day #7

(11/08/06) It turned to face me as I stopped, and I was able to get a better look at it in the light. Its skin was a transluscent, glistening gray, only partly obscuring an array of countless sensors and wires beneath the surface. Its face was covered in a similar film, but thinner, allowing more of the inner workings to show. Bare strands of metal lined the face in place of muscles, and its eyes were glass globes fitted with camera-like apertures in place of pupils. It looked at me, almost sadly, and asked, "am I no different from these creatures?" "No, you're nothing like them. They're beautiful works of art, but you're alive. You can think." "Am I?" "Well, yes. You're self-sufficient. You can move around and act of your own accord, and respond to external stimuli." "But I can't reproduce. Isn't that the most basic requirement of life?" "Certainly not. There exist a plenitude of sterile creatures in the world, either by accident or by design, that are definitely alive. Hybrids like donkeys will never reproduce, but they're alive. Worker ants can't reproduce, either, but they are alive as well." "But they descended from other living things. I was created." "Isn't the fact that you're asking me these questions proof enough? You're not clockwork. You're a completely self-contained, complex autonomous system no different from me. And you're intelligent enough to question your own meaning." "Is that enough?" "I don't know. I think it is. But I think this is a conclusion you're going to have to come to on your own. I can help, but it's ultimately up to you." When I awoke that day, I was almost disappointed with myself. I mean, seriously. What does it mean to be alive? What does it mean to be human? These were some of the most basic questions of sci-fi. They were cliché. Why'd I have to go and waste my sleep time on such trivialities? Because it was important to me, obviously. These were important issues; just because they've been covered before in countless pulp stories doesn't mean they're not. And though I've pretty much made up my own mind about it, I am trying to create something that can think for itself. And if I do somehow succeed in creating a human-level intelligence, these questions are surely going to be important to it. And no amount of telling it, "oh, that's been done before" is going to make it any less real.
That said, I didn't have any solution. It would have to be a problem I faced when I came to it. I had no idea what form the question might take, and no sense of... the personality of the robot to take into account in dealing with it. I had the sense that the librarian at the library was getting sick of me, so I decided to head to the coffee shop after work instead. And, to be honest, it had been almost a week since I'd gone and I was curious what Joseph was up to. He wasn't there when I arrived, so I sat down and started jotting down pseudo-code for a brain. When my first cup of coffee was starting to get cold, he showed up. Looking a bit more haggard than usual, he said, "Hi, Cadmilus." "Hey, Joe. Have you been getting enough sleep?" He laughed nervously, "Hardly any. Is it really that obvious?" "Yeah, it is. What's up?" "I think I've hit on something. These guys, you know how their whole raison d'être is to achieve enlightenment or whatever by blotting out the conscious mind and allowing the dreaming mind to interact with the physical world, right? Sorta like sleepwalking." "Yeah." "Well, based on what I've read, I think that the inverse might be possible, too." "The inverse?" "I think it's possible for the physical body to enter the dream realm." "Okay, yeah. You're insane. You know I'm a staunch materialist. This is nonsense." "No, no. That's fine. You don't have to think of it as literally entering another world. Think of it as... how can I put it? It's like lucid dreaming, except on steroids. That's just your conscious mind controlling your dreams. This, you'd retain full control of your physical body and all your senses." "That sounds a little more sensible. But I'm still a bit confused. What exactly does that mean?" "Well, it's similar to what they're doing. Their perception of reality is altered by their subconscious, dreaming mind, and that's what dictates their behavior. So they still go about their daily business, but like they're in a dream. Because they /are/ dreaming. This would be the same, but you don't have to submit to your subconscious. You'd be in complete control." "Alright, maybe you're not insane, but I still think you're crazy. And this is still worrying. It sounds like it could be dangerous." "I know, I know. I haven't tried anything yet; don't worry. If I do, I want to make sure I believe it's safe before I attempt it. I want to make sure I can 'turn it off,' as it were. But anyways, enough about me. How're you coming along?" "I don't know... I'm still a little worried. You don't look well. But alright. It's coming along well. The design's solid enough that I think I can start building prototypes soon. The main hurdle is still the central nervous system – especially the brain." "Cool." "And I had another dream about it, last night." "I'm not surprised. Tell me about it." So I told him about the garden, and the automatons that populated it. "And I saw the robot there, too. And I got a better look at it this time; I even got some ideas for the design from it. And it asked me if it was any different from the other creatures in the garden, and it asked me if it was alive." "Ah, interesting. I don't suppose there was a single large tree in the center of the garden, was there?" I couldn't remember if I saw one or not. I replied, "I don't know. There could have been. Why?" "The garden sounded like the garden of Eden. Which makes sense; the rulers you mentioned that had these sorts of gardens built often had them patterned after the garden of Eden. So what did you tell it?" "I said it was. Heh, I said that it should be enough that it was like me." "In your own image, as it were." "Not in so many words, but yeah." "What's the robot going to look like?" "Well, the design so far is purely functional, not aesthetic. Although I did think about what we were talking about before, and decided that it should be roughly human adult-sized. The skin is going to be slightly transparent, not opaque. That will make it a little easier to locate & rectify any subcutaneous problems that emerge." "Male or female?" "Since it's not going to need or have any reproductive organs, I'm going to stay away from any sex-specific anatomy. So pretty much androgynous." "Makes sense. But sex (or perceived sex) is another thing that you shouldn't write off so quickly. Whether people perceive it as being 'male' or 'female' will affect how they interact with it. It may well be that you don't want to bias people's interactions one way or the other, but an undefined gender introduces its own set of problems." "Come on, as if I don't have enough to worry about. But it is something I'll think about. I doubt I'll end up assigning it a sex, in the end, though it's not something I should blindly ignore." "Right. Especially because you have, not only other people's perception of it to consider, but the fact that it will develop a self-image based partly on how people interact with it. Speaking of which, do you have any ideas on the design of the brain?" "Not a whole lot yet, to be honest. The literature on the subject is really dense, and still there's a lot even the experts in the field don't understand. Which makes my task of understanding what's written on it all the more difficult. But I have decided I am most likely going to do most of the work in software." "Probably a good idea. Do you think that'll affect the performance at all?" "Maybe a little bit, but not enough to be a factor in the decision. The programming's going to be done on embedded, special-purpose chips, so it amounts to as if I was doing it in hardware." "Ahh, good. Well, it's getting sorta late. ... Okay, maybe not so late but I haven't slept much and I'm exhausted. Keep me updated on how things are going." "Sure thing. And hey, be careful with what you're doing, okay?" "I will." Modeling an adult human brain was far too much for me. I began, then, looking into embryology for guidance. If I could somehow grow the brain from simpler parts, my task would be easier. And I didn't want to replicate the anatomy of the brain itself, I wanted to replicate behavior. The closer I got to doing so, the closer the resultant anatomy should resemble human biology. Maybe. There was always the chance that I'd hit on something structurally very different, but similar in function. total 9092 words that's 1575 words for the day. Not bad for a full work-day. Of course, I should be at 13328. I should probably go back & "fix" the day #s. Since it's actually the 8th, now.