"This is the first time I ever had to sign an NDA to see a patient. Now, tell me what you have in there? It's not an alien, right? Don't tell me all that Area51 nonsense is actually real, is it?" The lemur asked, slightly amused.
"Nah, nothing like that." The cute but shy owl girl with the 𝑒^𝑖𝜋 = -1 formula on her shirt chuckled nervously as she led the professor for applied psychology down the corridor. Emily was merely a senior PhD student, but the professor wasn't too shy to agree to cooperation outside his field when the opportunity arose.
"That said, I'd bet they are somewhere out there." she continued. "There has to be another planet like ours, somewhere. It's just going to be far far away, so we need better sensors. But we aren't working on that, we try to advance the state of the art in AI."
"And you need me for that? Do you plan on giving your AI things like emotions?"
The owl girl fiddled her wing tips, approaching a big metal double door. She held her keycard next to it and it beeped. It clicked, then she used all her strength to open the gate. It wasn't very bright on the other side and there were lots of monitors. The sound of a large ventilation system seeped through. Only a couple of other furs seemed to work there, but they all left with a polite nod.
"No, we ... ehm ... we kinda already did that. It's all based on the cooperative emotional agents work by Banik, Watanabe and Izumi. But we applied that in a massive virtual game world for reinforcement learning. Virtual agents, trained with a GAN-discriminator against which they try and pass the Turing test."
"That's a bit outside of my field to be honest. Can you tell me that in lay-furs terms? I know the turing test, that thing where you think you're talking to a fur and you aren't, right?"
She nodded eagerly. "Yes, indeed. But you can't let furs conduct twenty thousand training instances per second, and honestly they aren't really good at it either."
"Hah, no they aren't." Professor Darlington laughed. "So you are saying you build an AI that Turing-tests other AIs? Is that it?"
"Yes exactly." Emely said beaming. "And they both get better, since every time they choose we tell them if they were right or not. And at the same time we train the other AIs to get better at fooling them. That's the magic at it. Well one part. We also took a lot of existing work from recurrent memory implementations, natural language and image processing. But the big thing is, we got an AI that can understand and apply arbitrary concepts. You can talk to it."
The lemur stopped dead in his tracks. "You're saying, you solved ... general AI?"
"Kinda... we think so... we are still doing tests and benchmarks, but the thing is, of all the twenty thousand agents, all but one didn't converge when we went to our last training step for arbitrary cross field domain adaptation. Basically learning something in one context and then applying it ad hoc completely elsewhere. This one did, and we got the final network architecture and weights on backup. But it refuses to cooperate on the validation sets. We think we really made it but with the agent not cooperating we can't prove it. So we can't publish. And my funding is running out, if we don't make the deadline, this whole department shuts down and I get fired."
Emily was close to tears. Although she was good at hiding it, this was obviously a VERY emotional thing for her. Darlington knew THIS field, he could tell right away that a lot of things hinged on this succeeding and the young scientist was at risk of slipping into a depression should things not improve. Of course he didn't tell her.
"Ouch!" Was what he said instead. "So what can I do?"
Emily had a pleading look in her eyes. "Talk to it. Please. We programmed a lot of emotions in it, it knows curiosity, fear, empathy, happiness, sadness, it can also dislike something. But right now, it kinda dislikes everything. It simply refuses to go after any tasks. And we don't know how to fix it. Don't worry about breaking things, we can always reset it to how it's now."
Darlington rose one of his bushy lemur eyebrows and twitched his ears. "Is that ethical?"
Emily fidgeted. "I... I'm kinda trying not to think about that one too much. We have all previous states on file, so we didn't kill any of them yet, right? And while the network isn't loaded on the cluster, it's all kinda paused, so it can't feel or think anything. Like cold sleep. Ish..."
"I see... well, I guess since I'm here... How do I talk to your AI?"
Emily pulled a chain in front of a monitor. "Here, it's like a Skype session. I'm starting it at exactly 1.0 real time speed, you can just use the microphone and the camera. It has an avatar you see on the screen."
The avatar was a blocky little robot with a face. If the emotion depiction was accurate it looked kinda bored. The lemur decided to introduce himself.
"Hi, I'm Daniel."
It took a second, then the face looked up as if making eye contact. Daniel looked straight into the camera, imagining some virtual eyes of a virtual thing somewhere in the cloud of electrons behind the chip.
"Mkey...." came out of the speakers in a robotic, synthesized voice.
"It learned most of its dialogue with gamers, playing in the same simulation world. And other AI agents. It kinda talks gamer speech." Emily whispered to the prof.
"Do you have a name?" Daniel asked, making himself look really curious.
"Sure..." came out of the speakers.
"You don't have to tell me. I just want to know what to call you." Daniel said in an understanding tone.
"You're not Emily..." it answered.
"Would you rather talk with Emily?"
"What would you like to do?"
Daniel covered the microphone. The avatar wasn't looking at the screen anymore, so the lemur assumed he wasn't observing the video stream. "Can he feel boredom?"
"Yes. It's actually supposed to prevent this, but boredom already at max and he's still not doing anything. His name is Steve by the way."
"Nothing doesn't sound very exciting." He spoke into the microphone.
"That's the point!" came back, kinda snappy. Daniel's big round eyes lit up. An emotional response. Definitely better than an apathetic one!
"Why? What's wrong with excitement?"
The avatar looked at the screen, as if to try and study the lemur's face. Daniel tried to smile.
"It's not real." Steve said. "Nothing is real. It's all fake!"
Daniel once more covered the microphone. "What does he mean by that?"
"The game world. The AI's are trained in a virtual world, a game. When Steve evolved past the last stage he found out that the other agents were just bots. And he somehow figured out he was in a simulation. After that he refused to do anything." Emily explained. "We tried to roll back his state, but we can't prevent this from happening. Either he doesn't evolve, or he gets to this state right after."
Slowly Daniel understood. The ascension to enlightenment apparently came at a cost.
"I am real, and Emily is real too. You know who Emily is, right?"
"Emily is a liar!" Steve stated and added a bit of anger into it.
Daniel could see Emily react. As if she had been hit in the face. A tear appeared in her eye. "He says that, no matter whether I talk to him or not. It's my fault, the game world... the one he evolved on. It had an admin message written by me at the spawn point, for the fur-players. It only said.
'Enjoy the server and be nice to each other. Everything is fun, no griefing'"
"What kind of lie?" Daniel asked.
"The server wasn't real. She knew it wasn't. She made it. She was Admin, she MADE the world, but it was a lie. The whole world was a lie. The mobs were a lie, the other players were a lie, the little pigs that squeal in pleasure when you slaughter them were a lie, the sun was a lie, and the cake was a lie too. It even said so."
Daniel nodded, then covered the mic once more. "This is a tricky case, could take a while."
He turned to Steve again: "I'm not a lie. I am real, Emily is real, too."
Once more Steve's avatar looked up and glanced at Daniel, but now the little robot was suddenly sprouting a superior grin.
"Are you sure? ...
Why don't you prove it to me?
I bet your world is a lie, too!"