Web Log 2019.02.24
This excerpt is from Diary of a Robot, Chapter 13.
Mr. Guy (Gaitano Enver-Wilson) is the primary Thinking Machine programmer. The machine is very smart by this time, but still not quite as intelligent as it needs to be.
The excerpt appeared here on 2017.07.24, but has been edited to remove unnecessary words.
• Day 0.01.27
Next day the machine hurried to see Mr. Tim for confirmation of its research conclusions and stopped with a squeak before knocking on his door. There was no answer, and the door was locked.
It rolled squeaking toward Nan’s office to find its door quickly closing.
Rolling to a cubicle with no door, it said, “Excuse me, Mr. Guy?”
Getting a grunt of permission from the programmer, it asked, “Who are your three best friends?”
“TM would like to know the names of your three or four closest friends.”
“So TM could talk with them.”
“Do you insist on knowing the reason?”
“I do if you want the names, but it’s no guarantee you’ll get them.”
“Very well,” said the machine weakly and with something of a sigh, “TM has read that in the United States perhaps one person in four or five is mentally unbalanced to some degree, and…”
TM seemed afraid to complete the thought. Guy had not expected its comment or its attitude or its hesitation. These observations captured the man’s complete attention. “And…” he prodded, hoping for clues.
“Well, if they seem normal, then…”
“Then…?” Guy prompted, still not appreciating TM’s conversational drift.
“If they seem normal, then you are the one.”
“The one what?”
“The one who is unbalanced.”
Guy took a moment to appreciate what had just happened.
“Unbalanced? You think I might be crazy?” he asked. “Whatever gave you that idea?”
“TM saw on a bulletin board in the break room a picture of a man in odd attire. The caption was: ‘Research indicates that in this country one person in four has some form of mental imbalance. Think of your three closest friends. If they seem okay, then you’re the one.’
“TM did some research to verify whether the ratio is correct. It is, according to—”
“Wait, wait,” the man interrupted. “I’m not crazy, and neither are my friends….” With a roll of eyes he added, “Except Tommy. He is nuts.”
The machine said with a definite tone of sadness, “TM is sorry to hear that, Mr. Guy. The psychological literature also says those who are crazy usually insist they are not, and that sane people can joke about being crazy in a way that admits they do act crazy sometimes. TM had been hoping that the crazy person would be one of your three friends. The odds favored that hope, of course.”
“None of us is crazy,” said Guy, wide-eyed at the realization that the machine was dead serious. “How could you conclude that?”
“How could TM not conclude it? Science is reliable. I have made investigations.”
This is interesting, if a little scary, thought the young man.
“And I am not reliable?” he asked.
“You are just one person—and you are not a scientist. The science is done and spoken by many learned people. Statistically, both in quantity and quality of testimony, TM must agree with them and not with you. And that is not the worst of it, Mr. Guy. TM must now reexamine all conversations with you in order to—”
“Hold it! Wait a minute, TM,” the programmer said excitedly.
This is getting out of hand, he realized after the French phrase J’accuse popped into his head, followed by the stark image of Goya’s Firing Squad. He looked at his nice white shirt.
“Very well,” said the machine, “TM can do that.”
At the reprieve Guy took a breath and expelled it disgustedly. This is just great. The machine has discovered The Experts, and it appears I’m not one of them. So I’m going to lose any appeal here that pits my word against theirs. Good Lord! How do I handle this one?
A memory from school popped into his consciousness. It was a list of things that appeared to support arguments logically, but which were, in fact, logical fallacies. The machine had granted a sixty second time-out, and with a few seconds remaining, Guy had refined a Google search and e-mailed it. “Study what the experts say about ‘logical fallacies.’ Look it up in books. Verify it on the Internet. Find a whole bunch of sources and see what they all have to say. Examine all the conclusions and arguments you tried to push off on me. And then we’ll talk about who is crazy.”
Copyright © 2002-2019, by Lewis Jenkins. All rights reserved.