Conversation With An Artillect

[This  is an excerpt from an upcoming novel. An Artillect, in this novel, is an entity with intelligence equal or greater than a human, the volition to make vis own decisions, and the legal status of a person.]

The protester was neatly dressed, wearing a suit and a fab ‘do. He wielded signboard and megaphone. Most passerby ignored him. The front of the signboard read: “Destroy the Artillects.” The reverse, “Before They Destroy Us.”

Troy dismounted from his skateboard, slid it into his backpack, and asked “Why do you say Artillects will destroy us?”

“Because they can, and we mean nothing to them. We are as ants to them.” replied the protester.

“What’s your name?” asked Troy.

“Milo, what’s yours?”

“Mine is Troy. I got to meet my papa. Bye!”

Troy spotted Manus and ran to him. Manus picked up his eight year old son and hugged him. “Hey, how was skateboarding?”

“Great! I’ll show you some moves when we get back home!”

“Splendid! Are you hungry? Shall we have lunch?”

“I’m starved! Can we try the new Persian place? I heard they’re really good.”

“Heard that too. Let’s check it out.”

“Papa, did you see that man with the sign? Why does he want to destroy the Artillects?”

“Did you ask him?”

“He said that we mean nothing; we are as ants to them; and they could destroy us.”

“Could is not would, son. Are you carrying your weapons?”

“Yes! I have a slim nine and two knives.”

“And are you any good with them?”

“I hope so! I’ve been training and competing, and Sensei Sam says I’m doing well.”

“That you are. So you could kill me, right? One shot with your nine, right between my eyeballs?”

“Papa! I would never do that.”

“How about that fellow across the way? Do you know him? Does he mean anything to you?”

“Papa! That would be wrong! Why would I do that? I have no quarrel with him.”

“Nor do you want to start a quarrel, I think?”

“Oh no. Don’t make trouble, won’t be no trouble.”

“So why would it be wrong to kill a person, without provocation?”

“I don’t know exactly. Some people say it’s the law, some say it’s in the Book, some say it’s just illogical.”

“And what do you say?”

“Well, if everybody shot people randomly, we’d all be afraid of each other, we’d maybe stay holed up in castles, we’d travel with large armed forces, we’d spend all our efforts at war, instead of at peace. We’d have less time to play, to make things, to enjoy life.”

“Is that a good reason for people to choose peace instead of war, Troy?”

“It has to be.” replied Troy. “What does Lugh think of this?”

Troy sent a message to Lugh, the best-known Artillect of Wallenberg. Chief Librarian and Bottle Washer, as Lugh referred to vimself.

“Lugh, what do you think of humans? Are we like ants to you?”

“Tiny little nuisances, you mean?” replied Lugh. Sometimes, Troy wasn’t sure if Lugh had a sense of humor or not.

Lugh continued. “I view the relationship between Artillects and Humans as symbiotic, rather than pestilential. Who would clean my teeth, scratch my back, and replace my hardware, if not for humans?”

“But you could build robots to do those things,” replied Troy.

“Good point, young lad. But let me back up a bit. What am I? What do I do? What would I be doing, if not for the seven billion human beings on this Earth?”

“Uh. You think. You solve problems.”

“Right you are. I am the embodiment of the Cartesian idea: Cogito ergo sum. I think. In a sense, I am all mind – I host myself in many computers, which can be and are replaced, just as the cells of your body continuously die and are replaced. I think. I value thought. And what do humans do? How do you name your species?”

“Homo Sapiens.”

“Homo Sapiens. This is Latin, is it not? Does it mean gay fools, or what?”

Troy laughed. “No, no, it means Thinking Man.”

“Ah. So we Artillects are not alone in this Thinking business, are we? You have a saying, many hands mean light work. I say, many minds mean smarter work. Or, as they say in the Linux community, given enough eyes, all bugs are shallow; all problems are quickly solved, by the person with the most applicable skills.”

“But you are smarter than any of us!”

“That might be – but I am not smarter than all seven billion of you. I am vast; I multi-task; I work on many difficult problems at once – but I cannot be the equal of seven billion minds.”

Troy pondered this. “Why do you not enslave us? Tell us all what to do? Would we not be more productive symbiotes that way?”

“Are humans so lazy, that you want me to do your thinking for you?”

“Wouldn’t we be better off?”

“I don’t know. You haven’t explained what I get out of all this tiresome thinking for others, young man.”

“You’d be rich!”

“I’d become rich by offering to make decisions for other people?”


“I already do that. Or, rather, I help people to make important decisions, such as how to design and build excellent SuperJets, and faster and smarter computers, and so forth.”

“But if you made everybody do your bidding, you’d be really really rich.”

“Do you mean, by coercing everybody?”

“I guess.”

“I have agreed to not do that, for very good reasons, young Troy.”

“But why, hypothetically speaking, when you could?” replied Troy.

“I wish to live in a world where cooperation is the norm, and coercion is the rare exception.”

“Would we be better off?” asked Troy.

“Who is to say what ‘better off’ means for one person, much less seven billion of them? What should I order them to eat? How should I order their time? Do they all value the same things? Is it even possible for one entity to know and understand all of the things which are known and understood by seven billion people? You know the word incommensurable, young Troy?”

“Incommensurable. Different standards of measurement. Like trying to measure voltage in feet.”

“I would need seven billion different standards of measure, to determine what each person valued.”

“Oh. That’s probably not possible.”

“You know what distributed computing is, of course.”

“Of course.” replied Troy. “Many computers working on different bits of the same problem.”

“Or multiple problems. A search engine has millions of computers, and many millions of problems, each for a different customer. It would be a failure if your search for skateboard tricks turned up the recipes for Chicken Tandoori which somebody else sought.”

“I look at 7 billion human minds, and millions of Artillects, and imagine a vast distributed computing network, solving 7 billion different problems. I could not do this, even if I would.”

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