The creation (Final project) & critique of the story
I am a computer programmer. My programming history goes all the way back to when I was in middle school. I only used my computer to play video games just like any other kids, but I got bored at them really quickly because I would hack and change the programming codes of the gaming system so that I would win the game every single time.
I was gifted. No one has really taught me a lot about programming, but I feel like I knew what I was supposed to do. I communicated better with computers than with humans. Maybe it’s because the computer functions and coding sequences always floated around in my head.
My computer science teacher at high school noticed my programming gift and signed me up for the International Olympiad in Informatics. Even if I only had a week to prepare for the competition, I won a gold medal. I enjoyed what I was doing and I was good at it.
After my undergraduate and graduate study on computer science at Stanford, I got a job offer from Artificial Intellica, the leading company on developing artificial intelligence via computer programming basis.
My role at the company was simple. I would get a project, and my job was typing a code for a program that would do what it is supposed to do. The pay was great, but I was not really happy with the job because there was not a huge room for my creativity and I didn’t like the company’s basic approach to the project.
The entire company project has been focused for the last 10 years on algorithms that imitate the step-by-step reasoning, which humans were assumed to use. Other features that involve in human cognition such as planning, learning, knowledge representation, perception, social intelligence, etc. were also tried to be incorporated separately by coding programs that will mimic each function.
“I really don’t think this is the correct approach,” I said while typing some codes that I think would be completely useless. I was just talking to myself, but I wished someone had heard it.
“Yeah,” I replied. That was just James, who sits next to my desk.
“You seem pretty unhappy about that. Maybe it’s because you are new at this. Just take your time to get used to this environment,” he said.
Maybe that’s the case, and he seemed to be a nice guy, but I decided not to tell him what I think is the correct approach because he will probably think it is stupid.
“This is a big project and I’m sure people get frustrated some time, but I feel like we are pretty close on this approach, so let’s just not get frustrated and keep working,” he added.
“Yeah, thanks,” I smiled back at him and went back on working. I was just one of hundreds of computer programmer working together for the project, so there was nothing I could do change the basic approach.
It was just surprising for me that no one has tried to imitate human brain itself, not just its functions. The human brain has been estimated to contain 80 to 90 billion non-neural cells and similar number of neurons. These cells pass signals to each other via as many as 1000 trillion synaptic connections.
Even though medicine has significantly improved, the exact brain function is still not well known to anyone. So, it would be extremely difficult to attempt to imitate function of brains if we do not even know how they exactly function.
I decided to start a project of my own at home. Since I figured it would be impossible for me to start the entire project by myself, I “borrowed” some codes from work. However, my project had a completely different approach toward achieving artificial intelligence, and they weren’t even used very much.
The basic approach was different because the most important part of my secret project was imitating the exact anatomy of the brain instead of the function of the brain.
I started this approach from studying the development central nervous system in humans. It was definitely a simpler approach than trying to develop the adult brain, but it was still challenging.
Coding the growth algorithm was the most challenging part. I had to go thru lots of medical texts about neuroanatomy and neural development and determine how I should transform it to a computer sequence. There were somewhat clearly determined patterns in how cells are developed, so I tried to incorporate as many reported patterns as possible.
If my program works as intended, then the initial coding should automatically self-code and “grow” into a program that should function like the brain. I am not sure how long the development process will take, but I am going to try to speed up the process as much as possible by running the CPU in its maximum speed.
The only problem I had with my project was I had no idea how the brain will develop because I cannot control the growth process. I determined that it would be more human-like because we don’t have control over development of the brain when humans develop and it is always impossible to tell who that person is and what that person is going to be like by just looking at the brain.
I have not really considered giving my project a body because that was the easier part of the project. Some Japanese company has developed a cybernetic organism that looks just like humans outside and robot inside. I am sure the Japanese company has tried to develop artificial intelligence for the perfect physical body that they have developed, but all I know is that they have been unsuccessful in doing it.
I finally decided to give its body by making a three dimensional projection of a person so that the created brain actually serves to control the projection. The definition of the projection was quite high, so it would almost be impossible to tell whether the projection is a hologram or not unless you could feel it. All I had to do for my project now was to program the brain that will control the projection.
Success in this coding challenge would not only give myself a huge satisfaction, but also help me to be a more social person because I will be able to practice talking to this projection without embarrassing myself. I felt like I was just spending too much time with computers and not with real people. I barely talked to my co-workers and all I did after work is just coming back home and watching television or working on this project.
It might seem little strange for a lot of people that I am creating a virtual person when I could just go out and make a real one, but I was never really good at socializing with other people. I have tried to get over my problem by just trying to talk to others, but I have embarrassed myself so many times that I figured it would be less painful to just stay home and play with my computer instead. However, I sometimes missed having someone to talk to and wanted to learn to how to socialize.
It has been about a month since I started working on the project. I came back home one night. I was tired and hungry, but I just sat down on my computer chair as always.
“I need coffee,” I talked to myself. That would be my sixth cup of coffee for today. I kept typing and typing. My wrist was tired and hurt, but it became numb pretty soon. I knew I was close, so I couldn’t really stop typing.
After some time, I noticed it was getting bright and my eyes were closed. Apparently, I passed out in front of computer again last night.
“Hi,” a strange voice woke me up.
When I abruptly opened my eyes and sat up, there was a woman standing right in front of me. I stared at her in surprise, trying to figure out who she is and why she was there.
“Who are you?” I said, thinking that I might be completely dreaming of this situation. I shook my head for little bit trying to wake myself up, but she was still standing there. I looked around where she was standing to figure out where we were, but we were definitely at my house.
“I am not sure who I am,” she replied. “I was here when I opened my eyes.”
“What is that supposed to mean?”
Then I realized that one of my windows displayed on the monitor was blinking, confirming the successful development of vertebrate embryo sequence. Apparently, my program has successfully created an embryo sequence and it has developed into an adult brain overnight.
“This is amazing,” I said. I wasn’t still sure how human-like she was, but the coding has definitely worked in developing the brain.
“What is amazing?” she asked curiously, staring at my face.
“You are.” She was still looking at me, but smiling.
“Where did I come from? Am I your child?” she was still asking millions of questions. I decided to interrupt her and asked a random question.
“Why do you look like that?” I asked.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean.. you are a woman.”
“A young woman.”
“Why did you decide to take that physical form?”
“I don’t know. I just felt that this is the form that you would be attracted to,” she smiled.
She seemed little confused for the next couple of days and asked more questions, but she was learning very fast and seems to have great memory capacity compared to humans. I figured that is because either she has a brand new brain or she has a lot more brain capacity than humans do because of the maximized computer settings.
“So, you are a computer programmer and you created me as a computer program? That’s crazy! How is that possible?” she asked rhetorically. “I didn’t read anything about that on-line,” she told me in a doubting voice. It was ironic that she couldn’t even believe the way that she was created.
“I’m the only one who has successfully done it.”
“Creating an artificial intelligence.”
“I don’t like the word artificial.”
“I mean, you are not natural.” I just stood up to go get more coffee. The projection was on the way, but I just walked right into it.
“Be careful!” she said, abruptly getting out of the way.
“This is not going to hurt either of us, you know,” I said in a little confused voice.
“I just don’t like when you do that.”
When she was moving around, she would try to avoid obstacles on her way of projection as she would avoid running into me even though it wouldn’t affect her at all.
It was fascinating how she resembled a human. She would perform actions such as sleeping and eating that are completely unnecessary for her, at least I thought. It was sometimes even entertaining to watch her creating herself a projection of foods that she looked up online and eating it right next to me when I am having a “real” meal.
She definitely had a personality and feelings as well. She was a lot more extraverted than I was and conscientious about her actions. When she reads lots of good news online, she would be happy for the day. When she learned about the recent tsunami in Japan, she was very sad and tried to convince me to send her there so that she could help out people.
One day, I got curious about her eating and sleep habit and decided to ask her about it.
“Why do you need to eat and sleep?”
“Doesn’t everyone have to?” she relied.
“I mean, you don’t really have to.”
“What do you mean?” she said. “I get hungry and sleepy as everyone does.”
Maybe she was right. She has the human brain after all. I just had to assume that my programming was too perfect. I decided to cope with the fact that she is completely acting like a human being. That is what I designed her for anyways.
I was still little nervous and uncomfortable talking to her for the first couple of weeks, but I got over it pretty soon because we talked a lot and it seemed she had no problem about me making mistakes.
“Guess what happened today,” she said.
“What?” I asked.
“I looked up about human evolution”
“Oh, that’s interesting,” I was little curious what she would think about that. “So, what did you think about it?”
“It’s so surprising that humans used to be so different. Not just biologically, but the development of the tools and technologies also have evolved human significantly.”
“That is not exactly what we mean when we say human evolution,” I said.
“Biological difference is not the only difference. Think of how much technology is affecting the life of human. Would any sort of biological change make such a difference in life of human?”
“It wouldn’t probably do that.”
“Then, shouldn’t you acknowledge technology as a part of human beings?”
“I think technology is useful. It makes humans’ lives better,” I said. “But I don’t think it has never been part of a human.”
“I don’t know about that,” she said.
She kept me a great company because she was very nice, smart and knowledgeable, which surprised me all the time. We would have some interesting discussions as well.
She would tell me what was on the news, what she thinks about it, and asked my opinions on it all the time.
After spending couple of months with talking to my projection every day, I was friendlier and less nervous about talking to people.
I even asked a girl out whom I really liked at my work. I still made some embarrassing mistakes on the first date, but we kept going out after that.
After I seriously started dating my girlfriend, I think my program noticed that something is different with me.
“You are not spending as much time with me as you used to do,” she said, “You must not care about me anymore.”
“Yes, I do,” I told her after a short hesitation.
“You’ve created me,” she said. “It is your responsibility to take care of me. I do think and have emotions just as you do.”
I stared at her, saying nothing. I knew she was very much like a human, but I really didn’t think she would develop such emotions.
“I understand you are busy with your life, but you are the only one I can spend my time with. I get lonely and sometimes get scary when I get left out for too long,” she said.
“I understand, but then what do you want me do to?”
“I don’t know,” she said after a little hesitation. “Is there any way you could make me just like you?”
“Yes, like you. I want a physical body.”
Her projection reached her hands out toward me, but it just passed right thru me. I am not sure what she was trying to do, but she looked very sad.
“I am sorry, but I don’t think I can do that,” I said. “I can’t really afford the time and money that I have to put in to make that work.”
“That is so irresponsible of you!” she yelled at me, which she has never done before.
Since then, we argued for a while whenever I get home about how I am not paying enough attention to her. One day, I finally got tired of arguing with her and told her,
“You are just a computer program. I used you as a technology.” I said. “You know a tool that humans use to make their lives better. I just needed you for me to improve my social skills. That is all I wanted and I got what I wanted.”
I just didn’t know what to do with her. I was frustrated as well. I felt like I was doing this to another human being, which would be a horrible thing to do. However, I apparently could not take care of her for forever. I also couldn’t just deactivate her as well since she is self-sustaining on electricity.
“I am sorry,” I said. “I was just trying to create another program that I needed. I really didn’t mean to create another human being whom I am responsible of.”
After a moment, she looked up at me and tried to reach her hands toward me again as if she was trying to make sure again that herself is still just a projection.
“I understand,” she said quietly, turning her back onto me. I think that I saw teardrops on her face. But it is just a projection, I said it to myself.
Since then, she developed some behavior changes. She stopped talking, projecting any eating motions, and surfing the internet.
“Why did you stop eating?” I asked.
“I don’t know. I’m not really feeling like doing anything,” she replied. “And I am just a projection, you know. I don’t need those actions to sustain myself.”
“You don’t even want to go surfing the internet?”
“I guess not,” she said. She put her head down and looked away avoid eye contacts.
“I will try to help you out with your mood problem. Maybe there is something wrong with the programming.”
She did not say anything.
I felt bad that she was being depressed. I wanted to fix her and decided to increase her serotonin re-uptake inhibitor activity by manipulating the part of program that is responsible for it, which is how drugs like Prozac works.
However, it didn’t work. Maybe the problem was not in the coding after all. There was nothing I could do or wanted to do at that point. I liked what I did at work and my new social life with people. My relationship with my girlfriend was even better.
One day I went on a vacation with my girlfriend. I left my projection by herself and didn’t come back for a while. I don’t think I even told her that I will be gone for a long time.
After couple of months, I came back home. It was very dark and quiet, at least a lot quieter than I thought. When I went to check my computer, there was only one window open on the dark screen, blinking one message.
‘Self-termination sequence completed.’
I quietly turned the monitor off and walked out of the room.
Critique of the short story, the creation
The short story was originally written for the 4th web “event.” While developing the plot and characters of the story, I spent good amount of time trying to come up with something original, but related to the course materials closely. In the end, I was reasonably happy with how the story turned out, but I really wished that I would have a chance to develop the story further. Therefore, I decided to expand the short story as the final project of the course, focusing on covering all of the gender, information, science, and technology aspects.
As Liz pointed out, this story has some interesting connections to Conceiving Ada, Frankenstein, and Teknolust. My story is similar to Teknolust and Frankenstein in terms of the fact that the creations are capable of having emotions and feelings. As Ruby from Teknolust develops real love with Sandy, my computer hologram develops depression because she was left out by her creator. The monster from Frankenstein is another great character that develops more human-like multiple feelings. Her desire to sleep, eat, and learn was very interesting even for me who wrote the story and I wanted for the readers to think about how artificial intelligence will fit in to the human society that we are living in.
I noticed some of the stories we have written are written in the third person narrative such as Anda’s game. I think while the third person narrative gives more objective perspective on the characters, the first person narrative could really bring out the thoughts of the main character. When I wrote the story, I wanted to focus on the programmer who creates her, but treats her as nothing more than a technology. The reason why I did not give any name to the creation was that I wanted to emphasize the relationship between a human, especially a man, and technology (i.e. men do not name their cell phones).
As a scientist, I have tried to focus on some scientific details. I felt that some of the movies we watched or stories we have read in the class do not intensely focus on the scientific aspects of what is going on. For example, Teknolust, Conceiving Ada, and Tron do not fully explain how the creation of virtual worlds or characters is possible with feasible scientific information. Therefore, I am reasonably satisfied with the scientific background that I have provided for the story to explain how the character was made.
The story could be improved by more detailed interactions between the creator and the creation. More anecdotal stories that could reveal more gender and technology would be helpful to relate the story more strongly to the main theme of the course.