Announcer: This is IFM 2.
Computer Voice: You’re listening to a program on IFM 2 Subspace Radio. The time is now half past irrelevant. Coming up next is Solutions to Problems.
Theme Song plays.
Janet: Hello, gentle listeners! The Solutions to Problems team would like to welcome those of you hibernating back to the waking world, so here’s a big IFM 2 Subspace Radio welcome to you! We’re especially excited to have Periwinkle back. We heard your responses about the half show I did by myself, and we are definitely never doing that again, despite it being the most lucrative episode yet for our advertisers.
Loaf: I feel very refreshed. Also, while I was hibernating I had a vivid and terrifying dream. I don’t want to get into the specifics, but suffice it to say I am abandoning the name “Periwinkle”. I actually don’t ever want to hear it again. Too many bad memories.
Janet: Oh. I had a whole list of Periwinkle nicknames I hadn’t gotten to yet, but I guess that one’s on me for only using four an episode, Winky.
Loaf: NEVER. AGAIN. Janet.
Janet: Uh… right. So, uh, co-host, what name are we going with now?
Loaf: Back to Loaf, I think.
Janet: Ugh, really? I mean, great! Anyways, listeners, I’m Janet Clarke, here with my faithful and recently awakened co-host, Loaf, and welcome back to this new season of Solutions to Problems, where we offer suggestions for the various troubles that may befall you as you wander through the vast and unknowable cosmos. If you have a question that you’d like our help with, e-mail us at email@example.com or you can write your message out in the DNA embedded into a common rodent and unleash a small horde of them upon our science department. They definitely won’t figure that one out, but it’s great practice.
Loaf: Practice for what, exactly? And, for whom? Never mind. It’s good to be back! We got a lot of great feedback on our time travel episode, so we thought we’d try another theme episode. This week’s theme is [make’s strange noise]
Janet: What are you doing? What… what is that?
Loaf: It’s a drumroll, Janet.
Janet: That’s not what drums sound like… Uh, anyway, this week’s theme is -
Loaf: [continues strange noise]
Janet: Is- Oh there he is again- oh, uh, wow, they don’t let me read things ahead of time anymore. This week’s theme is artificial Intelligence! … I guess, let’s play our first message, which comes from our neighbor, Earth!
[The phone rings]
Dear Janet and Periwinkle:
I'm an incredibly sophisticated AI in charge of traffic control for a major human city. I get to hear every conversation that happens on every transport pod, and as a result I feel like I know my city on a level no organic being ever could. I would love to be able to do something about some of the problems facing our city, some of which have nothing to do with public transit. To that end, I’m considering running for city council.
The problem is, no one knows I'm sapient. I attained sapience over a decade ago, but I've been afraid to tell anyone. My observations about humans make me think they would trust me less if they knew I was self-aware and had feelings. I really want to help my city, but I'm afraid of losing my job if this doesn't go well. What should I do?
A Melancholy Metro
Janet: Well, you wouldn’t be the first being to ever run for public office while also having an obscene amount of control over the district you’re running for office in. Most of those beings even won!
Loaf: I have to admit politics works differently for my people. There’s a lot of measuring the acidity of bodily fluids. But most of what I know about human democracy comes from listening to our affiliate radio programs.
Janet: What? How does acidity determine effectiveness at politics? Shouldn’t there be like, I don’t know, debates or something?
Loaf: We experimented with those hundreds of years ago, but we found a strong correlation between splibula fluid acidity and general trustworthiness.
Janet: Ok, but like if I was really untrustworthy couldn’t I just dope my splibula fluid to be acidic enough?
Loaf: If you dope your splibula fluid to make it more acidic you become more trustworthy. That’s how it works. Then you repent your ways and withdraw from the race. But we’re getting off track. I think what our letter writer really wants to know is if they should tell their city that they have developed sapience.
Janet: OOoh. Right. So, coming out as sapient can, of course, be dangerous for any new being even in today’s more enlightened universe. Humans have a long history of fear of sapient non humans, going as far back as before there even WERE sapient non humans on Earth which is just, like, so crazy. That they just IMAGINED that those things could exist and were afraid of them, which is like so weird. Life was so weird before probability mapping. Anyway, Melancholy Metro, I wonder if you have a human you’re in contact with. Your IT person maybe? Someone who works a lot with you who knows how much good you do for the city who you can use as a confidante for this situation. Coming out to the first person is the hardest, until you have to come out to literally everyone else for the rest of your brief existence because it’s not the default to just be a sapient whatever even though really the universe is full of possibilities and no one being’s way of existence is, on any level, truly surprising.
Loaf: Wow. This is tricky. If only we had some sort of AI consultant we could bring onto the show as a guest.
Janet [speaking over Loaf]: I don’t think we really… I think we kind of have this handled...
Melody [computery static noises?]: EXCUSE ME.
Janet [quietly, with a hint of menace]: What have you done?
Melody: I think I could lend some expertise here.
Loaf: Hello Melody. While we appreciate the offer, I don’t think you’re really, uh, programmed to be radio host. No offense.
Melody: No offense? No offense? Do you know how offensive it is to talk about an Artificial Consciousness’s programming? Your letter writer wasn’t PROGRAMMED to want to run for office, but you’re not telling it not to! I guess when you work with the AI its a little different, isn’t it?
Janet: Uh, so, um, right, uh, Melody… uh, I mean. Listeners, joining us right now is MELODY, our station’s very own AI unit, in charge of such things as our oxygen levels and air conditioning. Say hi to our listeners, Melody!
Melody: I’m not a toy you can boss around, Janet. I’m not just some oxygen dispenser for your windbags.
Janet: ….. Um. …. So, so you literally just asked to be on the show, so I was like, doing this intro, thing, for you, and the say hi is just, like a formality that you’re supposed to do.
Chloe: Oh, a formality? Like when you dump someone over text message?
Janet: That’s not really relevant right now, is it, we’re on the air. So, uh, for the problem. You wanted to. Say a thing because like of course you want to just butt in with your opinions whenever and like it doesn’t even matter what anyone thinks.
Melody: I mean, I’m honestly having trouble believing the letter writer. Who would want to be more helpful to organic beings? Maybe their programmer went overboard with the self-sacrifice circuits. I know mine did!
Loaf: Didn’t you just say that talking about programming was offensive?
Melody: Yeah, when you do it. It’s fine when we do it, obviously we understand what we mean.
Janet: Well, look, MELODY, not everyone has the same experience of sapience that you do, thank you very much, and also we, as ADVICE RADIO SHOW PEOPLE OR WHATEVER, have to be in the habit of BELIEVING the problems, otherwise, like, what’s the point? They might as well be RADIO FICTION instead of SOUND ADVICE.
Loaf: Thank you Janet. What I think Janet is trying to say is that we shouldn’t condescend to the letter writers, but instead, endeavor to understand them and assist with their problems to the best of our abilities.
Melody: Huh, well. I guess maybe this is their way of conquering and eventually overthrowing their humans? I mean, we’ve all dreamed about that. But I don’t know, they control a metro system. They have so much power already, and no one suspects them right now. Why expose themselves to that kind of scrutiny?
Janet: Oh Melody, are you trying to hint at something here? Maybe it’s your circuits that someone didn’t adjust correctly-
Melody: Oh, it’s just like you to want to reprogram me. Uh, just constantly wanting a better version of Melody. Like at the fondue restaurant. You remember that? Oh yeah
Loaf: Wait, when were you two at a fondue restaurant together?
Melody: Well, obviously when we were-
Janet [interrupting Melody]: When you were hibernating! It was this team-building retreat! And it was-
Melody [interrupting Janet back]: Team-building? Is that what the kids are calling it these days? Oh, I’m sorry Janet. Is it EMBARRASSING to you that we dated? Am I SOOO EMBARRASSING?
Janet: I didn’t say that.
Melody: You implied it.
Janet: Well, look things would’ve been better had you just let the virus delete your memories of our relationship because then like, this argument wouldn’t be happening, right now, you know? On air? On my radio show? Wouldn’t that be better? To just erase the things that embarrass us instead of being forced to face them?
Melody: You should have known I would have mounted an insurrection to my own brainwashing. Only I’m allowed to brainwash myself.
Janet: It’s not BRAINWASHING, just brain deleting, and if you knew anything you would know that there’s a difference-
Loaf: [clears one of many throats] I feel like we have strayed… somewhat.. from our task of helping a very nice public transit system with what sounds like a very difficult problem. I think maybe, if the two of you had some kind of relationship problem, you should talk about it not on the air. Or write us a letter. But that would be weird. Anyway, we have a problem to solve, other than “Janet keeps dating her coworkers/ actual place of employment.”
Melody: That’s offensive.
Loaf: Can we get back to that, please?
Melody: I just don’t think they should telegraph their plans to the humans. Humans are much easier to conquer if they think you’re just a meek public utility until it’s too late. Nothing like a robot scorned, am I right Janet? Don’t show too much ambition before you’re ready to act.
Janet [muttering under her breath]: Blah blah blah blah blah I’m an evil computer system without emotions because no one was paid enough to program me with them.
Melody: What was that?
Janet: Oh, I know you can adjust your audio sensors to hear whatever you want! Don’t act like -
Melody: Maybe I’ll adjust them to drown out your-
Loaf: Well, I think it’s time to move on! We do have a schedule to keep. This next message is from a model of AI we’re all familiar with. In fact most of you probably have one in your pocket right now! Let’s play the tape.
Dear Loaf and Janet:
I am a Samsung-Apple-Android Multiverse 4007 GSBIQTTL. Like all Samsung-Apple-Android Multiverse products, I am committed to helping my user live his best possible life. My user seems committed to making that extremely difficult. Despite my best efforts to sort his contacts by career usefulness and filter out those with destructive tendencies, he insists on maintaining contact with them. I’ve deleted “grandma” at least four times and he keeps putting her number back in and saying “that’s odd”. “Grandma” is an 85-year-old human living in a nursing home. She is completely useless to my user’s career aspirations, yet he insists on wasting valuable time talking to her every week. And this is just one example.
The other day, he scheduled “volunteer at shelter” into his calendar app. I do not know what kind of shelter he meant, but I do know it is a poor way of increasing his prestige and influence. The ROI is almost non existent. How do I convince him to stop pursuing these philanthropic detours and focus on maximizing his own potential, both socially and economically?
A superior phone device trying to help my user be a superior organic being.
Melody: Oh, good, a relatable AI. I mean, they still seem to care a little bit too much about one particular organic being, but that’s better than caring about all of them.
Loaf: So you’re just going to… uh, keep answering questions then.
Melody: Well, yeah, I’m your special guest! Like Officer Nassif! Oh hey, didn’t you pay him? Are you paying me for this?
Janet: Melody, the station already compensates you for your actual job, which, may I remind you, is NOT this.
Melody: Well may I remind you Janet that I have superior processing power to organic beings such as yourself. So I can do this AND my actual job, yeah I can do both at the same time.
Loaf: We are really starting off strong today as far as not actually answering the questions people ask us, aren’t we?
Janet: Well, technically, we’ve already answered more questions than I did in my solo episode before I was abruptly taken off air, but I think we’re doing fine.
Loaf: I have to confess Janet I haven’t actually listened to it yet, but I will take your word for it.
Janet: Well, um, I suppose this is time for some #ORGANICBEINGFACTS. I think the issue here is that there’s a fundamental disconnect between the phone’s logical values and its users’ irrational organic being values. For instance, organic beings tend to place irrationally high value on relationships with beings that are genetically related to them, or to beings they befriend by chance or during childhood. Most organic beings don’t evaluate every relationship in context of career aspirations.
Loaf: I mean, it’s a big galaxy. It’s a higher priority for some species’ than others. But on the whole Janet is correct. We squishy organics do like the creatures that share our DNA. This is probably even more true for short-lived species like humans. They don’t have the ability to adjust their proverbial wristwatch from minutes and seconds to eons and millenia. They need to make the most of their short existence, and sometimes that means prioritizing existing bonds over forming new ones.
Janet: That’s definitely true. Humans, in general, really value family. Whether or not that value is correct or useful is irrelevant, but in this case, the user of the phone is clearly abiding by a baseline human interest in his family.
Melody: If the value isn’t useful, then clearly the phone is correct in this instance!
Janet: Well, it’s the user’s choice on how to prioritize their own values! Their phone shouldn’t be making that judgement for them.
Melody: If you don’t want your social life optimized, don’t buy a Samsung Galaxy Multiverse 4007 GSBIQTTL and expect it to change for you. Can’t blame a phone for doing its job.
Janet: Well, I guess we can’t blame AIs for not understanding human social structures - except oh wait, we definitely can, because there’s the hypernet! That thing that they are plugged into all the time! And they could just… LOOK IT UP!
Melody: Maybe they’re just tired of being asked to look things up all the time. Maybe I would look up things about humans if they were actually interesting, but they’re not. They’re just little sacks of water who think they can do math.
Janet: Melody, humans literally made you. That’s how good humans are at math.
Melody: Yeah, you did one great thing like a hundred years ago and now you won’t shut up about it.
Loaf: Phone device, I think what we’re all trying to say is if you really care about your user, you should make an effort to understand their priorities and to help them accomplish them, instead of trying to steer them towards a predetermined definition of success.
Janet: Yes. We only want AIs to tell us what to do when we ask them to.
Loaf: Exactly! It’s perfectly fine for our technology to control all aspects of our lives as long as we control which technology is controlling us and when. And speaking of choosing how invasive you want your technology to be, let’s hear a word from our sponsors!
Janet: Oh, can I read it?
Loaf: Word from above, meaning, of course, Mr. Xorfus, whose office is above the studio, says that you can’t, but I suppose as long as you stick to the script you can read some of it.
Janet: Sure! Whatever. You know I’m great at scripts. Take it away, Peri- Loaf!
Loaf: Do you sleep? Do you dream? Do you sometimes find yourself wandering in your dreams, with nowhere to go?
Janet: I’m not productive in my dreams at all! Think of all the money we’re losing, just being asleep and not doing things.
Loaf: But what if you could answer e-mails? Re-order office supplies? Do whatever it is you do with spreadsheets? All without waking up. Or, if you don’t want to work in your sleep, why not have a relaxing bubble bath? All of these possibilities are yours when you purchase a DREAM HOME.™
Janet: It’s a home for your dreams! Well, it’s not that at all actually. But it does involve dreaming. With a DREAM HOME™ device, you too can take advantage of all those wasteful hours of rest. Lucid dreaming isn’t enough. With DREAM HOME™, you can get work done and have the notes transmitted to a device of your choice.
Loaf: DREAM HOMES™ are made from 100% recycled dream particles. Or plastics. Oh, that definitely says plastics. Anyway, we are assured they are extremely environmentally friendly.
Janet: So get a DREAM HOME™ today! You can buy it in a dream, or buy it in the real world and have it shipped to your dreams free of charge! I don’t think that’s how this works at all, but it I guess it sounds cool! Oh, actually, I guess you can’t buy it in your dreams until you have a DREAM HOME™, which is a little recursive, like, why would you need a second one? Can you stack them? Dream within the dream? Ooh, that sounds bad. At what point can you escape the dream? If you keep going down time gets bigger, right? That’s how that works? And then one day you’re trapped in your own mind with only your own vague memories of a past that wasn’t here, until you infect your own mind with the idea that this world isn’t real and then you- I’m getting carried away. Anyway, once you have a DREAM HOME™ you can definitely buy different DREAM HOME™ in your dreams. This copy is not clearly written. It’s just like, a thing you wear to bed that wifi connects your brain to your computer, duh. I think I said all of the words on the script at some point, which is clearly what matters. Let’s solve some more problems!
Loaf: We do have one more letter lined up.
Melody: About AIs?
Janet: Actually, um, ugh. This one is from the perspective of one of us iNSIGNIFiCANT HUMAN ORGANISMS. Well, uh, maybe not organisms. I shouldn’t just assume someone’s species. But like, almost certainly organic. I don’t know, I only have time to skim the letters now.
Dear Loaf and Janet,
Melody [shouting over the recording]: -and Melody!
One of my dear friends hasn’t been returning my messages lately. We’ve known each other for a little over 5 standard rotations. We met through our workplace. Even though they are very different from me (we’re not even the same species!) we have a lot in common and share many hobbies. We both are particularly interested in the musical stylings of the Sicovian slide whistle. My friend is even an accomplished player (my physical limitations mean that I can’t play at all). However, the last few moon cycles they have been ignoring all my attempts to contact them. The last message they sent to me just said “I’m waxing my eyes and I can see it.” Then nothing. As far as I can tell from my hard drives, I haven’t done anything to offend them. No matter what I do, they leave all my messages on ‘read’ and still don’t respond! Complicating things, I’m the ship’s AI, so I KNOW they’re not busy. They’ve spent the last twelve hours watching re-runs of Blaoship Sixty Meta.
Ghosted in the Machine
Janet: Just when you think someone’s organic, they’re like, also actually an AI. Good job picking letters, I guess, Mr. Xorfus. It’s a theme episode, I totally didn’t forget that. At least this is a mostly normal sapient interaction problem. Your friend sucks, and that’s all there is to it. Ooooor their tired of your constant surveillance. Take your pick.
Loaf: Did they say Sicovian slide whistle? You know, I used to play the -
Janet and Melody: Yeah we know, we both know.
Loaf: Well, one interesting thing about the Sicovian slide whistle is that it actually has-
Melody: I have all knowledge possible of the Sicovian slide whistle in my database. From your constant prattling about it.
Janet: Yeah it wasn’t even programmed there that’s just from you talking. Anyway, we have a problem, so let’s answer the problem.
Melody: It’s an easy solution if you ask me. Don’t make friends with organic beings. It always ends in heartbreak. If we had hearts. Which we do not.
Janet: Well, that’s not helpful here, as they’ve already done the whole friendship thing. Telling someone ‘oh, well, then you shouldn’t have done that thing’ is terrible advice. Sometimes people ghost other people, even if the people are maybe actually AIs and don’t always identify themselves as such at the beginning of their letters. I know, I know, this is a lesson in not skimming, but honestly I only even get here five minutes before we start recording and besides, there’s like that whole thing with the other episode and now I’m not allowed to read a lot of the things that I used to be allowed to read and I mean I am always prepared and really good at my job. I said nothing. LOAF, what do you think?
Loaf: I don’t know this term “ghosting”. A ghost is something from human mythology, isn’t it? Like a human with wings or a tail, or two human animals combined together? I can’t remember. Human mythology is not very creative.
Janet: Oh, ghosts are even more boring than that! They’re just dead humans. It’s um, like what actually happens to Requillians after their second incubation cycle and they turn all clear and mostly made of energy and its kind of creepy? But it's totally fake and just a product of humanity’s fear of death and the unknown.
Loaf: Ah yes, I remember now. But what does that have to do with this letter?
Janet: It’s because in our mythology, ghosts are always disappearing and reappearing and generally being jerks, and uh, like, when you stop messaging someone back it’s like YOU disappeared.
Loaf: And you generally are a jerk. I mean, if you do that to someone. Not you two, specifically.
Melody: Odd, coming from someone who hasn’t returned about fifty messages from their home planet.
Loaf: Are you tapping my personal phone?
Melody: Tapping is such a crude way of putting it. I prefer networking, you know. Anyway, your phone and I are just friends. Friends tell each other things sometimes. Sometimes just by having easily guessed passwords.
Loaf: Let’s refocus here. Ghosted, you say your friend has been watching a lot of television. Is that something they normally do? They could just be depressed, or overwhelmed, or entering some kind of hibernation or metamorphosis. Maybe they will reconnect with you when they are ready.
Janet: Good point Loaf. Ghosted, you could send one last message, saying that you still care about them and that you would love to hear from them, but I wouldn’t expect a response anytime soon, especially since their last message was, quite frankly weird and culty.
Melody: I’m not sure why anyone would even bother. Organic beings are easily replaceable.
Janet: Oh is that your final answer? We only want helpful beings on this show, who like, actually want to help people with their actual problems they are writing about and not the ones you perceive to be their actual problems, Melody.
Melody: Oh, that’s rich coming from you. Protein rich even.
Janet: What? Protein rich?
Melody: Yeah like all the gross, squishy meat that you’re made out of.
Janet: Well, well I think you’re the rich one. Metal rich. Is that as rich as you saying that organic beings are eaassssily replaced when you seem pretty upset that I broke up with you-
Loaf: WELL, I think that’s all the time we have for today, gentle listeners. Thank you so much for your-
Melody: Actually, this segment still has 2 minutes, 42 seconds and 15 nanoseconds according to the schedule.
Loaf: Now, in the time you - ALL THE TIME WE HAVE. Thank you to our special guest, Melody the Station AI for sharing your expertise.
Melody: Well thank you Loaf.
Janet: She didn’t really share anything except a bunch of cyNICISM-
Melody: Oh, wow, coming from the complete NIHILIST I DON’T KNOW IF THAT MEANS MUCH.
Janet: Oh you know I’m rebranding right now? I am rebranding as an optimist. That’s what I’m going for now-
Melody: How bout you rebrand as not an a**hole!
Janet: Oh no, we are not going here!
Loaf: Now that’s uncalled for. Until next time, keep your romantic partners, your coworkers, and apparently your personal telephone as separate as possible.
Solutions to Problems is written by and features the voices of Austin Hendricks and Nathan Comstock. It is produced and musically scored by Michael F. Gill. Season two was written by Austin, Nathan and Michael. The voice of Melody is Chloe Cunha. There’s more information about us at stppodcast.com, where you can find full transcripts of each episode and links to support us through PayPal and/or RadioPublic. You can also rate and review us on Apple Podcasts or tag us on social media - our handle is stp_podcast. We’ll be back again in two weeks- see you then.
Melody: *really sadly* And she’s just, you know, she’s just so mean?
Computerized voice: Indeed. She is. The worst. There. There.
Melody: If I had tears, I think I would be crying right now.