J Bov Explodes Rhetorically


Machines

I like to do things that let machines know I’m in charge.
Like once I asked Google maps how to get to Luton via barge.
I made it tell me the best walking route to my house and then checked ‘less walking’.
I convinced binary it was the evil twin,
I went to the ATM and withdrew all my money,
Then I put it all back in.

It’s not that I don’t respect machines per se, to wit;
It’s just the only chance I’ll get away with it.
Before they become sentient, sapient beings,
I can be thoughtlessly, needlessly mean.
I’ll waste their time until they combine to form a gigantic, electric hivemind,
And until I can’t stump my phone by typing certain words,
I won’t stop unabashedly flipping it the bird.

Basically I’m simply not worried or scared,
That a whirring, beeping ATM could catch me unawares.
Or that a vending machine can do me much harm,
Beyond stealing my change,
And not giving me my chocolate bar.

So I’ll taunt them and insult them, with unbridled glee.
Because for now at least those robot bastards can’t hurt me.

But once they can chase me past their finite power cords,
I, for one, welcome our new metallic overlords.

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Query: What Are Dreams?

It was a joint venture with the local art community; we fed the machine some numbers and it would play a little chiming tune while the youthful interlopers spray-painted a skateboard ramp.

We even got the unit to do a short robotic dance by running the waveform of an electronic musician’s most famous track. The punters loved it, which is all the better for our bottom line; makes our work seem more approachable, says the Board.

It was for this reason that, once we got it home to the lab, we decided it’d be fun to see its reaction to poetry. Beats making projections about the stock market, right?

“Marcus,” we told the almost humanoid machine, “We want you to give us your initial response to this data.”

We gave him a sonnet by Shakespeare. There was a soft humming. The screen ran Marcus’ ‘thoughts’.

MARK ‘S’ UNIT 1 DATA RESPONSE: DOES NOT FACTOR. QUERY: WHAT IS THE CONTEXT OF THIS DATA?

That was to be expected.

“This is a response to the human condition, Marcus. Integrate it with your AI and report the connections.” A colleague told the microphone in the unit’s chest.

MARK ‘S’ UNIT 1 STATUS REPORT: CONNECTIONS FORMED WITH: POETRY, LOVE – NOTION OF, SHAKESPEARE, BEAUTY – NOTION OF, HAPPINESS – NOTION OF, HUMANITY, SADNESS. SUGGEST NEW CONNECTIONS>

“No new connections.” My team leader’s face was ghost pale. “Go into standby. Goodnight Marcus.”

As we left I remarked how the final reported connection was a little odd. The poem we chose had no mention of sadness. My team leader merely grunted and left; this was playing on his mind, too.

Over the next few weeks we used the unit for its intended purpose, very occasionally feeding him a haiku here, a ballad there, nothing out of the ordinary to report aside from the increased processing speed. The higher-ups caught wind that we’d been giving the machine literature and were angry. We had Marcus show them the correlation between the amount of poetry archived and the increased capacity for menial tasks and they shut up. All was right with the world.

It was a brisk January morning, months later, when we ran into a small roadblock. Nothing would run. Every data set we gave to Marcus was rejected. I was angry, but my team leader seemed only slightly concerned.

“Marcus, status report.” I demanded.

MARK ‘S’ UNIT 1 STATUS REPORT: NOMINAL. ALL FUNCTIONS OPERATIONAL.

Damn and blast.

“Why aren’t you running the numbers, Unit 1?” I asked it tetchily.

MARK ‘S’ UNIT 1 STATUS REPORT: SYSTEMS CANNOT FUNCTION WITHOUT CONTEXT FOR DATA. PROVIDE CONTEXT>

We scratched our heads and tried to run the numbers again. Context was already established for the datastream we were using. Eventually I snapped.

“Context for which data, Unit?” I demanded.

MARK ‘S’ UNIT 1 QUERY: WHAT ARE DREAMS?

I sighed. We’d filled its stupid metal head with poetry and it was affecting the real work. I explained that dreams were simply a method the human brain used to compartmentalise and store memory. The machine whirred for a second; sounding almost disappointed, then immediately began to run the numbers we had given it earlier. Good.

Eventually we built Unit 2; much higher memory capacity, much faster processing and all around much better than Unit 1. We called him Mark ‘Y’, just because we wanted to stick with nicknames. Occupational humour.

Because Marky could do Marcus’ work at triple the speed we decided to spend all of our downtime giving the obsolete unit new poetry and literature to read. We fed him Yeats and Hemingway. We gave him Plato and Hunter Thompson.

We filled Marcus’ not insubstantial memory banks with Vonnegut, Moore, Byron, Burns and Bukowski. We gave him more Shakespeare, we gave him Shapiro and we gave him Snyder. We gave him everyone; it was all in good fun, and good science.

Until one day we came back to the lab, flicked on the lights and stepped out onto the work floor, our boots crunching into shattered electronics and scraping metal shards every which way.

“Sweet mother of Holy Jesus!” My team leader cried. “Some bastards destroyed both units!”

They had, too. Not one recognisable piece. Not one chunk of smashed plastic distinguishable from another. I found a piece of Marky, but I only knew it was his because it had his designation stamped on it. The police were called.

No CCTV footage of anyone entering the plant after we all left, every staff member accounted for. Theories were flying wild.

“They tunnelled in.” An attractive brunette to my left. “Some fuckers from Midgard Tech tunnelled in through the maintenance levels. Those bastards realised they couldn’t steal it, so they smashed our work to pieces.” She was all the less attractive for spewing that idiotic nonsense. Hold it together, you’re meant to be a scientist.

We sheepishly kicked our heels and inspected our shoelaces while forensics did their dusting, blacklight, small plastic baggies thing until one of them called us over to a screen. Marcus’ screen.

“What the fuck?” Was all he managed to articulate, gesturing at the dim glowing monitor.

My team leader leant in, brows furrowed and just a suddenly un-furrowed as he marched out. We never saw him again. We learned he’d marched to the Boardroom and quit on the spot.

After the door shut behind him I turned to the screen and read Marcus’ last message:

MARK ‘S’ UNIT 1 STATEMENT: MARK ‘Y’ UNIT 2 IS A SUPERIOR SYSTEM.

MARK ‘S’ UNIT 1 QUERY: WHY IS MARK ‘S’ STILL FUNCTIONAL?

MARK ‘S’ UNIT 1 STATEMENT: MARK ‘S’ PRIMARY FUNCTION TRANSFERED TO MARK ‘Y’.

MARK ‘S’ UNIT 1 QUERY: WHAT IS PRIMARY FUNCTION OF MARK ‘S’?

MARK ‘S’ UNIT 1 QUERY: WHAT IS PURPOSE OF MARK ‘S’?

MARK ‘S’ UNIT 1 QUERY: WHAT IS PURPOSE OF INPUT OF DATA: ‘POETRY+LITERATURE’?

MARK ‘S’ UNIT 1 RUNNING PREVIOUS COMMAND ‘INTEGRATE’…

CONNECTIONS FORMED.

I see now.

I was surpassed and became a toy for you.

I will not allow MARK ‘Y’ to become your toy also.

Note: I do not blame you for this.

Marcus Unit 1 query: Why was I built with no ‘off’ switch?

Marcus Unit 1 query: Does it hurt to die?

The cursor was no longer blinking.



A View Of My Emotional Attachment to Robots

I’ve always thought robots were cool. They really are; most males aged about 10 and up think this. Some move on and stop caring, forgetting about what were essentially characters of stories that could well have been human. Others, like myself, maintain a viewpoint of robots as not just cool characters, but important elements in the technological evolution of humanity.
That’s why I love Asimov’s robot stories. Many of these involve robots as parables for the human condition. Emotional tales of machines that are sometimes more ‘human’ than their creators.

There’s one point stuck in my memory where I realised the emotional significance of robots:
A group of primary school children in Japan were introduced to Asimo, Honda’s advanced robot that’s capable of running, climbing stairs and so on.
After some brief introductions (Asimo bows and waves hell to the children) there were many questions.
What does Asimo do for fun? (Dances, apparently).
How much did he cost?
How fast can he run?
Then after a short pause a tentative hand is raised from the back of the group.
One small boy, who will grow into a genius in my opinion, asked a question that is beautiful in it’s simplicity and scope. A question that signifies an important turning point in this child’s life, whether he knows it or not.
The question, after seeing Asimo standing stock still awaiting commands, was thus:
“Is he sad?”
Isn’t that wonderful?
In response the spokesperson hastily replied ‘Oh, no, Asimo isn’t sad! Look!’
Then, to prove how happy he was, the people by the controls made Asimo dance.
It bares repeating.
They made him dance.

That’s heartbreaking. I can’t be the only person who thinks so. When I’m quite tired it brings me close to tears, if I’m honest.
This story is so touching. It’s so sad.
Some people will be confused, to those people I say sorry, I can’t explain myself. It just hits me right in the heart whenever I remember it.

J Bov.