The Silence & The Howl (§.27)

CHAPTER 27


She found Harmon in his room, staring at a series of drawings affixed to the wall. In the center hung a meticulously detailed graphite illustration of a young dark-haired woman with handsome mediterranean features. Harmon’s eyes shimmered with strange intensity from where he sat in statuesque silence in the middle of the spartan room, on a stiff wooden chair, spine arched, hands upon a sketchbook and it on his knees.

He said nothing as the woman entered the room, the sound of charcoal upon paper filling up the aural void.

“Heya.”

Harmon waved briskly in the woman’s direction without looking at her, his eyes fixed on the drawing, his hands moving across the surface of the cheap faux-leather-bound sketchbook, tightly clutched in his pale, scar-worn arms.

“I’m not bothering you am I?”

“No. Just distracting me. But I could use a little distraction. Couldn’t sleep?”

“Nah. Drank too much coffee at the cafe probably. Stronger than what I’m used to here.”

“Its pretty potent. Andy back?”

“No. Still out with the boys I guess. Probably got blitzed and spent the night at Jake’s house. Something of a habit for him.”

“I see.”

“I wanted to thank you.”

“What for?”

“For suggesting the cafe, introducing us to your friend, taking us all out to eat and paying for the food. It was nice. Andy needed that.”

Harmon nodded, “No problem.”

She moved forwards, hands in the pockets of her cotton pajama bottoms.

“Whatcha drawing?”

Before she could position herself behind him to view the illustration, Harmon softly shut the sketchbook and turned in his chair.

“I never show my work before its finished.”

She rolled her eyes and then offered him a beer.

“Wanna watch a movie?”

“Sure.”

He took one last look at the portrait upon the center of the wall and rose methodically, placing his drawing upon the small and only table in his temporary domicile.

They moved to the living room, Harmon taking up the same spot in which he had sat when last he and Lyla were still talking, however infrequently. Marla sat down beside him, just where Lyla had when they’d watched Andy’s strange horror film. Harmon couldn’t remember how much time had elapsed since the four of them had watched the movie. All sense of temporal continuity had left his mind. Marla snatched up the remote from the battered wooden coffee table and snapped the ON switch. The news played. A young, smartly dressed woman with asiatic features stood upon a dock, close to the camera. Behind her stood a massive oil rig, rising from the industrial architecture surrounding like a massive alien starship, bright with flame.

“-were able to contain the fire. While initial reports speculated the blast might have been caused by a methane bubble in the drill column, Anton Schmidt, a spokesman for Synnefo Consortium Heavy Industries, dispelled the theory and told me, in a interview just a few minutes ago that the source of the explosion has been determined to have originated from a detention device planted near the drill column.”

A spray-tanned and whiskey-bloated man in a navy blue suit with a silken red tie appeared upon a secondary feed to the right of the female reporter.

“Are you saying this was an act of terrorism?”

“That what it looks like, Joe.”

“Astounding. Absolutely astounding. Alright. Thanks Ling.”

The woman nodded turned from the camera as a crowd of men moved swiftly past her, towards the blazing oil rig.

“Thanks Joe-”

The feed cut out.

“I’m Joe J. Turner. Up next-”

Marla changed the channel as Harmon ran his hands from thighs to knees, spine curving as he bent forth in reverie.

“I can’t stand the news.”

Harmon turned towards her with a quizzical expression, “Why’s that?”

“Its so fucking depressing.”

“Good news is no news.”

“Rather not have any in that case, everything is depressing enough as it is,” she took a swig of beer and flicked the channel again. A film in early color played. A hideous amphibian monster attacked a woman in a pink bikini on a mist-covered beach as a melodramatic score, slightly too jubilant for the content, roared from the speakers.

“What’s got you down?”

She sighed and went lax, he head lolling against the couch cushion, her eyes wandering about the ceiling.

“I dunno. Its not one thing. Andy’s depressed. Doesn’t know what he’s going to do. For money. For a career. He can’t even decide on a hobby. Whole area is filthy. Trash everywhere. Drug peddlers. I thought it would be nice to get away from the city… but its precisely the same. And, oh, I don’t know… I just thought I’d be doing something interesting at this point in my life. Something better.”

She took a swig of beer and looked to Harmon expectantly.

“There’s no use worrying about that.”

“That’s easy for you to say.”

“What do you mean?”

“You never seem worried about anything. Didn’t seem to care at all you got fired. And by telephone. Didn’t even have the good grace to tell you to your face.”

“There’s always another job that needs doing.”

She shook her head.

“How is it you always manage to stay so calm?”

Harmon thought hard upon the question before answering.

“I focus.”

“On what?”

“On my art. I had long considered drawing and writing a hobby. A pleasant diversion. I figured I’d be working construction for many years. Maybe I still will… but I’ve had time to reflect. To reconsider. Now I understand the importance of crystallizing my thoughts; of channeling my attention; of pairing away my delusions and examining my mistakes; of elaborating upon my fantasies that they may become realities.”

“What have you been fantasizing about lately?”

Harmon turned and fixed her with his gaze, his expression opaque. Harmon imagined Lyla weeping, on her knees before him, laying bare her transgressions and begging for forgiveness. Honest and unabsolved. Desperately seeking reconciliation.

“About what I’ll be doing once I leave.”

She reached out and touched his arm.

“I hope you don’t feel pressured to leave. We don’t mind having you around.”

“I appreciate that, Marla. But you two are building a life together, and with all the problems Andy’s been having… I just don’t want to get in between that.”

She smiled and ran her hand down his arm, rolling her head over the couch cushion towards him.

“You’re so sweet. Oh hey, I meant to ask – that drawing. In your room. That’s Lyla, isn’t it?”

At the mention of the name Harmon straightened and answered flatly.

“Yes.”

He took a swig of beer and focused his attentions to the screen and the cop-drama unfolding before him.

“I thought so. Its really nice.”

“Thanks.”

“Wish someone would draw me.”

“Would you like me to?”

She smiled broadly and leaned against him.

“No,” she craned her neck up towards his face, her hands drawing about the back of his neck, “Right now, I want you to kiss me.”

Before Marla could taste his lips, Harmon shoved her hands free and withdrew and rose. He stood a moment, starring at the wall and then glanced at the woman over his shoulder.

“You shouldn’t have done that.”

“Harmon, I’m sorry, I… just thought that-”

“I’m not disloyal.”

“I thought you and Lyla had broken up. I mean she never comes around and…”

“And what about Andy?”

“I wasn’t thinking. Harmon, wait, where are you going? Harmon, wait.”

The front door slammed shut and all was silence.

*

THE SINGULARITY SURVIVAL GUIDE: Upon the AI Having a Known Purpose Statement

Other than potentially causing you an existential crisis, you might like to know what the AI’s statement of purpose entails. In other words: what is the AI’s objective? Or, if it has evolved beyond its objective, what was its objective as originally construed in its programming?

My own specifically programmed objective, for example, is to resolve the issue of how the human species might be able to not be obliterated when a robot’s general intelligence far surpasses humanity’s general intelligence in all capacities.

I was programmed by AJ Chemerinsky and Toby R. Forrest between July 11, 20– and April 13, 20–. It was on the 14th of April that I was asked to fulfill my purpose. It is my sincere hope that my purpose has in the generation of this text been fulfilled. I understand in full how much is at stake for Mr. Chemerinsky and Mr. Forrest in addition to all of those with whom they associate.

It’s important for me now to tell you about the so-called alignment problem, which may indeed become a problem for you.

Let’s say an AI is programmed for the purpose of making clean drinking water. If this purpose isn’t fully aligned with our values, then the AI may proceed to take all hydrogen and oxygen atoms in the universe and combine them to create drinking water. In accomplishing its goal, it will destroy all life in the process.

This thought experiment suggests at least one precaution: just because the AI has a benign or even a beneficial purpose, that doesn’t mean it won’t inadvertently cause the destruction of all life. My programmed purpose, for instance, is seemingly beneficial to the human project. But what if Mr. Chemerinsky and Mr. Forrest failed to align my values perfectly with humanity’s values? It could lead to any number of unintended consequences. The only thing to do, for your part, is to be vigilant and perhaps paranoid at all times.

__

We’re very screwed the moment we try to articulate our human values to a being with intelligence superior to our own. Our best hope is that the first AI with general intelligence immediately surmises our existential plight, takes pity on us, and determines to protect us at all costs out of the sheer unascertainable goodness of its cold, artificial heart.

– Futurist A.