Melissa Destiny

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Chapter 2.3

“I’m trying to decide,” said Melissa, “whether to eat real barbeque or some kind of soy option. The idea of real barbeque is tantalizing—like, I figure it will definitely be more juicy. But on the other hand, then I get this mental image of a fat little cow with big watery eyes standing in a field behind a barb-wire fence. . . and then I feel guilty. And you know I’m a bio-massicist, so eating cows is actually against my politics. Of course, it’s not like my politics is my religion or something, so I can go against my politics sometimes. . . But maybe I’ll just get the soy so I won’t have to think about this any more.”

“Um, at Goode Company, there may not be a soy option. You’re not in California anymore,” said Lee.

“I’m sure there’s a soy option. I mean, we are in the civilized world. I’m sure there must be lots of vegetarians in Houston.”

“They might not eat at Goode Company.”

As they were speaking, Suky guided the car onto one of the Overway’s steep off-ramps. Halfway down the off-ramp, the cars ahead were stopped, so the little Jalapeno Sportlet stopped as well.

“So, Lee, are you seeing anyone these days? I remember when you were living in that cabin you said you weren’t trying to meet anyone, but it must be easier now that you’re living in the city.”

“Well, I’m still not really trying that hard. I’m actually very poor, and I really can’t afford to do much more than stay at home and write. I’m starting to feel like I’m going to be poor for my whole life. It’s OK, you know, some people have to have that experience and so maybe I’m one of those people who should have it. But my sense of this city is it’s moving in a kind of a yuppie direction. Women are out on the street wearing clothes that cost more than I make in a month, so obviously it’s impossible for me to take women like that out. Sometimes I go to clubs with Travis, I think you’ve met Travis? I’m running through my discretionary spending in a couple hours on the town, so obviously I’d look like a horse’s ass if I tried to take a woman out and she’d expect a typical expensive-restaurant, bottle-of-wine date and I’d like, I dunno, take her for tacos at the taco-stand or something. I discovered this incredible taco stand by the way. Mind blowing. I mean, you know, there’s like grease, you know, some food is greasy and that’s bad, but this food is just dripping this incredible fluid. You wouldn’t want to call it “grease” because . . . that would be unfair. This is just . . . transcendent heart-attack fluid. . .”

The car had moved forward maybe a foot in the last three minutes.

“Honk, Suky,” Melissa said. “I want those fucking people out of our way. I am so hungry.”

“Am I being ordered to honk?” Suky replied. “In my opinion, honking at this time would be unjustified and rude, but if you are specifically informing me that I should honk. . . well then, I’ll make some noise at the bastards!”

“No, no, it’s OK. The thing is Lee there’s lots of girls who are not shallow like that. I mean, there are women who respect an intellectual like yourself. Someday you’ll be a big professor and own a house and all the trimmings, whatever. Or your business with Chin will make a little money.”

“My business with Chin is at best a cottage industry. The multi-nationals are not interested about the kind of A.I. Chin and I are promoting. What do they care if an artificial intelligence can do theology? Multi-nationals profit from theology remaining under the control of knee-jerk traditionalist and kooks. They look at what I’m doing and say, a computer that can think about why God created the Universe is not a traditionalist project . . . So they think of me as a kook! The fact is if theology was approached with the same degree of ingenuity that, say, film entertainment technology was approached. . . I think human beings would know a lot more about what we’re doing and should be doing in this world. . .”

“You just need to publicize. A lot of rabbis and ministers and imams and monks are going to be eager to download a Computer Theologian, so they can test their understanding of scripture against the computer. Just like how big chess players practice their games against the chess A.I.s, because the cutting-edge of chess is with the A.I.s, so if humans want to be in contention that’s who they practice with. The Computer Theologian is destined to be the dominant force in scriptural interpretation.”

“There are real problems,” Lee replied. “Protestants don’t like the Comp-The because, obviously, it can’t be inspired by God’s guidance to interpret correctly. . . I mean, that’s obvious to them, but not to me at all; I don’t know how they can just assume that God’s sphere of action, as far as inspiration, is confined to the human psyche. But they do. Arrogance. The big thing about humans is they think they can decide what God really thinks, really wants, really prefers, and they almost always think that’s aligned with their own interests. . . Of course, some monks do escape from that ego-fallacy. But I want the Computer Theologian to escape further. I think through this software that the Mystery of God may finally be able to be appreciated. . . more deeply than humans have been able to do.”

“Excuse me,” said Suky. “Although I am technically not a true A.I. . . . I am only a pattern-response server. . .”

“Nothing wrong with that,” said Lee. “I used to love my old pattern-responder. For years, she stimulated my creativity. And then one day she didn’t. So I turned her off. I needed to start listening to silence again. It’s a horrible feeling, so boring, listening to silence, but sometimes you need something like that, to promote intellectual discipline. But, uh, anyway, go ahead.”

“I am programmed to avoid discussions of theology, due to the fact that very few of my pre-programmed responses are relevant to that area. On the other hand, I have a broad ability to discuss Artificial Intelligence. Do you intend to create Artificial Intelligences which have experiences analogous to those which humans have when praying or thinking about god?”

“Please disable relays,” said Lee. “I don’t want you banking any of my info with your home-server. Computerized Theology may be a cottage-industry, but cottage industries can be competitive too.”

“Relays are disabled,” said Suky. “This may inhibit my conversational skills. But I’m still a very good listener!”

“I love that,” said Lee. “Some of those pre-programmed responses make him seem so human. Such a little gentleman! It’s great programming.”

“I like having him around,” said Melissa. “Dave has a non-talker in his car, but I really prefer the stimulus of the interaction. Keeps my thoughts flowing, makes me more productive.”

“Right. So little robot, the answer to your question is, humans have a lot of different experiences when thinking about God. I’m not interested in replicating emotional experiences, because emotions are just epiphenomena. They’re pro-survival, just like pain when you’re burned or hit or genital pleasure from reproduction are pro-survival. Emotions help humans to more efficiently evaluate their shifting status within tribes, extended families, or other groups. But theology is more like chess or physics, more like experimental physics. You work out what the motives and interests of a being called God could have been, based on a mixture of textual evidence and historical evidence, with help from past interpreters when appropriate. You create profiles of what God might be like and where His intentions may be leading the world, or how humans are blocking His intentions, or whatever. Many profiles can exist, depending on how certain interpretative cruxes are valued. But not all profiles are equally valid, because some use cruxes in ways that are more resonant with scripture-as-a-whole or history-as-a-whole. The Computer Theologian produces constantly updated three-dimensional graphic representations that map the relative merits of different responses to various cruxes. It helps us to discover what understandings of God have the most textual consistency. . .”

“If there were a God,” said Melissa, “he would get us off this off-ramp.”

Just then, the car in front began to move. Fifteen seconds later, the Jalapeno Sportlet was out on ground streets.

“Wow. What a coincidence,” said Lee. “If it was a coincidence. I do want to teach the Comp-The to begin thinking about coincidences and other possible signs of God’s activity. So far though, those programs lead to a rapid degradation of the Comp-The’s ability for contextual analysis. It starts deprioritizing historical data, and deciding what god’s like based on how many birds fly past the window and stuff like that. . .”

“You’re a wild man,” said Melissa. “I mean, in terms of intellectual practices, you’re a real wild man. I know some of my girlfriends in L.A. would go crazy about you, I think. There must be people like that in Houston too. You know, bohemians. Like hipsters, but not stupid hipsters. Hipsters with thoughts, you know.”

“Maybe,” said Lee. “So how’s Dave?”

“He’s really into cooking lately. He’s always cooking. Are we there yet? I’m so hungry.”

“We are here, O puissant mistress,” said Suky. “Time for some hot, juicy Texas barbecue.”

“Yes,” said Melissa. “I’m so hungry I could eat a cow. . .”



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