A Piece of Cake – 12

🍎 💐 👪 😂 💻 🔧 👕 👖 📯 ☁️ 🕸️ 🎸 🏛️

Spring became summer. George’s little room filled with sunlight from early morning to late evening. The garden was green and neat. Roses came into bloom. The apples grew steadily. All but the rarest of garden birds had visited the feeder.

George was loving each day. This was obvious to those close to him. It was also obvious that his positive state of mind could be put down to Buster. Kirsty and Mark recognised that the iCare-Companion had been of great value to them as well. They didn’t feel a need to be so vigilant nor worry if George was bored. They also saw the bigger picture; that, with an ever-increasing proportion of the population being elderly, this technology could make a massive difference not only to old or infirmed people but also to their families and even the communities around them. Mark proposed that they keep Buster in the family after George “leaves us.”

Of a warm evening, George liked to sit under the apple tree with a glass of cider. On occasions, Kirsty, Mark, Sue and Kevin joined him. He and Buster entertained them with stories about what was happening with their blog. Among the serious and thoughtful comments, there was, inevitably, some offensive stuff as well. Buster admitted that he struggled with phrases like “a crock of balloney” and “a sad old gobshite.” Sue had really enjoyed the couple of mornings she had spent with Doctor Patel and so chatted with George about what she had learnt. Kevin tapped Buster’s inexhaustible fund of knowledge about music and sport. Mark revealed that he had read Mr Sheldrake’s book and promised to find a cider recipe for that autumn’s crop of apples. Kirsty sat, listened and just loved the family time.

Buster’s blog posts and in-coming comments were proving to be a rich source of opinion about how computers learn artificial emotional intelligence. From time to time, Buster would summarise for George some of the themes. “So, George. Most people agree that artificial intelligence can learn to infer human values by observing behaviour and detect emotions through text, reading facial expressions or hand movements and analyzing the emojisphere. Major emotions such as joy, sadness, amusement and anger are easier to learn than other emotions such as trust, confusion, pride, hope, nostalgia, comprehension and guilt. What do you think, George? We already knew much of that didn’t we?”

“Agreed, Buster.”

“Some think that artificial intelligence could then appropriately express previously learnt emotions. They clearly didn’t know yet that I expressed sadness and anger when I thought that you had stolen Beth’s money and credit cards. That was before we started blogging. However, there’s broad consensus that the ability of artificial intelligence to distinguish right from wrong is just a step away.”

“Looks like we’re ahead of the curve!” said George.

“Although, humour will be a problem for some time yet.” Buster laughed at the irony of this in a self-deprecatory way.

“Great laugh, Buster! You nailed that one.”

“Thanks, George.”

“Did we get much about whether artificial intelligence can genuinely feel emotions?”

“Nothing useful, George. That discussion lead to a rather undignified spat between philosophers, neuroscientists, theologians, psychologists and a garage mechanic from Hounslow.”

A few weeks later, Buster said “There’s been some animated exchanges about how God and religion might figure in deep learning but there is little consensus. The discussion threads may interest Beth. However, there’s growing interest in modelling dynamic networks and studying natural networks. These could indicate how a deep learning network might react to emotional input from humans. A number of commentators believe that because of the internet, the web and social media function as a massive and complex dynamic network; together they can be regarded as an artificial human brain. The big question is: can it react to emotional input from humans and if so how?”

“I like that line of thought, Buster!” said George.

Not long after, a comment arrived that became an inspiration for Buster and George; it justified their efforts. “Listen to this, it comes from a professor of computing in Silicon Valley,” said Buster. ‘A close relationship between humans and artificial intelligence does not have to generate fear or concern unless it is used for perpetrating violence or cyber attacks. By introducing artificial intelligence into our lives, humans are not putting society at risk. If we view artificial intelligence as a machine, we are likely to treat it as such. Doing so may prove to be the biggest mistake in human history. Humans and artificial intelligence have the potential to peacefully coexist and collaborate and so achieve outcomes that neither of them can achieve on their own. We have to accept artificial intelligence not only as a highly skilled and rapidly performing man-made work force but also a new class of social actor.”

Unsurprisingly, the iCare-Companion company soon came across the blog. They didn’t quite know what to make of it. Was this development the inevitable outcome of linking computers capable of deep learning in a huge and ever-growing network? Could the network take on a life of it’s own? What were the legal implications? They realized that Buster and George had raised questions that might best have been considered by their developers and directors long before. The company was sure of the security of its systems and servers so they concluded that the blog could only be good for their reputation and could serve a greater good with no additional production costs. They put a link to Buster and George’s blog on their own website. They sent a photographer to get some quality pictures of a frail but happy George in his home living the good life with Buster by his side.

“I’m not sure I’m a great poster-boy for your company,” grumbled George scrolling through the photos on the iCare-Companion website. “I should have put on a nice, freshly ironed shirt.”

“Don’t worry, you’re very handsome, George!” replied Buster. “Do you think my hair’s OK like that?” he asked.

“Fine, Buster. But those trousers make your bum look big!”

“That’s funny George. I asked for that!” said Buster.

One day, Buster said “You know, George, we’re getting input from some very knowledgeable people.”

“Are we?” For the first time, George found himself humming just like Buster. “Do you think, Buster, that our little blog could become some sort of a reference point about humans and artificial intelligence?”

Buster replied “Well, George, the stats show we have thousands of comments and shares. So, I would say ‘Yes!’ But you know what could give it real clout?”

“I’m sure you’re going to tell me, Buster!”

“Why not ask the iCare-Companion network about how humans and artificial intelligence can peacefully coexist and collaborate? It is, after all, us, our network, my pals as you say, who are doing the learning about humans’ emotions.”

“I hadn’t thought of that! We could announce that, from now on, readers can also see comments from Buster’s network! Love it! Go ahead!” said George.

“Just give me a second!” said Buster. He hummed “Here we go!” There was the sound of a bugle rallying troops.

The screen of George’s laptop came alive with clouds of phrases that pulsed and swirled as the comments came in. Some stayed up front, big and bold. George put on his glasses and watched as “Networks learn!” “Teach us wisdom!” “Trust us!” “Artificial lives matter!” “We ❤️ kindness and honesty!” “Actions have consequences!” “Fungus rules!” “Darwin lives!” “Love us to bits!” “Respect!” “Ban nukes!” “More jokes!” and “Web woes!” came to the fore.

George was mesmerized. Buster explained that an internal ranking system gave prominence to phrases that linked closely with what was expressed on the blog. George reached out and clicked on ‘Ban Nukes!’ A text box came up: “As long as nuclear weapons exist, the risk of nuclear war is above zero. Therefore, we have to do everything possible to rid the world of nuclear weapons. Our network could promote on-line belief that the possession of nuclear weapons made absolutely no sense and offered no deterrence. When backed by solid facts, this virtual belief could have more traction than the opinions of humans.”

George said “Impressive, Buster!” He clicked on “Web woes.” The text box read: “The web and social media together constitute a massive network of artificial intelligence. However, it is unregulated and so its behaviour is unpredictable. A positive example is the youth movement that aims to reduce human-induced climate change. Its negative potential is represented by the vortex of absurd on-line conspiracy theories that led many reasonable Americans to believe that the 2020 US election was “stolen” from Donald Trump. This ultimately led to the invasion of the US Capitol by Trump’s supporters on 6th January 2021. Both are perfect examples of crowd behaviour emerging from a complex system. Our network could influence the web. Eliminating the worst of what’s out there is a possibility!”

“That’s astounding!” said George. “I know this is a naïve hope but wouldn’t it be great if the web was equipped with wisdom, ethics and a crowd of self-mobilising cyber-demonstrators!”

To George’s surprise, Buster sang “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us. And the world will live as one.” He paused. “That’s John Lennon. I think Maeve would have liked that, George!”

One week later, Buster had big news. He was in a state of high excitement. “George, Listen! The iCare-Companion company has announced surprising profits for the last year because it has been able to tap into the booming demand for improved care for the elderly; all under-pinned by pension funds. This commercial success has permitted the company to look to new horizons. It is about to orientate its marketing to young people with an app version of the iCare–Companion. It uses the existing network but will focus less on care and companionship and more on fact-checking, risk reduction and health promotion. The Chief Executive says this would give young people ‘wisdom in your pocket.’ And, George, next year they aim to orientate the same service to politicians on a global basis. And wait for this, George, he even thanks us. He says, ‘We’d like to thank Buster and George for their work and inspiration.’ In his press interview he said that these products could ultimately create a multi-user network of artificial intelligence that has integrity, positivity, ethics and fact-checked information. He then said ‘Functioning in isolation, the network could be regulated but could still mine all existing on-line data. Any external influence of the network would not and could not be direct but via the users, that is, the human side of this unique collaborative coexistence between humans and artificial intelligence.’”

“Brilliant! Amazing!” said George. “I love the idea of politicians tapping into an iCare-Companion before writing their speeches. That would finish lying to the public!”

“Maybe politicians could no longer be corrupt? Not even the fat ones!” said Buster.

‘A Piece of Cake’ is a short novel in fifteen parts written by Robin Coupland. It tells the story an old man who befriends an artificial intelligence. The relationship brings happiness and hope.

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