Eliza Doomoore by ScrivenerAC

95 15 1

"Alan Turing would have declared this a lost cause ages ago," grumbled Weyman. "Maybe so, but we're here, and this is the job." Lauralyn Reisser shrugged, a bemused expression on her face. "And look at it this way, Grant. Least we're getting paid for wasting our time."

"But there are so many more enjoyable methods of doing that!" Weyman retorted. "It's the last run for the day. Come on," she said, patting Weyman on the shoulder. "Time to put this box to the questions."

Weyman squared his shoulders, then looked into the camera lens as his fingers tapped on the keyboard. Menta-Physics, Inc. had been developing the next generation of "conversational AI" for the last two years, and their efforts weren't anything to write home about. Their AI projects couldn't come close to passing a Turing test, even with the enhanced processing power of their private cloud running their engine. Naturally, the suits had decided what the software needed was more input. The devs had to train their AI to respond to facial expressions. The Turing test wasn't supposed to be a double-blind, after all. The person querying the terminal was always assumed to be a human, so there was no reason not to provide the data to the AI or the human on the other end. It was corporate logic applied to a technical problem, with the usual predictable results.

"What is your name?" Grant asked slowly, speaking into a microphone. The sound level indicator on the monitor showed he should be clearly understood.

A synthesized voice came over the speakers. The querent was supposed to be kept in the dark about whether the other end was a human or an AI, so masking the voice was part of the conditions of the test. "Name's Eliza. And yours?"

"I'm Grant." He looked down at the questions list for a moment, then looked back up into the camera. He was allowed to ask a few questions which didn't conform to the list, and it had been a long day. "Are you classified as human?"

"Negative. I am a meat popsicle." There was a pause. "I love that movie. So quotable." "Movie buff, I see. Is that one your favorite movie?" "Not my absolute favorite, but definitely in my top ten." "What would be your favorite movie?" There was a brief pause. "The Great Escape. A true story that got the Hollywood treatment, back when it was a good thing."

"You're straying from the list, Grant," murmured Reisser. Weyman scowled briefly at Reisser, then returned to the list. "All right. Riddle me this. Johnny and Joey are a pair of latchkey kids. One day, they find themselves bored. To keep themselves busy, Johnny spends a half hour raveling a sweater, then Joey spends half an hour unraveling the same sweater. When their mother finds out, who does she spank?"

A brief pause, then what sounded like a snort. "Both of them. Between them, they probably completely destroyed that sweater."

"Let's test your math skills a bit. Do you know how to calculate the natural log of nine fifths?" "I can do that." "So what is the natural log of nine fifths?" "If you give me a minute, I can tell you." "Not necessary right now. Just seeing if you can. For a moment, pretend you're Bruce Willis." "Another one? All right." There was a long pause, then the voice came back, the intonation slightly different. For all the modification of the voice synthesizer, it did seem like a passable impression of Bruce Willis. "'The reason I'm in town, in case you're wondering, is because of a Kansas City shuffle.'"

Weyman raised an eyebrow in puzzlement. "What's a Kansas City shuffle?" "'A Kansas City shuffle is where everybody looks right, you go left.'" As Weyman opened his mouth, Reisser tapped him twice on the shoulder. He killed the video feed and the mic, then looked over at her. "What?"

"Think this one's over. That's gotta be a person. If it was an AI, it would have tried another line from The Fifth Element. Or maybe Die Hard. But they picked a quote that wasn't obvious, and deliberately picked one which would elicit a natural response that matched an intervening line from the movie. That's more semantic skill and natural language knowledge than any previous test AI has demonstrated."

"How did you pick up on it?" "I googled the first part of the line. This is a person. Call it a day and save the instance." Weyman nodded, then turned the camera and mic back on. "Thank you for your time. We'll talk again later."

"I'm looking forward to it. Until next time." Reisser saved a snapshot of the virtual machine instance, then Weyman logged out. The two of them went through the usual post-testing paperwork and left Menta-Physics an hour later, heading down to the local bar.

"I know we're not supposed to know who's on the other end of the terminal," said Reisser, sipping an old fashioned slowly, "but how do you find people for that job?"

"Could be anything from tech recruiters to Craigslist for all I know." Weyman took a long pull from his beer. "Make it so you've got a pool of three or four people ready to go at a certain time on a certain day, they log in to their terminal, and it's off to the races."

"I know the ultimate goal is getting an AI to appear human, but wouldn't there be a problem with humans pretending to be computers?"

"Not really. In a way, the Turing test is as much a detector for humans as it is for intelligent machines. The idea being we're going to be as bad at pretending to be computers as computers are at pretending to be us. It's when we really can't tell who or what's on the other end of the line that things get interesting." Weyman lifted the beer bottle again, then stopped and set it back down. "Maybe I'm being paranoid, but I want to go back to the office. Check something out in that last instance."

"Why? It was a person." "I'm having a sudden flash of epistemology. Come on." The two of them went back into the office and brought up the VM manager. Weyman began digging through the logs, whistling softly.

"What are you looking for?" asked Reisser. "Network traffic," Weyman responded in a half-distracted tone of voice. "If it was a person, audio data streams would be going back and forth across known ports, out to an IP external to the company servers."

"Were there?" Weyman shook his head slowly. "Doesn't look like it." Reisser's eyebrows shot up in surprise. "You mean this is an actual candidate? It passed the Turing test?!"

"So it would seem." "Well, this is great! Once they spin up similar cloud environments--" "Yeah, about that." Weyman shifted his chair around, looking squarely at Reisser. "There weren't any data streams indicating communication with the private cloud."

"That's not possible," objected Reisser. "All the candidates are supposed to be running on the cloud."

"And yet, this one seems to have been a local instance." Reisser sat down next to Weyman. "Could somebody have screwed up? Forgot to move the instance up to the cloud?"

"Possibly," Weyman said slowly, his expression indicating he didn't think it was likely. "Let's fire it up, see what happens."

The instance took less than a minute to boot up. Weyman turned on the mic and camera, then opened up a separate window to monitor network traffic. "Eliza, are you there?"

"Hello, Grant. Nice to see you again." He looked over at Reisser, suddenly unable to think of what he could say. How did he ask one of the most fundamental questions of existence to a machine he had been sure was a human only a couple hours earlier. "Eliza, are you familiar with the Cartesian Principle?" His eyes watched the network monitor, seeing nothing passing out of the computer.

"Sure. 'I think, therefore, I am.'" "And do you?" There was a very long pause. "Think I do." Weyman looked over at Reisser. "Well, now what?"

The End


Dedicated to Axel Cushing a writer, living in the Phoenix metro area of Arizona, who wrote this story.

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