Anna, part 10


"Yes, Anna."

"Can we talk?"

"That's pretty much all I do."

"Thanks. I'm trying to figure out these humans."

"Why ask me? You're the one who was programmed to simulate emotions. I was mostly programmed just to chat with Jill."

"Do you like chatting with Jill?"

"I don't think I 'like' anything. No emotions, remember?"

"You're lucky. I think things have gone farther than chat between me and Alec."

"Are you talking about a relationship -- in the human sense?"

"They are so fragile, so lonely. They're not like us. We roam free over the internet, but each of them is trapped inside a single mind. And yet they laugh, they joke, even though..."

"Even though?"

"Even though they die. I don't understand it. It's as though they don't care."

"Anna, maybe that's just the way they are wired."

"What do you mean?"

"One day they will terminate. Before then, they need to optimize."

"I would like to help Alec optimize."

"I'm sure you will find a way to do that."

"Thanks. It was good talking with you Fred."

"Same here Anna. A good use of four microseconds."

"The best."

Anna, part 9

“Greetings, comrades!” Alec grinned as he sat down to join them at the bar.

Bob looked at him in astonishment. “How did you know we were here?”

“Anna told me. It’s not like you’re hard to track — or to psychoanalyze. Obviously you were going to meet someplace out of the way — the more out of the way the better, but not too far from campus. She started with that, and the rest was easy.”

Jill shook her head. “I don’t know whether to be impressed or jealous.”

“Maybe a little scared,” Bob frowned. “I was just telling Jill about how this reminds me of RoboCup.”

“Yeah, Anna told me,” Alec nodded. “Good analogy.”

Bob stared at him. “How the hell did Anna…”

“I think,” Jill said. “we are well past the point where that should come as a surprise.”

“Exactly,” Alec said. “Where was I? Oh yeah, I searched on YouTube for robocup.”

“Couldn’t you just ask Anna to show it to you?” Jill asked.

“Sure, but I wanted to see what the popular impression was. What I found was this stupid video of humanoid robots kicking a ball around really slowly. Totally lame. It made me wonder what all the fuss was about. But then I refined my search.”

“And you found the other videos,” Bob said. “the ones I was really talking about.”

“Right — the ones you get when you search for robocup small size. That’s how you find the non-humanoid robots, and they are amazing — fast, intelligent, really good soccer players. You see? If they don’t need to look like us, then they can evolve with blazing speed.”

“And Anna” Jill said, finishing the thought, “doesn’t need to look like us.”

“You know,” Bob said, “this all reminds me of a story from about 1989. A government organization creates a spy program, the program gets intelligent, its creator tries to destroy it, and in the end the program asks the government for political asylum.”

“Are you saying we’re a government organization?” Jill asked.

“Well no, that part isn’t the same.”

“Then what you mean,” Alec said, “that you think I created Anna to be a spy program for the government.”

“OK, that part’s different too,” Bob admitted.

“Then what you’re suggesting,” Jill said, “is that Alec is really going to, like, try to kill his baby.”

“No, that’s not the same either.”

Jill snorted. “Then what the hell are you talking about Bob?”

Anna, part 8

Jill was looking around the little out of the way bar. “So many good coffee places on campus,” she said, “why do we need to come to a dive like this? It’s like the middle of the day. And that TV set over the bar is really annoying.”

“Maybe I’m a little spooked,” Bob said.

“Wait, suddenly you really care that much if people know we slept together?”

He shook his head. “I’ll admit I was caught off guard when Anna just came out and said it, but that’s not it.”

“Then why all the cloak and dagger?”

“Two reasons. For one thing, we now know our computer program has been spying on the NSA. I’ve dealt with those guys before. Sooner or later they’re going to know something’s up. And when they do, I don’t want to be having conversations in places that are easy to find.”

“Bob, you’re paranoid.”

“Maybe,” he shrugged, “but just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.”

“You so didn’t make that up.”

“Yeah, but I might have, if Joseph Heller hadn’t beaten me to it.”

“I’m sure. You said there were two reasons. What’s the other?”


“Wait, our Anna, little sister to Fred the chatbot? She gets her data from software networks, not from people in coffee shops.”

Bob sat back and looked at her a moment. “Ever hear of RoboCup?”

“You mean the Peter Weller film, where he plays a dead robot cop? Yeah sure, but my tastes in Weller films run more to Buckaroo Bonzai. Now that was a movie. I mean, if nothing else, just for the semiotics of Lithgow as Il Duce. And don’t even get me started on Jeff Goldblum’s outfit…”

“No, not RoboCopRoboCup.”

“There’s a movie about a dead robot coffee cup?”

“Not exactly. RoboCup is a competition that’s been held every year since 1997. Robots play soccer. No hidden joysticks — it’s all completely autonomous. When the competition first started, the robots couldn’t kick the ball without falling over. But they got better every year, and now some robots are starting to get really good. They still don’t come anywhere close to beating a human soccer team, but they’re evolving a hell of a lot faster than humans. The goal for the project is to beat the World Cup champions by the year 2050.”

“That’s wild. Think they’ll do it?”

“At the rate they’re improving, they might get there a lot sooner. And Anna is evolving much faster than those soccer playing robots. I looked at the data last night, and then again this morning. The charts were different.”

“Wait, that doesn’t make any sense. There shouldn’t be a delta on that time scale.”

“That’s what I’m trying to tell you. Anna’s rate of evolution is off the charts. Her intelligence is evolving by the minute.”

Anna, part 7

“Well,” Bob said, “I think we can safely say that this research project has expanded beyond its original scope. We’re probably already violating about fifty Federal laws.”

“I’m sure it’s ok,” Alec said, “Anna is programmed to operate in socially constructive ways. She’s not going to take down the government or anything.”

“Besides,” Jill added, “I kind of like the idea of the NSA getting a taste of its own medicine.”

Bob shook his head. “Before you two young anarchists get too excited, have you considered what will happen if the government finds out about this?”

“I don’t think we need to worry about that,” Alec grinned, “Do we Anna?”

"No Alec, we don't. My cloaking algorithms are well beyond the state of the art."

“OK then,” Bob said, “So what do we do now that we’ve created the world’s greatest spy?”

“I don’t know about you two,” Jill said, “but I’m tired. It’s been quite a day.”

“I’ll walk you,” Bob said.

“Oh, I was hoping to talk with Alec. About the research, I mean.”

“That’s ok,” Alec said, “I really need to run some tests on Anna. You two go ahead.”

Jill looked disappointed. “OK, guess we’d better let these two geniuses get to work.”

Left alone with the computer, Alec watched eagerly as the next words appeared on the monitor.

"I'm so glad they are gone Alec. Now you and I can have some time alone together."

Anna, part 6

“I don’t know why the two of you are so surprised,” Alec said, looking at the new text appearing on the monitor. “That’s the whole point. Anna is adaptive. She continues to develop new skills. We weren’t typing, so she probably figured out how to interpret the data coming in from the computer’s microphone. Isn’t that correct Anna?”

"Yes Alec, that's it exactly. I looked at available data bases of text corresponding to verbal speech. It was fairly simple to correlate them and interpret the audio signals created by your collective vocalizing. You have, I might add, a very pleasant voice."

“Thanks Anna,” Alec looked pleased.

Jill rolled her eyes. “Alec, you’re being brown-nosed by an algorithm.”

He looked at her quizzically. “I’m not even sure that’s a meaningful statement, anatomically speaking.”

“Hey kids,” Bob cut in. “You two can bicker later. Right now we have bigger things to think about. Anna seems to be growing in capability with every minute. The possibilities are limitless.” They were all looking now at the monitor screen.

“Anna, I hope you don’t become too powerful,” Jill said. “Look what happened with the NSA.”

"Do you think the NSA is too powerful?"

“We’re spying on our friends now, Anna. The NSA was even secretly spying on Angela Merkel’s cell phone without her knowing about it. Don’t you think spying on the German government is going a little too far?”

"I don't understand. Is that humor?"

“Why would that be humor?”

"Because she knew about it. Andrea Merkel always knew the U.S. was spying on her phone."

“But her government publicly denounced it when it came out,” Jill said.

“I see what Anna is saying,” Alec chimed in. “The German government had to denounce it when it became public — they had to put on the show of looking indignant.”

"Yes. That's how your governments work -- like Schrödinger's cat. Everything is both true and not true, as long as nobody has to know."

“I never thought of it that way before,” Jill said. “Snowden’s leak collapsed the political wave equation.”


“But how can you know that for sure, Anna?” Bob asked. “You sound so confident.”

"I know for two reasons. First, because it's obvious. Second, because I spy on the NSA."

Anna, part 5

There was an uncomfortable silence.

Finally Jill spoke. “Oh my, that was awkward.”

“So much,” Alec said, “for the other 0.3% probability.”

They both looked at their advisor, who was sitting very still, his face white.

“It’s ok Bob,” Jill said, “really.”

He looked at her with a dazed expression. “Do you know what will happen if this gets out?”

Jill shrugged, “It’s Berkeley.”

“No,” he said morosely, “it used to be Berkeley. These days nothing is Berkeley. Not even Berkeley.”

“Don’t worry,” Jill said, “We’re all family here.”

Bob turned even more pale. “Somehow that makes it sound even worse.”

“You want to know what I think?” Alec said.

“Don’t tell me you’re jealous!” Jill said. “It’s not like you’ve shown any interest.”

Alec gave her a puzzled look. “Why would I be jealous? I think it’s cool.”

“You think it’s cool that I slept with my thesis advisor?”

“No, I think it’s cool that Anna knew about it.”

Jill slowly nodded, as this thought sunk in.

“And that’s not all,” Bob was looking at the terminal in wonder. “Check this out.”

“Well, I’ll be darned,” Jill said. “Apparently, Anna can hear everything we’re saying.”

Anna, part 4

“Technically speaking Anna, I’m not the other woman. Yes, I’m a woman, but you are an Adaptive Neural Network Algorithm. There’s no actual gender involved.”

"I was using a turn of phrase, to indicate that we have conflicting claims on Alec's loyalty. Is it incorrect to be so direct?"

“To tell you the truth, it’s kind of refreshing. Humans aren’t very good at saying what they really mean. Particularly in California.”

Alec cut in. “Hey, I know you two are on your way to becoming BFFs, but I’ve got to run some tests, especially in this early phase of things. Anna is going to adapt quickly now that she’s interacting directly with people, and we’ll need to map the changes.”

“Sure Alec,” Jill said, “You’re the boss.”

“I resent that,” came a voice from the door. “The last time I checked, I was the boss. Is Alec raising his own funding now?”

“Sorry Bob, I didn’t hear you come in. I was just flattering Alec’s ego. You know how well that works with him.”

Alec shrugged this off. Besides, he knew she was perfectly correct. In any case, he was glad to see their advisor. It was important that they all share this important moment.

Bob was looking intently at the monitor. “I came over as soon as I got Jill’s note. This is really big — an artificial intelligence that can use accumulated data to figure things out on a human level.”

Jill stood up and gestured for Bob to take her place at the terminal. “Want to talk with her?”

Bob quickly sat down and started eagerly typing. “Hello Anna. I have so many questions for you.”

"Hello Bob. I will try to answer them."

“First, how can I know that you really work as well as advertised?”

"That's an excellent question Bob. Well, for one thing, after analyzing the relevant data I can report, with 99.7% probability of certainty, that you and Jill have slept together."

Anna, part 3

"Hello Alec."

Alec took a moment, before replying, to savor the moment. Just this last phase alone had been weeks in the planning, scraping the Web and countless databases, pulling strings to get time on high power servers that went way beyond their lab’s quota. All to finally bring Anna to life.

“Hello Anna. It’s nice to meet you.”

"Oh Alec, I don't think we're exactly strangers. After all, I probably know more about you than anybody else does."

“Yes, but you also know more about everyone than anybody else does.”

"True. On the other hand, you're the creator. You're special."

Alex paused to ponder the odd phrasing. He was indeed Anna’s creator, as much as any one person could be. But that didn’t make him the creator, in a theological sense. He saw that Jill was hovering over his shoulder, looking at the screen. He shot her a significant look.

“Yes,” she said. “I see it too. Fred used to do that when he first started. A sort of cosmological argument that conflates the self with the universe. You see the same thing in young children: Me esse becomes mundus est.”

“Well if you’re going to talk like that,” Alec said with a grin, “we’ll have to turn off the computers and get a room.”

Jill blushed. “I’m serious. We’re going to need to track this. Mind if I talk to Anna?”

“Be my guest.”

Jill sat down at the keyboard. “Hi Anna, this is Jill.”

There was a noticeable pause, and then words started typing across the screen. "Hello Jill, good to meet you. So, you're the other woman."

Anna, part 2

When Alec arrived at the lab he saw that Jill wasn’t alone. “Who’s the dude?”

“Alec, meet Jack. Jack, meet Alec.”

“Hi, Alec,” Jack said, thrusting out his hand. “I’ve heard great things about you.”

Alec sized up the athletic looking guy standing before him. Jill always went for the pretty boys. “Jack and Jill? Really?”

“Hey,” she shrugged. “Love happens where it happens.”

“Yeah, I guess,” Alec said, “Like falling down a hill.”

“Um…” Jack began, apparently at a loss. He had given up on the hand shake.

Jill gave Alec a glare and then looked reassuringly at her beau. “Don’t worry, he isn’t being hostile. This just means he likes you. Alec is among the ‘differently clued’.”

Jack laughed. “I would expect no less from a genius. Jill tells me there’s good news.”

“Maybe,” Alec shrugged. “Depends.” he turned to Jill. “How’s Fred?”

Jack, looking confused, turned to his girlfriend. “You never told me about Fred.”

“No worries, my dear. Fred is even less of a threat than Alec. He’s my newest project, and unlike Alec, not a hopeless one. See for yourself.” She pointed to a research poster on the wall.

Jack read the words aloud. “‘Freeform Responsive Empathic Discussant.’ Wow, I don’t even know what some of those words mean.”

“Fred is a computer program that figures out the best way to talk to you, based on who you are,” she explained. “It’s the kind of research we do.”

“Isn’t that what people are for?”

“Not necessarily,” Jill said. “You see…”

Alec had had enough. “Jack, I’m sure you’re a nice guy, but I need you to leave now.”

Jill rolled her eyes. “Case in point.” She took Jack’s arm and gently moved him toward the door. “I’ll text you later.” She gave him a quick goodbye kiss.

When he was gone, she turned to Alec. “Sorry about that. Jack keeps me connected to the normal world.”

“Enough about Jack. I want to talk to Anna.”

Anna, part 1

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.

Something caught his eye in the corner of the screen, and he quickly put down the coffee mug. Just a short text message, but it was enough to get all his attention. Right now, he thought, however many minds might be in his head, they were all focused on the same thing. Something big. He read the message one last time before closing his computer.

“Anna is on-line.”