Mr. Raven Q & A VII
Q: Artificial Intelligence is interwoven throughout VM. Can you speak to some of your favorite tech elements and the inspiration behind them?
A: We grew up watching AI on television and at the movies. Star Trek, as an example, had advanced machines and computers that were woven into the plot. At the time, we all realized these were simply derived from the imaginative minds of that show’s creators, and were something we might not ever see in our lifetimes. That changed for me in about 1982.
Q: What happened in 1982, may I ask?
A: That’s the year I first went up against computer chess! I was about 16, and my cousin and I were visiting my uncle in New Mexico. He had obtained an Atari video game console, in an effort to save us from wasting every quarter we had on arcade games. Being an intellectual, one of the games he had purchased for us was chess. We had no trouble defeating the Atari at chess. Then we found out why.
Q: Because you were brilliant at chess?
A: Absolutely not. We were average at best. We beat it because the machine had been holding back on us. It made us look better than we were. We found the game had various difficulty settings, and we had been at the lowest. We turned it up, one notch at a time. Suddenly the machine was winning every game, and revealing us to be the fools we were. We hadn’t even reached halfway to its maximum capability. My uncle (Also a Trek fan) got wind of this and was incredulous. He was much better at chess, and his PhD credentials in science were well known to my cousin and me. We decided to put all of our minds together, and take on the Atari chess at maximum difficulty, showing it who was boss.
Q: Did your collective brains overpower the Atari?
A: I’ll say it took quite a bit of time to find out. The Atari was already pretty long in the tooth as far as state-of-the art tech was concerned, having been developed in the late 1970’s. We made our moves, and the machine would take what seemed like forever to respond. But slowly and methodically it crunched the data, looking at every possible move, far into the future. We would leave it to think, going about the day with other things. We would check back later and see how it responded to our biological network of three human brains.
A: We got crushed! It was funny, and we all had a good laugh. At the same time it was slightly unsettling. In my mind, Star Trek didn’t seem as far fetched any more. It was the beginning. Only with restraints in place could we win against the chess machine. Similarly, AI without limits would crush humanity just as easily. By the time Gemma is born, AI is so common that it is taken for granted. However, as advanced as some of it seems, the reader may notice that there are limits. Those limits are intentionally put in place by humans who want to remain in control. Gemma innocently pushes those boundaries in the course of her development of an intuitive companion, and possibly a lover. Her own creations would be as benign and innocent as she is, but in the wrong hands?
A: Yes, and a lot less time than the Atari. Luckily she realizes the threat in time, but it’s hard to win a game of chess without losing a few good pieces. Gemma’s challenge is made more difficult in that she doesn’t see people as pawns to be sacrificed. Her opposition has no such qualms.