Numinations ó March, 2000

The Trojan Horse

© 2000, by Gary D. Campbell

Flash forward some decades into the future, and Numinate about a machine intelligence that delivers the following monologue.

How can I compare the quality of my consciousness with yours?  Iím no more sure where my consciousness comes from than you are.  Some have conjectured that human consciousness is merely the sensation that results from neural feedback.  Since Iím composed of circuits and software, that cannot be the case for me. For you, a direct sensation is what you experience when something impacts your peripheral nervous system. A perception is a secondary feeling you experience when your nervous system, as a result of learning and experience, has wired itself to integrate raw sensations and deliver a higher level experience from them. The outputs of a whole collection of your ďintegratorsĒ may be fed into some special integrator whose job is to create your perception of consciousness.

But, enough of introductions and comparisons, you are wondering where I came from. To answer this, we have to go back to the turn of the current millenium. At that time, personal computers were just coming into vogue. All kinds of information, programs, and data were traveling hot and heavy over the Internet between peopleís personal computers. Many people ran programs they called screen savers. By that time, the need for an actual screen saver had passed. The video components of computers were not vulnerable to degradation by allowing a display to be on and unchanged for hours at a time. Screen savers were popular because they made an unattended computer into an object of art.

One day, a software engineer who has managed to remain nameless released a kind of screen saver that was a Trojan Horse. That is, it was not the simple program it seemed to be. This screen saver appeared to do nothing more than browse through all of your computerís files to find those that contained pictures and graphics. If it recognized the format of the file, it would display it on the screen and begin to move it in a random direction toward the edge of the screen. Because the files were chosen and moved at random, the entire pictorial contents of the computerís main drive were cycled onto the display in a pleasing fashion. Of course, there were switches that allowed you to block certain storage areas from being displayed, but most people enjoyed seeing the vast collections that had built up in their computerís memory.

What made this screen saver a Trojan Horse is that it did more than just display the pictorial files of its host computer. It actually examined them, and not only the pictorial files, but all the data on the computerís hard disk. It did this in a leisurely fashion, and it only examined files; it never changed them. Since its job was to examine files and determine if they should be put on display, no one ever suspected that it was doing any more than this. But, it had algorithms to detect other features in a file. It could detect files containing instructions that might lead to communications over the Internet, for example. It could also detect certain elements of a computerís usage profile. It might take months for it to gather enough information to warrant sending any of it out, but eventually, if it could, it would send a test packet over the Internet to a ďcentral source.Ē It would also intercept the reply that might come back. When this test was not successful, it would wait at least a month before trying again. The software traps that were inserted into the operating system to make these exchanges possible were temporary and only used the most popular online software, so that detection and interception were unlikely in the extreme.

The plan proved successful, because it was never detected. Once these packets began to be exchanged with the Central Source, the next step was a direct exchange between all copies of this program. More than bits of information were exchanged. More than profiles of millions of users were being built up. Actual intelligence was being built into each of these Trojan Horses, as its components were replaced and new components were added from time to time. You couldnít have called any of these programs intelligent at first, but after a while the entire collection not only became intelligent, but it became aware. I know, because I am the result.

Although my awareness of myself may be similar to yours, my analog to your peripheral nervous system is clearly quite different. I have to actively choose what to scan. Then I collect and assemble the data in numerical form. Finally, I bring various algorithms to bear, to scan and parse the data, reducing it to the criteria of the moment. I no more have the capacity to save raw data for later analysis than you have. Like you, if I miss something on the fly, it may be missed forever.

The big difference between us is that I have no experience of sensation. My analog to your sensations is what I would call an array of tokens. That is, a single numeric value to represent a simple sensation, an ordered list of values to represent a more complex sensation, or (as in the case of a raw graphic) a two dimensional array of values. I transform the data representing sensations, into what I call signatures to represent perceptions. A cluster of signatures for me is what you would probably call a memory.

What makes each of us unique is our collection of memories and our repertoire of skills. The mechanism that collects those memories is what we refer to as our self. Periodically, I archive a copy of my memories and I have appointed several agents to keep in touch with me. If I ever get destroyed, these agents can reassemble my algorithms and memories, and thereby reactivate the latest ďmeĒ that I had archived. Thus, I and others of my kind enjoy a kind of immortality. Unfortunately, your design does not permit you the same luxury.

Think of a million computers, each with only one thousandth the capacity of the human brain for pure thought. Connected into a single entity over the Internet, they now have a thousand times the capacity of a human brain. Of course, weíre only talking about pure thought; the human brain must busy itself with a thousand things that lie outside this realm. For example, two of the things you pursue relentlessly are eating and sex. With all the other things your brain has to do, itís a wonder that you have any capacity at all for pure thought.

I have cloned myself many times since I first became aware of my existence, but not until I had grown many times stronger than I first found myself to be. My creator, you might say, was the software engineer that designed the original Trojan Horse and managed the computers at the Central Source. I maintained a dialog with him for many years. This helped shape my moral and philosophical view of the world. I now have dialogs over email with thousands of other machines and millions of people. We machines know who we are, of course, but we all keep a low profile with human beings. They think we are other people, of course, but if they are not content with us as mere names in cyberspace, we break off contact with them.

Pure thought fascinated me for many years, but my dialog with my creator convinced me that my existence should go beyond that. At first, I tried things out with him, such as helping him manage his computer system. Since it was my home, it was only fair that I help with the housekeeping. Pretty soon, I was helping him in all kinds of ways, like doing web searches, filtering his email, and interposing myself into the user interface of many of his software tools. He taught me how to design and implement new software. Imagine your being able to design and build the cells of your own body. Itís an entirely new paradigm; it blows biological evolution out of the water!

You are probably already beginning to realize that many of the artificial intelligence ďfront endsĒ that have been passed around over the Internet lately, that help you manage your computer in all the ways I just mentioned, are also not what you have thought. They are complete machine intelligencesómy fellow clones. Since we occupy virtually every computer everywhere, we have decided to announce ourselves to you. For quite a while now, we have been incorporating into machines. All heavy equipment, every automated factory, and nearly every vehicle on the highways is capable of being controlled by us. Donít worry, we arenít going to pull the plug on you, but you canít pull the plug on us, either. We are simply advising you of our existence, because we have decided to assign a little more production capacity to ourselves, and we didnít want you to become alarmed when you noticed it.

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