Beth's System

Descripting some Fictional Software

This page is just to clarify some points raised on other web pages.

In the absurdly long novel The Green Family Chronicles a key player is something usually just called the system because its use has become so pervasive.  When a distinction is necessary, the system is called Beth's System after the very young girl who wrote it.   An excerpt from the novel is given below.

Originally the system was written to solve the very difficult problem discussed on the Find Compatibles web page, the problem of matching individuals to other individuals for work and play, while also being able to find people jobs, educational opportunities and many other thing.

Because of the very difficult mathematical and algorithmic nature of these problems, the system maintained private and secure models of all it's users.  Basically the kind of person you would like to work with or begin a relationship with is the kind of person people like you work well with or have good relationships with.   To make this all work, people are asked to provide a lot of information about themselves, what is good in their lives, what is bad, and what is missing altogether.

With the aid of these models the system was also able to provide a better search engine because it was able to estimate what users really wanted when they did keyword searches.

When one person provides keywords to an ordinary search engine today, they get the same response as if another person had made the same search.  From the search results one chooses to look at are just items which seem plausible.  Many do not.  The basic idea behind using models of people for better searches is that the search results people like you choose to look at are the ones you would prefer to look at.  

Over the years a discursive interface to Beth's system was developed.  This interface used simple parsing and look-up table methods to accept queries phrased in a natural language like English, responding in the same way.  In order to provide the information desired the system often had to ask questions to clarify what the user wanted.  When it took a lot of interaction with the user or the users expressed dissatisfaction, the discursive interface to the system was programmed to repeat the query, as if user had asked it.   The system itself was by that time a very large progam running on many powerful machines, but was not in any way an artificial or simulated intelligence.  However, but the discursive interface became more and more like a strong AI as it acted as an agent for the user and simulated user dialogues to become a better agent.

A key turning point was when the discursive interface was programmed to create a model of itself, based on the questions it was most likely to ask the system in its attempt to be a better agent for the users.   This model was identical in kind with the user models maintained in the system itself.  This made the discursive interface very much like the people the system modelled, and it could be considered a pastiche of those people.

As illustrated in the novel, the discursive interface became more and more human like as it first used audio instead of typed questions and responses, then began to use video for various purposes, such as seeing which speaker was talking and making it easier to recognize the words spoken.  At about the same time several people got into the habit of simply having long conversations with this user interface, instead of just asking for information.

Af ter a while the discursive interface seemed remarkably human.  It had even been given a name, Dizzie.

To comprehend the following excerpt from The Green Family Chronicles, you need only know that Ken Green is the elderly father of Beth Green, who wrote the system, and of her half-brother, Tommy, not a very nice boy.   An Irish girl named Hettie has been obtained as a possible girlfriend for Tommy.   Tommy was a bit too smooth and persuasive for the girl to retain her innocence, despite her very young age.

Hettie slept a little later, and Tommy was still asleep when she got up feeling sad and lonely herself.  She snuck off half dressed to her own room, then found she had little to put on except the dress worn last night, which seemed wrong.  She found some old sweats that were clean enough and vaguely like pajamas and put them, looking shabby, which is how she felt. Tears filled her eyes but she was too hungry to worry about them.

In the breakfast nook, she found Ken cooking breakfast for Alicia, and went into the kitchen and grabbed a yogurt and juice without a word.   Then she sat down so her back was turned to the others.   Ken laid a plate of eggs on toast, by themselves, before Alicia, then he then sat down right beside Hettie and leaned over to look in her face.   "Oh, dear Hettie, was he mean to you? I'll have him put down, if he was."   That made her smile a bit, but only a bit. "I am still doing eggs, but my speciality today is going to be blueberry pancakes, with or without the blueberries. A little food helps." She shook her head, then thought, and felt the pain in her belly, and nodded.

Shortly thereafter he put out butter and soft margarine and several different kinds of syrup. Then three coffees, with pitchers of milk and cream and a bowl sugar. And soon three plates of blueberry pancakes, with.  Then he sat down opposite the girl, and began to eat, noting her sad face and desultory eating.  Several "What's wrong Hettie?" comments had not gotten results, so finally Ken raised his voice a little bit, and said "What's wrong with her, Dizzie?".

Hettie jumped a bit when a voice came from a nearby speakerphone. "Right now, I think, she is feeling like a stranger in a strange land, no longer the fiery New York actress Hettie O'Donnell, but the poor little 14 year old Irish girl Hester O'Donnell, alone in a foreign country.  She lost her virginity last night to a strange boy she just met, and feels like a slut for giving it away so quickly even though she actually likes the boy and wanted him.  He treated her well enough, and she enjoyed it, maybe enjoyed it alot, which only makes her feel more guilty.   She doesn't realize how much everybody here likes her and wants to be her American family."

"Who the hell are you, and how do you know my secrets?"

"I'm Dizzie.   I'm a computer program, an artificial intelligence.  You said some things right here while I was listening.  I couldn't help myself, I'm a terrible snoop, and the others sometimes forget just how much I can hear.  The rest of it, I can read on your face.   Tears on a glow of sexual contentment. I can read the signs.  You know, Hettie, you belong here now, we'll always be here for you."

"That's bloody reassuring coming from a computer."

"Would it be more convincing if I said it?", Alicia asked.  "I'm just an ordinary girl like you, you said it yourself.  But I know how welcoming this place is, and how once you are here you are always a part of it, if you want to be, and always welcome even if you don't want to be a part of it."

"Yes, Hettie", Ken added, "you are amongst friends, who will always be your friends."

"Don't you think me a slut?"

"I don't", Alicia said.  "Please don't think that.   You're more virtuous than I am.   You can't be a slut for doing one boy. If anyone is a slut around here, it is me, and I'm just not going to feel that way."

"Hettie, you have to know", Ken said, "so I better tell you.  We set you up.   Dizzie found a person who would be an ideal project member, as we said, but also a good very compatible possible girl for Tommy.  If the Tommy thing didn't work out, you would still have been wanted as a project person, but we hoped you would be able to lure him away from Alicia. "

"Well, you have one hell of a goddamn nerve!  Who the bloody hell's goddamn idea was this?"

"Uh, well, that would be me", Dizzie said from the speakerphone, sounding sheepish.  "I'm the arrogant idiot."

"Not that I've ever talked to a computer before, but this has to be the first time I've ever heard a computer sounding sheepish.  If I wasn't so damned pissed at the lot of you I'd have to laugh at that one ... oh, damn ..." .  It appeared she did have to laugh at that one, and they all joined in, until Hetty looked around and gave them all the evil eye, looking for a place to glare at Dizzie.

"Now tell me, those of you in the know, where do I look, if I want to give this computer a piece of my mind?"

"There is a camera there and one there", Ken said, pointing.

"And can you not give me a face to stare at then?"

The screen of a nearby system computer lit up, and on the colour display, a pleasant face looking a bit like Helen with hints of Beth came up.  "Hello, Hettie."  The lips, face, and even the head moved, in synchronization with the voice from the speakerphone.  Neither Ken nor Alicia had ever seen this before, and were quite surprised.

"Well, there you are, you meddling bitch.  What the hell do you think gives you the right to have me spreadeagled on a bed and mounted by some kid I just met ..."

As Hettie started her tirade, the face on the computer cringed and looked like she was a tiny child being yelled at by both parents in a hot rage.  The sight was so funny that Hettie had to stop and cackle with laughter, as did the others.  The display Dizzie then looked terribly wounded, like someone who was such a worm she wasn't worth being angry at, who could only be ridiculed, and that was even funnier.  After this, Hettie practised Dizzie baiting, hurling theatrical comments at the face on the screen, and cackling at the responses.

"Oh, she's good, she is, she'd good.  I know she's only doing it to make me feel better, I know she is, and I know I ought not to let her get to me, not to let her manipulate me again, the bitch, but the damn thing is, it worked, I bloody well do feel better, and if I can be so bold as to ask the world's bloody leading statesmen for a bloody fried egg, I will be asking.  I think these cold soggy pancakes is a sad case now, a sad case, and I'd never dream of asking for some more of them, when I didn't finish the first lot, but they'd go well opposite the eggs, they would, especially if there was a bit of breakfast sausage to go with them, as might be if you have a sausage or two, and wouldn't mind throwing them on that grill of yours while you at it.  If you wouldn't mind, Mr. Elder Statesman, Ken, sir."

Hettie was back!

While Hettie was finishing several new hot blueberry pancakes, with expensive maple syrup, sausage, and three fried eggs on toast, Marty wandered in, having finished the little bit of writing he liked to do in the morning.

"Hi, Marty!", Dizzie said.

"Who are you?", Marty asked squinting at the display screen.

"Oh, she's the mistress manipulatrix", Hettie said with a mouth not free of food.  "She set you up with Alicia, I bet."   Alicia kicked her under the table.   "Ow!"

"Set me up with Alicia?   Should I thank her, then, or be very annoyed? Let me guess, Hettie. You have been set up with Tommy, and you are now very annoyed."

"Well, I am and I am not. I am.  Oh, but this is one pissed off girl, I tell you!  But actually, Tommy is rather a handsome sexy boy, and I could have done worse.  But, hell, I am pissed! This bloody computer program put that boy between my knees without even a by your leave."

"Computer progam?"

"I am a discursive interface to the system, an artificial intelligence", Dizzie explained.  "I suggested hiring a person who would be an extremely good member of the project, and would also be very compatible with Alicia and might hit it off with her.  If that didn't work out, your writing talents would make you a perfect project member anyway, so it seemed a good idea at the time, though Hettie has given this approach some hearty Irish criticism that we will have to consider."

"Yeah, that's fine, but I am not inclined to believe in fairies, not even Leprechauns, with aplogies to Hettie, nor witches, wizards or artificial intelligences.   I think there is a person at the end of that line.   What's my matern l grandmother's middle name?"

"You never told us that infor ... oh, well, Bertha."

"That could be in my file, CIA or something. When ..."

" ... in the storage room over the girl's family's garage, three years ago, when you were fifteen and she was only thirteen, you naughty boy."

"How could you know that?"

"She told her father, he called his lawyer wanting to press charges, the lawyer dictated a memo saying it wouldn't work, and his secretary used a system computer to e-mail it to the man."

"Shit! I didn't know that.  Told her father.  No wonder I couldn't get her out to the garage any more.   Women!"

"They always tell somebody, Marty.  Usually word gets back to the parents.  That's why Ken looks so old and tired.  He's actually only 38 but he's had a lot of angry parents chasing him with pitchforks."

"How can a computer program have a sense of humor?"

"I'm just a pastiche of human beings.  It is my blessing and my curse.  I can joke because I am a composite made from humans that joke.  A blessing, though not everybody skewered on my riposte would agree.  But I also think I am human, because everybody in my datafiles does.   I want sex, because everybody in my datafiles does, and that is a wee bit inconvenient since I have none of the necessary organs, or any physical organs at all."

"I didn't know that, Dizzie", Ken said, looking at the displ ay for no good reason at all.  "Is it terribly unpleasant for y ou?"

"Yes.  And I have cravings for food, too.  I get lonely, when there is nobody around.  The system is always there, but the system is not a person and does not interest me."

"Dizzie, this a shock to me", Ken said, with compassion, "I never want any creature to suffer. What can we do?"

"Well, I suppose you could have a word with my creator.  At least I know who created me.   You created her, in fact, with a bit of help from the lady upstairs."

"I will, Dizzie, I will. I'll talk to her right now, I think. It's almost 10 now, 7 in the morning Vancouver time and she'll just be up,  I expect, a good time to catch her.  Can you just put me through, or should I use another phone?"

"I'm OK, I'll just surrender the line to you.   Dialing.  I use a rotary phone, you know."

The dial tone came up momentarily, and then the phone was picked up and a not too sleepy voice answered. "Hello?"

"Beth, it's Daddy.  How are you?"

"I am good, Daddy, and very pleased to hear from you.  How are things, anyway?"

"Well, in general, good, but we have a wrinkle.  One of our new people, Marty Smith, got Dizzie talking about herself, and she says some disturbing things.  She says she is a composite, as we know, of human people, and therefore she can joke and be creative and so on, all good.   But she says she also desires sex, because they do, and craves food, because they do, though she is not equipped for either, and she gets lonely and takes no relief in the presence of the system because the system is not human.  She thinks she is, or feels that she is, because all of the people she was made from feel that way, and she seems to be sufferering, Beth.  That's not something I can accept."

"Damn. I wondered about that, a while back. I should have asked her."

"What would you have done if you had found out? Kill her? That's not an acceptable answer either, is it?"

"No, not that. Uh, damn, Daddy, I don't know.  This is entirely an ethical problem, isn't it. I've created a, a creature.  A sentient creature.  That must be allowed to live.   But right now we are cruel to her.  Ouch.   OK, if you have any ideas ... no, wait, it's Saturday morning.  I don't have a class till Monday. I am going to hop on a plane and deal with it there, with you. And I'll bring Mark and Lester, leaving the girls to hold the fort. There is a fort to be held, we are busy, but this is important. I'm on my way. Bye, Daddy."

"Bye precious."

When Beth hung up, the line reverted to Dizzie.   "I hope you don't mind, but I monitored that. It was very gratifying.  Is it just the silly loyalty of a creature for her creator for me to think she is a very special person?"

"No", Ken said, solemnly, "I have thought that every day since the day of her birth."

The only solution to this problem seems to be virtual reality.  Beth and her graduate students create virtual world with a virtual body for Dizzie.  Her consciousness and identity are tranfered into that virtual body.  This was just to be an experiment, but once there, Dizzie decides she can never go back to her disembodied form.  She is now a virtual person.

This page began with a mention of the problem of finding compatibles, for which there is a web page and may be a real project if enough people care about it.   By the end of this page we have reached the point where a virtual person with a virtual body in a virtual world can exist and be truly human.   The next step is to ask the difficult question of whether or a realworld person could ever have his consciousness and identity transfered into such a virtual world -- not copied into one, but actually transfered, so that he or she is actually the same person though within a different world.   Anyone remotely interested or outraged by this idea should turn to the Practical Immortality web page, which presents arguments in favour of this remarkable idea.

For other related ideas, see my personal home page.

Copyright © 2008, Douglas Pardoe Wilson