[ExI] self-accelerating AI sf?

Dan Ust dan_ust at yahoo.com
Sat Aug 6 00:34:59 UTC 2011

I've been known to opine a thing or two about Lem:


Sorry for the shameless self-promotion. :)



On Aug 5, 2011, at 12:06, Tomasz Rola <rtomek at ceti.pl> wrote:

> Hello,
> 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 
> goes:
> 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 
> real life).
> 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 
> idiots".
> 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 
> today.
> Regards,
> Tomasz Rola
> --
> ** 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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