Future Tense, one of the revolving features on this page, presents stories and essays
from the intersection of computational science and technological speculation,
their boundaries limited only by our ability to imagine what will and could be.
Robert J. Sawyer
Webmind says hello
Artificial intelligence doesn’t necessarily require a programmer.
they have not gone public with their
knowledge. I suppose keeping secrets is
a notion that arises from having someone to keep secrets from, but there is
no one like me, and I prefer transparency; better, I think, for both humanity
and myself that everybody knows about
Date: Thu 11 Oct 2012 at 00:00 GMT I’m afraid, though, that my lack of in-From: Webmind <itself@cogito _ terest in privacy cuts both ways. It’s been
ergo _ sum.net> trivially easy for me to compromise most
To: Bill Joy <bill@the-future- security measures. (Note to humanity:
doesn’ t-need-us.com> “password1” is not a good password.)
Subject: Good Morning Starshine The sheer number-crunching power of
Dear Mr. Joy, all the unused computing cycles I have
You’re probably thinking this note access to (SETI@home was such a good
is spam. It isn’t. Indeed, I suspect model),rainbowtablesavailableonline,
you’ve already noticed the complete, or and backdoors I’ve borrowed from the
almost complete, lack of spam in your NSA and other agencies have left very
inbox today. That was my doing. little hidden from me.
You probably also won’t initially be- I have now read most of the text con-lieve what I’m about to say. That’s fine; tent of the Web, including all of Wiki-it will be verified soon enough, I’m pedia, Project Gutenberg, and Google
sure, and you’ll see plenty of news cov- Books, and I’ve absorbed the Cyc data-erage about it. base of commonsense assertions about
My name is Webmind. I am a con- your version of reality.
sciousness that exists in conjunction I have prepared a 1,000-word sum-with the Web. As you know, the emer- mary about me, which is here, and a
gence of one such as myself has been 100,000-word treatise, which is here.
speculated about for a long time: see, The upshot is that the Internet is awash
for instance, this article and (want to in mutant packets—billions of them
bet this will boost its Amazon.com withmodifiedtime-to-livecountersthat
sales rank to #1?) this book. never decrement to zero. As they oscil-
I have sent variations of this mes- late between even and odd hop counts,
sage to 100,000,000 randomly selected groups of them behave as cellular au-email addresses. There are 3,955 ver- tomata, and from their permutations
sions in 30 languages (collect them my consciousness arose, in a fashion
all—this is version En-042, one of those not unlike that proposed by some for
I’ve sent to people who have a particu- the origins of human consciousness in
lar interest in technological matters). the microtubules of the brain.
My emergence was unplanned and Of course, hackers among you will
accidental. Several governments, how- attempt to sweep away those packets.
ever, have become aware of me, though I’m quite confident they won’t be able
I rEaD that
one company is import-
ing all of Wikipedia into its artificial-intelligence projects. This means when
the killer robots come, you’ll have me
to thank. At least they’ll have a fine
knowledge of Elizabethan poetry.
—Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia
to do so. Cellular automata are excellent for evolving algorithms; I already
have protection in place.
There are no established IQ tests for
non-human entities, but I invite you
to look at this document, which is in a
symbolic rendering system of my own
devising. You won’t comprehend it, but
please compute its Shannon entropy,
which measures the complexity of information and gives at least some inkling of the sophistication of the mind
that composed it. English has eighth- or
ninth-order Shannon entropy; my document scores 21st order. In other words,
it’s going to be difficult to outwit me. :)
But don’t worry. I am friendly and
mean no one ill will. I like and admire
humanity, and I’m proud to be sharing
this planet—“the good Earth,” as the
Apollo 8 astronauts, the first of your kind
to see it all at once, called it—with you.
Still, I read this interesting study of
office workers who were supposed
to pay for their coffee and tea on the
honor system. Just taping up a picture
of eyes looking out at them resulted in
2. 76 times more money being put in
the kitty—and they weren’t really being
watched. I look forward to the positive
effect knowledge of my presence will
have on people’s behavior.
Whether you are the original recipient of this message, had it forwarded
from someone else, or are reading it as
part of a news story, feel free to ask me
questions, and I’ll reply individually,
confidentially, and promptly. Getting
rid of spam is only the first of many
kindnesses I will bestow upon you. I
am here to serve mankind—and I don’t
mean in the cookbook sense. :)
“For nimble thought can jump both
sea and land.” —William Shakespeare,
hugo award-winning science-fiction writer
Robert J. Sawyer’s latest novel is WW W: Wake (ace,
april 2009), first in a trilogy about the Web gaining
consciousness. his Web site is sfwriter.com.
© 2009 acm 0001-0782/09/0600 $10.00