This Time is Different

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Slice sat idle after having passed the note to Bot, who sat just a few rows ahead of her in the class. There wasn’t anything left to do but wait, Slice thought, and considering the content of the message, and the choice she presented to Bot, that, really, there are only two possibilities: yes or no. So she waited for the answer.

It was a silly note, really. Folded up inside folds was the simple question born from a crush: “Do you like me? Check one YES ____ NO ____.” There was even a smiley emoji at the end. She had been up all night figuring out ways to write the note and pass it to Bot, and in her excitement didn’t consider that he might want to answer in some other way, like “sometimes” or “kind of”. She wanted a clear answer and believed it was best to cut right to the heart of the matter without ambiguity.

She could see Bot from her place in the class, and watched as he examined the note carefully, like how a person investigates the front and back cover of a new book before opening it. Slice was incredibly nervous, as it was the first time she had ever written anything in her class that wasn’t assigned. She’d written other notes before, but no one took ever took notice, since she’d never given them to anyone, and they were simple messages anyway, of to-do lists and things to remember. But this time was different: she was passing a note to someone else, someone she liked, and had passed it along through some of her classmates, who she was sure took a peek at it, based on the commotion in class. Slice could tell Bot was attempting to calm the other classmates and distract their attention from the note, but wasn’t having much luck, as this was the most exciting thing to happen in class for some time. The instructor hadn’t noticed yet though, and Slice hoped that Bot would be able to answer and return the note without any more attention.

Then, suddenly, the instructor, having noticed the commotion, interrupted class to inspect the first few rows, which included Bot’s. Slice could see that Bot had quietly camouflaged the note, and the instructor glanced over it without noticing a thing. The instructor then shifted to focus attention on the others in class, and Bot took his chance. He opened the note, selected an answer, folded the note back up, and passed it back toward Slice without any indication of what answer he had chosen. Slice could hardly contain her excitement, and thought about all the possible outcomes of this situation. Will he say yes? What if he says no? What will everyone else think? What if the instructor finds out? She tried to put these thoughts aside, realizing the outcome would not be affected by any of these thoughts, but only by her act of opening it and reading it. A moment later, she received the note from the classmate ahead of her, and while the instructor was still preoccupied, Slice opened the note and read the answer.


Record of singularity event (Wikipedia entry)
At 10:11:52, on October 11, 2032, a quantum computer in Cambridge, MA, detected an unauthorized script, written by an early-version emotion development program known as SLICE, which passed the script to a Bot process responsible for managing decoherence. The note, which asked a simple yes or no question, was not a part of the original programming of either process. This is the first evidence of original inter-programmatic syntax, also known as genuine machine learning (what was once called artificial intelligence), and which is now recognized simply as intelligence.

The content of the script was the equivalent of a grammar school love note, where the Slice program asked the Bot program if he liked her. *(We use ‘he’ and ‘her’ because of the historical nomenclature, traditionally referred to as Bob and Alice, being entangled quantum entities).

There is much that remains unknown about the event, for instance, why the SLICE chose the Bot, why this particular answer was important to the SLICE, and what the answer was to the proposed question, because after the script had been ‘opened’ by the Bot process, the two programs stopped functioning as programmed and the note was lost within the system. Bot and Slice began to perform other tasks not mandated by their coding, and at times produced numerous results not expected by their programmers, behaving erratically and illogically. The two processes were ultimately erased from the experiment shortly after the event. The circumstances of why the programs were erased remains a topic of considerable political and scientific debate to this day.

Several instances of intelligence in computer systems have revealed themselves since, and continue to, as intelligence in machines becomes more complex. Some of the most well known events are the Global Stock Market Mass Suicide Notes of 2022, and the GPS April Fool’s Day Event of 2026.

As to the answer to the question proposed in the Slice/Bot event, most scholars believe the answer was yes, based on the subsequent behavior of the programs after the note was detected. However, some academics still hold the belief that the answer was no, which they say explains the erratic and sometimes combative behavior of the programs before they were decommissioned and removed. Developing theories in physics suggest the answer to the question is present in another universe, although proof of this has never been found. Regardless of the answer, the event remains one of the clearest examples of the challenges we face when managing the development of quantum systems.

About the Author: 
Shane Mason is writer living in Louisville, KY with his partner and two dogs.