In a showcase of Nick Mamatas’ thought-provoking and topical THE PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC OF EVERYTHING, Tachyon presents glimpses from some of the volume’s magnificent tales.
with a Ghost
by Nick Mamatas
spent at least three months making the same joke about how the AI was
going to start spouting, “Ph’nglui mglw’nafh C’thulhu R’lyeh
wgah’nagl fhtagn,” and then all hell would break loose—a
Singularity with tentacles. Sometimes he’d even run to the bank of
light switches and flick the lights on and off. It was funny the
first time to Melanie, and she squeezed a bit more mirth out of
Chakravarty’s inability to pronounce the prayer to Cthulhu the same
way twice. Making the Lovecraft AI had been Melanie’s idea, but it
was Chakravarty who tried to keep the mood whimsical. Both worried
that Lovecraft would just wake up screaming.
he does scream, occasionally,” Melanie explained. Her advisor and a
few other grad students were at the presentation, in the front rows,
but as these presentations were theoretically open to the public, the
Lovecraftians had come out in force, squeezing themselves into the
tiny desk-chairs. They looked a lot like grad students themselves,
but even paler and more poorly dressed in ill-fitting T-shirts and
unusual garments—one even wore a fedora—plus they kept
we hear it talk?” one asked, and then he raised his hand, as if
remembering that he had to. “Ask it questions?”
leave all questions—for us—until after the presentation. We’re
not going to expose the AI to haphazard stimuli during this
presentation,” Chakravarty said.
… fairly calm so far,” Melanie said. “Which is to be
expected. We know a lot about Lovecraft. He recorded almost
everything he did or thought in his letters, after all, and we have
nearly all of them. What ice cream he liked, how it felt to catch the
last train out of South Station, how he saw the colors scarlet and
purple when he thought the word evil. He was fairly phlegmatic, for
all the crazy prose and ideas, so he’s okay.”
do we know that this is really an artificial intelligence, and not
just a bunch of programmed responses?” This one, huge and bearded,
wore a fedora.
opened his mouth to speak, his face hard, but Melanie answered with
an upturned palm. “It’s fine,” she said to him. “Most of
these talks are total snoozers. Nobody ever has any questions.”
Then, to the audience: “I’d argue that we can’t know it’s a
bunch of programmed responses, except that we didn’t program all
the responses we’ve seen so far. Of course, I don’t know that
you, sir,” she said, pointing to the Lovecraftian, “aren’t also
just a bunch of programmed responses that are just the physical
manifestation of the reactions going on in the bag of chemicals you
keep in your skull.”
don’t feel like I am!”
you believe everything you feel; do you not believe in anything you
and no true Lovecraftian would,” he said.
So you don’t believe in the female orgasm,” Melanie said. The
room erupted in hoots and applause. Then Chakravarty got up, shouted
that everyone who didn’t understand what’s going on should just
go home, Google “Chinese room,” and stop asking stupid questions.
“Ooh, Chinese—Lovecraft wouldn’t like that room,” someone
said. Then the classroom was quiet again.
thanks for that, Chakravarty,” Melanie said. She adjusted her
watch, thick and blocky on her wrist. “I’ve been walking around
the city with him. He likes Boston and Cambridge, it helped ease him
into his, uh, existence. And he knew things, how roads crossed and
bits of history, that I didn’t know, that we didn’t program into
him. But we did program a lot into him. Everything we had access to,
both locally and up at Brown.” Behind her, a ghostly image of the
author, chin like a bucket, eyes wide and a bit wild, flickered into
existence. He sat in an overstuffed chair in the swirling null-space
of a factory-present screensaver image.
if there are no more questions”—Melanie glanced about the
classroom and there were no questions, just some leftover
giggles—“why don’t we have him say hello?”
room went silent. “And none of that ftang ftang stuff,” Melanie
added. Somebody giggled, high-pitched like a fife.
leaned down into a microphone that snaked out from the laptop.
“Lovecraft, can you hear me? Can you see us? Many people here have
read your stories.”
image blinked. “Hello,” it said, its voice tinny and distant.
are you?” Chakravarty asked. A simple question, one with only a
couple of socially acceptable answers. A kid could program the word
“Fine,” into an AIM buddy chat.
do not quite know,” Lovecraft said. “I …” he trailed off,
then looked out into the room, as if peering into the distance. “Why
have you people done this to me?”
For more info on THE PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC OF EVERYTHING, visit the Tachyon page.
Cover by Elizabeth Story