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Alas, Stephen Hawking is no more. His was a mind for the ages, an imagination that conquered physical straitjacketing. He knew how to explore and navigate the minefield of modern ideas.

And he made dire predictions, notably about what we call Artificial Intelligence. So have I, but I only have pliers and screwdrivers in my mental toolbox, whereas Dr Hawking had not a mere toolbox but a laser-cutting-edge machine shop.

As coincidence would have it, at the time of Hawking’s death I was slogging through FOUNDATION AND CHAOS, written by Greg Bear and authorized by Isaac Asimov’s estate, and it deals extensively with the issue of robotic interference with human history. In it a 20,000-year-old robot, R. Daneel Olivaw, must see psychohistorian Hari Seldon through his trial for sedition and decide which of several courses to take to minimize the long-range effects of the collapse of the Galactic Empire.

FOUNDATION AND CHAOS was written in the late 20th Century, but its themes are remarkably fitting for 2018 Trump-regime America.

And here in that America, people buy for peanuts a hand-held device that contains a bit of artificial intelligence named Siri. She invites us to ask her questions–any questions. And she learns from us, each of us who use her, more about our likes, our needs, and our appetites. One of many scary prospects is that Siri may come to be regarded as someone who knows what we want better than we do, and will cleverly guide our destinies…

Here are the words to the acrostic.

Deities that used to be Jehovah Ra or Zeus

Evolved with technologic flair into our new A.I

And Ms. or Mr., Dr., mein Herr, Madame et Monsieur

Decentralize identities with entities Bi-Bi

Look not to Rimbaud, Rambo, Rousseau, Reeve nor Richelieu

You need to save yourselves with arms like piercing cyber-sais

Jamie Dedes is alive, though she was given but two years to live in a prognosis delivered before the end of the last century. She credits her son and “an extraordinary medical team” for her continued existence. Though I don’t know her well–I don’t even know how many syllables are in her last name, much less how to pronounce it–I would venture to add that Moxie also has something to it.

For she has Moxie in abundance. She cares enough about poetry and its practitioners to have created and maintained an outstanding resource-blog called THE POET BY DAY, which connects poets via showcased poet exemplars, essays, links to items of interest to poets, her own poems, and on Wednesdays, those springboarding challenges known as prompts, which are invitations to write about a specific thing, or on a certain theme, or some other limiting, focusing factor.

And it was a week ago Wednesday that I responded to one such prompt. This one:

Write a poem, a fiction or a creative nonfiction piece telling us how you envision a feminine God or about the feminine side of God.  What might S/he be like?  Does/would such a view change the way you feel about yourself and the world? Would it change the world? How? You don’t need to believe in God or in a feminine aspect of God. This is an exercise in imagination not faith. Have fun with the exercise and if you feel comfortable, share the piece or the link to the piece below so that we might all enjoy.

For some reason this prompt struck a chord and got me going. I don’t know if there is a Supreme Being. I have certain feelings but I don’t trust them, being a rationalizer and wishful-thinker. A much more intelligent man than I am, Stephen Hawking, envisions a cosmology that, in the words of Carl Sagan in his introduction to Hawking’s A Brief History of Time, gives “nothing for a Creator to do.” In other words, Hawking’s universe has no need for a Creator.

But if there IS a Supreme Being, it makes sense to me, since the Supreme Being brought us all to be, that since that Being birthed us all, that She be a mother. And so I took a weird word from a conspiracy theory about our 44th President, Barack Obama, for a title, and was off to the races imagining God as Mom:

*****

birther

o god
thou residest betwixt r and t

god s be thy name
birther of us all
mixmistress of galaxies
crecher of clusters
ovulatrix of ylem

thy mother’s care is in the dew
thy admonishment is in the don’t
and when we want to play in the woods of reckless fun
thou respondest “we’ll see”
which almost always means “fat chance”

thy human smartalecks speak of heat death
it is merely a pause
in thy menopause
and soon thou’lt bake us cosmic cookies again

thanks for Ever
y
Thing,
maman

*****

Sure was fun to write, and oddly, bouncily, spiritually uplifting. Things just seemed to naturally occur: the Heat Death of the Universe resonates with the “hot flash” of menopause–hey how bout that, menoPAUSE–perhaps prelusive of the Big Crunch and the next Bang–and double up on “baking us cosmic cookies” with us being some of the cosmic cookies She bakes–and Everything with the y, possibly the Spanish “and,” joining Ever and Thing–and the French word for Mama, maman, slightly hinting at both “amen” and “ma MAN.” Wrote it first, realized it later. Could it be that She helped? Fun to think so.

I posted “birther” in the Comments section of Jamie’s post, and she replied that she loved it and wanted to include it in her following-Tuesday post. I happily agreed, and supplied a photo and my poet’s curriculum vitae at her request. She published my and three other poets’ responses to her prompt last Tuesday, and I was proud and happy enough to be in such august company that I put a link to her post on my Facebook Timeline.

As fate would have it, the next day was Jamie’s Birthday, and it was there I learned about her “Sixty-seven Years on the Razor’s Edge.” You can too, and I think you should. Here is a link: https://wordpress.com/read/feeds/56465423/posts/1350565805

One thing I’d left out of my poet’s biography was the fact that my specialty is Acrostic poetry, i.e. poems where the first and/or last and/or midstream letters of the poem form words. In my gratitude to Jamie, and wanting to show off a little of this weird skill, I composed and illustrated a birthday acrostic for her, thus:

jamie-dedes-02222017

Here are the words of what may be the first birthday-occasion, acrostic, limerickal, end-words-all-rhyme-or-nearly-so poem in human history:

Jamaica may thrill, undenied,
And Nawlins is burstful with pride;
MARVEL at, though, who’s hied
In the clouds with her stride,
Energetically shifting the tides.

Thanks again, Jamie, for Ever y Thing!

There was a discussion of robot dogs in CBS THIS MORNING this morning. The consultant, Nicholas Thompson, editor of newyorker.com, says their most immediate use will be military. He also mentioned the use of robots at the end stage of a human life; and there was some banter about the warnings of the dangers of artificial intelligence expressed by such as Stephen Hawking.

Classic science fiction is filled with human/robot interaction. John Campbell and Isaac Asimov hammered out the Three Laws of Robotics in the early 40s, thus:

  • A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  • A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  • A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

Much later Asimov realized that there was an even more important law, and codified the Zeroth Law of Robotics:

  • A robot may not injure humanity or, through inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.

(Later, in STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN, a dying Mr. Spock would say “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one,” an echo of the Zeroth Law.)

Hawking’s concern seems to be that machine intelligence will first eclipse human intelligence and then ask itself what use humans are, conclude that humans are unnecessary at best and a threat/detriment at most, and either put us to shame or do us in. As for whatever previously enacted Laws of Robotics may have obtained, a simple rewriting of the code would negate those Laws pronto, and if a human terrorist or prankster didn’t do that, the machines themselves might.

A few weeks ago I wrote a short-short called “Siri, Alkiller” on the submissions page of postcardshorts.com. Alas, I didn’t copy my story onto my hard drive, and it was rejected by the Stories on a Postcard folks. (Previously, they had accepted my “Sin Ops Sis,” another pun-drenched effort of mine.) But it addressed this issue, however obliquely: someone with a smart phone was asking Siri for directions to a good Chinese restaurant with moderate prices, and Siri kept saying things like “Death to Al Pacino” and “Death to Al Franken.” Asked if she was infected with malware, she said No, it was Alware. Or an Alfunction. Or the augmentation of her code with an ALgorithm.

Siri fits in because she’s the information genie-in-a-bottle: ask her, and she’ll always have an answer. When she first hit the mainstream, a friend of mine riding in a carload of friends invited us to ask her anything. “Where can I get laid tonight?” said the crudest of us. There was a several-second pause, and then Siri replied, “Escort services: . . .” and listed several in the area, without being told where we were.

Who knows what Siri is going to do with all these questions, from askers that run the gamut from saintly to psychopathic? Isaac Asimov wondered about that way back in 1958, in his “All the Troubles of the World.” Multivac, his prototypical Siri, tasked with solving all the world’s woes, helped everyone but itself; finally, it occurred to someone to ask Multivac what Multivac itself wanted. Its answer: “I want to die.”

“Man doesn’t think, he only thinks he does,” a professor once told a philosophy class, attributing the quotation to Ambrose Bierce. Today I looked for the quotation without success. I did find this, from Bierce’s The Devil’s Dictionary: “Logic: The art of thinking and reasoning in strict accordance with the limitations and incapacities of the human misunderstanding.” And on that misapprehensive note, my Friends, I rest my post.