In my novel Fourth World, there is one world government in the year 2196, and the United States survives as an underground organization. Benn and Lora meet the android Protem Two in a secret bunker on Russian Hill. Protem Two, who has been the acting President for over 82 years, since the fall of the US government, is an autocratic, remorseless, coldly-calculating computer which, at times, experiences technical glitches:
“My predecessor Protem was destroyed. 8979323. By blanket cyber-attack. 9298752491. Launched by the Pan-World Electorate against the Quarantine Zone. 0112358132134. The remnants of Protem’s files were emergently transferred to Protem Two. 594720386.”
“Um, how reliable do you think Protem’s records are, Maggie?” asked Benn.
“There are problems with spontaneity, random memories popping up, as you can see…”
Protem, noting Benn’s drifting attention, gave its voice a ringing, metallic edge and abruptly interrupted Benn’s ruminations. “Benn Marr, CIA has brought you here to undergo complete analysis. The first step in this analysis is to measure your ability to read energy signatures, and to determine its strategic implications for the resistance movement.”
Startled, Benn looked up. How would the measurement be taken, and its strategic implications determined? These sounded like passive procedures, but so was having one’s teeth pulled.
In today’s NY Times column The Stone, Robert Burton, a neuroscientist at UCSF, notes that conventional psychology (e.g. labeling someone a narcissist, megalomaniac, psychopath, attention-impaired, etc.) has failed to predict what our Chaos President will do when presented with new, unforeseen circumstances. So instead, Burton suggests thinking of Trump as a rudimentary artificial intelligence-based learning machine, like Watson or IBM’s Deep Blue, whose goal is to win at all times, without regard to moral, ethical or ideological considerations. No regrets! Such a machine, says Burton, “isn’t saddled with any confounding principles such as what constitutes socially acceptable or unacceptable behavior or which decisions might result in negative downstream consequences.” Relentless, single-minded self-interest; self-selected data; widely-fluctuating criteria of success; no lines of reasoning driving the AI network’s actions: it sounds just like science fiction. In the words of Al Davis: “Just win, baby!”
I couldn’t help but notice the similarity between Burton’s AI learning machine Trump and my robotic President Protem. But which one of us is right (and which option is less scary)? Is the President a simple-minded, first-generation AI machine (a product of the past), or is he a severely virus-damaged but wily and sophisticated android (a product of the future)? Either way, we can hope that he holds his exalted position- as denoted by the term pro tempore- only until a real President comes along.