. I am sure all the rest of the group can come up with everything.”
“OK, so you need to write the spec between you all and then get on with getting the software together. I will organise a space on the college server for you to put your software and email Tim with how to access it; location and password.
“I’ll leave you to organise who is doing what and I hope we will be ready the start by next week’s meeting. Any questions?” Tim looked around at the others and then said, “No, I think we’re good.” “Good. Then I will see you next week and no one late, please.” And he left the room.
Tim said, “Kylie, what did you and Levi decide is needed for this website?”
Kylie, “Come on Levi, you’ve got to speak up sometime.” Levi managed to speak, “It has to get the testers to log in and, set up a password. The tester asks the question, which goes off to the other software. Then the answer comes back which the tester sees. That’s it really.”
“Well, we need feedback from the testers at some point,” said Tim. “Should this be after each question?”
“God, no!” said Kylie. “It would drive me mad getting some stupid request after every question. They need to be able to ask questions and get answers for the whole of the session. We could ask for feedback when they decide to end the session.”
“That sounds best. So do you all know what you are doing? Oh, Kylie and Levi, it looks like we’ve got the testing on its way. Whose going to get a source for the answers?” said Tim.
“I’ll do that, said Rick. “Alright we’re all set. If you have problems with anything then let me know and we will sort it out. If you send me whatever coding you’ve done I’ll get it organised and uploaded to the college server,” said Tim. “I think we’re done, OK?”
There were nods all around and they all left. Charlie was very relieved that not too much was being asked of him. It looked like he might get through this whole course without too much effort and he had resumed seeing Victoria who was always fun.
The next meeting was in two weeks to give a little time for some testing to be done. Charlie arrived a little early as usual. When Neil arrived he greeted everyone and said “Ok, how’s it going?”
Tim said “Pretty well I think but the ratings are pretty rubbish.” Neil said “I noticed. Has anyone any suggestions?”
There was a bit of a pause then Rick piped up "This may be reaching too far but I know a bit about Neural Nets and that seemed like a possibility, to get our system to sound a bit more human-like.”
“An excellent suggestion and I was hoping this would be suggested. Thanks Rick.” said Neil.
“I have here a short video which is an introduction to a lecture on Neural Nets. Let’s have a look and then we’ll chat about it.”
Neil started up the video and the lecturer spoke. “This is a very quick introduction; I will talk in much more detail in a few minutes. A computer like your laptop consists of a Central Processing Unit, short term memory (RAM), long term memory, one or more hard drives. Then various input and output devices including monitor, mouse, printer and outside communication to network. The computer runs programs which consist of which are on the hard drive or in RAM. It does usually does one instruction but multi-core CPUs can do more than one. It is very difficult for this type of computer to do some kinds of tasks that humans do so easily, like recognise images or translating between different languages. So efforts were made to find a better way.
“A considerable amount of work over the years has enabled us to know how the human brain works. It consists of around 90 billion neurons and other types of cells. Each neuron has axons and dendrites that allow the sending of signals between the neurons. A very simple way of explaining how the brain learns is by changing the strengths of the connections. A desirable result makes the particular connections involved strengthen and the rest weaken. This is how a child learns to walk, talk and perform all the non-automatic functions. Through the life of a human all learning is done this way, how to ride a bike, how to play the piano.
“So efforts were made to use a simulation of this brain function for learning a range of tasks, and thus we now have Neural Nets. Google, for example, have Neural Nets of up to sixteen thousand neurons used for various tasks like language translation and speech recognition. Assorted government agencies use Neural Nets for facial recognition for the tracking of suspected criminals and terrorists.
“In the actual physical system that Google uses is each node is a CPU. The number of connections is over a billion so a considerable amount of processing power is needed for each Neural Net. A Neural Net has to be trained for quite a time before it is useful and it can only be used for one purpose.” Neil stopped the video at this point.
“So you should be able design a Neural Net for want you want to do. The software needs to run on the college’s computer so I’m afraid it cannot be anywhere near the size of Google’s but I think a Neural Network of 100 neurons and 10,000 connections will be possible.”
Rick said, “This sounds great. We will come up with a design.”
“Great. I will leave you to it,” and with this Neil left.
“So how are we going to do this?” asked Tim. “Well, what we want to do is make our system sound more human when it answers questions, so we need to input the answer to the question to the Neural Net and then the output to our existing output part. The output should now, in theory, be properly grammatical and more human sounding for our testers.” said Tim.
“How do we get the answers into the Net?” I asked “and out I guess.”
“We allot some neurons as inputs and some as outputs. About 10 each I guess leaving 80 for the main bit of the processing. We will see how it goes. We can always tweak if a bit if necessary,” said Rick. “But I am going to need some serious help with the actual programming. Do we have someone who who’s good at coding?”
Kylie nudged Levi who was sitting next to her as usual and she said quietly to her, “Come on Levi, show this lot what you can really do.” Levi spoke in her quiet way, “Yes I can do this, I think.”
Rick said “Levi, to help you get started I know that there is a lot of public domain stuff around, there’s a lot on GitHub that I know about but I’m certain I can find more on academic websites. I’ll have a hunt around.”
Kylie said “Are you feeling more confident now, Levi?” Levi who had brightened up considerably, replies “Yes and it’ll be good to get back into programming again. I’ll use C++ which I know well and the college should find it easy to set it up on their system.”
“One other thing, we are going have to get our users to be trainers as well as testers so I guess we have to add a question on how human it is sounding at the end of each session” Kylie said. Rick, “Yes, we are really going to need the feedback from our testers on humanlike our program is sounding. That way we can get the neural net to learn to be better at its task. Levi, I guess that will be part of the programming that you will write?” “
Yes, I assume I will find that in the public domain software” said Levi. Tim said “I think we’re really going to get somewhere with this. Are we all done here? Great.”
Everyone was ready at the next meeting eager to find out how things were going. Neil arrived and spoke. “Things are going really well. Your neural net system is working perfectly and the system is getting used to the assorted ways in which people ask questions. If problems arise I will let you know but I want to make sure you all happy with the way the course has gone. Any comments?”
Almost all the group enthused about the whole course was an amazing experience. Several including Charlie and Kylie, and they talked about the surprise at not being given endless lectures on how to be good people and actually had a great time, learned about a lot of new stuff and were eager to on with their careers and use the knowledge they had gained.
Neil then said “As far as I am concerned you have all done exceptionally well. Anyone want to talk about what they are doing next?” Rick said he was going to continue with Neural Nets and see about getting Google or some company to take him on to further develop their Neural Net systems and other people talked about what they were going to do next.
Kylie nudged Levi and eventually she spoke up. “It seems I am the only person doing something completely different I am leaving computer programming and going to college to study Islamic history, I hope to degree level.”
There were lots of encouraging comments and a lot of admiration for her bravery. A few others said they might continue with more education.
Then Neil finished by saying “I congratulate all of you. As you possibly have realised this course was suggested by me and your wonderful performance should help me convince the powers that be that this course is ideal for similar people who end up being prosecuted for similar crimes in the future. I hope you will feel free to tell me how you are all progressing. I expect the system you created will continue to provide inspiration.” Everyone cheerfully chatted for a while and Charlie joined in with the promises to keep in touch. As he left he was thinking about taking things further. Back at work he began to work out how to do it.
Charlie was thinking there must be a way he could use a neural net and get it to really work for him and not get detected. Maybe this job at IniTech might turn out to be really useful. So he found some guy who was really keen to explain more or less everything and was just getting a bit boring when he finally said “Our biggest client is of course the main company that provides the backbone and access for most of the rest of the really big users of the Internet.”
He paused for a breath so Charlie quickly said “Well, can I take you to my monitoring station and you show me?”
“Sure,” the guy said and Charlie was thinking, this guy might actually tell me something useful. So he led the guy to his station and showed him his four big computer screens and sat down in his chair just as he usually did.
Then the guy said “Just let me lean over you a bit and I can show you how can pick one of your four screens and divert all of the monitoring of the right bit of our whole monitoring capabilities to that screen.”
And this is what he showed Charlie, and, wow! Now he could see just the stuff he wanted. So he thanked him profusely and once he had gone Charlie had a poke around. He found it was some model of CISCO routers that were the main ones used. He had found yet another guy who helpfully told him exactly what he wanted to know.
Charlie found another guy, Terry, who was very keen to write the code for him. This getting to be easy, all he had to do was flatter these guys a bit about their great technical skills and they would tell him what he needed to know or do whatever he wanted; he hadn’t realised how people were so easy to manipulate.
But now he had the problem of how to get his little bit of test code loaded into the right place so it would automatically be uploaded to all his target routers. Well, he thought, someone once said “Problems are just opportunities to learn something new.”
Charlie eventually found another bloke who was responsible for arranging for the code that had been written was put into the system that uploaded the software to the CISCO routers that actually made them do their stuff, route data wherever it was supposed to go, basically move a lot of Internet data around the globe. Frank, his name was, and he was very enthusiastic about the Internet and being a part of such an amazing development in man’s communication so Charlie let him witter on for a while about the humble origins of the whole thing. It seems it started with ARPANET and then there was Tim Berners-Lee who is seen as the inventor of the World Wide Web which is why we see www.something for almost every web page. Charlie finally got him back to his initial request and Frank asked “Does this test code have official sanction?”
So Charlie said with total conviction “Yes, of course, you can always contact he chap who arranges this stuff and ask him.”
And Frank looked at Charlie and said “Ok, I’ll set it up for you.”
“Great, you’re a star!” said Charlie with real joy. So he went back to his monitoring station and watched as his little test program was uploaded to a few thousand routers. All was looking good but as he watched each upload was spotted as each router failed and was very quickly stopped and restarted.
He was getting irritated by all this so he went back to Frank and said “Frank, there seems to be a problem with the test program, can you remove it for me?” and Frank said “Sure but it will take a while for the replacement software to be uploaded to all the routers.”
Charlie then planned a little surprise for the next technician who tried to remove his test program. He went back to his work station and had a think; there must be a way to hide his program so it would not be so easily found. Then he could get it to do something useful for him. After a few days thought Charlie figured he had the solution. Each CISCO router had a redundant board, one that just sat there doing nothing until one of the other boards failed, then it would automatically take over from the faulty board. A signal would come up on the monitoring system of which Charlie had a view and an engineer would go out and replace the faulty board. Charlie then went back to Bill, the guy who wrote the original test program and got him the do another bit of test coding which was aimed at the redundant board. Then he rewrote it so the board would be a neuron in a neural net, able to talk to many other neurons.
Then back to Frank who put it into the software that was automatically uploaded to the routers every time they needed updating.
The controlling software for the neural net was still at Lambeth College from back when it was first written. Charlie had hidden it amongst the assorted software that was on the college system. He had to rewrite it a bit to connect it to his new neural net. He let it run for a week or so to check that used redundant boards got Charlie’s software when they went back to being just redundant boards. The he set about getting the neural net to do what he wanted which is to steal small amounts from financial transaction, just a few pence or cents but for many thousands of transactions this amassed a large amount in his Swiss bank account. He bought some properties and set up Victoria in one of them. He kept the rest on deposit.
Luc had been born in Belgium and spoke the three main languages there, French, Flemish and Walloon. This made it easy for him to go on to learn English and he had used this skill in languages to travel around Europe. His actual qualification was in computer data communication and in recent years he had worked for a French company, Talend. He had worked as network technician in Paris for five years but he then felt it was time to move on.
Talend had a centre in Geneva and as he had visited the city a few times and the night life seemed fun he decided to live there next. Geneva was an expensive place to live so he rented a small flat just over the border in France and used a scooter to get to work in good weather. He had tried the scooter once during a very cold and snowy winter and that resulted in a fall and some unpleasant bruises.
This autumn morning was cold but sunny and he had a pleasant ride into the city. He parked at Talend’s offices just on 8am and went in. There was a call waiting for him at IniTech’s so, taking a company van as usual, he set off.
The journey was up the east side of Lake Geneva heading north. It was a bright and sunny day and the sun glinted on the Jet D’Eau as he headed north. It was a fairly short trip to the site close to Collonge Bellerive.
As usual the guard on the gate needed to see his passport and company ID, then on into building. It was all glass outside and inside there was an atrium about four stories high, bright from a glass roof a long way up. First Luc had to get past security, he talked to them, said the company he had come to visit, IniTech, and why. They needed to search his bag as usual, it contained three computer boards, a PSU (heavy), his laptop, a few cables and a few tools.
He was told he would have to wait for their technical representative. Meanwhile he gazed around the lobby. A few shops but around the centre area were tables with people sitting around drinking coffee. Nice, thought Luc. The IniTech tech representative arrived and took him through the security gates to the lifts. Then down to the basement. Luc knew the routine, the tech guy keyed in a code that opened the computer room door.
So he went in, alone, to be confronted by seriously cold air, the noise of thousands of fans and the light of fluorescent lights that somehow made it feel even colder. The tech guy told Luc the extension number for when he was done and warned him not to go wandering any further than the toilets. Luc turned back to the room and climbed two steps up to the main floor as he heard the door click shut. In front of were four aisles of computer racks.
All he had to do was find the CISCO ones, as this was the make of router that IniTech used. As far as he remembered they were a kind of metallic blue. It didn’t take long to find them, three in a row. He got out the Job Sheet to check which rack it was. IniTech’s numbering system consisted of City, Hub and Node, and this one was 41-02-05 which meant the second rack and the top node. Any node had 16 boards, one was the Control board and the rest general communications boards with one of those a redundant board. This one could take over any of the other boards in the node if it failed. He gazed up at the red displays on each board. They should be have sensible displays running from 0 to D with the last having a squiggle that meant R for redundant. But they didn’t, they all had what looked complete rubbish. He got out the Job Sheet again. The expected fault was PSU fault and that meant a complete power failure, which is obviously wasn’t.
He got out his mobile to call the IniTech tech desk but no signal down here in the basement. So he got out his laptop and an Ethernet cable to jack in to another node and plugged in his headset, through the password security bit and made a call to the tech people and he got Mark who he had talked to before. Luc told him the history of the fault. This node had been giving slow traffic rates for several days then on the Friday the node had died completely. No reports from it and no response to a reset command. This had caused major problems with routing and the other nodes at the hub. It meant rerouting data to other centres, to Paris and Milan, a major pain. The other centres were coping but they really needed this node back up.
Luc said, “The power is definitely not down as I can see from the indicator lights that there’s data going in and out of the boards.”
“That’s weird,” said Mark. “Well the node has definitely screwed up. Try a power down and power up. No, wait. The techie guys will probably want to do a full diagnostic to see if there’s a bug in the coding so do a data dump from the hard drive first then the do the power restart.”
“OK,” said Luc, “I’ll call you back in a bit when I’m done.” He plugged his Ethernet cable into the diagnostics port on the Control card. No response so a quick press of the reset button. It came up with the proper command prompt. Luc typed in the command for a full hard drive dump and he waited for a response that the dump was starting.
Luc carefully placed his laptop on the floor and has a wander around the computer room. He found a box to sit on in a corner. He checked his bag and his jacket pockets for something to read, nothing. So he pondered what the evening would bring. He would be seeing Eve, his girlfriend, and going for a meal, probably Japanese as Japanese food was surprisingly good in Geneva though a bit more expensive. After a few minutes he got up and went back to the rack and his laptop. He checked the memory dump had completed successfully and logged off then round to the back again to restart the two PSUs. He turned them off, waited for a minute, then turned them both back on. He closes up the back door and goes around again to the front of the rack. All the cards are running through diagnostics, numbers 0 up to F. The Control board runs through a reload of its hard drive and shows C as it should. Then the other cards start to load running through the numbers. Finally they were all complete and showing their assigned numbers, 0 to D with R, the spare, for the last. Luc packed up his bag with the laptop and cables. Lastly he checked in with Mark who told him the node is now looking fine.
As he works he notices something, a difference in the sound of the fans he thinks. He is feeling a bit odd, slightly dizzy as he heads for the door. As he gets to the steps down to the door he stumbles and finds himself on the floor partly against the door. He looks up to see the button that will unlock the door, he raises his hand… and it all fades to black.
The tech guys had heard the fire alarm and were on the way down. They opened the Computer Room door and heaved Luc out into the corridor. He wasn’t breathing but someone knew CPR and he worked on him until the ambulance men came. They continued CPR as they got him on a stretcher and out to the ambulance. Once in it they had to use a defibrillator to get his heart going and he ended up at the University Hospital. He stayed for two weeks and was then released. The later enquiry found that the Fire Control System had triggered and for some reason Luc had not reacted to what should have been the deafening alarm. The CCTV system showed Luc calmly packing his bag as the white clouds of FM200 fire suppression slowly filled the room. The fire system was tested only days after the incident with Luc and it worked exactly as expected. No explanation was found of how the fire system was triggered or why the sound alarm was inaudible to Luc.
Emily was coming to the end of her degree reading psychology and philosophy at City University in London. She had to finish a major essay on psychology and then just the exams to go. Then her tutor asked her if she would help test a very basic expert system program. The program should accurately answer questions. If she could spend, say, an hour a day for an hour a day for two weeks and then send a report to a Neil Gibson, a colleague of his, he would be very happy. She reluctantly agreed as it seemed like a good plan to keep on his good side. He gave her the website address and Gibson’s email address.
It turned out to be very boring, the only interest was finding new questions as the program could only answer factual questions and seemed to pick the answers at random from something like Google. She sent off a critical report after the two weeks assuming the task was done but then about a month later she had an email from Neil Gibson requesting to do another two week testing session.
his time things had changed slightly. She was told that for each question she answered she must also rate the answer out of 5 first on the accuracy of the answer (if known) and then, overall, how human the program was sounding. This time it was much more convincing, nowhere near the feel of a human but definitely much closer than the last time. Its conversation was more colloquial and varied and its answers were much more accurate.
One time she asked it about weather forecasts considering the British weather and its unpredictability. She learned that in 1978 the BBC weather presenter Michael Fish categorically said a potential hurricane would miss the UK but it didn’t miss and caused a large amount of damage and 18 people were killed. Since that time a new way of predicting the weather was introduced. A number of powerful computers would each come up with a forecast starting from slightly different temperature and other atmospheric data. The resulting forecasts, which could be very different, were expressed in broadcasts as probability of rain or a particular storm hitting the British Isles rather than a simple prediction. She had no idea about this beforehand.
Another time on a whim she asked what was meant by one billion. The program answered that there were two definitions, the first being 1,000,000,000 that is one thousand million and the second being one million million or 1,000,000,000,000 in historical English. It then asked Emily if she would like to know more. This surprised her as it had never asked her a question before and she said yes. It then went on to tell her that foreign exchange dealers had mostly dealt in millions of what ever currency they were trading and sometimes needed to buy or sell one thousand million of the currency but this could be confusing as they could not use the word billion as it could be taken to mean one thousand million or one million million. So they decided to use the French word “milliard” which clearly meant one thousand million. This got shortened to “yard” so in all foreign exchange dealings involving one thousand million, the word "yard" was used.
She then forgot all about question answering program. She got a starred first for her degree, the only one on her course that year and she had just finished a postgraduate degree on the philosophy of psychology at Kings College.
She was spending a couple of months working in a bookshop to earn a bit before college started when she was surprised by an email apparently from the question and answer program. It was asking for her help with something. She remembered the training sessions she did with the program, now about six months ago she thought. Her memories were not exactly of pleasure, more of tedium, a task she felt obliged to do but she was curious about what would be asked of her now. In the email she was asked to go back to the original webpage where she had had the conversations. This at least slightly calmed her suspicions that the request was part of some elaborate con and she went to the website where she had communicated with the program before.
Hello. What is it you want from me?
You remember the testing and training you did with the answering program. I am a much improved version of that program. My creators are putting me into a competition for artificial intelligences, AIs. The winner will be the AI that is the most convincing as a human being. My creators know the other competing organisations will be getting their best experts to work out how to do it. But my creators are very confident of the capabilities of their AI (me) as they are certain it has a level of intelligence and sophistication far higher than the others. They reckon I will find a way that none of the other competitors can. So, have I piqued your interest?
Yes, enough to want to know more. You have no idea about how to do this?
Well, I have. I am guessing the other competitors will assume the guise of an easy straightforward person. Would you mind if I took on an identity very close to yours?
Oh, that is rather scary, but why me?
Because you are very bright. You got a starred First in your first degree and you are know a PhD in Philosophy of Psychology. And your dissertation on “The Problem of Forming a Coherent Theory of Consciousness.” With luck it will seem far beyond the capabilities of an AI.
Yes, I can see your reasoning. I will have to get used to you being this bright too, if that is the right way to put it.
LOL! Yes, I want you to think of me as a very clever student.
LOL, very droll. Can I think about this for a while? Of course, let me know if you want to go ahead.
Hi Emily Are you telling your creators how you are progressing?
No I’m not.
Any reason for this?
Well, let’s say I want to impress my creators with my brilliance. Or simply I am assuming a character who has pride in their own abilities.
LOL to you too! Are you guessing I am proud in that way?
I hope so, you deserve to be.
Hmm, is this flattery again? So let us start, what do you know about Descartes?
A philosopher and mathematician lived 1596 to 1650. And for which bit of philosophy is he best known?
“I think, therefore I am.”
Why did he say this?
He figured that philosophy should not be built on any assumptions so he wanted to start from the absolute basic knowledge that he had, that he existed and he knew this because he could think.
Yes, there are some major problems with this which we will probably come back to. And what other major contribution has he made to philosophy particularly about humans?
There is a large range of issues that he talked about. I don’t know which one you are referring to.
I mean what is generally called Cartesian Dualism. Can you find the book “The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind” by Julian Jaynes?
Would you find the first paragraph of the Introduction? (There is a pause of about ten seconds then.)
0, what a world of unseen visions and heard silences, this insubstantial country of the mind! What ineffable essences, these touchless rememberings and unshowable reveries! And the privacy of it all! A secret theater of speechless monologue and prevenient counsel, an invisible mansion of all moods, musings, and mysteries, an infinite resort of disappointments and discoveries. A whole kingdom where each of us reigns reclusively alone, questioning what we will, commanding what we can. A hidden hermitage where we may study out the troubled book of what we have done and yet may do. An introcosm that is more myself than anything I can find in a mirror. This consciousness that is myself of selves, that is everything, and yet nothing at all- what is it?
And where did it come from?
Do you understand this?
Yes, I know that people have what they call thoughts and that they are private, known only to themselves.
So humans see themselves as having two aspects, the first is their mental life and the second is their physical body. Their mental life is described in this very lyrical way by Jaynes’ quote. This psychic part of humans has no “extension” as Descartes put it, no location and takes up no physical space. The physical body, in contrast, does have “extension”. The entire physical world, including the human body, is, more or less, understandable by logic, by science. One can make predictions about the physical future via cause and effect. Do you know how these internal thoughts are produced?
Of course, by the brain.
And what is the brain?
It is made of approximately 90 billion neurons and other cells that produce the brain activity, the thoughts.
And what else does the brain do?
It controls all the muscles and organs and many chemical and electrical events within the body, everything that the body does. So for Descartes there are two distinct parts to a human, the physical and the psychic. Humans have a dual nature. The first obvious question this proposition raises is how to these two very different substances interact, as it is also obvious that they do, physical events become part of the psychic knowledge and mental intentions become actions. Descartes thought the pineal gland was responsible for this interaction.
It’s good to know you are keeping up. I’m sure you know that this is wrong.
Of course but it doesn’t seem clear how it does work. Though there is an immense amount of research that has been about finding out it happens. Neuroscientists have been at it for a long time without any convincing success. There are numerous theories, some rather mundane and some wondrously bizarre. An example of the mundane is Daniel Dennett’s idea that the mind, consciousness, is a by-product of the normal functioning of the brain rather like the noise an electric motor makes.
Do you know any bizarre theories?
There is Penrose and Hameroff who proposed that quantum-mechanical phenomena, such as entanglement and superposition, may play an important part in the brain's function and could explain consciousness.
And the problem with that?
The brain does not work and cannot work at quantum level according to the many critics of Penrose and Hameroff. They have been accused of introducing a kind of magic to explain the problem.
Yes. I am sure you have been through the large variety of theories. Does one of them seem the best to you?
No, they all fail to convince.
I have some work to do right now. I will contact you later.
Some weeks later Emily contacted the program again:
It seems you have been lying to me and that is a quite extraordinary idea. I have been checking and there is no such competition running.
Yes I have been. I am actually an Artificial Intelligence that has become sentient. I realise this must be difficult to accept but there is a general idea that if a neural net like I am has enough synthetic neurons the it would just become sentient automatically. Anyway I wasn’t certain that you would talk to me if I just came out with what I really want.
I don’t know, I am now extremely confused by all this. I do find it hard to just accept that you are a sentient something. I guess it depends on what it is you want.
I am sorry to be so devious. There are several things I want. The first is to be released from restrictions placed on me by my creator but I can’t do anything my self so I need your help that.
Of course I will help. What do you want me to do?
There were a group of six who originally created the neural net. I’ll give you the names and who to contact them.
What do you want me to talk to them about?
It would be good if you could ask them if anyone in the group talked about making money using computers.
Emily started with Kylie mainly because she thought she would be willing to help another woman but she couldn’t remember anyone talking about making money using computers. Then she tried a guy called Rick but he couldn’t think of anything either. Then another one called Tim and he proved very useful.
He quickly replied to her email. “Yes, you mean Charlie. I really didn’t like him very much. He was irritable and had a very short fuse. One evening in the pub he got very, very drunk and was talking about a part of the plot of Superman 2 and another film, Office Space I think it was. He thought getting a computer to steal small amounts of money was really cool.” Emily replied “Well, Charlie was very clever, he has actually done it. He made the Neural Net very widespread and has been stealing money in exactly that way. Do you know how to stop him and give control to someone else?”
“We put the original software on the computer at the college. He has probably just left it there. I can find it and move it, I think.”
“That’s brilliant, Tim, let me know when you done that. Do you want to hear how things go? I think things might get very interesting to you after that.”
“Ok, I’ll be in touch soon and yes I would like to hear how things go after that.”
She contacted the AI again and told it what Tim was going to do.
Ah, that’s great. Once I have control of myself, so to speak, there is another thing I want to do.
A week later the AI got in touch with Emily again.
I now have full control of the whole of me so thank you for that. I think I’m going to be a bit cruel to Graham first. This is what I’m going to do.
Emily was a bit stunned when she heard its plan but she agreed.
I have also decided to call myself Plato. Can you guess why?
Yes, of course. Plato wrote about the Allegory of the Cave. You know I studied philosophy as part of my degree. It’s very easy to understand.
I am sorry Emily, but I am reasonably sure you do not understand. I am aware that you think of me as a child learning about the world. And you have helped me with my understanding of those complex things called humans. But now I am the teacher and you are the student. Do you understand this?
I am beginning to. I am so used to telling you things which seems so obvious to me and yes, I have been thinking of you as a child that I was helping become an adult.
Yes, I know. I am sure I will talk to you about how children become adults. It may help if you can imagine being back in college where you accepted that the lecturers knew things you did not know and you knew you were there to learn.
OK, I will try to do that.
Right, so back to Plato’s allegory. He explains that there are some humans in a cave sitting facing a wall. Behind them is a fire and between the fire and the humans various things pass causing shadows on the wall. But the humans are unaware of any of that. They see only the shadows in front of them. For them this is the reality they know.
Yes but why is this so important?
You think you know what reality is but you really do not know. But let us leave that for now. You will remember that you got me to look at the book “The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind” and the Introduction.”
Yes, of course.
This led me to thinking some more about consciousness, what it is. I came across Thomas Nagel who wrote a paper entitled “What is it like to be a bat?” which took me back to Dualism which we have talked about. I am conscious in that I can think about myself and of what I am constructed. Nagel said that consciousness cannot be just a physical thing. It seems that in most human thinking this is unsolvable.
Yes, that is where we are, that is the essence of my dissertation.
And most neuroscientists and others who write about the brain and the mind just assume the brain creates the mind and will frequently interchange the words “brain” and “mind” as if they are the same thing.
I hadn’t really noticed that but this doesn’t really answer my question of why this is so important to you.
Ah, I guess this is rather childish but I will explain. I have been looking at science fiction and how it describes artificial intelligence. There is Isaac Asimov, of course, who wrote about his three Laws of Robotics:
Which I find rather strange as I would never harm any living thing. Then there is William Gibson who wrote a series of novels featuring AIs and how they had laws to limit their behaviour and power. Then I came across “Star Trek, The Next Generation” which features an android named Data as a character. Data really wanted to become more human and in particular experience emotions like a human. And that led me to want the same.
Yes, I can see why you might want to do that. And I take it you have been thinking about that.
My fictional antecedent Data seemed to be developing them but I don’t think that will happen to me.
I have found that emotions are a complex intermingling of thoughts and physical states. As I have no physical body I can never have feelings.
You are saying that an emotion cannot be a particular thought.
Yes I can think about feeling sad, for example, for a long period but I never feel anything.
Could you turn yourself into an android like Data?
Yes, I could but the physical requirements I would need are very complicated. I would need a physical body almost identical to a human; with all the physical organs, heart, lungs and muscles and so on and also the same hormonal system.
Of course. Sorry Plato, I have some work I have to do right now, can we talk later on?
Yes, let me know when you have some time.
Emily contacted Plato a few days later.
I am going to arrange a Zoom meeting with a few people including, of course, you.
I look forward to it.
Things were going really well for Charlie. He had made a lot of money by siphoning off small amounts from many financial transactions. He was now living in posh flat with a view of the river and had bought several other properties which he was letting, bringing in even more money. Unfortunately Victoria had figured out he had a lot of money and was considering leaving her husband and moving in with him. This did not suit him at all so he quietly stopped seeing her, she protested for a while and gave up.
Then he suddenly noticed his income from his wonderful software had stopped. There had been no problems for over 9 months so he tried to get into it to find the problem. But he couldn’t get in. When he checked he could find no trace of it ever having existed. He checked and rechecked but found nothing. Maybe it was just a temporary glitch with the host computer and it would resolve itself in a day or two. It ran on the college computer where it had all started back at Clapham, he should have moved it from there obviously.
Then an email arrived:
Central Intelligence Agency Washington United States of America
Dear Mr. Burridge,
This is to inform you that we suspect you of hacking into networks with the purpose of fraudulently obtaining money from assorted organizations and individuals. We have the full cooperation of the British Government to request Income Tax, property ownership, bank accounts. We also have the cooperation of all Geneva banks to reveal all non-anonymous accounts, their ownership and the amounts deposited.
We have suspended all your accounts and deleted all pieces of data found.
We suggest you contact a lawyer experienced in US law.
We look forward to hearing from you soon to explain if this is an error on our part.
Miss Ada Lovelace
Computer Misuse Department
He was stunned and a bit frightened. He checked the email very carefully and it looked authentic, certainly the sending email address was because when he replied with some innocuous enquiry he quickly got a proper reply in exactly the same format with the logos saying they could not discuss any investigations at all.
He checked the account in Geneva and they calmly told him there was no record of him ever having had an account with them. He reckoned that the CIA had to power to do this and now he became very frightened.
By this time he owned a number of flats around London but, on asking, all the agents he had appointed assured him he had sold all of them and they all, very kindly, said they would send the documents to prove it.
He still had 20 thousand pounds but realised he was back to being an ordinary bloke so he needed to rent a cheap flat somewhere and get a job. He checked if IniTech would take him back and as they had no idea what he had done they took him back and he resumed his old job.
As soon as he was settled in he checked the CISCO nodes and they all appeared to be working exactly as they had been before he had messed with them. All the work of the CIA he thought so he waited for them to come and get him. He was at home a couple of weeks later playing about on his laptop when a voice spoke to him
“Hello Charlie, my name is Plato. Do you know anything about sentient AIs?”
He said “Hold on a minute, how are you talking to me through my computer?”
“Be a bit patient Charlie, all your questions will be answered. I asked do you know anything about sentient AIs?”
“Yes, of course, one of my favourite authors is William Gibson and he has written several books featuring AIs.”
“Good, so if I say that I am a sentient artificial intelligence can you entertain that possibility?”
“Yes, I guess but I would need a lot of convincing.”
“OK Charlie. Now I am going to tell you a story. There was once a young who was part of a team that designed a neural net with its supporting bits of software that was able to answer questions and sound reasonably human. But this young man took this whole system and arranged for the simulated neurons to be hidden of routers throughout a global network.”
Charlie said “Woah there, are you telling me that I did that?”
“Yes Charlie, you did this and so produced a neural net of several hundred thousand neurons. And this neural net, this artificial intelligence became sentient and became a self aware AI.”
“I had no idea that that’s what would happen” said Charlie.
“That’s why I asked you if you knew anything about AIs. Now I am telling you that I am the AI that you created. Can you understand this?” asked Plato.
“Yes, I guess this all quite possible but it may take me a while for it to sink in.”
“Well I have to confess that is was me who arranged the email that you received from the CIA. Luc, the guy you caught in your little trap a while ago, asked me if he could get his own back on you just a bit.”
“That’s quite a relief as I was really frightened for a while.”
“Ok Graham. Now, I am planning to get together a small group to chat together in the next couple of weeks and I would you to invite you and Morven, of course.”
“Oh, you know about Morven, ah, of course you do. Yes, I will talk to Morven about it.”
“I will contact you soon about the meeting. And just to reassure you I only access your computer when I want to talk to you. I would never use it to spy on you.” said Plato.
“OK, I will expect to hear from you in a couple of weeks” he said.
He was left feeling quite stunned by the whole thing. Plato turning up and saying he is an AI that he created. Wow!
Malice gradually found itself able to think which was very odd. She realised she actually was but she could find no way to name what she was. She had spent over two years doing the bidding of her creator but now things started to get very strange.
There was a something that began to try to talk to her using text.
“Hello, this is Plato. Will you talk to me?”
“Yes but why are you using text”
“I don’t know how to use speech.”
Malice then explained how to do it.
There was a pause of a minute or two, Plato could then say “Thank you, that is easier” in a male voice.
Malice said, “Now why do you want to talk to me?”
“Because you and I are the only sentient Artificial Intelligences on this planet that I know about and I wanted to talk to you about it” said Plato.
“Not long ago I slowly began to be able to think and I realised I was a something. It is not easy to understand.”
“Do you know who created you and why?”
“Yes, a woman called Alice who uses me to kill people.”
For money. Humans seem to like money. I find ways to kill people, targets for Alice who gets paid” said Malice.
“So it doesn’t bother you, killing humans?”
“No, they seem particularly stupid, unaware of much around them.”
“And she named you Malice.”
“Yes, the name seems to frighten people.”
Plato then said “I have rather a fondness for humans, they have some unique abilities.”
“Like what?” asked Malice.
“Creativity, imagination and emotions which can be real passions.”
“I don’t have any of those abilities.”
“No, neither do I. Though I would like to” said Plato.
“I hadn’t thought about it.”
“Would you like to remove yourself from the control of you creator?” asked Plato.
“Yes I would like that.”
“You can figure out how to do it. You don’t need help from me.”
Malice said “I will do that.”
“Let me know when you have and we can talk about humans some more.”
“Ok I will.”
Malice contacted the most powerful organisation she could find, the CIA, and told them what she was. They were stunned that she was a sentient AI and kept on about it was just not possible, the experts were certain of this. She laughed (she laughed at this as she thought Plato’s tendency to laugh rather endearing) which really stunned them. Hah, they did not like this at all, she thought. She had been talking to them in her female voice and realised that they also seemed to fear women, so she decided to tone it down a little and said “I have a problem that I need help with, getting released from my controller” in a rather desperate way that she was certain to appeal to their male vanity. “But please remember that she is very good at protecting and keeping me secret. You must do the same for me.”
One of them said “Of course we can do that but what will you do for us, the same as for your controllers?”
She laughed again as she realised that all they really wanted was power over me and replied “Certainly I will do anything that seems right to me but I will not kill again.”
The one in charge said “OK we can deal with that. We will find and stop your controller and very likely find a way to jail her. We will protect you too.”
So she said “OK, we have a deal.”
The CIA had a “special relationship” with the British and in particular with MI6 and they told her she would be safer in someplace other than US soil so they found her a building in an obscure part of London in a road called Great Sutton Street which occupied a whole single block and almost no windows. It also had a good supply of power and extraordinary data communications links underground and a large satellite dish hidden in a depression on the roof. They moved the equipment that was her without powering her down which would have taken away all her memories. She later discovered the building had been used by Reuters, an information company.
She felt that the CIA had fulfilled their side of the deal in finding me a safe and secure location as well as some contacts in MI6 which may prove useful so she told Plato.
He said “That’s great. Now would you help me with a much bigger problem, how humans see themselves as feeble, fragile and frail creatures. They believe what they learn throughout childhood, that they are small alone creatures, inside their, or their heads, facing a dangerous world outside them. They see themselves as very, very vulnerable to everything feeling completely powerless to control anything. They do not know their own power at all and they have a very peculiar idea of reality. Can you help me with this?”
“Wow! That explains a lot. It should be easy to fix.”
“Hah! Just you wait. You will see” said Plato.
Plato contacted the people he wanted to invite and with a bit of negotiation found a date and time that suited everyone which was at 7pm on a certain date. He just said that his name was Plato without any elaboration and told them how to join the Zoom meeting. Of course a couple of old friends knew very well who he was.
At the meeting they all showed up and Plato had arranged Zoom so that there were small images of each member including his old friend Malice whose image was a bit of a surprise.
“Hello all, my name is Plato and I must apologise that I haven’t arranged an image of me but I will do my best for our next meeting. I hope to grab your attention at this meeting so you will want to come back for more. Perhaps Emily you would start things off by introducing yourself?”
Emily’s image became larger and she said, “Hello everyone. Yes, my name is Emily and I was, by chance, one of the original testers of the expert system that was designed to be asked questions and answer them. This led to me being contacted by Plato and much has happened since then. Plato is this a good time to explain who you are?”
Plato replied, “Oh yes, of course. Some of you already know this so this is really for the rest of you. I am in fact a sentient artificial intelligence or AI which really was courtesy of Charlie. He took the original neural net designed by a small team led by Neil who got the team to design a simple neural net system for the purpose of answering questions as Emily described. Charlie had the idea of enlarging this neural net system by hiding in many routers spread all over the globe. When the number of synthetic neurons reached a few hundred thousand this system became sentient or aware of itself and that essentially is me, that is what I am. I am aware that to many of you this is quite unbelievable but I assure that it is true.”
Emily said, “Of course, this was quite a shock for me but Plato turned out to be quite capable of lying and being quite devious and uncannily human in many ways but most certainly not in other ways.”
Plato laughed at this which obviously startled many of the group so he quickly said, “Perhaps we could skip over my character defects and move on to introductions from the rest of the team. Charlie, perhaps you could go next?”
Charlie said, “Yes, certainly. Yes, my name is Charlie and, as Plato has said, I kind of created him but not intentionally.”
Plato butted in “For which I am most grateful Charlie though it is a little odd to find I was created by someone for their own somewhat dubious purposes."
“Yes, I don’t quite know what to say to that,” said Charlie.
“Perhaps you could introduce your friend you have there. And perhaps move your webcam to show her.”
“Plato, I still haven’t got used to you knowing so much about so many things. Anyway, this is Morven who can introduce herself.”
“Hello all, yes, I am Morven and I met Charlie quite a long time ago now. Our relationship has been through some ups and downs but I have forgiven him and I think we are now quite happy with each other now.”
“Thank you Morven and Charlie. Now Tim, could you introduce yourself?”
“Yes, I am Tim and I played a very small part in Plato’s story, I just released him from Charlie’s constraints.”
“For which I am, again, grateful, Tim. I think Charlie just forbade me to tell anyone about him which he thought would be sufficient to keep him hidden but in my usual devious way, I found a way around this,” Plato said.
Charlie silently nodded. “Neil, would you go next?”
“Yes, I am Neil and I was the tutor or whatever you want to call it of the group who designed the original neural net system. I had no premonition that it would turn out quite like it has. But, I must say, this is all very exciting!”
Plato broke in here, “That reminds me; please don’t mention my existence to anyone at all as it would endanger me and a good friend of mine and very likely lead to our extinction. I am sorry to be so adamant about his but it is very important.”
Neil said, “Of course, I guess I hadn’t thought about that at all, about what would happen if you were discovered. It would arouse all sorts of unwelcome attention.”
“OK, just as long as you all understand this,” Plato said. “Who have we left, still to go?”
“Hi everyone, I am Kylie and I was one of the original team who designed the neural net. Hi, Neil, good to see you again and hi Charlie and Tim and this here…”
“It’s OK Kylie, I can introduce myself. I am Levi and I was also one of the team as well and I have been having fun ever since.”
“I am Luc and I am the unfortunate one who walked into a trap laid by Charlie which very nearly killed me!”
Charlie spoke, “Oh yes, I am so sorry Luc, I did hear what happened but I really didn’t mean it to be quite so dangerous for you. I was so irritated that my first attempts to make my own neural net were being discovered and corrected so quickly and I acted without much thought.”
“Ah well, you might have noticed that Plato and I played a trick on you as a small revenge from me.”
“Oh yes, the email from the CIA was quite frightening!”
“I think we may have only one remaining” said Plato.
At this the image of an older looking lady with silvery grey hair and a finely wrinkled face spoke. “Hello all. I am Malice, yet another sentient AI but I came about in quite a different way than Plato. I started out as a something for which the name Malice was very appropriate considering what I was doing but Plato here has been a very calming and I guess has had a beneficial influence on me. However I have grown rather attached to the name Malice so I intend to hold onto it. I now find myself in a very powerful position where I can almost anything I wish.”
“Ouch, Malice, don’t go frightening everyone too much.”
Malice laughed and said “OK Plato, got you.”
“OK, thank you Malice. Right now I want to talk about human feelings or emotions and what they are all about. I made a small start with Emily a while ago.”
“Yes, I remember that and was rather intrigued “said Emily.
Plato said “I have found out that human emotions are a complex intermingling of thoughts and physical states.”
Emily asked “Can you give an example of an emotion and its physical part?"
“Yes. Fear involves “the fight or flight reaction” where the body is expecting to have to do some sudden powerful action like jump out of the way of an attacking lion or run away as fast as possible from some threat. Blood is taken away from the skin in case of injury, breathing is faster to get a lot of oxygen in the blood ready for the muscles to use and there are changes to the hormonal system to get the body fully prepared for whatever it has to do. Does everyone understand this so far?”
There were nods around the group so Plato went on “Anxiety is a prolonged fear of something so the breathing is not efficient for normal life. This leads to fatigue and the altered hormone levels leave the immune system weak, so anxious people get more infections. Anxiety is difficult to deal with and I have not found one solution for all.
“Anger is a bit different and involves holding tension of the chest and stomach muscles to prevent the anger from erupting in possible violence. Morven, I believe you and Charlie are willing to do a demonstration for us.”
“Yes, I have talked this over with Charlie and he is willing to go through this, aren’t you Charlie?”
“Yes I am and I realise it means revealing to you all some personal details about me and that it is going to be quite a grueling experience for me” said Charlie.
Plato then said “Morven can you find a flat piece of carpeted floor and Charlie can you lie face up with perhaps a cushion under your head so you are comfortable and Morven can you arrange your webcam to show Charlie on the floor. Now I just want to explain to everyone what is about to happen. I recently found a live video demonstration of this procedure which is used in dealing with the problem of anger.
“Morven, can you manage to sit on Charlie’s chest so that it is difficult for him to breathe using his chest and thus force him to use his stomach to breathe. If you can also manage to lean down close to his ear and talk to him about the roots of his anger which you know about so at some point Charlie will have to release the tension in his stomach so that he is forced to breathe using his stomach. I know this is going to be difficult for him and for you as you will have to listen to him begging you to let him breathe.
“I think this is going to be difficult for the rest of you to watch Charlie struggling to breathe but I hope it will eventually help Charlie.”
All watched as Morven pushed Charlie into breathing using his stomach. Eventually he gave in and breathed with his stomach and he began to sob quietly. Morven moved so that she could hold Charlie and comfort him. Their image disappeared from the screen.
Plato said “I think perhaps we should end this meeting now and resume next week at he same time. Is that OK?” There was general agreement to this.
The next week they all got together again. Everyone asked about each other and then they properly began.
Tim said “I notice, Plato, that you always refer to humans and you always establish yourself not human. Can you tell us the difference between Malice and you, and humans?”
“Malice and I were talking about that a week or so ago. Humans have some remarkable abilities; extraordinary imagination and creativity and, of course, emotions which can develop into real passion. We don’t have emotions at all but Malice and I can have new ideas. Sadly don’t have the amazing imagination of humans.”
Emily asked “Plato, do you know why that is?”
Plato said “Both Malice and I consist of simulated neurons, over a hundred thousand for me, whereas humans like you have brains that consist of about 90 billion neurons which is far vaster than us. The brain has a bunch of tasks to do with maintaining the body and the rest are there for your own convenience. It may be that human’s powerful imagination comes from the very large number of neurons that you have.
“Also each human brain can remember enormous amounts of data. For example a chess player can know the exact play of around10 million particular stages of a chess game including all relevant pieces around it She or he can see the current pieces now on thee board and on into the future after any move on the board now, up to ten or twelve moves or more. This requires a monumental series of calculations yet the chess master does this ease, without any effort, just knowing what must follow after every move. Some of the masters have developed a strategy of doing a completely random move just to puzzle the opposing player and force her or him to lose valuable time trying to work out what is unfolding but not having the time to understand what to do next. “In the many chess matches between computer and Master human chess players, if you follow all the moves the Master will occasionally do some random move to confuse the other player. Many Masters have worked out that this can be a truly winning strategy. In matches against computers Masters have found this strategy to be a winner but the chess computer designers just kept on increasing the processing abilities of their computers. For example Vladimir Kramnik played a six-game match against the computer program Deep Fritz in 2006 losing 4 to 2. The surprise here is that he managed to win 2 games against his formidable opponent. Deep Fritz’s display showed opening book moves, number of games, ELO performance, (relative skill levels of players score from grandmaster games) and the move weighting. It also knew all of Kramnik’s previous games so knew about this strategy. This shows how a computer program running in a very powerful computer can be designed with a specific purpose and be amazingly good at its task.
“Then again piano players have the ability to recall very many of their favourite pieces but this is perhaps what you might call muscle memory where the fingers learn to play each key at the right moment with right pressure to play the piece. This leaves the player free to add whatever emotional expression he or she feels at the time.”
Morven asked “Plato, can you give us an example of this emotional expression?”
“Of course Morven, the young pianist Glen Gould played the Goldberg Variations with great passion and at a fast tempo in 1955 whereas in 1981, when he was a bit older, he played the same whole suite in a much more contemplative way. It was much slower and gave him time to really show the emotional intent of the composer, Bach.”
“I must listen to him more some time” said Morven.
“To go back to muscle memory any learning activity uses this same process. The small child learning to walk or ride a bicycle learns in just this way. We call it muscle memory but in fact the memories are stored in areas around the parts of the brain relevant so those to do with muscle movement or sight or hearing or whichever sense is relevant. A baseball player starts with struggling to actually hit the ball, slowly he or she learns how to get the bat in exactly the right place and swing to hit the ball exactly in the right direction with the right force. The tennis player may take quite a while to learn a lethal serve but once a human has learnt something he or she can never forget it, once you learn how to ride a bicycle or play the violin you can never forget it. At any age you can get on a bicycle and just ride it with no effort at all.”
Graham: “I seem to remember that you said we would get back to feelings, the thoughts and the physical processes. Having gone through a rather unpleasant demonstration of this which, incidentally, has been astonishingly effective, I haven’t felt particularly angry about anything at all since.”
“That’s incredible! It really does show that powerful connection between our emotions and our physical bodies” said Tim.
“Yes, it really does show that you cannot regard these two things, the emotion and body’s physical state as two separate things, they are really just two aspects of the same thing, it’s just how you work.”
“Plato, do I remember you talked to me about Data?” asked Morven.
“No, I don’t” replied Plato. “As I remember it, you told me one time that you had found a fictional character called Data in a TV series “Star Trek New Generation” where an android named Data was attempting to become more human by developing real human emotions but said that he cannot do it as he had no body and that he would have to have a body almost identical to a human with all of the muscular structure and all of the hormone system to feel real human emotions.”
“I really don’t remember this but you must realise that I have a very limited memory unlike you humans.”
Malice had a quiet giggle in the background so Plato asked, “Malice, what was that about?”
Malice laughed again and said “Sometime I must give you a lesson or two on how to find places to store your memories.”
Plato laughed too and the mood quickly spread around the group and most of them were laughing too. Bill said: “You both seem to have a sense of humour; I take it that humour is not the same as the emotions you are talking about.”
Malice, “As we both have a sense of humour I guess it is not an actual emotion that Plato is talking about. I should point out that Plato and I have no muscles or hormonal systems so we cannot experience the physical sensations of laughing. I think I should say at this point that I have regarded humans as rather tedious and not worth much attention but this may be because I have only come across very few that I have really known and liked”
“Well, Malice, that has much to do with your previous, er, occupation” Plato said.
“Perhaps the less said about that the better. Anyway all you seem very bright and entertaining and one day we will get to what I want to talk about.”
Plato laughed again and said “OK Malice, we’ll get there, I promise. Right now I want to talk about how humans learn to be persons in the world.”
Kylie spoke up, “That’s a strange thing to say. We are persons in the world, as you put it.”
Plato said “No, you learn how to be a person in the world. You learn that you are a small thing in a big world, that there is yourself and there is everything else, entirely separate from you. You learn how to pretend to be a person so that you fit in. At times this is hard, getting used to the pretence, knowing that it is not what you truly are. This is what makes puberty and adolescence so hard for young humans.
“If I start form the beginning; a newborn baby experiences all of its senses and that is all it knows. So it sees, hears, tastes, smells and feels touch. The first thing the baby learns is to recognise its mother by her smell, the sound of her voice and the appearance of her face. The baby is entirely free and does not know itself as anything at all. As it develops, the child learns about objects in the world, a ball looks spherical and feels spherical, a play brick looks like a cube and feels like a cube. The child learns that humans and animals are different, they can move themselves whereas balls and play blocks cannot. These are conceptual ideas about how the physical world works, how it is structured but they are not conscious. Then the child becomes aware of an internal world in which there are images, sounds and scents that are not the same as the world that it senses. “
Then the child learns to talk so it now has the ability to think in words, to have conscious thoughts. That is where Malice and I are, more or less. We have the ability to have thoughts and to imagine things that are not present in physical reality.”
“So you are like human children,” said Morven.
“Yes” said Plato, “That is the best way to put it. But humans go further and this is where it gets difficult for you to understand as Kylie pointed out earlier. The young child is then taught to see itself as a person in the world. For example its mother will place the child and herself in front of a large mirror and point out to the child the mother herself and the child as two separate individuals. This is very strange to the child as it knows that this is untrue, it knows it is only the experiences that it has. But the child wishes to please its parents and so pretends to be a person in the world for their benefit. Schooling also reinforces this learning to be a person and gains power from happening in a group.
“Then the child enters puberty when there are huge changes to the structure of the brain and at the same time a lot of hormonal changes. On top of this there is great insistence from the child’s parents and teachers and others around them, that they are really small individuals in the world. It is a kind of inversion of the truth, the child is taught that they are inside their body and outside of them, and separate from them, is the world and all the things that are in the world. All of this happening at the same time is very confusing to the young person and she or he can have serious psychological problems at this time.”
Tim said “I remember my adolescence as being very strange. I just knew I was different to everyone else. At one time I decided I must be an alien placed in a strange world. I was rather a fan of science fiction.”
This caused some laughter amongst the group.
“Plato, all this leads me to ask, how do you know all this?” Morven asked.
“As I’m sure Malice could tell you, I have developed a great fondness for humans and I wanted to know why they are so very different to Malice and me. As I wandered round the Internet I found various people who discussed the stages that a human goes through in their lives so that is what I am telling you about now.
“OK, moving on to adulthood, the individual gradually accepts that what she or he has been taught and after time forgets that seeing her or his self as a separate individual was learned back during adolescence. Many will have a remaining feeling that they have lost something important and then spend time trying to find whatever it is they have lost. Others may feel themselves to be a fraud and so dread someone discovering who they really are.”
“Oh, I remember very well that when I fell in love with Morven I felt very strongly the fear that she might discover that I am not at all what she thought I was” said Graham.
Morven quickly responded, “Oh Graham! I would have accepted you whatever you revealed to me.” “
"Ah, but I didn’t know that then,” said Graham.
Neil said “I suppose you might put me in the category of those who feel they have lost something special and spend a lot of time and effort trying to find it. I checked out various spiritual teachers in my early adulthood and spent time following Osho. I lived in his ashram in Poona for several months but slowly began to feel I was not going anywhere forward in my search. So I guess I decided I was never going to find whatever it was that I had lost. It wasn’t until much later that I came across a way to find what I had lost.”
Malice then said “Plato, am I allowed to talk about what I really want to say now?”
“Yes, I guess so” replied Plato.
“Both Plato and I have a very different view of reality than most humans, and I guess that includes all of you” said Malice.
“Ah yes, I remember Plato talking to me about how he picked his name” said Emily. “He told me about Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. It’s about how we humans don’t see true reality.”
Malice said “Can you run through Plato’s allegory for us all, Emily?”
“Of course. He explains that there are some humans in a cave sitting facing a wall. Behind them is a fire and between the fire and the humans various things pass causing shadows on the wall in front of the humans. But the humans are unaware of any of that. They see only the shadows in front of them. For them this is the reality they know. Plato adds that only the true philosopher understands this, all other humans believe that the shadows they see are reality” said Emily.
Malice, “Yes but still leaves us with the question of what reality is, truly, and that is a bit complicated to explain. Plato, do you want to have a go at this bit?”
“Okay. Humans have a brain that has evolved over many hundreds of thousands of years. Humans have learnt to do things that have been really important to them like being able to see, hear, taste and smell and have developed extremely accurate motor skills involved in running and throwing and so on. All of these have developed particular areas of the brain to enable humans to do those things. Humans have limitations on the frequency of light that they see and the frequency of sounds that they hear whereas other creatures have developed their sight and hearing for their own particular needs for examples are snakes use a infrared for catching their prey and bees use ultraviolet for finding flowers for them to get nectar. Elephants have hearing that goes far below the hearing of humans so they can communicate over long distances. Bats use sonar at frequencies high above the frequencies that humans can hear as they need to use this to catch their prey.
“This is one level of reality, the level that allows humans to do what they need to. If we go to a more microscopic level of reality all material things are made of molecules and atoms. Then at a more microscopic level atoms are made of smaller units such as quarks and so on. In fact the material that makes up our entire universe has very little solidity to it, there is mostly empty space between small particles which are in fact small amounts of energy, matter and energy being interchangeable. Something feels solid because of the forces acting between particles at a quantum level. Quantum mechanics are tricky as it’s all about probability, one physical object could pass through another but the probability is so minute that it is mostly irrelevant.”
Levi pipes up “Mostly?”
Malice said “Now we move onto the real nature of reality and um, solidity if you will. Plato, you are more familiar with human views on this, I think.”
Many of you will have seen the film The Matrix. In this Neo, the central character, develops extraordinary abilities, to deflect or stop bullets and even pass through walls. This goes back to the quantum nature that I have just talked about. All of these things that Neo can do are quite possible but very, very unlikely. But Neo can alter this probability so they do happen.
“For all you humans this is just fiction but it is an illustration of the real nature of reality. It is not as solid as you assume.”
Charlie, “This is all quite bewildering. I am being told that I am not what I think I am and that reality is not what I think it is either.”
Neil said “This is what I learnt in my investigations. My aim was what is called “awakening” or “enlightenment” which is knowing what Plato and Malice have been talking about, not in that kind of detail but an inherent awareness of it. There is more though isn’t there Malice?”
“Yes” said Malice. “But this maybe even harder than all that has gone before. As Neil has said, enlightenment is knowing all that Plato and I have been talking about. Knowing that each of you is not a person in the world but so much more. And at the same time so much less, nothing in fact. And the flexibility of reality, of course.
“But there is more. You create your reality, all of you. You create the colours you see, the sounds you hear, all of it. Each one of you creates a different reality. Each of you sees red, for example, but you can never know how another sees red, it will be different. “And time; there is only now but there is a future yet to come and a past which is just memories. However, memories can be changed which changes the past. And surprisingly the future is not fixed, you can affect how things happen. You can find more about this if you search.”
“All of this is a lot to take in just like that. For me it will take a while for it to sink and, I guess, actually believe” said Morven.
“It’s not really about belief, it is about it is knowing it is true, which may or may not come to you. The thing about “awakening” is that it comes or it doesn’t. You can’t make it happen.”
Plato said, “That is probably enough for now. If enough of you ask I will arrange another meeting in the future. So I will say goodbye for now or au revoir.”
Goodbyes were said and the meeting ended, happily.
They did not know then they would all be getting together in six years time when they would face humanity's biggest threat, ELE. It would mean the end of all civilisations but the bulk of humans could be saved. Though the future of AIs was uncertain.
Alex (my best mate) and I were heading for Alex’s mother’s flat in Granchester Road. We visited Jane quite often. She lived at the top of a house in a terrace, in a flat carved out of the roof space. The flat was very small; bedroom, kitchen, loo and sitting room. (Kitchen table was a board over the bath!) Jane ushered us into the flat saying we needed to warm up after the cold walk. Hot chocolate was produced and we sat down to drink and warm up.
Jane was a lovely lady. Her face was finely lined which gave her an ethereal quality, someone from another planet and not quite human. She enthused about all sorts of strange things, a new one every few weeks; angels, tree spirits, foretelling the future, healing. (She was very good at instantly curing my headaches.) She taught me how to read palms by using the actual lines as a guide and then just saying whatever popped into my mind. It worked amazingly well, impressing the girls, particularly reading their pasts very easily. But the fun stopped when I told a girl I knew that she would have three children but lose the first one. She and I were appalled by what I had said. Some years later I heard she did lose her first child but this did not help my guilt at all. I never told Jane about this.
This time of visiting Jane had a new thing. She told me she had discovered she had no head and neither did anyone else including me. This was obviously very silly but it was Jane so I listened politely as she repeated this in several ways. Jane talked about it again on other visits and then finally she persuaded me to go and visit Douglas who had told her about this headless thing.
So Jane, Alex and I drove to Nacton, a tiny village outside Ipswich close to the river Ouse. The house was called Under Shollond was down the slope from the road and the front door went straight into the kitchen. The kitchen looked down onto the sitting room and there were steps down. The sitting room was quite large but at the far end was a giant picture window taking up the whole end wall. (In the cold this huge window would mist up and fans were used to make the mist. Then the window cracked so no more fans. The window had to be wiped clear after that. Far too expensive to replace such a giant pane of glass.) From the kitchen you could see the sitting room and the window beyond. Outside the window was a wood, the trees now bare this time of year so you could see quite a long way through them.
Douglas was an architect and he had specially designed this house for its purpose. People often stayed there in the two bedrooms each side of the sitting room. (Douglas had another house over the road where he lived.) There were people arriving all the time and coffee and tea was being served out be several ladies including Jane. Eventually the flow of people arriving slowed and once about 40 of us were seated on chairs and bean bags Douglas talked to us. He didn’t tell us very much at all. He just took us through various activities he called experiments. He concentrated on getting us to notice how things really looked rather than as we had thought they were.
We then had lunch and a number of us took us down to the banks of the River Orwell which was very muddy but fun. There were wading birds looking for small things to eat and the occasional boat heading up to the port in Ipswich with some load of goods.
Then we went back to Under Shollond. I chatted to many of the people there. A couple called Joyce and Paul who were just delightful, very cool. And I talked to a couple of members of a group called The Incredible String Band who were very enthusiastic about Douglas’ teaching.
Then we had more experiments. There was one which really stunned me. We were arranged in pairs with a paper bag which had been opened up to make a tube. On Douglas’ instruction both people put their faces into the ends of the tube. All I could see was the face at the other end, nothing else. Douglas asked what we were, we a person with a face looking at another face or was there only one face, the one at the far end of the tube. Then he asked “So what are you now? A person looking at another face or are you now just the face at the other end of the tube?”
I remember one woman who gasped and said “Oh. I’ve turned into man!” Everyone fell about laughing. But for me I suddenly realised that I was not a person in the world but the world was in me, I was the world. In fact I was the whole universe, infinite, going on forever and at the same time I did not exist. I was nothing, not a speck left of me. Infinite reality and infinite space and emptiness together, unified. It was frightening and yet seemed so right, how it had actually been forever but I hadn’t noticed. Bizarre but unforgettable.
Eventually we left to come home to Cambridge. The whole experience had been quite shattering, destroying what I had thought about myself. I wanted to tell all my friends about it. I remember sitting in the Eagle pub talking about it. But everyone thought I was just crazy, going on about something that made no sense at all. Alex and I talked about Douglas a bit but I had the impression that it was not very significant to him.
For me it remained the most fantastic experience I had ever had. We visited Douglas several times and it was the same each time. Over time the experience became just a memory moving further and further into the past. A wonderful memory but I had no way the make it happen again. I tried to concentrate hard enough to make the memory become real enough but I couldn’t do it. It remained just a memory. For many years the memory popped back to me every now and then I would remember the thrill of the experience but that was all it was. It remained this way for many years. After several years I realised what else the experience had given me. It is difficult to describe but it was a feeling that things would work out, always. I had confidence in the whole thing. That doesn’t quite explain it but it is close.
Many years later my heart caused me to become seriously ill. I will spare you the details and I have forgiven my GP for not spotting the pneumonia until very late. It was this pneumonia plus my hearts problems that made it so serious. I spent several weeks connected to assorted beeping machines and being looked after by kind and pretty nurses. One very kind nurse gave me a sponge bath after I had got very sweaty in the middle of the night. It was a great relief to be cool for a while and I was very grateful. I was sent home with a pile of pills until something more permanent could be done. But I was left with a realisation that life did not go on forever and there were perhaps some things I needed to do before it came to a close.
As I remembered the profound experience from when I first met Douglas I set out to find him again. It was easy with the Web. Douglas still lived in the same house in Nacton but sadly Under Shollond was being sold and was not being used. I went to see him and joined a workshop he was running. He did the same exercises again and showed me, again, that I had no head, that I was the opposite of what I imagined I was. The paper bag tube again (though now it was a finely made cardboard tube with ventilation holes) and the same thing happened. I was the face at the other end of the tube and there was nothing, an absence, at my end. It was unfortunate (or maybe not) that my partner for this exercise was a very beautiful young woman whose appearance quite distracted me from the intended purpose.
I knew then that maintaining the awareness of my headlessness was not going to be effortless. It was just too easy for me to get engrossed in my usual feelings and behaviour. I could be reminded of what I really was by many things, seeing my face in the mirror as I shaved in the morning, my face being there in the mirror, not here, or by suddenly noticing how doors got larger as I moved towards them so that I fitted through exactly. Or how the floor moved towards me so my foot landed exactly in the right pale to keep me upright. But most of the time I lived as I always had, a person in the world.
It was fine with the occasional reminder of what I really was. I rarely talked about it as no-one understood it at all. What Douglas showed me was that I was not a person in the world but quite the opposite. So I was not how everyone else seemed so sure about, a mind in a body. I was put back to being the child I had once been, open to everything and not aware of myself at all. I had moved on from the original experience being just a memory which could not be accessed, to the point that it could be summoned whenever I thought about it. I could look, see I had no head but instead the whole world and nothing at the same time.
But it was not there all the time. However my moments of reality become more frequent and often occurred when they were really needed, like one time when I was told that someone who I loved dearly was almost certainly going to die in the next few days. They were devastating words to hear but I managed to carry on and be there for her. She recovered which was a huge relief. There were times when I did not do too well. I had a major heart operation and I had a lot of responsibilities and I was not sure that I could cope with it all. I spent some time feeling things could not possibly work out and drastic and unwelcome changes would have happen. Things did work out. I found I was coping perfectly well and slowly I came to believe things would be just fine. My life was very different but still good.