Coffee With a Sorathian (indented)
A burst of thunder rattled the ceramic saucers and shook the windows---and shortly thereafter sheets of snow and rain brushed over the streets in waves. The weather provided him with an excuse not to attend his six o'clock appointment at the Elm Grove Golf Course in Lenexa , KS . He called his secretary and had her make the necessary calls, then pushed his cell phone into his jacket pocket and resumed his careful study. The pictures that appeared on his computer screen over the next hour made it abundantly clear that the future that Billy Bayber envisioned was one where remarkable effort was no longer required to achieve remarkable success. All that was required was the implantation of mechanical devices and unfathomable powers were instantly bestowed upon humanity. The idea was fantastic.
For the second time today a stranger approached him concerning the Pentakotic Gateway Series; this time in the espresso bar at 6:15 PM. An Arabic man in a black trench coat came out of the snow and, with Giovanni's permission, sat at his table by the window. The stranger identified himself as a neuro-surgeon at KU Medical Center; in fact he was wearing scrubs underneath his coat, as if he had come straight from the hospital. Although grim and stoical in appearance, the stranger extended a handshake that was warm and ingratiating, and begun by casually mentioning the telephone conversation early today with the retired engineer Gerard Chardin. The stranger said Gerard Chardin was a colleague and a close friend, and that both of them were "somewhat taken aback" by the flagrant way in which the paintings were displayed on the Internet. "Such works of art," the stranger said very calmly, "should be kept quiet, Mr. Migliazzo. We ask that you practice more discipline and foresight in the future."
The table next to theirs' was occupied by an older couple, both of whome were reading the newspaper, and looked up simultaneously when Giovanni responded.
"Am I being reprimanded?" he asked with a chuckle.
"Of course not."
"How do you know me? Did you follow me here? What's this all about?"
A Dylan song filled the room. The music was loud, but not loud enough to mute their conversation. The stranger scooted his chair forward, and leaned forward further yet when responding.
"I came here this evening to set the rules so you'll know exactly where we stand from the beginning."
"The rules, eh? Tell me the rules." There was sarcasm in his voice.
"We don't like you using the Quanta Technologies company logo in your paintings."
"You don't?" he said, not knowing what Quanta was.
"Paint anything else---just not our company logo. Your work is very intriguing, undoubtedly visionary. All of us are extremely baffled by the nature of your talent and amazed by how you found out about us. Yet you're treading on dangerous legal ground. It's illegal to use our company logo without permission."
"I don't know what you're talking about. I've never heard of Quanta Technologies."
"Quanta is a medical research company. We're developing neuro-chip and other, err, artificial intelligence technologies, also medical neuro chips engineered for curative purposes. Tell me you're being intentionally innocent over these facts."
"I told you already. I've never heard of Quanta," he said, vaguely associating the term with something that Billy ranted about over the years, usually while Giovanni was inebriated. But Gio did not say that. He continued his air of innocence, saying: "You make neuro-chips?"
"In 1996 we received government approval for clinical trials on brain implants. Since then our research scientists have helped engineer a microchip designed to duplicate the biological operations performed by the hippocampus. If the microchip succeeds, it could help people suffering from brain damage, particularly stroke patients, epileptics and those suffering from Alzheimer's disease. The power of this technology, Mr. Migliazzo, is about to transform society."
In the background was the hiss of the espresso machine frothing milk. Night had fallen, and the room started to empty. All who was left in the sitting area were the two. Yet despite the increasing silence, the doctor spoke at an increasing volume. He started using hand gestures and, oddly, begun gazing relentlessly into Giovanni's eyes. The gaze was embarrassing, and yet Gio did dip his eyes. He stared straight ahead, out of rebelliousness then started scratching his nose and occasionally shrugging his shoulder. "Sounds interesting," Giovanni said in bland voice; his eyes half closed, then took a sip of coffee to find that his cup was empty.
"Interesting?" the doctor responded, "Not just interesting, revolutionary! Neuro chips are the savior of mankind!"
Giovanni loathed fanatics. Their excessive, uncritical zeal embarrassed him. "Sorry for being cynical," he remarked, "but I'm a cynic by nature. I don't believe in anything that claims to be a `savior of mankind'---whether it's a computer chip or a man."
The doctor's jaw muscles flared like the back of a strolling panther even while his face remained plastic and expressionless. Giovanni took advantage of the pall of silence by elaborating his position more succinctly. "After all, doctor, you're changing people's brains; you're not changing the world. Even if you're successful, and I hope you are, the universe will still exist as it has always existed. Now, if you could develop a computer chip that allows mankind to see meaning in his life then you may be `saving' something."
The doctor reached for a wallet in his jacket pocket; obviously the man wasn't accustomed to opposing view points and now avoided eye contact when handing him his business card. The name on the card read Dujin Rabsu.
"You can contact me at this number," said the doctor in his English accent.
"Don't be offended, sir."
"I'm not offended. You're a cynic---and you need to be convinced. If you could only see the vast potential of nuero chip technology then you would agree that computers technology is the savior of mankind, at least more of a savior than the ones provided by religion. Our religious saviors have given us a way to live our lives; they've given us ethics and morals, but not a new modality of comprehension, not a new way of seeing and comprehending the universe. Computers will give mankind that vision, instantly."
"Yes, but it's a vision produced artificially by a machine."
"So what? Essentially, that's all our brain is. It's a device that constructs thought and receives the data flowing into our brain from our senses. Once you change your brain you've changed reality. Mind is reality."
"Sorry but I would not want to think as a computer. I choose to think as a man. I know a little something about computers and I wouldn't want to become one of them."
"But you are one already! You're a system of interlocking organs producing organic life. Thought is a construct produced by organic biological matter operating mechanically."
"I'm sorry, but I just can't accept the mechanistic world view. That was the view that my college professors tried ramming down my throat when I was young, but I never accepted it. I've always believed that mankind possesses a transcendent principle. True consciousness cannot be generated by formal logic systems or by any type of artificial intelligence that uses machine learning, or statistical analysis or case based reasoning, or Bayesian networks. It's the non-material forces of the soul that form the only value-relationships worth living for."
The doctor laughed mockingly. "You're an idealist!"
"No, I'm rotten nihilist, Dr. Rabsu. I'm un-saveable. No computer chip can give the world what it most desires---meaning."
Still chuckling, Dr. Dujin Rabsu lowered his hat on his head. "I must be going now."
"I have a surgery at eight. This has been a thought provoking conversation, and I wish I could stay. Seeing your art work, I did not think it would be. Call me and we'll talk more. We'll show you that artificial intelligence is not a retrograde science, as you think it is, but the golden future of mankind."
"Wow, golden future? Who's the idealist now?"
Again the doctor laughed, though this time softer. "Well I have been criticized for taking my work too seriously. Remember, artificial intelligence is still intelligence. If it's a better form of intelligence than the organic-chemical intelligence we have now, then it's an advancement. Artificial intelligence processes data at extremely high levels."
"So do calculators, but I wouldn't want to be one. The question is, if you succeed in your purpose, would it be true consciousness that you create, or would it be the type of consciousness that is already found in mechanical devices such as calculators and computer, just on a more sophisticated level?"
"True consciousness?" the doctor laughed---and now started backpedaling toward the door. "No such thing exists, Mr. Migliazzo. Have a good day!"
The business card that Dr Rabsu left on the table had his business phone number on the front, while another number, apparently his cell phone, was scrawled in ballpoint pen on the back. The logo on front was a simple geometric design, rather plane looking. It consisted merely in five rectangles outlining one another, each a different color, with a Greek triskelion in the middle. Beneath the symbol was a hand written Web address.
When he looked up from the business card the doctor had already left the espresso bar and could be seen walking against the wind, having to press his hat against his head to keep it from blowing away. In a sense, he admired the doctor. Fanaticism was obviously an asset in his professional life, that fueled his creativity and inventiveness, and provided his life with a level of meaning that was foreign to Giovanni. Mentally drifting in the piano melodies, he ambled toward the exit, a toothpick in his mouth. Upon leaving the espresso bar the soft piano melodies drifted out onto the street, merging with the sound of traffic. Broadway was wet and glistening; and the puddles on the sidewalk reflected the hazy street lamps overhead and the moon appearing and disappearing from behind a banner of broken clouds. Intermixed with the stone smell, which the city emitted in the rain, there was the aquatic smelling air blowing in from the Missouri River . The traffic passed for less than a minute before Giovanni's black Porsche sped by.
to be continued....