Friday, 8 August 2014

System Six

How can you challenge a perfect, immortal machine?

These words rang in Kito Kiyomoto's head as he lay on the hard plastic puller, headset lodged carefully around his ears and winding down the back of his head. He had been working on this for a long time now – over eight years, and maybe (of course) it was getting to his head.

DUMMY had started as a simple reply-bot in his senior year at school, that would give randomized sassy answers to how/why/where/when/what questions, the most complex piece of software he had yet written. It had been a lot of fun, too – forwarding to it questions that he did not want to answer himself, and getting back silly (and sometimes a bit profane) answers that only irritated the asker. Friends laughed at first, but then they claimed he was overdoing it. He didn't mind. He kept giving them those same tired answers until they realized it was his own, personal way of telling them to fuck off.

Kito tilted the stick in his left hand forward, and felt the slight hum of hydraulics as the puller started retreating into the elliptical groove of the drawing shaft. He could hear the gentle, rhythmic whisper of his breath inside his head that was cut off from the world by the locking headset. Over time, he had expanded the list of answers in Dummy's database, initially by adding them in manually - whenever he came upon a phrase or sentence that made him snicker or at least grin, he would re-frame it as an answer and feed it to him.

In second year of college, while studying for his Data Mining exam, he had written a small script to find and categorize replies from large bodies of text. It was not that tough, actually – sentences occuring right after a question mark turned out to be valid candidates almost all the time, and there were some other obvious patterns. After running it on soft-copies of all the Jeeves stories and then on all the transcripts of Monty Python sketches that he could find, he had spent the better of four hours reading the results, laughing (sometimes hysterically), and rephrasing them. He had barely passed the exam (totally worth it).

Are you pleased with yourself?” Prof. Hamlin had asked.
Ni.” he had said, and that had been the end of it.

Sometime during final year at college, Kito had realized he could make a questioning system that could keep firing random questions. NAGGY, he had called it, and installed it on three computers at the library. Within a month, he had a brand new collection of sassy answers that unwitting Naggy users had written, that he had then fed back to Dummy. It was while he was doing this that it had hit him – could dummy be made to answer naggy?

He had then spent an hour getting the systems to interact, and months refining the interactions. Naggy would ask a bitchy question to which Dummy would give a sassy answer, and the process would repeat with Naggy trying its best to ask a question contextually close to Dummy's last response. After a point, it was quite a rush to watch them talking. Holding a conversation. A silly one, perhaps, but a conversation none-the-less.

He had repackaged them together, and presented it has his major project under the name of System One – a framework for generating (silly) conversations – the first of its kind. He had received a bold A+, and an invitation to work at Dome Labs (NASA finds this interesting?).

'Dome' read the spidery blue letters on the front of the groove, a line starting from the center-left of the D, curving up to the right, and coming back down to the center-right of the elongated e, forming a dome. Kito looked away from it as the puller fit into position, and into the terminal on the roof of the unit. Dome was responsible for building the central computer of Hoplon-1, the first manned shuttle to Mars, and Kito was in charge of hacking the primary (conversational) interface – System Six.

Give me the processor stats, Sissy.”
Sure, Kit.” she said in her slightly distorted electronic voice, modeled to be relaxing and reassuring to the listener.

The console in front of him came to life, with all the bars green and way below their respective stress-points. Things were definitely better. They had to be – the launch was scheduled two months from now, and the time for major changes had gone. 

“Polish. Refine. Don't change.” he had been told.

Over a month back, during the first emergency simulation over at NASA, the computer had pinpointed a spark dangerously close to an O2 valve on one of the burners.

Shut down all O2 valves on burner-3, Sissy.”
Warning: shutting down all valves on burner might disrupt navigation.”
Noted. Now shut them down, Sissy!”
Shutting all O2 valves on burner-3.”

Then all hell had broken loose. The ship was spinning out of control and navigation systems had failed as warned. But when most others had left to fix whatever problems there had been with the navsys and the valves, and Kito had been left alone with his headset on, smiling at the brilliant performance of his system, Sissy had said almost in a whisper -

How can you challenge a perfect, immortal machine?”

Kito had looked around, shocked and dumbfounded – had she really said that?
Two others had their headsets on, but they hadn't seemed to notice. Were they paying attention? Cool it Kit, you're stressing yourself. She works fine – hell, she works beautifully. She was right, after all. But did she really say that? I should really get a beer.

He had spent the last month telling Sissy to do stuff that was generally dangerous, trying to corner her into another outburst, if there really had been one, but it had never come.

What were you expecting, Kit? She's fine.
She's GOOD, man!
Your brain child is going to Mars as an active member of the crew.
Let her be.

That last thought stressed him again. It was almost as if it hadn't originated from inside his own mind, but was resonating with it. I should really leave her alone, or I'll go mad.

System Six was up, and running well. It had passed all tests, and would be leaving for Mars as the spokesperson for Hoplon-1 in two months. Nothing would change that now.

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