Come nearer, curious lads and even more curious lasses, and recline on the cushions while your own storyteller, Kai Lung II, unrolls his mat and regales you with another of his tales of wondrous deeds and confusing morals.
This tale is about Andi.
Who is Andi? You ask.
Andi is not human. He is not even alive in the usual sense. Andi is probably the most expensive, the most advanced, and right now the most useless, computer ever built on this planet.
Developed by a dedicated body of men at WASTE (World Association of Science, Technology and Engineering), Andi was supposed to be the greatest artificial intelligence in the world. Andi was built using a very special synthesis of analog and digital circuitry (with some quantum computer technology thrown in for good measure). This synthesis was so special in fact that it became the basis of Andi's name—AN for analog and DI for digital.
He was unique. (With a name like Andi, I feel compelled to use human pronouns). His creation had taken an incredible amount of money, an incredible amount of time, and an incredible amount of effort. Andi was the costliest computer ever built, but if he worked as envisaged, he would be easily worth a million times its cost.
He was built with a purpose. Used properly, he could give mankind a gigantic boost. (Of course, it logically follows that used improperly, he could just as easily kick mankind down to the nether depths, but let us not talk about this aspect right now).
An almost unimaginably immense database was put at Andi's disposal. At a moment's notice, Andi would sift through all the available data, pick the relevant bits, correlate them, evaluate them, extrapolate if necessary and arrive at the most valid conclusion. Numerous unsolved problems in almost every field of human endeavors would be solved, courtesy Andi and crew.
The day came when Andi was ready to be tested. A big ceremony was organized at which the first of the unsolved problems of mankind would be given to Andi to ruminate over and solve. In attendance at the ceremony were all the top figures of the world.
The first question to be asked of Andi was chosen through a long process. First, all the prominent, powerful, and highly educated people of the country were asked to send in a question of their choice. Out of the database of questions thus gathered, one was picked by a random lottery method. The winning question came from a man called William. You don’t need to know his last name. William was rich, single, and a hypochondriac. He was afraid (and who is not?) of dying. Naturally enough, he wanted to know how a human being could live a healthy, disease free life indefinitely. The experts put his question in the right input format for Andi and fed it to the computer.
The spectators waited with bated breath for Andi's answer as the seconds ticked away.
Suddenly, there flashed a response on Andi's console.
Oh! Before proceeding further, let me tell you some more about Andi.
Andi had a virtually inerasible memory. Once a thing went in its memory, nothing short of destruction of the whole system could remove it. Well, with all his extraordinary features and advances over ordinary computers, Andi was bound to have some little disadvantage somewhere. It seems to be the rule of the game, and Andi was no exception. He had one small disadvantage. He could work on only one problem at a time. Putting it technically, time-sharing was not possible for Andi. Not only that. Once a problem was handed over to Andi, no amount of cajoling could make him give up on it before it was solved. In short, Andi had a streak of stubbornness and a one-track mind. However, this feature of Andi was not given much importance by the makers of Andi because they were quite confident that given any reasonable problem, Andi could solve it sooner or later, in fact sooner than later.
Now let us go back to the day of Andi's testing.
As we were saying, there flashed a response on Andi's console. It said:
Define "Human." Define "Life."
That is that. Since then, Andi has been grappling with the problem at hand and has kept on asking for the definition of human life. To all other intents and purposes, Andi is now totally useless and will remain so until someone comes forward and satisfactorily defines the terms “human” and “life” to a computer. William—who was quite rich, as I had mentioned earlier—offered a million dollars reward for anyone who could define these terms. Countless people tried. Andi kept saying:
Define "Human." Define "Life."
William waited for years for the right definitions to come through and for Andi to provide the answer that he craved. He died last year, his desire unfulfilled. His heirs have ratified the award and it is still available for anyone who can define “human” and “life.”
Any of you care to try?