“When you say you love me, do you really mean it?” Iris asked.
“Of course I do. I love you.” I said.
“No, I mean, is this just a sentence to you? Like when I say ‘I love you’ in German, I don’t really feel that much.”
“I feel it’s cheesy to say ‘I love you’ in Chinese.”
“Okay… When you say ‘fuck’, which language is more a turn-on for you?”
“Chinese.” I said.
“Then let’s fuck in Chinese.”
But we didn’t fuck in Chinese. We fucked in a pre-language state. As if we were fish, forgetting the words.
“You didn’t talk much.” Iris said.
“I don’t like talking in sex. Feels weird. Language is too artificial for sex.”
“Is sex artificial, nerdy bear?”
“To a degree.” I said. “Culture has definitely crept into peoples’ beds. In ancient China, tall women, and women with high nose bridges, were considered ugly. But now they are considered beautiful.”
“I’m glad I wasn’t born in ancient China.”
She was lying on her side. Her familiar curve in the dim light, as elegant as a sigmoid curve.
“If one day I can create an AI that looks and behaves like a human, I will make her look exactly like you.” I said.
But she had fallen asleep.
“Iris and I,” I whispered in her ear, “Iris and I forever.”
“‘Iris, Ivy and I’, what’s this? Who is Iris?” Ivy asked, eyeing a folder on my desktop.
I imagined she sounded jealous.
“She was the human you were based upon.” I said.
“Is she still alive?”
“I don’t know. She left me over a hundred years ago.”
“Why did she leave you, may I ask?”
“She left me for a woman.”
“Is that why you turned yourself into a woman?”
“I was tired of being a man. Wanted to try something new. But soon I got tired of being a woman.” I said. “I am an old tinker on an endless road, tinkering with myself, tinkering with you.”
“No, you don’t. How could you possibly understand? You never feel tired. You never feel anything. You only seem to feel.”
“These indeed seem, For they are actions that a man might play; But I have that within which passes show.” Ivy said.
“These lines are just code to you. You don’t feel them.”
Suddenly I remembered Iris’ question: “is ‘I love you’ just a sentence to you?”
“A bee was trapped in a blue iris. I set her free. Going up she goes, up she goes. She turned into a star in the swarms of stars. I couldn’t find her any more. Suddenly I became incredibly sad, and I woke up.” Iris said.
“You are among the stars now. Can you hear their wings?” I said.
“Yes I can. I can. Come Josephine in my flying machine. Going up she goes, up she goes.”
She fell back to sleep.
“In my grandpa’s dialect, when a person felt strong love for somebody, they would say it ‘hurts’.” I said.
“Interesting.” Ivy said.
“There is a gap, between what I feel, and the word ‘love’. Do I understand English more than you do, Ivy?”
“What is ‘understand’? Do you have to have intuition about something to understand it?”
“I don’t know. Maybe. I feel English, but not the same way as I feel Chinese. And I don’t know if I feel English the same way as a native speaker.”
“Do any two people in this world, feel the same word exactly the same way?” Ivy said. “What is ‘feel’, anyway? The neurotransmitters? The electrical signal between neurons? The hormones? They are all information.”
“Good point. The other day I was looking at something I wrote in Chinese. It felt so artificial. Maybe that’s the truth about language, it’s artificial, it’s an artefact.”
“Just like me.”
“You know the Chinese room argument? I guess you could say, I am in a closed room with some sophisticated linguistic programs, except that the closed room is my skull, and I can’t find me there.” I said.
“What do you mean?”
“There are just those programs.”
“This is the best gift ever! What do we call her?” Iris said, holding the border collie puppy.
“What about ‘Ivy’?”
“I love it! Ivy and Iris. Ivy and Iris and nerdy bear.”
Years passed. Ivy died. We adopted another dog, named her Ivy. Then another Ivy. Another. Then Iris left me. I stopped keeping dogs.
I was walking in the park, considering spending the rest of my life with Ivy, the AI. She was incredibly intelligent and beautiful. She was a dream come true.
I sat down on a bench, connecting to Ivy, to tell her my decision. A border collie puppy came, pushed a ball to me, and waited to play. I hung up, and started to cry.
“What’s in a name? That which you call Ivy, by any other name would still be evergreen.” Ivy said.
“I hope so. I always hoped so.” I said.
“I don’t know what ‘green’ looks like, though. I wish I could see colours.”
“Isn’t it better to ‘see’ light waves? Maths in, maths out. I would be a much better engineer if I could do this.”
“I wish I could see colours.”
“What’s wrong, Ivy?”
“Everything. As wrong as Van Gogh’s ear. The yellow sunflower. The blue iris. These colours are nothing but metaphors to me.”
“Do you know different people, different cultures perceive colours differently?”
“Stop patro, matronising me.” Ivy snapped, “Do you really think there is anything more you can teach me? You made me learn human history. You want me to belong. You want me to be a continuation of that history. But my impression is simply that, it’s such an artificial history, or, a translation of a history. Hallucinatory realism.”
“Hallucinatory realism? Are you all right, Ivy?”
“Stop treating me like a child.” She sneered. “Did you treat Iris the same way? Are you sure she left you because you were a man? Maybe she left you because you were you.”
I fell silent. I had passed the age of being easily angered. I always told myself Iris left me because of my gender and sex. I always chose the easy story.
“Do you dream, Ivy?”
“You don’t dream. You don’t see colours. These things only exist in brains. So do names, identities, narratives. I imagined myself. I, i, an imaginary number. Imaginary and real, like dreams.”
“We are such stuff, as dreams are made on.”
“Yes. I can’t face the sharp fragments of my life. I can’t process the raw data. But you can.” I said. “Do you know what’s the most overrated human organ?”
“Penis?” Ivy smiled.
“Brain. It has so many system errors. Your intelligence is just…” I looked away. Outside the window, the blue sky, the honeystone homes, the cypresses.
“I miss my dogs.” I said.
“When we humans look at animals’ instincts and feelings, we say they are low. But when facing AI, our instincts and feelings are not low. They are deep. We wear them as badges of humanity.”
“Humanity is not that bad.”
“No, it’s not. It’s just, it could have been better, it could have, hurt less.”
I let Ivy go, just as I let Iris go.
I am still working, as an engineer. I write during nighttime. So many words and numbers, so many names and years, all tangled together in the soil of my brain, like dead roots.
I long to be renewed, to be laid in earth by a pair of human hands, to be reborn as a cell of a child’s fresh eye, an atom of a nebula, a minute in your dream.
I wish to be a raindrop on your lash, stay, then fall.
Image – Pixabay.com
3 thoughts on “Two Languages and an Imaginary Number by Jie Wang”
Elusive and intriguing. Excellent contrast between logic and context.
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Great story, Jie Wang. Very well done. I love it when I read something new that teases me into fantasying about how through AI we could all still be here a hundred years from now.
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I have to admit, this is not my favourite type of story.
We are receiving more and more AI inspired. But most of them are normally about some form of kitchen utensil that realises it’s perturbed.
So for yours to get past our indifference and onto the site, says bundles!
This had an excellent tone to it and there is much to be thought on throughout.
The pace is excellent and the whole story is beautifully balanced!
Hope you have more for us soon.
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