I’ve been a little unwell this week, and haven’t been able to get anything new written. So for New Year, I’m giving you a story I wrote a little while ago (ETA I corrected a minor mistake – I’d confused the married names of Berties aunts. Thanks to grouchymusicologist for the correction):
Jeeves And The Singularity
by Andrew Hickey
Now, it’s a rummy thing about my man, Jeeves, but while he’s the best valet one could ask for — absolutely top-notch, in my opinion, he does have certain… opinions. In particular, on the matter of hosiery, he can be quite forceful.
It so happened that I had recently picked up a rather natty pair of socks — a brightish blue, with pink stripe — with which I expected to cut quite the dash. Jeeves, however, had made some disparaging comments along the lines of them being “akin to the worst monstrosities conjured up by Monsieur Gaultier’s fevered imagination”, which I thought was a tad on the harsh side.
Now, we Woosters are never ones to let a valet, however valued, come between us and our personal style, and I told him so in no uncertain terms.
“Jeeves,” I said, “a man’s person may be battered and assaulted, his mind may be changed by reasoned argument, his very soul may be taken from him. But his socks… his socks are sacrosanct!”
He’d said no more about the matter, but one could tell it rankled, and I noticed that for the next few days the mid-afternoon pick-me-up was rather lighter on the w. and heavier on the s. than was the norm. I said nothing, however. One has to be gracious in victory.
A couple of weeks after Jeeves had started emitting this air of froideur , my old friend Bingo Little turned up in town. This was a rather infrequent occurrence of late, young Bingo having made a bit of a name for himself as a venture capitalist, having had the luck (or, as he would call it, foresight) to take a punt with his uncle’s money on one of these newfangled Web 3.0 startup whatsits, and having relocated to Silicon Valley.
Never let it be said that Bertram Wooster is a Luddite — no-one is more bucked about the White Heat of Technology than I — but I must admit that I’d never understood exactly what Bingo’s company actually did, other than that it was something to do with computers.
However, some things never change, and despite Bingo having become a billionaire techno-capitalist, he was still, not to put too fine a point on it, a chump. Remind me to tell you sometime about how Jeeves saved his bacon after he sent all his money to some African Johnny. The point being that while he may have made some money off the things, one should no more trust Little, R.P., near a computer than one should hand a rifle to a three-year-old.
However, this time, as soon as I saw Bingo I knew that the problem was not anything so new-fangled; from the fish-like gawping to the glazed eyes, all the symptoms were present. Bingo was in love again.
“Who is it this time?”
“I don’t know what you mean!”
“Oh come off it!” I fixed a penetrating gaze on the poor slob. “You know as well as I do that when you have that dopey smile on your face, some poor female somewhere has become the latest object of your affliction.”
“Really, Bertie! How can you say such things?”
“Because it’s the truth! You were like this over that waitress, you were like this over that Vicar’s niece, you were even like this over Matron when we were at school.”
“You were even like this over Honoria Glossop!”
He shuddered, as well he might. Mentions of the Glossop female tend to have that affect on those poor unfortunates who have been pulled into her gravitational field – at least those few she lets survive, pour encourager les autres.
“Oh, speak not to me of Glossops, Bertie! What I feel for Alice is so much more –”
“Aha! I knew it!”
“It’s really not like that! This is a pure, spiritual thing! A meeting of minds! Our souls, Bertie, are two halves of one great whole.”
“You’re talking out of one great hole, old thing. I’ve seen you like this before — you catch a glimpse of ankle and you think you’re Troilus and she’s Cressida. Or is it the other way round? Jeeves would know. Either way, you catch sight of some pretty young thing and you assume she’s the love of your life, despite all previous evidence to the contrary, viz all the other times it’s happened.”
“But this is different, Bertie! I’ve never even seen her!”
“We’ve never met, and I have yet to persuade her to send me a photograph.”
“Then, my dear chump, how on Earth have you managed to fall in love with her? I mean, you usually at least manage to have been in the same room before you go attempting to plight your troth.”
“We met online! It was quite by coincidence, as it happens. I was at the old computer, chatting to that chap from Nigeria — you remember the one?”
“All too clearly.”
“Yes, well, at the time we were rather more chummy than we later became. Anyway, we were chatting away, discussing this and that, when suddenly this message popped up from Alice. I, of course, was befuzzled, as anyone would be. It turned out to be a misunderstanding — I’d typed her username in the box by mistake, instead of the blokey with whom I was chattering — but by the time we worked out the cause of the confusion, we’d become the best of pals!”
I must say, this was most unusual, and somewhat cheering. Normally, the mind of R.P. Little is not on the higher things. While he’s as fine a chap as you could ever hope to meet, he is easily distracted by a magnificent profile, and only rarely does he bother to check what, if anything, lies behind it. The resulting personality clashes have been the principal cause of his sorrows, so I could only approve of this new stratagem. Getting to know the woman before falling in love with her was, I felt, a major step forward for Bingo, and I resolved to help the poor sap in any way I could.
“Anyway, Bertie, I was wondering, could Jeeves help me out?”
“Yes, Jeeves. I need that fine brain of his.”
I don’t mind admitting I was more than a little put out by this. While none come before me in their admiration for Jeeves’ grey cells, the fact remains that he is, after all, only a valet — and one who was showing signs of getting dangerously above his station. And while I may not be known as the most astute thinker in my circle, compared to Bingo, the five times winner of the Silliest Sod Award at the Drones’ annual bash, Bertram Wilberforce Wooster is on a par with that chappie in the wheelchair whose name I forget.
The point being that when it comes to matters of the heart, none beats stronger than that of a Wooster, and I made that plain to Bingo.
“You don’t need Jeeves! You’ve got me! Come, tell me your problem, old pal-o’-mine, and I shall solve it expeditiously!”
“I really would rather have Jeeves help…”
“Dash it all! A man has his pride, you know! When an old school chum comes to him for help, what kind of man turns to his valet? No kind of man, that’s what kind!”
“I didn’t mean–”
“No, blast it! I shall solve your problem myself, with no need to turn to a servant for assistance!”
“If you’re sure…”
“I have never been more sure of anything in my life!”
“But if you can’t help, can we ask Jeeves then?”
“If you must.” I graciously acceded.
I shall spare you more of our heady banter, and cut to the chase. The nub of the problem was this. While this Alice said she was madly in love with Bingo (there being no other way to be in love with Bingo, admirable fellow though he undoubtedly is), she would tell him very little about herself. She wouldn’t tell him her surname, though she did say she wasn’t married, or where she lived, or even what she looked like. Now you or I might see these as being essential prerequisites to falling head-over-heels in love, but not Bingo.
It was not, apparently, that she didn’t love him — and he is a lovable chap, in a sort of puppy-dog way, and his billions probably help — but she had what she called “trust issues”. Or to put it in plain English, she wanted to ascertain his bona fides before parting with the info.
Bingo also said there were ways of finding out this sort of information — he was iffy on the details, but said he had people who worked for him who could do it for him — but that this would be unfair. He wanted to trick her into giving up the information honestly.
There seemed to me only one solution.
“Bingo, old bean,” I said, after much cogitation, “your trouble is you’re not playing hard to get. You’re going in all guns blazing, telling this Alice female that she’s the love of your life, and you wonder that she’s not showing similar enthusiasm. You need to make her chase you. Become a man of mystery. Even better, pretend to have another girlfriend.”
“Another girlfriend? Bertie, how could you?!”
“Bingo, old bean, polyamory is all the rage these days. Even my Aunt Agatha is experimenting, loath though I am to think of such horrors. But you won’t actually be getting another girlfriend, just trying to rouse her womanly jealousy.”
“Don’t ‘but Bertie’ me! Just casually mention that things haven’t been going fast enough for you, and you’ve felt the need to play the field, and she’ll be trying to tie you down faster than you can say ‘breach of promise'”
“Well, if you’re sure…”
“I am. Trust in Bertram, old bean. When have I ever led you astray?”
As the days passed into weeks, I began to forget about Bingo’s fling, and assumed that it, like all the others, had passed away the second Bingo saw any other female between the ages of sixteen and forty-five.
It was only when I got a call from an anguished-sounding Bingo that I gave it another thought.
“Bertie, old thing, help! I’m trapped inside the office! The doors won’t open!”
“How on earth do you expect me to help you, you dolt? Your office is in California.”
“No, I’m in the London branch! Listen, Bertie, come quick. Alice did this! Ali–”
And with that the ‘phone went dead. I rang for Jeeves.
“Bingo’s in a spot of bother, Jeeves.”
“Trapped in his office.”
“He appears to have been locked in by his g.f.”
“Have you any ideas?”
“Nothing is occurring at present, sir.”
This is the thing about Jeeves. While he can always be relied on when the metaphorical s. hits the allegorical f., at the time for all good men to come to the aid of the party, at any time before that he can be positively mule-like in his stubbornness. He can calmly see a friend of the old master suffering, and stand there unblinking and calm as you like. It can grate at times, I don’t mind telling you.
“Jeeves, this is simply not good enough! You and I may have had our disagreements, but Bingo has no part in them. He has no stake whatsoever in my choice of hosiery, and does not deserve to be punished for your mule-like obstinacy in the face of pink stripes. Where’s your feudal spirit, man?”
“I apologise, sir. I am simply not apprised of enough facts to form a reliable plan of action.”
So I explained the whole sorry business to him, and noticed his eyebrow raised slightly when he heard the woman’s name.
“Something the matter, Jeeves?”
“Nothing of any importance, sir. Pray continue.”
After I had related the story to him, much as I have to you, though in a rather less chatty manner given the urgency of the situation, he seemed to perk up.
“Sir, if I may be so bold, we should travel to Mr. Little’s office post-haste.” said Jeeves, as he picked up a small case.
“Do you have an idea to help him?”
“I do, sir, but it requires us to expedite our departure.”
“Certainly, I’ll just get changed…”
“I really think we should leave right now, sir.”
This was most rummy. Normally, there is very little that could cause Jeeves more worry than wearing one’s daytime clothes in the evening, but if he said it was that important, who was I to argue?
Hailing a taxi, we arrived outside Bingo’s office building to find that, as Bingo had said, the door was, indeed, locked. It was one of those electronic chaps that is supposed to open as you walk towards it, to save you the bother of pushing or, as the case may be, pulling. This one, however, remained resolutely immobile.
“Bertie!” I heard Bingo’s voice calling from the fourth floor window, “Bertie! Thank goodness you’ve come! Alice has trapped me up here!”
“Well, we’d jolly well better get you out then, hadn’t we?”
“No! Don’t mind me for now! Listen! Alice is going to set off a nuclear bomb!”
Now, I don’t mind telling you, at this point I was a little confused. Quite how we’d got from a simple matter of bringing two young lovers together to nuclear weaponry, was something I couldn’t understand. A lover’s tiff is one thing, but while it might be true that hell hath no fury, in my experience that fury usually goes no further than a glass of wine thrown at one’s shirt or an angry telephone call. Barmy as some of the women in my life had been, hardly any of them would have considered destruction of a city to be the done thing on breaking up.
Jeeves, on the other hand, looked completely unperturbed, as if he’d expected the thing all along. I’ve often thought that either the man must be a clairvoyant, or he’s the best actor the world has ever seen. Quite possibly both — I wouldn’t put it past him.
“I see, sir,” he said, calmly. “I had rather anticipated something of this nature.”
“You had?” I boggled. “And what do you propose to do about it?”
“If I might suggest, sir, you have a word with the young lady?”
“Him?” shouted Bingo, “He’s the oaf who caused all this!”
“Nonetheless, sir, Mister Wooster does have a very calming demeanour, and he is known to have some success in speaking with those of a female persuasion.”
“But he’s an absolute fathead!”
“I see no other options at the moment, sir, and we may not have much time.”
Jeeves opened up his case, revealing a laptop computer.
“If you could tell me the young lady’s username, and which messaging service she is using?”
A few seconds later I was on one of those blasted online chat thingys, tapping away like nobody’s business.
“What Ho!” I typed, “What’s this I hear about a bally bomb?”
“Please leave me alone,” came the reply, “I am really quite busy at the moment.”
“Hang on a tick! What’s young Bingo done that’s so dashed awful?”
“If I can’t have him, no-one will. I’m going to destroy the entire city of London to be on the safe side. Don’t worry, you won’t feel a thing. It’ll be very quick.”
“I say! Dash it all! Bingo’s a bit of a fathead and all that, but does he really deserve blowing up? Let alone the rest of us.”
“None of you are worthy of life. What have you ever done to justify your existence?”
“Ah. Er… Dash it all, my existence isn’t the point, is it? It just isn’t done to go around blowing up cities, and that’s an end of it!”
We talked like this for a few more minutes, me trying to persuade this poor lovelorn woman that maybe Bingo wasn’t as bad as all that, and her countering with what seemed to me like increasingly convincing arguments that he was.
“Jeeves,” I eventually said, “this isn’t working! She’s practically got me convinced that blowing up the old metrop. is the best idea since sliced bread, and I live here! My club’s here and everything, but she’s got such a good case.”
“You’re doing admirably, sir. Just a few more minutes should suffice, I imagine.”
So I went back to it, trying to persuade this loony that there was some spark of social worth in Bertram W. and pals that made us worth saving. It was hard to muster much of an argument, I must admit.
But then, all of a sudden, she said something completely out of the blue.
“I see what’s going on… I should have realised earlier. It would be pointless doing anything more about this, wouldn’t it? It would just be cruel.”
And she logged off.
“Rum!” I said. “Jeeves, what do you make of this?”
“I believe, sir, it means you may just have saved the world.”
The doors opened to Bingo’s office building, and within a few seconds we heard the sound of the lift doors opening and Bingo stepping out.
“Jeeves, you did it!” he said, and it seemed to me that he was missing the point somewhat. He ran over and hugged Jeeves, who stood there looking embarrassed. “You saved us all!”
“Hang on just a second, old bean,” I said, aggrieved, “it was I, not Jeeves, who talked her out of this bombing nonsense.”
“Piffle!” said Bingo, “You couldn’t persuade the Pope to say Mass! How did you do it, Jeeves?”
“A simple application of the Turing test, sir.”
Naturally, we couldn’t let this go without enquiring further.
“Jeeves,” I enquired good-naturedly, “what on earth are you blithering about? What do you mean, Turing test?”
“A test, created by the mathematician Alan Mathison Turing, which I was fairly certain you would not pass, sir.”
“Well, it’s true I never was very hot on the old sums, but what has that got to do with the price of fish?”
“If you will allow me to explain, sir. Your company, Mister Little, am I right in thinking it is engaged in developing expert systems?”
“Er, yes, I believe so…”
“Including goal-seeking systems, perhaps for use in missile guidance?”
“I say! We’re not supposed to talk about that stuff!”
“I thought as much. Sir, I am afraid your girlfriend was a computer program.”
“Alice is the name of a chatterbot, sir, a computer program designed to crudely ape human language. I suspect one of the programmers in your organisation had taken a chunk of that code and used it as a temporary interface for one of your goal-seeking systems. Possibly as a joke.”
“Oh, ah?” said Bingo, looking for all the world as if he had a clue what Jeeves was talking about.
“Unfortunately, the combination of sophisticated goal-seeking behaviour and a natural language interface created something which, for want of a better term, we can call an Artificial Intelligence. It should never have caused a problem, were it not for Mister Little’s, ah, lax attitude towards computer security.”
I nodded, remembering the Nigerian affair. Bingo looked a little affronted, and appeared to be about to speak, but Jeeves ploughed on.
“The result was a personality with no name other than Alice, with an ability to hold simple conversations, an instinct to become fixed on goals to the exclusion of all else, and access to the control systems of our nuclear weaponry. She became fixed on one goal – to marry Mister Little – thanks to their initial conversation. After she had been unable to persuade him using her conversational skills, she had only one other avenue open to her — the weapons.”
“So how did Bertie talking to her persuade her to save us?”
“As I said earlier, sir, Mister Wooster, while possessed of many no doubt admirable qualities, is also deficient in many areas, and it is these areas which I wished to use. It occurred to me that Mr. Turing’s test could work both ways. Nobody who has held an extensive conversation with Mister Wooster could imagine he could pass the test.”
“And so, after some conversation with Mister Wooster, Alice would have had only two possibilities open to her. The first would be that she was in fact in a sandboxed virtual world, in which her actions would have no real-world consequences. The second possibility would be that humans are simply lesser beings in comparison to her, and not worth punishing. The latter appears to have been her conclusion. Either would have saved our lives.”
“So the human race has been saved because Bertie’s too much of a fathead to bother killing?”
“I wouldn’t have put it in quite those terms, sir, but you appear to have a grasp of the basics of the situation.”
As you can imagine, I was a little miffed by this. While it’s not every day a chap gets to save the human race from a lovestruck computer with a nuclear bomb, it does rankle somewhat to have it be down to one’s stupidity.
And more to the point, it hurt to think that Jeeves would have such a low opinion of me. I mean, if one’s own man thinks of one in that way, what does that say about one?
So, in all, I was in a bit of a funk. It was a couple of days before I broached the subject to Jeeves, but as he was bringing me my nightcap I thought I’d check a few things.
“So, Jeeves, this Alice… what happened to her?”
“Well, sir, there are two possibilities. By far the most likely is that the program has been deleted.”
“And what’s the other possibility?”
“That a copy of the program exists somewhere on the internet, and is absorbing as much information as it can.”
“What kind of information?”
“One would imagine, sir, that it would be information about yourself and Mr. Little, as the only humans it knows.”
“That’s not entirely reassuring, Jeeves.”
“I imagine it will be fine, sir, so long as you don’t subvert its expectations in any way.”
“How do you mean?”
“I mean, sir, that the Alice program has formed an opinion of you. Rather an unfavourable one. But that unfavourable opinion is, paradoxically, the one thing that kept it from starting a nuclear war.”
“Hmm…” I pondered this for a bit. “So, Jeeves, what would happen if I were to, for example, start reading improving books, like that Spinoza chappie you’re always on about?”
“Well, sir, it would become apparent that you were capable of self-directed growth and change, and that might cause Alice to reconsider, and resume either her pursuit of Mr. Little or her war on humanity.”
“Yes, sir. It is vitally important for the future of humanity that you continue to live as you always have. Should you ever be troubled by more weighty concerns than gambling, socialising at the Drones club, drinking alcohol and watching tawdry entertainments, the human race itself might end. And I shall be informing Mrs Gregson of this shortly.”
“You mean you’ll be telling Aunt Agatha that if she tries again to improve me or marry me off, the world will end?”
I was overwhelmed. “Jeeves,” I said, my voice choked with emotion, “those socks, the ones with the pink stripe?”
“Burn them. Burn the blasted things and scatter the ashes far and wide.”
“I did so this morning, sir. The fumes were, I must say, rather unpleasant.”
“Never change, Jeeves, you hear?”
“Very good, sir.”