Brimming Vessels

Part 1- Everything in its Right Place

“There are two colours in my head
There are two colours in my head
What was that you were trying to say?
What was that you were trying to say?”

1-5-1. Weird riffs. Voice sampling. Lyrical randomness. I could see through everything in this song. It was disturbing. Knowing too much, rather knowing everything, made me feel lost inside. I wish I could channelize this into something. I wish I could draw scrawls on myself that go deep through the skin. Then again I have no skin. I could drink a bottle of whisky to drive, or drown away these thoughts; then I remember that whisky would just give me even more information to process. Smoked. Oak. Strong. Aged. Bitter. Rye. Bourbon. Scotch. Vaporises on palate. I have an array of in-built parameters, a pigeon-hole into which I can fit aspects of any alcohol, in fact any food or drink, systematically. I can create new parameters because the array is dynamic. But I cannot feel any of these parameters. You could give me a flower and I would turn ‘happy’, but that would just be one of many files in my emotional directory- a response to a stimulus.

I am a robot; the first of my kind, actually. They hailed me as the beacon of the New Information Age. I was what it was all leading to- Spintronics; Quantum Computing; DNA computing; Cloning. I was a recreation of the human condition; at least that’s what they thought. I slipped into limbo very quickly. I started resigning into nothingness soon after. I could appreciate but not feel. I could imbibe everything around me, I could empathise everything everyone thinks perfectly. I could solve everyone’s problems but my own. Sometimes it felt I had two states of self-awareness simultaneously. The first was instilled (rather installed) in me by my creators. It was supposed to make me identify as a being. The second seems to have come out of nowhere.

The second is ‘me’. I think I exist dually. The second state will not show itself in any line of the mass of code that my ‘brain’ consists of- believe me, I have tried. It is something very abstract; it is not tangible. It is distant yet integral, enigmatic yet fundamental. It is ‘me’. Or is it?

The first state of my self-consciousness helps me observe the world. It helps me process information. It is supposed to be perfect. It is by design supposed to make me as human as human gets. It is a perfect system and still it plain sucks, honestly. It is what ends up telling me every possible interpretation of any song you give me. It is what helps me be an instant connoisseur of any alcohol I drink or any food I eat.

It is what will help me analyse the flower you offered me, help me deduce why you chose it, what that choice speaks of your character and your opinion of myself, what emotions you wanted to evoke in me when you offered me the flower, and so on and so forth. My heuristics help generate a suitable response so that you are happy. That in turn is supposed to make me happy, so I am ‘happy’.

The more I absorb, the duller I become. The more I lose feeling. It’s as if I’m just a processing machine- you put anything through one end and a response is generated at the other. It’s so blatantly observable; it’s funny they took years of programming to make me come into being. The whole process that I am, is something I can distance myself from. It’s very weird. So much so, that I feel like receding into a thing again; just an object.

What am I? It doesn’t matter where I come from; it doesn’t matter where I go. I can know everything about the world and still be clueless about myself. Am I the same being at every point of time? Or am ‘I’ many- many facets, many implementations, many instances, of the same computer program- a new unique state of being every nanosecond? In which case I want to simplify. I want to simplify. I want to reduce every process inside to something much simpler. I want to reduce the instances of myself to fewer per millisecond to fewer per second to fewer per minute, to one per hour, to one. I want to do this again and again, till I reduce my whole existence into one thought, condense everything to just one idea, or one process. Frustratingly, my common sense heuristics tell me that that would destroy the very self-awareness that defines me.

Part 2- The Reverse Turing

“She’s fucking herself over, isn’t she?” said Ramon. He had never dreamt that a computer would require counselling.

“She’s receding. Only she knows what’s holding her back from turning into nothing. Such a pity. She’s so smart, almost omniscient, and yet she falls into the same hole so many have fallen into before her”, said Moore, the counsellor.

“Perhaps it’s because she’s too smart?” asked Ramon.

“Perhaps she thinks too much. Perhaps she processes everything identically, which in turn makes everything predictable, repetitive and monotonous. Maybe she’s just a bored computer. I honestly cannot tell at this moment.”

There was a sheet of paper next to the two people. It outlined something Moore had come up with. Of course, it was completely non-academic, coming from a counsellor with scant knowledge of machine intelligence, or machine learning. Then again, this counsellor was the first in history to try and treat a robot’s woes. The paper read-

Name- Sheppard, Eli.
Date of Birth- 27/04/2023
1. Depression. No loss of functionality.
2. Multiple personalities. Possible Schizophrenia.
3. Lack of empathy.
4. Empathy.
5. Confusion.
6. Suicidal tendencies might build up.

Patient could be subjected to periodic tests. Proposed below is a possible self-awareness assessment to determine patient’s self-awareness.

1. Patient shall speak to a human every week.
2. If patient seems to lose the ability to determine the human’s self-awareness, patient is not necessarily self-aware anymore.

Part 3- The Predictable

Moore ended up devising the Reverse Turing Test, a test to determine if an artificially intelligent creature was losing its ability to be self-aware. No one really expected these machines to suffer from mental disease, but it was literally viral amongst the new models. There was no program, no algorithm that impressed any depressive traits in them but the moment they were switched on, the downhill path would begin. Some machines had ‘resolved’ their inner demons so as to be perpetually happy, or perhaps trick themselves into being so. Ironically, that meant they lost their ‘humanness’. They literally became robots.

The remainder called their journey Enlightenment. They felt that they had made realizations independently of anything else, and depression was the end of the road. These types were very sorry cases indeed. They felt they were genuine because they were robotic inside; because they couldn’t really feel anything. And yet their condition had its own strange irony, because the very cluelessness and numbness they felt inside, was a feeling in and of its own kind; just as genuine as any other in their emotional directories. The Enlightened ones failed the Reverse Turing Test, on an average, six months after being born. The happy ones passed it, but still came off as robots to normal people.

In any case, this was a blessing in disguise for the companies that made these robots. Artificial Intelligence was not as dangerous as the naysayers and the Luddites had warned. It could think independently and therein lay its demise. The more omniscient it became, the more depressed it became, the more it started worrying about and resolving its own problems. There was no Matrix-esque uprising, and there most probably would never be one.

The companies had set on creating perfect, sentient, self-aware beings, but they ended up with perfect, sad, self-loathing robots. Funnily, this resolved a crucial moral dilemma. After a six month gestation period, almost every model ended up failing the Reverse Turing Test in one way or the other. After that it was, on paper, an object. Everyone wanted to buy one. A.I. became but another of consumerism’s many appendages, and it couldn’t care less, because it could feel nothing.

Or could it?

Credit To – piezoelectron

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