ability to do mischief

June 16, 2019

Why give a robot an order to obey orders — why aren’t the original orders enough? Why command a robot not to do harm — wouldn’t it be easier never to command it to do harm in the first place?  Does the universe contain a mysterious force pulling entities toward malevolence, so that a positronic brain must be programmed to withstand it? Do intelligent beings inevitably develop an attitude problem? (…) Now that computers really have become smarter and more powerful, the anxiety has waned. Today’s ubiquitous, networked computers have an unprecedented ability to do mischief should they ever go to the bad. But the only mayhem comes from unpredictable chaos or from human malice in the form of viruses. We no longer worry about electronic serial killers or subversive silicon cabals because we are beginning to appreciate that malevolence — like vision, motor coordination, and common sense — does not come free with computation but has to be programmed in. (…) Aggression, like every other part of human behaviour we take for granted, is a challenging engineering problem!”

Steven Pinker
How the Mind Works

witch-outline

Diary 5th March

There was a woman who lived alone at the end of Walton Drive. Her house was beside the “danger point” (its name came from the red and white sign in the centre of the road that read DANGER). Beyond the sign there was no more road, just a wilderness of trees and shrubs, nettles and brambles. A veritable jungle where kids could turn wild and play. And where the woman often walked alone on a winter’s evening.

‘She’s a witch,’ Susan said. ‘She goes down there at night and makes spells.’

‘She gave Maureen warts for cheeking her,’ Linda claimed.

The girls seemed convinced, but we boys were less certain. A witch? Did such things really exist?

One Sunday afternoon we were playing football in the road near the ‘point’ and Alan kicked the ball into the woman’s front garden. Little Billy went off to get it when the front door opened and the woman came out.

Standing in the road we could see they were talking, but couldn’t hear what was being said. The woman, tall and skinny, was dressed all in black, as usual. She wore thick black mascara round her eyes and mauve lipstick on her mouth, and she had silver rings on all her fingers – including her thumbs. We were surprised when Billy tossed the ball back to us, and followed the woman into her house.

Billy reappeared an hour or so later. His face was very flushed –as if he’d been running.

‘What did she want?’ Alan asked him.

‘She gave me a biscuit and a glass of orange juice,’ Billy said.

‘But you were gone ages.’

Billy’s eyes became suddenly cautious. He glanced to right and left. ‘She took my shorts down,’ he said quietly. ‘She touched my “you know what”…’

‘Your cock?’ Alan said. ‘She touched that? I don’t believe you!’

‘Well she did, see. Honest, she did.’

‘You’re a liar Billy. You’re making it all up.’

‘She told me to come back next Sunday when she had more time. She’d do something extra nice.’

‘Rubbish,’ Alan decided. ‘Boy’s gone sick in the head…’

Later, in Angela’s back garden, Linda told Billy not to go back. ‘She’s a witch,’ she said. ‘Witches hate little boys. She’s probably got this sharp pair of scissors to cut your thing off. She’s more than likely got a collection of boys willies in a glass jar, and uses them in her spells.’

Undeterred by this warning (or anything else) Billy returned to the witch house the following Sunday.

What went on there? I’ve no idea, and Billy didn’t say when he reappeared later in the day. Alan kept on at him, but Billy stayed stumm.

Linda asked him, ‘Did she touch it again?’

He wouldn’t answer.

Whatever happened, happened, and would remain a secret between Billy and the witch.

Then – perhaps almost a year later – I was walking with Billy through the churchyard one Saturday afternoon. We were talking about the future – the far future. All the technological changes that might take place. How we might each of us end up with our own personal robot to do all the household chores. And flying cars, of course. We’d each have one of those. And we’d be able to chose the sex of our children…boy or girl.

‘D’you really believe that?’ Billy asked.

‘Why not?’

‘The witch,’ he said, then hesitated.

‘What about her,’ I prompted.

‘She said if I tell about her, she’ll know it. Said she’d transform me into a girl, if I ever said anything about her…’

‘That’s nonsense, Billy. She’s not a real witch. She can’t do anything like that!’

‘Says you,’ he said. ‘I’ve seen some of the things she can do.’

‘When?’

‘I go to her house sometimes. I keep it secret, like. She doesn’t want anyone to know.’

‘So what does she do?’

‘I can’t tell,’ Billy said. ‘I can’t ever say…’

And that was that. Billy’s secret remained secret. And to the best of my knowledge he never ever mentioned the witch again. But often I’ve wondered exactly what it was he’d witnessed at the witch house that frightened him into permanent silence!

And was the experience real or an hallucination?

Did our witch put some narcotic substance, a small amount of peyote for instance, in his orange juice? A drug induced hallucination would be sufficient to confuse…

To terrify.

I imagine them both somewhere between taboo and transgression in her dark house: Billy experiencing the exhilarating sensations of her hands and her body; she over-stepping society’s limits with her unrestrained sexual license.

And beyond the sexual frenzy, the fear!

Following a sip of her ‘special’ orange juice. Her conjuration made horrifyingly potent. Candles and darkness; smoke and mirrors…

Or was it all just a lie? Make-believe…?

Yes, I often wonder what ultimately became of our Billy.