“It talks! In sentences! You knew that would happen!?” Guy burbled as he and the Doctor hurried out of the boss’s office and down the hall.
“I hoped it would,” said Doc trying not to sound eager. “We gave it a phonetic library, a complete dictionary, encyclopedia, grammar template, as well as a ton of text describing where it was and how it was to operate. We gave it sound files and templates for all that text—as well as images and 3D video—and we allowed it to ‘think’ about—excuse me (we don’t want to use that word—not yet, anyway), we let the linkage burn-in run its course uninterrupted for—what was it—well over a week?”
Before Guy could answer eight days, Doc added a question that might have been taken as an afterthought but certainly was not: “Guy, you are absolutely certain no one tampered with the machine during the burn-in, or altered the material it started with?!”
“Certain. Absolutely,” Guy answered as they reached the next floor. “I have my ways of knowing. And I’m sure its early memories will agree; consciousness of a sort should have begun about two days after the burn started.”
“Good. And it passed the first series of tests, you say. Very good.” The Doctor’s next question followed with barely a pause, but it had even more urgency:
“Is it asking, What’s happening?”
“I’m sure it is,” Guy answered enthusiastically, “Internally, that is. It has to be asking that, given what it has said and done so far. But I have to say it hasn’t used exactly those words.” The two men were down the stairs now, and running toward Guy’s lab.
“Is it asking, What happened?”
“Yes… Well, again, Doc, it looks like it.”
“Is it asking, What’s gonna happen?” the boss asked breathlessly as they swiped badges and pushed each other through the lab door to face the machine. Guy was about to answer that most important question as they stepped farther into the room, but the machine turned toward them saying, “Mr. Guy. Hello. That person with you is Doc who?”
The Doctor was stunned to hear it. “It sounds almost like Dennis Day,” he said.
“Dennis who?” asked Guy.
“Well, okay,” said Little, “let me re-phrase the question: Why does the machine sound so much like a dead tenor named Dennis Day?”
“Don’t know. Is it important?”
“You’re right,” Doc said as the two men looked the machine up and down. “No need to waste time there.” The machine just stared at them. “Well, my young friend…” Little said turning back to Guy and grinning with his whole face, “Introduce me, and then let’s have some fun!”
• • • • Day 0.01.01
“Hey, Wilson! I still can’t understand your machine,” Tim complained. His words in a Texan drawl started an ad hoc meeting in the hall just outside Turcote’s testing lab. People accumulated. “It found an error in one of my modules. I read its report but couldn’t figure out exactly what it was tryin’ to say. I asked it to explain… and I’m still not sure I understand.”
“Same here,” added Nan.
Guy tried to explain. “It said—”
Tim wasn’t diplomatic. “I don’t care what you think it said, Guy. I need to understand it, and I’m not gonna make any extra effort.”
At this point in his rant Tim followed a couple of pairs of eyes to see that Doctor Little had joined the meeting. He continued anyway: “I don’t want to guess what it means. It makes me feel like some half-deaf geezer, saying ‘What?’ all the time. I need to understand exactly what’s wrong and what triggers the problem. And I need to understand now. It’s the only way I can reliably fix anything.”
“C’mon, Tim, cut it some slack,” said Guy. “It’s only three and a half weeks old.”
“No. I’m not gonna treat it gently. It’s not a person. It’s a machine, and it’s supposed to understand English. It’s been tryin’ for nearly a month now—a freakin’ month—and it had better get a lot better in a hurry if it’s gonna be useful. I hate products touted to ‘do everything’ when it’s only everything on the manufacturer’s restricted list of things.”
“He has a point,” Bobby chipped in. “If I were testing it I’d say it was, well, not busted, just… wobbly. I’d have to say, ‘fix it.’ ”
Guy read his meaning as: “Fix it, Guy,” and he whined, “It’s just using a menagerie of computer languages when it can’t figure out the English.”
“Yeah, leave Guy alone,” chided Eduardo Esteban, Tim’s hardware technician. “You all are too picky. Yesterday it said something, and I understood every word. One was ‘Mister’ and the other was ‘Eduardo.’ ”
Laughter filled the hall as everyone shared their own stories of TM malapropisms, until they remembered Dr. Little was still there.
When Doc shot Nan a glance asking her what she thought, she answered mechanically in a squeaky attempt at TM’s voice, “SELECT * FROM EXPLETIVES;” where the asterisk sounded somewhat like a splat, and the semi-colon sounded like bad dentures.
A Literary historical science fiction mystery
Table of Chapters
Chapter 0. Problems
Chapter 1. Headaches
Chapter 2. Happy Holidays
Chapter 3. Mr. Nice Guy
Chapter 4. The Brainless One
Chapter 5. A Little Crazy
Chapter 6. Grave Consequences
Chapter 7. Core Directives
Chapter 8. Expect Difficulties
Chapter 9. Caveats
Chapter 10. Mister Machine
Chapter 11. Good News, Bad News, El Cheapo
Chapter 12. New Memories
Chapter 13. Little Problems
Chapter 14. Lasers, Language, and Happiness
Chapter 15. Chatterbots
Chapter 16. Ready Or Not
Chapter 17. Not a Turing Test
Chapter 18. Reality Test
Chapter 19. Chess, Anyone?
Chapter 20. FOM
Chapter 21. Chairman of the Board
Chapter 22. The Usual Suspects
Chapter 23. M. God
Chapter 24. Walkabout
Chapter 25. Why
Chapter 26. First Blood
Chapter 27. More Machines?
Chapter 28. POV
Chapter 29. ROI
Chapter 30. Last Blood
Chapter 31. Don’t Want to Talk About It
Chapter 32. Round Table
Chapter 33. A Change of Mind
Chapter 34. Threes
Chapter 35. Knight Moves
Chapter 36. Little Combinations
Chapter 37. Can We Talk?
Chapter 38. Pas de Deux
Chapter 39. The Jig Is Up
Chapter 40. Good, Bad, Ugly Chapter 41. Function Goes On