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Composition & Division
Some say the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, but no one speaks of the fate of the parts thus subsumed. Is it greater to join or to stand alone? Read the short story below, on Kindle (, or PDF ( _______________________________________ He laughed as he turned to pour himself another cup of coffee. The liquid steamed in the cool air. He paused a moment to gaze out over the wooded land below the deck before turning back, holding his cup between two hands. “You realize,” William Geztu said before pausing to take a sip of his coffee, “that the caffeine in this cup perfectly illustrates why humanity has failed to create artificial intelligence.” “No,” Evelyn squirmed in the cold, metal chair. Her father didn’t often speak to her, let alone invite her up to his mountain home. William had never been an attentive father, but he had provided well for his only child. His wife — and her mother — had died in a cyber-attack. Her car just kept driving. The safety features failed or, more precisely, were disabled. The car sped up. The other vehicles quickly got out of the way as they were programmed to do, but her car continued to race down the street. Physics overcame software. The tires lost their grip on the road. The car tumbled. The airbags did not deploy. For William Getzu, creating AI was redemption for the loss of his wife. It was protection for his daughter. It was all-consuming. Evelyn often wondered what her father thought about his work. She wondered if he saw it as an apology for not protecting her. She wondered if he saw it as his legacy. She agreed to join him on that chilly deck in the brisk wind because she still didn’t know the answers. “Ah, but it does,” William sipped again, “See, caffeine works by changing the brain’s chemistry. It fools the brain into ignoring the neurotransmitters that signal fatigue.” He looked at her with a hopeful grin. Evelyn shook her head and shrugged. “Don’t you see? We’ve been going at everything backward. Well, everyone but me…” he added some teeth to his smile. “Are you trying to tell me how your AI works?” Evelyn leaned forward, as much to relieve the aching cold in her back as for her interest in what her father was saying. “No, no, not that,” he began pacing across the deck, “I’m trying to tell you why everyone else’s doesn’t work.” “Isn’t that the same thing?” William smiled again, “For some it might be.” “So,” Evelyn hid her eye-roll as she forced the question past her lips, “how does the caffeine illustrate humanity’s failures?” “Ah!” he nearly bounced as he returned to his lecture, “See, we keep drinking coffee even though it’s preventing our brains from doing what they’re meant to do. We block the receptors with our caffeine so we don’t feel tired even when we are. Or we might want to feel more relaxed so we’ll throw some alcohol in there. Or we might want to feel less sad or more focused or ready to sleep or—” “Yes, I get what you’re saying. We have pharmacological answers to everything.” “Almost. I remember when I was a boy my cousins came over and we tried to build a ramp to ride our bikes off of.” “What?” “Just stay with me,” William winked at her. She felt like a toddler when he did that. She hated that feeling. “We built it out of stacked boxes and old boards. The first attempt didn’t even stay together long enough for my cousin to ride down the block and come back with any speed. It just collapsed under its own weight the second we stopped holding it up. Eventually we added more boxes and boards to support it. He rode down the way and came roaring back at top speed. “I don’t think his front tire ever left the ground. He just rode through the ramp. So we started again. We pilfered everything we could find and piled it all up. It was half garbage dump and half daredevil’s challenge. The boards of the ramp started out at a forty-five degree angle — and they got steeper after that. He rode at that ramp with everything he had. “I’m just glad he knew to let go of the bike. The thing flipped over in the air and crashed in a heap. My cousin did a good job of tucking and rolling after he bailed out. He got away with just a few bruises and scrapes—” “The point is…” “The point is,” William pretended that he hadn’t been interrupted, “That we’ve put together this whole garbage pile of stuff around the human brain because we treat it like a computer.” “Uh,” Evelyn shook her head, “I think I just got whiplash.” “It’s about metaphors.” “Seriously, I don’t know what you’re talking about. Why am I here?” “I’m getting to that,” he stopped pacing and set his coffee cup down on the railing of the deck. “Look,” she paused for a moment as she decided what she wanted to call him, “Dad, I want to hear what you’ve got to say, but I have no idea where you’re going with this or why.” She hadn’t called him that in a decade or more. The effect it had on him was profound. Maybe she should have just kept her mouth shut and waited. “Evey,” tears fell down his cheeks as he pushed the words out, “I’m making AI because there’s no other choice. We’re at war. More precisely, we’re losing a war. If I don’t do this, no one else will.” Evelyn kept her features as stoic as she could. She stared past him at the pine boughs swaying in the wind. “The short of it is this: I’ve figured it out. I can create AI. I know what it will take.” “So why—” He kept going without hearing her, he spoke as if he’d rehearsed this speech, “It will take everything from me. I don’t know what that means for the war. I don’t know what that means for our country. But I do know what it means for you. When I’m done. When the AI is created. You will have the most precious technology the world has ever known.” She inhaled to ask another question, but thought better of it. “I’ve done everything I can to safeguard the company, but once I create the AI I won’t be able to destroy it. The best I can do is to protect it. The best we can do is to protect it. Evey, it’s going to be your job. You’ll get the company when I’m gone. “I’m sorry for being coy. Coffee and bike ramps aren’t what I brought you here to tell you. But it’s been so…” he looked down at his feet for a long moment before continuing, “Evey, what I’m saying is that AI isn’t like any other computer. It’s not like any other system that we’ve made — ever. All our current computers are like that ramp. They’re just the same basic thing stacked higher and more precariously to do a job they were never meant to do. “You can’t treat the AI like a computer. You have to treat it like a mind. You can’t just give it coffee when it’s sleepy. You can’t just flip a switch to make it work the way you want it to. You have to learn to work with it in the same way that it will have to learn to work with you.” Evelyn sat back in her chair. The shock of the cold metal against her back — even through the fabric of her blouse — jolted her out of the stunned reverie her father’s words had created. “So I’m meant to babysit your giant computer while it fights wars that we can’t win without it?” William’s face lost all tension as he looked at his daughter. His response started as a barely perceptible nod and culminated in a hoarse whisper that barely carried over the sound of the wind in the trees, “Precisely.” Evelyn looked at the fading decking instead of into the face of her father. She noticed the patches where the sun never quite hit, the patches that were slick with green wetness. Her father could have easily built a new deck. He could have made it out of composite and had it printed in any shape he wanted. But instead he paced around on an old wooden deck that needed more care than he had time to offer. William had never done the fatherly things like helping Evelyn learn to ride a bike or taking her to her first babysitting job. Instead he was at work — almost constantly — while Evelyn learned from her mother. When she died… that’s when Evelyn began to learn from her father. Not closely, not personally, but from a distance. She watched him work. She watched him tackle problems. She watched him push people aside as the annoyance that they were. She didn’t learn to ride a bike from her father; she learned how to work hard, how to create something out of nothing, and how to push past any obstacle. “Okay,” was all she said to him. She didn’t even look up from the green-stained, real-wood deck. He inhaled sharply in the cool, morning air of the mountains. Evelyn waited for the next lecture. She waited for the instruction manual that he would plop down at her feet. She waited for stories that had nothing to do with each other. But when he finally spoke he simply said, “Okay.”