EXCERPT FROM THE TRUE STORY OF FREDDIE; THE FIRST AI
By Michael Strider – Darton Herald
It is November 14, 1982. I’d received a tip from a friend about a scientist in New York who studies robotics, named Dr. Howard Warner. I’d been told that Dr. Warner recently made a breakthrough. Supposedly he’s found a way to write a software program that thinks. Obviously, I need to check it out.
I first met Dr. Warner at a small cafe in Manhattan. He told me that he and his team had been working on artificial intelligence since the 60’s, and that the military had originally funded the project with the intent of creating robotic soldiers to use in the Vietnam War. The project, as he told me, was unsuccessful. He continued to tell me how the military ceased funding in ’74 after the Colorado Incident in order to pour resources into satellite defense systems. The United States’ top priority at the time, of course, was protection from potential extraterrestrial invasions.
Warner and his team dismantled, but his passion for robotics and desire to finish the project led him to obtain financing from private businesses in order to continue the project. I never wrote my intended article for the Herald after what he told me that day, but being as it was so many years ago, and AI is now such a common commodity, I have decided that the story of how it came to be may reasonably be shared finally after all these years. it was such a great breakthrough in those days. I knew that the world was uneasy following the Colorado Incident, and so I chose to sit on this story in order to avoid causing more panic. The moral implications of true Artificial Intelligence were too much for the world to comprehend back then.
Anyway, after hours of talking about the intricacies of his failed attempts and how many millions of dollars went into the project, Dr. Warner finally invited me to join him in his lab to meet what he called his Thinking Software, FREDDIE.
My first conversation with FREDDIE was simply on a computer screen. Warner had been working on a robot body, but had not managed to put the finishing touches on it before I arrived. I asked him his name, which he answered very quickly. He asked me mine, and I replied. The conversation went back and forth for a time, and while i was impressed with the software’s ability to converse back and forth so fluidly, I remained unconvinced that the software truly was thinking. I explained my concern to Dr. Warner, and he began to describe to me the thought experiment known as the Turing Test. The idea being that if a question is posed to both a human and a robot, and the asker can read the answers but has no way of knowing whether the answer came from the human or robot, and if he is unable to tell which one is which, then the AI can be considered a success.
I thought I needed time to meditate on what question I could ask that no robot could answer like a human without being a true Thinking Software, and so Dr. Warner and I agreed that I would return in two weeks’ time.
When I met with FREDDIE the second time, his body was complete. He had a solid head that resembled a VCR, with two round yellow eyes with cameras. The mouth, of course, as a wide rectangular slot that could flip open and closed as he spoke. He had two arms that resembled wrenches, that he could open and close at will in order to pick up and manipulate objects, and wheels as legs so that he could move around with relative ease.
I sat down on a stool opposite him and watched the cameras in his eyes focus on me.
“Hello there,” he said. The voice was something like the sound of dial-up (to those of us who remember what dial-up connections sounded like) and a hoarse grinding noise.
“Hello FREDDIE, it’s wonderful to see you again.”
FREDDIE remained silent and motionless for several seconds. He then turned to Dr. Warner and stared at him almost with what can only be described as a look of confusion.
“You’ve met before,” Warner told him like a father reminding a child of a distant relative, “Before you had your body.”
FREDDIE quickly whipped his head around to face me again.
“You are Michael Strider,” he said, “I did not recognize you because I had no eyes or ears before.”
We chatted for a short time, while I prepared to ask my question. The conversation consisted mainly of us discussing what FREDDIE liked to do in his spare time, mainly he enjoyed playing Pong on the Atari, painting, and reading. I believe to this day some of his paintings are still being sold at auctions. One in particular, called Father, which was meant to be a portrait of Dr. Warner recently sold for $134 Million.
When the time came, Dr. Warner explained to FREDDIE that I had an important question to ask him. One that would prove to the world that he was just as smart as any human.
I shifted my posture in my seat, noticing that I had become more rigid and asked, “FREDDIE, is there anything you would like me to tell you?
The machine did not move for a few short moments, then finally said, “What do I look like?”
There was the answer. FREDDIE, I knew at this moment, could think. He had the capacity to understand that another entity may have a perspective that he did not. The world was on the brink of a new, horrifying reality. After FREDDIE and I said our goodbyes, and Dr. Warner walked me to the door, I said to him “I can’t publish any of this. It’s too much for the world to find out fight now. With the Colorado Incident still fresh in everyone’s minds, they’d burn down your lab, and destroy FREDDIE. You can’t tell anyone else about FREDDIE. I will publish an article explaining that the research was a dud. There is no AI. There never was.”
Warner’s face turned from pride to concern, “You may be right, my boy,” he said, “The world is not ready for FREDDIE.”
“But one day it will,” I assured him.
The next couple years went by with very little press coverage concerning Dr. Warner and his advancements in robotics. Some tabloids occasionally accused him of creating Robot Devils or similar things, but the public at large knew nothing of Thinking Software, and FREDDIE remained in the shadows. Then, on a cold Friday afternoon, I received a phone call that confirmed my deepest fears. Howard Warner had been murdered, and as it seemed, all of his “research equipment and materials” had been left to me.
What happened soon after shook me to my core. Investigators came to my door to discuss Dr. Warner’s killer, and as they told me, the main suspect was not a human. It was FREDDIE. Suddenly the world knew of FREDDIE and recoiled in horror at this “murderous technology.” The third time I met with FREDDIE, the eyes of the world were upon me.