Tuesday, April 22, 2014

My Good Deed for the Year

It's hard to program a good teacher. Gauging the emotions of the class. Parsing poorly written essays. Encouraging students to learn. Not being stupendously boring. All of these are difficult tasks for a computer to do effectively.

But as hard as it is to create a good electronic teacher, it can be even harder to create a good human one. And a robotic teacher can learn from experience indefinitely, and teach in every classroom on Earth at once. In the long run, then, a machine is the way to go.
So, I've created subroutines in Noetron's electronic structure. Programs to teach people of all ages the wonders of science, (as well as some of that other stuff they teach you in school).
In order to test these programs, I have Noetron teach randomly selected classes in the Estverian public education system. He isn't especially good, but he isn't especially bad, and he doesn't take sick days.
In addition, the Estverian state sponsors an academy for gifted students from across Europe. This has the twin benefits of giving Noetron an opportunity to teach a smarter crowd and giving me the opportunity to mold the next generation of scientific geniuses. Because it is notoriously easy for authority figures to mold egotistical teenage geniuses.

Rene Claude wasn't paying attention in class. This was risky. Noetron had the computation power to focus on every student at once, and could pick up on things like eye dilation and heart rate, as well as checking on whether students were taking notes. But he, like any adolescent, was willing to put in a considerable amount of effort to avoid having to do work.
He was barely listening as Noetron explained some abstract property of the Dirac Equation. He would probably pay for it later, but after all he had been going through lately Rene deserved some time off.
It seemed like he wasn't going to get it.
"Rene," the robotic voice said from the front of the room. "Since you don't seem to be paying attention, now is as good a time as any. The principal wishes to speak with you." The principal, like all of the teachers, counselors, and janitorial staff, was Noetron.
This wasn't as bad as it sounded. Despite being the creation of a supervillain, Noetron administered neither corporal nor capital punishment among his students. That being said, he didn't exactly hand out bags of candy either.
Rene packed up his things. His smart phone would direct him to whichever room Noetron had decided was the 'principal's office.'
He walked past the chemistry lab, and thought about Noetron's multiple personalities.

Noetron was a machine, and thus, any sort of personality was artificial. It was thus simple for it to change personalities at the drop of a digital hat. In the lab across the hall, for instance, he was erratic and demanding, while in the math room next door he was a machines best approximation of a silly human being. Whether these personalities existed for some higher purpose or simply because they were fun for Phoenix to program was a matter of ongoing debate.
With a start, Rene realized he had reached his destination. It was a small, out-of-the-way room with three gigantic computer monitors. A featureless mask was projected on each of the three monitors. (Was projected the right word? It's not like there was a projector. Rene resolved to look it up later). The overall effect was intimidating. But Noetron didn't sound angry. He spoke in the same monotone as he did when discussing the Dirac Equation. "Rene, your little games have come to my attention."
"Little games?"
"Yes. They were sufficiently unusual that they drew the attention of my supervisor." His supervisor. His creator. Phoenix, one of the greatest minds on Earth today- if not one of the great geniuses of all time. "Phoenix wishes to discuss the matter personally."
Rene felt simultaneous rushes of fear and exhilaration.

That was my cue. "Rene, that was very interesting, and very clever of you.
"Thank you," he said. "Sir," he added. "Your excellency."
"Call me Phoenix." I examined the child. He was young, and unworldly. Not surprising. "Now, you knew that Noetron checks your spelling, and you deduced he would log your mistakes in order to run some sort of analysis. You were correct, and you wouldn't believe how much fun I've had over some peoples' more tragic mistakes."
"And so I began making deliberate mistakes." Of course. I should let him explain his own plan. It's every villain's right.
"I started using the wrong letter, once every paragraph or two. The incorrect letters, when taken on their own, spelled out words." He seemed excited. "I wanted to make sure your program would pay attention, so I opened with words I suspected would be on your watchlist: 'Cognis Phoenix Lucy New Archivist Cognis Phoenix United Heroes.'"
He was gathering speed. "And then I got to my main message. Explaining my problem, and everything I know about it. Have you come up with a solution?"
"Yes. Your mother's condition is not easy to improve, and helping you would take a considerable amount of time. I am a rather busy person, what with advancing the frontiers of science and trying to take over the world, but helping out arrogant teenage nerds was one of the reasons I created this institution. Your mother's condition can't be cured without causing permanent and significant brain damage, but I did devise a set of treatments which should alleviate at least all of the symptoms until the tumor reaches a critical mass, maybe twenty years from now."
"Not yet. I will send instructions for a cure to the facility treating her. They will be reticent to take the medical advice of a supervillain. I suspect they will eventually make the right choice, but I can't predict it with total accuracy." Only God can do that. And Professor Cognis.

I sat in my chair alone. Why did I do that? Why did I spend eight hours doing tedious research in order to help someone? It wasn't even an efficient method of being altruistic. With that much time and effort, I probably could have cured emphysema.
I came up with a few possible explanations for my irrational behavior. It was possible I did it because young Rene Claude reminded me of myself in my early teens. A social outsider, bored in class, filled with potential for scientific achievement.
It was also possible that some part of me was looking to replace Lucy with a new protege. Perhaps I had subconsciously given up on ever retrieving her, and was helping this child as a proxy. Clearly, I would need to renew my efforts to free Lucy.
Or maybe I was doing something irrational for irrationality's sake. Trying to prove to myself that I wasn't a machine. Maybe some part of my mind associated sentimentality and humanity.
All very interesting...    

1 comment:

  1. third batch - But he (Rene), like any adolescent, was willing
    third batch - a machines (machine's) best approximation
    fifth batch - but I did devise a set of treatments which should alleviate at least all (some) of the symptoms