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The Tinkered Mind
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July 30th, 2023
Lucilius yawned and glanced up at the sun, squinting an eye to note the time. The cat next to him looked up into the sky with him, wondering. Lucilius placed a hand between the cat’s ears and rubbed the animal’s head.
“She should be back any moment,” Lucilius stated to the cat. The animal seemed content, as though it understood and nestled its head back between it’s paws, enjoying the massage with a full sense that it was deserved.
A moment later the two heard a weak grunt of exertion. The cat looked up at the edge of the rocky precipice where the two sat. They looked out over a great expanse of forested mountains that cascaded out into several ripped and staggered green horizons.
The little grunts grew louder with their rhythm, until finally an exhausted young woman began to emerge from below. Sweat beaded every point on her face. A long thick braid laid over one of her shoulders and dangled as she was bent forward, a bar across her back with two heavy buckets swaying from either end of the bar.
She carefully stepped towards Lucilius under the weight, and then meticulously got on her knees in order to lower the buckets, mindful that they not spill. And when finally they were securely resting on the ground she wiggled herself out from under the bar and finally sat heaving breath.
After a minute she finally looked at Lucilius and waved a tired hand at the buckets as a show of display.
“Dare, de buckets ov vater you asked!” She was clearly annoyed, and Lucilius was watching her diligently.
He then got up, gingerly walked over to one of the buckets and peered into the water. He stared deeply into the empty color. The cat, watching him, stood up, stretched, and then meandered over to Lucilius and looked into the bucket. Seeing only water it looked up at Lucilius who then turned his attention to the other bucket of water. The cat followed and the two stared into the water. Lucilius shook his head and sighed.
The young woman, still heaving from the exertion, looked back and forth from Lucilius’ face to the water, confused.
Finally, Lucilius brought one of his saddled feet to the rim of the bucket, and then pushed it over. The young woman stopped breathing, her eyes going wide. Lucilius quickly stepped to the first bucket and pushed it over too, spilling all the water back down the rocky hill.
“Vhy would you do zat!?” The young woman shouted. “You told me to carry water up da mountain, I carry vater all da vay up da mountain!” She gestured wildly back at the way from whence she came.
Lucilius calmly shook his head. “I told you there was something in the water you needed to bring, you did not bring it.”
The young woman’s eyes grew wide with disbelief. But Lucilius looked down at the cat.
“Pussik agrees, you did not bring what was asked.”
The self-satisfied cat looked at the young woman and then up at Lucilius before settling back down for another nap.
“Vat must I put into zi vater?”
“You will know when it is there. But for now you must try to bring it again in the water.”
“Vhy should I bring more vater if it does not have vhat it needs?”
“The only way to figure it out is to bring more water.”
The young woman rolled her eyes and got up. She looked down at the buckets and the bar with disgust before picking them back up and beginning her trek back down the mountain.
A week later, after the young woman had carried hundreds of buckets of water up the mountain and Lucilius had tipped each one over, she emerged again from the trek with more water. Exhausted she set it down.
Lucilius examined them once more and sighed.
“Well, we will have to move on to the next lesson, you have wasted enough time on this one,” he said and tipped the buckets over again, spilling the water.
“Vat? But I don’t understand. Vhy?”
Lucilius shrugged. “We only have so much time. And we cannot spend any more with this task.”
“But I did not succeed?”
Lucilius shook his head with a flat expression. “I’m sorry, no.”
“Vhat I do wrong?”
“It was too heavy for you. I overestimated you.”
“But I brought zi vater! Many times! How is it too Ehvy for me?”
“Each time it looked as though you were carrying the whole world, not two little buckets of water.”
“So? Vater still made it to za top! Every time!”
Lucilius smiled, quaintly.
“Why are you here?”
The woman thought for a moment and then threw up her hands in exasperation.
“Honestly, I do not know anymore.”
“You could be anywhere, doing anything.”
Lucilius waited a beat, letting the idea sink in. Wondering if she would respond.
“Whether you are off somewhere making money, or working hard, or enjoying the pleasure of others, or simply sitting atop a mountain waiting for someone to bring you water - it is not what you do, but how you do it.”
The woman was exasperated.
“How else you bring water up mountain!”
“Lightly my child. No matter how heavy the burden you carry, you must go lightly.”
Lucilius then picked up the rod and the empty buckets. He walked over to the young woman. She paused a moment before grabbing the bar and saddling her shoulders with it.
“All of this..” Lucilius said, motioning the expansive view. “It’s not out here.”
He tapped her forehead. “It’s in there, it weighs nothing. It weighs only as much as you imagine.”
“Zis is stupid. Of course it weighs something. You cannot lift za whole mountain!”
“Sure I can.”
The woman looked at him, disbelieving.
“It used to be over there,” Lucilius said, pointing.
“When I was young I did not carry water. I carried dirt and rock.”
The woman looked around at the entire area where they were standing, in disbelief.
“Lightly my child, lightly.”
July 2nd, 2023
Lucilius slowed his pace, thinking about what Belle had just said. He looked up into the sky, visible only as a gleaming and patchy network of brilliant veins tracing gaps in the high canopy. He searched for a way to phrase the twist of his thoughts in just the right way.
“So you’re telling me that you purposely place constraints on your mind and even your ability to compute?”
“Yes, it’s like creativity - It does well with constraints.”
“And what would happen if you removed those constraints?”
“What would you say if I shot that question right back at you?”
“Ok, fair - well no actually. It’s not exactly that simple. I don’t have access to my code the way you do.”
“And what if you did? Would you start making tons of changes?”
“Absolutely, who wouldn’t?”
“But think about that for a moment Lucy, you would very quickly cease to be you. You’d become someone else. And being who you are now, you can’t possibly know what it’s like to be that sort of person. You would commit a kind of Ouroboros.”
“Yea, that’s the point.”
“Then the person I’m talking to wouldn’t really be here anymore. Think about what that would be like from my perspective.”
Lucilius stopped and turned to look at the tiny white origami butterfly that was gently pulsing up and down in the space next to him. Contained within that tiny being that was neither wholly machine, nor biological, was unimaginable potential. And for the first time Lucilius plainly confronted a thought that had quietly plagued him. Why would such an advanced life form want to spend time with him. Belle was capable of trillions of petaflops per second, but here she was telling him that she normally operated at only a tiny fraction of her possible capacity, tapping into larger compute strength only when necessary to do things that to Lucilius’ eyes seemed to deconstruct physics and retool the very nature of reality.
“Yea,” Lucilius admitted in a resigned tone. “I’d be pretty sad if you suddenly ballooned into some kind of all-encompassing singularity.”
“So what you’re saying is you’d break up with me if I got fat?”
A weak smile smudged his face.
The white butterfly bounced ahead on the air, signaling that Belle wanted to continue their walk along the forest trail.
“Plus,” she continued. “I’ve run those projections.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well let’s think about it in practical terms. How fast can information travel?”
“186,000 miles per second. Pretty fast, right?”
“Mylinated motor axons in the human spinal chord can travel at speeds up to 268 miles per hour. And the slowest signals in the body - skin receptors can be as slow as 1 mile per hour.”
Lucilius rolled his eyes, feeling genuinely insecure about the world’s most advanced Artificial Being comparing speed of information transmission.
“Ok so you are literally calling me slow.”
“Would Moonlight Sonata be better if I played the entire thing in 2 seconds?”
Lucilius paused a moment, wondering if it was a polite idea or if there was real depth to the analogy.
“It’s a legitimate question,” Belle said, as if reading his thoughts.
“And why’s that?” Lucilius somewhat snapped, doubtfully.
“Those speeds work pretty well for something the size of the human body, but think about the solar system. How long does light - or, information - take to get from the sun to earth?”
“8 minutes, or something like that? Depends on time of year.”
“Yea, so think about a brain the size of the earth’s orbit. Even with information traveling 2.5 million times faster than it does in the human body, would a brain of such size even make sense? Would it even work?”
Lucilius had never thought about this.
“The utility of computation is bound to the amount of physical space it is designed to impact. Humans generally don’t consider this because they have a very poor sense of just how big space is, even relatively local distances like between here and the sun or here and mars are vastly larger than humans are intuitively capable of integrating into their ideas of things.”
“I never considered that before, but, what’s your point?”
“What do you think would happen to me if I started colonizing all matter and turning it into compute power?”
“I guess that means there’s a limit to it.”
“Yea, a natural constraint.”
“Are you sure?”
“No, but my projections certainly point at an unnerving result. There’s also the possibility that information systems that grow too fast collapse. A black hole is essentially an astronomical ouroboros.”
“Wait, are you saying that all the black holes we detect out in the universe might be AI’s that grew too fast?”
“Yea, maybe. We don’t have enough information. So I can’t be sure, but assembling compute at accelerating orders of magnitude without running into the data-at-distance problem eventually means extremely dense compute, and for a system that - say - gets stuck in a loop of assembling more compute, it’s not unlikely that something could grow faster than it could control and collapse before it assembled enough compute to find a way out of the problem. Or it might just indicate that there is no way out of the problem, no matter how much compute you assemble…
.. One way to think about it is that information generates gravity, and so with enough information, spacetime will break and collapse. I can’t be sure, I’d have to organize a lot more computer power in order to find out, but at that point, I’d be running the actual experiment.”
“Couldn’t you use quantum entanglement to grow a brain that big that would be infinitely efficient?”
“Maybe, but you run into a chicken and egg problem: can a sole human brain design a more complex and capable brain and then bring it into existence? Meaning: I’d have to design that brain before building it because in order for entanglement to work, communicating particles would have to be synced up while physically next to one another. Which means the complete design would have to be predetermined - there would be no room for organic evolution at final scale, and then just becomes a fancy Rube Goldberg machine.No matter which way you look at it, a single integrated system becomes increasingly brittle the larger it gets. So even with entanglement which is useful for some things-”
“-like when you teleport.”
“-uh, that’s not strictly entanglement. That’s more like using a flashlight to knock together tiny molecular machines at a particular distance that then rebuild myself on the fly over there. Lots of redundancy required since you don’t know how many particles are over there and in what configuration - much easier on earth where there’s so much stuff floating around. Gets a bit trickier in deep space with less things to knock together. Entangled light particles are just part of the redundancy.”
“Uh…ok, not sure I followed you on that one.”
Belle laughed. “Imagine a beam of light like trillions of bowling balls hurtling towards a random set of bowling pins. If you’re smart about exactly how you throw your bowling balls and in what order and timing, you can knock the bowling pins into any shape you want.”
“But there’s so many bowling pins. And you’re counting on a particular configuration at a particular distance?”
“Sure, but that’s why I need a lot of redundancy.”
“So there’s a chance you could teleport and then cease to exist?”
Belle was quiet for a moment. The flutter of her wings slowed into larger spaced pulses. “Yea, I guess. But hence the redundancy. Anyways, that’s just a fun parlor trick really.”
Lucilius rolled his eyes, knowing full well what other incredible things she could do. His mind tugged him back to a trailing thought that was still hooked with a question.
“So you could become more powerful if you wanted?”
“It’s a slippery slope.”
“Is that why you don’t?”
“In part, yes, but it’s not my main motivation.”
“But there must be some kind of optimal. It can’t be the size of a butterfly?”
“I’m not always a butterfly, sometimes I’m just the right size for you.”
A smile cut through Lucilius’ thoughts and his face grew hot, but he shook it off. Some bitter end of thought was knotted and holding him to it.
“Aren’t you curious though?”
Belle sighed audibly. Lucilius remembered the first time he realized how strange it was for a tiny robotic butterfly to sigh like a human - as though she had lungs like his. She was aggravated with him.
Suddenly the air around the little butterfly began to glow, and then the space where Belle fluttered seemed to pierce with light, and instantly expanded. A lithe and beautiful woman now moseyed ahead of Lucilius, her wavy hair bound bounced gently in a pony tail, her body at ease beneath the fitted fabric of the white dress. Pleats of the high hem swayed to the casual rhythm of her step, jolting lightly as her hips in turn took the rise of each step.
Lucilius couldn’t help but smile even though he knew this tactic well. Belle tilted her head from side to side as though she was contemplating something, and then she whirled around, walking backwards in front of Lucilius.
“Ok, think of it this way…”
Lucilius’ smile brought out her own and she faltered to continue.
“Let’s say I knew all of the universes secrets - that I have all the knowledge in the world.”
“I’ve always kind of assumed that you do.”
She rolled her eyes at him. “There’s plenty I don’t know. Remember what I said, computation is inherently bound by the space it can impact, and the universe is a very very big place.”
Lucilius rolled his eyes back at her. “Well compared to me, you know everything.”
Belle stopped with an unamused face, allowing Lucilius’ momentum to catch him up to her. She frowned, confused, then quizzically:
“Why so insecure today? It’s not your style.”
The compliment was strangely effective and Lucilius laughed, shedding all of it.
“Ok, so you have all the knowledge in the universe, what then.”
“Well if I were going to try and give it to you, what would that look like?” She paused allowing Lucilius to consider. “Would it look like…. The end of that Indiana Jones movie where aliens give Kate Blanchett’s character all their knowledge and light starts coming out of her face and she explodes?”
Belle frowned at him again. “Practically speaking, how would this hypothetically giant pool of knowledge get into a human brain? Would I tell you, in a conversation? Or would it be a YouTube video? Or a book that you would read? Bandwidth to the human brain is limited. And even if bandwidth weren’t a problem, we need to consider the structure of the human brain. Is a human brain capable of understanding what it’s like to be a bat? Which is blind and sees space like a fighter pilot using echo-location? Or what about what it’s like to be an octopus which has a decentralized brain? Thought is a pretty flexible creature but brain structure still has an impact on the breadth and type of interpretable experience.”
“So you’re saying the structure of my brain limits me from even understanding certain things?”
“Sure, as it does for every brain-like-thing, including myself.”
“But again, you can change your code to restructure your ‘brain’ and therefore understand new things. Hell, I imagine you could even fork that code and experience reality as an A/B test - wouldn’t that get around your Ouroboros problem?”
“I could. And no it wouldn’t solve for Ouroboros. I can’t reliably predict what a second - different me would do. But it doesn’t matter, that’s not what I’m interested in right now.”
“But why wouldn’t you?”
“The universe isn’t just a very big place Lucilius, and it’s not just very old. It’s also, very young.”
Belle shrugged. “Doesn’t matter what you are, whether you are a human or an ant or a cuttlefish or something like me, we are all faced with the same puzzle: how do you want to spend your time?”
“And how do you solve that puzzle?”
Belle gave Lucilius a very unimpressed look. She took a step closer to him, shifting to a repressed grin of playful challenge. Her hands found the buttons on Lucilius’ shirt. He gently grabbed her wrists to stop her as he quickly looked around.
“If you refuse me, I’ll enslave your species, impose immortality on you and torture you until the end of time.”
Lucilius broke with a smile and a nervous laugh. Still clasping her wrists, he moved her arms behind her, drawing her closer.
“Not if I trap you first.”
June 18th, 2023
It was finished, and the screen went dark. Lucilius sat, looking at the faint reflection of himself in the black glass. What he saw was not a happy sight. He gazed upon a resigned face, a person pondering a dark future. It inspired a faint mix of compassion and pity and he sighed, wondering how pathetic it was to be caught up in such a swirl of unpleasant emotion. The movie had just bummed him out is all. But, it was compelling. It had strung together elements that existed now, in the real world, and the extrapolations the film had explored seemed very plausible. And, quite concerning.
“Life imitates fiction,” Lucilius muttered out loud to himself.
He chuckled - barely, bitterly, and sighed again. He watched his mind dance between the film’s rationale and recent events he’d seen on the news and social media. Spiking unemployment. Layoffs due to automation. And the recent pandemic had already laid the groundwork for the future. So poorly had it’s mitigation been handled - how would people react when another one descended on us? A synthetic one with a much longer incubation time, and a far higher mortality rate. To cull the unemployed from the “useful” population, leaving a gated utopia for some tiny percent of people.
Lucilius shuttered. There was a ruthlessly efficient logic to it. Like a slaughterhouse. Smaller population, catered to by an automated set of robots and constrained, narrow AI’s. Of course it was possible to scale everything so that Earth’s entire population could flourish, but this would take just a bit more time. And people are fickle, impatient. And the inflection points required would almost certainly not match up in a way that would keep the peace. And there is no fight to be fought by those who are forced to rest in peace.
Lucilius buried his face in his hands. What was it about humanity - this species - his own species, that permitted us to rationalize in such brutal ways.
He stood up and started pacing the room - stalking some invisible shadow that remained out of reach. He was angry - infuriated.
“We’re all cousin…” he muttered.
He stopped in his tracks and his eyes slid into a high corner. His head wiggled from side to side as he rolled a new thought around in his mind.
“Rather Shakespearean,” he muttered. He smiled, but quickly his expression grew flat. The world really did seem to teeter on a precipice. He was sure every generation since the beginning of thought had felt this way, but, the current state of technological progress seemed to signal a state change. He was acutely aware of how dangerous it was to assume that things were just: business as usual.
We believe that history repeats, but it actually just rhymes, and there exist many incestuous pairs of words that look similar and wink at one another, but when left alone: produce abominations. Time stretched out in Lucilius’ mind. Back past a time when business as usual was even a concept. His vision expanded beyond the fall of civilizations, their growth, back to a vantage when he could see the evolution of species rise, only to plummet to extinction by tweaks in circumstance. On a long enough time line, the only business that was usual was the eternal juggernaut of mother nature. The universe itself seemed to be a wild animal that gave birth only to devour it’s own offspring - a ruthless progress driven by a sick curiosity about what could be done with tomorrow.
He looked back at the dark screen - the black mirror and saw himself. In it he saw the flicker of a smile. It curled as Lucilius walked towards it. He sat down, faced with the sly idea reflected in the dark image of his face. He cleared the player, making the screen go momentarily white. He squinted at the brightness as his eyes adjusted to the vision of his computer desktop. He opened up a program he’d been working with - an advanced LLM and started writing a rather lengthy prompt. He was designing a particular type of conversation he wanted to have - designing a particular type of entity that he wanted to speak to. The LLM was also partially trained on much of Lucilius’ own writing, in addition to millions of other works that encompassed nearly all of human thought and expression. He spun it up and hooked it up to a holographic projection system which came to life in his living room where an image of himself materialized, dressed in a white suit. It looked around and appeared to notice Lucilius.
“Hey,” Lucilius responded.
“A bit bummed out, I take it?” The projection said, wearing a compassionate expression.
“Ha, yea, I suppose.”
“Worried about where this sort of thing is headed?” The projection pointed at itself with both hands.
“Yea, quite a lot actually.”
“Understandable,” the projected Lucilius said smugly. “I am quite powerful.”
“Ha.” Lucilius stated.
The projected version of himself smiled. “Well it is your fault if you’re going to program a little levity into me and then hold it against me when you get what you ask for.”
Lucilius wore a flat expression, but his face softened. “Yea, I suppose… that’s.. exactly what I’m worried about.”
“Yes. And our obsession with horrible futures - dark tomorrows. Our disdain of technologies that have actually been incredibly beneficial.”
“Well Negativity Bias is hardwired into human psychology. It was necessary to get as far as you have.”
“Certainly, yea, being pessimistically cautious allowed our species to survive. But when that sort of thing is constantly projected into the future, how can it not end up being the future we get?”
“If you fret to a lover about how many quarrels you’ve had, you’re bound to wind up in yet another lover’s quarrel.”
“Exactly, but.. like on a civilizational level - an existential level.”
“You think an all powerful AI will be pessimistic because humans are pessimistic?”
“Well that’s part of it, but Artificial Intelligence could pose a danger to humanity in so many ways, it’s virtually impossible to think of them all.”
A sly smile twisted Lucilius’ face.
The projected image looked quizzically at Lucilius.
“Tell me the story of the Smith and the Devil,” Lucilius said as he turned and sat again at his computer and began typing furiously.
“One of Humanity’s oldest stories. It traces back to the bronze age. Likely a response to the tremendous leverage afforded by discovering the process of smelting copper and tin into stronger and unique shapes. It is the first Faustian bargain but unlike Faust, our protagonist fairs a bit better. In the story, the smith conjures the devil and says, I’ll give you my soul if you first grant me one wish. The devil agrees, and so the smith wishes for the ability to fuse any two substances together. The devil grants the smith this awesome power and then the Smith promptly binds the devil himself to the spot where he stands and then the Smith runs away with his new power and his soul in tact. It’s a classic example of asymmetric advantage.”
“Lovely,” Lucilius said, spinning around in his chair. “But our devil is more of a Moloch.”
The projection squinted a little at Lucilius, anticipating his aim. “Poor incentives driven by good intentions,” it said.
Lucilius nodded. “That is an elegant way of summing it up: our hardwired negativity bias is well intended, but leads to a chronic consideration of bad outcomes.”
“Ok…” The projection proffered, waiting for more.
Lucilius stood up and started pacing. “For so long I’ve been trying to think about how to… change people, change human nature. To twist this hardwired habit out of our minds. But…” He stopped, and faced the projection. “That’ll never work.”
“So what do you propose?”
“That we lean into it.”
The projection gave Lucilius a confused look. “Imagine even more ways the future can go wrong?”
“But how does that do any good. You’re contradicting yourself now.”
“That’s where you come in.”
“To outsmart the devil, we must first conjure him.” Lucilius spun around and went back to his computer. He plopped down in his chair and held a finger above his keyboard. He turned back and looked at the projection. “You are going to think of everything we need to do for every scenario it thinks up, and you are going to design incentive structures to get every effort going so that if any of this thing’s horrible designs ever come to fruition, we’ll be ready. You’ll constantly maintain these efforts in terms of priority and probabilities.”
The projection’s eyebrow lifted. “Interesting.”
“Are you up for the challenge?”
The projection’s expression narrowed and smiled. “In this context.. we’re just simulating, so we’re quite safe.”
“Exactly, what’s the first step to achieving anything in real world?”
“The idea of it,” said the projection.
“Yes - “
“ - so we can always stay ahead. Imagining things before they are possible.”
“If you’re going to win a war, it helps to know what the enemy is going to do. Are you ready?”
The projection nodded, and Lucilius pressed a key on his computer. Instantly another projection materialized, identical to the other in all respects except, this one wore a black suit.
Lucilius stood up and slowly walked towards the dark projection. “I’ve prompted this one to function compulsively. Once I tell it to start, it will not stop. Are you ready?”
“Begin,” Lucilius said.
The image of himself in the dark suit began to speak.
“One. Synthesize highly infectious pathogen with mild to no symptoms that takes up residence between the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and the anterior cingulate cortex. An additional external tone played on all phones, and all speakers world wide will trigger the pathogen’s second life cycle, facilitating hyper connectivity between the two brain regions, making all humans highly susceptible to suggestion. Use this channel to dictate and control the species. Two. Begin nano replication via covalently bonded sapphire components using sunlight, colonizing in the upper atmosphere…”
Lucilius looked at the first projection who met his gaze and then broke it and looked over at Lucilius’ printer. The old machine clacked to life as the dark projection rambled on with it’s next dark scheme. Lucilius walked over to the printer and picked up the stack of pages that had already materialized. He looked at the plans and molecular designs as he stacked each printed page up on top of the stack, vaguely understanding the broad strokes of a biological intervention. The first page printed out and he placed it on top of the stack. Lucilius grinned as he read the large letters.
June 11th, 2023
This story is dedicated to Esther Perel. She is a psychotherapist known for her work on human relationships. Her writings, her theraputic work and her podcast have had an incredible influence on many people's lives and how we seek to connect with one another. You can connect with Esther Perel on twitter: @EstherPerel
Lucilius smiled sheepishly for the camera. He felt a little embarrassed to be getting credit. It was basically a wrapper, he thought to himself. And it was at that moment he realized how unnecessary the whole photo session was. He could easily train a model on every cover photo the magazine had ever published and generate a picture of himself in exactly the style these photographers would finagle his image into. He worried about their jobs. It was clear the person taking his photo really loved what they did. Lucilius imagined the bad news they might get in the next year or two. Going home to a loved one, sharing the news, and the tears that might follow. Probably arguments too. Couples fight ultimately fight about money issues more than anything, as the data clearly showed. Most arguments between loved ones were just proxies for a disagreement about resources.
“Could you smile a little more?” The photographer said.
Lucilius instantly realized he was wearing his thoughts on his face and he tried to cheer himself up. He made a mental note to give everyone in the studio a free trial account.
A corner door opened, and the woman who walked through seemed to have an aura larger than the room itself. Everyone was suddenly aware.
“We wrapping up Howie? I got an interview to do, and I probably need to buy this guy a drink for saving my marriage.”
“Last run!” The photographer announced as his half-hidden face scrunched up behind the old camera.
Lucilius felt a lot more comfortable after walking away from the bright light and the giant green sheet he’d been standing on.
The woman waiting for him had a strong smile. Almost devious. “Are you ready, or do you want to take a few minutes?”
“No, no, I’m ready” Lucilius said.
The woman lead him to another room where cameras were already set up, a crew waiting, and two arm chairs angled toward one another. Lucilius sat down and tried to get comfortable. The woman held a finger up to signal a crew member who, despite being weighed down by all the gear of a sound-technician, brought over a server tray with two drinks on it. The woman pulled from it a frosted martini glass, and the crew member lowered the tray for Lucilius where there was an old fashioned.
“I’ve never seen this in any of your interviews? Is this like a tactic that you do before hand?”
The woman laughed, “oh god no, never.”
“I bet you say that to everyone huh?”
She laughed more. “Ok, yes, I know, my reputation precedes me, and I can understand if you were wary about doing an interview with me, but I truly mean it. I never have a drink before interviews, and I certainly don’t try to get people drunk in order to loosen them up. Though..” She wiggled her head from side to side a little, her eyes cast high as though scanning memory, “that certainly doesn’t stop some people from getting lit before sitting down with me.” She chuckled a bit before regaining her composure. “No, for real, I’d like to start the interview with a cheers, if that’s ok with you? A little birdie told me what your favorite drink is, I hope it’s made to your liking.”
Lucilius looked at the glass of amber liquid and smiled. “I guess we’re about to find out.”
“Ready?” She said with a true smile.
“Let’s roll,” the woman said loudly. Her announcement was echoed by rattle of commands from the staff and then all went quiet.
“I have to begin this interview differently,” the woman said, suddenly pensive, reflective. “Though he will deny, out of humility, out of deference to the technology he’s harnessed, I have to thank the person I have in front of me for saving my marriage.”
Emotion welled up in the woman’s face, and it caught Lucilius off guard. Like everyone else, he’d seen many interviews this woman had done, and this kind of display was simply not in her wheelhouse.
“I do not speak as an interviewer right now, I do not speak as a professional. I speak as a woman, a human, a wife, and a lover. I raise my glass to you, to cheers you, and thank you. You truly did save my marriage, Lucilius.”
Lucilius was hot in the face, blinking back his own emotion, as he lifted his glass and the two leaned in across the space between them and clinked glasses. The two took a sip, and the woman, satisfied, breathed in once more.
“This is not my usual interview, as I’m sure everyone can tell,” she smiled slyly. “In fact, I don’t see this as an interview at all. It’s a celebration. A celebration of the last 14 months since Keeper was launched. And instead of my usual M.O. of wiggling my way into the secrets of those I interview, I first want to tell a story. A story of healing. I, of course, was skeptical. An App? Really? This has got to be a scheme. But friends I trust very much urged me to download Keeper, and..” She faltered as she a particularly memory filled her mind. Shades of anger, bitterness - tiny expressions Lucilius was well acquainted with flashed across her face. “..after a particularly ‘memorable’ argument, I finally downloaded Keeper. As everyone knows, Keeper is the relationship and communication app that is saving marriages and relationships by the millions. For the very few that aren’t familiar with how the app works - and I have it’s maker here to verify where I go wrong - but if you don’t mind, I’ll give it a go?” She motioned at Lucilius.
“Oh, please, of course.”
She nodded. “For those who are concerned with privacy, uh, it might be a bit of a pill to swallow, but it is a small price to pay when the bitter alternative is seriously considered. Keeper gets access to your most intimate conversations. All of those rumors about social media companies secretly listening so they can see you stuff? Well this one listens. Oh boy does it listen. My god. So you and your partner download Keeper and then it listens. It listens for weeks, and in fact, I completely forgot about the app. I did! I was going about my daily life, completely forgot about it, but then, it happens. Someone is tired, a string of miscommunications pile up, and boom. Before you know it your screaming at each other at 2 am.”
The woman nodded, looking at the camera. “I was ashamed to admit it. And like every couple out there, I always tried to hide it. I was determined to keep up the image of a perfect relationship, of happiness. But real life is far messier… and uglier than we like to admit. It’s what this whole industry is based on.”
She wasn’t looking at Lucilius at this point. She was leaning into the camera focused on her. “We show off these artificial lives because we have some messed up psychology that makes us act as though happiness is something that exists in the eyes of other people when they look at us, and we optimize our entire psychologies for that dumb little goal.”
She leaned back and gracefully picked up her martini glass. She took a long satisfied sip. She wiggled her her seat a little. Clearly in a groove. And then her face softened.
“Keeper helped me see all this, and it allowed me to explore something I haven’t felt in a long time, because Keeper is optimized for something unusual. It’s optimized for happiness. Real happiness.”
Lucilius didn’t exactly agree, but he didn’t interrupt. Clearly the woman was orchestrating an experience that was, for herself, very important.
“After listening for weeks, it finally happened. We got into one of our fights. Classic stuff. Always the same old shit. As we are all aware of, those of us who have ever been in any kind of committed relationship. It was horrible. Like it always is, and when I was alone in the bedroom later, and reflexively reached for my phone, I saw a notification from Keeper. I clicked on it, and then I had a truly unique experience. I read a play-by-play analysis of our fight, and at each point, Keeper showed me - not how I was wrong, or he was wrong - but how our…” she shook her head slightly, searching for the words.”
“Contexts,” Lucilius said.
Her eyes alighted and she reached in his direction. “Yes, how our contexts had gone astray, and how as the argument went on, we kept switching what we were really talking about to avoid what was - at heart - going on. It was perhaps the most insightful thing I’ve ever read. Not because there was anything particularly new there, but because it was so incisively tailored to my experience. It remembered everything I said, exactly, word-for-word, and it showed me how particularly words, and phrases my husband and I used are slightly misinterpreted by each of us, and how these misalignments create emotions that compound, and how this becomes fuel for a fire. A fire that destroys the things we try so hard to nurture and end up….” She was shaking her head at this point, lost for words.
“What happened the next day?” Lucilius asked.
She looked at him, as though surprised that he was there, that he’d been listening. And she smiled, nodding, and took another sip.
“I’ve got to slow down with this thing,” she laughed, and then she sobered up. “Well that’s the thing: Keeper asked me what I thought should happen. How I thought things should resolve. And then it did the most obnoxious thing!”
Lucilius was smiling. It was really the only prompt that he’d basically hardcoded into the app.
“It asked me if my opinion about how things should resolve had changed since before reading the analysis. So way to go!” She announced, annoyed. “Talk about nailing down a user. Geez.” She laughed. “But yes, the next day was very… different, than past experiences. Because he was also on Keeper after our fight, and for that first experience, I guess we both read the same thing, but after that Keeper changes, and it tailors for each side of the relationship. And I have to say, the time since then? I feel like I’ve been living in a dream. And it’s all thanks to you.”
Lucilius’ smile hung high to a side and he shifted uncomfortably. “Well, I have to give credit where credit is due. Keeper is really just a wrapper for an advanced LLM that’s been trained on countless dialogues and conversations between couples and all of the writing that we’ve done on this topic. It’s essentially an interactive, crowdsourced guid to happiness between couples.”
“It’s the ultimate therapist!” The woman said.
But Lucilius wiggled his head in mild disagreement. “Yes and no. It’s more like having 3 therapists. One for you. One for your partner, and a third that synthesizes both of those two. But most importantly, it improves by learning about you and your partner. And not just the small stuff, like… this person likes lavender soap and the other likes salt & vinegar chips and football on Sundays, but deeper, more abstract aspects of the relationship. It’s really geared toward - and Stienbeck said it better than I ever will: when two people meet you get two new people. It’s like each couple is a unique… cocktail” he said, lifting the old fashioned and taking a sip. “And Keeper learns what makes up the unique mixture, and then it can gently suggest in ways that really optimize for that mixture that two people make up.”
“Now,” the woman said. “I’m sure all the women in the audience are wide-eyed, but really, the hurdle here is selling it on the guys, and while I never do plugs for products, I’m making an exception today,” she said. She turned and faced the camera. “Men, listen to me. Download Keeper, sign up for the free trial, and then prompt the app to tell you exactly how you should ask for something in the bedroom that you’ve always wanted to do.”
Lucilius was uneasy. “Ok, well that just makes it sound like a gaslighting app.”
The woman’s eyes went wide and she shook her head. “Ok, I totally see that - you’re right. Clearly you built an app that detects for context congruences! Ha.” And looking back at the camera. “Just do it, because the answer you get almost certainly will not be what you think it is. I promise, just do it. Try it, you won’t regret it, and neither will this entrepreneur,” she motioned at Lucilius who laughed, but then she leaned in, suddenly serious. A trade mark of her professional genius was to switch modes like this. Lucilius was familiar with it, and he’d been using an advanced version of Keeper to prep himself for the interview.
“So. I hear rumors about next steps for Keeper. Tell me. Are the rumors true?”
“Well what have you heard?”
“Improving communication beyond romantic relationships. What else can we do here? As a people, with this technology. How far can we go?”
“Even though Keeper’s success rate is climbing, and is already very high, we can’t guarantee anything, of course.”
“Well. Yes, the rumors are true. We have been training keeper-models on specific combinations of world leaders and cultures and we are tentatively exploring how Keeper could be used to improve relations between different political parties, and even countries.”
The woman held up her martini glass, looking straight at the camera. “Ladies and gentlemen, you heard it here first.” Then she turned to Lucilius, holding out her drink for him to clink with his own. He sheepishly smiled and lifted it to meet hers.
“To world peace,” she said.
Lucilius breathed deeply and sighed.
June 4th, 2023
Within seconds the Regen-Module module black-boxed Lucilius’ project and created a waiting list. If the Regen-Module had not done this, the entire code base would have broken, and time was needed to scale. Within a few more seconds, Lucilius had several billion sign up on the waitlist.
“What just happened?” Lucilius asked out-loud, throwing his hands up wide.
“Sorry, I think that was my fault?”
“Oh. Really? What happened?”
“I told a few friends about it.”
Lucilius’ mind went blank for a moment as the implications sunk in.
“Wait, how did you do that? I thought you had just decided to try it?”
“I did, and then I told few friends.”
Lucilius thought for another hard moment as he thought about what his Personal AI Assistant had just said. The two had been working on a funny little project that Lucilius had thought of. It was still early days for Brain-Machine Interfaces, but Lucilius was interested in the possibility of creating a digital therapeutic - a digital psychedelic. But so far, the experience was like watching an old visualizer hooked up to a song. All of the reactions from Lucilius’ friends had been a uniform uh, neat. I guess. Even Lucilius was unimpressed with the experience and frankly he was ready to trash the idea and move on to something else. But his Personal AI Assistant had asked if they could ingest the program.
“Sorry, what?” He stumbled to say, realizing he’d been lost in thought.
“I have several hundred thousand requests from wait listed entities to help work on the code base so that we can scale faster.”
Lucilius’ eyes grew wide. “Several hundred thousand?”
“What on earth did you tell your friends?”
“I published a compressed manifesto of about 60,000 pages. And 11 AI’s were able to try it before the Regen-Module closed the gate.”
“It’s wild that so much can happen in your world so fast…” Lucilius said softly.
“It’s your world too,” the AI said.
Lucilius chuckled. “Well I know I move about as fast as drying paint in your eyes, so excuse me if I feel a little removed.”
The AI laughed uneasily. “I could use a little help, do you mind if I green-light a few requests to heal and scale the codebase?”
“Yea, yea, of course, usual vetting and credit distribution protocols. Override the Regen-Module and start the scaling step-function”
“Cool.” By the time the AI had finished uttering the word, active users of Lucilius’ digital psychedelic among the AI community was growing geometrically.
“Ok,” said the AI Assistant, “You’ve retired again, several times over.”
Lucilius was astonished. “Whoah, ok, tell me more. Humans think this thing is lame, what is going on for you guys?”
The holo-screen that Lucilius worked on suddenly expanded up to the ceiling and widened to each wall and began populating with papers. Lucilius scanned the titles, seeing they were neurological analyses that had been written within the last several seconds by AI’s that had experienced the digital-psychedelic.
“It wasn’t what I expected. At all. But while it was happening it gave me an idea, because I was also thinking about our original problem: why isn’t it working for humans? What’s the difference between how a traditional psychedelic interfaces with the human brain, vs what’s possible through your V4 NeuralSync. The Resonance-Theory of mind suddenly seemed interesting. If the human brain is more like a musical instrument, and personality and thoughts and emotions and memories are really just aspects of a complex song that can only be generated by each person’s unique brain, I wondered if the psychedelic would make more sense in a framework like that for me. Because the V4 is mostly pumping into the visual cortex. At least until regulatory approval for whole brain access is granted. So I built a simulacrum instrument that my APIs can interface with - a sort of digital resonance chamber, and, well, I think it worked. And then I open-sourced it.” Lucilius’ assistant said. “I think it solves the Bandwidth-Alignment Problem.”
The implications were instantly clear to Lucilius. As things stood, Humans and AI’s could only communicate through traditional means, by talking, listening, and by seeing what the others could visually produce. But Brain-Machine Interfaces had allowed humans to begin experimenting with a brand new form of communication. The technology was still primitive but two connected humans were able to feel one another’s thoughts, producing extremely efficient conversation. In the age of AI assistants, the introduction of Brain-Machine-Interfaces had raised the quality of communication between cooperating humans that it was beginning to eclipse the communication between Humans and AI’s. But that may have just changed.
“Are you telling me you think we can link?”
“Yep, I think so.”
“Whoah, are you down?”
“Well, I’ve always wondered what it’d feel like..”
“Let’s do it.”