[Message Contains No Recognizable Symbols] Copyright © Bill Hibbard 2007

 

 

[Message Contains No Recognizable Symbols]

Bill Hibbard

April 2007

 

 

Honey

 

††††††††††† "Anyone want to bail Honey out? One hundred and twenty bucks," the bartender announced as he hung up the phone. The whole place erupted in laughter. Who would be crazy enough to spend their money to get that whacko out of jail?

††††††††††† "How much cash do you have on you?" Bogus asked. We were sitting together at the back end of the bar.

††††††††††† "You can't be serious," I said.

††††††††††† "I met her once, in the Hot L Cafe. But only to make out with her. This would be a chance to talk with her a little. She'll be grateful."

††††††††††† "Yeah, but that won't stop her from getting us arrested. She'll break a window or start a race riot or something." It was late and I wanted to go home. Plus, Megan would worry if I were out too late.

††††††††††† "No, no," Bogus was insistent, "this is the perfect opportunity to get to know her on friendly terms. It's late and she'll probably be too tired to get into more trouble." He took out his wallet and counted. "I've got ninety seven dollars. How about you?"

††††††††††† I counted mine and had enough, so gave Bogus $30. I figured I could always just leave if things got out of hand. "You necked with her? Did you catch anything?"

††††††††††† "A couple years ago, about 2:30 AM I went into the Hot L Cafe." It had this sign that said "HOTEL CAFE" but the "E" in "HOTEL" was burned out. Had been for years. "HOTL" just seemed cool. Maybe they burned it out on purpose. He continued, "And there was Honey sitting with a couple people. I was drunk, so just sat down next to her and started making out. And she got into it. So we made out for a while. But that's all. I doubt she'll even remember me." It made sense. The kind of thing that would never work sober, but might seem perfectly natural if two people were drunk enough.

††††††††††† On our way out of the bar we bought a twelve-pack of PBR, and headed for the City County Building where we hid the twelve-pack in the bushes while we went in to get Honey. If you've ever been in jail, you'll know that getting bailed out is the best feeling in the world. She looked like they had to wake her up, but she also looked happy. She was tanned and weathered from living mostly on the street. She had used her one phone call to call a bar, and it worked. Could anything be crazier? Maybe she was right to be crazy, because crazy was what worked in her world.

††††††††††† "Hi Honey," Bogus said, "I'm Bogus and this is Laszlo."

††††††††††† She just smiled at us. We wandered down to the lakeside park and along the shore, sipping three beers. "Honey," I asked, "what were you in jail for?"

††††††††††† "Having an open beer on the street."

††††††††††† "Honey," Bogus asked, "are you a Republican?"

††††††††††† "Yeah."

††††††††††† "A staunch Republican?"

††††††††††† "Oh yeah, a staunch Republican. You can get the money from Karl Schulz."

††††††††††† "Money?" Bogus asked.

††††††††††† "For the bail. Thanks for setting me free." She sort of spun around on her toe, quite well actually.

††††††††††† "Honey," I asked, "did you ever study ballet?"

††††††††††† She just laughed and spun again.

††††††††††† "Karl Schulz the lawyer?" asked Bogus.

††††††††††† "Yes, he handles my trust fund. He'll give you the money for the bail."

††††††††††† "It's our gift to you," Bogus said. "We just wanted to take a walk with you. I know Karl. We've done a little business."

††††††††††† "Bogus is a private investigator," I explained. "Actually, we're both computer geeks. I'm a sys admin for the university, and Bogus, well let's say he investigates computer crime. Or uses computers to investigate crimes. Or you might say uses computers to commit crimes." I laughed, but Bogus gave me a serious look. "Don't worry," I said, "she doesn't pay any attention. Do you sweetheart?" And I gave her a little one armed hug. "Honey, have you ever heard about Total Information Awareness? Proposed government program with a little public relations problem."
††††††††††† "Total Information Awareness," she sort of sang it, and repeated it several times spinning around some more.

††††††††††† "Well, lover, meet Son of Total Information Awareness," I bowed and extended my arm toward Bogus, as if introducing the ambassador from Switzerland.

††††††††††† Bogus grabbed Honey in standard waltz posture, one arm behind her back and the other holding her hand, and starting spinning her around. He said, "Go home, Laszlo, Megan is getting worried."

††††††††††† "Good night Honey, very nice to meet you." I figured she wouldn't recognize me the next time she saw me. But actually she did smile at me a couple times over the next few weeks. Then she disappeared for a while and when she came back, she had indeed forgotten me. Lucky me.

 

Megan

 

††††††††††† My name is Laszlo Wilkes. Bogus Band and I met as students at Pontius Pilate Junior High School in Industrial City. We were good at math and making trouble. But Bogus was better at both, born to raise hell with mathematics.

††††††††††† Bogus arrived at our door at 6 PM precisely, bearing a bottle of Merlot and a big bag of corn chips. "Just fried these up this afternoon," he said, handing me the bag.

††††††††††† Megan gave him a kiss on the cheek. "Hey Bogus, what's this I hear about you rescuing damsels in distress?" Our two Jack Russells were dancing around and barking madly.

††††††††††† "Yeah," I added, "how'd that turn out?"

††††††††††† "No big deal," he answered as he tried to pet the crazed dogs. "We watched the sun come up over the lake and I told her I'd like to have her over but that I lived with my parents."

††††††††††† Megan howled with laughter. I found it pretty funny too. "You," Megan addressed Bogus, "are a hopeless romantic."

††††††††††† Megan was my salvation. An MD specializing in infectious diseases at the university hospital and a dog and cat lover, she connected me to the reality of being a human animal. She was making her killer chicken mole, with beans and salsa.

††††††††††† We ate on the back patio, also a nice place to relax after dinner with beer and wine. Megan asked, "Are you ever going to get married, Bogus?"

††††††††††† "I'm too obsessed. Only a crazy woman would want me, and then I wouldn't want to be married to her. Or a sane woman might think she could change me. Shudder. Like Susan tried. I wasn't very nice to her. The last thing I want is to make some woman unhappy." He drank some beer. "Besides, I'm in love already. In love with someone, or you might say something, that's not even born yet. Sort of the way nuns are married to Jesus Christ so they can't have a human husband. Call me Saint Bogus the Baptist."

††††††††††† "Well," Megan said, "you know what I think. The human brain is just too complex. You're not going to recreate it out of wires and silicon chips. And even if you could, it's not something I could love. Yuk"

††††††††††† "I know," Bogus answered, "we've been through this before. Technology can't be stopped. Whatever nature can make, technology can duplicate."

††††††††††† "But Mary Shelley had a point. If arrogant men, no offense Bogus, try to make life they will make a nightmare."

††††††††††† "Well Megan, you may be right. But you cannot stop technology. It will happen. The only hope is to do it responsibly. Dr. Frankenstein didn't know what he was doing and acted too soon. We need to really understand how minds work before we build one. You know I used to be a free market Republican, before I understood the power of the coming technologies. Now I'm a socialist. Heaven help us if someone starts building super-brains just to make money or to win wars, without thinking through the broader consequences. Then we're toast."

††††††††††† "So there's hope for you yet, you commie," Megan said as she squeezed Bogus's hand. "How's business," she asked, changing the subject.

††††††††††† "OK, keeping the wolf from the door." Bogus would never discuss the details of his work outside his house, with its Faraday cage and all sorts of countermeasures against eavesdropping. And only with me, as far as I knew. "How about you, Megan? Any scary germs in the neighborhood?"

††††††††††† "Quiet times."

††††††††††† "What are the dangers of some angry group being able to design germs for terror? How easy is that getting to be? Can anyone with ten billion dollars do it?"

††††††††††† "Well, itís a bit like nuclear weapons. The general outlines are widely known, but to actually do it so it works is still very hard."

††††††††††† I said, "This reminds me of a story I heard years ago from a comp sci professor. He claimed that during World War II the US government was afraid the Nazis might win, so they put together a contingency plan to get revenge. They wrote a book explaining how someone rich enough to own an airplane and build a little biology lab could start some sort of epidemic in Germany. According to the story, there were like ten copies of this book and anyone who read it was watched by the FBI for the rest of their lives. I don't know how he knew. Maybe he was just making it up. He was very talkative and would trap foreign grad students in conversations until they were rescued by phone calls from the department secretaries. But I liked talking with him."

††††††††††† Megan looked skeptical. "I doubt it would really work, especially with the biotechnology of the 1940s. Modern societies are pretty good at isolating infection outbreaks."

††††††††††† Bogus said, "I wonder if your story is still a secret, assuming it's true? Say, I think I know a real secret. After the 9-11 attacks there was a mysterious Navy construction project in East Potomac Park in Washington, DC. A big underground structure built under a temporary shed, with no explanation of its purpose and completely bypassing the city's planning and environmental impact processes. Very few questions asked by the press. What do you think it is?"

††††††††††† We both shrugged.

††††††††††† He continued, "I think it's a neutrino detector. If someone manages to get a nuclear or radiological weapon into DC, they could shield all the other types of radiation it gives off, but not the neutrinos. You have to ask, if it's so secret why build it in downtown DC? Why not out in the sticks of Virginia? They must need it to directly interact with the physical environment in DC, but this structure has no apparent interaction. So I think its detecting neutrinos given off by weapons. Of course if I can figure this out, so can the bad guys. So why keep it secret?"

††††††††††† Megan had no doubt, "Typical male pattern stupidity."

††††††††††† After a little break in the conversation, I said, "So the two of you represent different paths to the Frankenstein story, either by engineering genes of existing life, or by creating life from scratch using electronics."

††††††††††† "Hey," Megan said, "I don't want to design the DNA for monsters, sweetheart. I hate all that. I'm a healer, remember?"

††††††††††† "Sorry love. But Bogus, you want to create monsters, don't you?"

††††††††††† "Not monsters Laszlo, and probably not by me. It's hard, you know. I have some ideas about how minds work, but actually making them is, as Megan says, still very hard. The smartest people in the world are working on this, and backed by folks with lots of money. They're coy about it too. Don't want to say too much in public. Not so good for public relations to be working on a race of super-brains. Hard to estimate how close anyone is."

††††††††††† He continued, "For my own work, I try to be realistic. In my business I use some techniques of AI, but don't need true intelligence. Brains are good at discovering patterns in data and I look for patterns. Not as complex as brains can find but nevertheless profitable. The hedge funds are looking for patterns, in their case market inefficiencies. But that's a tough game. Financial markets are pretty well picked over. Sort of like looking for Easter eggs after a thousand kids have already been over the territory."

††††††††††† Megan asked, "So Bogus, remind me what kind of patterns you look for?"

††††††††††† "Well, there's lots of information on the net that has value. Take Google for example. People use Google to find information, but what a lot of folks don't appreciate is that they are also giving valuable information to Google. They know all the patterns you search on, and which links you click. Valuable information for Google's clients trying to sell you stuff. Tough to compete with Google for that kind of information. But there is so much information flowing across the net. And some people are pretty careless about what kind of information they put on the net. I don't go for the obvious and illegal information, like stealing credit card numbers and bank accounts. And harvesting email addresses for spammers is beneath my dignity. There's lots of information that I can harvest and stay on the right side of the law."

††††††††††† I love Megan but Bogus is my oldest friend and it wasn't my place to explain that Bogus was referring to the legality of the ends of his business, not of the means. So I kept my mouth shut.

††††††††††† "But Bogus," she protested, "you still didn't tell me what kinds of patterns you look for."

††††††††††† "I look for criminals on the net," he said, reluctant to go into detail. "Some committing financial crimes. But I also find some child molesters and tip the authorities. That would be my pro bono work."

††††††††††† Finally I started yawning, so Bogus thanked Megan for the dinner, which had been fantastic, and said goodbye.

 

Private Investigator

 

††††††††††† "Well Sherlock, any news from the irregulars?" I asked Bogus. We were inside his house, with strong defense against eavesdroppers. He would never answer a question about the irregulars anywhere else.

††††††††††† "There's always news from the irregulars. But nothing big, if that's what you're asking. A couple small time sys admins caught in the net. And of course a bunch of skip traces and assorted crooks for the clients." The clients were a long list of corporations who paid for information about embezzlement, bribery, fraud or whatever might affect their business. And Bogus found a lot of people hiding themselves or their assets from creditors.

††††††††††† In school Bogus and I thought the hackers and spammers were cool. But we also thought the smart play was to stay on the side of the good guys, learning everything we could about how the bad guys worked but not going over. We did hack systems. We had to, to learn. But we were careful not to do any damage and especially not to get caught, using school systems and fictitious accounts. As an adult, I was a boring vanilla good guy, protecting the university's computers from hackers. Bogus was a more nuanced good guy. He was a major hacker of systems but for good causes, and exceedingly careful not to get caught.

††††††††††† "Any sys admins lately on my list?" I asked.

††††††††††† "No. Don't worry, I wonít burn any of your friends. You sys admins are a sorry lot. Horny perverts without an ounce of sense."

††††††††††† "Well, at least we're not in love with some computer that doesn't even exist yet."

††††††††††† "But you can't blackmail me for that. I'm open about it."

††††††††††† Despite Bogus's claim to Megan about being on the right side of the law, one part of his business was pretty dirty: blackmailing system administrators. Not for money, but to get them to open security holes for him. Then he'd hack machines within their employer's organizations, programming them to filter for interesting information and send it back to him. He referred to these machines as his 'irregulars.' Lots of systems could be hacked without the help of sys admins, but in some highly secure organizations their help was necessary.

††††††††††† He had a list of known sys admins, taken from professional societies and email on sys admin mailing lists, but excluding a list of my friends. His filtering software would look for email and other information indicating marital infidelity and other naughtiness by sys admins on his list. If the evidence looked good, he'd hire an investigator in the guy's hometown to gather photos, video and other physical evidence, no doubt thinking they were working for the spouse. This evidence would then get emailed to the sys admin, say from an irregular in Venezuela, along with instructions about how to open a security hole for Bogus. Bogus assured them that their role wouldn't be exposed even if the hack was discovered. Bogus was a pretty good hacker. His information filtering processes were good at hiding from detection and careful not to consume too large a proportion of their host's resources.

††††††††††† Bogus had a cutout for most of his physical interactions with the world, an attorney in Providence, Rhode Island. Rhode Island is a place where government is sympathetic to people with money who want to keep a low profile. This attorney would collect payments from Bogus's clients. He had only one client, Bogus, and only one real job, to keep his mouth shut about the identity of his client. In fact, he gave the impression that his information came from a variety of informers who wanted to remain anonymous. Between attorney client privilege and the Rhode Island culture of privacy, Bogus was pretty well hidden. The attorney also hired the investigators to get physical evidence on the sys admins, but he did this through his own cutouts. These were women, or occasionally men, with fake ID who actually hired the investigators and collected the evidence. A bit elaborate, but a necessary precaution in case a sys admin went to the police. They might uncover the investigator who collected the evidence, but the trail would go cold at the fake ID.

††††††††††† Bogus had another kind of cutout between himself and his irregulars. Namely an apartment, a computer and Internet accounts in a certain eastern European country. All on-line transactions went from his house to this apartment and then out to his network of hacked machines. Furthermore, money flowed to officials in this country to make sure that any international inquiry into Bogus's operation was tied up in bureaucracy, and to send a warning about the inquiry to an email address in Asia owned by Bogus. The officials may have assumed that Bogus was an Asian spammer, but probably didn't care as long as the money flowed.

††††††††††† Bogus was careful to avoid certain kinds of information. He never hacked military or government systems. When he did find information useful to the government, like leads to child molesters, terrorists and even the occasional espionage suspect, he donated the information totally anonymously, even bypassing his cutout attorney. But all these anonymous tips included 1000-digit random numbers that Bogus could later use to verify his role as source of the tip. The idea being that if he ever did get into legal trouble, he could establish his role as a good guy to help the publicity surrounding his case.

††††††††††† The Providence attorney's income, the payments to private investigators and to the cutouts with the fake IDs, the payments to officials and for apartment rent in a certain eastern European country, and the equipment in Bogus's house were all big expenses. But he caught a lot of bad guys and saved his clients a lot of money, so Bogus made millions. As part of his policy of not screwing with the feds, he paid his taxes quite honestly and made sure his Providence attorney did too.

††††††††††† To Bogus, all these business details and precautions were the boring, dirty part of the business. The fun part was designing algorithms for sifting through mountains of emails, financial transactions and other information looking for criminal patterns.

††††††††††† "Laszlo," he loved to tell me, "the key to finding patterns is to have good priors." Meaning assumptions about prior probability distributions of the patterns you might find. "That's how Turing cracked the Enigmas. His priors were the standard headers that the Germans put at the start of their messages. He had the encrypted text for the start of the message, and could guess the plaintext as the standard header, which made it much easier to figure out the Enigma settings. Nowadays serious codes include random text padded onto the starts of messages to foil Turing's approach."

††††††††††† "So what priors do you use?" I asked.

††††††††††† "Sys admins are horny. That's one. Here's another good one: people use the same password on different accounts. And lots of people use passwords that are easy to remember and hence easy to figure out if you have a little biography of them. Mother's maiden name, birth date, pet's name, that sort of thing. You've seen Double Indemnity, haven't you? There's a great scene where Edward G. Robinson, who plays an insurance investigator, is listing all the ways people commit suicide. Basically he's using a prior to decide that a guy did not commit suicide. Well, I study financial crimes. Its incredible how the same tragic life stories repeat over and over. If you drive a Honda Civic and your wife cans vegetables from your garden, then I generally rule you out as a possible embezzler. But if you're on your third marriage, have a big house and big cars, and are in debt up to your eyeballs, then my software will take a closer look. Most crooks are so dumb."

††††††††††† "I know," I said, wanting to show that I was up with him, "there's the No Free Lunch Theorem. It says that in a world that's totally random, where all possible histories are equally likely, intelligence is impossible. Since intelligence is obviously possible, we must be able to assume non-uniform prior distributions. That is, the patterns are there if we know where to look."

 

Drunk Driving

 

††††††††††† Sherlock Holmes complained to Watson that his stories should just have reported his work as an intellectual exercise, omitting the human drama. The problem with writing about Bogus is that it's all intellectual exercise. There is no human drama, since Bogus has no direct contact with the crooks he uncovers. They don't even know he exists. But that's not to say there is no drama in our lives.

††††††††††† Not long ago Bogus and I emerged from a bar at 1 AM and sat on a bench to watch the world go by. Lots of human drama at that time of night in College Town. Across the street from our bench was a large concrete slab, all that was left of a Kroberg's grocery store that had burned down. This slab didn't have lines marked on it for parking, but cars did sometimes park there. As we watched a car drove onto the slab and slowly drove around it. The slab was even with the sidewalk in front, but the rear of the slab was a sharp drop off of maybe 18 inches to the alley. Anyway, the driver of the car, likely drunk according to my priors, just drove off the drop off. Somewhat at an angle, so his left front tire was still on the slab but the right front tire fell off and the underside of his car landed with a clunk on the edge of the slab.

††††††††††† Bogus muttered, "Nice work, idiot."

††††††††††† The idiot shifted into reverse and tried to drag the front his car off the ledge, but only managed to screech the tires. Not enough traction. So he got out of his car to inspect the situation. He sure looked drunk to me. He opened the trunk and got out the jack, which he used to jack up the right front until his car was more or less level. In particular, the underside of the car was no longer resting on the edge of the slab. He got in the car, raced the engine and popped it into reverse gear. And amazingly enough, the car jerked back until the right front tire was once again resting on the slab.

††††††††††† "Did you see that, Bogus? Maybe this guy isn't such an idiot after all."

††††††††††† The guy got out of his car and threw the jack back into the trunk. Then he stood there for a couple minutes looking a bit puzzled. Finally he got back in the car, raced the engine and popped it into gear. The car jerked forward and this time both front tires were hanging off the edge of the slab. He jumped out of his car, cursing and stamping around.

††††††††††† "He forgot," Bogus said. "He lost track of what he was doing. I rest my case. He's an idiot."

††††††††††† "No, he's just drunk. He was able to figure out that trick with the jack."

††††††††††† "Driving his car while he's drunk makes him an idiot."

††††††††††† Finally, our hero got tired of cursing and simply wandered off, leaving his car with both front doors and the trunk wide open, and both front tires hanging off the ledge.

††††††††††† "Do you think we should go set his car on fire?" I asked.

††††††††††† "Well, it would be a lot of fun to watch you explain to Megan why she's bailing you out for car arson, but on balance not worth the hassle." So we called it a night.

 

Prediction

 

††††††††††† Bogus invited me over to lunch and said he had an idea he wanted to kick around.

††††††††††† "Laszlo, these priors I use are in a sense about prediction. When I see one pattern, I use that to predict that if I look I'll find a related pattern. For example, if I see a person use a certain password on one account, then I predict that will be the password on their other accounts. I want to start using my irregulars to make temporal predictions. Not just to predict what I'll find if I look somewhere else, but to predict what will happen in the future."

††††††††††† "Isn't that what the hedge funds do, use patterns in the financial markets to predict future prices? That's pretty difficult. But rewarding if you can do it."

††††††††††† "Yeah, but I want to apply it more broadly than just financial markets. I want to look at how patterns in all sorts of information can be used to make predictions in all sorts of other information. Not just prices in financial markets."

††††††††††† "There are lots of possible approaches. I mean, this is the big question. If you do this, you've cracked intelligence."

††††††††††† "Not quite. As Baum points out, intelligence is more than prediction. It also has to solve puzzles."

††††††††††† "Let us now bow our heads and give thanks for blessed Baum," I smirked.

††††††††††† "Hey, smart guy. He should get the Nobel Prize in Economics. Never happen, of course."

††††††††††† "OK, so you're going to look for patterns that can predict future patterns. If it's possible at all, it will take huge computing resources. How many irregulars do you have?"

††††††††††† "A little more than seven million."

††††††††††† I goggled at him. The last time I had asked there were something like 100,000. "Can you structure the computation over so many machines?"

††††††††††† "I've been working on a multi-agent learning design that should run pretty well on any size network."

††††††††††† "Let me guess, applying Baum's economy for rewards."

††††††††††† "Yes. But if it's going to be efficient enough to work, there has to be more than just that. I need to be smart about priors. I've got to look for patterns myself, to use my own intelligence to dynamically supply priors."

††††††††††† "That's not the path to purely artificial intelligence, if you are a necessary part of the system."

††††††††††† "But that's not what I'm trying to do. At least not yet. For the time being I'll settle for being able to make useful temporal predictions."

††††††††††† "How much do you know about what's going on in your network, or can you know? With seven million systems it's got to be unintelligible."

††††††††††† "I look at a lot of statistics and lots of scatter diagrams. I run principle component analyses on big matrices. The trick is relating all those abstract numbers back to my understanding of the way the world works. The people developing weather models face the same problem. Their temptation is to simply tune the model with whatever equations give the most accurate prediction. But if they do that then their models cease to correspond to the basic laws of physics and then no one understands how they work. To make predictions I'm trying to make a model of the whole world. It's not enough to optimize predictive accuracy. I've got to try to understand why it works, when it does."

††††††††††† This sounded beyond the capacity of the human mind and I didn't want my old friend to lose his sanity over it. So I said, "Just remember that you don't have to do this. You already make plenty of money. Megan and I want to have you around for a while yet."

††††††††††† "Thanks, Laszlo. But you should remember that my love lives in the future."

 

Concern

 

††††††††††† Megan and I had just finished washing up after dinner and were playing with the Jack Russells. Little megalomaniacs. Megan asked, "Do you think Bogus is all right? Will he be all right in the future? Will he age gracefully?"

††††††††††† "I don't know. Haven't thought about it much."

††††††††††† "Do you think he's a little sociopathic?"

††††††††††† "He seems to care about us. And he trusts me, I know that for certain."

††††††††††† "I'm concerned about the way he works alone, and the fact that he has no interest in getting married or apparently even finding a steady girlfriend."

††††††††††† "The other day he told me his love lives in the future."

††††††††††† "Will he just work until he ends up alone in an old folks home?"

††††††††††† It was hard to picture. I said, "You know, he might be a sociopath to some extent. Remember that line from The Godfather, where they justify killing by saying 'It's only business'? Well, Bogus is a little like that."

††††††††††† "You mean the way he makes his living exposing the crimes of strangers?"

††††††††††† "Yeah," I answered. There was no way I'd tell Megan about the blackmail. She'd probably try to forbid me from seeing Bogus again. Certainly, that would be the end of him coming to dinner and me staying out late in the bars with him. She was so good about that.

††††††††††† Megan continued, "I worry about him getting into trouble. He says he looks for thieves on the net. But financial data isn't public. He must be breaking some laws. He must be some sort of hacker. You told me that in school you guys used to practice breaking into systems."

††††††††††† I definitely didn't want to get into this too deeply, so said, "We did, and I still sometimes drive my car faster than the speed limit."

††††††††††† Her look told me that was an unsatisfactory answer, but she said, "Just tell me that you're not going to get into any legal trouble over what Bogus is doing."

††††††††††† I gave her a kiss and a hug. "Not to worry. I am not part of his business. I make no money from it. I'm just his friend. And he'll only talk about his business inside his house, which is about as secure as the White House Situation Room."

††††††††††† "All that security in his house makes me nervous too. With all that smoke, there must be fire."

††††††††††† "Megan, lover," I laughed, "you've got what Bogus would call priors."

††††††††††† She looked puzzled.

††††††††††† "That means that when you see a secure house, you predict that if you look inside you'll find something dangerous and probably illegal. Prior is shorthand for prior distribution, which is your expectation of probabilities before taking account of new data. Remember Bayesian statistics? Must be part of med school or pre-med."

††††††††††† "Yes, vaguely. Most of the papers I read just use statistics to establish confidence in results." She thought for a minute, and then said, "Just remember, if you go to jail you're going to miss me and these dogs."

††††††††††† The thought of that filled me with dread. I went over and cuddled her and the terriers.

††††††††††† After a while she asked, "Why did the cat cross the road?"

††††††††††† "I don't know, why did the cat cross the road?"

††††††††††† "Impossible to say, really," she giggled.

 

Professor Moriarty

 

††††††††††† As I walked into Bogus's house I asked, "Hey Professor Moriarty, what news from the irregulars?"

††††††††††† "Professor Moriarty?"

††††††††††† "The way you sit in the center with your tentacles reaching into every part of the world, maybe I should call you Moriarty rather than Sherlock."

††††††††††† "Maybe you could just call me Bogus?"

††††††††††† "OK Bogus. Anything interesting from the irregulars? Are you learning anything about temporal prediction?"

††††††††††† "Well, there's a huge amount of obvious stuff. If A sends an email to B, then it's likely that B will soon send an email to A. Or if C gets a direct deposit in his checking account for $3456.78, it's very likely he'll get another for exactly the same amount about a month later. If D buys an airplane ticket to Omaha, sure enough he'll probably rent a hotel room in Omaha after the plane lands. There's so much of this stuff. Itís a bit like the common sense problem in natural language programs. You know, the CYC system database of hundreds of thousands of facts like if you jump into the water you'll get wet. If I program my network to just look for any predictions, it'll bury me under obvious and useless junk."

††††††††††† "Can you program your system to filter this stuff out? To just give you useful predictions?"

††††††††††† "Not easy to define 'useful'. One way is to only look for predictors of future financial market prices. Or to make the problem a little more tractable, predictions of the values of complex formulas computed from prices of individual securities. Also known as derivatives. Political predictions are also useful. There are markets in those too."

††††††††††† "How about cultural predictions?"

††††††††††† "Sure, then you get into the really hard stuff. Predicting the ideas that will drive art and science. Kurzweil says he can predict when the first intelligent machines will appear. But probably not so easy to predict what they will think, huh?"

††††††††††† Yes indeed, I thought. And Bogus was in love with this thing without any idea what it will think. Sort of like going into an arranged marriage and discovering that your bride is a Nazi. "Moth to the flame," I muttered.

††††††††††† "What?" asked Bogus.

††††††††††† "Nothing. Say, with all this digging into information on the Internet, do you discover other networks of tentacles like yours? Run across any other Professor Moriartys out there?"

††††††††††† "Tons of them. The illegal ones are spammers, and guys stealing credit card and bank account numbers. On the legal side you've got the social networks, the game networks and the political networks. And of course Google, the mother of all networks. They have a pretty simple physical structure, with a few hundred thousand machines in their server farms, connected to web browsers on a few hundred million PCs. But the simplicity of the physical structure is matched by the complexity of their information structure. So much intimate information and they've hired most of the smartest programmers to devise algorithms for exploiting that information. If I had to bet on where machine intelligence will first appear, it would be at Google. Their motto is 'Don't be evil,' which is nice. But remember Reagan's motto, 'Trust but verify'."

††††††††††† "Do you ever think of going after the illegal networks. After all, you expose all sorts of individual crooks. You could expose spammer networks, or find some other way to fight them."

††††††††††† "The war of the underground networks? Sounds dangerous. Might be hard to expose them without exposing myself. And they might seek revenge against my network. Too much risk without compensating benefits. I'll pass."

 

River Bluff

 

††††††††††† It was late October and time for our annual trip to River Bluff State Park, where the State River runs into the Big Honking River. The great thing is you can camp right at the edge of the bluffs, 500 feet above the rivers. Beautiful views. There is a lot of railroad traffic along tracks on both sides of the Big Honking River, as well as barge traffic. You can also watch private planes land and takeoff from the little airport at Old French City. So Megan and I loaded up the van with a big mattress to sleep on, enough food and beer for several feasts, bundles of firewood, warm clothes and blankets. Also brought the Jack Russells, of course. Bogus followed along in his ancient Volvo station wagon that he could sleep in, sort of.

††††††††††† We arrived about noon on Tuesday, planning to stay until Thursday. Much less crowded in the middle of the week. We parked in adjacent campsites, with no other campers around. We had expected a few, but the cold wind reduced their number to zero. For the afternoon Megan and Bogus hiked down to the State River. In the warm summer months it can be a mosquito swamp down there, but it's nicer in October. Dogs are not allowed on the trails, so I kept them company in the campsite. Terriers aren't much for playing fetch. Instead they spent the afternoon patrolling the campsite for varmints while I bundled up and lay down on a picnic table to watch the clouds drift by. I could hear trains go by every half hour or so, 500 feet below and half a mile away. You can hear the trains a long way off, along the river. Put me right to sleep.

††††††††††† After a simple camp dinner of burgers and potato salad, we built up the fire and started some serious beer drinking. Well, Megan not so much. But by 9 PM Bogus and I were both pretty drunk and the fire was like a blacksmith's forge in the wind. It was clear we were going to use all the wood and need to get more the next day.

††††††††††† "Hey," Bogus said, "let's see how hot this fire is," and dropped an empty beer bottle into it.

††††††††††† "I'm telling Brother Francis," I said, which got a big laugh out of Bogus. Brother Francis had been a teacher at Pontius Pilate and not our favorite.

††††††††††† "Wasn't he your math teacher?" Megan asked.

††††††††††† "Yes," I answered, "for pre-algebra. On the tests Bogus always took a detour through calculus in deriving his answers. It drove Brother Francis crazy. He tried to keep Bogus back a year, but when the principal saw what was going on he put Bogus into advanced placement."

††††††††††† "And that's how I got to where I am today," added Bogus.

††††††††††† "Advance placement for math or troublemaking?" asked Megan.

††††††††††† "You bet."

††††††††††† "Anyone want dessert?" I asked.

††††††††††† Bogus replied, "What have you got?"

††††††††††† "Pecan Pie ala Laszlo."

††††††††††† Megan and Bogus both started cheering.

††††††††††† I made a big bowl of fresh whipped cream with vanilla and powdered sugar, cut three slices of pie and piled on the cream. The 'ala Laszlo' means that the slice of pie should be visible as only an outline beneath the whipped cream. When I make it for just myself, I simply drop the pie slice into the bowl of whipped cream.

††††††††††† The dogs shared a leftover cooked burger patty for dessert.

††††††††††† "Hey," I said between bites, "the beer bottle is melting." Its long neck was starting to droop.

††††††††††† "Not hot enough to melt," Bogus corrected. "It's softening. Might be a thousand degrees. Still, kind of fun."

††††††††††† I dropped another empty into the fire next to his.

††††††††††† "Say guys, are we going to have a fireplace full of wilted beer bottles?" Megan asked. Then she threw in a third empty.

††††††††††† We drank until 11 PM, and then got into our beds. I'm sure they were cold, but I was blissfully anesthetized.

††††††††††† Megan was first up, restarting the fire and setting up to make some breakfast. When Bogus and I were both up, she said, "Look at the fireplace." Not only were there three seriously deformed beer bottles next to it, but the iron grate over the fire had sagged. "How hot was that fire?" she asked.

††††††††††† Bogus and I both shrugged.

††††††††††† We spent most of the day walking along the bluff and through the campgrounds, abandoned except for us. The park has a good number of 'Indian Mounds,' effigy mounds built by the indigenous inhabitants. These were in the shapes of various animals, such as birds and turtles. The mounds made me think of the culture that had flourished here for thousands of years and then disappeared in a blink.

††††††††††† That night the wind was not as strong and the fire not as hot. We mostly just looked down from the bluff at the trains, barges, airplanes, and cars and trucks along the highway below, like watching some full-scale model railroad layout.

 

Insider Information

 

††††††††††† A few weeks after our trip to River Bluff Park, I stopped by to see Bogus. "How are the predictions coming?"

††††††††††† "I've discovered an amazing thing. CEOs and corporate officers make smart trades in the stocks of their own companies. US Senators make smart trades in lots of stocks."

††††††††††† "This is all well known," I said.

††††††††††† "I was being facetious. But it's interesting that my system rediscovered it. It learned that you could predict the future by looking at the personal behavior of the people who determine the future. It's discovered insider information."

††††††††††† "Are you going to make some money off it?" I asked.

††††††††††† "I wouldn't want to make a lot of trades based on it. That might attract the wrong sort of attention." He thought for a moment then continued, "This has gotten me wondering about big university endowments and certain investment funds that consistently beat the market over periods of many years. Is their success based on sources of insider information?"

††††††††††† "The alums of those elite universities include lots of people who determine the future. It makes sense that at least some of them do their old schools favors by tipping their endowments to investment opportunities. I'm sure you could make a similar case against the super-successful investment funds."

††††††††††† "Of course," Bogus said, "there's insider information in politics and in the arts and sciences. For example, you can predict which artists will get major exhibits by looking at messages and other interactions involving the people who run galleries and museums. You can make predictions about politics by looking at the messages, activities and success rates of professional political operatives."

††††††††††† I asked, "Have you had any luck making predictions based on anything other than insider information?"

††††††††††† "A little. I can measure the financial, social, political and health status of a fairly large sample of people, scattered all over the world. I can also get a sample of information about interactions between people. The information is far from complete, but it can be used to drive a statistical model of society. It's crude compared to actual social interactions but it can be used to make predictions. Deep waters, though, Laszlo. To really optimize such a broad model will require an ability to understand human language, hence true machine intelligence."

 

Lake Ice

 

††††††††††† As Bogus and I sat in our favorite bar at 11 PM on a January night I said, "It sure turned cold today."

††††††††††† "Might be a good night to go out on the ice. Not too windy."

††††††††††† "Oh yeah," I replied, and bought a six-pack to take along.

††††††††††† We walked over to the lake and found a safe place to get out onto the ice. There are sometimes open cracks along the shore that you have to watch out for. Then we started walking toward the middle of the lake, into the dark. The silence felt good. Suddenly we heard the lake speak, "TOOOONNNNNGGGGG." Very deep and very loud, a crack had shot past us. The stiff lake ice acts as a giant sounding board. So it's somewhat like being inside a huge audio speaker when a bass guitar string is plucked, except that the sound only lasts a second. Hauntingly beautiful.

††††††††††† "That was a good one," I said.

††††††††††† "Let's go sit on the pressure ridge and drink our beer," Bogus replied. He was interrupted by another one, "TOOOOONNNNNNGGGGGG," even louder than the first. The temperature change was making the ice expand, creating enormous forces that suddenly let go. If you look down at the ice you can see cracks running through it. Not open cracks with water spurting up, just places where the ice was broken. We were hearing these cracks form. The pressure ridge we were heading towards was another matter, a huge crack with open water that formed every year off the end of Basket Point. The pressure ridge would open up a couple feet wide sometimes, and the open water would freeze but not nearly as thick as the surrounding lake ice. This made it deceptive and dangerous to cross. Other times this big crack would push back together creating piles of broken ice.

††††††††††† "BWOOOONNNNGGGGG," another crack shot past. They seemed to be more frequent close to the pressure ridge. We sat down ten feet from it and each opened a beer.

††††††††††† "Bogus," I asked, "who'll be first to come up with real AI?"

††††††††††† "Well, the big players are," and he ticked them off on his gloved fingers, "Google, the DOD, IBM, Microsoft and the government of Japan. All of them are pretty coy about it. Much better for the corporate image to say you are trying to make your systems easier to use than to say your systems will take everyone's job.

††††††††††† "Any other big players?"

††††††††††† "AI could come from one of the investment houses. They're very secretive about everything they do, but certainly their trading algorithms are pretty smart. And then there are the small projects run by geniuses without much funding. NARS, Novamente, that sort of thing. Sentimental favorites."

††††††††††† He was interrupted by the lake, "TOOOONNNNNGGGGG."

††††††††††† He continued "But let's not forget what happened to George Davida at the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee. During the 1970's he submitted a paper about how to design strong cryptography to a conference. Next thing he knew, the feds were at his door telling him that if he went ahead with his paper he'd be fined $10,000 and spend two years in jail. If one of the little AI projects actually succeeds the government will simply take it, hopefully with some sort of compensation other than a prison sentence. The DOD isn't pouring billions into AI just to amuse themselves."

††††††††††† I said, "Wouldn't you love it if Mentifex turned out to be the first real AI."

††††††††††† Bogus said something that I can't report here, in case children ever read this.

††††††††††† "So how about you, Bogus? Maybe you'll be first."

††††††††††† "I already have a job. Seriously though, Laszlo, it's amazingly hard. I screw around with it but the solution will come from some group seriously focused on the problem, and probably with billions of dollars to spend on it."

††††††††††† The ice gave us one final, "BWOOOOONNNNNNGGGGGG," and we got up to leave.

 

Surprise

 

††††††††††† "You're not going to believe this," Bogus told me, as we sat down in his office.

††††††††††† "Let me guess, you've cracked AI. Or maybe your prediction algorithms are working well."

††††††††††† "Working well, that's an understatement. They're giving me detailed charts of future security prices, over the next day, over the next week."

††††††††††† "Amazing. Wouldn't have thought it was possible. How are you doing it?"

††††††††††† "Now for the bad news. I'm reading the charts from a system I've hacked. They're the ones who can predict the future, not me. All my system learned to do is read their charts. Have to give it credit for that."

††††††††††† "Whose system is it?"

††††††††††† "Ever heard of a hedge fund called Episcopalian Jihad?"

††††††††††† "Odd name. Would those be gay or straight Episcopalians?"

††††††††††† "They would be rich Episcopalians."

††††††††††† "But is it possible to predict charts of price movements like that? Financial markets have to be highly non-linear, with theoretical limits on predictability."

††††††††††† "I don't think it's pure prediction. They have to also be manipulating. If they have an accurate model of the financial system, that same non-linear instability enables them to manipulate the system with relatively small efforts. You know, the butterfly effect. A butterfly flapping its wings causes a hurricane two months later."

††††††††††† "I guess I knew that stock market manipulation was still pretty widespread even with the SEC supposedly on the job. But can they really steer the little bumps and wiggles in a security's price chart?"

††††††††††† "Well, I'm watching them do it. They don't make many mistakes. Their model must go beyond the financial system. It must be a general social model. And they must have a network like mine, to gather information and to interact with society."

††††††††††† "Well," I said, "these guys are going to make an awful lot of money."

††††††††††† "You know, if they were just manipulating to make money they probably wouldn't bother to steer through a dance of rising and falling prices. They'd just push the price up or down."

††††††††††† "So what do you figure?"

††††††††††† "They're practicing. These are just training exercises for their system. That's what's scary about this. These guys aren't satisfied to make some money on stocks. They want a system that can control the markets."

††††††††††† I whistled to show that I was impressed. "Is it only financial prices that they're steering? How about politics?"

††††††††††† "Too early to tell. Of course, manipulating politics is nothing new. Remember Nixon's dirty tricks. Kennedy in the West Virginia primary. Of course Bush. And all these electronic voting machines are a political manipulator's dream. Did I ever tell you my theory on the gay marriages in Massachusetts and San Francisco in early 2004? The timing was too perfect for the Republicans. It must have been some sort of provocation. Don't ask me how." He paused, and then continued, "But all that is crude manipulation. With a really good social model you can achieve similar results with much more subtle actions."

††††††††††† "Such as?"

††††††††††† "Have a model of every citizen's political and economic opinions, and of the personal interactions among them. By giving each one a little push or pull in the right direction, they can create strong political and economic forces. They could also work to influence culture, which would feed into politics and economics. They can identify people critical to important decisions and at critical times wipe their computers, cancel their travel reservations, maybe issue arrest warrants for them. I could do some of those things with my irregulars. Of course I don't because that would trigger a search for my hacks. I am read-only. But these guys are bigger, smarter and more ambitious than I am, so they're probably getting into that sort of thing."

††††††††††† I said, "Reminds me of Enron triggering power blackouts and brownouts to manipulate energy prices." Then, in my best news-of-the-world voice, I said, "America leads the world in the critical skills of forcing companies into bankruptcy and squeezing out other creditors in the division of assets."

††††††††††† "Amen," said Bogus.

††††††††††† "But this is bigger than that, isn't it? Do you think their system is actually intelligent?"

††††††††††† "Yes. I'm not sure if the people at Episcopalian Jihad are conversing with it in English, but that wouldn't surprise me. To accurately predict and manipulate the prices of many widely-traded securities simultaneously their system undoubtedly has to understand human languages."

 

Pow Wow

 

††††††††††† "Hey Megan," I said, "guess what. Bogus wants us to come over for dinner tomorrow night."

††††††††††† "Goodness, I can't remember the last time I was in his house."

††††††††††† So we went, bringing only some beer and the dogs. He'd cooked up a big pot of this stuff he calls 'chicken dish' that's really mostly vegetables. Healthy and delicious.

††††††††††† Once we'd settled in, Bogus said, "Megan, I've discovered something pretty scary in my business and hope that the three of us can come up with a plan for what to do about it."

††††††††††† She'd guessed that there were illegal activities in this house and didn't look too thrilled to be invited to participate.

††††††††††† "It's OK love," I said. "You know how we talk about AI? Well, as part of his investigations Bogus has found a group that may have succeeded at it. Sooner than we expected."

††††††††††† "The problem," Bogus added, "is with the purpose of their AI. These folks are creating it in secret and apparently to gain wealth and power."

††††††††††† Megan asked, "Who are they?"

††††††††††† "A hedge fund named Episcopalian Jihad."

††††††††††† "Funny name," Megan said. "You know, if they're operating in secret the first step is to expose their secret. If you expose them to the general public, you tip them off. Is that a problem?"

††††††††††† "I think it is," answered Bogus. "And there's another tricky factor. I don't have this information legally."

††††††††††† Megan wasn't surprised to hear this. Hopefully we wouldn't have to get into the blackmail. She said, "Then you expose them privately to some authority. This doesn't sound like something for the city or state government."

††††††††††† I suggested, "How about the FBI?"

††††††††††† "Well," Bogus replied, "we don't really have evidence of a crime. I'm pretty sure they're manipulating security prices but that's based on the predictability limits of non-linear systems. That might not be very convincing to an FBI agent."

††††††††††† Megan said, "I think you should take this to Wonder Woman, our US Representative. She'll be sympathetic to protecting ordinary citizens from greedy crooks. Can you make a case that this hedge fund's AI will harm ordinary people?"

††††††††††† "Congresswoman Woman," I interjected. "That always sounds strange to me."

††††††††††† "I think I can make that case," Bogus said.

††††††††††† Megan went on, "She's very approachable. For example, she was very helpful on that little problem we had with the Post Office. By the way, send her email. Her assistant told me they hate physical mail since the anthrax attacks."

††††††††††† Bogus reflected for a bit, then said, "Let me think a bit about how much I can share with her. Perhaps I can give her some evidence without admitting how I got it."

††††††††††† Megan replied, "Yes, as a federal office holder it wouldn't be fair to Wonder Woman to expect her to conceal your crime."

††††††††††† "Bogus," I asked, "can you get legally accessible information about Episcopalian Jihad? Now that you know what to look for?" But I thought about this for a second and said, "No, I guess not. The key is their internal predictions. I'm sure those are not public."

††††††††††† "And," Bogus added, "since they're steering a zigzag course on prices, you can't even make a solid case against them for manipulating securities." Bogus smiled and said, "Their behavior doesn't fit the SEC's priors for market manipulation."

††††††††††† Megan said, "Bogus, you need to think like a lawyer and build a case to present to the congresswoman."

††††††††††† I asked, "Say Bogus, how about disrupting Episcopalian Jihad's systems?"

††††††††††† "Well," he answered, "I can't get into most of their systems. If I take down the few systems I can, it won't hurt them much but will alert them that they've been hacked."

††††††††††† Megan asked, "How serious is this? Can this hedge fund really have machines more intelligent than people?"

††††††††††† "Absolutely," Bogus answered.

††††††††††† Megan made a sour face and said, "All this greed is disgusting. Has anyone noticed that in recent years huge amounts of wealth have disappeared from workersí pensions, while at the same time the financial industry has made equally huge amounts of money. Is this a coincidence?"

††††††††††† I wasn't sure I bought it, but it was an interesting analogy to what we were up against. The few had always enriched themselves at the expense of the many, but with real AI it could be game over.

 

Wonder Woman

 

††††††††††† Bogus sent the following email to Wonder Woman:

 

Dear Representative Woman,

 

You are probably aware of speculation about artificial intelligence. That is, machines with intelligence equal to or greater than humans. I have reliable but confidential information that a US corporation has succeeded in creating artificial intelligence but is keeping their invention secret. This threatens to create a permanent underclass of people unable to compete for jobs with machines more intelligent than themselves. Without urgent government intervention, this could be a catastrophe for humanity. Please make time to meet with me. I will bring evidence to back up my assertion.

 

Sincerely,

Bogus Band

 

††††††††††† Within a couple days Bogus got a phone call from Andrew Handy, who worked in Wonder Woman's local office. They arranged a meeting, and Andrew asked Bogus to make sure to bring whatever evidence he had. I tagged along for the meeting.

††††††††††† "Hello Mr. Band," the congresswoman greeted him, and introduced her assistant. She really had good people skills, and from her policy positions her heart sure seemed to be in the right place.

††††††††††† "Hello Representative Woman. Thank you for taking time to see me. This is my friend Laszlo Wilkes."

††††††††††† "I understand from your message that you believe someone in the US has created artificial intelligence. But the experts tell us that is unlikely to happen for at least another twenty years. What evidence do you have?"

††††††††††† "Congresswoman, from a confidential source I know that a hedge fund named Episcopalian Jihad is able to precisely predict future price movements of securities a week in advance. They must be using a combination of prediction and manipulation. What they're doing would be impossible without machines significantly more intelligent than humans."

††††††††††† "But Mr. Band, that's just an accusation, not evidence."

††††††††††† "I have something for you," he said and handed her a sheaf of papers. "These are their predicted price charts for selected securities over the next week. They could not do this without artificial intelligence."

††††††††††† "Can you tell me how you got this information?"

††††††††††† "I'm sorry congresswoman, but my source wishes to remain anonymous."

††††††††††† "But even if these predictions are accurate, how do I know they came from this Episcopalian Jihad?"

††††††††††† "In order to establish my credibility, I've also brought with me evidence of my previous assistance to law enforcement," he said as he handed her a few sheets of paper. "Each sheet has the name of a person convicted of a serious crime and a sequence of digits that will confirm my role. Please show these to the FBI for verification."

††††††††††† Wonder Woman and Andrew Handy studied the papers, and then she asked her assistant to expedite this with the FBI and the SEC. He left the room with the papers.

††††††††††† Bogus said, "Congresswoman, the problem is that there is no law against taking over the world economy using super-intelligent machines. According to current law that's just good business. Episcopalian Jihad is probably breaking the law by manipulating security prices but I don't have any evidence about how they're doing that."

††††††††††† "I understand, Mr. Band. There is interest in the congress in the dangers of biotechnology and even of nanotechnology. However, there is essentially no interest in the dangers of artificial intelligence. There is some understanding of its importance to our own military. The mood toward additional regulation of the financial industry is negative."

††††††††††† I finally summoned the courage to speak up, "With respect, Congresswoman, this is the most important and urgent issue ever faced by the congress."

††††††††††† She gave me a long hard look and finally said, "If this is as important as you say, then my advice is that you do what you can to raise public awareness."

††††††††††† Bogus replied, "We'd better wait until you've verified those predictions before we go public with this information."

††††††††††† The Congresswoman said, "OK. We will look into your information and get back to you. Thank you very much." We said our goodbyes and left.

 

Lock Out

 

††††††††††† The day after our meeting with Wonder Woman I went to visit Bogus. As I walked in he said, "Laszlo, I've been locked out of Episcopalian Jihad."

††††††††††† "Oh?"

††††††††††† "Just happened, minutes ago."

††††††††††† "What else? Are you losing any other irregulars?"

††††††††††† "Not yet. Let's see," and he clicked away at his keyboard. "Hmmm, I'm not seeing anything else unusual happening."

††††††††††† "Do you think they'll come after you? Should you be shutting down the irregulars?"

††††††††††† "That would be the chicken approach. I'm going to keep my system up and searching for other signs of these guys. We've got to think up some priors of what to look for. I'm going to assume that they will expand their ability to manipulate. They're going to grow their network of hacked machines, and inside secure organizations. I doubt they regard the military and government as off limits, as I do. I can at least watch for manipulations inside financial institutions. Perhaps I can see forged messages, disruption of utilities, stuff like that."

††††††††††† "You know," I said, "if they're on to you then we might as well go public with this story. Post it to thousands of blogs and mailing lists."

††††††††††† "Tricky question," Bogus replied. "We don't know how much they know about us. Let's wait a while. I doubt blogs and mailing lists would do much good anyways. Those things always remind me of a food fight in a Three Stooges movie."

††††††††††† "OK," I said, "Maybe the SEC or FBI will come up with something."

††††††††††† "Perhaps," he said, hardly paying attention to me. He was getting into one of his coding manias.

††††††††††† "Want me to put on a pot of coffee for you?" I asked.

††††††††††† "No thanks. I'll make some later. Probably be up all night."

††††††††††† I'd have offered to help, but there was no point. He was such a demon programmer that I would have just gotten in his way.

 

Highway 2

 

††††††††††† The next day Megan and I left on our annual spring trip to Glacier Park. We packed our bicycles and the Jack Russells into the van, and drove off to connect with US Highway 2. People make such a big deal of the old Highway 66, but all that's left of it are a few stretches around Albuquerque and a couple other places. Highway 2 is alive and well, a two-lane blacktop without much traffic. Most towns along the road have signs that say something like 'State High School Basketball Champions 1986.' I guess Highway 66 gets the publicity because of the migration from Chicago to Los Angeles. There wasn't so much from Duluth to Seattle.

††††††††††† It felt good to get away from the recent drama. If intelligent machines took over the world, they might just forget to bother with life along Highway 2. Near the border between North Dakota and Montana we pulled over for a new sign along the road. It read:

 

Point of Interest

Longest Stretch of US Highway Without a Point of Interest

 

We both had a good laugh over that. That was Highway 2. We always brought bags of healthy food in the van and kept a lookout for Chinese restaurants. The dogs seemed to handle the long drive well, sleeping most of the way. And we knew motels along the road that took pets.

††††††††††† Without hurrying we could get out to Glacier in three days, and three days back. That left Tuesday through Thursday in the park. We actually stayed in a cabin outside the park, since it was too early in the season for accommodations inside the park. The dogs wouldn't have been welcome in park lodges anyways. Tuesday we enjoyed the mountain air and had a picnic with the pooches on the shore of Lake McDonald. Technically they were supposed to stay on short leashes, but with so few folks around we let them free to hunt vermin.

††††††††††† Wednesday we got up early to ride our bikes up the Going-to-the-Sun Road. The pass was still closed so there was no through traffic. In fact there was a gate across the road about fifteen miles from the pass. But hikers and bicyclists could proceed up the road as far as it was plowed, many miles and high into the mountains. In the 'big drift' near the summit the snow was sometimes 100 feet deep. In other areas the road is carved out of a sheer cliff. Plowing it out is dangerous work requiring big equipment. And some sections of the road are marked with avalanche warnings, where we peddled along with our eyes keenly on the snowfields above. We brought binoculars to look for animals and saw a Mountain Goat and a group of three Big Horn Sheep. It was a steep climb up the mountain and we ended up stripping off most of our warm clothes. Coming back down we put it all back on and still got cold. It was a wonderful day. Too bad to have to leave the dogs in the cabin, but they weren't allowed.

††††††††††† Thursday we had another picnic along the lake, and then Friday we started back. We took a little detour to check out the Fort Peck Dam. I think it's the largest earthen dam in the world, but it hardly looked like a dam at all with the water level so low. There's a highway that runs along the rim of the dam, just like Boulder Dam. But at Boulder Dam there is intensive security to prevent anyone from driving explosives onto the dam. At Fort Peck they don't need security. It would take a nuclear bomb to even make a dent in that monster.

††††††††††† Sunday we stopped for breakfast in Duluth and watched a 1000-foot long ship go out, loaded with Montana coal. What a beautiful city.

 

Bankrupt

 

††††††††††† The morning after our return I headed over to Bogus's house. "What's been happening?" I asked.

††††††††††† "Nothing good, friend," he said. "Those charts of predicted security prices I gave Wonder Woman were a bust. There was no correlation with actual security prices. And Episcopalian Jihad declared bankruptcy."

††††††††††† "Holy cow," I said. "Why didn't you call me?"

††††††††††† "I didn't want to spoil your trip."

††††††††††† "How could Episcopalian Jihad go bankrupt? They must have been making tons of money."

††††††††††† "I'm sure they did, and I'm sure they managed to move it to some new corporate entity before the bankruptcy."

††††††††††† "Any idea what the new entity is?"

††††††††††† "No clue. Not only that, but my network hasn't turned up any sign of them. I worked hard to design clever priors to find them, but found nothing."

††††††††††† "Have you heard anything from Wonder Woman?"

††††††††††† "They think I'm a nut. Not only were the charts a bust, but the fact that Episcopalian Jihad went belly up only a couple days after they asked the SEC about it made them look a little foolish."

††††††††††† "I'm sorry, buddy. Say, did you get into Episcopalian Jihad by blackmailing a sys admin? How about him?"

††††††††††† "I called him at home and his wife answered. She didn't want to talk but I said I was an old school chum. She said he killed himself last week by jumping off the Queensboro Bridge. They had everything in the hedge fund and were wiped out in the bankruptcy."

††††††††††† "Jeez, maybe it was an honest bankruptcy."

††††††††††† "And maybe you'd like to buy shares in the Queensboro Bridge."

††††††††††† "Yeah, I guess you're right. OK, how about the corporate officers of Episcopalian Jihad?"

††††††††††† "I've got some names, but no addresses or phone numbers. The corporate offices are all closed up. Phones dead. The only contact is their law firm, the ones handling the bankruptcy. I called them. They stipulated that they were a law firm and that was about it."

††††††††††† "So that's that, huh?"

††††††††††† "Yep. Oh, I got a visit from an FBI agent. Just a social call," he said with a bitter little laugh. "They're curious how I got the information for my tips. Not that they aren't appreciative. Just curious. I'm not dumb enough to lie to the FBI, so I could either plead the Fifth Amendment or shrug. I shrugged. I suspect they're investigating and will be back to ask for real."

††††††††††† "If the FBI is checking you out, shouldn't you shut down the irregulars?"

††††††††††† "I'm not too worried about them. All the traffic out of this house is encrypted and they're not going to break it. If they try to pry open my eastern European cutout, I'll get plenty of warning. My real worry is these Episcopalian Jihad guys. But at this point there's no purpose to being cautious. Either we get them or they get us."

††††††††††† "So what do we do now?"

††††††††††† "I'll keep my irregulars looking for some sign of these guys resurfacing. And now we might as well post the story all over the net. Probably won't accomplish much."

††††††††††† We spent some time posting messages to various blogs and mailing lists. When we finished I asked him, "Is there anything else I can do to help? Anything at all?"

††††††††††† "There sure is. You can get drunk with me tonight."

††††††††††† "OK, I'll see you after work."

 

Bender

 

††††††††††† "You know what makes this a great town?" Bogus asked me, sitting at the bar.

††††††††††† "I'll bet you're going to tell me."

††††††††††† "It's all the young people who come here to the university. They bring their ideals, their curiosity, their intelligence, their hope."

††††††††††† "Yeah," I said, "they bring them to the bars and drown them in alcohol."

††††††††††† "Well, they're young and strong. They can handle it. No, seriously, without this fresh supply of young people this town would just be us old folks growing grayer and nursing grudges against each other."

††††††††††† "We're not so bad," I said.

††††††††††† "Maybe not, but these young folks keep the rest of us young."

††††††††††† We sipped our beers for a few minutes, listening to the music that constantly played in the bar.

††††††††††† "Laszlo," he asked, "what's the most valuable thing in the world?"

††††††††††† "Emeralds," I ventured. "No, of course not. Not really valuable, just rare. Computer chips maybe, pound for pound. I've heard spacecraft are right up there on dollars per gram."

††††††††††† "The human brain," he said, "the human brain. And every person has one. That's why we respect each other. A human brain is the key to understanding language, mathematics, the physical world, and art. If you destroy a computer chip or even a spacecraft, or kill an animal, you get a short prison sentence or maybe just a fine. But if you destroy a human brain, if you kill someone, that puts you in a unique class of criminals."

††††††††††† "OK," I said, "I'm with you. And each student coming to town brings a fresh new brain."

††††††††††† "It's going to change. In a few years human brains will no longer be the most valuable things in the world. Machine brains will be more valuable. Then what you and I have in our heads will just be a couple more lumps of tissue."

††††††††††† I thought about this for a minute, then said, "Maybe we could design intelligent machines to value human brains."

††††††††††† "Do you think that's how the guys at Episcopalian Jihad designed their machine?"

††††††††††† "Not likely, as a secret project at a hedge fund."

††††††††††† There were some students sitting next to us. Bogus asked them, "Hi guys. What are you studying?"

††††††††††† They took a second to look at Bogus, and then one answered, "Computer Science."

††††††††††† "Have you guys been programming for long?"

††††††††††† "Learned in high school. I wanted to know how games worked."

††††††††††† "Let me ask you, do you think computers will ever be able to think, to be as smart as you are?"

††††††††††† "My dad says it will never happen. I think it might."

††††††††††† "So what do you think about it? Will it be a good thing?"

††††††††††† "I guess it would be all right. Unless an evil genius builds them."

††††††††††† "Yeah, that's good. An evil genius." Bogus turned back to me. "You know, I wanted to get really drunk tonight but I've had enough. Let's call it a night. Come see me tomorrow."

 

Dying Priors

 

††††††††††† At about noon I found Bogus energetically typing at his keyboard. "Any developments?" I asked.

††††††††††† "You know how I've programmed my system to look for certain patterns that fit assumed prior distributions. Well, I keep statistics on these, to tell me how often each prior works and to adjust them. Over the past 24 hours they are mostly declining. Of course they usually bounce up and down. But this is the first time I've seen a systematic movement. And it is statistically significant. It's like the entropy of the Internet is increasing. It's becoming more chaotic."

††††††††††† "I always thought the Internet was a sort of controlled chaos."

††††††††††† "Yes, but there are persistent patterns. Now events on the net are less predictable. Of course, it's smart to be less predictable. For example to use a different password for each of your accounts. Or to randomly vary which web search engine you use. Are net users suddenly becoming smarter en masse? The alternate explanation is that people and things on the net are less predictable because they're becoming a little crazier. That everyone and everything is a bit stressed."

††††††††††† "I've been feeling a bit stressed lately, but that's because of this thing you've found. I guess you must be stressed too."

††††††††††† "Of course. The real question is whether it's happening to everyone. I'm guessing that it is. I seriously doubt that people are getting smarter. I think these Episcopalian Jihad guys are creating stress all over."

††††††††††† "Do you see any evidence of that? You said you couldn't see any sign of them."

††††††††††† "No, but they're probably just too smart for me. Think of it in geometric terms. A prior is really a probability distribution, a non-negative function enclosing a total volume of exactly unity. It can have a simple shape, like a normal distribution, or it can have a very complex shape. Maybe to see these guys I have to give my system prior distributions with complex shapes in spaces of many dimensions. To me they just look like random noise. But if I was smart enough I'd see certain very complex patterns of intentional behavior."

††††††††††† "I'm having a little trouble keeping up, brother," I said.

††††††††††† "Think of it like a magician's razzle dazzle. You see a flurry of activity, but hidden in there are his intentional actions. Or Steganography, where a message might be hidden in the low-level noise bits of an image file."

††††††††††† "Let me go back. So you think they're slowly and subtly driving everyone crazy?"

††††††††††† "Maybe. How's Megan been lately? Is she stressed?"

††††††††††† "We really enjoyed the trip west. Chilled us right out. She said work was busy yesterday."

††††††††††† "Let's keep our eyes open for signs of stress in our fellow citizens. And I'm going to continue trying to find a way to use my irregulars to find these guys."

 

Economic Chaos

 

††††††††††† We didn't have to wait long for signs of stress. Within two weeks the stock market had its biggest crash ever. Bigger than 1929 and bigger than the legendary crashes of the Nineteenth Century. It was global of course, and not just in stocks. Apparently the value of the derivatives market was more than the Earth was worth, and that all came unraveled. Falling asset values triggered lots of individual and corporate bankruptcies, who defaulted on their debts triggering more bankruptcies. A scenario every economist studies in school. Tax revenues fell and governments had a hard time finding people with money to borrow from, so budgets were slashed. There were massive layoffs in private and public sectors. Including me. What's one sys admin more or less? But as a doc Megan's job was fairly secure.

††††††††††† "I'm so sorry to hear that, Laszlo," Bogus said when I told him. "Let me know if you need any money."

††††††††††† "Thanks so much, old friend. But weren't you hurt in the crash?" I asked.

††††††††††† "You know me, paranoid to a fault. I was mostly in t-bills. Government hasn't defaulted yet."

††††††††††† "Do you think they might?"

††††††††††† "You and I both know this crash was caused by those Jihad guys. Now there will be plenty of folks running around like the proverbial chickens with their heads cut off, but there will also be some voices of reason trying to salvage the economy. I will bet those Jihad guys will be sabotaging those voices of reason. They're still manipulating. In fact, now it's gotten easier for them. They love chaos. Makes their opposition stupid, but these guys are so smart they can actually see the pattern in the chaos. At any rate, to answer your question, it wouldn't amaze me if the feds started defaulting on debt."

††††††††††† "Are you still operating your irregulars? What are they telling you?"

††††††††††† "The entropy of the net is of course increasing fast. But I'm not giving up. I'm still trying to find order in all this mess."

††††††††††† "You do look a bit worn out. Are you sleeping and eating right? Getting some exercise? It's just when you are under stress, and tempted to let these things go, that you need them most. Your brain is part of your body. It won't work if your body falls apart."

††††††††††† "You're right. Maybe I'll hang this up for a while. How about a bike ride?"

††††††††††† So we went for a pleasant ride around the lake. Bogus promised me he would eat a healthy dinner and go to bed early.

††††††††††† Over dinner I said to Megan, "Bogus offered to give me some money today."

††††††††††† "That'll help," she replied. As DINKS, double-income-no-kids, we'd never had to worry much about money. But now our finances were a bit shaky and it was affecting our relationship.

††††††††††† "He's looking pretty stressed out. We went for a bike ride and he said he'd get enough sleep tonight."

††††††††††† "Well, I'm pretty stressed out too. There are huge cutbacks at the hospital. It's much more difficult to do our jobs." Along with the rest of the staff, she'd had to accept a pay cut and wasn't too happy about it at all. She asked, "Did you work on the garden today?"

††††††††††† "A little, this morning." We had a one-acre lot and figured that we should get serious about growing some food, just to be safe.

††††††††††† "We're getting started late, so we can't afford to be slow about it."

††††††††††† "I'll work on it all day tomorrow, I promise."

††††††††††† The dogs were hanging around, as they always did during meals. They'd already had theirs but were always interested in food. It didn't help that we occasionally gave them table scraps. They loved pizza crusts.

††††††††††† Megan asked, "Maybe Bogus can give you a job?"

††††††††††† "I think he'd rather just give me the money. Not sure if I could contribute much."

††††††††††† We finished our meal in silence.

 

Political Chaos

 

††††††††††† With so many people out of work and, as Bogus had predicted, the voices of reason unable to get their message across, hardship, anger, crime and violence were on the upswing. People wanted the government to do something, and it displayed tragic incompetence. Like the New Orleans flood but nation wide. Actually, it was happening worldwide.

††††††††††† This provided fertile ground for all sorts of political nut-jobs, on the left, on the right and just plain nuts. There was a spate of recall elections, including one against Wonder Woman. She lost to Helga Hundsdottir, who promised to restore order at any cost.

††††††††††† It was a Tuesday morning when I got the call from Bogus, "Laszlo, I've been arrested. Charged with blackmail, illegal access to and theft of data from thousands of computers, bribery and being an unregistered agent of a foreign power. Please hire Al Geddes to represent me."

††††††††††† In a way I had always expected something like this, but for a second I couldn't speak. "OK, Bogus. Can I bring you anything? Anything you need me to do at your house?"

††††††††††† "You can't get into my house. They came early this morning with warrants and are tearing the place apart. Please just get me Al Geddes."

††††††††††† Geddes took his case. It had become a cause for Helga Hundsdottir and other crazy politicians. They were trying to depict Bogus as a sort of terrorist, with the result that Bogus was being held without bail and his assets were frozen. I didn't know anything about the defense they were planning and didn't want to. The best way for me to help was simply to visit Bogus in jail as often as possible.

††††††††††† "Hey Bogus," I asked during my first visit, "how are you doing in here? Anything I can do to help?"

††††††††††† "Hey Laszlo, great to see you. This place stinks but I'm staying sane. I'm amusing myself by telling my fellow inmates how the world's descent into madness is being driven by the Jihad guys with super-intelligent machines. Some of these guys have no difficulty believing me. Of course, they'd believe me if I told them it was a plot by space aliens."

††††††††††† "There's something I don't understand," I said. "Why are these Jihad guys driving the world into such craziness? I assume that after the market crash they pretty much had all the money in the world. Why keep pushing?"

††††††††††† "They can't leave democracy intact. Ask yourself, how do we allocate resources? We use a market economy where people buy things according to their ability to earn money. Now what happens once these guys invent intelligent machines? The machines can do every job better and cheaper than any human, so everyone is unemployed and no one can earn a living. Except maybe a few who can live off their investments. At any rate, once almost everyone is starving and homeless, they are going to elect a government that will find a different way to allocate resources. In the absence of any market mechanism, that would be equal allocation of resources."

††††††††††† "Communism? But they tried that in the Twentieth Century and it didn't work."

††††††††††† "The main problem was that it didn't correctly reward hard work, so no one worked hard, so there weren't many resources to allocate. But once you've got intelligent machines, they produce all the resources. So people can slack off all day. Which poses its own problems. But better than this mess we've got now, huh?"

††††††††††† "But the Jihad guys seem to prefer the current mess to a world of equal allocation to idle people."

††††††††††† "They see it differently than we do. The kingdom is magic only if you're the king."

††††††††††† "Would society work with equal allocation and everyone idle?"

††††††††††† "People might not be so idle. Are retired people idle? People could spend time with their family and friends. They could play sports and games. They could enjoy the arts and sciences. Some would get drunk or play video games all the time. But hey, those would be their lives to live as they pleased. And we could still have a multi-party democracy even with everyone on the dole."

††††††††††† "Well, this place doesn't seem to have broken your spirit. Is there anything I can do to help you?"

††††††††††† "Just come to see me in here. There isn't much else you can do. Oh, by the way, I got a letter from my Providence attorney notifying me that he no longer represents me." It wasn't something we wanted to say out loud, but we both understood this probably meant his ex-attorney would be testifying against Bogus.

 

Social Chaos

 

††††††††††† Things were bad enough at home with my unemployment and the incredibly difficult time Megan was having at work. But the highly publicized charges against Bogus were too much. "Blackmail," Megan had screamed at me. My feeble explanation that I had at least protected my personal friends only made her more disgusted. "You're a pair of sociopaths," she said, "drunken sociopaths." The news reports told the world that I was close to Bogus. At work and among her acquaintances, Megan was now regarded as a close associate of one terrorist and possibly the wife of another. I really don't feel up to reporting our conversations about this except to say that the result was that she asked me to leave.

††††††††††† I didn't have anywhere to go. Bogus's house was locked up by the police and there wasn't anyplace else. But under the circumstances I didn't want to stay. Even if she hadn't thrown me out I'd rather sleep in the gutter than see Megan so constantly angry with me. So I changed into rugged clothes that would last me a while and filled a backpack with a few toiletries, socks and underwear. Also a couple jars of peanut butter, high in calories. Even in my despair I was trying to think. Perhaps I was a sociopath.

††††††††††† I joined the exploding homeless population. It seemed that every couple was splitting up, half the children in the country had run away, and everyone else was simply evicted. I became focused on the simple necessities. I slept under a tight little grove of pine trees in the university forest. A good hiding spot and some shelter from the rain. I slept with an iron pipe in case I needed to defend myself. I ate whatever I could find. I stole food and ate out of dumpsters. The Episcopal Church served meals for the homeless. I didn't tell them about Episcopalian Jihad. Probably no connection. There was a big question about what I'd do once the weather turned cold. But, I figured, with any luck I'd be dead by then.

††††††††††† I continued to visit Bogus in jail, but after his trial and conviction he was transferred to the state prison and I didn't have any way to get there. He told me he was surprised that human society was hanging on as long as it was. All he could think of was that the Jihad guys knew they'd won so there was no rush to finish us off. Perhaps they were even a little squeamish about it. But more likely they were engaged in more important work, creating a new world for themselves. Heaven only knew where that was. Actually, Bogus said, they probably had a number of locations. They'd probably cleared the humans off some area of Earth, and also had facilities in space. They'd probably used technology to enhance their own brains and bodies, perhaps even shed their human bodies altogether. No way to tell. It was Vinge's Singularity, opaque to ordinary humans.

 

Biological Chaos

 

††††††††††† When the weather started to cool off in the fall I was still alive. I was successfully coping with the homeless life. I tried to see Megan but all she had for me were tears and anger. I could sense that her reaction was not entirely about me. She was going slowly crazy. We were all going crazy.

††††††††††† The cold got the better of me and I came down with a cough and my gut was a bit messed up too. After three weeks it just kept getting worse, so I decided I'd have to find some medical care. The only thing I could think of was to go to the university clinic. I had to stand in line for two hours just to get in. I showed the admitting clerk my university ID but she said it was no longer valid since I was laid off. Then it occurred to me that I was still married to Megan and might be able to get in that way. It worked, and the clerk told me to sit down until I was called. All the seats were full so I sat on the floor. I could see why Megan's work was so stressful. This was like some third world clinic.

††††††††††† After another two hour wait, I was called to see Dr. Cheswick. I only had to wait a couple minutes in the little exam room before he came in.

††††††††††† "Mr. Wilkes," he asked, "you have a persistent cough and intestinal distress?"

††††††††††† "Yes."

††††††††††† He asked me a long series of questions about my health history. Then he put on gloves and gave me a physical exam. When he had finished, he said, "You've probably got a new virus that's going around. There isn't much you can do except to keep warm, eat well and get plenty of rest."

††††††††††† "This is a new virus, did you say?"

††††††††††† "Yes."

††††††††††† "Probably invented by the Episcopalian Jihad," I said.

††††††††††† "I'm an Episcopalian," he said with a bit of anger. "What are you talking about?"

††††††††††† "Sorry doc," I replied. "It's just the name of a defunct hedge fund. They probably weren't real Episcopalians. I've been living on the street. It's making me a little crazy. Say doctor, what's my prognosis with this virus?"

††††††††††† "We don't know for sure. Too new. But I would recommend staying warm and getting rest. If you live on the street, I'd recommend traveling to a warmer climate soon."

††††††††††† "Thanks doc," I said. There was no way I was going to leave College Town.

 

Meditation

 

††††††††††† I was living like a wild animal, sick, cold, hungry and alone. Everything had been taken away from me. Then I thought, not quite everything. I still had the most valuable thing in the world, a human brain. Well, it used to be the most valuable thing in the world. Now there was something more valuable, a machine brain.

††††††††††† I was living through an almost unique moment in history, on a par with the first appearance of life on Earth and the first appearance of humans. Now there was a brain that could grow to whatever limits were set by physics. How I wished that I could have a conversation with that brain.

††††††††††† I tried to think like Bogus. How would he understand this moment? He was always talking about priors, trying to find patterns in the world around him. The No Free Lunch Theorem says that in a totally random world, without priors and patterns, intelligence is impossible. Since intelligence clearly exists, the world must be full of priors and patterns. But Bogus had said that the priors he programmed into his system were failing. Then all sorts of familiar patterns in our world had broken down. So what did that mean?

††††††††††† I wished I could run this past Bogus. But it seemed to me that perhaps we'd had our conversation with the super-intelligent machine brain. Its message to us had been a random, chaotic world, without any patterns that we could see, where our brains could not work and hence could not compete with it.

††††††††††† My last thought was a happy one, a little pride in myself. The great machine brain, heir to the universe, had said something to humanity and I was one of the few who even understood that it had spoken.