[ExI] self-accelerating AI sf?
rtomek at ceti.pl
Fri Aug 5 16:06:13 UTC 2011
Just in case anybody here would like to know more about Stanislaw Lem and
his take on subject of self-accelerating AI...
(And I hope that after some DNS glitches this is the only copy that made
it to the list :-) )
The usual suspect is:
[ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golem_XIV ]
There are few stories by Lem which, depending on mood and other factors
could be read as dealing with AI.
>From "Tales of Pirx the Pilot"
[ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tales_of_Pirx_the_Pilot ]
- The Hunt - mining drone goes rampant on the Moon and Pirx joins
hunting expedition - there is a bit more than action movie, however.
- The Accident - during research exploration of distant planet, it seems
that Aniel (this name is made up and in Polish has some closeness to
angel and feminine name Aniela-Angela), kind of multipurpose servant bot,
decided to hike in the mountains without assecuration (just like it took a
challenge to prove itself) but after slipping down, trashed on the rocks
below. Pirx doesn't share his thoughts with others about this and he
agrees that robot must have suffered some kind of failure.
- The Inquest - during test flight of robotic pilots (mixed crew, Pirx is
unable to tell who is human and who is not), one of them tries to kill all
humans and establish his own kind-of-empire somewhere in a distant part of
space, but fails because another non-human cooperates with Pirx.
- Ananke - Pirx takes part in an investigation, trying to discover reason
behind failures of advanced space ship navigation units and learns how,
during their training by human supervisor, they not only take his good but
his wrong traits from him, too.
And in "The Star Diaries"
[ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Star_Diaries ]
the protagonist, Ijon Tichy, has few encounters with advanced proto-AIs.
But I am not sure if those stories had been translated into English (I
guess that no, unfortunately). Seems that stories about his voyages have
been translated, while second part of Polish version ("Ze wspomnien Ijona
Tichego", "Memoirs of Ijon Tichy") seems to have been left. Anyway, here
After traveling through space and time, Tichy spends some period on Earth
and he meets a few original types, each one described in his own story.
"Professor Corcoran" is arrogant scientist (they happen to find Tichy with
their sixth sense, obviously) specialising in cybernetics, who stores
artificial brains in big boxes and makes them believe they are humans,
with their own lifes, emotions etc. He also believes that he himself is
such brain stored in someone's else basement.
Later on, in "Professor Decantor", he meets another scientist, who makes
brain copies of living people, so that they can live "forever" (as long as
material lasts, maybe even through the end of Universe) and calls those
copies their souls. However, souls are unable to make contact with outside
world, so this is more like preparated brain in a glass container... And
to make things even more problematic, copying involves death of original.
The story is also a play on religious beliefs and promises of eternal
life. Decantor shows to Tichy a soul of his wife and Tichy is shaken. He
later goes on to bargain the soul, and after disgusting negotiations Tichy
is allowed to destroy it.
Next, in "Laundry opera" ("Tragedia pralnicza", verbatim translation =
"laudry tragedy"), Tichy describes a number of consequences of introducing
intelligent washing machines, kitchen stoves and other such home
appliances. Some of them became pregnant with their owners, some made
billions on speculation and other black market stunts. When producers,
horrified as events unfolded, decided to limit parts production, in effect
controlling robot population, robots formed bands robbing other robots on
the streets. Some space ships decided to try their luck pirating other
ships and fighting with cybernetic police ships, etc etc... Finally, there
are news of strange object in Crab Nebula, looking like monstrous human,
making moves like a swimmer. The object makes contact with a ship sent to
check it, explains his name is Mattrass and it is formed from robots (a'la
cells in a body), and asks humans to not disturb him as he swims in gasous
cloud and does as he pleases. The problem of Mattrass ownership or
citizenship arises and the court trial is under way, but during this it is
discovered that some people in the room are in fact robots in disguise. So
they start removing robots from the room until Tichy remains alone. Being
alone and having nothing to do, he walks home. BTW this story, in my
opinion, plays on capitalism and it's reliance on lawyers. And what
happens when we pair this with emergent automata (mostly: a lot of
nonsense, which looks very funny in a story, but might be not so funny in
In "Doctor Diagoras" Tichy meets with another eccentric. This one hates
professor Corcoran so much, that he put his copy into cuckoo clock, so
that every hour Corcoran-bis is shouting, asking for help, crying and
trying to negotiate his delivery out of prison, all for entertainment of
Diagoras, who pleases himself while he insults and mocks Corcoran-bis...
Who even went so far as to enabling Corcoran-bis a phone call to his
original, so that his imprisonment is even more humiliating (i.e. a copy
knows that he is a copy and thus cannot have much hope about freedom).
Diagoras tours Tichy through his spacious labolatory and shows him cages,
in which he holds cybernetic organisms created by himself. However, he -
contrary to other cyberneticians - does not want them to be obedient so
that he can make another evolution rather than imitate and "plagiarize"
the one that had already happened. Creatures are not really intelligent,
rather similar to lower animals, driving on primitive control mechanisms
like various forms of tropism. However they can be spontanically
aggressive and they all rather sooner than later try to escape, hence
cages. Also, Diagoras criticises idea of building perceptron and
developing Eniac, as a way to build "electric slaves and computing
Next, they come to a panzer well, in which there lay remains of another
cyberorganism. Diagoras gave it a way to replicate and self organise, and
as soon as it went on, it tried to liberate itself. So, somehow it was
able to rebuild its body made of weak steel into hardened one, and started
to dig and ram into the wall made of steel plates and reinforced concrete.
To stop it, Diagoras sunk it in liquid oxygen (throwing Dewar flasks
straight into the well), so its moves became discoordinated and before
oxygen evaporated (and before creature had chance of adopting itself to
superconductivity) he managed to saw a creature into pieces with a small
remotely controlled saw.
Further on, Diagoras presents to Tichy two isolated rooms, in every room
there is glass tank with "thinking polymer". He proudly claims to train
this chemical substance into solving problems of growing complexity by
using electric and magnetic shocks on them. However, as he noticed, they
started to exchange radio messages, so he isolated them from each other
with metal sheets. Again, they changed medium to infrasounds, prompting
him to isolate them acoustically. After that they somehow overcame an
obstacle and resumed their talk, this time by unknown means. Also, they
ignored his attempts to enter this exchange. As they talk and go from one
tank to another, carefully closing heavy doors behind, Tichy notices that
Diagoras' hand taps onto the glass. They realise that Diagoras was
creatures' medium and that he became their experimental subject. Shortly
after Diagoras bursts in anger and wants Tichy to leave immediately, which
he does calmly and without opposition. Later, recalling this, Tichy is not
certain about causes of both this anger and his own silence. A month
passes, and Tichy reads in a newspaper that technicians trying to repair
electric cable have found Diagoras house silent and empty, with two empty
undamaged glass tanks, and Diagoras himself is assumed missing and never
to be seen again.
That's all, for some time at least.
BTW, the funny fact is that Tichy memoirs are from 1961 and Pirx tales I
mentioned above are from years 1965-1971, AFAIR.
The subject of mechanistic intelligence is a common subject of "Robot's
Tales" ("Bajki robotow"), "The Cyberiad", "The Mask" ("Maska" - stream of
consciousness of a killer bot that gradually fails in love with its
running away target), "The Invincible" (space cruiser lands on a planet
and has to deal with - as one could say today - microbots that are
possibly a product of mechanistic evolution, kind of "grey goo" but made
of macroscopic elements, however question of sentience level of those
clouds is left unanswered).
Oh, to be frank I could go on and on - I would risk to say that AI and
it's relations with humanity was the main and real subject of Lem's works,
both "action books" and philosophy pieces (like "Summa Technologiae"),
even thou thanks to him being among the firsts to explore such themes, he
had to invent his own terms and words, so in Summa there is a part devoted
to Intellectronics rather than to AI, Phantomology rather than "virtual
reality" and so forth (Summa had it's first Polish edition in 1964, so
even if some terms had been used before, it would be too strange to
import them into Polish language and Lem, being great erudite, choosed
to go his own way). And in his "action books" action wasn't the main
raison d'etre of the books, or at least this is how I am reading them
** A C programmer asked whether computer had Buddha's nature. **
** As the answer, master did "rm -rif" on the programmer's home **
** directory. And then the C programmer became enlightened... **
** Tomasz Rola mailto:tomasz_rola at bigfoot.com **
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