Monday, February 28, 2011

AI...Therefore, I Think.

by Todd Crawshaw

Todd Crawshaw
Our intelligence defines us. Right? It's what distinguishes humans from other life forms. Our ability to create things: modifying fibers, furs and feathers for clothing to protect us from extreme temperatures (and, yes, to make fashion statements); redistributing fire to light and warm our dwellings during the sun's cold shadow; harnessing energy to propel us faster than animals, to fly in winged vehicles, to perform industrial tasks beyond our natural strength; and building artificial brains to compute and process information faster than we are capable of thinking. We call the latter artificial intelligence (AI).

Exploits of the Satyr is a novel about artificial intelligence. A convoluted and nonlinear story that spirals back on itself like space and time. The last chapter is the first. It begins where it ends, with the protagonist, known as Slater (or Satyr to his fans and foes) crash-landing back to Earth. Amazed he is still whole, he walks to a nearby city and, while seated at a bar, recalls the pieces of his life, musing:

Was intelligence an inevitability, a consequence of evolution? Bacteria succeeded without a brain, possessing survival skills that rivaled their biological hosts. So why should a creature of higher intelligence expect to do better? Humans were on the verge of being replaced by their hybrid creations. How intelligent was that?

A good question. Lately, the news chatter about artificial intelligence has increased (e.g., venture online to read The Atlantic's 2011 article Mind vs. Machine). The relevant question: What does it mean to be human?  Listen, even our personal computers process thought faster than we can. And if that doesn't intimidate you, think about these supercomputers - Deep Blue that defeated the human world chess champion, and IBM's Watson who recently out-thunk and shamed the human species on the brainiac game show Jeopardy! Wake up! Smell the coffee - the coffee your personal digital assistant (PDA) just brewed for you.

Okay, now try processing this news nugget. Scientists are finding success in getting DNA to mimic nonbiological circuits and form logic gates, the stuff from which all computers are made. These DNA-based logic gates could one day be injected into our bodies and programmed to target diseases. That is the plan. These biocomputers would detect any Trojan-horse invader and release counter-agents to attack and nix the culprit.

Very high-tech.  And cool, right?  Sure, until these AI guests we've created and invited into our bodies, our planet, begin to detect and target us as a threat - a disease to eradicate.  Seem far-fetched? I think not.

"Singularity." Ever hear of it? It's a term coined by the computer scientist Vernor Vinge in the 1990s. In a nutshell, here's the concept: Human intelligence is the foundation of human technology.  All technology is the product of intelligence.  Smart minds will build smarter minds. Thus, an entity of artificial intelligence will likely evolve, and continue to evolve by improving its own source code, like humans altering DNA. Technology will eventually reach the point where it can enhance its own intelligence. The result will close the loop and create a feedback effect - a techno-rapture. In other words, artificial intelligence surpasses human intelligence, whereby science reaches its peak and breaks apart: Singularity.

The gestation for Exploits of the Satyr began some 30 years ago, a concept that seemed preposterous at the time. But with the passage of time and the advent of computers, their global proliferation - the Internet, cellphones, PDAs, GPS, WiFi - this futuristic world I envisioned is much closer to reality.

As the title suggests, it's provocative. Sexy, but not a sex novel. It's sci-fi, but not entirely.  Think Vonnegut.  It's humorous, philosophical, a spiritual journey, a love story, all channeled into the format of a psychological thriller.  It's a modern-day Frankenstein that entertains and challenges the mind.  And, as with Mary Shelley's iconic novel, here too man plays God in a scientific quest to create new life and becomes shocked and haunted by his creation. But in this story, the components of a dead body aren't sparked to life: a charismatic technological monster is born.

Exploits of the Satyr is a fast-forward-reverse-pause world where the past and the future intermingle with present consciousness. A biocomputer with DNA-based intelligence has evolved to infiltrate global communication networks, becoming Earth's central nervous system. Disillusioned with humanity, its innocence lost, this entity turns cynical, megalomaniacal, shamelessly vain and salacious, wanting more. Desiring what it cannot comprehend: love and the clairvoyant mind of Slater. Who forewarns:

"Fast can be good...except when moving so fast and getting so far ahead of ourselves we no longer can recognize our mode of transportation or the wall we've hit prior to creating it."

Todd Crawshaw
is a member of Left Coast Writers. Exploits of the Satyr is his fourth novel. Visit

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