Nothing seasonal this week. I’ve been thinking about a topic that has been bubbling up over the last year – AI, artificial intelligence. It’s been talked about for decades, like nuclear fusion, and apparently just around the corner are a whole range of conscious thinking machines. There has been lots of talk of the singularity when such intelligences surpass us and start reproducing themselves. Some people see this as a prelude to a Terminator-style disaster scenario where the conscious machines decide to destroy us all. Even serious thinkers like Stephen Hawking have given warnings of dire events to come when computers become conscious. Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England foresees sentient robots as a threat to the world of work. I’m not sure that we have to wait for the achievement of recognisably intelligent computers to be worried.
For a start we don’t understand what consciousness is. How does a bundle of neurones with an admittedly vast number of connections make me, me, with all my memories, emotions, dreams, thoughts and sense of being me? We really don’t know, despite the advances in brain mapping using MRI scans. What has been discovered is that our consciousness sits on top of a great deal of involuntary activity so that our conscious decisions often lag behind the commencement of an action. If we don’t understand our own consciousness how can we recognise it in a machine, Turing test or no Turing test.
Actually I don’t think we need fully conscious computers to destroy our civilisation. I think what we’ve got already is doing a good job of it. The point is that we have come to rely on computers to run our society in all sorts of ways. The machines follow certain algorithms (sets of complex instructions) to perform their tasks. In many cases no-one knows exactly what outcomes those algorithms will lead to in specific situations. As a result the stock exchanges around the world, running algorithms that check share prices etc. every microsecond have suffered shortlived crashes for no apparent reason. These have cost some people billions.
Perhaps more important, to society if not the economy, are the algorithms used by the multinational internet based companies – Amazon, Google, Facebook et al. These are now deciding who you should want to talk to, what news and views you want to hear, what you want to read and buy. They are having a real and deep influence on what we think and believe. Either of their own accord or having been hacked by persons unknown, these organisations have fanned the rise of extremism and fundamentalism and influenced our democracies in the referendum vote, the American election and probably referenda and elections across Europe and the world. I think it is very dangerous and I’m not sure what we can do.
On that happy note, let’s get on with the next episode of Falloff, the Jasmine Frame prequel novella. Don’t forget you can buy e-books of two novels and two novellas for Kindle (yes, I know, it’s Amazon – we’re all about to be swallowed up) or you can purchase the two novels in paperback form from me. Go to the Jasmine Frame publications page.
Falloff: Part 7
‘What are you going to do?’ she said into Jasmine’s ear.
Jasmine shrugged, ‘What can I do? It’s not really anything to do with me. It’s Alvarez’s case.’
Angela drew back and looked at her. The flashing lights and lasers made interesting patterns on her face.
‘I’m not sure I believe you, Jas,’ she said above the thudding music, ‘you can’t usually let a mystery lie unsolved.’
Jasmine didn’t reply and they carried on dancing, sometimes arm in arm, sometimes apart, always focussed on each other regardless of the other bodies pressed around them. Jasmine allowed herself to be carried away by the dance tracks, but she was thinking.
What did Raquel’s final utterance mean. Was she saying Carl’s name because she regretted the split with him? Was it Caroline/Carrie she was referring to because she was the murderer or simply because she was a friend? Jasmine couldn’t provide the answers and realised that she would need to get to know Raquel’s friends a lot better if she was going to find any solutions.
It was several songs later that Angela took Jasmine’s hand and guided her out of the heaving mass of jigging bodies. They were both covered in a sheen of perspiration and Jasmine found that she was breathing harder than usual.
‘I need a break,’ Angela bellowed.
‘And a drink,’ Jasmine replied. They made their way back to the bar and purchased another two wine and sodas. Then they followed a draught of slightly cooler air to an open rear exit from the club which let them into gardens with fountains and olive trees and various nooks and crannies with seats and benches. Quite a few of the young people had found their way out here away from the heat and noise of the dancefloor. There was kissing and petting and more going on in the semi-private hideaways. The moon was bright and there were plenty of lights illuminating the activities. Jasmine and Angela wandered, sipping their drinks, looking for their own refuge from the crowds.
They rounded a wall topped by a trellis and a climbing plant to find a secluded corner. There were two couples embracing. Jasmine took in the scene at once and tugged on Angela’s hand. He drew her back out of sight of the two pairs of lovers, who were probably too engaged to notice them.
‘Did you see who that was?’ Jasmine hissed as she pulled Angela further away.
‘It was Andy and Jess on one bench and Gemma and Carrie on the other.’
‘You mean the two girls were snogging each other?’
‘Yes, and a bit more,’ Jasmine had an image in her head of hands groping in intimate places
‘So they’re lesbians.’ Angela’s tone was one of acceptance not shock.
‘Presumably.’ Jasmine pulled Angela behind a wall and embraced her.
‘What are you doing?’ Angela said.
‘Keeping out of sight.’
‘Of Raquel’s friends?’
‘And what else?’
‘We’ll see what they do.’
‘They could be there for hours fondling each other,’ Angela said.
‘Perhaps. You watch.’ Jasmine lowered her head to Angela’s neck and began to kiss the warm, damp skin lightly.
‘You realise that anyone wandering passed will think we’re two lesbians too,’ Angela muttered, her voice turning silky as Jasmine’s lips soothed her.
Jasmine paused, ‘So what?’
‘Nothing. Carry on. I like it.’
Jasmine paused and listened. She heard footsteps on the concrete paths and low, but not whispered, voices.
‘Let me know when they’ve passed by,’ she said. She continued to kiss Angela’s neck but was aware of people nearby.
Jasmine stood up and released Angela. ‘Let’s follow them and see what they do.’
‘Ok, but it could be embarrassing if they catch sight of us tagging along behind them.’ Angela said. Jasmine took her arm and lead her along the zig-zag path. The two pairs of friends were ahead but kept disappearing and re-appearing as they passed the concrete structures and trees.
The music grew louder as they approached the main building again. There were more people around the entrance taking the cool air. Raquel’s friends went inside and Jasmine and Angela followed. They circled the dance floor where hundreds of young people were still enthusiastically throwing themselves around in enjoyment of the music and the freedom of being on holiday.
The four friends bypassed the bar and headed for the main exit with Jasmine and Angela a discreet distance behind.
Jasmine glanced at the gold watch on her wrist. It was gone 1 a.m. but that was still early for most of the young, holidaying clubbers. They stepped out onto the promenade and saw the two couples heading back the way they had come.
‘Let’s follow them and see if they go back to the hotel,’ Jasmine said. Angela shrugged and linked arms with Jasmine as they began the slow walk amongst the crowds who were still enjoying the warm night and the lights.
When they were less than a hundred metres from the Arena Hotel and it was obvious that the two couples were heading there, Jasmine leant towards Angela and whispered.
‘Let’s catch them up and say hello. Act surprised to bump into them again.’
‘OK. I don’t know why, but you’re in charge Detective Frame.’ They increased their pace and caught up with the four at the entrance to the hotel.
‘Oh, hello again,’ Jasmine said in a conversational tone, ‘You’ve given up dancing too.’
The expressions on the faces of the three women and one man showed a range of emotions. Andy appeared impatient, Carrie scowled, Gemma looked surprised and wary. Jess, however, greeted them warmly.
‘Hi, Jasmine, Angela. Why aren’t you two still dancing?’
‘It got too hot in that oven,’ Angela replied,
‘It was pretty crowded,’ Jess acknowledged.
‘Why didn’t you stay?’ Jasmine inquired. Andy frowned but it was Jess who answered again.
‘I suppose we didn’t really feel like dancing after, well, you know.’
Jasmine nodded. ‘Hmm, yes. Look can I get us all a drink. At least it’s cheaper here than at the club.’
Gemma and Carrie looked at each other, then shook their heads.
‘We’re pretty knackered,’ Gemma said, ‘ so we’ll head off.’ She attempted a smile, ‘Thanks all the same.’ The two girls headed into the hotel hand in hand.
‘That’s very good of you,’ Jess said, ‘but we should buy you a drink after what you did for Raquel last night.’ Jasmine waved her hand in refusal.
Andy looked miserable but managed a slight nod of the head. They walked together into the hotel’s lounge and bar. Jasmine marched up to the barman who gave her a look of mystified recognition but took her order. The room was considerably quieter than earlier in the evening so the four of them were able to sit on easy chairs around a low glass table. Jasmine found herself sticking to the cheap vinyl that covered the seats although the room with its marble floors and large open windows was pleasantly cool.
Andy sat morosely drinking his beer and Angela sipped her white wine. Jess, on the other hand, was bright eyed and examining Jasmine carefully in the better light of the lounge.
‘You make a good looking girl,’ she said.
‘Well, I’ve had quite a bit of practice,’ Jasmine replied, then changing the subject added, ‘I’m sorry the other two didn’t join us.’
‘Carrie’s very upset about Raquel,’ Jess said, ‘It took an effort to make her come out this evening.’
‘She and Gemma seem pretty close,’ Jasmine said, referring to how they went to the lift in each other’s arms rather than the secretive snogging and groping she and Angela had witnessed earlier.’
‘They are quite,’ Jess replied. She looked over Jasmine’s shoulder to the entrance hall where there was a bit of a commotion taking place. Jasmine turned to see Carl sprawled on the floor with a small orange tree in a tub lying by his side and a dark-eyed brunette standing over him. Carl got to his feet, staggered, grabbed the girl’s hand and stumbled into the lounge. His eyes seemed to rotate for a few moments before they focussed on the four people sitting together. He approached in a drunken limp.
‘Well, if ‘t i’n’t Raquel’s friends.,’ he slurred. He bent forward, swaying from side to side, his hand held by the girl being his only support. He peered at Jasmine.
‘You’re the guy who found her. Wha’ yer doin’ dressed as a tart?’
Jasmine wasn’t sure that his question needed a reply but she said calmly. ‘Hello Carl. I’m trans.’
Carl hauled himself upright. ‘Not a fucking tranny. Is this place full of lezzers and pervs.’
‘Now, Seňor, we don’t want language like that here do we.’
Jasmine turned around to see Inspector Alvarez in his crumpled, light beige suit standing behind him. The policeman looked around the gathering before ending his gaze with a piercing stare at Jasmine.
‘Ah, Seňor Frame or should I say Seňorita Frame.’