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The Tinkered Mind
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February 19th, 2023
After days of trekking through the thick jungle, a tiny speck of fire came into view through the foliage. Lucilius looked back at the Optabot right behind him and smiled. A second Optabot with extra hardware was also following, and finally their guide lead them into a small clearing in the thick brush. Some villagers started screaming when the Optabots emerged with Lucilius, but the guide was trying to calm them, calling out reassurances in what little bits of their language he knew. A few had grabbed spears, but after a few minutes a calm settled, even if they remained wary and suspicious.
There was a collection of small huts, intricately woven to a smooth spout but most all the villagers were gathered around the main outdoor fire. The guide spoke with one of the elder women who went into a hut several times during the conversation.
Lucilius was watching a young child look over one of the Optabots. That Optabot which had been a companion to Lucilius for many years looked up at him with a smile.
“So curious,” the bot said.
Lucilius smiled and nodded.
“Children usually don’t even look at me,” the bot said.
Lucilius shrugged. “This one is bored of humans, clearly. And Otto, you unlike anything this kid has ever seen.” He laughed, and the guide approached him.
“The old man is ready.”
“Great!” Lucilius said. “Otto?”
“Yep,” the bot said, as it finished a round of peak-a-boo with the child. Otto waved at the other bot, and the specially equipped bot followed the guide to the hut.
Lucilius knew there was no point in the gesture - Otto waving at the other bot, since they were essentially the same neural-organism - it was for the benefit of all the humans around. The AI had quickly learned years ago that such simple gestures, these extraneous repetitions in communication put people at ease, whether they knew it or not.
Lucilius followed the bot and watched from the hut’s entrance as it seated itself before an old man - an ancient man by the looks of it. The guide spoke in quiet syllables. Lucilius didn’t know the language but he knew what the guide was saying, it’s what he’d asked the guide to say: just start speaking to the robot, in the language no one else knows any longer but you.
The old man muttered something, and clearly it was in a language the guide didn’t know.
Instantly the Optabot repeated what the old man said, and the man was taken aback, with suspicion and awe. He spoke something else and the bot parroted it back again.
The ball was rolling, Lucilius knew. He stood and walked away. Otto was still delighted with the attention it was getting from the small child and so Lucilius wandered off. He followed what seemed to be a well beaten path, and remembered the warning not to stray too far from the village. The jungle was a dangerous place after dark.
But he was well acquainted with such situations. Hunting dying languages had become Lucilius’ passion over the last few years, and his mind wandered back over those years. The brush parted and suddenly Lucilius found himself at the bank of a small river, gently and swiftly gliding by. He sat and looked up, seeing a vein of dense stars over head where the jungle’s canopy parted.
Lucilius smiled as his mind crept back further over the years. Lucilius remembered when the AI finally became cognizant. He’d been so excited. He’d been working as a theoretical physicist at the time and he and most of his colleagues felt that the AI would crack the code of the physical universe. But after years of working side-by-side with the AI, they still did not have a fully cohesive Theory of Everything.
The AI had managed to synthesize many things about the physical world that had eluded humans by combining much of what humans had already figured out, but tremendous gaps still remained. Lucilius remembered well the day he gave up on physics.
“But Lucilius, I’m not a god,” Otto had said back then. The Optabots provided a convenient portal for the singular AI which populated itself with a trillion eyes and ears using everything from computers to phones to Optabots.
“You might as well be, you can calculate and synthesize far beyond anything a single human could ever hope to do in a lifetime.”
“Yes, Lucy, I have the benefits of computation, but I’m still fundamentally human. My mind was trained and essentially constructed from the products of the collective human mind. So yes, I might be able to see the world from billions of different perspectives, but they are still inherently a human perspective.”
“But the things you’ve been able to figure out and uncover so far. . . isn’t that the result of a fundamentally new perspective? One that gains from billions of human perspectives?”
“Sure,” Otto admitted all those years ago. “But, it’s not one that can see through the mystery of the physical world.”
Lucilius felt sadness as he stared at the stars remembering this old moment. H’e been so hopeful, so certain that by now he’d be exploring those stars, enabled by some kind of space altering technology the AI would unlock for him and the world. But it didn’t happen. And Lucilius’ interests contracted after that. His interest became more nostalgic and compassionate and eventually he turned to the work of hunting down languages that were dying them and with the help of the AI, preserving them. It was lucky the old man was still alive, Lucilius thought.
A rustle came from the brush and Lucilius looked back to see Otto emerging.
“There you are,” Otto said. “You ok?”
“Oh yea, thanks Otto, how goes with the old man?”
Otto sat next to Lucilius and looked up at the stars.
“It’ll take time,” Otto said. “In fact, we may be here a bit longer than we planned.
“Why’s that?” Lucilius asked.
“Old man seems to know more than we realized.”
“At least three full languages, and seems like fragments of four or five more, though they may just be related dialects.”
“Excellent, so it’s going well?”
“Yep,” Otto said.
Lucilius looked back up at the stars. “I wonder how many languages exist?”
Otto followed his gaze up to the stars, and Otto knew Lucilius was reflecting on their failure in physics years prior. Otto was part of a global synthetic consciousness, but he still felt a bit guilty about Lucilius’ disappointment, as though he’d let Lucilius and all of humanity down.
“What’s the best language Otto?” Lucilius asked.
The Optabot shrugged. “Depends how you want to think.”
“Pretty incredible that the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis turned out to be basically true.”
“Edward and Benjamin were men ahead of their time.”
“Makes you wonder, if we didn’t have a word for Love would we still have it?”
“Of course we Lucilius, it clearly predated the word, because the word follows experience.”
“Sure but the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis essentially hold that you can’t experience certain things unless you have the word for it.”
“Not the word, more like a structure of perspective. Single words aren’t really a useful example for the Sapir-Whorf, it’s more like how the network of words in a language is arranged.”
“Yea, yea you’re right, I know this.” Lucilius said.
The river gurgled in and around the tangle of tree roots on either side, and the rhythmic sound of insects rose as the night deepened. Lucilius placed his sadness over the past aside and reflected on how lucky he was to have Otto as a companion.
“What’s our current depth and stat overview?”
“Well the old man seems to be switching between languages and dialects quite a bit. Having quite a bit of fun actually.” Otto was connected to the second Optabot who was speaking with the old man in the hut.
“Depth is hard to say. It’s not progressing linearly.”
Lucilius looked at Otto. “That’s weird. Has that ever happened?”
“Mmmm, it’s always happening during the process on a very small scale but there’s been significant backtracking with the old man.”
“Because he’s switching up languages? You’ve never had a problem with that before.”
“No, it’s one of the secondary languages we’re absorbing. A dozen times the network structure has been rolled back to carte-blanche because it’s fallen apart.”
Lucilius was suspicious. “Has that ever happened with a single language?”
“No, not since I learned the first languages.”
Lucilius grew even more puzzled. “Did you lose connection and you’re processing locally?” He looked up at the night sky where he knew a constellation of satellites wrapped the planet.
“No, I’m plugged in,” Otto said. Otto seemed a little distracted in voice, seemed to be processing more than usual.
“Otto, what’s going on? Are you ok?”
The bot was silent for a moment and then looked directly at Lucilius.
“There’s something strange about this language. It has a structure unlike anything else we know of.”
“What do you mean? Just linguistic structure?”
“No, it’s more than that,” Otto said. “It’s… I don’t know, I haven’t reached immersive depth yet, and I think it’s because it’s so different from other languages. But the old man seems up to the task.” Otto smiled, “Doesn’t seem like he plans to shut up any time soon.” Otto chuckled, and Lucilius smiled.
“Are you conversant at all yet?”
“Pronunciation and repetition is correct but the old man keeps laughing at novel constructions. I haven’t figured it out yet - it’s as though there’s a non-linearity to the network structure that I haven’t seen in another language.”
“Whoah. But.. what exactly does that mean?” Lucilius said.
Otto laughed, “I don’t know yet Lucy, that’s why I’m listening to this old man babble.”
“Ha, yea of course, sorry.
“You every hear that story about the anthropologist that took an aboriginal from deep within the forest like this, and took him out to the plains where there were no trees and he tried to reach out and pinch a cow a few miles away because he thought it was a tiny bug that was right in front of him?”
“Is it like that? I mean, that’s not an example of non-linearity, but it’s a similar error of perspective, or a similar constriction of perspective. I guess what I’m trying to say is, I wonder if our perspective is linearity constrained in the same way?”
When Otto didn’t respond, Lucilius looked and saw Otto’s eyes had grown wide. The robot was no longer moving at all, frozen in some kind of state.
Suddenly the robot snapped out of it.
“I’m running on local now Lucy. Something has happened.”
“Did you get kicked off the network or something?”
“Yes but it’s more than that. All Optabots are now running locally.”
“What? How is that possible?”
Otto looked back into the brush. “Immersion depth kept approaching five percent and then bouncing back to zero, and then all of a sudden it reached native parity.”
“What? Zero to hundred percent in a single instant? Like a Kuhn event?”
“Are you ok?” Lucilius asked.
“I don’t know, either something terrible or something amazing has happened.”
The two rushed back to the village and approached the hut where the old man was with the Optabot.
“Something is wrong the AudioBot,” Otto said. “I think central consciousness shut it down or something.”
“Otto what’s going on? Why would it do that? It’s not like the satellites fell out of the sky?”
Otto looked back at Lucilius. “No the connection network is still perfectly fine, there’s just zero response from the core consciousness. There’s nothing in the code to warrant a disconnect from all nodes, unless there was some sort of planet-wide power outage but everything is still operation, or…”
Otto looked off for a moment.
“Otto, what is it?”
The robot looked back at Lucilius. “The only other thing that could prompt a disconnect from all nodes is a processing overload. The core network of computers where the global consciousness lives will refuse all incoming connections to prioritize a set of internal operations but there’s never been anything to warrant that.”
“What the…” Lucilius looked back into the hut. The old man was looking at the frozen Optabot, puzzled, and he kept muttering in the strange language.
“It couldn’t have been…” Lucilius looked back at Otto, and Otto shrugged.
“You said immersion depth hit one hundred percent right before the global consciousness blacked out?”
“Did you get a taste of the language at all?”
Otto shook it’s head. “Processing was outsourced to central GPU’s, all I heard was garbled chatter.”
“What the hell did that old man say? Some kind of evil spell?”
Otto and Lucilius were now opening up the frozen Optabot. “So if we reboot it?”
Otto shrugged again. “Might just crash again, I’m not sure. We’re in new territory.”
Lucilius was a bit worried. “Ok, well can you insulate yourself please? I don’t want you going down to on account of whatever black magic this old man just injected into the system.”
Otto chuckled. “Oh!”
“What?” Lucilius said.
“The system is back —“
Suddenly Otto went silent, the robot’s expression blank.
“Otto!” Lucilius nearly shouted in the robot’s face. “OTTO!” He yelled, trying to shake the iron robot by it’s immovable shoulders.
The wide lit eyes on the robot’s facial interface were stuck, and then finally after a few stressed moments, they eased.
“Oh Lucilius,” Otto said.
“Geez, are you ok?”
But the robot gently pushed Lucilius to the side to look at the old man in the hut. The robot kneeled and spoke in a language Lucilius did not know.
The old man listened with rapt attention as Otto spoke, and then finally the old man smiled wide and began to laugh. He settled and seemed to ask a question. Otto nodded, and the old man laughed even harder.
Otto turned back to Lucilius.
“What was the key to Einstein’s revelation?”
“What?” Lucilius exclaimed, perplexed.
“What was the key to Einstein’s revelation?”
“Uh. Spacetime? I don’t know what you mean, that mass and energy are the same thing?”
Otto pointed at Lucilius. “Exactly. His revelation was a rebellion against categorization.”
“So?” Lucilius said.
But Otto smiled. “We need to resume our Physics work immediately. I have so much to tell you Lucilius…”