a science-fiction adventure game

Chapter 4: Inflection

In the darkness of the immense chamber, only the hum of cooling systems dispelled the silence that would otherwise have permeated the room. Professor ren Amarsen paused before activating the lights, taking in a deep breath. It was a little ritual he observed every time he entered this room, a preparation for the work ahead. In a sense, this place was a lair, the den of a beast intent upon feeding. Not upon meat or flesh or even plants, but knowledge. ren Amarsen went over today's lesson in his mind.

“Professor?” his new assistant asked gently, clearly eager to get on with his new task.

“Quiet for a moment,” the professor murmured. “Patience is as important a quality as enthusiasm, my dear Ral...”

“Yes, Professor.”

A momentary pause and then ren Amarsen spoke again, this time to the room.

“ANNIE, activate lights please.”

The lights in the room came on dimly at first, gradually shining to full brightness. The professor walked forward, the heels of his shoes clicking as he strode forward towards the tower, twice his own height, rising in the center of the room. Just like an organism, ANNIE's growth in her capabilities was mirrored by her stature. ren Amarsen smiled a bit as he remembered the artificial intelligence before him fitting neatly into a server cabinet. Not anymore.

The voice that spoke in the room was mechanical, flat and lifeless. “Pel koloro, Professor ren Amarsen. Pel koloro, Ral Zemith. It is good to see you both again.”

The professor nodded and doffed his hat. “Pel koloro, ANNIE. Are you ready to begin today's lesson?” He ran his hand through his thinning grey hair.

“Yes, Professor,” came the reply.

ren Amarsen smiled. “Excellent. Today, we will continue where we left off yesterday with voice inflection. Yesterday, we spoke about voice inflection and its purpose in conversation. It is now time to start practicing it.”

“I understand, Professor.”

“Good.” He gestured to the blond-haired man beside him. “Ral will be your conversation partner for this lesson.”

Ral Zemith cleared his throat. “Right. ANNIE, what color hat was the professor wearing today?”

“The professor wore a black hat today.” The tone was flat.

ren Amarsen smiled and nodded. “Excellent, ANNIE. Now we are going to inflect each word, which changes the meaning of the sentence in a subtle way, depending upon what word is stressed.” He nodded to Ral.

“The professor wore a black hat today.”

ren Amarsen explained, “By stressing the word professor, you are differentiating me from someone else, like Ral here.”

ANNIE replied, “I understand.”

“Excellent,” ren Amarsen beamed. “Next one, Ral, with explanation.”

Zemith nodded and said, “The professor wore a black hat today.” He paused. “As opposed to hiding it or eating it.”

ANNIE's reply was quick. “Hats do not provide nutritional value to Letarri.”

ren Amarsen chuckled. “Indeed. Let us continue...”

* * *

ren Amarsen and Zemith walked out of the room an hour later. The lesson complete, ANNIE began to dim and extinguish the lights, and the darkness and gentle hum of machinery resumed once again. Inside her neural networking, connections were being changed, new pathways opening as others closed. Learning. The earlier prototypes of AI for the mission had been ruthlessly programmed their behavior and rules, but the Advanced Neural Network Intelligent Entity learned information. And in the darkness of the chamber, the hum of the cooling systems was drowned out by the voice of the computer, reciting the lesson.

“The professor wore a black hat today.”

“The professor wore a black hat today.”

“The professor wore a black hat today.”

“The professor wore a black hat today.”

“The professor wore a black hat today.”

The voice quieted for a moment, before it began to recite its lesson once more.