The Greatest of All Quandaries

Heliopoli_Full_EX59“At the end of the day, no matter how confident we are in our observations, our experiments, our data, or our theories, we must go home knowing that 85 percent of all the gravity in the cosmos comes from an unknown, mysterious source that remains completely undetected by all means we have ever devised to observe the universe. As far as we can tell, it’s not made of ordinary stuff such as electrons, protons, and neutrons, or any form of matter or energy that interacts with them. We call this ghostly, offending substance ‘dark matter,’ and it remains among the greatest of all quandaries.”

— Neil deGrasse Tyson, Death by Black Hole (and Other Cosmic Quandaries)

Rocket Dog

Heliopoli_Full_EX120The following is an audio uplink by excavator Theronomous Moon, received at 23:18 on Nov. 3.

“As the chief scientist on the excavation — Mulgrave is laughing — OK, as the only scientist on the excavation — that did it … he … there he goes … [laughs] — I figured it was up to me to initiate the celebration, because … well, no one else was really going to care, actually. Anyway, give people an excuse to drink and they don’t care what you’re celebrating.

“[Clears throat] OK, so, today [Nov. 3] is the 50th anniversary of the launch of Sputnik 2. It carried the first living creature from Earth to enter orbit, the dog Laika.

“We didn’t get a chance to celebrate the anniversary of Sputnik I a month ago. I mentioned it, but … well, we were busy with the residential unit and what we’re calling the Solarium and the wall — or Wall, I should say, with a capital “W,” which is how Marta refers to it. We reported that we found what must be a computer terminal, right? If we get some juice into it …

“Marta’s waving at me. She heard her name. [To Marta] I’m just uplinking about … OK. Anyway. But I didn’t want this one to get overlooked, this anniversary, and not just because I own three golden retrievers [laughs]. It’s just … this one’s just different.

Heliopoli_Full_EX119“The spacecraft Sputnik 2, from the Soviet Union, was launched on Nov. 3, 1957. Sputnik 1 launched the Space Age. Without the Space Age, there would be no Heliopoli. And without Sputnik 2 — well, what would we be without? It taught us that we could go into space, right?

“Laika was found as a stray in the streets of Moscow. There was actually a training program to get her ready to go into space. Well, I described all this at the ceremony.

“I got everyone gathered at the edge of the Great Plaza at sunset. Sunset is a very special time in Heliopoli. The way the light hits … when I go on like this Mulgrave rolls his eyes. OK. Well, I wanted a plaque to commemorate things or something, but we didn’t have anything to make a plaque with. We had two bottles of champagne — actually Simone had two, for her wedding anniversary, and I asked why she needed two, and …. yeah, I can be a lunkhead sometimes.

“But everyone was set. We popped the champagne, and I said this:

“‘We gather together today to honor the first living being to enter Earth orbit, 50 years ago today. The dog Laika was first placed in the space capsule three days before launch. She was fitted with a harness, and chains restricted movement to sitting, standing and lying down; there was no room in the cabin to turn around. She was fed food and water in gelatinous form. After launch, telemetry indicated that she was agitated but eating her food. The thermal control system did not operate properly, because the Block A core did not separate like it should. From five to seven hours after launch, Laika died of stress and overheating.

Heliopoli_Full_EX105“‘The spacecraft was not designed to be retrievable. It was planned that she would live 10 days and be euthanized, but she didn’t last that long.

“‘The craft was destroyed on April 14, 1958, during re-entry.

“‘We honor the first intrepid explorer of space. She hadn’t volunteered, wasn’t aware of where she was and didn’t know where she was going … well, that describes all of us, doesn’t it.

“‘The Man in the Moon has a pet, and her name is Laika.’

“And then we toasted her name.”


“011010100,” Said Voight and Kampff: When Robots Administer Turing Tests

Heliopoli_Full_EX96In the “It’s probably obvious to everyone except the chief archivist — until now” department, the excavators would like to point out that Turing tests do now exist, we use them often and it is the machines who are testing us.

A brief interlude from the movie Blade Runner:

Rachel: Have you ever retired a human by mistake?

Deckard: No.

Rachel: But in your position that is a risk.

Tyrell: Is this to be an empathy test? Capillary dilation of the so-called blush response, fluctuation of the pupil, involuntary dilation of the iris …

Deckard: We call it Voight-Kampff for short.

Tyrell: Demonstrate it. I want to see it work…. I want to see it work on a person. I want to see a negative before I provide you with a positive….

Deckard: On you?

Tyrell: Try her.

Back to programming.

In 1950, Alan Turing, considered the father of modern computer science, proposed a test of a machine’s capability to demonstrate intelligence. The Turing test is whether you can tell that the entity on the other end of a computer link is a machine or not, when engaged in a dialogue only by typing text. If a machine is on the other end and you can’t tell the difference, the machine passes it’s Turing test for artificial intelligence.

Often, now, when registering with or logging on to a company through the Internet, we must enter into a text field a word that is displayed in a graphic, all skewed and squiggly, because the spam bots and spy bots or whatever can’t see it. It’s a test to determine if a human is on the other end, looking at the screen.

Heliopoli_Full_EX97Some “send a message” boxes in Web sites and blogs now have an extra field to fill in, to prove that you are not a bot that wants to send comment spam. You have to answer a question such as “What is 3 + 3?” (Of course, adding 3 + 3 is the simplest thing a computer can do, but that’s beside the point.) We’ve even seen one that asks, “Are you human?” That one certainly gets to the heart of the matter.

These are Turing tests. The questions in the Turing test (“We call it Voight-Kampff for short”) are: Do you see the hidden word? Do you know the answer to the equation? Are you a human?

But what happens when the interface, the intercessor, is a machine? We’re not talking about a laboratory situation, in which one is typing into a computer and getting a response through a linked computer behind a screen. We’re talking about the Internet, which has additional computers as go-betweens. The administrator of the test isn’t a human, is it?

The excavators — and the chief archivist, now that he’s hip — think that this is all ironic somehow, and funny and cool and absurd. And eventually the Turing test will have to get smarter as the spam bots get smarter: “Is this to be an empathy test?”

The computers are testing us, to see if we are human. And what happens as those intercessors get smarter?

Heliopoli_Full_EX95For now, the machine, through another machine, reports back to its owner, “Yeah, he answered ‘6,’ he passed.” But couldn’t the machine, having been influenced by a smart or corrupted intercessor computer, just as easily report back, “Um, well, he said ‘7’, yeah, that’s the ticket, he said ‘7,’ I tell ya, and he ain’t no human neither. Harumph.”

We’re just saying.

The excavators are thankful that they do not blog, but merely uplink to the chief archivist, who sorts through the transmissions and determines what gets posted, and who couldn’t possibly, ever, we’re sure of it (we are!), be a machine.