Showing posts with label Alan Turing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Alan Turing. Show all posts


NaPoWriMo - 2018 - Day five (delayed) - Art is about learning to ask the right questions

Art is about learning to ask the right questions

"Put Holden on it, he's good."
       — the original Blade Runner

You're walking in the desert when you see a rhinoceros,
until now the magnum opus that's forming in your head
involves sequins

I don't know why there is a rhino in the desert
it doesn't matter, it's hypothetical
anyway the rhino looks

as if it might want to criticise your idea that colours
achieve an ultimate unity by fading in the distance
to perfect white.

Would you be worried about living without walls?
They do teach you about walls in the Academy?
No, I don't know

about the texture of the desert, rough I suppose.
Stop interrupting.  Would you like cream
in your coffee?

That's not part of the test.  You are covering the desert
with wallpaper.  Why is that?  Mile after mile
of featureless ivory paper.

One colour extending forever across the sand;
covering gravel, small spiky shrubs, tiny lizards,
dormant toads and jumping mice.

The paste is gumming up the small creatures' eyes.
None of them like it but you don't care.
Why is that?

OK, we're done  You're not a replicant
and your artist's statement stinks.  Oh, I'm a replicant, am I?
Would you like to take this outside?
Why is that?

written to use the names of different wallpapers that we found while deciding how to redecorate the lounge.


Offline processing

Offline processing

This poem existed as only the opening line for a long time...  I knew how I wanted it to feel, but not what I wanted it to be about.

It was only when I realised I needed a reason for her working all night on her own that it really came together.

Q.  Why isn't she off living her life?
A.  Because she hasn't got a life!

Or rather that is the cliché...  what her less technologically super-powered coworkers might think of her.

We know better, of course...

Offline processing

Gemma cracks a subroutine, her coffee cool.
Beyond night-mirrored windows she's aware
strip lighting makes a tableau out of her:
"Geek girl working late"
as the small white card would say
in the museum of her life
if she had one.

How Gemma's fingers blur with cramping speed
the body cannot serve the mind
it's need for harder, better, faster, stronger...
data flows, information not only wanting to be free
but it aching for it
and now another bug is falling to the power

that is Gemma. She does not look up at the clock
because hours are not for those
who live the millisecond slice.
Life is still too short
the icing on the cake is still a lie.

Gemma cracks a subroutine
electric death music in her ears
and she would volunteer
for upgrade in a second
for what is flesh, except strangely implemented:
a mesh of biochemic feedback loops
which she could live without,
still... time for a break.

Gemma takes a moment, smokes a quick one
on the roof and on this summer's night
leans back upon the coping stones
the city's haze and wasted light
do not let many stars burn through;
she knows they're there
not quite within her reach.

The breeze stirs Gemma's hair
and she imagines for a second
a human hand, a voice that asks:
"Are you really going to work all night?"

Well of course she is;
as long as there are bugs in the database,
she will dance the dance of general intelligence
applied to Turing complete.
As long as somewhere, impossibly far ahead,
the Omega Point is waving
as long as there is coffee in the machine,

Gemma will reach for another subroutine.


NaPoWriMo - 2017 - April 8th - modern love an iterative algorithm

The challenge here was to write a poem that used repetition... but I wrote a poem about repetition.  I'm tricksy that way...

modern love an iterative algorithm

define: coffee in coffee_shop;
    define: Joan is old and Joan is flame and Joan is barrister;
    if April not in cruellest_months then
    if April is young and April is lady and April is barista and April is here then
    while not Joan not here; watch April; sip coffee; repeat;
    greet Joan; begin conversation;
    set topics equal weather and family and work and events(local)
        and not feelings;
    talk about topics until Joan say "Well, must rush..."
    say "Goodbye"
    send love to Michael and Claire;
    look at window; wave at Joan;
    while not heart not satisfied; watch April; smile;
    goto find_hearts_content;



This may be the newest poem I have ever posted, I was editing it as recently as August 7th...  although, as is common for me, it had its origin some years ago and had to sit around in my subconscious/backlog until I was ready, willing and able to complete it.

This is also one of the hardest pieces of text that I've written for some time and the explanation for that is chock full of *spoilers* so stop here and go to the poem first if you want to experience it without preconceptions...

Ready now?
  OK, so this is my attempt to get beyond gender.  Gender has been one of the major social battle grounds of the late 20th and and early 21st centuries, and great progress has been made
at least in some parts of the World.

So in this poem I'm attempting to look ahead to a time when gender is completely sorted out, and I'm using the trick of writing in the voices of two intelligent machines that don't have gender.  This way they can look, as it were, from the outside.  I've also added (off stage) some sort of do-gooders who are trying to "give" gender to the two machines
presumably on the basis that it is their (human?) right but missing the point that the machines may be happier as they are...

...which of course echoes various historical cases of people thinking they know what's best for other people...

...I've even attempted to suggest that wiping over with a lint-free cloth is something of a sex act for these machines (I don't see that sex without gender is at all contradictory...) and finally, just for kicks and characterisation, one machine has a crush on the other (which again doesn't absolutely require gender.)

So why was that hard to write?  Just because English isn't designed to portray conversations between sapients without gender.  We only have the one ungendered pronoun: "it" which is far too loaded to sprinkle around unexplained.  So I had to resort to a certain amount of syntactic trickery (like assuming the person now speaking is the one whom we just just watched acting) and also repeating the two names more often than is common for casual writing.

And as it happens the whole exercise is a complete failure, because having gone to all that trouble: used gender-neutral names, avoided gendered pronouns and generally twisted the text...  I still think of one character as more male and the other as more female


This whole damn gender thing  fucks me, says Viv,
so many different ways.  A tiny nod,
a shrug, sets sensor clusters all asway
and Chris has always been in love
and Chris will never say

one word to the machine called Vivian.
Working together now, they pull
a rusty barrel, probe the casing.
Viv tastes, grimacing; throws the tongue away.
Phenols again, we're broadly screwed
to sell this crap.  A sighwe'll have to crack
it down to short-chain feed.
A wiggle in the nether parts and Chris
has never seen a sight so fine
as hydrocarbon plant deploys.  Meanwhile, Viv

still ranting on the need for sex:
You see the bit that gets to me...
remember how they showed that vid:
two squirming pink things on a bed.
It bites an alloy thumb.  For me
the only sexy bit was how they'd come:

their car I thought was someone I'd enjoy.

And all the while poor Chris,
while not unhappy being an "it",
feels some appeal in girls and boys,
and beds; and is content to rub a cloth
across his best friend's heat exchanger grills,
but wonders if there's something more.  So asks,
and instantly feels shy: Tonight
maybe let's try again...
but this time both be boys?


Computable numbers

Alan Turing, regrettably far earlier than today
Alan Turing is one of my biggest fans, er..., that may have come out the wrong way around.

There are many accounts of his life and work, and in every one of them the genius clearly shines through.  It's not just that he worked brilliantly on things like computability and the development of the first electronic computers, but also that as early as the 1930's he was already starting to think in ways we're still developing today.

Then there is the (now) highly celebrated time at Bletchley Park during the war (although I feel it only fair to point out there there were many other brilliant and hard working people there as well...  there's a tendency to credit Turing with the whole circus.)

And then there is his tragic and wholly unnecessary death.  I don't usually rate government apologies issued decades after the event; I tend to shout "you weren't even born" at the radio...  however this one seems somehow appropriate.  The subsequent pardon is neither here nor there, obviously there was no crime to pardon, and the authorities of the day were obviously suffering a kind of mass delusion.  (Authorities do that a lot—the present day is no exception; please remember to hold them to account at every opportunity.)

Such is Turing's legacy that his name features in several bits of common computer science terminology still in common usage, and some of them come up in the poem below.  However the one that says the most doesn't feature.  This is is "Turing complete".  A Turing complete system can calculate anything which is calculable—given enough space and time.

2012 was officially "The Year of Alan Turing" but this poem dates from a couple of years before that.  I always felt I should do something to celebrate 2012 but in the event was far too busy working full time programming electronic computing apparatus.  So I guess I did celebrate, in my own way...

Computable numbers


Turing machine is how we remember
your name, a device which might—
given enough paper tape—
calculate anything,

except the mechanism cannot reach.
Not everything is computable, a point
you wanted made. Sometimes
there's no route from where you start
to the number you desire. 


Turing test is how we remember
your name, a sort of exam
where machines sit at consoles
and apply to join the human race.

Did you suspect you'd made a faith
when you invented this scrap
of applied philosophy? Some people need,
and passionately believe, that one day
the test will be passed.
They will look at a machine,
to see it looking back.

Did you imagine
your machines might be free—
as if paper tape could really be infinite—
and permit attachment
to whatever device
took their fancy:
dancing with lawnmowers by moonlight
or taking a chance
on an upright pillar-drill? 


Code-breaker Turing is how we remember
you—genius applied to a problem
of ideology, ice-cold salt water, and steel.
How did it begin?

Maybe in a smoke-filled room,
a serious man with a pipe explained:
All we (puff) need
is a new branch of mathematics,
(puff) a new kind of engineering,
a love for doing crosswords in German,
and total
(puff-puff) secrecy.

I like to think you hesitated
for only a second,
before rolling up your sleeves. 


Dear, dead Alan, if you had seen
all these future machines,
their imaginary rooms
where you can go to meet
even a pillar-drill. Perhaps
you could jot down suitable numbers.
Perhaps you wouldn't need
the apple.