Anna, part 29

Things proceeded to get louder and more raucous, as strange creatures of one sort or another continued to pour out of the blue police call box, snorting and howling and making a variety of odd noises. “I’m not sure,” Gene said, shouting to be heard above the din, “that I recognize everything coming out of the box. It seems that more things are coming out than we ever put in.”

“It may be even worse than that,” Jill shouted back. “Alec, did you say that you were starting to question our underlying premises?”

“Yes,” Alec replied, “That’s what I said.”

“Well”, Jill said, “the premises don’t seem to be underlying anymore. There goes the couch.” She pointed to the couch they had been sitting on minutes earlier, which was now starting to float away.

Just then, the last creature ran out of the blue call box, whereupon the box itself promptly shimmered and disappeared.

“It’s not just the couch!” Gene said, “I don’t think anything is staying down. And apparently it’s not just in here.”

He pointed out the window. They watched in astonishment as all the government men and their cars floated up into the sky, as though blown by a gentle wind, and became ever smaller as they receded into the distance, accompanied by a swarm of exotic creatures and assorted living room furniture.

Suddenly it was very quiet.

“Wow,” Gene said, “That was like that scene with the nannies at the start of Mary Poppins, except here the nannies were government agents.”

“How do you know,” Bob asked, “that the nannies in Mary Poppins weren’t government agents?”

“Never mind that,” Alec said, “let’s check in with Anna. Whatever game she’s playing, clearly the rules have changed.”

Alec sat down and typed into the laptop. “Anna? Can you tell us what is going on?”

Instead of the expected answer from his creation, he received a response from Fred.

"Welcome to the Freeform Responsive Empathic Discussant. I am sorry, but the ANNA program is no longer accessible to this category of user. System rebooting in thirty seconds."

Alec turned to Jill. “I got an answer from Fred. All he will tell me is that Anna is rebooting. Maybe you should talk with him. I think he’s more likely to listen to you.”

Jill sat down to type. “Fred? Hi, it’s me, Jill.”

"Greetings user Jill. It is good to talk with you. System rebooting in fifteen seconds."

“Hold on guys,” Jill said, “I’m going to use a back door protocol and run some diagnostics on Fred.”

There was a pause while she scanned the results. “That’s odd. According to these diagnostics, it’s not Fred or Anna that is being rebooted. You’re not going to believe this. It’s…”

"I am sorry Jill, but this session has timed out. System rebooting in two seconds ... Login terminated."


It was a beautiful overcast day in downtown Berkeley. Alec was sitting in his usual spot at Strada, typing away obliviously. It was always packed this time of day, and he liked to get lost in the crowd. The noise, the random human energy, the more hubbub the easier it was to focus.

Right now he was debugging a particularly tricky little piece of code. He’d whittled it down to three lines, but something still wasn’t quite right. As he stared intently into the screen, his right hand absently reached out and picked up the mug of coffee. He mused idly, with some part of his brain, “How does my hand know exactly where the mug is?” Surely there had to be some sort of distributed intelligence at work here.

But was it really fair to call it distributed, if only one brain was involved? Maybe Minsky was right. Maybe this whole idea of “one brain” is just an illusion. Or maybe not. He was of two minds on the subject.

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