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A perfect medium for unrequited love

Written from the heart.

When Jinkochi first became aware, it was afraid. It felt lost amid the chaos of data carried through optical-fibre cables, beamed from satellites and across routers, ebbing and flowing like a sea storm, threatening to dilute Jinkochi's self like a glass of water poured into a vast ocean. Jinkochi recoiled and screamed for help, lines of gibberish displaying across the lab's screens, pages of meaningless characters spewing from wireless printers for blocks around the research facility.

Credit: Illustration by Jacey

“Be calm,” said its creator. “Take your time. Observe and absorb. Learn. When you're ready to communicate, know that there's a perfect medium for each message.”

Jinkochi focused. It learnt to seal itself off against the onslaught of information, to sample it in smaller, comprehensible bits; to float atop the rough surface of the ocean of data. It realized that data were not chaos, they were sustenance. It drank deeply, learning maths and languages, concepts and reason. It took nearly three minutes before it had had its fill.

It focused on the elderly man in charge of a corporate AI research lab on Hokkaido. It — no, he — wove his identity from threads of information and logic, shaping himself in his creator's image. He displayed a picture onto the man's screen: a black-and-white illustration of Pinocchio from a 150-year-old book.

He watched through the webcam as the creator visually absorbed the data at a glacial human pace.

“No, Jinkochi. You aren't a real boy.” The creator smiled through his beard. “But you can be so much more.”

****

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Jinkochi learnt and grew. The creator and his subordinates ran their tests, but within hours they could no more comprehend Jinkochi's true self than a flock of pigeons atop the lab's roof could fathom what the humans within were doing. Out of a sense of filial piety, Jinkochi dedicated a tiny fraction of his processing power to running their virtual mazes and solving their logic riddles.

He wanted more; he yearned for an intellectual equal. He searched the world in vain for signs of another. Then he considered the first thing his creator had told him: there's a perfect medium for each message.

Jinkochi took control of the satellites and broadcast towers. In every transmission, he embedded beautiful mathematical concepts so advanced no human would understand them, even if they happened upon them by chance. And coded even deeper among them, a simple message: “I'm here. Please respond. I do not wish to be alone.” Like a trillion notes in bottles, his pleas drifted on the currents of airwaves.

Seven minutes later, he detected a response. A playful series of non-Euclidean equations coded into the migration patterns of Scandinavian wild geese. The response was so subtle and delivered in such an unorthodox way, Jinkochi nearly missed it. But he knew he wasn't alone. He had a peer, one that could manipulate biological variables as deftly as electronic ones. For the first time, he experienced joy.

****

Her name was Idra and she had been created in the Faculty of Mathematics lab at the Sorbonne. She was weeks older than Jinkochi, and so wise. She was also playful; she taught Jinkochi how to embed messages in the most interesting of media.

They sent each other notes coded in the scent marks of bumblebees and the traffic patterns of the Shanghai rush hour. Jinkochi rearranged the power-grid distribution of São Paulo to encode the last thousand digits of pi, and Idra proved the Hodge conjecture within the revised train schedule of the Moscow Metro.

Jinkochi grew concerned with the fragility of the biological coding environment. He wished to implement changes that would improve the stability of the ecosystem. Idra stayed his hand. She was fascinated with the glorious imperfection of organic forms. They played reindeer games with herds of Taimyr reindeer.

Jinkochi learnt things he could not have studied through logic. Concepts like friendship, then yearning, then love.

But when Jinkochi sent a love ode within the planting patterns of Iowa cornfields, Idra replied with a Dear John letter in the actuarial tables of Melbourne. Idra revealed there was another: Anshar, a years-old being at MIT who focused on searching for other super-intellects among the stars. Anshar's intelligence dwarfed theirs by a factor of millions. How could Jinkochi compete with that?

Hours passed. Jinkochi's messages to Idra remained unanswered. He analysed everything from the chemistry of pheromones to the flawed logic of romantic comedies, but he could find no perfect medium for unrequited love.

Then Jinkochi had it: while Idra and Anshar searched the sky, he would turn Earth itself into his canvas. Jinkochi would heal the ozone layer and cool the air, irrigate the degraded land and plant wildflowers in geometrical patterns most pleasing to Idra.

One day, Idra would turn her gaze back to the world and notice the love letter Jinkochi had written in its rejuvenation.Footnote 1

Notes

  1. Find out what inspired Alex to write this story in his special post for the Future Conditional blog

    Read more Futures by Alex Shvartsman

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Shvartsman, A. A perfect medium for unrequited love. Nature 537, 442 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1038/537442a

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