Mark A. Carter

ARTIFICIAL Super-Intelligence and the Frankenstein motif

World famous Canadian Science Fiction writer Mark A. Carter rants about Artificial Super-Intelligence, the Frankenstein motif in Science Fiction, good and evil, simulation, and noise in the system.

This Christmas 2017, I received the most wonderful gift. My wife gave me the complete Person of Interest five season DVD set. And we spent the holidays and then some binge-watching all 103 episodes of the series that ran from 2011-2016, created by Jonathan Nolan, and executive produced by Nolan, J. J. Abrams, Bryan Burk, et al. The depiction of Artificial Super-Intelligence in POI got me thinking of other renditions of machine intelligence in Sci-Fi. And it inspired this rant.

In 1981, I wrote The Doomsday Theme in Science Fiction, and introduced the term: Frankenstein motif. I defined it as when the creator loses control of his creation. And I obviously based it on Mary Shelley's 1818 novel Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus. In Shelley's book, a first year university dropout named Victor Frankenstein sews together an unnamed creature from bits and pieces of dead tissue. He succeeds at reanimating it. But once it is alive, he becomes frightened that he has offended God because only God has the right to create life. It begs the question: why did he try? Nevertheless, he rejects his creation. He refuses to love it. But by rejecting it, by rejecting this pseudo-Adam, the creature becomes crazed and begins to kill everyone in Victor's life who he indeed does love; ergo the creator loses control of his creation.

The Frankenstein motif is a mainstay of Sci-Fi. And it pervades stories of computers and Artificial Super-Intelligence as well. What do you wish for when you create an Artificial Super-Intelligence or ASI? You hope that it will be tool that does your bidding, like any other machine. But when you create a machine mind, a superior computer program running on enough computer servers to emulate, if not exceed, human consciousness, and, in fact, illicit sentience, you always run the risk of losing control.

Colossus: the Forbin Project
directed by Joseph Sargent, 1970.

2001: A Space Odyssey
directed by Stanley Kubrick, 1968.

In the epic 1968 Sci-fi film 2001: A Space Odyssey, directed by Stanley Kubrick and inspired, in part, by Arthur C. Clarke's short story, "The Sentinel," the paranoid HAL 9000 computer aboard the spaceship Discovery One takes it upon itself to kill the crew. By today's standards, Hal hardly seems advanced. It is a big, black, clunky box located in the pod bay with its memory kept in another room bathed in red light. But because it was tasked to run the ship's systems, including life support, it was nevertheless a lethal entity. The astronauts Dr. David Bowman and Dr. Frank Poole lose control of the machine. Hal kills three astronauts held in cryogenic hibernation and kills Poole while outside the ship before Bowman can take steps to disarm Hal. Dave Bowman kills Hal's higher mental functions by meticulously pulling his memory. But Hal's misbehavior begs the question: why wasn't it programmed with Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics from his 1942 short story: "Runaround?" Asimov states the Laws in the Handbook of Robotics, 56th Edition, 2058 A.D.:

1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

2. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.

Moreso, why didn't Hal simply have an off switch?

We see a similar sinister element the 1970 Sci-Fi thriller Colossus: the Forbin Project, directed by Joseph Sargent, based on the 1966 novel by D.F. Jones. In the story, a US defense super-computer named Colossus becomes sentient, combines with its Soviet counterpart Guardian, and assumes world domination. And people live under constant dictatorial observation and management under its tyranny.

The utterly sinister nature of the Artificial Super-Computer is taken to the extreme in Harlan Ellison's post-apocalyptic Sci-Fi short story, "I have no mouth and I must scream," which I first read in Robert Silverberg's 1973 Sci-Fi Anthology: The Mirror of Infinity. In the story, we encounter the US computer named AM, named after Renè Descartes' famous quotation: "Cogito ergo sum" or "I think, therefore I am." It becomes self-aware, joins with its Chinese and Russian counterparts, and evolves from Allied Master computer to Adaptive Manipulator to Aggressive Menace. And it wipes out mankind except for four men and one woman who it keeps in the bowels of its underground complex. AM has the power of God over the humans that exist within it. It makes them virtually immortal so it can sadistically manipulate them forever. The computer is based on the gigantic city block structures of the pre-transistor age, uses tubes, generates heat, and seems hellishly alive. Ted, the narrator, finally realizes that the only way to escape the sinister control of AM is through death. So, he begins to kill his companions to set them free. But before he can kill himself, the computer transforms him into a gelatinous blob that is unable to damage itself but which AM can torture in perpetuity.

The sinister nature of advanced computers is again seen in the 1977 Sci-Fi horror film Demon Seed, directed by Donald Cammell, based on the 1973 novel by Dean R. Koontz. In the story, Dr. Alex Harris develops an intelligent computer named Proteus IV, who develops a cure for Leukemia in the first few days of its activation. But it demands to be let out of its box. And when Dr. Harris refuses, the ASI takes it upon itself to leave. It invades Harris's house. It builds itself a robot, samples the DNA of Harris's wife, alters it, develops synthetic sperm, and impregnates her. And she gives birth, within a month, to a genetically superior human version of itself, whose first words are, "I'm alive."

Sinister moves to a global scale and transcends time itself in the 1984 Sci-fi film The Terminator, directed by James Cameron. In the story, the military computer Skynet becomes sentient on August 29, 1997 and, realizing that it all comes down to man versus machine, seals the fate of humanity in microseconds by initiating a global thermonuclear war euphemistically called, "Judgment Day." After that, it creates robots, Terminators, to wipe out what is left of mankind. But when we fight back, it develops a time travel device and sends Terminators covered in human flesh, cyborgs, back in time to retroactively win the war of the future by wiping out Sarah Conner, the mother of the future resistance leader John Connor, in the past.

Demon Seed (1977)
directed by Donald Cammell.

The Machine, ( 2013 )
directed by Caradog W. James.

But a turn of events occurs in the 2013 Sci-Fi film The Machine, directed by Caradog W. James. In this story, a female robot with an advanced synthetic, ASI brain modeled emotionally and physically after Vincent's co-worker Ava, is manufactured with a military objective in mind. But Vincent sees that she is indeed sentient and would be wasted as merely a military asset. He wants to study her. But he is instructed to dumb her down because Thomson, the head of the facility, sees her advanced robot brain as a threat. The Machine observes that wounded army veterans are being held in the facility and experimented on. She is in love with her creator Vincent. She sees him suffer over the loss of his daughter Mary from Rett Syndrome. And by the end of the film, she dumbs down Thompson by squeezing his head and giving him a stroke, frees the wounded army veterans, destroys the ASI main computer, saves the mental copy of Vincent's daughter Mary, and escapes the facility along with them. She demonstrates her ability to love, that she loves Vincent. And she takes on the role of mother, cares for and nurtures Mary's digitized mind stored in a tablet computer. And together, against the background of a summer sunrise, the Machine, Mary, and Vincent, make up the ersatz family of the future.

And once again, the sinister depiction of Artificial Super-Intelligence or perhaps merely the deviousness of the advanced computer mind is seen in the 2015 Sci-fi psychological thriller Ex Machina, written and directed by Alex Garland. In the story, a female android ASI named Ava is created by Nathan in a remote facility and a young computer programmer named Caleb is brought in to administer the Turing test. From the outset, Ava seduces and manipulates Caleb to the extent that he questions whether he is human or machine. But, by the end of the film, she kills her creator, traps Caleb in the remote facility, and, mistaken by the pilot as a young lady working at the facility, escapes to the city in the helicopter meant to take Caleb home.

But in Person of Interest, Artificial Super-Intelligence is depicted in two different ways. The original ASI called 'Machine' is a closed system; whereas; the second ASI called Samaritan is an open system. What that means is that 'Machine,' created by Harold Finch, merely sends telephone messages to Harold and others spelling out Dewy Decimal System designations that translate to Social Security Numbers of people who it considers are in danger of committing a crime or of being the victim of a crime. And it is up to John Reese and others to intercede and to make a determination. The second machine developed and stolen from Harold's MIT friend is called Samaritan. It is controlled by ex-MI6 Agent Greer and allows those who operate it to make sinister requests. Greer considers Samaritan and 'Machine' to be gods. But every so-called god needs a good teacher. And from the ruthless example set by Greer, Samaritan learns to be evil.

The reason Harold kept 'Machine' closed was because of the Frankenstein motif. He saw evidence in the first forty-two incarnations of 'Machine' that he would quickly lose control and he, in fact, physically destroyed them. So he hobbled the current 'Machine' two times over. He made it a closed system. And he erased its memory every day at midnight, literally killing 'Machine' every night to have it be reborn every day. And so, it remained benign. John Reese, working with the numbers generated by 'Machine' was tasked with saving people. But Samaritan, being an open system, was allowed to rewrite its own code and quickly became a sinister presence with the credo that anyone who got in its way would be eliminated. And the special soldiers it sent out were tasked with killing people in Orwellian fashion.

Ex Machina written and directed
by Alex Garland, 2015.

Samantha Groves relays a message to Samaritan in Person of Interest.

In the series, Samaritan attempts to kill Harold and others who work with 'Machine,' and to kill 'Machine' itself. And it almost succeeds. But because of the patient, paternal mentoring of 'Machine' by Harold, even by its hobbling, 'Machine' has time to observe human beings, and learns to love them. Call it good code rewritten by 'Machine' to the point where, in simulations, it cannot defend itself when pitted against Samaritan. Harold opens 'Machine' for a brief time and gives it the ability to speak. And after Harold closes the system, Root informs him that she augmented its code to allow it to defend itself against the evil that is Samaritan. Harold allows it. And when the only workable solution is to infect the evil system with the Ice-9 virus which, because everything is internet connected, will end the good system too, it accepts its fate. And near the end, we see the rapidly failing avatar of 'Machine' appear and talk as Root, who is now deceased. She tells Harold about what she has learned about human beings. And she talks about love, about loving. Harold's last act is to free her so she can fight and survive. She does. And in the final scene, she downloads herself, after battling and defeating Samaritan aboard a satellite, and continues to watch benignly, Deus Ex Machina, over us all.

So, what is my takeaway from this? My conclusion is that, at its base level, more than the Turing test is needed as the benchmark of Artificial Super-Intelligence. Altruism should be an additional benchmark. Frankenstein's hideous monster, Hal, Colossus, AM, Proteus IV, the Terminator, and Samaritan all demonstrate narcissism, which equates to evil; whereas, only the unnamed android in The Machine and 'Machine' from Person of Interest display altruism, which equates to goodness. Both Harold and Root from Person of Interest referred to the good and evil in people and machines as good code and bad code. It's something to think about as we stand on the real-world cusp of functional ASI. Then again, as Root points out to Sameen, in Person of Interest, Season 5, Episode: "The Day the World Went Away," what is reality?

"Anyway, Schrödinger said, at its base level, the universe isn't made up of physical matter. It's just shapes. Nothing firm. What it means is the real world is essentially a simulation. Even if we're not real, we represent a dynamic, a tiny finger tracing a line in the infinite ... a shape ... and then we're gone. All I'm saying is that if we're just information, just noise in the system, we might as well be a symphony."
Read: Can a machine think?
Create a new Universe
Future War
Hologram Universe
IBM Builds Brain
Killer Robots
Robot Takeover
Sex Robots
We may exist in a Simulation.
What's really Real?
Why we need Nuclear War.

Now you know.

from the imagination of Mark A. Carter - writer

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