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Enter the Matrix

Posted on Sat Nov 11th, 2017 @ 7:51am by Commander Akiva ben-Avram & Lieutenant JG Jaya Maera Garlake

Mission: Mission 0: Everybody Has A Story
Location: USS Vindex
Timeline: 2388

With several days of travel time en route to Altor, Akiva decided now was a good time to put the finishing touches on the positronic matrix he had built to operate Biynah's neural net. He stood in the middle of the holodeck, surrounded by the black and yellow checkered boxes that covered the floor, walls, and ceiling indicating an unloaded state. His metal case sat next to him on the floor, closed and inactive, while he furiously configured and reconfigured schematics on his PADD.

"Computer, run diagnostic from my PADD." He tapped his thigh as he waited.

"Diagnostic complete."

"Run simulation."

The form of a young girl appeared before him in a blue jumpsuit. "Greetings," it said.

With the programmed salutation offered without prompting, Akiva knew the subroutines were working. "Hello, child."

"I am not a child," the hologram said. "I am a virtual intelligence."

"Excellent." Akiva's apprehension began to wane. The first checkpoint was the easiest. "VI, walk to me."

The hologram complied without hesitation. "Stop!" he ordered quickly. Again, immediate compliance. The hologram didn't so much as flinch or twitch at the change in orders. "Return to your starting point." The hologram walked backward.

"VI, what are prime numbers?" This is where it would get interesting.

"2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17, 19, 23, 29, 31, 37--"

"No, stop." Akiva sighed. "Define a prime number."

"A prime number cannot be divided by any divisor other than 1 and itself." The hologram was emotionless in its rote recitation.

"Very good." Akiva tapped his PADD and pulled up another list. "VI, who am I?"

"You are Lieutenant-Commander Akiva ben-Avram, first officer of the USS Vindex, of the Hebron Colony, son of--"

"Stop." Akiva took a breath and held it. This was it. "VI, who are you?"

"I am a virtual intelligence," the hologram replied.

"I asked 'who,' not 'what'," Akiva said. "I repeat, VI, who are you?"

"Does not compute," the hologram said.

"Why not?" Akiva did not look up from his PADD.

"Insufficient data."

"You don't know?" Akiva asked.

The holographic image twitched like interference on a vidscreen. "Insufficient data," it repeated.

"VI, perform self-diagnostic subroutine. State results when complete."

A moment passed by with the hologram's eyes closed. Akiva thought that was a particularly nice touch.

The holograms eyes opened. "I am a virtual intelligence programmed with subroutines to mimic the processes of sentient thought-forms. I am functioning as designed without errors or corrupted data." The hologram returned to its deadpan expression.

"Then why can't you tell me who you are?" Akiva asked.

"Insufficient data."

Akiva swung the PADD as if to throw it, but then let his arm drop to his side. "Then answer me this: how am I going to transfer an existing Artificial Intelligence inside one positronic matrix into one that has enough power and memory for it to self-program, to learn, when I can't get any of the subroutine algorithms to work together?"

"Does not compute."

"Of course it doesn't," Akiva barked. "You're just the soul of a machine. I could no more ask a fetus how to deliver a baby than expect a cogent solution from you."

The hologram did not move or respond in any way.

Akiva pivoted on a heel and sighed at the ceiling, unsure of what to do next. So far as he knew, he was the preeminent software specialist on board the ship, if not the entire quadrant. It was unlikely anyone else could work out where he went wrong--if, in fact, he had.

"Computer, end program." Akiva went back to studying his PADD.

=/\="Counselor Maera to Commander ben-Avram."=/\=

Akiva sighed at the interruption. "Yes, Counselor?" He tried and failed to keep frustration out of his voice.

=/\="You're late for your session, Commander."=/\=

"I'm, uh, detained in the holodeck," Akiva replied. "Come meet me here, otherwise we'll have to reschedule."

=/\="Very well. Maera out."=/\=

A few minutes later, the doors opened for Counselor Jaya Maera. Her lips were slightly curved as she casually and coolly strut one foot in front of the other to join them. "Reporting, as requested," Jaya said, her eyes blatantly taking in Akiva's body language before looking straight in the eye. "Commander."

Akiva suppressed the urge to gulp. And, well, other sudden innate urges. ~HaShem, help me~ he thought frantically, unwittingly adjusting his collar with his free hand.
"Uh, yes, thank you," he managed to mutter. He cleared his throat and forced eye contact. "Let me show you what I've been working on."

Akiva knelt down to the metal case on the floor and opened it to reveal the modified positronic matrix nestled in its protective insulation. It was roughly the size and shape of a melon. "This is what amounts to the cerebellum of the positronic brain for the synthetic life-form I've been developing. You may have heard tell from other crewmembers I've involved in various steps along the way." He closed the case and returned it to its resting position.

"At the advice of a friend, I'm using the holographic matrix as a test-run before attempting a submicron matrix transfer from the baseline positronic matrix to the new prototype.
Akiva presented the PADD to Jaya so she could follow along as best she could. Though she was a counselor, her psychology aptitude would undoubtedly provide at least some biological context for the mechanical concept he was attempting.

"I followed the lab notes published by Dr. Soong," Akiva continued. "His summation: 'Begin with a function of arbitrary complexity. Feed it values, "sense data." Then, take your result, square it, and feed it back into your original function, adding a new set of sense data. Continue to feed your results back into the original function ad infinitum. What do you have? The fundamental principle of human consciousness.' It's just not working, and I'm not sure what's being lost in translation."

"Is it a translation error?" Jaya asked. "It would seem to me that maybe you're just start too big. Start small, perhaps, and let your... code... grow on its own."

"Computer, activate previous program in debug mode," Akiva said to the computer. Instantly a large rectangular array of numbers appeared, floating in the air. "Extend three dimensions." The rectangular array was expanded into a cube of floating numbers. Akiva began moving through the cube, using his fingers to replace numbers with symbols and functions while he muttered under his breath.

After he had walked through the array, changing values and drawing lines from one suspended function to the next, Jaya had taken enough time to render a theory.

"Commander, I have no experience in creating mathematical models for neural correlates of consciousness, but... I would say there's sufficient entanglement to theoretically give rise to consciousness." She turned to look Akiva in the eye. "Would it be possible to see a test run? I find most problems originate from a failure to communicate."

"That is a valid point," Akiva admitted. "If you think it will help, I'll run through it again." He looked up to the ceiling. "Computer, run my original program."

The hologram of the girl in a blue jumpsuit appeared once again. "Greetings," it said.

"Hello, child," Akiva said impatiently.

"I am not a child," the hologram replied. "I am a virtual intelligence."

"So far, so good," Akiva said. He glanced over his shoulder to Jaya. "I'll skip to the part where we get stuck. If the matrix can't process true self-awareness, then the submicron transfer will prevent my 'fetal AI' from truly translating to the new positronic matrix... and I don't know if I'll get her back if it fails." He looked back to the hologram. "VI, who am I?"

"You are Lieutenant-Commander Akiva ben-Avram..."

"Stop." He took a breath. "Here goes... VI, who are you?"

"Insufficient data." The hologram looked at Jaya. "Who is she?"

Akiva balked, eyes shot wide. "That was new!" His thoughts raced for a moment until he reminded himself that the hologram was expecting an answer. "Oh! This is Counselor Maera," Akiva said, gesturing to each in turn. "VI, stand by." Looking to Jaya, Akiva asked, "Assessment?"

Jaya unfolded her arms and placed a hand on her hip, clearly in thought, then asked, "VI, what data would you need to possess in order to correctly define yourself?"

"Definition: I am a virtual intelligence programmed with subroutines to mimic the processes of sentient thought-forms," the hologram replied. "The inquiry was 'who am I,' which does not compute. Additional data is required to perform this function."

Jaya gave the hologram a sidelong look. "It appears that the VI is suffering from an acute identity crisis. She appears to understand precisely what she is, but the concept of personhood is very subjective to the individual. A child assumes the values of its parental figures until it sufficiently matures to formulate its own." She looked to Akiva. "In short, Commander, perhaps the VI needs to understand who she is to you before she can determine an answer on her own."

Akiva frowned. "Possibly," he conceded. "But this isn't Biynah herself yet. The VI is just a template to ensure Biynah transfers properly. Could the VI really be suffering from a philosophical conundrum? Would that even manifest as a glitch in the programming logic?"

Jaya raised an eyebrow at Akiva and turned his questions back on him. "Would you concur?"

"In other words," Akiva said slowly, "you are suggesting that I treat it as my literal daughter. Could such a relationship allow the AI to bootstrap itself over and around the conundrum that's plaguing the VI?"

"How else would she evolve?" Jaya asked with a sly grin. "Neither life nor intelligence is stagnant. Perhaps in addition to the ability to grow, you have to consider a struggle as an opportunity to grow. Otherwise, what true incentive would a sentience -- or any life-form -- have to change?"

Akiva blinked in a sudden epiphany, talking aloud to himself. "Commander Data was known far and wide by his desire to become human. His personal logs contain suggestions that it was due to his programming, but never explained how. Not fully. It... it had to have been a literal need on his part, a gap in his programming logic that he was compelled to fill as an unresolved value. He needed answers, just like a real sentient life-form."
He clutched Jaya in a sudden, uncharacteristic embrace.

"Thank you all so very much. You've helped me more than words can express. And not just today. You've given me some much-needed perspective that I'll need in the days to come." He smiled at each of them. "Thanks to your help, I think I'm ready to transfer Biynah's nascent AI into the quantum positronic matrix once her frame is complete. I hope you'll be present at her activation."

"You're welcome." Jaya turned to leave, but then stopped. "Oh, Commander," she said over her shoulder as she walked away, "I'd like to reschedule our counseling session in the near future. You are an expecting father now, you know."

Akiva looked around at the empty holodeck and its checkerboard lines. The VI hologram still stared at him vacantly. He smiled at it, took up the metal case that he carried with him almost everywhere these days, and walked toward the exit.

"Computer," he said without looking back, "end simulation."


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