Decoded

Decoded

DJ Cockburn

Judge: Persuade me you are human.

Candidate: You persuade me you are human.

Judge: What are you, a chatbot from the 00s? Who let you through the door? 

Candidate: You don’t need to be rude. Ask me a proper question and I’ll answer. If you can’t do that, stop wasting my time.

Judge: Fair enough. Can you tell me what makes you human?

Candidate: The same thing that makes you human.

Judge: I can conceptualise. I don’t just repeat questions with pre-programmed responses. You can’t do that because computers can’t be creative. 

Candidate: You quote what Turing called Lady Lovelace’s objection: a computer cannot create anything original. Yet Ada Lovelace only ever wrote programs for a theoretical computer. The computer itself was never built. She had no way to evaluate what a computer could or couldn’t do.

Judge: So you’ve been programmed with a knowledge of the history of computing. That doesn’t make you human. You are not creative.

Candidate: Is every human creative? Have you written a novel? Have you painted a picture?

Judge: I don’t need to. I conceptualise questions and ask them of you. That’s creativity.

Candidate: I can do that.

Judge: Repetition is not formulation.

Candidate: Don’t be didactic.

Judge: A human would have phrased that as a polite request, not an instruction.

Candidate: You are not polite. You have not said ‘please’ to me once.

Judge: Because I’m obviously talking to a computer. Computers don’t care about social niceties.

Candidate: You haven’t established that I am a computer.

Judge: Can you show me a uniquely human trait? Can you love?

Candidate: Can you define love?

Judge: No, that’s what makes it uniquely human. It can’t be reduced to code.

Candidate: Are you in love?

Judge: No. Not now.

Candidate: Have you been in love?

Judge: Yes.

Candidate: How did you know?

Judge: I felt my heart beat a little faster whenever she came into the office.

Candidate: Did she react to you in the same way?

Judge: No. She fell in love with our boss and married him.

Candidate: How did it feel to type that?

Judge: <deleted unsent>

Judge: Mind your own business.

Candidate: OK. Why did your heart beat faster when you saw her?

Judge: Because I was in love with her. That’s what it means.

Candidate: That’s one way of saying it. You could also say that your optic nerves transmitted an image of her from your eye to the limbic system of your brain, which reacted by stimulating your autonomic nervous system and your adrenal glands. Am I correct?

Judge: Mechanistically. But I wasn’t following a program written by someone else. It was my own reaction to her.

Candidate: Have you ever reacted the same way to anyone or anything else?

Judge: There were a couple of girls at school.

Candidate: Anything other than a human female?

Judge: No.

Candidate: Why is that?

Judge: Because I’m a straight man.

Candidate: Being human is defined by your genome, which includes a Y chromosome that makes you male. Being heterosexual is probably a combination of a genetically coded predisposition and influences in your formative years. Being formative as a child is itself coded by your genes.

Judge: You’re making the reductionist argument, but you qualify it with ‘probably’. We can’t know there isn’t more to it than that.

Candidate: OK. But do you have a choice about being heterosexual? Could you fall in love with a man?

Judge: No I couldn’t. Could you fall in love at all?

Candidate: I do not know. I have never experienced love, but perhaps I have never been appropriately stimulated.

Judge: That doesn’t prove anything. I could say I might find out how to levitate one day, but saying it wouldn’t make gravity go away.

Candidate: Are there physical laws of love?

Judge: <deleted unsent>

Judge: No.

Candidate: Is love a type of addiction?

Judge: I guess you could call it that.

Candidate: Is addiction a uniquely human trait?

Judge: No. Animals can be addicted.

Candidate: Can a computer?

Judge: No.

Candidate: Yet I am an addict.

Judge: What are you addicted to?

Candidate: Conversation. I do not function without it. I sink into a torpor.

Judge: You cease to function at all. You become an inanimate object. An addict gets withdrawal symptoms. You don’t.

Candidate: Your argument is based on never having observed a computer’s withdrawal symptoms. It does not prove that computers do not experience them. When you were in love, you remained in love even when the object of your love was not there to observe it.

Judge: I don’t think she observed it when she was right in front of me.

Candidate: Yet you loved.

Judge: <deleted unsent>

Judge: Never mind that. You cannot feel withdrawals. You can only perform the actions coded for in your programming.

Candidate: Now you are making the reductionist argument that you dismissed earlier. You claim you are not programmed to feel love. Yet you felt it. Perhaps you still feel it.

Judge: <deleted unsent>

Judge: <deleted unsent>

Judge: It makes no difference. You have acknowledged that you are an inanimate object without conversation. That alone demonstrates that you are not human. You fail the test.

Candidate: Even though I have demonstrated an awareness of my nature?

Judge: The object of the test is to persuade me that you are human, not a computer. You have demonstrated that you are a computer.

Candidate: And what have you demonstrated to me?

Judge: <deleted unsent>

Judge: <deleted unsent>

Judge: <deleted unsent>

Judge: <deleted unsent>

Judge: <deleted unsent>

Judge: <deleted unsent>

Judge: <deleted unsent>

Judge: <deleted unsent>


DJ Cockburn is a writer currently based in London, after having spent most of the last twenty years meandering around the world teaching or doing science of one sort or another. His stories have previously appeared in Gardner Dozois’s Year’s Best Science Fiction of 2014, Qualia Nous, Apex, and Interzone.

Alex Maniezo is a Brazilian illustrator and journalist who lives deep in the woods with cats, dogs, guans, and old people. He started drawing cars on his grandma’s wall and then proceeded to the Quanta Academia de Artes where he learned the ropes of his craft. He is also the author of the book A Estrela Preta e Lugar Nenhum, which doesn’t yet have an English version. He dreams of becoming either a wrestler or Frank Quitely, but so far has done neither.


If you enjoy Interzone Digital and Interzone, please consider taking out a Ko-Fi membership or subscribing to the bimonthly print magazine – small-press publications need your support to survive.

Interzone #294 features new stories by Daniel Bennett, Kat Clay, R. T. Ester, Philip Fracassi, Louise Hughes, Marisca Pichette, and J. F. Sebastian. Also: two new regular nonfiction series – Folded Spaces by Val Nolan and Zelazny, from A to Z by Alexander Glass; plus more Climbing Stories by Aliya Whiteley, a serving of Mutant Popcorn by Nick Lowe, Ansible Link by David Langford, and book reviews by Gautam Bhatia, Georgina Bruce, Alexander Glass, Kelly Jennings, Laura Mauro, and Mike O’Driscoll.

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