Saturday, 16 November 2013

Androids Dream of Electric Cake {draft}

It was high noon when I got down from the bus. Thin, low clouds were floating slowly across the clear blue sky, and the meadows all around were different shades of green. Exotic birds in rainbow colors flew by overhead, twittering and wailing in their native tongues. I watched the bus drive away into the forest as I took the detour. After a short walk down the open meadows, I was surrounded by tall, ancient trees on all sides. A constant cool breeze rustled through my hair as the temperature dropped considerably around me.

I could feel all my ties with the outside world slipping slowly away into oblivion, as I immersed myself in the welcoming embrace of Mother Nature.  What I was going to do about those poor grades, the leaky hostel ceiling, the handicapped old man whose life depended on the passing fruit vendors who handed him sluggish bananas from time to time – who lived two blocks away from the campus, the friend who smoked too much, the failing education system, how I was going to face my parents… all that mattered was that immense rush of being alive, of being acutely aware of the present moment.

I waited for a thin green snake to cross the track, and continued my trek uphill till I met a brook. Smooth, round stones shone like gems from underneath the glistening clear water. I absorbed as much of it as I could – the sweet gurgling of the shallow stream, the vast spectrum of color, the periodic but sporadic sounds that betrayed the abundance of life hiding behind that thin veil of quiet and calm… It was amazing how complex and diverse a simple system could get, given enough time.

Conway’s Game of Life crossed my mind. During my amateurish study of Artificial Intelligence, I had been amazed and awestruck by how something as abstract and complex as Wisdom could be represented as a simple matrix, and how changes in this matrix could represent Learning. Mathematics must, indeed, be the Universal Language, I remember thinking. I had been attracted towards computers and computational theory ever since I was very young, and the greatest contributing factor towards this attachment was definitely the extensive literature concerning the mathematician Charles Babbage that had surrounded me.

The man had been a visionary, a genius, a god, even, for having taken the brilliant process of artistic creation to a whole new level by designing a machine that could understand the Universal Language. He had designed the first modern computer ages before the electric bulb had stopped being a curiosity. As the years had passed, I had come to find myself sharing the same interests, the same eccentricities with that man who had died around two centuries ago. It was true that bards lived double lives, and this particular Poet of Mathematics was manifesting himself in the living world yet again – in part through me.

I had finally got hold of his autobiography, ‘Passages from the Life of a Philosopher’ not more than two years ago, and it had given me a clear insight, however limited, into his mind and his weltanschauung. It had magnified some similarities, and nullified others. It had also exposed me to a new emotion, an emotion that the book I held in my hands should have been the last place to look for. It had exposed me to the importance of sharing one’s thoughts and ideas, without restraint, in their entirety, and independently of how ridiculous they seemed to others. It was like sharing your mind, your soul, the very essence of your being. It could end up terribly if it was shared with someone who it would offend, and it could grant enlightenment if shared with someone who dared to look under the murky exteriors… and it had come in the form of a woman called Ada.

In a dazzling display of utter brilliance, Lady Ada - Countess of Lovelace had described how Babbage’s ridiculously expensive and complicated machine could, if built, do virtually anything it was programmed to do, even something as intricate and abstract as producing and storing music. There was something divine hiding under those greasy gears. This amazing leap of insight that a machine equipped with math and logic could do much more than crunch numbers has been called the Lovelace Leap by writer-programmer John Graham-Cumming. I now ached to find someone I could share my soul with. I had subtly been exposed to Love.

Once I had found the perfect sandy patch along the shore, I threw down my backpack and started preparing the camp. The sun was hanging low in the sky, and I would need some fire to fill the void it was going to leave behind. The whole process took me about half an hour.

As I lay down under the moonlit sky, my mind freed itself of all the concerns that had started bubbling up again. I became a silent spectator to the cosmic dance that had been going tirelessly on for eternities, and would continue for eternities after the last Man had died.

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