One more of those strange dreams.
On the fourth day, we dug up the old wire machine. Y had discovered it first: A stunning and brilliantly constructed, entirely mechanical computer, a vast, intricate three-dimensional web of taut, crisscrossing metal strings, pulled by springs and levers. After an unknown number of centuries, the mechanism was still so well balanced that it continued to run, driven only by the endless patience of the faint tug of the coriolis force that powered its intake pendulums. Entirely self-contained, it had no way of sensing the world or making contact; not that there would have been anyone to make contact to where the thing came from.
We managed to extract the mechanism from the ground without disturbing its unceasing movements, the jittering and fluttering and soft twanging that enabled complex computations. When we set up the scanners and digital interpreters, we found what we suspected all along: the old wire machine harbored a mind, an artificial intelligence. Incredibly lonely, and very alien, but a mind without a doubt. Could we talk to it? Changing the setup itself was out of the question. The machine was not only fragile, but breaking its feedback loops would also obliterate its inner structure beyond recognition. So we went to make a copy, a functionally equivalent digital simulation that we could comfortably run on a modern computer, preserving the mind even if the antique web finally gave in. At first, it seemed a straightforward task. Memories were computational states, encoded in positions of the strings and pulleys. Thoughts were to be found in the progression of these states, as brought forth by the setup of apparatus.
Initially, the corrosion and wear of the strings seemed simply a sign of age, a slight imperfection. But the longer we measured and observed and listened, we stumbled upon magnitudes higher complexity than we expected: the microscopic indentations and rifts that had formed where the wires crossed and put each other in resonance had become part of the equation. The miniscule changes in surface structure, elasticity, give and tuning gave texture to the fabric of thought, had even become the primary aspect of its personality. After countless attempts, we realized that all our attempts at a functional reproduction were futile. We cannot preserve the thing. We will never be able to talk to it. We can only listen.
Y has set up an extractor array, a barrage of millimeter waves listens to the machine’s beats and twangs like a billion stethoscopes, and we have set up software to integrate the data, so we can listen into its thoughts, for the remaining years, days or hours, until the inevitable happens. A little bit more wear and corrosion, and somewhere, one of the little wires will snap, bringing the whole affair first in frantic disorder, and then to silence.
What we hear now is mostly music. An endless rhapsodic weaving of interlocked, stacked, nested themes. I am pretty much music-blind, so all I sense is accuracy, complexity, inscrutable beauty and a stunning melancholy. But Y is an expert: what we are hearing now, she says, looking up from her analyses, is at least 450 years in the making. Just this single song. It has gone on for too long, too far; there is no living mind, no human genius, that can comprehend what our lonely mechanical AI proceeds on telling itself.