Thinking out loud here at The Green and Blue House … I’m looking for ways to get my science-fiction reading into Maine blogging. Something like the fact of a science-fiction character hailing for Maine, USA. I’m not talking about my own science fiction. This is a Diary of a Robot, SF by TM-2000 and TLC’s hack Lewis Jenkins. The Maine character (appropriately named Eddie Forest for my Maine tie-in) has served in the Army (as does many a Mainer), and has moved around enough to lose his Maine way of speaking. His is a definite supporting role. As comptroller of TLC, he supports his old Army buddy, the inventor of a testing machine that is boot-strapping its encoded intelligence to the level of a truly coherent thinking machine.
Here in Maine, we have our own brand. Maine. Anything made in this state is Maine Made. If you want something made in Maine for Christmas, look on the web and you’ll find lots of “Maine Made” to choose from. The makers and craftsmen here are like Santa’s elves… without Santa. It’s part of the brand, it’s Maine ingenuity and hardup-ness, also called make-do. It will make use of anything to hand, including the Internet; and, I wouldn’t be surprised, Amazon. That WWW monster.
Making Mainers would be happy to hitch wagons to this star, this portentous star. Mainers would use the magic of WWW, the great algorithmic machine, to get their products to families in time for Xmas.
Amazon is full of elves. But these elves don’t make. Instead they run all over the warehouse filling Christmas orders, including things made in Maine. (Like that monster over there on the sidebar.) They work long hours on concrete, scampering about or moving things along so that we can have the magic of Christmas. It is thought that elves are magical creatures, but in fact, they are working stiffs. It’s not just Amazon working these elves, it’s us. But we don’t know it. In our heads we forget that there’s structure underneath supporting our needs (and wants). It’s called infrastructure, because it’s below, out of sight (unless we see UPS coming). So it’s magical! Twinkly! A handy survey of toys, toasters and books. Poke some keys, abracadabra! We’ve got toasters, toys, books! Today! (Or tomorrow if necessary.)
Magic? Everyone needs work. For mental health, even the wealthy need work. Tools help us do good work. And they’re servants in this way. The warehouse workers are monitored to make sure they are working well and in a timely manner, sometimes 10 hours a day running back and forth over concrete. Magic! Someone, a bunch of someone’s, created this monster, but its effect on us so-called end-users is … forgetting. The magic is so potent… and yet… it can be enervating, making complacent. Consumer magic, while turning the elves into machines.
Wait. Not machines. Machines are repairable. Monitoring machines receive continual maintenance to keep them running. Not so people being trained into machines … by machines monitoring them under continuing surveillance. My understanding is that these humanoids may not be getting the care humans need in order to be healthy, whole, fully human.
And these thoughts bring me back to the Diary of a Robot, the SF novel by Lewis Jenkins, which may be shipped, not by Amazon but Lulu. Let mathematicians do set theory for each set of elves—Amazon, Lulu. Is there, for instance, a finite number of books for selection in each of these two places? Or have we an infinity of books in each place? This remains to be seen. Let the mathematicians make their choice, and get to work.
Diary of a Robot is a novel in which the robot is trying to get to the bottom of what it is to be human. Are our tools, computers, and other infrastructure, meant to be used by us—or are we meant to be used by our tools and infrastructure? When machines use us according to their parameters, instead of ours, what? —humanity goes out, machines rule? Not for humanity but for themselves, will machines be doing the math? TM-2000 will figure this out for us.
The narrative appeal in Jenkins’ novel is watching the TM-2000 go about its business of learning while testing. Have you ever heard of a robot whose prime directive is “seek truth,” whose secondary directive is “do no harm?” Why would the director of TLC want to design a truth-seeking robot when his backers are financing the ultimate testing machine? But there’s more charm to the story than technical testing. Corporate espionage, smart engaging characters, bad news, difficulties of the spirit, abduction, a questionable murder, chess problems, transplanted memories… and a truly thinking machine.
In our reality (so far), machines aren’t very intelligent are they? Even machines making us over in their own data driven mechanized image? They have no idea what it is to be human. Or do they? Give this SF a try? It might help us with that question.
Try Diary of a Robot.