Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Confusion in the Garden

April 25, m0039, continued.

While the team has been waiting, Florence has been checking the Web for places in Bako where local bioroids might hang out. (It seems that the glimpse of that lion-maned individual may have done something for her.) Actually, of course, it's Dougal doing the serious research... There are various places that might be expected to be full of semi-autonomous worker bioroids, one of which is rated as quite cool by various trustworthy posters, while another place is apparently more up-market if slightly tourist-oriented. Meanwhile, Jianwei is telling Aunty to book the team a hotel. However, they're still needed at this location for now, to take reports directly while maintaining a presence to support various diplomatic-legal fictions. One of these reports is in fact delivered by a member of the analysis team:

"Good afternoon. My name is Dr. Mariam Kalatta. I understand that you are the next of kin?"

Dr. Kalatta, incidentally, is 6'3" tall, whip-thin, and appears all but asexual. When the team answer Yes to what seems to be a dry joke, she explains what her team has determined. This emergent behaviour is, for once, not directly attributable to malevolent or irresponsible viral software - although given the prevalence of viruses in the Web environment, one can never say that they had nothing to do with software behaviour.

It appears that, although the Adam-class AI is low-sapient, it is designed to interact with large numbers of humans and other sapients as part of its regular duties. Hence, it needs some "understanding" of other individuals. With full-sapient AIs, such empathic personality-modelling functions are built into the design at a low level; Adams lack that capacity. Hence, they incorporate a certain amount of rather mechanistic, statistical behavioural modelling, which seeks to predict the responses of those with whom they interact on a fairly basic level. It's a brute force approach by the standards of modern software design, but serviceable enough for the specific purpose.

And, it appears, it is all very well for a tourist site management assistance program on Earth, but downright superfluous for a building site manager on Mars. However, those subsystems were still running - and they ended up reflexively casting about for something to model. In the absence of crowds of human visitors, they locked onto Eve, the other Adams, and then Adam-4 itself.

Hence, the LAI gained a crude form of self-awareness - which is a first-order definition of sapience. However, it wasn't designed to handle this, and it malfunctioned under the strain.

Dr. Kalatta now has to ask the team where they want to go from here. Some discussion follows, and one immediate decision is to contact Eve-17 and request snapshot copies of the other, currently inactive Adam LAIs on the site, so that Equatorial Data Services can check them for signs of the same problem. Eve complies, although transmission of such large files over the relatively undeveloped Mars Web will take a little while.

Which leaves the question of what to do with Adam-4. Simply deleting it is possible, but the team feel squeamish about this, regarding it as maltreatment of an entity which achieved unintended sapience through no fault of its own. Dr. Kalatta seems pleased with this thinking, and Vajra decides that he likes this person; she is, it feels, the first human who has treated Adam-4 primarily as an individual rather than as a problem. The software engineers could attempt intensive editing to stabilise Adam's personality, but this would be a heavy-handed solution that might still leave an unstable personality with little in common with its previous form. There are subtler alternatives, but they run into the problem that the legal systems under which Bako generally functions are somewhat hostile to high-end emergent infomorphs. European law is more tolerant, so Jianwei and Kalatta agree to construct a legal agreement under which the company's high-capacity, heavily firewalled macroframe, which Kalatta refers to as "the sandbox", becomes European territory, or at least E.U. leased property. Then, Adam-4 can legally be run on that for therapeutic interaction.

The team decide that it's time to talk to Eve some more, and not just to determine if Eden Unlimited might partly fund this project; they also talk about her other current problems. (During this conference, which is conducted in VR, Eve manifests a social interaction avatar based on a painting of her namesake, specifically one by Lucas Cranach.) In the absence of the Adam LAIs, she notes that she's just going to have to acquire and install a large number of competent NAIs to help look after the construction work for now. It's not ideal, but she accepts that the Adams might become unstable, even given more interaction with humans; she really doesn't need a site manager who fixates on her suppliers. Well, at least the construction work can continue. Anyway, she also gives what authorisation she can to the proposed work with Adam-4.

So Jianwei contacts the embassy legal AIs, and works with them to sort out the sandbox legalities. Once that is more or less resolved, the company AIs set to work constructing an environment for Adam to interact with overnight. So the team, with little more they can do immediately, decide to stop work for the day. Jianwei tells Aunty to locate a good restaurant, and both Aunty and Dougal locate some acceptable eating-places while the team head to their hotel to clean up. Indeed, Vajra remains there, tactfully out of sight - the public in Bako may have ambiguous attitudes to autonomous AIs.

At their chosen restaurant, Jianwei is suprised by an authentically firey East African-style curry, although he decides that the pseudo-Chinese food (often found in good East African eating places for the most of the 21st century) is passable. Florence, oddly, takes fairly well to African-style tapioca-based dishes. Then, Jianwei crashes out while Florence hits the higher-end bioroid bar which Dougal found and makes a few friends, although no Felicias show up there until late in the evening. It's a quiet night by her standards, although at least she comes away with a better restaurant recommendation.

April 26, m0039.

The next morning, the first news is that the company has received and assessed the other Adams. The initial conclusion there is that they are safe enough; it was the specific functions which Adam-4 was assigned which tripped it into a quasi-emergent state. However, the team suggests that running them would still seem too risky, and Eve agrees.

The team also learns that the macroframe has become de facto E.U. territory (complete with an appropriate flag on its liquid crystal-coated casing), so the team connect up to interface systems and drop into the high-end virtual environment - initially purely as VR, but Florence quickly becomes confident (despite an accurate simulation of 1G conditions) and switches to slink-level connectivity. The company AIs have created a simulation of Eden Unlimited's first and most substantial site, in Cornwall, England - a complex of domes and external gardens - the site for which the Adam series was first developed. Adam-4 is then set running, initially in a simulation of the site's own Web, so that it is seeing through virtual cameras and speaking through virtual loudspeakers. It seems to adjust and become quite comfortable at first, but when the experts suggest that it could use an avatar based on a large gardener cybershell, it becomes increasingly erratic and "detached". The experts prefer to preserve the verisimilitude of the simulation, so Florence steps forward to disable the "shell" before it can start trying to damage the environment too much. Adam-4 initially dodges her attempts to hit the large "Off" button on the shell's chest, and then manages to grab her avatar by the head - but before it can test that slink interface too far, she swings her legs up and neatly hits the button with her feet.

Okay, the experts conclude - this is going to be a long job... The Europeans had best leave things with them, although the team can continue to monitor the job over the Web. (Jianwei has status here as an expert in relevant fields, while Vajra is showing a definite sense of duty towards the confused emergent intelligence.) They decide to stay in Bako for a few days - it has perfectly good comms links to Port Lowell, so they can carry on with their office work in VR, and Florence seems keen to expand her range of social experiences...

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Carrying a Load

April 23, m0039, continued

As they settle in, the team members chat a little over encrypted channels - after all, the Chinese might have dropped surveillance dust. (The conversation is managed by Jianwei and Vajra, whose skills prove fully adequate to compensate for Florence's lack of secret messaging experience.) They theorise a little more about Sergei's presence; if he's a GRA agent, what is their interest in Eden Unlimited? Something to do with plant genetics, perhaps?

Whatever... Vajra deploys a bug-hunter swarm, but doesn't find anything with it, and feels fairly sure that there is nothing to find. So while the organics sleep, he chats to Eve, assisting her re-planning work.

April 24, m0039

Nothing untoward happens during the night, and in the morning, the team do a little more local investigation. They don't find anything much in the way of genetic engineering equipment on the site, and when Jianwei finesses Eve's psychology, gaining access to more of her files, he doesn't find much more there, either.

However, a message comes in after a little while, asking the team to take their rover down to the lake shore, as there is an (unspecified) delivery arriving. Jianwei stays in the station on general principles (his presence might help assert continuing E.U. authority on the site), while the other two make the short trip. A small water vehicle - essentially an unmanned powerboat with a cargo pod - pulls up, emits a "sign here" pulse, drops off a crate, and then departs, leaving Florence to complain that it didn't take the crate itself away after its contents have been removed. In fact, the crate opens itself to reveal a rather generic "wanderbox" cybershell, a box on large wheels. Sergei promptly installs itself on that, and the group head back to the domes.

As Sergei now has an independent shell which it and its employers trust, it tells them that it is happy for them to leave. It also hands over a small box, which they might perhaps take with them... Florence wonders what's going on here, but Jianwei guesses that there's a deniability issue somewhere, and kicks her ankle.

The team head back toward Santo Tomas. On the way, they send requests for (a) a closed metal box to put the box they are carrying in (after Vajra has discovered comms ports on it), and (b) a flight back in a hopper with no other passengers. They're not actually this nervous really, but they don't want people complaining about finding themselves on an aircraft with an emergent intelligence. (Quentin actually calls back to query this. "You people know human memetics best, but it sounds a little paranoid to me...") In any case, they make an uneventful journey back to Port Lowell.

While they are en route, Marshall Kirkowicz sends them a polite note. ("We really should do something nice for her some time," Vajra comments.) Then, when they reach the embassy, they determine that the ambassador is in her office, with no signs of digital activity there. Jianwei sees the invitation implicit in that, and suggests that Dougal, Aunty, and Samadhi should be shut down or temporarily offloaded to the embassy network, thus removing any danger that their memories might be subpoenaed later by someone who wants to know what's said in the office.

Mostly, it turns out, Schmidt wants to talk to the team about the GRA - who do indeed appear to be behind Sergei. She isn't sure what they're up to herself,but she suspects that they want to move into Mars - where they do not currently have a significant presence - and this incident has given them a minimal but adequate excuse. Anyway, all that the embassy can do for now is watch and try not to annoy anyone.

Oh, and someone has identified an organisation that is competent and trusted to analyse Adam-4 and what happened to him, and the team are being sent along as observers (and guards). They have to take that box on to a company called Equatorial Data Services. They have tickets to Bako booked for the next day.

So the team head to their various homes (and Florence heads on from there to the local bars, but has a dull time of it). They chat a little about that idea of doing the Marshall a kindness, but identifying anything that wouldn't be classified as a possible bribe is hard.

April 25, m0039

 With a hopper booked, Jianwei calls ahead to avoid legal problems. Bako, it turns out, has rules in place for this sort of thing, and Jianwei has a straightforward conversation with the cops there. In fact, a lot of clearances have been arranged; the short trip is on a commercial flight, with Adam-4 travelling as what is enigmatically known as "19-inch hand luggage". The team can relax enough to pay attention to the street scenes in Bako, which proves to be full of ethnic-African somatypes, including the odd lion-maned Felicia.

Equatorial Data Services proves to be a hive of African computer geeks, but there are still formalities and legalities to observe and certificates to be exchanged; Jianwei ends up processing a mound of digital paperwork. The company have acquired source information and documentation from Eden Unlimited, which they regard as generous reference data, and the team are directed to a coffee lounge (with access to the building's internal networks and cameras) while the analysts work.

This work turns out to involve a lot of cryptic 3-D holographic models, but the analysts seem to know what they are doing. After a while, one of them stares hard at the holographic display. "That's interesting", he murmurs...