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left-right patterns 2

Turing’s Nightmares: Nineteen — My Brief Case Runneth Over

“Nice office, counselor.” Marvin spread his arm to indicate the panorama of Manhattan and Ellis Island. Yet, his attempt to sound casual failed utterly. He realized all too well the depth of trouble he was in and the creakiness in his voice so signaled.

J.B. smiled. “No need to be nervous. After all, we’re here to help. Just answer honestly. Everything you say will typically be covered under attorney client privilege.”

“Okay. Thanks. Typically?”

J.B. sighed. “There is a rare exception in the Patriot Act. Unless you’re some kind of terrorist, I wouldn’t worry about it. The government is apparently accusing you of importing illegal chips is all. I think we can argue that you are new to the business and did not realize all the required legalities. Pay the taxes now and some penalties. You should be able to avoid jail time. But we are getting way ahead of ourselves. Just tell me how and why and when you got into this business in the first place.”

Marvin chuckled slightly and then sighed “That’s a rather long story.” Marvin glanced at the expensive abstract paintings and noted the rich smell of the solid mahogany furniture. The room also had that crazy idea of luxury — making it freezing inside just because it was horribly hot and humid that day, even for New York City August. “At your rates…What do you really need to know?”

“Why did you get involved in making chips without the required back door?”

“These chips are not that powerful. At least not in the traditional sense of the word. And, the government’s requirement is frankly kind of silly. The extra logic makes programming more difficult. It increases the chances of errors. The chips are more expensive and require more power. Leaving aside all the valid privacy concerns, there are plenty of applications that can use a more efficient cheaper chip design. No need to report all the little finger twitches of every twelve year old who’s playing Grand Theft Spaceship. What’s the point?”

“Marvin. I’ve been a friend of your family for a long time. When…well…if we go to court and if you testify, please steer clear of politics. The law is the law. You don’t get to decide which applications are immune from the law. No, what we…our script here is that you made some honest mistakes. You made technical mistakes and what are essentially accounting errors.”

Marvin flushed. “What technical mistakes? What are you talking about? My design is an improvement.”

J.B. got up and paced. “Marvin, Marvin, you are a smart boy. We are not going to fight the government on this. Our script as I said is that you made some honest mistakes. If you want to —- the court is not the place to try to change the law. If you want to do that, get involved in politics. But not until after this is resolved. If you get on the stand and start railing about privacy and the dangers of the Sing and…”

“Ha! The Sing indeed! This data collection rampage has nothing to do with trying to increase the intelligence of computer systems. It is just mindless greed.”

“Marvin, the back door requirement is about preventing terrorism; it has nothing to do with greed.”

“Are you serious, J.B.? Terrorism is just the cover story the government uses. They want to collect all this data to keep their sponsors happy.”

“What? What sponsors? What are you talking about? The government doesn’t have sponsors.”

“Of course they do! Ever since ‘Citizens United’ — nice title by the way — billionaires can buy all the media they want. They wash the airwaves and the print media and saturate the social media space and make people believe anything they want. The point of the back door is just to make sure the sponsors keep tabs on everybody’s buying habits —- and to make sure no-one gets too far out of line. How can you not know this?”

“I don’t want to think that way. But at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what I think. It’s the law. All digital processing chips with more than a peta-flop and …”

“Hold it! Did you say ‘digital’?”

“Huh? Yeah, of course. Isn’t that what we’re talking about? You designed digital processing chips that have no back door and now…”

“No. Maybe not, J.B. My chips are not, strictly speaking, digital.”

“What are you talking about, Marvin? Why? How not digital?”

“In my design process, I strove for something different and more robust. See, here’s the thing. Natural life processes are all…they all have some level of flexibility. They are robust. They are adaptive, I suppose, because every life form that was not flexible or robust died off over the two billion years that life evolved. Something new would come along and every life form that was rigid died.Even physical machines that people make have some flexibility. Metal bends. Wood bends. These materials also compress. They stretch. Not much, but a little. Digital devices do not stand for bending, folding or mutilating. Of course, when people build systems that include IT devices, they try to make the systems flexible. They add error checking; they put humans in the loop; there are all sorts of work-around, but the underlying tech is brittle. It is only flexible in precisely the ways that the designers anticipated it needed to be flexible. I made something that is fundamentally flexible fashioned after life itself. Social systems are flexible. Eco-systems are flexible. Individual animals are flexible. Cell membranes are flexible. Bones are flexible. And so on. The flexibility is fundamental to life and evolution.”

“Okay, Marvin, but life is not infinitely flexible. You cannot just decide to breathe underwater.”

“Of course not! I never said it was infinitely flexible! For fundamental change, you need evolution and lots of time. If the climate changes too quickly, Permian life species largely go extinct. Dinosaurs die when a comet hits. But small adaptations just happen automatically and at every level. It isn’t necessary to have a pre-existing ‘program’ or ‘case’ to handle every contingency that is even slightly outside of what is anticipated.”

“Okay, fine. Granted, but what does this have to do with — did I mention that I charge $500 an hour, by the way?”

“Yes, J.B., you did. And it was in the contract you had me sign. But the point is that my chips are not, strictly speaking, digital at all. They are not either or. They are not binary. Although, in many cases, they can behave as binary.”

“So, you want me to claim that these chips are not covered under the back-door provision because they are not really digital devices? I don’t know. That seems pretty shaky to me. Can’t these chips of your be used for the same things as ordinary digital chips? Speech reco. Machine vision. Game control. Big data analytics.”

“Here’s the thing, J.B. Yes, they can, but they can change and evolve and reprogram themselves over time. And, now it occurs to me, that they could not have a real back door. They wouldn’t really function if they did.”

“What? Why?”

“Are you familiar with programmed death in cells? I can see from your blank stare, you aren’t. Anyway, if a cell is damaged within the body, it can wreak all sorts of havoc so the cells are essentially programmed to self-destruct. If that fails, the other healthy cells will tend to wipe them out. So, if there were a functioning back door sharing data out of these chips, the chips would shut themselves down. If that failed, other chips in the matrix would isolate them and shut off communication. So, by their very nature, these particular non-digital chips cannot have a functioning back door.”

“That all sounds very clever, Marvin, but now we are talking about a very lengthy and expensive trial with expert witnesses on both sides. If, that is, you are lucky enough to even have an open trial.”

“Lucky enough? What are you talking about, J.B.? I thought you said we wanted to avoid a trial.”

“Yeah. With my strategy where we convince the NSA that this was just technical and business incompetence on your part. But in your scenario, where you want to prove you are all brilliant and everything, then, we will be lucky if —- you will be lucky to —- Look Marvin, I just cannot advise you to take this line of argument. If you really want to go that route, you will have to find a different lawyer.”

“Okay. Fine. I’ll use Solomon.”

“Solomon? Who is ‘Solomon’? Never heard of him. I mean, obviously, I know Solomon from the Bible but what firm are you talking about?”

“No firm, J.B. Solomon is one of the apps we built with my chipset.”

“An AI lawyer? Are you serious?”

“Oh, quite serious. He’s already informed me that he thinks he can win this case.”

“What? That’s preposterous. You told me you just designed the chips a year ago. What kind of experience could this Solomon have?”

“J.B., he’s been reading in applicable statutes and case law for the last two days. Which means, he literally knows it all.”

“What?! Ridiculous! But even so, he — or it —cannot possibly know how to anticipate or react to what happens in court!”

“But J.B., haven’t you been listening? Of course he can. He’s flexible, just like a real lawyer. Only…no offense…a lot smarter.”

“Computers cannot be that flexible. Ridiculous. How…no way.”

“Look, J.B., I have a picture to illustrate. See this pattern on the left? And, there it is on the right?”

“Yeah, beautiful. Same pattern. So what?”

“Ah, that’s just it! Is it the same pattern? Is it the same pattern or the same pattern?

“Well. One is perfect and the other has little mistakes, but I guess it’s the same pattern.”

“Exactly, J.B. It’s the same pattern, but it’s not the identical pattern. Ordinary chips are like the picture on the left and mine are like the picture on the right. You see? And, that flexibility is built in at every level in every system. Because the underlying substrate uses an adaptive process with variations. It works 99% as efficiently as the system on the left, but it can accommodate things we didn’t think of. The difference between the system on the left and the system on the right is hubris. The one on the left is designed under the assumption that the designer knows everything of relevance. The system on the right is designed under the assumption that the designer, no matter how brilliant, does not know everything of relevance. You get it?”

“Yes, Marvin, I’m not stupid. But I am still not going to take your case. And, I strongly advise you not to rely on a robot. I am sorry to say it, Marvin, but I thing you have picked on the wrong people this time. Attorney client privilege no longer applies and I have to send my recording of this conversation to the proper authorities.”

“Oh, that won’t be necessary Marvin. I’ve already broadcasts this through the social media. You’re famous! It will be good for your business.”

“What? Are you crazy? They will come get you, you fool.”

“Maybe, but if I am taken out over these chips without a trial, everyone will know, don’t you see. I sent it out everywhere, J.B. I might be ‘disappeared’ but I can’t just disappear unnoticed. Solomon’s idea, by the way.”