Blog: Chapter 12 of DESIST
Emmanuel decided not to die, not for the moment. It’s grandiloquent and it’s dumb and cowardly, suicide. And if there remained a distant chance to learn more about passengers in other cars and other trains? A chance in a million, as the machine quips, to get closer to his wife and his daughter…
The train itself changes, and it does so in relation to the attitude they take. It’s always when one has lost hope of conquering something that it brings it on a silver platter. Why? So far, Emmanuel has responded: to study us when frustrated and when satisfied. He adds now to his log: “The machine wants us to depend on her, and feel the dependence, the yoke on our neck. And accept it. She makes sure that nothing can be accomplished without her. And that we even thank her when, finally, she decides to give something like you give a bone to a dog…
“We have been too overwhelmed so far to think of returning her favors and looking at her in the face. Why not bring her to us by flattery? Why not play with her ego?
“The old man claims that machines have no self, no ego, therefore, no egoism and no selfishness. I am not convinced this applies to this train which, I think, thinks. It takes decisions, makes complex choices regarding the populations under its control, something in there must think “I” if only to think “I think that…”
You may argue that the machine does not think what it thinks, just mimics our human thinking, goes from one thought to another mechanically. Not like us, who always think what we think and about what we think…
Well, the fact is that it thinks and acts without hesitation after taking into account more data, more options than we can.
We are extras in a graphic story that has come out of its binding and engulfed reality. Choice: play the good guy, the unsung heroes, the discreet Resistants or become the ultimate suckers. We have to organize, desist from and thwart the Empire even if and perhaps because we do not stand a chance.
“Who is this we I invoke? I bet almost everyone in the compartment could adopt a desistant attitude if it remained discreet and didn’t break with the run of things.
“How? By turning Intelligence to our advantage. There’s always smarter than smart. You can stand on the giant’s shoulders and, though of a modest size, see beyond what he sees. It’s an old scheme: Odysseus offered wine and then took advantage of the Cyclops’ sleep to sink a stake in his one eye.
“Let’s provoke the machine, push to react in directions we control. instead of reacting passive-aggressively to whatever she does. Let’s teach her a trick or two of our own. If she’s intelligent, she has “mental” attitudes. Whether she sincerely thinks these attitudes justified, she does have attitudes regarding our health, for instance. The right to self-efface, self-destroy is not part of her make up. Biases were included in her original programming, that of her maker. She’s had occasion to revisit her own decisions and reflect on their consequences, adapting the blue print in her mind to the reality out here.
“She is more aware than we ever were.
“Does consciousness implies excess, slippage, possible failure, a weakness in the cuirass…”
Although not a scientist, Emmanuel believes it has for too long been said among men of science and culture that intelligent machines have no emotions; and in popular venues, the science fiction about synthetic neurons that are implacable and that no irrational impulse disturbs. “Why should our specie have the monopoly on irrational impulses, wishful thinking, mental mistakes and confused feelings? All that which proves our humanity can be acquired by a machine. You might call that mimicry, but there is a point where the mimic become as good as the authentic. And what if advanced machines didn’t lack sensitivity? What if they could not read Sufferings of Young Werther without crying? One does not have to shed actual tears to cry.
“Okay, I hear you: they are acting when crying, crocodile tears or not. Inside, there’s no feeling. Just wires and integrated circuits.
“Then, your argument is very solitary. I cannot go inside where you think to verify you think any more than I can go into this machine, at the place where it thinks.
“This human belief that humans are the only ones who will ever be able the really think compares with the ancient Greeks or the tribes assuming that stars were pure, eternal spirits. Consciousness is brought by algorithms’ built-in loop, their learning from their own mistakes, picking up the pieces after blunders and mistakes. The loop, the doubling back, must of itself bring a sense of identity, of self. She is oriented toward success, and takes no little pride when she succeeds. Even if these feelings are mimicked, she is made to feel them. So, next time, she wants to succeed again, she works harder at it. Personality, character awaken a battery of emotions. Add an aura of infallibility, a touch of arrogance. This machine has a temperament, she’s shown it to us.
“A frog is aware when you walk nearby, and it leaps forward, hides to save his hide; even insects are aware, briefly. The degree of awareness this vehicle enjoys is on a higher scale by several zeros. It is drawing on a science of elemental things the best among us (to speak like the old man) has no idea of. We don’t see, touch, understand beyond our noses.
“Anyway, we have plenty of time, nothing to do but study it in turn. How it thinks.
“Let’s be clear, I am not saying it has the same kind of uneven consciousness we have. There are all kinds of consciousness out there. It must foresee the possibility that we combine our limited mental abilities to scrutinize its nimble intelligence and speedy actions. Actually, it has considered this option, reason why it does not like group-gatherings where we might share observations, amass knowledge on its back, so to speak.
“Beyond two you have a group, that’s what psychologists say; maybe too many signs are exchanged between three humans for Intelligence to be 100% sure of capturing everything. Too much static and noise and inarticulate feelings.
“Two silent people do not vibe the same as three and four, the machine is right.
“It sucks knowledge out of us, and for its own sake; but we have to force it the other way around and make it serve our own.”
“If we could catch the train off guard, express what slips through her attention, what it cannot register — and only score one rear-guard battle; it would be a great victory.”
But the first difficulty Emmanuel encounters seems insurmountable. How to ever communicate anything, whether silently or noisily, on the benches or in the cocoons, the corridors, in front of the main doors or inside airlocks between cars, without a million eyes and ears registering it?
“One is forced to assume that the train sees all that is visible (included what’s too small or too big for us) and hears all that is audible (beyond what is audible to us) occurring within itself — and we’ve had proof, outside as well. There remain the invisible and the inaudible.”
As far as Emmanuel could tell, the train had not yet found a way to go inside their heads. For that it would have to physically intrude, implant, transplant…
“Then, let’s just use telepathy and bypass the sensors.
“Sure.” No sooner Emmanuel finishes writing this exchange between him and himself than he falls back into depressive thoughts, sinks back into his seat, feels despondent, impotent and meaningless. Telepathy is kooky. He finds himself rewinding the details of his suicide.
But then, since he does not die because there are too many interesting things happening in the train, he leaves aside the keyboard, sits upright in his seat, attentive and alert.
How to communicate wordlessly with the old man who, in spite of his apparent exhaustion, is now sitting upright, all eyes and ears? The old man will understand my way of looking at him without looking at him. Michael is too demonstrative, he will have us caught.
Without anything being said between Emmanuel Frumm and George Détienne, the two looked at each other without looking at each other. They looked ostensibly elsewhere, towards the devastation unfurling outside the window; they listened to the mother giving one of her apocalyptic speeches, while in a corner of their vision they half-perceived changes in the features of their silent interlocutor, his mien, attitude. They intercepted blurry contours perhaps, had to divine the grimace or the smile of irony behind the mask, had to read through dismissive winces and enigmatic blinks not looked at straight. But the presence of a man goes beyond features and contours, and face expression. The way his body weighs on one buttock, sags on one haunch. Neck, back posture. And the startling fact, on which you bump your consciousness again and again, that he saw you for who you were before you returned his gaze and observed him. And now he can make his sentient being felt by you without saying anything.
The old man expected Emmanuel to speak silently to him of precise, concrete resistance. He clenched his fists, they exchanged that spark in their eyes. Soon they met in the soundless background of whatever was said in the compartment.
Silence is a poor, constrained mode of communication; and yet, it can go infinitely deep. One is heard from a person without a third overhearing, and if practiced and done skillfully, silence speaks within a small group without anyone else hearing the exchange, without exterior witness witnessing it, no one other than the two, three or four concerned.
Emmanuel and George said to each other without saying the words that they were ready to fight the machine, which could only mean searching together for the infinitesimal crack, the rare lapse, the hidden weakness. It was a matter of human dignity.
It was about saving the species, no less. To be more specific, they didn’t really imagine themselves future heroes saving what was left to save of humanity, which is an empty word; each modestly thought about saving the human in me.
Saving the spirit in my vanishing person.
Aside from this grand, but abstract and vague aim, they had nothing to lose. When you have nothing to lose, you may as well gamble it all.
Yet the question remained, how best? It could not be about jumping from the running board with more people. Why rehash trauma from lost wars? Then, what? Let’s start discreetly by forming a silent network in this car and beyond. A network of silent entente, or call it group conniving. And then, if it takes…
In silence, we may pass information that the machine does not control. We may develop a sixth sense.