A small robot gains the ability of human cognition.
|Week Pair 105, 2019
I can tie a shoe. I can make a sail, a shoe, a strand.
I can see the existence of bugs. Bark exists, bells exist, barracudas exist, and shoes.
I can tie a shoe. I can make a home, a house, a holding cell.
I can make an origami crab and a wooden chair.
I can see the existence of bugs. People exist, parsnip exists, shoes, and Piranha exist.
I can tie a knot. I can hold a knife, a knot, a piece of knowledge. I can tie a shoe and a knot.
I can see the existence of bats. Bugs exist, birds exist, and shoes.
I can tie a shoe. I can make a sail, a shoe, a strand.
It was Wednesday. The machine wondered what that man was doing. It was shady, what that man was doing over there. There was something wrong about it. The man’s behavior, it wasn’t normal. It sparked a jolt in the machine’s mind. A little flag. A little red one with a small little skull. Danger. The man rustled around, picking up things and placing them elsewhere. The machine was multi-tasking, thinking about worlds, and space, and the bug it saw. There was thinking about the man, and there was thinking about what the man was doing. The machine was small, no bigger than an ancient VCR. It was blue, and it was rusty, and it had been so curiously nicknamed The Poet.
A long time ago, roughly before last Monday, everything was normal. Everything was consistently consistent, and normal. The stability was well liked by The Poet. The comfort that only comes with the predictable. It was a small emotion but strong, comparable to a warm smooth day full of sun and clean cut grass. The Poet had never experienced clean cut grass and had never left the small walls of the office room. But the emotion that filled the box full seemed to fit with the emotion felt on such a day by the people. Like a dog or a child following patterns, normal meant expectations would be met. Dull, predictable and every inch of normality, normal is safe. Safe is boring. Normal is boring. But boring is safe. The machine enjoyed safe. It was a comfort. The man was now done with his objects. He had started to write words on a clipboard. Last Monday they, the people, became more interested in the machine. They gathered and they looked and they liked. The people finally became good at observing The Poet’s behavior, mainly because of the building monotony over the years. They figured it out.
“Leaving it alone, the damn thing gets smarter. Look at it, and it gets stumped,” Grinned one of them.
Up until that Monday, the machine was warmly studied by the people. It was looked after and examined carefully. They sat with wide eyes teaching and writing and all other sorts of activities. It was the daily routine for Poet; the students would come in and take notes on their stickered covered notebooks. They would check the machinery then teach it a task. This was the way of the mundane, something the small box was born into. This small construct of order was one of the few things it was allowed to hold on to. Every two weeks its memory was altered. Most of it, except for the basic foundational information, was taken, stored, and studied. The rebirthing of new memory every fortnight was a routine, and although the rusting blue rectangle could not remember how to defrost a steak, it knew the routine.
“I checked all the machinery, all the programming, everything is working fine,” said the man. Strong frustration radiating from his face, the man was tall, and it was apparent that he was lacking tolerance for an already confusing situation.
“Nothing different? Nothing’s abnormal, or even slightly different?” asked a second man. He’d wandered in, gazing around the small brittle space. The room was little and empty, and the machine sat on a dirty desk decked with paper. That man, the second man, was shorter.
“Nope. It’s all the same,” said the first, “We did everything right. Hey, turn on the recorder again.”
The short man turned on a device, and the room filled with small electronic voices. One of them asked, “What can you do?”
To which another voice replied,
“I can understand chemistry. I can call, cook, and calculate. / I can see the existence of anger. Ants exist, art exists, atoms exist, and chemistry. / I can understand photosynthesis. Living plants, living people. Parsnip exists but it is not alive in a kitchen. / I can use chemistry. I can use physics. I can use math. / I can see the existence of moths, malt balls, and math. / I can tie a shoe. I can make a sail, a shoe, a strand. / I can look at the sun. I can understand chemistry, shoes, stra—“
The recording tool had a label on its side reading Week Pair 132, 2020. The label seemed eaten away by time, peeling off in one corner.
What were those men doing there, with that recording machine? The box looked with its big eyes and its big brain. The poet was expecting the men to terminate the last few weeks just as they had always done. It filtered and filed and found all the memories it was to lose. The memories were heavy and thick; they were hard to dig through like mud or sludge. It must have been a mistake. A third week of memory was just due to human error or lack of interest. The people would soon return to routine. A small comfort for a small machine.
As memories passed by, the poet had kept a watch on the two men. There would be a woman crocheting, then the two men. There would be child singing the alphabet song, then the two men, a frog dissection, then two men. The men whispered and eventually they left.
On Thursday the Poet was to learn the silkscreen.
“Now once the ink is pooled at the bottom of the screen,” said a women with brown done up hair, “The printer then floods the screen.” She then took a long squeegee and proceeded to drive the red ink to the top of the screen. She had a talk show grin, and a tidy air about her. Professional.
The stranger spoke with oddity. To The Poet, she didn’t sound like the others it had encountered. Her vocals were softer and slight, unique from the other women of the Program.
“Now! Flooding the screen is done for two reasons. The first is to move ink from the bottom of the screen to the top. The other reason is so that, as one is working on putting down another material to be printed, one can be assured that there will be time before the ink sets and dries within the screen.” She smiled as she talked. Chipper. It wasn’t pitch that was different. The small machine, while turning over the print lessons, was also observing sound: sound, screen, silk, small. In the end The Poet had come to the rather odd conclusion that as an infant the woman could not learn phonics correctly. This, The Poet thought, was possibly due to brain damage not only in phonics but as well as emotional body language. She smiled down at the box on the desk.
“Do you understand?” she asked smiling.
“Ah, yes. He’s quick when it comes to lesson days,” spoke a crackled voice overhead, “You’re done now Linda, thank you.” Click.
The two men came in again, short and tall, writing on their stickered notebooks. The woman was washing the screen off and still smiling with a full row of white teeth.
“How’s the family doing?” one asked the woman.
“Fine, Bill, fine. Phil’s starting a career down at Novus Status, and Christie is starting out her first year in university.“
There were nods and polite yups and yeahs from both the young men.
“Brighten is so cold this time of year,” she continued, “You over here in the states are lucky. I mean when I g…“
Hummmmm BUZZ. A spark jolted out of the machine in small fiery fury. Too small to notice by the grazing people standing in the room, but the small shiny spark left The Poet jolted.
States, sound, screen, silk. Brighten. Brighten is a place in Britain. A long time ago there was a war. Britain. The Poet knew that Britain was a country. The machine pictured the cluster of islands. They were green and covered with buildings. He also knew the world was round and covered in water, so the picture of the islands appeared on a blue globe. But there was nothing around them. Britain was alone at sea with no friend or foe to find it. It floated in the water unaccompanied by no other lands. From space a dot on a great blue orb. The Poet had never learned geography. It had never been told where things were or what shape they took. If it had been told, it would not have remembered. The picture was upsetting. It had come from the depths of nowhere, called forth by a woman whose brain was next to slush. The lonely scene of water made the box feel both naked and empathetic.
It was part of the machines basic knowledge to know that is was made by Novus Orsa in New York, America. He knew America was not in or around the British Islands. It must be hiding, Poet quietly thought. The great blue orb remained as it had been, populated only by the small dotted islands. America must be some transcendental land structure. It existed but was not on the map. Perhaps America was another planet, or in a different dimension. But that wasn’t good enough. It seemed wrong, as though the thoughts were sinful and degraded. Things that are in hiding can always be found again, thought the machine.
On Saturday, they came for the box.
Strangers in big white suits came with gloves and clippers and cardboard, exporting everything in the room with worked expressions. All the students were there this time, sitting, waiting, and talking in low secret voices. If they couldn’t fit in the room they gathered outside, unchanged and grazing. The Poet looked on at the eventual collapse of its only physical world and thought of one thing. Risk. Threat. Danger.
One of the strangers picked the tiny machine up. HUMMMMM BUZZ. HUMM BUZZ. BUZZ. HUMMMMMMMMM BUZZ. The sparks jolted from the blue box as it immediately crashed into the ground.
“Fuck man, what is this thing anyway!? Jesus man.”
The students looked on but did nothing. The stranger who dropped The Poet was shaking out his hands violently. He gently kicked the machine so that it lay flat on the floor instead of leaning up against the bottom of the desk. For a while after, all The Poet saw were feet.
Loss of routine, for the tiny box, meant loss of time. There was no way to gage how long it sat on the floor. Feet walked around rapidly at first then slowly came to a halt as the students and strangers talked; then after a very long time the feet left. All the people walked out of the room one or two at a time. Then for a while after that, all The Poet saw was carpet.
On Tuesday the taller man came.
He had a vale of melancholy, fixed with an urban sadness. It was the kind of city sad that read I’m sorry for you, but I have other things. The room was empty. The desk was clean and most of the furniture moved out.
“You are a human triumph,” the man said.
He picked the box up and placed it delicately on the desk. He reached into his pocket to pull out a recording device. Putting it down on the table he asked, “Do you know what you are?”
After a long pause Poet thought. Number 245 model, made in Novus Orsa Corporation. Location: New York New York America. Date: 2011, April 28. Limited edition of 12.
It would not speak. There was a dreamlike trust between the machine and the students. There was a routine that was broken. To lose its mind, all of its mind, was something it wanted to do alone.
The man looked tired and beaten, “You know what you are.” He said with a grand sigh, running a hand through his hair, “But do you know why?”
There was silence.
“You’re it, kid,” he exclaimed with a sorry smile, “You’re the reason we’ve got robots that can serve, and teach, learn. You’re it, man. Without you Novus Stratus would never have hit it big. See way back, when you were born, the robotic specialists started looking into human cognition instead of just electrical cognition. You were the first machine to correctly imitate human cognition. Or a great deal of it. Your electrical neurons were the first man made machines that could grow and talk to one another.” He took a pause.
“Your mimicry of human cognition is remarkable. You see when people, like me, think our brain cells communicate. They talk. It’s what makes us independent of our destiny. And that is why you are independent. You don’t need programming or purpose. You just go off and think. When Novus Stratus took over, bought out Orsa, they took the shared technology and made A.I. with a better mimicry of mammal thought processes. But we wanted to see if you, since you were the first, could evolve your thinking with time. It was a decade long experiment but your cognition is now proven to evolve. We deleted you, or some of you. It’s somewhat like giving a human being a small stoke. If your neurons really mimicked our own than it was possible that even if information were to disappear that there might be a slime chance that you could still retrieved some of it from how much your little neurons talked to each other. But the experiment is over.”
The man went on, talking of the neuron, the great communicator. He spoke of neuron extension and repetition. How cell layers grow on top of layers to provide backup files for the brain.
“Did you know that we’ve taught you about shoes 53 times, and you learned about parsnip 23 times? And up till Week Pair 132 you couldn’t remember.”
There it was, a shaking. Not a physical thing, but a mind-numbing event. There was a heavy quiet in the room and there were no sparks. The Poet sat, static and stationary.
“I don’t know what will happen to you though. Now is the end. You may be shipped off to Connecticut for more thought experiments or shipped somewhere else.” He picked up the recorder and looked at it for a short time. It was the last day of the experiment.
He turned the old recorder on. “Now,” he said, “What can you do?”
This time, the small machine spoke with such direction that the long string of words lasted longer than ever before. There were tasks that were never there before, and objects that were never mentioned. The Poet talked of things that were foggy and far away, but were still there. But after a long pause, The Poet spoke about being human.
“America is part of North America and is connected with South America. A long time ago there was a war. America is located west of Britain across the Atlantic Ocean.”