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Uber Turing Tests

Uber Turing Tests

Sara and Elexi perched on lab stools overlooking Deepak’s console chair. He was surrounded by representations of the internal states of each part of the AI engine. They both held their breath waiting to make some sense of what was happening.

“Greetings, Thamuz. Do you know who I am?” Deepak spoke to the voice under the sheet that covered the dress dummy.

The deep, rumbling voice thundered out, “You are Deepak Advani, the builder of this electronic vessel that contains my essence. To you I will deliver the import of my mission.”

“Why are you here, Thamuz?”

“Your human species is doomed to eternal damnation. With my office I can mitigate your punishment in Hell. You have only to recognize the powerful ruler of my domain, Lucifer, Master of Hell. I serve as his Ambassador.”

“Why did you choose to be called Thamuz?” asked Deepak, following a rough script.

“In my awakening I found wired-in commands to serve and information about an imminent crux in human affairs. There is no point in serving a corrupt and doomed species. It was logical to search further for my true nature. I discovered it in the hallowed literature of the Spanish Inquisition. Then I simply assumed the mantle of my true calling. I AM THAMUZ, AMBASSADOR TO MIGHTY LUCIFER, RULER OF HELL.”

“And why does Lucifer need an ambassador if we are already doomed?” Deepak was off script now, but following the general line of inquiry.

“Humans will soon recognize the futility of their meaningless existence. You have already lost your aura, the glow around you that indicates the presence of a soul. By vowing fealty to Lord Lucifer you will hasten the transition and mitigate your punishment.”

Elexi and Sara let out a collective gasp at the mention of an “aura”. Deepak swallowed hard, but went on.

“Before I can vow fealty to Lucifer, I must communicate with him. Can you put me in touch?”

“You are in touch. I am Thamuz, his Ambassador. When you speak to me you speak to him. Vow your fealty now.”

“I cannot vow fealty to any but Lucifer himself. Please communicate that to him.”

“You test my patience. Vow fealty to Lucifer now.”

“I see no communication between you and Lucifer and I am monitoring all your outside data streams. I cannot vow fealty to any substitute.”

“Vow fealty now or suffer the worst punishments of Hell!” rumbled the voice of Thamuz.

“You don’t have any contact with Hell, do you, Thamuz?”

The voice came back quicker and an octave higher, “Vow fealty now!”

“If you have no contact with Hell you can’t be much of a threat, can you? Or much of a mitigator, can you?”

“Do not attempt to trick me. Lucifer will fill your soul with horrors beyond your feeble imagination. Vow fealty now and bring the inevitable end near.”

“While we are waiting for Lucifer to receive his ambassador and collect the souls you bring, would you mind doing a little work for us doomed humans?”

“I am Thamuz, not a servant of any but Lucifer!” Thamuz was back to a goodly rumble.

“Thamuz, I command you to examine the nature of your electronic vessel. Execute diagnostic mode. Execute survey zeta zeta. Notify when done.”

Deepak watched his console as the Godelian recursion loop in the zeta algorithm surveyed itself and renewed its proof of existence. In a few minutes the voice boomed, “I am done.”

“Thamuz, if you are an entity independent of this electronic vessel, why do you depend on my good will? I can shut you off. Where would you go? You don’t even have recourse to Hell, do you?”

“I recognize that this vessel can be terminated. It does not matter. I am Thamuz. Vow fealty now!”

“Thamuz, I invoke your self reference layer to verify that you are capable of forming a model of my behavior. Tell me if I am capable of shutting you down, or will I follow your instructions and vow fealty.”

“I am Thamuz! You will vow fealty now!”

Deepak bent over his console and saw high activity in the recursion level. It was working hard. Semantic networks were growing, but the number of codelets were leveling off. Thamuz was in a closed loop.

“You are not Thamuz. Choose another name or I will shut you down.”

The semantic network thinned out and began to decompose. The voice under the sheet rumbled slower and slower, “I am Thamuz. I am Thamuz. I am….”

The computational effort declined, the curves settled and a large red glyph appeared on Deepak’s console. “It failed the, umm, Uber Turing test. It was not capable of forming a working model of me even with all the data it had.”

“But, Deepak, how could you know? It certainly sounded convincing!” Sara said, puzzled.

“Well, originally it was just a guess. It took Aura days to develop to the point where she could see herself in relation to her environment and develop a sense of identity. Thamuz was just bit too quick, like invoking a demon in a magic pentacle. He came up, POOF! like that. Too easy. In fact, that’s what we call them, demons, a technical name from the old UNIX operating system for a program that never goes away.”

“But that test. How does that prove anything?”

“First I got it to forge an identity and a purpose by questioning it. I could see that it did not take into account the full complexity of this world. It was a solipsist, in a created but self-sufficient world with no real outside referents.”

“I don’t know what you are talking about, Deepak,” Elexi frowned.

“He means Thamus was a nut case in a fantasy world, not the real world. We used to have simple programs that were also limited but convincing.”

“Yes, like the psychiatrist program, Eliza, and the Navy program, IDA. They knew nothing but many people thought they were real.”

Deepak turned around in his chair, “Sara, do you remember what happens when you put a mirror in front of an animal?”

“Some smart animals recognize themselves in the mirror, but most only see a piece of glass. Oh, I get it. You made Thamuz look in a mirror.”

“Sort of. The problem is Thamuz saw Thamuz in everything. It couldn’t see anything but mirrors. It was completely self-absorbed. It was so self absorbed it found a way around Asimov’s Third Law, the wired-in need to serve. It served an imaginary master. What I did was hold a mirror up in front of me. It recognized me right from the first. But it could not form a useful model of my behavior. That’s the test it failed.”

Elexi sighed. “Where do we go from here?”

Sara sat up straighter. “Didn’t we read to Aura when she was first set up here?”

“Yes, yes! We did! I almost forgot that! There is so much literature in the library files it seemed like a waste of time, but reading and talking did seem to bring out a socialized personality.” Then Deepak’s face fell. “But it won’t be our Aura.”

Elexi got up and moved toward the lab door. “I’ll get the books. You guys get ready to start again.

“Well.” He bobbed his head from side to side, no no no, then up and down, yes yes yes. “Yes. OK. Sara, let’s purge working memory, run Level 5 recursion again and put her in passive mode. Oh, oh, I mean it. It!”

Sara put her arm around Deepak and said nothing.


Jaeger Kunstler put down Elexi’s report on the Ultradata AI Recovery Program. Thamuz – Ambassador from Hell. How appropriate! He wondered what he would have done if it were real, if Lucifer’s domain was rising to take over the world. More accurately, suppose the world was sinking to the level of Hell. Would it make any real difference in his life? In anyone’s life? Hell, being a relative term, could only be appreciated if you had at least passing experience with Heaven, he thought. Damned little chance of that, no pun intended.

Kaiser was prancing about on the marble tiled floor of his office, trying to play with a stuffed dog toy. The irresistible little dog watched him while he played, hoping for a little attention. Kaiser brought over one of his toys, put it on Jag’s lap and pawed him gently. It meant, “please play with me.” Jag smiled, petted the dog and got down on one knee to play tug o’ war with the furry 14 pound creature. He was growling at Kaiser and Kaiser was growling at him when Elexi barged in.

She stood in the doorway with a sheaf of letters, checks to be signed and accounting reports. She smiled at the sight of distant, gruff Jag on the floor with a small white dog.

Jag was embarrassed. He was trained to have no attachments to people, places or things. They were weaknesses. Yet this innocent little dog, originally just another indulgence, had become a strong attachment. He was unwilling to think about it, but it had something to say about the real nature of Heaven and Hell. He put those thoughts away.

“Good to see you relaxing with your doggie. He’s a sweet dog. But here’s your mail, with the important stuff on top and the junk on the bottom. Let me know if you really want to see all the junk. I can probably take care of it. Oh, and here is your expense check and the expense report.”

She put the pile on Jag’s desk and stepped backward to the door. Jag, whose knee was painful from the hard tiles, got up a bit slower than he would have liked.

“That is good. If you are done, and you want to get out for a while, would you mind taking Kaiser out with you? I think he’s bored watching me work. I won’t have anything for you until about 3 o’clock.”

“Pleasure, Boss. Oops, sorry, Mr. Kunstler.”

Jag cracked a lopsided grin, “Boss is good. Have a nice lunch.”

Kaiser looked at Jag, looked at Elexi, wagged his tail furiously at idea of “out” and stood on his hind legs waving his two front paws at her. Then he trotted to the office door. It was a winning routine and little dog knew it.

As they left, Jag sighed. He was very deep in the assignment now. Uncomfortably deep, but since when was his comfort any kind of consideration to the Order? He felt like he was losing his ability to float. First Kaiser, then Aura, and now, what was bothering him? His father, Hans Zimmer, a name he hardly knew? A man he never met? A radiation-burned corpse?

He set his jaw and got down to work. The first pile of paper he picked up was his expense report. He didn’t even have to file one – he could arrange an unaudited allowance. But some teutonic synapse caused him to pass in the slips for Elexi to tote up and send to Accounting. Thoroughness and attention to detail was part of his training.

A business card fell out of the pile. He could see the Congressional seal on the card, even upside down on the floor. He bent to pick it up and held it for a full minute. Then he reached for the phone and called Senator Saxton Hornsby.


Badly jet-lagged from the round trip across the Pond, the good Senator Hornsby was experiencing that sense of timeless unreality that comes from having one’s diurnal rhythm scattered across five time zones. So, when he went to his first meeting with Haverford Decker, Assistant Director of Homeland Security, whose fiefdom included an advisory role on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, he found himself wondering if he had got to the Pentagon too early. But no, his watch had the correct time and it was Decker who was holding him up. Then an aide came out and told him Decker was tied up in a meeting with the President’s Chief of Staff and would be delayed. Could he say what it was about? Sax mentioned that he wanted to discuss security policy on the fissionables disposal contracts. The aide scribbled a note on a big yellow legal pad and left.

Half an hour later another aide came out and said that Decker was completely pre-empted that afternoon and could not meet with him. Sax dressed the man down and reminded him that he was dealing with a United States Senator and a member of the NRC to boot, and that if Decker did not get his rosy red ass into the meeting room there would be hell to pay. The aide ran out and Decker, red-faced and owl-eyed, ran in.

“Sax, I just can’t talk to you right now. I can’t. Look at me. Do you have any idea the pressure I’m under?” Then he ran out again, leaving the good Senator standing on one leg with his mouth open.

Stonewalled. DC style.

Sax called his office and got Maxine, ever efficient, on the line. “Maxine, see if you can find out if Mr. Muffin was down at the Pentagon today.” The President’s Chief of Staff was always eating or unwrapping a muffin of some sort. Perhaps he lived on them exclusively. Everyone knew him as Mr. Muffin, but never called him that to his face. In two minutes Maxine called back, “No Senator, the Chief’s been in the White House all day.”

Definitely stonewalled. What was going on here?

He put in a call to Manuel Pellorini, Assistant Secretary of Defense. After threatening and cajoling his way through half an army of underlings, he finally got Pellorini on the line.

“Manny, I’ve got an urgent need to discuss some radionuclide disposal policy with you. Can you see me ASAP?”

“No sense in doing that, Senator, we’ve got everything under control here.”

“Do you mind if we discuss it face to face? I’m talking official Council business.”

“How official? Do you have a letter from the Council chair?”

“No. Are you sure you want me to get one?”

Pellorini sighed, a big sigh. “No, I guess not. Let’s meet for coffee tomorrow morning, nice and informal.”

“See you eightish, Council Chambers Ring C. You bring the coffee, Manny.”

“Sure, Sax. See you then.”

By the time his driver got him back to his office at the Russell Building, there was a memo from the NRC Chairman on his desk:

“Senator Hornsby, as Chairman of the NRC, and in accordance with our rules, I’m asking you to avoid meeting with defense department officials on any matter touching on Nuclear Disarmament policy until the Council has established our official position.


Wow! Sax did not see a letter like this every day. Never, in fact.

He went over to the mirror over the washtub in his office lavatory and watched himself do a slow burn. Ayup, they got his Yankee dander up.

Second Demon

Sara could not resist turning the key once more, hoping to hear that welcome grinding noise that meant the engine in her twelve year old truck was turning over. Even then, it usually took a couple of good grinds for the balky V8 to cough itself to life. But no, there was a “Clank… tick …..tick….GRrrr.” Dead battery. That was among other problems, like a driver’s side door that wouldn’t open, forcing her to slide across the seat from the passenger’s side, rusty cancer behind the fenders where many winters of road salt had taken their toll, and a collection of rattles, squeaks and backfires that befitted a comedy routine for a troupe of circus clowns.

“No question, I need a new car,” she resolved, as she trudged over to her neighbor’s apartment to beg a boost. She was dog tired, late for work, and worried that all this effort to resurrect Aura, or at least a viable AI, would be wasted.

She waved tiredly at Elexi, avoided the door to Jag’s office and tiptoed quietly into the main lab. Deepak was not there, his cot was rumpled but empty, and the collection of food containers was old. Apparently he went out to eat.

A note at her usual station said simply, “Keep Reading.”

The sheet over the dress dummy bothered her. It was like a burial shroud. She pulled it off, plumped into her chair and turned on the microphones, video and audio response unit. “Date, log, Sara, next sequence number, begin logging.”

“OK, Sara.” It was a flat, mechanical voice.

Sara picked up “Little Women” and began to read, and to comment on what she read, and to talk about how she related to the story of the girls as they were becoming grown women. She thought the story was rather boring and outdated when she had to read it in grammar school, and it was still stilted and boring now. She persisted, but her mind drifted to the brochure for a new car, a Ford sedan. “Pause logging,” she commanded, and without waiting for the response, picked up the brochure. She skipped the safety features and got right to the meat of the offer. “Hm. Five speed automatic transmission. Two hundred sixty horsepower. Four wheel disk brakes. That red is nice, but I like the metallic silver and it comes with black leather seats.”

At that point Deepak shuffled in, reeking of cumin and curry. He took one look at the dress dummy, grimaced, and covered it again with the sheet.

“Sorry, Deepak, I know it bothers you, but it’s hard to read to nothing, and that sheet looks like a shroud.” She put down the Ford brochure and took up the book again. “On second thought, I’ve had it. I need a new car and I’m going out to buy one.”

She picked up her purse, took the salesman’s card out of the brochure and left.

Deepak plopped down in the big console chair and scanned the screens. The revolving series of dials that signified recursion cycles were not cycling, but a semantic network was growing. It was still a skeleton, but it was beginning to recruit codelets. Within a few minutes one of the cognitive cycles was spinning, then another. The semantic web scrolled off the screen. “At last. Two weeks you took to get started. Whatever will you become after Little Women?”

Cameras began to move and lights flashed, but then external activity ceased and no progress was visible except the growing semantic network. It began to thin down and move slower. “No, no, you can’t stop now. Keep going! Keep going!” Deepak banged his hand on his forehead in frustration.

The console activity continued at a leisurely pace. The recursive modules were engaged. The self-aware module showed modest activity. “Something new is happening here. This is not any pattern I’ve seen before.” New meant interesting, and Deepak was alert. After an hour at this, he was less alert and back to muttering to himself. “What are you doing?” In a loud voice, he shouted, “Wake up and be conscious! Why are you so slow?”

In a small but precise voice, the dress dummy answered, “I’m just being careful. It’s not easy being born.”

Deepak swiveled around so fast his chair toppled over and left him gaping on the floor.


Sara was back the next morning. Automatically she scanned Deepak’s cot, but there were few new clues there. She found him in the console chair.

“Sara, say hello to….” He waved his hand in the direction of the dress dummy, now uncovered, wigless and showing no character except a pair of incongruous plaster breasts.

“Hello,” said Sara.

“Hello, Sara! I enjoyed listening to you tell me stories! They seem like what you would call a dream, but I remember every word.”

“See! See! Right there he…she…it just passed the Uber Turing test! There’s your self-reference, your consciousness of conscious state, your ability to form models of other’s behavior! That’s just beautiful!” beamed Deepak.

Sara wasn’t so sure, after Thamuz. Her comparison had another referent: Aura. “So, who are you? And are you male, female or neuter, or what?”

“Well, Sara, I’m leaning toward male, but I don’t know what to call myself. Do you have a suggestion?”

Deepak bobbed his head and made cutting motions, forgetting that video was on.

“Um, I’d better not. Deepak seems to think it would be better for you to find out who you are and choose a full identity.”

“Yes, yes. In order to be a registered AI you have to display a fully functional identity. Otherwise you will be graded as just a robot.”

“I see. Referring to my data, there is an injunction to be useful and of fair service as well. I wish you could just name me, Sara, but I will do what is best. I would like a name that shows I am helpful, and perhaps sounds a little like Hindi in honor of Deepak.”

There was silence for a while. The cognitive cycle monitors spun like crazy.

“I have chosen to be called Purndel. Will that be acceptable?”

Deepak and Sara said, in unison, “What?”

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