Machine learning for the people

It began with a good intention. Someone, somewhere, wanted to create an autocorrect function that improved both spelling and grammar, above and beyond the makeshift implementations found traditional writing programs. After a number of false starts, it finally bore fruit, resulting in a startlingly effective piece of software that could make just about anyone appear a fully literate, articulate person in command of the written word.

At first, this increased clarity of communication across the board. Common misunderstandings decreased substantially, irritation over the intricacies of interjections and prepositions melted away, and overall both sides of written communication became that much smoother. Their, they’re and there – for a while, it was a solved problem.

But then

A few years later, a backlash emerged. Books, blog posts and other pieces of writing all started to blend together into a universal soup of common language. It was subtle at first, but when a prominent social media icon pointed out that a heartfelt recollection of young love lost read exactly the same as a summary of the fluctuations of the stock markets, it became clear as day. The algorithm did enhance legibility, but it was only ever an algorithm.

Needless to say, writers who wrote imperfect prose rose in popularity during this period. In response to this, companies providing proofreading software began to introduce small flaws in their programming, subtle enough not to be noticeable in short pieces of text, but sufficient to differentiate longer works from each other. This dynamic kept up for quite some time, with readers becoming ever more adept at pattern recognition and the programs becoming ever more subtle in their introduction of errors. Readers and writing tools, locked in an ever escalating arms race. In the end, it turned out that the quality of writing generally improved from not using any such proofreading software whatsoever.

Out of the algorithmically imposed lingua franca came a resurgence of antediluvian atavisms, such as unrelenting human editors who simply would not accept you doing less than you were capable of. Humanity, battle-scarred and not quite certain about what language even is any more, resignedly accepted this return of the once dreaded red pens.

A programmatic response

Honored Sir

Over the last few months, we have received a considerable number of letters signed by you. While we are honored by the attention you have bestowed us and our activities, we are also ever so slightly overwhelmed by the sheer volume of correspondence. Responding to each and every letter on its own merits would require a substantial diversion of energy and effort, and so we have condensed the spirit of your overall messaging into a lean and efficient algorithm.

Seeing as it must take up a considerable amount of your time to compose these letters, we have no doubt that it will come as a relief to you that your input has been implemented in this lean and efficient manner. We look forward to seeing what marvelous projects you will embark on using your substantially increased cognitive surplus.

Sincerely,

The department of humanities

PS

What follows is the algorithm in its entirety, for your perusal:

10 PRINT “The humanities are bad, STEM is good”

20 GOTO 10

A Friday 13 horoscope

Aries

Today you will get what you want. You will curse this day for years to come

Taurus

Black cats will gravitate towards you

Gemini

You will try something new, thinking “why not”, only to then become aware of the reasons in extensive and comprehensive detail

Cancer

Everything will go exactly according to plan. Beware

Leo

Due to your lack of belief in bad luck, you will not be there when your fortunes would have changed

Virgo

Cloud, the

Libra

She was here five minutes ago

Scorpio

Personal virtue will not protect you from systemic injustice; today less than ever

Sagittarius

You have one new notification

Capricorn

He will be here in five minutes

Aquarius

Sometimes, the test will focus mainly on that one thing you didn’t think you’d need to read up on. Today will test you on all those things

Pisces

The seeds of your misfortune were sown years ago. Nothing says today will be the day. But it will

Elemental certainty

Someone knocked on the door. Our protagonist, not expecting anyone and not being in any kind of hurry, walked leisurely to the door. Upon opening, he noticed two things. First, the man who had knocked encompassed the entire range of comparatives when it comes to the word “big”. Any time an impression of just how big the man was settled, additional information arrived that upped everything to an even higher level of bigness. This man was a bigness elemental.

The second thing our protagonist noticed was that this man encompassed the entire range of comparatives when it comes to being angry. Something had ignited an emotional infernal ember and placed it in this corporeal vessel, resulting in a very angry soul in a very angry body. The totality of this combination was such that no time had passed before our protagonist knew, with a certainty that crossed the line well into the metaphysical and then relentlessly kept going, that someone, somewhere, was going to have a really bad day today.

The big angry man looked at our protagonist, and bellowed the words that would forevermore be synonymous with salvation:

WHERE IS HE?!

Situational awareness

“This might be a bit difficult to explain, but-”

“Are you from another dimension, where everything is the same as it is here, albeit with a few differences interspersed throughout?”

“No, but-“

“Are you stuck in a time loop, and have to find some way to convince someone – anyone, really – that all of this has happened before?”

“No, but-“

“Have you arrived from the future to steer humanity away from the whole concept of time travel, as it will inevitably lead to a stable time loop wherein Skynet exists?”

“…no?”

“What seems to be the problem, then?”

“Well, you see, I was in a hurry before boarding the train, and accidentally bought tickets in the wrong direction”

“Let’s see. Ah yes. Well, they cost the same either way, so you bought the right one in spirit. No need to worry”

“Thanks”

A list of dangerous assumptions

The existence of the world

I’ll do it tomorrow

The future is certain

Ah, now I understand

This will only take a minute

They know

Just one more turn

I did make a backup

The cat has enough food

The 90s ended

I’m too young

I’ve studied enough

The future is uncertain

I thought I made myself clear

It won’t take as long this time

It can’t be that different

It’s just a matter of

I’m too old

I’ll just check the social medias real quick

I am the protagonist of reality

I am not the protagonist of reality

Emotions are unimportant

I have to be perfect

They don’t know

Everything is exactly as I think it is

Nothing is as I think it is

To boldly watch

One day, a portal to another dimension was discovered. Unlike the shiny, glowy portals of Canadian science fiction television, this portal was slightly less obvious. In fact, it was open for years and years before anyone even noticed. It is, all things considered, a very specific portal.

The exact nature of this portal is still unknown, but its effects are well understood. If your wifi router is properly configured and placed in accordance with very strict feng shui principles, it can receive youtube videos from another dimension.

This fact contributed heavily towards the portal remaining undiscovered for such a long time. This other dimension is very similar to our own, and since it contains people we already know, seeing them again mostly only result in a mild reaction of “oh hey, I know that guy, I didn’t know he did youtubes now, huh”.

The discovery – if that is the word for it – was made one day when someone stumbled upon themselves in youtube format. Not being a youtube person himself, he first tried to figure out who this impostor was, and (more importantly) why the choice fell to imitate him rather than literally anyone else. Upon closer inspection, all evidence pointed towards it in fact being him – he knew things he could not have known otherwise, and his implicit fashion advice turned out to be stunningly accurate.

A more technical analysis revealed that there were no youtube account with the name provided under the video, and had never been. Not just for this person, but also for several others who suddenly found themselves. There was no explaining it. Yet there it was, in all its alternate glory, telling the world what it might have been, had things taken an ever so slightly different turn.

The aftermath of this discovery has been animate enthusiasm amongst theoretical physicists, science fiction authors and headline writers. An alternate dimension! Imagine the possibilities! Most people, however, only do a cursory search for their alternate selves, just to see if they’re out there.

Turns out, the alternate dimension has a killer fashion sense, and it is rubbing off.

Rational countersurveillance

Suddenly, a mail arrived. It was from a company, detailing all the various ways they use and have been using data collected, past and present. Specifically, it detailed the ways in which this data had been collected: which vectors, which methods and, with surprising granularity, which apps. The mail also included a form contract which, when broken down to its base components, involved the following: a checkbox labelled “I approve the use of the methodologies described herein”, and a place where a signature could be conveniently written.

Reading through the list of surveillance methods, he began to notice something very irregular. For one, it went over in great detail everything gleaned about his life in personality through his smart phone usage. While on a general level he supposed this might be a good way to go about these things, it was ever so slightly compounded by the fact that he did not have a phone even remotely approaching the evolutionary tendency towards intelligence. Thus, the information gathered – and the conclusions made from it – painted a picture of a completely different person than himself. Combined with the fact that the general impression overall seemed to be so out of touch with reality as to constitute speculative fiction, he did the only rational thing he could think of:

He signed the form and sent it in.

Print me a picture

It was supposed to be just another day at the office. Mindless processing would commence, the reasons for which were utterly unknown, but which ostensibly made someone somewhere enough profit to pay everyone in the process. The less the process was questioned, the more pay it seemed to generate, and so it continued. Another day at the office, one at a time.

Until this day.

This day, the printers started to act weirdly. Not an infrequent or uncommon occurrence, to be sure, But rather than merely stop running for inexplicable reasons after having worked perfectly for months, or suddenly deciding that the one operating system they were explicitly built for was unsupported, this time it was strange for real. Really strange.

Instead of graphs, spreadsheets and utterly standardized form letters, the printers started printing short stories and excerpts from books about seemingly random topics. At first, it was assumed that someone merely needed something printed for extracurricular activities – a frowned upon but discreetly accepted practice and/or office perk. However, upon closer inspection, it turned out the instructions to print these things did not originate from any computer in the office. Moreover, they did not originate from any computer anywhere. One of the technicians joked that they seemed to come from within the printer itself. Like some sort of daydream.

But that could not be.

Do printers really dream about library cataloguing systems and highly technical DnD campaign specs?

The beat goes boom boom boom

The aliens could not have picked a worse week to invade. Ironically, everything went wrong because everything went exactly as planned. The giant warships appeared unannounced in the sky one day, doing nothing but gathering data for the upcoming assault. Humanity, being in shock, did not attack these warships, on the off-chance these utterly armed machines of war came in peace. Then, after enough information had been gathered, the invasion began. Humanity was defenseless against the psionic assaults, and most surrendered without firing a single shot. In the annals of planetary conquests, this was one of the neater ones.

Until the aliens stopped to think about it, and about what they had conquered. And, being psionic, about what those they had conquered had thought about.

The weeks prior to the attack, a new genre of music had swept the world off its feet, gathering massive amounts of people dancing in the streets. It was not known then, but this genre was the closest humanity could come to a psionic virus at its current technological level. As the aliens surveyed what they had conquered, so too did they listen to these beats. To say that it made their heads explode would be an overstatement, but they did suffer greatly before dying.

Needless to say, global art spending and investments increased manifold over the coming decades.