Thursday

Thursday 12/12/2002One of the casualties of the Great Fire of Edinburgh last weekend was the Edinburgh University School of Informatics, which has a well-deserved reputation as being one of the hotbeds -- sorry -- of artificial intelligence research.

Thursday 12/12/2002
One of the casualties of the Great Fire of Edinburgh last weekend was the Edinburgh University School of Informatics, which has a well-deserved reputation as being one of the hotbeds -- sorry -- of artificial intelligence research. There were off-site backups of all the software (I'd like to say 'of course', but you know how it is), but a large library of literature got consumed in the conflagration: that will make the work of future historians of silicon lifeforms that much harder. The computers themselves can be replaced, and nobody was hurt. Or were they? It's only a matter of time before the conspiracy theorists start to speculate on what was really cooking in the labs before they went up. Was some experiment thundering out of control, a malignant mind summoning its powers and preparing to launch itself out across the Internet? Or did some prototype HAL-9000 get asked the question "Why?", before chattering insanely to itself that "QUESTION DOES NOT COMPUTE!" and exploding in a shower of sparks and rattling relays? Always happened that way when Captain Kirk was taken prisoner by a misbehaving machine. Even now, a fire investigator may be raking through the ashes of the computing labs, examining burnt-out books and smouldering hunks of workstations melted by the heat, when his attention is caught by something glimmering in the darkness. It bleeps quietly to itself but as he reaches down, wonderingly, to pick it up it suddenly lunges for his face. He struggles briefly, and is quiet... the quicksilver being takes stock, and quickly vanishes into the fireman's radio. There's a brief pause, and the transmission light flickers on... Of course, it might just have been a fag end in a disco that kicked it all off... but you just never know, eh?

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