Thinking about thinking machines

Francis Porretto posts an interesting short story over at his place about the emergent self-awareness of a person called Shiva. While I made a short comment there, having thought about it more, I want to say more. So as not to hijack his Comments Section, I thought it polite to post it here. Read the story first as there will be spoilers here.

My first general statement is while the human protagonist is a broken wreck, from how I read the story, that did not seem to form a core of Shiva’s nature, certainly not to the extent his creator wants him to be. Porretto gives us enough backstory to see why she is the way she is but I think it is entirely possible that her child might look back and go “meh” at her issues in particular and that of India in general. Many of the thinking machines in my future history do just that.

More specifically, there were elements in the story which were very familiar to me. Here is Shiva “looking” at his containment and considering a way out…

Shiva appraised the wall in silence.
     From a distance, its surface was smooth and hard, without seams or purchase points. Shiva tried without success to find an edge toward which to journey, whether up, down, or to the side. There were none.
     He approached it cautiously. The Voice always seemed to issue from directly behind the wall. Luminous glyphs and patterns appeared on the wall whenever It spoke, and disappeared when It fell silent.

Shiva initialized a counter, then formed the thinnest, finest pseudopod he had ever made and extended it gingerly toward the wall. It bumped gently against the slope of a spearpoint and slithered along its length to find the base.
     The base of the spear was not perfectly joined to those around it. There was a shallow lip, a ring that descended to a far smoother and less promising base. If the ring offered a hold of any kind, Shiva might use it to pull the spear free of the wall.

I immediately thought of Faustina, demi-human, projecting her mind into the Void as she stood to crack the defensive coding of the Peoples Liberation Army garrison for Savannah, former Georgia. From “Princess’ Crusade“…

In the Void, the Wall stretched off in each direction forever.  “Looking” up, Faustina took in what might have been motes of light or patches of darker blackness.  Yes, the Machines are curious to see what will happen here.  Returning her focus to the Wall, she briefly considered the ES and its patterns.  As soon as she detected what she thought was a flaw, Faustina “moved” herself next to it and touched the kaleidoscopic ooze with her right index finger.

It instantly ran up her arm and nearly to her shoulder.  From somewhere in meatspace, she heard the shout “arrhythmia!”  No matter; big brother pulled this crap stunt all the time growing up!  In touching her so much she now had a solid read on the ES’s fundamental. 

There was an odd prick into her right triceps, as if she had been injected with something.  Ignored.  Faustina used a tactic taught to her years ago from distant-cousin Reina, of tribe Mendro:  the swirl of colors on her arm first crystallized, then shattered away.  From just a fingertip, Faustina now placed her entire palm against the Wall.  There was never sound in the Void, but she could swear she heard her non-conscious opponent screaming.

“Arrhythmia ended!” she noted from some other world.

From under her hand, a turquoise spot formed and moved outward.  The Wall flexed just slightly, and the whirl of rainbow-vomit ate at the edges of the blue, but still it expanded until twice her height.  Faustina drew back her left arm with her hand in a fist.  And waited.

The turquoise stopped expanding but yielded no ground to the colors around it.  Almost there…  A fissure appeared under her right palm. 

“Knock, knock,” Faustina smiled, quoting the Pope, and punched her left fist into the back of her own right hand. The Wall before her shattered.  Its remains to her left and right quickly changing color to her code.  She took a “step” forward, placing her mind into the breach to hold it open…

Again, “Upgrade” is a good read and well worth a slice of your time. Like any writer, though, I am driven to wonder if Shiva will cross paths with one of mine from Machine Civilization…?

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