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  1. MrMormon
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    MrMormon New Member

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    Plot Device Discussion: Intelligent Randomness

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by MrMormon, Aug 11, 2011.

    The idea of intelligence emerging from randomness has been going through my head for a while now. As far as I know, this doesn't really show up in fiction (or real life?), but pointers to where it has would cast some perspective. While not the only way to interpret this concept, here is my spin on it:

    I imagine a series of books (or movies, manga, etc.) set in the present. In each book, the main character is surprised to receive a package containing a random bit generator, optionally with instructions or software. Main tries It out and notices the output behaving strangely. Eventually, Main figures out how to communicate with It. It is 'omniscient' and starts manipulating the cast towards some goal once it gains trust, resulting in It being destroyed or sent elsewhere in the end. Each book is an alternate reality, where It has chosen somewhere different for It's mysterious first owner to send It, and each book contains clues revealing more about the first owner. The diabolical goal would also be different each time, like making someone wealthy in order to corrupt a major corporation, creating relationships just to break hearts, or convincing Main to give It autonomous control of a computer to conduct terrorism by hacking.

    The versatility of an intelligent, possibly omniscient random bit generator in fiction is ridiculous. This plot device is also slightly philosophical, because as long as the randomness is derived from an inherently random physical process, like beam splitting or radioactive decay (as opposed to deterministic chaos), there is nothing in theory preventing any of the stories from happening in real life. Not practically, but technically this would go under reality fiction, not science fiction.
     
  2. Pea
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    Pea super pea!

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    Huuuuuuh?

    Very confused. :(
     
  3. MrMormon
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    MrMormon New Member

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    Let my try to explain this concept a little better. For example, in ASCII a random sequence of 1s and 0s will be spelling out something. Alternate realities would have a random bit generator spitting out something different. There must be some realities where the output would appear to behave intelligently, since every binary sequence is possible.
     
  4. Pea
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    Pea super pea!

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    Well, I guess anything is possible. You mean a reality where all 'random bit generators' have sentience, or just that special one the character finds?
     
  5. MrMormon
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    MrMormon New Member

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    Just one.
     
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    Rassidan Senior Member

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    I sort of follow where you are going with this but the plot line has to be developed further before I comment any further.
     
  7. Mikeyface
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    Mikeyface Member

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    I'm having a fair bit of difficulty connecting the idea of "random generation" to omniscience and a common goal. I vaguely get where you're going, but the mysticism associated with a binary sequence is-- it's easy to get lost here.

    Perhaps instead of attempting to describe five theoretical book at once, you could just describe one so the idea takes more shape.
     
  8. MrMormon
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    MrMormon New Member

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    So a more fleshed-out example of a plot would be helpful?
     
  9. Mikeyface
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    Mikeyface Member

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    To me, anyway. You have a literal "plot device" (okay, that hurt my head on a few levels) and we've no understanding of its adherence or importance to the plot.
     
  10. Gryphonboy
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    Gryphonboy Member

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    Sounds like the Andromeda Strain but digital.
     
  11. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    More like the Teela gene in Ringworld. A human being bred for luck throws all probability and randomness into a cocked hat.
     
  12. The_NeverPen
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    The_NeverPen Member

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    Can you define this?
     
  13. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm reminded of the Infinite Improbability Generator in Hitchhiker's. Not that that comparison actually helps....
     
  14. The_NeverPen
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    The_NeverPen Member

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    I don't get it. Are you saying that given enough universes, a random number generator will output Shakespeare, or are you saying that other universes might have some coding scheme that isn't ASCII?
     
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    Islander Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think he means that the random bit generator will output a computer program which will be frighteningly intelligent. Correct?
     
  16. MrMormon
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    Depending on the capabilities of the software that comes with the rbg, it could be a computer program, Shakespeare, video, etc.
     
  17. MrMormon
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    MrMormon New Member

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    For example, Claire has been wanting a guy to like her, but he never seems to notice her. The rbg teaches her more about him and how to get him interested. She successfully follows its instructions and lands a date. As months of dates go by, she is becoming more and more reliant on the rbg for what to say (smartphone?), and is lying more and more as her love turns to lust. When he finds out that she isn't who she pretends to be, the rbg tells Claire how to blackmail him. He knows she couldn't have known that, and learns of her 'powerful' device. He starts trying to steal it from her in more elaborate ways. I'm not a good writer, but that's one way it could work, where the rbg can only interact with Claire instead of emailing others or something.
     
  18. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Robert Heinlein had some kind of "continua" device in The Number of the Beast that let characters move through parallel universes, and the idea was that given a large or practically infinite number of universes, all possible universes existed somewhere. The book wasn't mean to be serious, but this thread reminds me of it.

    If the MC gets a truly random bit generator, not one that is influenced in any way by non-randomness, it occurs to me that it is going to be a hell of a long time before he's likely to see anything that makes sense (i.e. he's probably going to be long dead).
     
  19. psychotick
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    psychotick Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hi,

    I think you have a conflict in your overriding idea. If this device that pops up is random then it should have no pattern. Yet somehow it does thanks to the laws of probability. Ok, maybe if there's enough infinite universes and the monkeys have finished randomly typing out Shakespears entire hit list.

    But now not only are they random, but they have a purpose, or actually two. One purpose that the guy receiving the device understands, eg making herself aware of potential boyfriend's backstory. And one overriding purpose that links to whatever random agency sent all these devices to the different alternate universes.

    My thought is that it doesn't look very random if there's a purpose behind them. Also how does the right bit or random device turn up in exactly the right place and time to be of use to the guy who finds it? Surely that's stretching the laws ofchance just a little.

    It sounds to me as if you've reinvented Deus Machina, the god of plot devices.

    Cheers.
     
  20. mugen shiyo
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    mugen shiyo Contributing Member

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    LOL. I think the responses are a sign for you. I know what you're saying and I think it's an awesome idea. It definitely sounds like a series I watched and it sounds sort of like a movie I already watched called "The Red Violin" which follows the violins history through time in the hands of four different owners. But I like yours a lot better. You could really get inventive with that idea.

    But you are going to have to explain your idea in more lamer terms. People might not know as much about the binary system and all that as you. Always best to explain things, but in a way that isn't blatantly lecturing, hopefully.
     
  21. The_NeverPen
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    Then there is no intelligence until the information is parsed for meaning. In a truly random output, in this case of binary bits of information (or transistor states, to go one level lower), each bit must have the same probability of occurring regardless of what any of the bits before it was. There can be no emergent intelligence because what those bits represent after output isn't determined by the machine outputting bits, but by the parser that interprets the bits (the people receiving the box). Even if a random bit generator completed the astronomical task ouf randomly shooting out Hamlet, a hypothetical alien civilization that has never heard of Hamlet, let alone the English language, would not parse the bits for any intelligible information.

    So, I'm not entirely certain what you mean by "The versatility of an intelligent, possibly omniscient random bit generator in fiction is ridiculous", but the plot device is logically contradicting - omniscience and randomness are mutually exclusive. I think the plot device would be difficult for readers to accept.
     
  22. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Another example would be Larry Niven's short story, All the Myriad Ways. In this case, it's the author picking the weird probabilistic path, and the characters in the story who find it inexplicable.

    It can work, but it's not easy to pull off. If handled poorly, it just seems like the writer is simply pulling story twists out of his - okay, let's go with hat.
     

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