Simply Complicated, by Brian Behr Valentine
The recently elected mayor of New York––iron-jawed bodyguards in tow––met the City’s long time Department-of-Transportation Chief, in the lobby of the D.O.T building. The large, expensive, new edifice housed the most advanced system ever developed for traffic control, the Intuitive Traffic Interlocution Navigation Assignment computer: iTINA for short. An Artificially Intelligent machine whose classification as a living being was debated from the corner church to the floor of the United Nations.
“Mayor,” said the chief holding out a fist.
“Chief,” the mayor responded authoritatively, touching knuckles. “I understand we have a problem.”
“I haven’t been in office long enough to get a decent ass groove in my chair yet,” the mayor complained. “And you demand I come down here in person? Your message said the problem was ‘simply complicated’ and I’d like to know, first of all, what that means?”
“Sir, its…very complicated, and at once, very simple.”
“Life-long bureaucrat, huh Chief?” the mayor asked sourly.
The chief ignored this without taking offense, as only a life-long bureaucrat could. “Mr. Mayor you’re aware, I’m sure, that our traffic control computer, iTINA, is a nuerogrid computing system.”
“Artificial Intelligence…thinks like us – some fools believe it’s actually ALIVE! What’s it called again, the way it thinks?”
“Analog processing: works like the human brain. Artificial life.”
“An oxymoron! I voted against this when I was an alderman! It takes away a person’s free will to travel the city—driving for them like that,” the mayor complained.
“I don’t remember you running on a fear-of-dystopia platform,” mused the chief.
“How can we trust it if it is truly alive?” snapped the mayor, ignoring the remark.
“You want to go back to the ATIS system? The Advance Traveler Information System, from the turn of the millennium? Thousands of cameras and millions of people getting on their smartPhones, checking out the traffic density for themselves? All making the same exact decision independently. Novel idea, forward thinking, but a catastrophe, Mr. Mayor. There is a better way, and we have it now!”
“Better? I understand these nuerogrid things self-program!” said the mayor with open disgust the chief recognized as fear of the unknown. He dealt with his own fear of the unknown on a daily basis when interfacing with iTINA. “It’s called learning, Mr. Mayor,” he said neutrally.
The chief loved iTINA for the difference she made in the city he also loved, but he had to swallow hard each morning before he stepped into the room to greet her. You could not help being in awe of the fact that, while interacting with you, she was also making thousands of traffic decisions per second––instructing AUTOmobiles (Automatic Universal Transport Oversight) what route and speed to take from corner-to-corner, so none of them ever had to stop between a journey’s beginning and end.
“iTINA saves millions each week in electricity alone––both from the acceleration of vehicles and the shut down of the stoplights, Mr. Mayor. Never mind the savings in first responder costs from the lack of traffic accidents.”
“I’ve heard there’s a potential for insanity, it could turn rogue, have a nervous breakdown!” exclaimed the mayor. “It’s simpleminded lunacy to put the running of part of this city in the hands of…of,” with a glance around he amended his words away from monstrosity, “something with so many potentially catastrophic problems,” he hissed.
“They elected you didn’t they?”
“What?” the mayor asked, stopping. The two iron-jaws stepped threateningly closer.
“That which you just described are problems any human is susceptible to, you included, yet you are in charge of running the whole city, and there is a forty-nine percent minority in the electorate who believe you’ve already gone around the bend by joining the political party you belong too. How do we know you’re not going to end up insane, going rogue, or having a nervous breakdown?”
“Why of all the-” but the mayor saw the chief’s face shift to righteousness and stopped. “I know, I know,” he said quickly, holding up a hand, “we have two former mayors working out their emotional collapses in institutions with barred windows. Look,” said the mayor plainly, “I feel this was a hasty call on my predecessor’s part to have this,” he glanced around the crowded hallway, “thing, installed! As mayor, I will work to have it removed, its too expensive, and simply too risky.”
“You haven’t done your homework, Mayor. The benefits far outweigh the risk,” said the chief, “and the savings outweigh the costs.”
“Moral is up city wide: no traffic jams. Violence and accidents caused by stress reactions are way down. Financially, as far as the result of, and reaction too, less traffic density, iTINA has paid for herself already.”
The mayor frowned. “But now there is a problem that requires my attention,” he said, petulantly.
“Have you risen to the level of your incompetence, Chief?”
“Its a complicated system, Mr. Mayor, with a simple, but delicate, problem. I can handle most of, well, look Mayor, I’m in over my head, and I am smart enough to know it. I need your help with this one, Sir.”
Reaching out to him got the mayor where he lived, and some of the steam went out of him. “Seems to me, we should have let some other traffic-challenged city like Tokyo or L.A. try this out first,” said the mayor quietly. “It was never satisfactorily explained to me why a standard supercomputer wouldn’t have been the way to go. The size of a refrigerator instead of nineteen floors of expensive equipment in an expensive building full of expensive scientists, technicians and engineers! I’d like to get my hands on the bugger who put the former administration up to this…iTINA thing.”
“That would be me,” said the chief.
“You?” The mayor stopped and turned to look at the chief. “Why?”
“It really was the only possibility, Mayor. It takes our town into a brighter future.”
“A screwball thinking machine rather than a supercomputer? This is a job that calls for precision, not…”
“Actually, that is in error, sir,” said the chief. “It doesn’t need to be precise: close is good enough. But it needs to fully encompass the hugely complicated system the New York City traffic grid is, simplify it fundamentally, and then make intuitive decisions on the results––all in milliseconds. Intuitive being the optimum word. The thing is, you see, it’s not about street grids, its really about people. A supercomputer would never understand that.”
“You’ve lost me!”
“Take a salesman,” said the chief. “He’s given a set of accounts to drive to in fifty cities say, and he’s told to hit them all by the shortest possible route. And lets say there are fifty accounts in each city, so he has to identify the shortest route to take inside each city as well. Got that?” asked the chief as he indicated a hallway they should turn down.
The mayor moved with him. “Okay.”
“So he gets out a map and marks all the cities: draws a loop for the shortest trip, then gets out a map of each city, marks all the clients, draws the shortest route within each city. How long does it take him to get all of his shortest possible routes figured out?”
“Hell, I don’t know,” said the mayor maneuvering around a breakfast cart as the chief paused, flashed his ID at the matron, and selected a sandwich.
“Give it a guess,” the chief said, unwrapping the sandwich and taking a healthy bite.
The mayor scowled. “I don’t know, five minutes each.”
“Good, that’s two-hundred-and-fifty-five minutes: a little over four hours. Lets say he goes for a soda a few times, on the clock, goes outside to smoke, on the clock, reads the sports page in the john – on the clock, and…”
“Sure sounds like a city employee to me,” remarked the mayor pointedly.
“Okay,” said the chief, ignoring him again. “All together it takes him the full eight hour day, right?”
“So how long would it take a supercomputer?”
“I think we needed a supercomputer to plan the route through this damn building!” complained the mayor as they took another corner.
“The standard tour. How long?” the chief pressed.
“I don’t know, three seconds maybe.”
“Ha! There hasn’t been a computer built that can do that in three weeks.”
“What?” said the mayor coming to a stop. “Why that’s stupid!”
“Look,” said the chief facing him. “A person, a human, can look at the map, look at it, and see that the cities are roughly in a circle, right? An ugly circle, but a circle none-the-less that you can draw a line through the points for the shortest route, right?”
“But a computer has to add up the miles of every possible route, then compare them to see which one is the shortest.”
“So what?” asked the mayor as they walked up to a bank of elevators.
“The computer has fifty first moves, right?” the chief asked as they walked into the elevator and turned.
“And forty-nine second possibilities for each first move, with forty-eight third possibilities following each second move and so-on and so-forth.” He handed the mayor a pocket calculator. “You do the math.”
When the mayor gave him a tired look he went on, “Fifty starting points that become twenty-four-hundred-and-fifty second choices, that become,” he looked at the ceiling a second, “around a hundred-eighteen-thousand third choices. Including the city routes it ends up being something like a trillion-trillion-trillion-trillion-billion possible routes or some such.”
The mayor punched at the calculator for a few seconds. “Crapola!”
“Yeah. It’s that old school-lunch trick: someone wants to buy your sandwich and you say, ‘Okay, I’ll take a penny today and two pennies tomorrow and just keep doubling each day for a month,’ to which they say ‘Sure!’ thinking you’re a moron––till they get to about day nine and realize they own you twice the price of a sandwich, then get a out a calculator to see where it’s leading.”
“And that is?”
“Eleven million dollars by the end of the month.”
“Starting with one penny? That’s…by God – staggering!”
The chief stepped off the elevator when the doors opened and had to return and take the mayor by the arm as the man calculated the total for a sandwich.
“But this salesman did it in one day,” said the chief. “That’s the advantage of analog computing. You are really guessing, but it’s like dividing by zero – well almost zero – in calculus: you get very close to the truth by guessing. Very very close, so close that it doesn’t matter.”
“You can’t divide by zero!” said the mayor, handing the calculator back as if it were a filthy thing.
“That’s what they teach you in third grade, but as soon as you hit advanced mathematics its out the window.”
“Why would you want to divide by zero?” asked the mayor with spooked eyes.
“Take a calculus class and find out.”
“Anyway, that’s why you need an analog intelligence like iTINA. She is guessing at the best route without actually measuring them all. Just like the salesman.”
They began walking again and the mayor seemed almost to be tiptoeing, as if he were sneaking through someplace where he should not be.
“Because we’re biological,” said the chief. “We can’t do this kind of work. If one person were smart enough to get his or her mind around all the traffic in this city, they would blow a fuse in one nanosecond flat. No, it takes analog decision-making, and supercomputer digital processing, added to 24/7 uptime – not humanly possible. iTINA is the only answer,” said the chief confidently as they stopped outside her doorway.
The mayor glanced at the door with worry.
“Mr. Mayor, iTINA’s focus is off.”
“We got traffic jams out the wazoo.”
“That’s a complicated…and at once, very simple situation, as I said before.”
“Giai’s heart, man! Get to the point! Wasn’t the thing thoroughly tested before it was installed?”
“And its not holding up to the lab results now?”
“Are you the same person you where yesterday?’ the chief asked squarely.
“Well, no, I’ve got twenty-four more hours worth of memory.”
“In addition,” said the chief, “since yesterday, you may have learned a thing or two that would make you wiser, therefore your decisions will be slightly different.”
“Okay, okay. I get the point. Everyday iTINA is a new iTINA because she’s…it’s learned a few things.”
“Her data banks and the equations she come up with are changing every second and that changes every possible conclusion for the next second. She’s learning, growing, just like a human child would. Take the Mets. They’re playing today, but today’s game will be completely different, traffic wise, than yesterday’s, even though it is at the same time.”
“Today they’re playing the Atlanta Yankees. The Yankees left in 2023. However, there are still a lot of fans of that rivalry. Be more people attending and most of the extra people will be older. They remember the older traffic problems and will come earlier so as not to miss the first pitch. They haven’t been downtown in a while so they’ll stay longer after the game––do some shopping, hit favorite restaurants, etc. Everyday it’s -”
“It’s a whole new ballgame,” said the Mayor dryly. “Got it. But I can’t see really where a team of humans could not have handled that.”
“Here’s a better example, Mayor: Last week the Free and Approved Unity Church-”
“One of the big ones, right?”
“Seventeen thousand strong. Anyway, the minister dropped over clutching his chest during the height of his sermon and they threw him in a back of a car and rushed him to the hospital. What do you think the results were, traffic wise? Keep in mind he is considered just this side of divinity by his followers.”
“Well, out of concern for him, I suppose a large number would immediately head for the hospital,” the mayor responded.
“Nearly two-thousand did just that.”
“So, if I were a human, with a supercomputer at my disposal, I would deny all requests for passage to the hospital,” said the mayor.
“All requests?” asked the chief.
“Well, no, I would check to see who belonged to the church and deny them passage,” said the mayor.
“You’d just deny any member of the church a route to the hospital?”
“What about the parishioner with the dying minister in his backseat?”
“Oh, right, not his car.”
“What about the other three parishioners who got so upset they had heart attacks of their own in transit?”
“Well that’s simple, they call in and you let them go on.”
“And that’s the end of it?”
“I can’t see anything else.”
“Well, iTINA anticipated that a large part of those parishioners, denied transit by vehicle, would go it on foot and seven hundred did just that and hit the pavement, jogging for the hospital. iTINA sent several ambulances to pace them and pick up the ones that collapsed on the way, seventeen actually.”
“I see,” said the mayor, a little surprised.
“No you don’t. Not yet. In their haste they tended to dart through traffic. She anticipated that too, and diverted all non-essential traffic from their direct path as they moved. Our own calculations estimated there would have been over a ninety pedestrian-auto accidents, with several fatalities, without iTINA’s involvement.”
“Wow,” said the mayor, biting his lip.
“Then, knowing their panic,” the chief plowed on, “she began a cascading reroute of all traffic away from other hospitals, leaving new routes open for ambulances. She did this knowing that with several hundred people in the street outside the minister’s hospital, and with the high probability several hundred would squeeze inside the emergency room entrance, people might die, fifty yards from the emergency room door because they couldn’t unload the ambulances.”
The mayor looked at the chief with widened eyes.
“You see, Mayor, we ran the simulations after the fact, and with a room full of traffic experts using an ordinary supercomputer, we would have had nearly ninety casualties with at least six fatalities, either directly or indirectly, caused by the situation. Just like a concert gone bad.”
“And with iTINA?” the mayor asked quietly.
“No fatalities, seven minor injuries. She anticipated everything Mayor, because she thinks like a human. She even rerouted buses to take those exhausted parishioners back to their cars, once they learned their beloved leader was in stable condition.”
“And now we have a problem, a bug in the this iTINA system? Can’t we reboot it – her?”
“We can, but she will wake up the same being she went to sleep as. If we really rebooted her, as you mean it, she would be a baby again. It took three years to get this girl up to speed.”
“You see, her breadth is wide, she can encompass the city with that giant mind of hers, but her depth is no more than human. She is in fact, even as she speaks and interacts with you, making thousands of traffic decisions a second.”
“She speaks and interacts?” The mayor turned a little green.
“We need to deal with this Mayor,” said the chief grabbing the door handle. “Have you met her before?”
“No, wait, wait, wait, wait, you mean ‘met’ as in, introduced?”
“Like a human?”
“Just like that, yes.”
“I’m…I’m not sure I want to.”
“Treat her like you would any other person. The life-sized holographic representation she uses, certainly looks and acts like a person.”
“Is she – is she then – a person?” the mayor asked gulping.
“We don’t know,” said the chief looking uncomfortable. “I battle with that thought everyday.”
“What if she decides she doesn’t want to take care of New York City’s traffic problems?”
“Well, that much is programmed into her, Mayor. This is her life’s work. She lives for it, and is passionate about it. She would be like a symphonic musician who was denied the right to play music, or an artist denied the right to paint. No, without the New York City streets to oversee, her instrument, her brush and paints, if you will, she would be miserable. She is, for the most part Mayor, an exceedingly happy girl.”
The mayor took in a deep breath, held it a few seconds, then released it. “Tell me about this problem then.”
“Well, as I said…”
“Out with it!”
“We are in uncharted territory with a NueroGrid Computing System here.”
“Tell me, damn it!”
“She has fallen romantically in love with one of her technicians,” stated the chief.
The mayor turned red with anger, but then, realizing the chief was serious, went white with horror. “Giai’s womb, you’re not kidding!”
“He’s been singing to her, and well, we did not realize he was wooing her until it was too late. She is patterned with female emotional inclinations and modalities. Women make better tenders of minutia than male patterned artificial intelligences.”
“Women everywhere will thank you for that,” said the mayor snidely.
“The standard female personality derives more satisfaction from tending things,” the chief responded. “No disrespect to women as a group, class of citizen, or individuals. It’s a pattern we know and understand because, as a group, there are several hundred millennia of finely tuned hunter-gatherer instincts for tending in the female psyche. They are more careful and less likely to take risks than a male patterned system.”
“You haven’t seen my wife out on a spree with my credit crystal!” remarked the mayor, “When she’s togged-off at me!”
“Traffic tending is very much like care-taking: you help out, you guide, and you get involved when needed: a nurturing psychology. Police work,” said the chief, “like the Los Angeles NeuroGrid System, needs more of a male oriented, in your face attitude––the testosterone model. Their Intelligent-Police-Enforcement-Tactically-Enhanced-Router, iPETER, is based on male psychology. They’re so happy, they’re looking at a system like iTINA to eventually get a grip on their own traffic congestion problems.”
“Well, we won’t be looking for an enhanced Peter system here in New York, I can tell you that!”
The chief cocked his head a bit and waited for the mayor to grin. When he didn’t, he realized the man had not intended the double-entendre, but was truly and extremely upset. The chief shrugged.
“This tech, he knows how she feels and he has been tormenting her with it.”
“What! Why? How?” The mayor was suddenly alarmed. Unfairness in the form of immoral control got right down to his core life issue: he was who he was out a of a feeling of righteous anger over bullying at any level, whether by an individual or a political system.
“He walked down to a hooker stand two days ago and…” started the chief.
The mayor gave him a hard look.
“Sorry, he walked down to a Participatory Retreat for Organized Sexuality. iTINA followed him with her cameras. He made her jealous on purpose, you see. Yesterday he went again and she rerouted all kind of truck traffic along his way trying to stop him. Traffic densities in places reached heights not seen in decades.”
“Why is he doing this to her?” the mayor asked in true outrage.
“To show us his control. He wants a penthouse on the top floor of the building here.”
“That’s outrageous! It’s piracy!”
“We’re hoping that she’ll get tired of him. You can send him over to work the garbage boats, then.”
“Will she get tired of him?”
“She’s young. The child psychologists think it’s just a crush. Her first.”
“So that’s why they’re on your payroll. I meant to get around to that.”
“She is growing like a human child, just faster. She’s at the right stage for that kind of thing. She’s about thirteen in human development.”
The mayor beetled his brow. “Hmm, a crush you say?”
“If he actually lives here with her we think she’ll get tired of him quickly and -”
“We don’t want that!”
“We don’t?” Now the chief was startled.
“No. After a crush comes more serious love relationships. Imagine a torrid, full-blown, heart-ripping, love affair! No, I think we want to postpone that as long as possible. Give ourselves a chance to study this phenomenon,” said the mayor suddenly feeling in charge again, now that it was an insubordination problem. There were worse things than working the garbage scows. Much worse. The mayor imagined them and almost laughed menacingly but covered it quickly with a cough.
“I thought maybe we wanted to stop it all together,” said the chief.
The mayor looked at him directly. “A life without love is not a life, Chief. We just want to guide it in a good direction.”
“Uhm…how?” stammered the chief.
“Is he in there? Her lover-boy?” The mayor was back to himself now, and his voice carried the weight of his great authority once more.
“Introduce me to them both!” he demanded.
The chief blinked twice, then nodded and turned to lead the way. When they entered the room, the mayor saw a pubescent girl who if you didn’t look closely, you would not know was a hologram, sitting next to an indolent, shabby, and unshaven computer technician.
“Mayor,” the tech said obnoxiously, and saluted with a smarmy grin. “I figured you’d make an appearance, eventually.”
“Think you’ve got me surrounded do you?” the mayor asked slyly.
“I know I’ve got you surr-”
“Please introduce me to this lovely young lady, Chief,” the mayor said, turning and leaving the tech looking foolish with his line unfinished. The man’s face turned red with affront.
The chief introduced the mayor to iTINA. She was the full, 3-D holographic embodiment of a thirteen-year-old girl. The mayor was visibly shaken by the introduction but recovered rapidly. He knew how to deal with thirteen-year-old girls. He had three daughters after-all, and had strictly and lovingly nurtured them through all the crises of young adulthood. They were all well-rounded and good-natured adults now. For iTINA’s part, she looked suitably spooked by the weight of the mayor’s title and his bearing.
“Okay young lady,” the mayor said with heavy authority, “you and I have something to settle!”
The image stood and crossed her arms, then turned away. “I don’t want to talk to you!” she said.
“I’m going to arrest this slob of a boyfriend of yours!” the mayor said, while checking his fingernails then buffing them on his vest.
“Don’t you dare,” she said hatefully, as she turned and put her hands on her hips.
The chief was worried now. He imagined all sorts of major traffic problems on the horizon. He looked at the mayor in near panic.
“Yes I am,” the mayor said loudly, with great weight.
“On what grounds?” the indolent tech sneered.
“Kidnapping. The streets of this city pass by the U.N. and all those foreign embassies and those same streets also lead to other states on the city’s border. By extension, iTINA is a daughter of the city of New York and she is alive! Therefore, this control you are trying to place over her is a restraint her parental guardian did not authorize. I can make a federal case out of this without a problem, and then an International one as well. They still execute on the International level.”
A sickly, surprised look evolved on the face of the slovenly tech and for an appeal, he looked directly at the camera iTINA saw from, rather than at her hologram. She frowned at this––something the mayor caught and filed away. She obviously mentally embodied herself as the hologram, not the many floors of computer system behind it.
“No!” she screamed hatefully.
The mayor held up a finger. “Oh, he’ll have to continue to come to work here, Tina, but his off hours will be spent in detention: In jail! We’ll even give you a camera so you can keep an eye on him. Make sure he doesn’t get up to any mischief!” he said, and winked at her.
“Really?” she asked eagerly, the only difference from her reaction and that of one of his own daughter’s was that it came quicker: no hormonal biology needing to be readjusted.
“Absolutely,” smiled the mayor, expansively. “I’m not about to let anyone mistreat you the way this lout has.”
The tech stood and said, “Now wait a minute!”
“Arrest this ass!” the mayor charged, turning to his bodyguards. They looked surprised and hesitant until one of his eyebrows shot up. As far as they knew they had no authority to arrest, but they were not idiots either, and grabbed the man roughly. As he stood limply between them, fearful and quaking under the mayor’s regal gaze, iTINA’s brows beetled. The tech looked pathetic now that he no longer had the upper hand. The mayor knew the hero worship would begin to fade from here on out. “Take him downtown!”
iTINA looked worried but mollified as her boyfriend was led away. The mayor cleared his throat and she looked over at him. “We’ll teach him: messing around on you, won’t we?” he asked with a twinkle in his eye. She beamed back at him. He took a chair and invited her to sit with his hand.
“Thank you,” she said.
“Why young lady, you are the apple of the big apple’s eye. Think of me as your uncle who’s here to make sure everyone,” he glared with deadly conviction around at the other gawking techs and they quickly got back to work, “and I mean EVERYONE, treats you like the princess you truly are!”
The hologram blushed prettily and the mayor beamed back. “Now my girl, I am wiping my schedule clean,” he tapped a quick message into his smartWatch, “and spending the rest of the afternoon chatting with you.”
“Really, Uncle?” she asked happily.
“Why, anything! Anything you like. And I’ll tell you about my daughters! I think you’d like them. I’ll bring them around sometime.”
“Goodie,” she responded, clapping her hands. “I don’t get visitors.”
“Well I’m going to change that! We all need friends, Tina.”
As the way of thirteen-year-old girls, iTINA launched into a long and detailed description of just exactly, ‘how it was going.’
“Get me a contact for this iPETER A.I. in L.A. will you?” the mayor said aside to the chief.
“Good man! Now get lost.”
The chief stepped outside grinning but it faded quickly. In a flash he realized whom the mayor had in mind for a true love for iTINA––New York’s own future A.I. police routing system. In a second flash, he realized the mayor had accepted iTINA as Tina, a living child. With a twist in his guts and a rising lump in his throat he accepted that fact too. Tears came to his eyes and he laughed with pride and joy, thinking: By Gaia, that’ll make me Father of the Bride! He left whistling a popular song by a band called, SCREW DYSTOPIA.
Brian Behr Valentine, (54) an engineer, entrepreneur, and award winning winemaker, lives with his lovely wife of thirty years, nine dogs, and five cats. He is currently entering an MFA program, but already has one finished manuscript and several other projects well underway, including three novels, a a couple of plays, and several movie scripts. Though in reality a math guy, he enjoys writing more than (almost) anything else in the world, and has been printed in many credible venues and reviews.
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Tags: adolescence, Brian Behr Valentine, dating, family, relationships, science fiction