Saturday, June 17, 2006

Gods of the Future

I had a dream last night. Like all dreams, it was a bit rambling. However, I am gifted with fundamentally bizarre but coherent dreams, so perhaps you'll find it interesting. It's kind of a boring future-fairy-tale.

I was in the future, and I was responsible for designing gods. Gods are pseudo-AI systems which make interacting with complex things easy. I had designed a few, and then someone dumped the god of the internet on me.

It was a herculean task (not that "herculean" was a reference to this kind of god). The old god of the internet (the third god of the internet) was having a very hard time coping with the growing number of transmedia communications. He couldn't translate from english to VR to neurocode very well, and that was what the internet of the future was particularly focusing on.

I needed to replace him. The mythos was simple: I was creating the son (or daughter) of this internet god - smarter, more cunning, one step closer to ragnarok. The actual algorithms were, however, exceptionally difficult.

So I went looking for help.

First I went to the goddess of translation. I figured: languages are a little like different media. It's pretty rare to be able to have a straight translation that doesn't end up with a different subtext. Especially when one of those languages is a descendant of LISP and the other is French.

The goddess of translation was known as "Doke Doke", which roughly translates to "get the hell out of my way". She manifested by turning a portion of the Japanese-style white-paper-balsa-wood walls into a high-definition screen. If you hadn't guessed, she "lived" in a pseudo-Japanese mansion, replete with koi ponds and clutter-free rooms.

Anyhow, she was happy to teach her secret, but first I had to learn the language her secret could be described in. And in order to do that, I had to learn a language that would teach me enough of a framework to learn that language.

So, I learned all that stuff, only to realize her secret wouldn't help me because it was entirely about languages. It couldn't be translated into visual design or neurocode or anything like that. I realized that it was probably time for Doke Doke to retire as well: her Mystery was showing its age. But she still had a huge number of satisfied worshippers, so it was unlikely to happen.

After that, I went to Jupiter to see the god of starship and habitat design. I figured that using a huge variety of technologies to create on working product might be exactly the kind of robustness I needed.

That god was called "HAL", which kind of made me a little nervous, but he was a very nice guy. "Lived" in a giant space station. Some parts looked like something from Aliens, other parts looked very pleasant.

(In case you can't tell, architecture plays a huge part in my dreams.)

HAL taught me his secret, which was considerably less complex. I was fascinated to learn that he used the bizarre, backwards approach of using humans to do all the work. All he did was translate worshipper requests into a language that the engineers could understand.

This worked for him because any given technology was obsolete in twenty years or less, so there was no need to "keep it on record" for more than the lifespan (150-200 years) of the specialists who knew about it.

Not feasible for me, unfortunately, but a fascinating concept. He told me he was built on suggestions from - guess who? The internet god.

So, for the first time ever (in person), I went to see the god I was planning on forcing to retire. I was very nervous, because not all gods take retirement well.

The MCP "lived" in a giant, abandoned, white-and-silver futuristic mall. Catwalks and floaty escalators everywhere, and him right in the middle. Same voice as the MCP from Tron, and same sinusoidal head movements and cylindrical shape.

After a few minutes, I decided he was a bit of a hack. I don't think he was capable of even understanding the idea of "being replaced", let alone get upset at me for trying to do so.

He liked to talk, and when I poked him for information on HAL's algorithm, he told me he had recovered the file from his mother, who had recovered it from her father, who had found it back when Earth was the only colonized planet.

An algorithm that had survived since the beginning of time!

I was excited - I had grand thoughts of ancient wisdom, lost through the centuries.

The algorithm was, when translated: "use humans to do the hard part".

I was dismayed, but then I got a glimmer of an idea.

I took it back to Doke Doke, who taught me the original language (an "ancient and barbaric dialect of LISP"). Untranslated, it was a recursive meta-algorithm which actually specified how to use humans to do the hard part (which was, rather unsurprisingly to those of you who know what "recursive" means, to get humans to do that part, too).

This algorithm was rather more useful, and I made the next goddess of the internet: Little Endian, blind child goddess of transmedia.

Functionally, all she did was ask people to translate something from one media to another, and "average together" their results using a kind of geeky popularity contest. Therefore, she could translate one thing into another by simply pointing to someplace that had already made the translation.

Of course, I thought it was a huge revelation, and everyone lauded me for my exceptionally clever program.

Then I woke up. I realized it wasn't a revelation at all: it was rather oldschool and kind of passe. But it could still work, I supposed. I pulled up the assignment and scanned through it - they didn't specify that I couldn't use human resources as a backbone for the god.

It might be worth trying, although it would require centralized data stores, and those had been out of style for five hundred years.

Well, I didn't exactly have any other options, so I started to program it.

Then I really woke up.

1 comment:

Patrick Dugan said...

Infra-human AI "Gods" are passe, all the hardcore SF these days has AI trillions of times smarter than people that dance circles around them on the edge of the narrative.

But it sounded like a cool dream. You can come up with some tremendous ideas in your sleep.