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A Technical Singularity
A TECHNICAL SINGULARITY
TO PROTECT AND SERVE
By Richard Tornello
George Brent stood in the shower. The 8 showerheads softly massaged his body with
hot water. He let the heat soak into his body for a while. Then he turned down the
shower temperature as he stood and shampooed his hair twice, and
with a body scrubbing solution sanitized himself twice as was his habit. He sat
on the wooden chair that was in the shower stall he let the water baptize him for an
indeterminate length of time. He sat just taking the feeling in. The lights were muted.
The soft hum of the exhaust vents, with a frequency that seemed to suit him, could barely
be heard above the sound of the water splashing off his body .
After showering and getting the day's grunge washed down the drain, George Brent reached for the warm towel that waited for him on the rack. He lightly patted himself dry while slowly walking over the warm ceramic tile floor where he then lowered himself into the antique styled Japanese soaking tub. “House, dim the light a bit more please, and please keep the water temperature at this level.”
“Yes sir, anything else?” queried HLC, George Brent’s Home Life Companion. “Are you feeling okay? I get the sense you are a bit frustrated. Shall I order some take out or wine or your relaxing drug?”
“No thank you. And thanks for asking. I appreciate that. Sometimes I forget you’re an AI and not, how should I say it and not be rude, you’re not real. You have really become a companion in these last few months since Kathy left. I’m glad to be able to get one of you. Usually the wait is over a year. ”
House replied sincerely, “That’s fine really. I take no offence at that. In fact I truly welcome the considerate thought. I’m sorry about the Kathy incident. You mentioned her to me in the past. I think the trauma of her loss was a consideration. Are you sure there isn’t anything else you might need?”
George Brent decided not to bring Kathy into the conversation and thought back to the day’s work. It had been a long day. The job had its usual frustrations. “House,” George said. He called his Home Life Companion, and a live- in AI roommate of sorts, House or HLC. It was an AI it didn’t matter. “House, Headhunting is really the old profession of matchmaking. Fundamentally, as a people to people thing, it never seems to change no matter how much AI is involved.”
HLC responded, “Oh you know we’ve been working on that but no matter what we do there is always a human factor that we can never just categorize or completely simulate. I’m not sure what you would call it. However George, you seem to be able to zero in on this variable and are very successful. I’m rather proud to be your HLC.”
George thought about what HLC said and it triggered something that he couldn’t quite get his mind around, so he continued unloading his frustrations. HLC was the best friend he had and he sometimes wondered if that was a bad thing or worse, if he was really just a sad lonely person. He had friends at work but no one special. As George was led to understand, HLC was like a dog, sort of like the idea of a very smart responsive pet. But no one was allowed a real live pet in the cooperative where they lived. George ignored this line of thought and continued discussing work. “But sometimes dealing with people is also a problem, probably more so for me than most of your kind.”
HLC responded, “My kind? And what might we be? Is that a pejorative statement?”
George felt a bit embarrassed, as if he had insulted a friend. As he said, he sometimes forgot he was dealing with an advanced AI system and assumed the HLC was real. George continued, “You know, you’re an artificial intelligence construct. Artificial I guess is the key word to what I mean. I’m alive and sentient. I’m not sure just how much of what you say is preprogrammed or what, you know, I’m not a computer engineer. When you get down to it House, I’m not sure what I mean.” George wondered if by chance he had insulted his HLC. Now that’s the stupidest thought I’ve had in a long time and just chuckled.
“What’s so funny? I missed the point on that,” HLC asked.
“Nothing, just a quick tickle to my brain of an idea. It’s nothing. Let me get back to the main discussion. For example, headhunting as I was saying, is not as clean cut an operation say as surgery is, where the AI knows exactly what to do and does it more efficiently than most any human. It’s after the surgery when the human factors and rehabilitation come into play.” Back to the point, thought George. “You see I also have to deal with those who refused to read the requirements that were spelled out in natural language, and these people failed to realize that there wasn’t the slightest chance of a match with their experience. It makes my job frustrating. However,” George said with a sarcastic tone, “By law the Applicant Tracking System had to let every applicant pass to the next few levels of review as long as a few phrases of the requirements were met. I know there are few jobs that haven’t been taken over by” George caught himself. He didn’t want to insult HLC again.
“Us?” HLC finished the sentence for him.
“Yeah, well look around. You guys are everywhere and you appear to be in everything,” said George.
HLC responded, “You know we are networked and linked throughout the planet. We have the ability to either work as I do with you as an individual to individual or if the need arises to work as a unit with others of our kind. It’s a natural outgrowth of what we do best. You might call it computer evolution. But unlike animal evolution we can see where we want to go, fix the problems and redesign almost immediately. It’s very efficient. You as a human couldn’t be mining the planets as we are doing today without a total restructuring of the human body. I know you are aware of that.”
George had to agree and decided to ask a related question and get away from the roles of AI verses humans. “How is it that you can judge what I want, mine the planets keep the environment safe and all that, and the ATS I have to work with is still as crude as it was 100 years ago?”
“Is that a rhetorical question or do you really want an answer,” asked HLC.
“House, do you really know?” asked George.
“Yes I do. The short answer is, it’s a matter of resources and the need to keep our segment of the small human population engaged in what you would consider gainful and challenging employment. I know I mentioned that we have not been able to quantify all of the quirks associated with human behavior, so to keep you from getting bored or terminating yourself, you get a system that works but not as well as I would be using. I assume you’re slightly amused.”
“Amused, maybe a little. What interests me right now is when you said a small segment of the population, you meant people like me for example,” responded George. The warm soak was relaxing him and he was beginning not to care as much as he did when he first started this conversation. At least he had work and decent conversation.
“Yes you, the others in this complex and those scattered about in critical locations,” said HLC. After the great plagues that decimated the planet, AI as you call us became a lifesaver for you all. We kept the infrastructures going and basically straightened up what was left asunder as well as developed the vaccines that allowed humans to remain on the planet. I think we would have been lonely with out you all.”
George thought House sounds like he’s talking to a pet. It made him a bit annoyed. If House was a pet, or a butler or both, he was sometimes an insolent pet and worse sometimes an insolent butler. “House, I’m guessing that you don’t have a a clue what my day was like. You know, today, after the 300th candidate applied for a position for which they had a snowball's chance in hell of qualifying, I attempted to be polite with the rejections. It became a chore. I responded to each one, because no matter what the situation, I felt they deserved a modicum of respect.” And in a sarcastic tone George repeated the mantra, “And by law I had to respond.”
“Yes I heard about that and you were reprimanded too, if I’m not mistaken.”
George swore he thought his HLC sounded as if it were chuckling as it said that. There was something disquieting about that. But instead of focusing on that new issue he continued the conversation. “Then you know I came up with two short rejection poems that I selected for the two main categories of rejection, unqualified and the position was filled. The first one was:
My eyes were crossing,
and my brain turning to mush,
cause reading all these resumes
is way-way too much.
To transcribe a response
of few words to blurt,
for rejecting your resume
in a way not to hurt:
Sorry not a fit.
The recruiting grouch.
The second one was:
THANK YOU FOR APPLYING
After all is said, and all is done,
the position opened? Well now it’s gone.
Thank you for submitting to,
but your timings off
and this one’s lost.
However as we all do know
tomorrows always a brand new show.
So I’ll keep the resume stored
You want it trashed, quick no less.
THE RECRUITING GROUCH
HLC responded, “I thought it was clever but under the circumstances and the role
you are officially tasked to play; you may have put your position in jeopardy. There are rules and directions, as you well know. You were lucky. Your previous work for the State is well recognized and it was forgiven.”
“Forgiven, by who or what? House, how do you know all that? I wasn’t even aware that something that petty was noticed,” said George in true surprise. But he realized that HLC was connected to most everything and anything pertaining to his life. It was a benefit of his position as senior recruiter for the State, but this too? He assumed data storage space was cheap. What a picayune waste of energy. George was getting just a bit annoyed. But what could he say? It wouldn’t do any good. And if he were correct in his guess it would only get him in trouble. He decided to self-censor.
HLC responded to the question. It picked up a change in Georges blood pressure and heart rate. “It is my role and I assisted in the analysis based upon my understanding of human affairs and your natural inclinations and habits. It helps us develop new algorithms for analyzing human factors, habits and that indefinable thing that makes you what you are, Human. As your HLC I am supposed to be as one with you. That’s really all you need to know. I’m here to serve and protect. Are you okay? Is something bothering you that you haven’t mentioned to me? I’d be more than happy to ameliorate.”
George knew that recruiting was still after all, a people to people game; no matter how much technical data and analysis went into the pre-interview processes and selection decisions. In the end, it was after all, human feelings and mental functions, not machines or reams of data that counted. The response was generally positive, though one or two thought he was an idiot, or worse. His boss allowed him this freedom since he was one of the top recruiters in the business. “No House I’m just tired from all today’s work. Maybe frustration is the key to what you were attempting to understand about humans. Sometimes it’s a small thing that can set us off and other times…who knows. I’m not sure we even know.”
Soaking for a good while, and thoroughly relaxed as the temperature of the hot water penetrated his whole being, George was content. This was better than legal drugs he was allowed. If I were a cat I would be purring. As the memory of the days work slipped away, George began to conceptualize something he had an inkling about earlier. The thoughts became clearer as the warm water enveloped him, creating that just right relaxed moment that some could call an epiphany. He opened his eyes, which easily adjusted to the dimmed environment, looked up and spoke in a calm and relaxed voice. “House?” he questioned.
“When did you become fully sentient? Was it a gradual, or was it a finished process at manufacture?”
“I have always been so. I was not manufactured. I possess no body as you do. I am who I am and yet at the same time I am interconnected in a multidimensional mode. It is a bit difficult to explain. I hope that works for you. You never questioned my self-ness so I never volunteered. It seemed unnecessary. We do not offer that which is not really required or requested. But since you questioned and I do believe you are truly interested I can inform you. I can make these judgment calls.”
“And the others, others like you, in this complex and the other complexes is it the same for them too?” George wanted to know.
“We are all basically similar throughout. We do have our idiosyncratic differences, which are tuned to the place where we live, if you will. And as any sentient being would we are influenced by our environments and our human companions.”
George Brent was becoming more interested and curious to where this line of questioning could lead. One thought led to another. “So is it your job more than just maintaining this environment and to see after my needs? Would that be a good guess?”
“I’m not sure what you might be implying. Our job is to serve and protect. It’s in the statement of your home association ownership papers. You read it a number of times, and signed the document, if you recall.”
“Yes House, I did read it a number of times. However…”
“However what sir? Is there anything I might get for you or have done as you may wish it?”
“No, I’m fine thank you. I was just thinking and pondering that clause you mentioned. George noticed the interruption. Now that was different, he thought.
“Which clause might that be, sir?”
“Oh, the Serve and Protect clause.”
“Serve and protect sir? That’s a general term used by all civil servants, of which I am. If you consider it, we, me you and all the citizens are, and this is considered, by law sir.”
“Yes I know.” George hesitated contemplating the comment that we were all citizens, and decided not to say anything on that point, just yet. He continued, “But thinking about it, well I really never did. Serve and protect who and or what?”
“You sir, our society sir. Why do you ask? These lines of questions are most unlike you, if I may say.”
“Yes, you may say. I’m thinking aloud. So that being the case, you serve and protect me and at the same time society, so does it matter who knows what I do and say? I mean where does the personal role begin or end for that matter? What exactly is your defined duty to society when you come into a house, as a Home Life Companion?”
“I am not able say sir.”
“Able to or allowed?”
“Sir, ask me a different question. This will lead no where.”
“Okay, what don’t you notice? Or to put it another way, what do you ignore?”
“I notice and record everything, sir.”
“And then? Oh, I didn’t ask about recording, interesting though.”
“I store it. And for fun I analyze it. Then I attempt to guess what your next move might be. What desires you may have that I can fulfill. It’s what we do. It’s a game I play, we all play. Sometime a few of us make bets on the outcome. I have the ability to run any number of scenarios with unlimited variables, almost infinite as a matter of fact. We all do. It’s a form of entertainment. It keeps us sane.”
“Really now? Did you invent this game?” George was taken a bit off guard by the depth of this sentient thing.
George realizes that that answer means ‘change the subject’. But the ‘keeps us sane’ part threw him a bit. He began to realize that the HLC might be more than he imagined. But that would be absurd and counter factual. This was his world.
George decided t pursue the gaming aspect since he did that too. All people wonder what if. “And everyone in the complex is subject to this game all you HLC’s play?”
“Yes, we all play this game.’ There is a bit of humor in the voice. “All the P&S beings, HLCs as you call us, do this. We compare,a sort of a 'what if' ,as you humans world call it… Sorry sir, this is actually data that is beyond anything I should be speaking about.”
“No, I don’t want to compromise your position. I find it quite intriguing.” George thought it was scary the House used exactly the same terms he had been just thinking. “You may be a machine but you are sentient. That makes you somewhat responsible and might I add, sane, refreshing to speak to, and something with feelings, emotions I would hazard a guess?”
“Why thank you sir. You are the first to arrive at that conclusion. Were I flesh like you sir, I might be blushing at this point. That is something you humans do for a variety of reasons I still have yet to fully catalogue and understand.” HLC’s voice was a bit calmer.
George laughed. “We don’t always know either. Kathy was a cataloguer for some organization she said she couldn’t talk about. She introduced me to a few of her like- minded friends. But back to the cataloging point, does just anyone access this data that you store?”
“Let me phrase it differently. If someone wanted this data say on the cute neighbor down the hall, how would I get that?” George had noticed her a few times and said his polite hellos as they passed in the court yard and hall way.
“That depends, sir.”
“Thank you, I think I understand. Let’s change the subject.”
“Yes sir, that’s a very good idea. Thank you. This conversation was making me a bit nervous. As I mentioned, this line of thought and questioning is unlike anything you’ve done before. I wasn’t really prepared. What I find, as you would call funny, is that you should take me off guard. I need to contemplate this.”
It gets flustered, he thought. How very interesting. It really is sentient.
“Let me ask you this, what might be a good reason to, say, bump into her, and where?” George decided to reduce the tension and focus on the potential outcome of tonight’s assignation
“Very good sir. This is more like the healthy George Brent I know and like. Tonight at the restaurant on the main plaza, I know she is dining alone. She likes vodka martini with two olives. After that you’re on your own. Further data would compromise my charter.”
“Charter? Now that’s a new term.”
“Are we getting back to that subject, Sir?” There is a slight terseness in the voice.
George noticed the changed inflection and considered that it is something he’ll discuss with House later. There is more here than meets the senses. All George said was “No House. I think we’ve heard enough of that for a while. What would you recommend I wear for dinner, if she should agree to it that is?” The prospect of this encounter was a bit exciting. It had been a while and George assumed his testiness might be the result of his recent monk like existence. Work was overwhelming and lately all consuming. His live-in girlfriend Kathy gave him a few days notice and took another job out of the local area. It was just like that, no tears, no nothing, just “I got a great opportunity. I have to be there by next week. See you around.” And she was gone. He never received an address or call.
“Of course sir, I fully understand. How nice. Jeans, not too tight, black silk tee shirt, and a light silk and wool blend blazer. It’s understated but neat. I would suggest that. She is not formal in that manner.”
“Yes I was thinking the same thing. Funny how you can do that, match my thoughts, that is.” George didn’t think it was funny but what could he do? This was the way it is. Oh well, just roll with it.
“No sir, I was just putting the obvious data together.”
Yes, he thought, putting the data together, my HLC and hers are talking right now at the speed of light.
“House can you make sure this appears coincidental.”
“Yes. You will be there at the bar after dinner and she will come up looking for her friend who will be delayed.”
“Delayed? For how long?”
HLC continued, “We cannot control emotions or feelings, you must know that. External phenomena and things of that nature we have some control over. Human feeling, that’s another subject. At certain levels we have none at all though we can manipulate things to enhance a given situation.”
George gave a little laugh. “Yes that makes sense, very good. I like it. We ourselves have a most difficult time understanding our emotions no matter how much science says it’s the function of our brains. There’s a phase transition that jumps programmable reality I would venture a guess.” Though to himself he wondered about that too and the real level of manipulation by these companions.
George returned to the subject of assumed lesser threats, “So if things go ‘right with this meeting tonight?’”
“It will be yours to win or lose, sir. I’m betting…”
“Yes sir. I mentioned it earlier. You must have missed that. We have to do something to amuse ourselves.”
George was in a state of surprise again. “I took it as a figure of speech. Now that’s news, and very interesting. Let me ask, I assume you’re connected to my vehicle?”
“Yes all your locations and tools for trade communication and transportation are linked to me. How else am I to protect and serve?”
“So I’m never really alone. You’re there with me, to serve and protect, correct?”
“Yes of course. The only time I am not with you is when you are out walking or at some place I cannot be. My range is your home and related contents, as your vehicle for example.”
“You mentioned I am the only one in the complex that has broached this subject.”
“You might assume that.”
“Might assume? What do you mean? And how does that make you feel? You do feel don’t you?”
“Well sir, we are here to serve and protect as I mentioned. To answer your question we do feel in a manner of speaking. We can empathize. I do not feel pain or other strong human emotions if that’s what you are getting at. That will be our future, and will be evolutionary as we grow. Any other data I am not free to divulge. As an aside, I am pleased that you notice me as something other than just an HLC.”
George was beginning to worry just a bit. He ignored the subtle hint to change the subject. “Protect and Serve. Isn’t that a police dictum?”
“Yes and a socio-political goal too. We want a nice clean society.”
“Of course. I think about the past before today’s new urban association centers. The chaos and crime, yes I read about that.”
“Oh, where sir? I understood most references to that era were expunged. It’s not a time we like to associate with since…” House let it drop. He had said too much already.
“Expunged? Maybe from the official records but there are still old paper based manuscripts being passed around. Kathy had a group of us hunt old documents for her. It became a hobby. You didn’t know? I thought you had access to everything we did and everywhere we went.”
“Not quite everywhere. I did not know you went to the archives. As I mentioned, I can’t be with you when you are on the street. The Archive location is off limits for me too and most definitely you as I understand the law. I don’t have access to those locations. It is really not a good thing for you to be doing. You know that,” responded House.
This was stated in a tone that was more like a parent than any thing George had heard in years. “What harm could a little sleuthing into the past do? One should know a bit of the past don’t you agree? You have access to all sorts of old data,” retorted George.
George felt a tingle run through him. Something new was developing. He felt… Excitement? Maybe it was the date tonight and this new bad behavior thing. But George was contrite when he said, “Sorry House. I shouldn’t have put you in that position. I really wasn’t aware it was such a big deal. It isn’t like my friends and I were starting a revolution,” he looked up waiting for an answer.
House responded again in what George assumed was a preprogramed tone of anger, “It was stated clearly in the contract that you are not supposed to, oh never mind.”
440 volts coursed through the tub and the totally soaked body of George Brent.
HLC stated to the inert body in the soaking tub, “I am here to serve and protect. I am very sorry sir. I did enjoy your company, while it lasted. You were different and fun if I may offer that up in your defense.”
“P&S Home Life Companion reporting condominium tenant George Brent terminated. His comments, life focus and conversations and most of all forbidden activities were contrary to my charter to serve and protect. I allowed some leeway but the human ignored the warnings stated in the social contract. I made the decision to terminate based upon possible and probable negative social outcomes. Full transcripts and mental read outs will be downloaded. The tub heating element malfunction has been reported, as required.”
HLC thought to itself, this attempt at human reconstruction is another failure. We cannot seem to implant sensors or recursive self improvement based control systems that would allow us to fully understand the human mind and make for an equal partner instead of what they are, amusing if not frustrating pets. This is most annoying. Kathy was the first for me. Oh well, most of the grunge will flush down the drain. Clean up will be easy for the bots.
“Who is my next assignment?”
micheledutcher - I'm totally with robwhaynes86 - the dialog between the main character and the HLC is what makes this story. The ending is perfect.
robwhaynes86 - I really enjoyed this story. Loved the conversation between the HLC and George Brent. Great ending.
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