We want to live forever. Get us off this rock.
Random header image... Refresh for more!

Michelangelo’s Chisel

Someone shouted: “Do you think a computer will ever write great literature?” The girl to my right closed her notebook, unplugged her voluminous derriere from its slot between her seat’s armrests and reinserted it two farther from me, scowling all the while. Others turned to study me.

To his credit, the Renowned Computer Scientist fielded this interruption in a gracious and considered manner, quelling a mounting thrum of disapproval by raising and then slowly lowering his arms as though swimming up from the bottom of a deep lake, saying “Fine,” with every stroke.

“That’s a very good question,” he deigned when all had quieted. “It is essentially the question posed by Alan Turing in his 1950 paper entitled, Computing Machinery and Intelligence: ‘Can Machines Think?’ By which he means, can a machine ever become conscious? And of which—assuming that fiction requires consciousness—your question is but a subset.” He smiled at this last quip in the manner of a person passing wind before continuing, “It is in this paper that Turing proposes his famous test in which he challenges that when a human cannot tell a machine from another human in a three-way conversation, the machine may be said to have attained consciousness.” He laughed in order to prepare us for something droll. “But heck, it could probably fool my wife today. All it’d have to do is say, ‘Yes dear,’ over and over.”

Everyone but some donkey in a middle row was able to suppress mirth.

“And a machine could probably fool me too, by just never shutting up.”

The lonely braying laughter intensified at this hyperbole. Others began to chuckle and snort in both sympathy and malice.

“But seriously,” said the Renowned Computer Scientist, “here I will disagree with mister Turing. Should the day come that a machine is able to engage intelligent and erudite humans in prolonged interrogative discourse and remain indistinguishable, then it will not have proved its own consciousness, but our lack thereof. It will have shown that what we consider sentience can be reduced to data and algorithm.”

There followed then reflective “ahhhs” and “umms,” as learned men stroked well-trimmed beards.

“What do you think,” shouted the heckler, whom I now realized was none other than myself, “happens twenty years from now when a grand master with the highest FIDE and ELO chess ratings ever achieved by a human, in a media event billed as ‘a match to salvage the pride of the human race’ plays a machine called Deep Thought consisting of three parallel Sun Workstations able to examine three-quarters of a million positions per second?”

“Well,” replied the Renowned Computer Scientist again swimming upwards, “I think you should write fiction.” There followed then generalized, predictable, supportive laughter that he did not hurry to quell. “But, to answer your interesting hypothetical question,” he continued when glee had died of natural causes, “I’d imagine the grandmaster might have his hands full.”

“Then you’d imagine wrong,” I shouted. “The human, whose name is Garry Kasparov and who is six years old now, slaughters the machine. He even gloats, ‘The computer needs to be taught something—how to resign,’ in a press conference afterwards.”

“Well then…” said the Renowned Computer Scientist, who then appeared to lose his train of thought. “Well then how could you…”

I stood and stepped over the row of seats in front of me, separating two Asian school girls holding hands who’d perish in each other’s arms in an Osaka pachinko parlor during Japan’s great tsunami of 2039. “But what do you suppose is the outcome when, seven years later, in 1996, Kasparov plays Deep Thought’s successor, Deep Blue, a massively parallel 30-node RS/6000 SP based 11.38 gigaflop machine with 480 VSLI chips capable of examining 200 million positions per second?”

Navigate: Page 1 Page 2 Page 3 Page 4 Page 5 Page 6


1 Redstone Science Fiction #2, July 2010 | Redstone Science Fiction { 07.01.10 at 12:58 am }

[…] Michelangelo’s Chisel by Christopher […]

2 The Great Geek Manual » Free Fiction Round-Up: July 5, 2010 { 07.06.10 at 4:03 pm }

[…] “Michelangelo’s Chisel” by Christopher Miller at RedStone Science […]

3 Matthew Sanborn Smith { 07.07.10 at 12:59 am }

Great story. I loved that everyone in the story bought into that future. Thanks!

4 Christopher { 07.08.10 at 8:19 am }

Thank you, Matthew. For reading and for your kind remarks.

Thank you too, Sarah, for your complimentary remarks regarding the piece over in your essay thread.

5 Heating Up | The Blog at GateTree { 07.09.10 at 9:35 pm }

[…] us the traffic push we needed. The stories we published are quite good. I love the weirdness of Michelangelo’s Chisel and the clever metafiction of Elevator Episodes in Seven Genres. Quality essays and our science […]

6 J.R. MacLean { 09.01.10 at 7:41 am }

Nice work, Chris. Enjoyed it thoroughly.