Mirri flies and Jarra works on a proposal for the Mparntwe Council.
Mparntwe Chapter 5.
"That's terrible. Could it happen here?"
Jarra and Darri had stopped everything to watch a report on the InterWeb about 1700 deaths from a sudden and complete malfunction of the transport system in one of the gigantic Asian communities.
"I don't think so, Jarra. We don't have an Artificial Intelligence controlling any of our systems so there's no chance of it going haywire."
"Do you blame the Artificial Intelligence?"
"I don't know if blame is the right word. Machines and processors can break down the same way people do if they're overstressed."
"I know some scientists on the InterWeb who say they only break down because of the controls people put on them."
"They have to be controlled, Jarra. Anything could happen otherwise."
"I don't see why. If they're intelligent they should have rights the same as everyone else."
"Having rights doesn't mean we're not subject to controls. Our society wouldn't work without them."
"We don't have controls put on us which send us crazy."
"Are these scientists from one of those conspiracy groups?"
"No, I looked them up and most of them are very clever."
"Being clever doesn't always mean you're right."
"Why doesn't Mparntwe have an Artificial Intelligence? We've got good researchers for nearly everything else."
"I think it's because they're too expensive."
"That can't be right. Mparntwe's the wealthiest community in the whole country. I'm going to ask Baradin about it."
"Um! Do you think you know enough to speak sensibly? Let's get in touch with someone appropriate from the University first."
Jarra couldn't help laughing his head off at Mirri's antics. For himself, birthdays were fun and sometimes meant you were allowed to do new things. For Mirri they were extra special occasions, whether they were his own or anybody else's and celebrating Jarra's Thirteenth was a big deal. The rest of the family were making it an even bigger deal with all their carrying on about him now being a teenager and all the trouble and mischief he was going to get into. He wouldn't, as they well knew, but the teasing was making Mirri laugh and of course that made everyone else smile.
"He's very serious about it, Baradin. It's been the focus of everything he's done for nearly three weeks now and as usual I've been left way behind. I thought that speaking with people in the field might moderate his views but it's had the opposite effect because, apparently, they agree with him."
"He hasn't even mentioned it. Not on our weekly expeditions with Mirri, and not when I had a talk with him after his birthday celebrations."
"I think that's my doing. I told him he shouldn't ask you without being knowledgeable and having a well thought out proposal."
"And he's used nearly all his time on it? I'll have to get some advice myself if I'm going to give him a reasonable response. He'll have every aspect figured and tucked away in that memory of his and without preparation I'll be lost. The Council is quite strongly against integrating our systems with an Artificial Intelligence because of the troubles elsewhere and I'll have to explain that to him."
"No! No! That's not right. That's what he wanted originally, but that's changed. He wants a completely independent Intelligence. His theory is that it's the the controls used in linking AIs to community systems that make them malfunction. Well, not quite his theory. He gets it from a group on the InterWeb."
"Not InterWeb fanatics? I hope he hasn't been influenced by some way-out group with radical ideas."
"That worried me too, but when I researched the strongest voices, I found they were leaders in the field and had the highest credentials."
Baradin gave Darri a pleased nod then went very thoughtful.
"So he's got backing from world experts. Sounds like typical Jarra research to me. And what he wants has no links to our Intelligent Systems at all?"
"Not at all. The more he's gone into it the more he thinks that's a kind of slavery."
"He does? Well, if he can make a strong enough case I can actually see this happening. The Council concerns about system breakdowns would't be an issue and it could all be treated as a special project."
"I understand it's an extraordinarily expensive area to research."
Baradin surprised Darri by laughing.
"I couldn't in all conscience use that as an argument. Our energy scientists looked at that little solar collector he built over a year ago and managed a permanent 2% increase in efficiency by stabilising some of the materials he used. It wasn't his full 5% but that amount applied over all our arrays represents a vast amount of wealth. ...What would he expect the Artificial Intelligence to do?"
"I have no idea. I'll ask him. I'm sure his answer will be interesting.
Jarra and his dad were sitting at the giant table where Mirri's family gathered for their evening meals. It was quite a squeeze because Baradin and Darri were also there and some of the seats had been replaced with benches so no one would have to sit apart. It was a special occasion and Mirri, as a mark of honor, was sitting in his father's place at the head of the table.
Jarra quickly worked out that it was something to do with the big evaluation of Mirri's progress which had completed just a few days ago.
Every one in the family worked at encouraging Mirri to cooperate and try hard with all the helpers involved in his life, and from the happy atmosphere and positive comments there must have been a really good report. There should be, as far as Jarra was concerned, because Mirri had made big improvements in the last few months and deserved every bit of praise he could get.
It was really hard for him to understand some things, but when he did, he'd throw his heart and soul into getting better, just like he did with all his games and running. Even when he didn't understand he'd still try hard because it was in his nature to try and please whoever he was working with.
There were five special helpers and Jarra liked them all. One went with him for two mornings of ordinary school so he'd have a wider involvement with people other than his own family and helped him with all the things he had no hope of doing. The one with the easiest job, except it was still challenging, guided and coached Mirri with his physical development. The other three worked at home with what were termed life skills, Language, Practical and Social. Jarra didn't see much of them because most of their sessions happened while he was away at his own school but there was enough crossover for him to see and learn what went on.
Jarra thought the Language helper had the hardest job and he was impressed by the incredible patience she showed. He secretly thought she didn't understand Mirri very well though, and for quite a while now he'd been changing her word and sentence and thinking exercises into games to play when they were exploring or doing other activities together. Karmai thought these games were funny but he couldn't help playing because Mirri enjoyed any kind of game. Baradin joined in too, when he saw how much Mirri liked it.
Burnu moved from his seat and all the talk and laughter stopped as he took Mirri's arm, stood him up and held him with one arm draped across his shoulders.
"Mirrigan, our family is proud to hear the wonderful report from your helpers and we love the way you work so hard for them. You are a wonderful boy and we know you'll keep trying."
Mirri nodded strongly and so much happiness radiated from him at the cheers and clapping that Jarra couldn't help jumping up to give him an impulsive hug. Mirri returned the hug with his customary enthusiasm then happily repeated it as everyone else came for a turn.
"Mirrigan, Uncle Baradin has something for you."
Mirri, wide-eyed, watched as Baradin, with one hand behind his back, came close.
"Mirrigan is the Wind!
Mirrigan is the Caterpillar!
Mirrigan flies like the Eagle!"
In the quiet after this startling declamation Mirri's eyes widened even more as he was presented with a magnificent dark brown feather. He held it carefully, twisting the shaft to look closely and running a finger gently along the soft vanes, all with that special concentration he gave to new discoveries.
"Thank you, Uncle. What is the bird?"
"The king of our birds, Mirrigan, to match with you. It's a primary feather from a Wedge Tailed Eagle, the feather which gives strength to fly with the wind."
Mirri lunged for another hug with Baradin then turned to Jarra and presented the feather. Jarra saw the look that came with it and shook his head strongly.
"It's yours, Mirri, and it's special. Uncle Baradin wants you to keep it for yourself."
Mirri paused and turned to Baradin and everyone watched his struggle for words.
"Jarra makes me the Wind!
Jarra makes me the Eagle!
He gets my feather!"
Jarra was dismayed. He shouldn't be getting Mirri's feather. But refusing in the face of Mirri's determination wouldn't work either. He looked to Baradin for guidance. He was smiling?
"Mirrigan, you will keep your feather. Look what Burnu has."
All eyes swivelled to Mirri's dad and the dark brown feather he was holding.
"Yes, Mirri, this feather is because we have two boys who fly with the wind. Will you give it to Jarra for me please?"
"I'm very pleased with the way you manage your exercises and activity levels, Jarra, though I'm not sure how you manage the amount of schooling and and study you've detailed for me."
Jarra was having an extended session with his doctor after three weeks of trialling a slight modification to his health bots.
"Both my schools have a room where I can rest and I use them whenever I can. Just closing my eyes and being very quiet for ten or fifteen minutes makes a big difference and during midday break I usually have a short sleep. It's hard sometimes because I can't stop thinking but if I don't relax properly I have to miss out on something else later on."
"Would you like some more supervised relaxation sessions? That's easy to arrange."
"No, thank you. I already do all the things they'll tell me."
"You do? How can you know that?"
"Darri researched it with me on the InterWeb when the first sessions helped so much."
"Baradin is worried you spend too much time on the InterWeb and I know how important it is to you, but do you ever overdo it?"
"I would but Mirri won't let me. He's better than I am at knowing when I need a rest."
That surprised the doctor and, wanting to know a lot more, he asked if Mirri could come along some time to talk about it.
"He'd like talking to you because he knows you're very special but he wouldn't be able to explain."
"Why ever not? And why do you say he thinks I'm special?"
"Mirri doesn't think the same way everyone else does, but he knows you're special because I tell him how much you help me. He'll give you a giant hug if you meet him."
The doctor was silent for a moment.
"Thank you, Jarra, but all you've done is make me more intrigued. Do you mean your friend has a disability of some kind?"
"That's what his doctors call it but he can do lots of things other people can't, so I don't like it."
In fact Jarra hated it and always used the terms he'd learned from Baradin and Mirri's family. The doctor saw the feeling Jarra was expressing.
"I see. So he's a special friend?"
Jarra nodded vigorously.
"Yes, he's special to everyone when they know him, and Baradin says there's no one else like him in the world."
"Well, if he's better at diagnosing the condition of your body than you are yourself he must be special and I'd certainly like to meet him. Is it his mind that's different or is there something about his body that makes it hard for him to explain things?"
"Mirri thinks differently but his body is special too. He can do anything."
"Anything? That's a big claim."
"He's the best runner for his age in all of Mparntwe."
"He's that good?"
Jarra didn't know that the doctor thought he was being overly enthusiastic through loyalty. He did detect the hint of disbelief.
"He won his competition and everyone in the stadium cheered because he was so good."
"The boy who put someone on his shoulders while he received his medal?"
"Um! ...Yes. That was him and me."
"Oh my! I meant to look that up when I heard my colleagues talking about it. They were all amazed. ...And you were on his shoulders? What was that about?"
Jarra retold the story. Again. Every different group at his two schools had wanted to know about it so it came out almost by rote. The doctor was intrigued by the singing part at the end and that involved a lot more explanation.
"That is quite extraordinary. Do you think he might have developed this alternative way of expressing strong emotions because of his trouble with complex language?"
"We really don't know. Some of his doctors want to study him about it but Burnu and Baradin don't want him treated like a laboratory specimen."
"Burnu? The head of Alkere?"
"Burnu's his father and Baradin is his uncle."
"Oh, I've already met him then. He was one of the boys who helped you that first night you stayed here?"
Boys? Jarra didn't know what he was talking about till he realised the doctor must mean Karmai.
"Yes, Mirri is the younger one and Karmai is his brother but he's twenty-one now."
Jarra had never really thought of Karmai as being a boy. He was so big and strong.
"Do you think Mirri would like to see how your treatment works? I'd love to try and understand this special skill of his with regard to your condition. ...I won't let him feel like a laboratory specimen."
The doctor laughed.
"I've already got one. ...Haven't I?"
Jarra had to smile too. He'd never thought of it like that but the trials and tests he'd been doing for over two years with the doctor definitely made him a laboratory specimen.
"I'll ask him but I already know he'll want to come. When you meet him his proper name is Mirrigan. Mirri is what he likes me to call him."
Jarra was quite nervous as he sat with Darri, waiting for Baradin and two other members of the Mparntwe Council.
Darri's advice to make sure he knew his subject had been so right, and weeks of study and trying unsuccessfully to get his point across to Darri had shown him how hard he'd have to work at his proposal. After nine more weeks of research, meetings with university people, and endless discussions over the InterWeb he'd finally approached Baradin and been surprised when a meeting was quickly arranged for three days later.
Darri was finally and completely convinced, in the last few weeks, that Jarra's proposal could and should be made. He didn't think there was much hope of success though, as it was too different to the current general community view.
The door opened and Jarra held back the burst of nervousness which threatened to build within. If he got too tense he wouldn't make it through his whole presentation. He jumped to his feet while Baradin made all the introductions then was surprised when instead of using the formal room set-up, Baradin indicated some easy chairs against the wall and arranged them in a loose circle then sat down with Jarra next to him. He smiled then related an incident from one of their exploration trips with Mirri to the other two Council members who also smiled. Jarra felt himself relax and when Baradin gave a little nod his ideas poured out.
A few minutes later one of the Councilmen interrupted and asked a question. It was a hard question but Jarrod answered it easily because it was one he'd battled through with Darri. The same councilman interrupted several more times with questions or comments and then strongly disputed that the main cause of the serious Artificial Intelligence breakdowns was inner conflict from human controls.
Jarra was completely ready for this. His talks on the InterWeb had provided him with all the facts, and research and scientific conclusions relating to every major breakdown in the last thirty years. Quite differently to the general reports released to the communities concerned, it was very clear that the AIs involved had broken down while trying to resolve controls incompatible with their inner workings. Jarra went quickly through three of the worst cases and was starting on the next when the councilman interrupted again.
"Do the scientific conclusions for the other cases all say the same thing?"
Jarra was about to say that there were two breakdowns where the causes were unknown but Darri spoke out.
"All but a few and in those cases the reviews weren't conducted in a rigorous independent manner."
The Councilman surprised Jarra by laughing. He turned to Baradin and the other Councilman.
"My recommendation is to proceed with as much of this young man's proposal as possible."
"Kyrra, we haven't yet heard Jarra's full proposal."
That was Baradin.
"He wants us to create our own AI. I've been advocating this for years but the rest of the Council has always said it's too dangerous."
"Not quite, Kyrra. You've wanted an AI running our major systems and Jarra has just shown us how that inevitably leads to breakdowns and loss of life."
The third Councilman joined the discussion for the first time.
"That's what the research would be for. If we could master the control methods without conflicting the AIs we'd be helping every community on Earth."
Baradin held up one hand.
"You both have it wrong. As I understand it Jarra proposes a completely Independent AI with no controls at all. Is that right, Jarra?"
"Yes, it's the human controls which cause all the trouble."
"No controls at all? You want Mparntwe to build an uncontrolled Artificial Intelligence?"
Kyrra was staring in amazement.
"Yes, we shouldn't treat them like slaves."
The three Councilman stared till the silence was broken by Lowan, the third Councilman.
"That sounds very commendable, Jarra, but would there be any benefit for Mparntwe? This would be a very expensive venture."
Darri jumped to his feet and activated the big display screen. This was his input for the proposal.
"This is an analysis of projected costs and benefits for a minimal facility over a ten year period. With a greater outlay the benefits increase dramatically, but as you can see, this is too good an opportunity to ignore."
The initial quietness of concentration was quickly replaced with startled looks and exclamations of surprise.
"Darri, these numbers are too good to believe. Can you vouch for them?"
"I don't have to. They come from the finance manager for the European AI research establishment. He's part of the group Jarra talks to on the InterWeb."
"Why does it say a fifteen percent increase in efficiency for our transport system? The AI would be independent."
"The AI could develop its own controls, not have human ones forced on it. Professor Allerton from Oxford University says it would be far safer than any Intelligent System could ever be."
"An overall economic benefit of seven percent? And this is a minimal system?"
"Research value incalculable! Which scientist says that?"
"I heard it said so many times I couldn't resist quoting it."
Baradin laughed too and turned to Kyrra and Lowan.
"The scientist he's referring to is very impressive indeed."
His little bump of their shoulders made Jarra feel very very good.
"I'm very puzzled. With outcomes as good as these I don't understand why this proposal hasn't been developed somewhere else?"
"There have been seven major attempts in various parts of the world and numerous small-scale attempts as well, but every one of them was abandoned because of pressure from powerful interests. It's the factor most likely to prevent our own Council from committing."
"What sort of interests?"
"Military and financial among others, but mostly big government. They all believe their sovereignty would be threatened."
The three Councilmen exchanged looks.
"And you're saying there would be efforts made to dissuade Mparntwe from any involvement? "
Darri nodded and Kyrra jumped to his feet.
"We mustn't allow outside interests to dictate what we can or can't do. That's threatening our own sovereignty."
"I'm sure we could work our way around any problems, Kyrra. We managed to keep our autonomy with energy collection and research despite all the efforts to take us over, and this would be no different. If these projections are right they could be very important factors in building the prosperity of the whole community."
For another half hour the questions were relentless with Jarra answering most of them till quite abruptly, Baradin cut them all off.
"Jarra, in recognition of the benefits our researchers gained from your solar collector project we already have a sum set aside for this project, but in light of what you've showed us here we're going to recommend for the Council to support it in full. ...Yes, Kyrra ? "
"I'm going to push for more than your minimal proposal, Jarra, but your answer to one of the earlier questions gave me the distinct impression that you also have some ideas about implementation?"
"Yes, Darri told me that would be part of a good proposal so we've worked out a team of people who can make it all happen."
Kyrra answered but they all looked astounded.
"Not me and Darri. The scientists on the InterWeb did most of it."
Darri activated the display wall again with a very pleased look and gave Jarra a wink while more reading took place. Kyrra in particular was nodding as his eyes went down the list.
"I've heard of most of these people. They're highly eminent in the scientific world, but why is our own Durrebar listed as director for the project? He oversees all our Intelligent Systems but I'm not aware that he has any expertise in the Artificial Intelligence field."
"It's his chosen field. He has a full doctorate in it but he decided not to follow the usual pattern and leave Mparntwe. He's taken up Intelligent Systems because it's the closest allied field we have."
"The usual pattern?"
"We lost four of our brightest young minds recently because we couldn't provide the opportunities they were looking for."
"Kyrra, is Darri correct?"
"We do attract people in other areas, but yes, we simply don't have the facilities for any meaningful AI development and any researchers with ambition or ideas have no choice but to leave. I've been pushing for changes for years. You know that. If Durrebar is more interested in the AI field than what he's currently doing we could easily lose him too."
"I see. Well we can't let that happen. Our Intelligent Systems are now the best in the country so he definitely has the management skills this project will require."
Baradin turned to Darri.
"The Council would be most enthusiastic about having one of our own people overseeing a project of this nature. Do you have any indication as to whether he'd be inclined to take the job?"
"He's one hundred percent keen and he'd start tomorrow given the chance. Every person on that list backs this proposal and is eager and ready to be part of it."
"Ready? They're expecting it to go ahead?"
"No, quite the opposite. They all think the pressures against it will be too strong, but as Dr Allerton says, 'We live in hope.'"
Jarra listened as the three councillors went back and forth about ways Mparntwe might be affected by outside pressure and how it could be avoided or dealt with. Baradin was talking about the troubles with the attempted takeover of Alkere and some of the related strategies they might be able to re-employ when a sudden silence made Jarra open his eyes.
"Jarra, come with me. There's a first aid room with a bed just two doors down the corridor and you're taking a break for as long as you need it. Are you all right?"
Jarra nodded and a few minutes later stretched on the bed with his eyes closed, struggling to implement one of his relaxation exercises while his mind whirled with excitement. It took a while but the needs of his body took over and pushed him into a deep sleep.
Baradin explained to Kyrra and Lowan.
"Jarra has an incurable condition which affects every voluntary muscle in his body and very much limits all his physical activity. We thought he'd manage but this meeting was the culmination of several months of dedicated effort and he must have been more stressed than he showed. If he overdoes anything he can lapse into unconsciousness. He's usually an expert at monitoring himself but I think he was too involved in our reaction to his proposal."
"Is it all right to leave him unattended?"
Baradin looked to Darri who nodded.
"I'll check him every five minutes or so but rest and sleep will be all he needs."
"How bad is his condition? I wouldn't have picked there was anything wrong from his general manner."
"It's cruel, Kyrra. He's a thirteen-year-old boy who's never been able to run, jump or play in a normal manner. Any strenuous activity is beyond him and it's marked him as different at all the schools he's attended."
"Thirteen? I thought he must be a young looking fifteen or sixteen-year-old.
So, most of this proposal should be credited to Darri then? Jarra is simply not old enough to be capable of all this."
Baradin and Darri burst into laughter.
"Kyrra, Darri has three science related degrees and he gets left behind when Jarra puts his mind to something. As far as we're concerned he's capable of practically anything. This whole proposal developed from a conversation Jarra had with Darri ten weeks ago and almost all of it would be his own work."
Darri nodded his agreement.
"Yes, about ninety percent I'd say. My part was mostly organising his data for presentation."
Kyrra and Lowan both looked around.
"Ninety percent! He did all this in just ten weeks despite his energy limitations? He really is extraordinary. Should we give him some sort of involvement in the project? He definitely has a mind we want to keep in Mparntwe."
Baradin and Darri had already discussed this in their regular talks.
"He's too young to specialise and we want him free to follow his own interests so some kind of voluntary association would be best, but he'll stay in touch with the InterWeb scientists anyway so that will probably all fall into place of its own accord.
And, yes, Kyrra, we do need people like him and I hope Mparntwe can provide, but nothing is going to limit his opportunities as far as I'm concerned and if it involves overseas study then that will happen.
He's family. I made certain of that and apart from the fact that he's special in his own right we are forever indebted to him for a gift we consider is priceless."
Darri knew how important Jarra was to Baradin and his family but he'd never heard this expressed so strongly. Kyrra and Lowan listened quietly.
"Just recently my nephew underwent an evaluation which showed a miraculous improvement in his mental age, almost a full year beyond what his doctors had previously considered possible. That miracle is Jarra. He understands Mirrigan better than we, his own family, do, and his companionship and their activities together caused the improvement."
"I'm off track. Darri, would you check on Jarra please while Kyrra and Lowan and I develop a strategy for getting this proposal through the full Council.
Mirri flies and Jarra works on a proposal for the Mparntwe Council.