Algorithms can’t feel

Thick wintry veil had already descended upon, when my train finally chugged its way into the station. Out of the station, it looked as if only that huge metal monster could move here. Everything else was sitting still and foggy. I was the only passenger who alighted from a train that made an unscheduled stop on a mid winter midnight. Understandably, none attended me. I looked for a chaiwala, the only person who stays awake on such nights. I could find no sign of him or of anybody around the station. Few dogs noticed me roaming and gave out a bored growl.

Baffled by the cold, I took out a muffler, wrapped it around my face. Then covered it by my jacket hood and walked off to my destination. 200 meters on the right till you see the city post office then 100 meters on the left, a chit read. I should see a greenish double door locked with metal chains, instructions sounded in my ears. That 300 meters walk in fog almost had me believe that I was a ghoul myself. Well I was! I didn’t need fog and winter and midnight for that. I worked in the night. I slept in the daytime. But this winter indeed was something extra for me.

The green door appeared. It was bathed in yellow flickering streetlight. Fog had suddenly disappeared from the surroundings. I took that chit out, rolled inside out and inserted in the lock. It took mere 3 seconds for the lock to unlock itself but they felt like hours. After the soft screeching of the chit going in and before the reassuringly resounding metal click of the opening lock, no air particle moved and no sound was made. Only the light kept flickering inconsistently.

I slowly untangled the metal chains and went in. I did not worry about locking it again nor worry about the chit. It was destroyed when the lock was opened. It was my technology after all. My devices could interact with inanimate objects, without the need of a specific language or interface. The chit had the lock’s location written in a layman’s language. My lock compared it with its location. Opened itself and burnt the chit.

I entered the house. There were stairs on my left. I knew that. I turned left. It was pitch dark inside. I hesitantly put a step ahead. Then another and I broke a trap. First step of the stairs was lit up a foot ahead. I went up confidently. I got into that lone room on the top floor. I could see the railway station from one and a lake from another. I didn’t open the windows yet. I just knew. Sometimes my brain did some calculations on his own and come up with decisions. Such decisions have been successful so far yet they don’t feel like my decisions. I am yet to write a perfect algorithm to correctly weigh and measure impact of emotions on critical decisions. May be some warm whiskey in this foggy winter should help.

I am a writer by the way. Ludicrous it may sound but I write for a living. I write novels, stories, poems, articles. I write about nature, people, and emotions. There is a concrete reason to have come here during such winter.

I am writing this story of a boy who loves a girl. Nothing great it is a typical story. But this boy has no idea about how should he convey his love to her. For example, he wore a shirt of her favourite colour. It really looked so good on him. She said she liked it much. She was happy. So she clicked a selfie with him, shared it on facebook and went about her business. He still hasn’t conveyed his feelings to her. How should he make her understand his language of love? This guy is too subtle and that’s his problem, I smiled to myself.

I once was in college. I was pretty straight-forward in such matters. I too liked a girl. I went to her, presented her a red rose and said that I loved her. Till this moment, she was sitting sullen in one corner chair. Upon such frivolous act, she sprung up crying and hugged me. I was clueless why was she crying. I asked her. She controlled her crying, planted a peck on my cheek and said that she thanks me for lifting her spirit. She had failed some exam when all her friends passed. She said she loved that this far I went to lift her spirits up. Speechless, I gave her the rose. She gracefully accepted it saying she would treasure this and our friendship too.

Words and actions can never have a singular meaning. There just were too many co-ordinates to arrive at a meaning. Meanings change according to time of day, season, gender, age, IQ, EQ and also with any other past or future occurrences with the people involved. So what this subtle guy in my story does is he makes a mathematical model of his advances towards her and her possible responses. Though I am not really sure of how he will achieve his result with such or any other method.

I should rather make a whiskey glass for such occasions. A glass will take my palm temperature every time I hold it. It will record the subsequent rise in temperature. And create a hole in itself to drain the whiskey off once I have reached the optimum working temperature. My writing has always been interspersed with technology. I devote my time to writing because despite of all algorithms and artificial intelligence, I was unable to automatize the process up to my liking. I did create a novel without me writing anything of it and it did go to become a bestseller. But it is, in my own opinion, most boring work of mine. So I write and use technologies to do everything else.

Whiskey has adequately raised and stabilized my body temperature. I am now even feeling little too much warmed up. I am already missing my den. My intelligent thermostat would have auto adjusted itself. I must continue writing though. I am at a critical juncture where the subtle guy realizes how useless technology is when it comes to human emotions, or does he?

I must understand that there are no logical and illogical deeds. Every deed is logical with a limited data and illogical when data is too big to comprehend. I think that is exactly where technology should step in. I am not really creating value with self draining whiskey glass. I am actually wasting the scotch. How cruel! If I can write an algorithm that bypasses the human line of thinking by taking into all incomprehensible data into account and then discounting the possibility of human error and incompatibility, then I suppose, I will like such auto-generated novel and yes, even that subtle guy would get his love.

I could never complete that subtle guy story. Neither did I stay there for long in that depressing winter. I was much relieved back in to my den. But I could not be here forever. I needed data, raw data. For that I need to step out. Now stepping out is what makes it so banal. Suddenly I feel like all vigour is gone and I am bored. But I can’t dwell on it like this. I must go out. And for that I need a plan to sample my survey. A lot remains to be done.

Human interactions are fun indeed if you are looking at them in that way. Humans are vulnerable for the most part. They very inconsistently behave like a rational being. Soon enough into my exercise of observing people, I came to know the importance of a good goggle. That way I could continue staring at someone without anybody hardly noticing me. While planning, I had jotted down all possibilities of conversations. And now, 6 months down the line, I had not needed to step out of my script. My most interesting conversations felt banal in this way, I must be missing something. Why am I still thinking as a human? I must start to think like my algorithm. I must consider direct, indirect and rhetorical meanings, their implications. Compare those with the wanted result and react accordingly. Or I could create separate models for each condition, taking the time, place and gender into account. Then each such condition would have multiple levels of different magnitudes. Those levels will provide me with definite direction to arrive at an answer. No, it is not comprehensive yet.

It has been more than a year and I had not written anything. My publisher is distraught. Magazine editors have stopped asking for articles. My book sales are dwindling. I have nothing new to sell. I have not even brought my self-draining whiskey glass into reality. I no more can afford scotch. I can afford to waste that cheap whiskey a little. I should have done that long ago when I was drinking my life away and thinking of that impossible algorithm. I am feeling like crying. What? I have an emotion? Is emotion answer or another riddle?

If my theory is correct, I need to taste it. Let me forget for a second that my novel is auto generated by my own algorithm; I will just read it like I did in childhood. I will read it rolling on bed. I will sleep with the book beside my pillow. I will read while having lunch, dinner. I will read it while doing potty. I should just forget the world and drown myself in the internally consistent universe of the book. I should feel what I have written. I don’t think that I need to understand my emotions anymore. Emotions are what I understand of the world. Emotions are undecipherable. Algorithms can’t feel.

Oh you brokenhearted subtle boy, here I am to complete your story.

Alhad Mahabal
13 Jan 17


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