Fiction Tuesday – Introductory AI

Today’s blog continues my long-neglected satirical fantasy, In The Land of the Penny Gnomes

Bug marched up to the door and banged on it with a heavy fist. Will expected to hear the typical “thud” which he associated with door-knocking. Instead, he was startled when a bell rang each time the gnome’s fist met the door.

“How’d you do that?”

“I have no idea, the prof invented it. Something about, ‘softening the blow of being impolitely interrupted by transforming bass in to treble.’ I have no idea what he’s talking about.” Bug banged on the door several more times, each one causing a louder ring than the last.

Finally, Will heard some shuffling sounds on the other side of the door. “I’m coming! My goodness!” The muttering continued, growing louder, until the door finally opened, revealing the oddest gnome Will had yet seen during his brief travels. Whereas all the other gnomes besides Bug had worn pointy hats and brightly colored clothing, the gnome in the door wore all black. Will could just barely make out the way in which the old gnome’s clothing matched the cut of his more colorful neighbors, but it was all black. Additionally, the gnome wore a flat topped hat with a tassel dangling over the side. He also didn’t have a beard. “Yes, what do you want?”

Bug waved his arms in front of the newcomer. “Hello, Professor… it’s me. You sent me to get someone, and someone is gotten. Now let me in so I can try out your coffee maker, ok?” Bug pushed the gnome out of the doorway and marched past him. He seemed to take no notice of Bug’s behavior, as his eyes had been fixated on Will from the moment they fell upon the teenager. Finally, he held out his hand and smiled.

“Oh, so pleased to meet you. I’m Professor Nobody. Professor Coolly Nobody. Most people just call me The Professor.” The Professor motioned to his entryway. “Please, come in!”

Will walked through the door with a “thank you” on his lips, but was immediately shocked by the site which greeted him as he crossed the threshold. Every surface of the house was covered with what looked like toy models. Will saw a miniature video player, half-formed flat-screen TV’s, and a floating web of green-lines which Will could just barely make out were made up of zeros and ones. “Ahh, you’ve noticed my pride and joy good sir. That…”

“… is the Internet,” will finished.

Professor Nobody beamed. “Yes! Yes it is! That is a representation of a system of networked information repositories, all linked together as though it were a giant spider web. Theoretically it would allow for the unprecedented collection and sharing of information over incredible distances!” The Professor then reached out and flicked one of the strands of green webbing, sending the model spinning in circles. “Too bad I’m afraid it will never work. There are some things even AI can’t manage to make real.

“What do you mean it can’t work? I’m hooked up to it in my house.”

Professor Nobody’s eyes widened. “You are? But how?”

“Well, there’s a cable that comes into my house and then we take that and…”

Nobody waved his hands. “No. No, I know how it should work. I just don’t know how you could possibly have something like that in your world. The Applied Mathematical Principle of Imaginative Blathering has proven that such a system can’t possibly exist!”

Will shrugged. “Well, it does.”

“I don’t understand, you shouldn’t even know about this,” Nobody exclaimed as he waved toward the translucent web. “Fascinating.”

Bug walked back into the foyer carrying a steaming mug of black liquid which Will could only assume was more coffee. The gnome’s eyes were now continuously turning in small circles, which Will could track through a small flake of gold in Bug’s otherwise brown eyes. “That’s not the only thing he knows about, Professor. Will here, also knows about us.”

“Well, of course Will knows about us. He is, after all in my house.”

No, Professor. When I went to collect the kid he told me his grandfather had told him about us.”

The Professor shook his head. “No, Bug, I’m afraid that’s impossible. If we were having stories told about us we wouldn’t be part of The Realm — we’d be an actualized people.”

“What can I say, Professor? Will knew about Penny Gnomes.”

“I just don’t see how that is possible. Will, you say your grandfather told stories about us?”

Will nodded. “Yah, but according to Bug a lot of the details were messed up. He did tell me about Penny Gnomes, but they weren’t quite like you.”

Nobody frowned. “Hmmm, this is fascinating. According to the MaPoIB there shouldn’t be a way for your grandfather to know about us to tell a story. Yet he did tell you a story about us, and here you are summoned as the one we are looking for.”

Nobody stroked his bald chin as his eyes narrowed. “Tell me, have you heard the Narrator?”

Say no.

Will was about to say, “Yes, I just had a conversation with The Narrator in the Apollo’s Coffee across town.” Instead he shook his head and said, “Ummm, no, sorry.”

Thanks1

Nobody’s shoulder’s slumped slightly. “Ah, well, I had hoped this would be easy.”

“Professor, why are you so interested whether or not I heard a narrator?”

Bug rolled his eyes and groaned, but Nobody’s face brightened as he took Will’s hand and led him over to a blackboard surrounded by piles of seemingly unfinished experiments. As The Professor cleared a path for himself and Will several piles crashed over. Rather than crash, however, transformed. Will saw what looked to be a plastic model for a glow-in-the-dark light-bulb2 collide with an auto-inflating beach ball. As the two products touched, there was a blinding flash of light — out of which a video game controller fell the the ground in their place. Nobody turned around and clapped his hands in excitement. “Oh wonderful, I’ve been looking for the combination to make that happen for months! Thank you so much, Will, I don’t think I would have been over this way for several weeks yet if you hadn’t asked your question.”

While Will has happy to be of service, he was still taken aback by the sudden appearance of a video game controller in the place of a beach ball and a glow-in-the-dark lightbulb. He ventured to ask, “What just happened?”

“That, my boy, was the power of Applied Imagination at work!”

“That’s what’s written on your door, isn’t it?”

“What? Oh yes, yes it is.” The Professor was only paying partial attention to Will, as he was closely examining the spontaneously generated game controller. Nobody must have noticed a sudden explosion of silence, because he turned towards Will and continued. “Applied Imagination, or AI, is the field of study in which Imagination is shaped into reality.”

“What does this have to do with lightbulbs, beach balls, and game controllers?”

“Oh my, everything. Applied Imagination is less a science and more of an… art.” Bug snickered slightly, but The Professor continued, motioning to the piles of clutter in the room. “Each of these experiments is the product of one over-active imagination. Mine, in fact. Each exists in a state of imaginative flux, becomming more corporeal as the dream which created it becomes more and more fleshed out. Sometimes, when two experiments collide, a new experiment is formed — such as this game pad.”

“Why would a game controller be an experiment? I have a few that look just like it at home.”

Nobody pointed his finger at Will, “Oh ho! But, if I am not mistaken, this game controller has a unique power source. If I am not mistaken, it runs off of frustration.”

“Frustration?”

“Yes! Think of the the benefits this might have for Homo Gamicus, a game controller which never runs out of power. The more frustrating a game is, the better store of energy it will house.”

“That’s insane”

Bug jumped off the stool on which he had perched himself during The Professor’s lecture. “That, kid, is AI in nutshell.” He snatched the game controller out of Nobody’s hand, at which point it’s buttons lit up. After looking for a means to shut the controller down he gave up and set it down on a near by table. “Doc, we don’t have time for this. Aren’t you going to tell Will about your ‘Narrator’ theory?”

“Ah, yes. Will, come here and look at this.” Will walked over toward the blackboard at which Nobody was pointing. Upon it’s surface was a map, which Will assumed represented The Realm. Scribbled across the regions of The Realm were names. Most of these were ordinary names like, “Bob” and “Carol.” Some, however, were a bit more interesting. “Woof the Terrible” was one Will found particularly fascinating. After examining the board for a few moments, Will turned and looked down at Nobody.

“So, what am I looking at?”

The Professor swept past Will and smiled up at the board. “This, will, is a track of every one of the prophets of Narration.”

“The what?”

“The prophets of Narration. The names listed here were the prophets who heard the voice of the Narrator,3 the true friend of Imagination who intervenes on our behalf in times of darkest need.”

“‘Woof the Terrible’ was a prophet?”

“Yes, yes. A fascinating case study. He never once brushed his teeth. In his fifth prophetic address he declared one day a prophet would emerge from the mountains of the Penny Gnomes to be the very arms of the Narrator in The Realm.”

Will looked up again at the board and scanned for the name “Great Roll.” He saw the city set in the southeast portion of the Realm, deep within a massive mountain range labeled, “Fifty Peaks Mountains.” Unlike the rest of the map, however, there were no Prophet’s names written anywhere near where Will imagined the Penny Gnomes must live.

“These names exist in a progression,” Nobody continued. “The first prophesies came from the MacGrubers and have slowly migrated across The Realm. I have calculated the time of the next prophet has come, and that said prophet will emerge from this very city!”

Will looked down into Nobody’s eyes. He then glanced over to Bug, who was sipping his coffee with triumphant grin on his face. Suddenly, he understood why he had been summoned to the land of the Penny Gnomes. “You think I’m this prophet? That’s crazy!”

Bug laughed, but Nobody waved his hands in objection. “Not at all, good sir. Not at all! You come from another realm. You knew something about our world, even though such a thing should be impossible. You were able to travel to Great Roll via penny, which also should be impossible. In short, Will, if you weren’t the prophet there would be no way for you to be here at all.”

Will stared at Bug, who was suddenly trying to hide behind his coffee mug. “You knew about this?”

“Well, yah. I mean, that’s why I was sent, you know? The prof though he’d tracked down the right name after years of searching and, seeing as I’d been to your store before, I thought I might as well be the one who brought you here.”

“And what if Professor Nobody was wrong, and I wasn’t the prophet you were looking for? He says the penny wouldn’t have worked!”

Bug blushed a bit and grinned nervously. “Well, we did contingency plan if that had happened.”

“Which was?”

“I would have hit you over the head with a wooden mallet and left a post-hypnotic suggestion that you’d been dreaming and accidentally hit your head on the window-sill.”

“What?”

“Hey, it didn’t come to that so no worries. All right?”

Will didn’t think it was “all right” at all. In fact, he’d had enough of the crazy gnomes, and their over-strong coffee. He wanted to go home. “OK, I’ve had enough. I’ve been woken up, essentially kidnapped, dragged to a city in which I shouldn’t have been able to enter, and now you’re telling me you’d planned to do me bodily harm?”

“Only if necessary.”

“Fine. You’d planned to do me bodily harm only if necessary. I’ve had it, Bug. Take me home. I’ll let you hit me over the head with your mallet and you can convince me this was all a dream.”

This was too much for Professor Nobody. “Oh, but you can’t go. The Realm needs you! I’m sure you are the prophet, and you’ll hear from The Narrator eventually, I’m sure.

Again Will was about to tell Nobody he had, actually, had a short conversation with The Narrator. Instead, he looked down at Bug and notice him slowly shake his head from side to side, “No.”

What will said instead was, “I don’t care if I ever hear from this Narrator person. I just want to go home!”

“But, Will, if you go home you may not have one for long.”

“What do you mean?”

“This may be our darkest hour, true. But if The Realm falls, Will, your world falls with it. We didn’t bring you here just to save the Realm. We brought you to save your world.”

Will was tired, stressed, in an unknown land, surrounded by strangers, and only partially caffeinated. This last bit of information finally proved too much for him. Will looked into the hopeful eyes of Nobody, and promptly passed out. On his way to the floor he knocked over several experiments which flashed blue and morphed into an auto-drip coffeemaker with built-in travel mug.


  1. That was close. 
  2. The tag read, “Never goes out” 
  3. I am, in fact, the Narrator. I really didn’t mean for the citizens of The Realm to create a religion around me. I just like having the occasional chat as it gets lonely telling stories all day long without feedback. Woof the Terrible was a particularly good conversationalist, but his breath was awful. I’ll try to stay out of the way until I’m really needed, just keep reading as if I wasn’t here. 
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