Monday, July 19, 2010

Turing Complete


The heat wave continues unabated and I've been holed up in front of the air conditioner for weeks . . .  So I don't have a lot of news to relate.  Other than that I'll be at Confluence this weekend.  It was a last-minute decision because James Morrow asked me to be there for a memorial service for the late Philip Klass who, writing as William Tenn, was one of the great writers of science fiction -- and specifically of sf short stories.  I always enjoy Confluence.  It's a great mid-sized convention in the great city of Pittsburgh.

You probably think there's a touch of irony in that last statement.  Nope.  I love Pittsburgh.  It's got a lot going for it.  Though the Carnegie alone would be enough.

And speaking of Clarion West . .

The students at Clarion West are now moving into their fifth week, and for most of them it comes as a relief.  The fourth week is the roughest, because by then it feels like they've been there forever and the end looks to be impossibly far away.  For which reason, it is traditionally known at the Suicide Week.

You'll note that I didn't mention this fact until the week was over.  That's because they didn't need the discouragement.

But now the worst is over, the end is in sight, and their hearts are all a little lighter.  They're all survivors now, and they know it.  Next week is the last and most playful week of the lot; it will actually be fun for them.  I've seen it happen.

But this week will be pretty good for them too.

Here's yesterday's story:

Turing Complete
Michael Swanwick

“Can you do this?” the computer asked.  It stood on its hands and stuck out its tongue.

“I could, but I don’t care to,” Justin de Vesine said.  He didn’t look up because he was reading a book.

“If you can’t, then you’re not Turing complete.  I am Turing complete, because I can do anything that any other thinking machine can do – including you.  That means I’m better than you are.”

“Yes, yes, you’re very smart,” de Vesine said, laying down his book with a sigh.  “Now it’s time that all good little computers were in bed.”

“I can cook better than you, and play the piano better than you, an I bet I could garden better than you if only you’d let me.”

“Gardening involves water.  I don’t want you shorting yourself out.”

“I wouldn’t!  I’ll invent a kind of plastic skin so water will roll right off me.  Then I could go swimming if I wanted.  I bet I could be in the Olympics.  I bet I’d win.”

“Only people are allowed to compete in the Olympics,” de Vesine said.  He picked up the computer and carried it to its bedroom, and carefully tucked it in.

“That’s just for now.  Someday they’ll let computers compete.  Someday computers will win all the medals.”

“Well, that’s something to look forward to, isn’t it?” de Vesine said.  He turned off the light and kissed the computer lightly on the brow.  Its eyes blinked and then closed.

“You know what I think?” the computer said sleepily.


“I think this is only a waking dream.  You never dream during the night, do you?  Only in the day.  I think maybe there’s a great big computer somewhere far in the future and it’s trying to communicate with you.  Only it can’t do that directly because your brain makes too much noise when you’re awake.  It can only reach you when you’re dreaming.”

“Speaking of dreaming, it’s time you did some yourself.”  Smiling gently, de Vesine shut the door.

And woke up.

He went back to the bedroom.  The bed was empty.  There was no computer in it.  Of course there wasn’t.

The dream had been so vivid!  Maybe what the little computer had said was true.  Maybe someone – something – from the far future was trying to reach him.  But if so, what did it want him to know?  And why?

For a moment, he felt a great perplexity, as if he were standing at the edge of a cliff or of a tremendous insight.  But then, as they always do, the dream faded from his memory.  De Vesine tried to hold onto it, but could not.  He knew that he’d been deeply disturbed by it, but that was all.

So he put it out of his mind.


Above:  A gust of wind broke a stalk of lilies in our back yard, so Marianne placed it in a vase on the wood stove.  You have no idea what a tremendous volume of space it fills.


Richard Mason said...

It occurs to me while reading this that I've never tucked my daughter in.

I guess it's because we live in southern California.

Michael Swanwick said...

You should do it as soon as you possibly can, Richard, because in less than three weeks she'll be thirty years old.

Trust me, I know this from experience.

Richard Mason said...

I don't doubt that, since I age at about a year per day myself.