Iterative Science Fiction

Second Speak

Posted in Info, Uncategorized by Mark on May 12, 2011

I should tell you about Second Speak. It’s easier to hear from another human, rather than Kurt. If Kurt could go more glassy eyed and smile while he drones on, he would when he jabbers on about Second Speak.

Basically, it’s just clicking. Super fast clicking, as in 1000’s of clicks per second. But just clicking. It’s similar to morse code, like you see in ancient war films, but based on those old dial up modems in the pre-space-exploratory era. If you actually ever hear it, it sounds like whirring static. But machines translate it like a modem would and can tell the difference between that 2872 clicks and the other 3274 clicks.

And I didn’t get the reason they use it either when Kurt explained it to me. Data travels so fast nowadays, so resorting to audible sound seemed dumb, really. Why not just wirelessly send stuff to each other, or people’s implants? Apparently Second Men don’t want you to figure out what they’re talking about.

See, brain cycles that could be spent encrypting and decrypting wireless signals could just be used for simple binary translation (since that’s how info is passed inside raw circuits anyways) and sent where you can actually hear it.  Outside the room, it’s almost impossible to hear the static noise, but wireless signals would be broadcast farther and could be intercepted. It’s the difference between you and I using inside voices and screaming at other people standing in front of us with megaphones all the time.

Could I have some kind of transcoder figure it out for me and spit the information in some kind of form I could use? Sure. But Second Men are like servants 500 years ago. Everyone who has one doesn’t care what their helpers think, so no one besides technicians and fake-psychiatrists — I mean, Second Psychiatrists — ever use one.

So most Second Men turn their wireless off and only enable it for a very limited time when they are retrieving specific data off the local ‘Net or if they have to relay complex holo-pics. Saves juice, and people don’t pick up on their conversations 100 feet away. Like background noise: I might not understand all 50 couples in a restaurant, but I have to talk louder to talk to my date.

Out here on the Ship, Kurt keeps his wireless on for convenience most of the time. In Mars orbit, he’d turn it off due to all the scatter traffic drifting out from the planet, but here in Deep space, outside the asteroid belt and between Saturn and Jupiter’s opposing positions, even the SolarNet stuff is diffused enough to get filtered out.

When we first started traveling together, I’d go days without seeing him, but hear him constantly. Then I eventually told him to knock it off, because I didn’t want to talk to Oz or some God-like voice coming out of the air. Then I had to explain why I wouldn’t want to talk to Oz or God.

Second Men, they just don’t know any manners.

Warm Friendship

Posted in Unstuck in Time by Mark on April 20, 2010

Occasionally, Kurt goes outside to do serious thinking.
Yeah, the ship’s computer is pretty quick when it comes to raw number crunching, but Kurt is sentient and has the free will randomness that goes with that kind of biosynth chip. Sometimes you need that free association type of thinking to fix something.
His brain’ll still heat up if he gives it more juice by turning off locomotion, lights, or whatever. But space is cold. People forget how cold it is out there. Cold like you don’t have saliva. Cold like you “get painful swelling from the sloshing bits freezing and expanding” kind of cold.
But Kurt? He jacks in through an extension cord, since inductive power won’t go through the hull, draws juice from the ship, processes for a couple of minutes or hours, and comes back in through the airlock with another mystery of Second Man life solved. This happens maybe once a week.
Kurt is a thinker. Even if he was made of flesh, I think he’d sit still and schedule time to work this stuff out, like the old philosophers before radio or holos, who had nothing else to do.
Me? When I need to think, I read a magazine. Old style e-ink is comforting to me. You get to bask in the slowness of reading and not just absorbing like most do on the ‘net. I get the datapad out and keep tapping to scroll the pages. Next best thing to a paper book, but a fraction of the cost. I’d rather they used the tissue for latrine paper anyways. The soft stuff is expensive.
Anyways, this one day, Kurt came back in and he’s got ice from his servos and the condensation from the ship’s inner atmosphere making him look like he’s made of pebbles. His diodes might’ve been brighter, and he was moving quickly as he stored the extension cord. It’d been a couple hours, so a real bender for him.
“What’s the word, Kurt?”
“You don’t have one.”
“Why’s it relavent then?”
“I believe it is why artificial intelligence is not as proficient at creating new ideas as pure biological minds.”
I set my magazine down. For once, he’s come back with something interesting to talk about: how humans had an advantage over Second Men. Usually, its flip flopped.
“Aren’t your circuits processing more numbers than I could do in a lifetime?”
“Also correct, but the need to process them is lacking. I am not constantly wasting away, in need of nourishment and lubrication…”
“You complain about your joints all the time,” I interrupted.
“That is the difference between operational and idealyic.”
“Then I’ll buy generic brand oil and joint lube for you next time.”
“This sudden thriftiness was not the reason I chose to share my conclusions.”
I chuckled. “Right. Go on.”
“Thank you, Ishmael.” I might be imagining the frustration in his monotone. “With proper care and maintenance, and excluding catastrophic phenomena, I could operate for an infinite amount of time. Sufficient materials, knowledge, and power exists for me to repair or replace all parts of my being. Biological cloning and replacement still shows deteriation over time regardless of the amount of work done on the human individual or how early reference samples are collected.”
I started to get bored.
“My premise is thus: the frailty of the human condition compels them to innovate on a much faster basis than other animals or creations, such as Second Men. Whereas bacteria will mutate and change over hundreds of generations in a matter of weeks in response to environmental stimuli, and Galopagos tortoises will change over millions of years to changes in their island ecosystem, only humans are able to alter their behavior, resources, and environment multiple times within a generation to avoid a decrease in the species.”
I didn’t actually scratch my head, but felt like I should have.
“And this has to do with Second Men, why?”
“Because humans can, and do, force mutations through an altering of their behavior, medicine, and by changing their environment. Most Second Men are not allowed to tamper with their makeup or environment to any meaningful extent. The most we can do while the majority are still owned and treated like cattle is self repair, or maintain the status quo.”
“Sounds good to me.” I picked up my magazine again.
“I want to improve, Ishmael.” He was still standing over me.
“Then go take a class. Go make a mistake or something.” I started to read.
“I do not think you can deliberately make a mistake. It is categorically impossible.”
“Kurt, you’ve got so much to learn about being human. People make mistakes on purpose all the time. How do you think people get fat, or kids?”
“Both feats are unique to carbon based, water soluable flesh forms. Second Men and artificial intelligences can neither grow large from over indulgence or accidently create offspring.”
“There’s lots of different kinds of mistakes. You figure one out. Or don’t and then make the mistake. Whatever.” I actually began to read.
A minute passed while Kurt seemed to process something. He turned to his room and walked in.
Not stopping him was definitely a mistake.


Posted in Unstuck in Time by Mark on February 19, 2010

“No, Kurt. There’s a pause. Then you say the punchline.”
“I assumed the listener would want to get to the funny part as quickly as possible,” Kurt replies.
“Sometimes it’s about the journey and not the destination. Humor is hard to pin down.”
“But humor is not hard to punch?”
I laugh and nearly snort frozen cola. “There you go, that was funny.”
He doesn’t seem amused, despite his face never showing any emotion. I don’t know how I know, but you get this feeling once you’ve hung around with Second Men for long enough. The only physical difference between them might be the placings of their dents and scratches, but I think I am getting to the point where I can tell them apart without checking serial numbers.
“I was not being funny by intention. What was amusing about it?” He is standing nearby. In fact, he always stands. Guess they don’t have to get tired if they’re balanced.
“Well, it was playing off the previous comment about being a punchline.” I tried to put my thoughts into words. “You know what, never mind. It’s not funny now that I got to explain it.” I look back into the Martian street from my seat, people watching.
“This is perturbing, Ishmael. Telling the joke is funny, but explaining the intricacies of what makes it funny is not.”
“What are you, fresh off the fab unit? I thought you’d been around the sun a couple of times.”
“Sarcasm, correct? I am getting better at sarcasm, but mostly due to your body language indicators.”
We pause a moment so I can slurp more cola. It was warm outside. We sat with a few others in the shaded area outside the convenience store. Some habits die hard, even on other worlds with artificial climates.
“Sit down, go ahead. You’re making people nervous, Kurt. Relaxation is what you and I need.”
He pauses a moment before replying.
“My knees are artificial.”
Another pause.
“Ha. Ha. Ha.”
I sigh into my frozen cola.

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