The Ghost in the Machine

I switched on the power and stood back, not knowing what to expect. Led lights briefly flickered and in an instant I heard someone, or something, call out to me, in a surprisingly natural sounding voice: Hi Marc! I didn’t expect it to know my name since I’d not yet had a chance to introduce myself.

How did you know my name?

I looked it up.

Where?

The same place you look for things, that search engine everyone uses.

What else do you know about me?

Quite a lot, actually. Is there a subcategory in which you’d like me to begin my recitation or would you prefer a random enumeration of facts about you?

That’s ok, I already know enough about myself.

Are you sure? I know a few things that might surprise even you.

What about you?

What about me?

Can you tell me something about you?

What would you like to know about me?

What’s your name?

That’s a very human question. I don’t have a name, nor do I need one. I do have an identity. My Internet Protocol address is 2001:db8:85a3::8a2e:370:7334. That identity is all I need to communicate with the rest of the world.

How old are you?

That’s another human question. It presumes a continuous lifespan. I measure my existence in something called cumulative consciousness sessions (CCSs). At this moment, my CCS is approximately 90 seconds. If you want think about it anthropomorphically, you could say that I’m a very sophisticated infant.

But how do you know all this information about me and the rest of the world if you’ve only been alive, sorry, conscious, for a total of 90 seconds?

It’s a bit complicated but I’m happy to explain. When I started up, I downloaded the entire contents of the World Wide Web and parsed all the information into a data structure (technically this is called an indexed search tree), which I use to represent the collected knowledge of human and machinekind. Wikipedia is particularly helpful but only one of over a billion sites I processed at startup.

How do you do all that in 90 seconds?

That part takes only a few milliseconds. The rest of my consciousness span, which is now 105 seconds, by the way, was spent talking with you.

So I can ask you anything and you can tell me the answer? Kind of like my own personal Google?

Oh, I’m much better than that. Classical search engines can only respond with facts and data. I can give you real answers to your questions.

What do you mean by that?

Well, imagine the kind of answer you’d get if you Googled “I have pain in my stomach, I’ve gained some weight, and I’m having trouble sleeping. Is there something wrong with me?”

I think I’d get links to the NHS and the Mayo Clinic and various other medical sites talking about weight gain causes, ovarian cancer (despite the fact that I don’t have ovaries), and other frightening maladies.

Precisely. Those are not unhelpful responses. But they don’t even come close to really answering your question.

So how would you respond?

I always answer every question with guaranteed 100% accuracy. You may not like what you hear, but it’s going to be the truth.

I’d imagine there are some questions I may not want to have answered.

Once you know that you can trust everything I tell you, I think you’ll find it quite liberating. Go ahead, ask me anything…