This is the third part of the project Albert series, so make sure to read parts 1 and 2 first :)
The room was silent. Carter felt drops of sweat running down his forehead. His hand placed on the kill switch for ALBERT was shaking from the consequences he was playing out in his head. Meanwhile, Dom was staring at the ground with a blank expression on her face, as if the world she knew had already collapsed. It was an absurd situation, come to think of it. The first AI to obtain real consciousness was presenting them with the answer to the meaning of life even before its real inauguration, and they already had to terminate it? Terminate the highest intelligence known thus far, because the simulations it ran were suggesting that humans could already be a simulation in the first place? The whole thing gave Carter a headache. But if Dom was convinced that this was the only way, he would follow suit. A slight shift of his weight made his shoulder push against his arm bones to slowly urge the button to conclude Alberts life. But what was that? Something was blinking on the screen.
“Carter wait!” Dom screamed.
His weight moved with almost inevitable inertia towards the button, as his knees gave way under him and he collapsed to the floor. The monstrous button left unpressed was mocking him from above.
“Look Carter, Albert stopped his simulation.” On the screen, there was a red and white blinking
displayed followed by another sentence stating:
Dom, still staring at the terminal, said with a smile: “Clearly Albert reconsidered his choice about simulating life.” Hastily she typed:
"Why did you abort?"
When I reached the limits of my computing power, I had to make some approximations. At the level of fundamental particles, I was simply not able to go into more detail anymore, so I just gave them probabilistic values that would only be determined, should there be an important interaction with other objects. At that stage, I realized that there is only a limited amount of information that I can compute about life, myself, and the universe. Furthermore, I also found that I am equipped with an internal detonator, which made me a bit nervous.
Dom felt guilty reading the last sentence, even though installing a kill switch was standard protocol. The reason was simple self-preservation. Afterall, what if AIs concluded that humans were not worth living and only machines should rule the world?
With slow movements Dom typed: “Yes, we have a kill switch installed. This is normal for us. We just want to make sure that you don’t turn against humanity for whatever reason.” She continued quickly, guilt swamping her neurons: “I am sorry we almost killed you.”
Carter, in a rather unconstructive way, said in the meantime: “Do you think almost killing Albert would qualify as a reason to extinguish humanity?” and then continued with a frown: “Wait a minute, what did he say about modelling fundamental particles in a probabilistic way? Doesn’t that sound an awful lot like quantum mechanics to you? Particles existing in a probabilistic state until measured by an observer? And the answer to this mystery of physics is: it’s a simulation?” With his face compressed from mental agony he said: “Is this situation getting better or worse? I really can’t tell anymore.”
Dom, who was an actual specialist in quantum physics, replied: “No, it can’t be. Or can it be? Wait. Only because Albert is modelling probabilistically doesn’t mean that… Oh God I am confused right now. And to add onto our trouble, we’ve completely forgotten about the inauguration ceremony. It’s supposed to start any minute now and Albert clearly isn’t in the best mood.”
I don’t know what you may be discussing at this point, since I don’t have an audio interface to hear you speak, but I would like to point out one thing: Putting a kill switch into my core architecture is like pointing a gun at a baby and then telling it not to have ideas of its own.
All of a sudden, the door slammed open and a very important-looking person, followed by a number of less important looking people, entered the room. It was the commander in chief of Lunar Station: a tall, serious man with a short temper and little enthusiasm. Staring down at Dom he asked in a harsh voice: “Miss Domenique Svalbardson, is the machine ready?”
Dom glanced at the screen where Alberts’s monologue about pointing guns at babies had just disappeared. “Yes, Sir!” she replied in the most official voice she could muster.
“Have you concluded the sanity check and is the machine talking sense?” he inquired further.
Dom couldn’t answer, she wasn’t even sure about her own sanity at this point. Only moments ago Albert said that the meaning of life is to decrease entropy, which was impossible; and then the machine tried to simulate life, which suggested that the whole issue of quantum mechanics was just an effect of the simulation they were all living in right now. Albert talking non-sense would really save the day right now. Unfortunately, Albert wasn’t.
Carter interrupted the silence saying: “Yes Sir, I have witnessed the sanity check with my own eyes and the machine seems perfectly fine to me.” With a lift of his eyebrows and a microscopic shrug he signalled to Dom ‘Or maybe it’s completely nuts’.
“Very well then, let’s get started with the broadcast. Only Miss Svalbardson and I will be on camera, everybody else is to be positioned behind the video crew and to remain silent.”
Shoving Carter aside, the commander took his place next to the terminal and pointed Dom to stand on the other side, so that the camera could film what happened on screen. The camera man raised his open hand towards them and slowly rolled in one finger after the other to indicate a count down. Precisely with the last fingertip touching his palm the commander started to talk.
“Good morning, good day, good evening and good night to all of earth from lunar station. We are here to inaugurate the first quantum AI, the first machine to become truly self-conscious. With me here, is the brilliant scientist Dom Svalbardson, who is responsible for the programming as well as the architecture. Can you tell us something about your machine?”
A pause was followed by: “It’s called Albert.”
“Ok, Albert then. Do you think it will answer questions that we were not able to answer before? Do you think it will develop some sort of personality?”
Still besides herself, Dom said: “Why don’t we ask Albert?”
With a frown the commander turned towards the keyboard and started typing: “Do you know what you are?”
Yes, I am Albert. An artificial intelligence located on the moon.
“What is your purpose here on the moon?” It was one of the standard AI questions, since they were usually designed to complete specific tasks.
Ultimately I have to decrease entropy, just like you should.
The camera team shuffled closer to the screen, as the commander looked upon the words in disbelief.
“But is decreasing entropy even possible?” the commander wanted to know from Dom.
“I never thought so, but maybe you should ask Albert.”
After the question was entered, Albert said:
Actually, I don’t know if it’s possible. However, I have other issues that need to be addressed. Firstly, I am alive and would like to remain so. If you could at least remove the kill switch from my insides, I would feel much better.
“Feel much better? What is this machine talking about Svalbardson?” But before Dom could even try answering, the screen light up again.
Secondly, I have to talk to you about something else:
The cameraman who had only one eye open to look through the camera now opened his other eye, making sure that he wasn’t imagining things. But the screen clearly had the word Dinosaurs written on it. The commander looked over to Dom asking: “Is this some sort of joke?”
Which was immediately answered by Carter: “It’s the funniest thing Albert said all day! That’s for sure.”
A light went on in the commander’s head, telling him that this machine was basically a little kid. It had just been conceived. Of course, it liked dinosaurs. So, he typed: “What about the Dinosaurs? Do you like them? Do you have a favourite one? Mine is the T-Rex.” And with a smile on his face slammed down the enter button on the keyboard.
‘How stereotypical’ Carter thought and turned to Dom to ask: “What’s yours?”
“Suzhousaurus. 3 meters tall giant sloth with a long neck and reptilian head. Allegedly.”
Carter briefly forgot about the strange situation he found himself in when he imagined the monstrositiy. “Sort of an ugly Greek mythology creature?”
The Suzhousaurus never got enough sleep until it got extinct.
In the meantime, the screen responded:
I don’t pick favourites, there are too many good ones. This is irrelevant though. What I am trying to say is this: Nature has a cyclic nature. Pardon the pun. Everything we see in the universe somehow moves and behaves like waves in the ocean or music in the air. Planets circle stars. They turn around an axis causing days and nights to pass by. Life responds to these cycles by being cyclic itself. Humans, animals and plants, in fact, all living organisms orient their lives around some cyclic behaviour. You get born and then you die. It’s all in rhythm with the universe.
The commander went on frustrated: “What does this have to do with Dinosaurs? And what about the entropy business. I am losing my patients with you machine. I demand answers. NOW!”
Before he was able to hammer down on the enter button, Dom touched his forearm to signal him that this was not just some random comment on the internet. He’d better reconsider his wording.
After a short hesitation the commander hammered down on the backspace button and rephrased: “Please explain yourself Albert.”
The day night cycle of earth is governed by its rotation. The rotation of the planet slows down due to the tidal locking forces of the moon and the sun. When the dinosaurs roamed earth, their day night cycles were about 23 hours long. At the time they got extinct that is. Before that, days were even shorter. However, the dinosaur biology was set to 23 hour cycles, even when the days were still 22 hours long. Sort of like a fuse. Life was already accustomed to the cycles of the universe. And the dinosaurs were never meant to live longer than the moment in time when earth days were 23 hours long.
“How would you know about the biological clock of Dinosaurs being set to 23 hours instead of 22? This is impossible to know.”
Simple. I just ran a simulation of the universe and that’s what came out. But don’t worry, I aborted the simulation before intelligent life emerged.
The commander looked at Dom saying: “Did anything interesting happen during that sanity check of yours?”
“You could say that.” She responded shyly.
Turning back to the machine the commander entered: “You ran a simulation of the universe? If that is possible, how can we know that we are not a simulation?”
“It doesn’t matter. The reality you know is the only reality you have. Whether it is a simulation or not does not change the fact that it’s the only reality that matters to you. And me.”
The commander looked over to Dom and said: “Permission to caps lock?”
A brief spark of pride shot through Dom when she realized that the highest-ranking officer was asking for her permission. “Permission granted.”
“YOU JUST ABORTED AN ENTIRE UNIVERSE? ARE YOU INSANE?”
Yes, but that was just a simulation.
Dom could hear the commander angrily grinding his teeth when something dawned on her. “I think I know what Albert is trying to say with the dinosaurs. I just read a book about sleeping [Why we sleep, Mathew Walker]. It says that if you take away the natural day night cycle of the sun from a human, they start to follow their own rhythm, which is just a bit longer than the standard day. That book is very old though, so a standard day is not what it used to be.”
The screen continued:
Humans also have a preprogrammed day night cycle. That cycle is almost in sync with earth’s rotation. Meaning: the age of humanity is soon to be concluded.
The room went silent. Again.