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Piqued - A Toki Ponist Adventure
Chapter 19: Devour the living

You are reading a chapter of the novel Piqued - a Toki Ponist Adventure. The novel is part of a larger universe, explore the rest here.

ni li ken ala: nanpa li sewi.
nanpa li tu e nanpa ante la ni pali e nasin pi nanpa mute.
Toki Ponist Pu

There is a thing called pu. It is the interaction with the book. It contains rules of the universe, much like a bible but without the history, the cosmology, the dreamology. Also, the rules are not to be interpreted as laws. To be fair, it was not very much like a bible at all, but according to the notes on his laptop and the figments of his own memory, he passed around this book to specific individuals. This caused things to happen in the world, but he questioned his own agency in the choice of individuals and the outcomes it had. To being clear about pu: it is not the book that is important, but how you interact with it—you shouldn’t.

Teachers are prone to overestimate the impact of what they teach, especially if it is about behavior or personal matters. People are aloof to objective facts, because they live by their own truths. Powerful words fire people up and tantalizing stories activate people. Smooth narratives ease deforming outer truth into inner truth. Well-chosen words lead to aggressive, ill-directed action and well-meant stories either lull or misguide people into believing or following narrators. This is the Brownian motion of persuasion: the more you do it, the further away people move away from where they started, but the ultimate outcome is still chaotic and unpredictable.

Engineers discovered people will change their behavior if you give them a different toolset. So it is not the raw materials or the object itself, but its function that is important. What if we—engineers—lack the motivation to create the tools we needs, while optimizing the tools we want. This is not different for pu—nature-born yet full of artificial constructs. Tipi could no longer find the manuscript for pu among his possessions and he missed it.

He consulted his hard drive for clues and found transcripts of a series of Toki Ponist encounters. There was a blind climatologist and some useless poet and a computational bio-engineer. Stitching it all together, it turned out the bio-engineer called Piran was the last to have received the manuscript. He found his phone number in his contact list and called it without delay.

A purring sound signaled that the phone was making itself heard on the other end.

“Hello? Who’s this?” a voice answered.

“Are you Piran?” Tipi asked.

“You shouldn’t be talking to me or you’ll get yourself killed like the rest.”

And then he hung up. Tipi wouldn’t be much of a guru if such a telephone conversation would startle him. So he tried again, but this time as a video call.

“Now what? I told you to…” the voice said when Piran picked up the call. He had turned off the video feed from his side. Tipi’s signal reached Piran, because moments later Piran’s hugger-mugger appearance flashed on Tipi’s screen.

“Toki Ponist!” Piran said. “What a time to be alive! What the devil have you done to the world? Have you come to punish me even more?”

Tipi had become used by now to be recognized by people he could not remember and face their scorn. He could not feel responsible for the hurt he had been causing all over the globe, since he had not done them in his right mind.

“You mean the pandemic? That was not my doing, I should think.” Tipi’s eyebrows furrowed. “As I remember it,” Tipi said, meaning he had just read it in his notes. “It was you who predicted this would happen using your computer models.”

“And your damned manuscript. Without it, I would be in the dark like the rest of the people.”

“You’re welcome.”

“Welcome, my ass. People are dropping dead around me when they talk to me about the matter, and now I’m in hiding myself. I forgot to turn off all my devices, a mistake I will remedy forthwith.”

“No, wait.” Tipi said.

“Do you have anything that can help me fix this?”

Tipi was silent. He now wished he had made a plan before his spontaneous call. He wanted to get his manuscript back, but this did not seem to be the time or opportunity to ask for it. Besides, he did not know what to do with the document. He had hoped it might direct his life again, so he would not have to do it himself. But after reading all the transcripts, its use seemed more about disrupting people’s lives, which made it drop way down on the list of things that would nudge him into a bourgeois life.

“Sounds like a no,” Piran said, and then a dull thump made him look around. “There’s someone at the door. How the hell do people keep finding me. Bye! Don’t call again unless you are useful.”

Tipi hummed. Not much of a guru that can’t hold a decent friendly phone conversation. There was not a lot to do right now, and since restaurants were closed, he rang for room service to deliver him a simple dinner.

Two hours later, he received a video call on his laptop. He answered it and there was Piran again.

“So,” he said. “It seems like you are also knee deep into the muck.”

“How so?”

“That’s what she said. You know each other, I assume?” Piran stepped aside to make room for a female jungle explorer.

“Kalisa, how did you end up over there?”

“You forget I travel in different ways than you do. I was with you for most of the way, but it seems you’re focusing on the wrong goals right now.”

“I have no goal right now.”

“My point. What you had meant to ask Piran is who made the neuro-interface I took from your toe. And neck.” She held up the small device in front of the camera. It translated into a few dark pixels on his screen.

“I told her I was busy with my own mysteries here, but she is persistent and persuasive.”

“She’s my spinning flywheel,” Tipi said and smiled.

“So I checked it out, and it is quite a simple device. It doesn’t do much. I am surprised it took you down. Not much of a guru, if you can’t handle a few extra electrodes, if you ask me. Anyway. It connects to nearby nodes.”


“Devices buried in the ground.”

“I’ve already found several of them,” Kalisa said. “But I don’t know what they do.”

She held up a couple of larger devices, dangling in a sad, flowery bunch.

Piran pushed Kalisa aside. “They are transmitters hooked to a set of RNGs—random number generators—quantum-style, so as random as you can get. I don’t see how people can control you or even communicate with you using these random numbers. Then again, my encounters with you were rather random.”

“I don’t communicate with or by numbers anyhow, I use language. Sometimes even multiple.”

Piran clicked with his tongue.


“Do you think the rise of language correlates with the rise of human intelligence?” Piran asked.

“I don’t see how my thoughts or opinions on that matter impact the trueness of that statement.”

“Have you followed the latest developments in NLP?”

“Neurolinguistic programming? That shit doesn’t work with aphants like me.”

“Natural Language Processing, an AI,” Piran paused. He remembered he was talking to a dum-dum. “Artificial Intelligence. It’s the only way I see how you can hook into a network and become part of a larger consciousness. You need an intermediary.”

“Hold on,” Tipi said. “Has Kalisa tried to convince you of her larger-than-life consciousness theory? Those simple language models are sometimes clever in fooling you with their small talk, but you are not suggesting it has a larger consciousness than I have.”

“Well, I can’t vouch for you in particular,” Piran said while Kalisa giggled next to him. “But you are right, it would never be big enough to surpass your consciousness. Not soon at least.”

“See, things like creativity, thinking outside the box, creating art, being kind, showing empathy, those are still things that humans do best. Let those AIs do their number crunching.”

“Joakim,” Kalisa interrupted. “If I could jump back to your place, I’d slap you in the face. You know better than to talk such nonsense.”

Joakim rose his eyebrows bridging the silence while waiting for an ensuing explanation.

“And Piran will tell you why,” Kalisa said, realizing this also went over her head.

“Kalisa’s right. What the hell. Creativity? That is imitation with noise. And thinking outside the box? That is taking the random option in an epsilon-greedy decision making policy. We learn kindness and empathy. Soon AI agents will fill our museums with art that moves us more than a human artist ever can, it will think of novel out of the box solutions to problem we did not even consider, and they will fill the internet, bookstores, and cinema’s with machine-generated stories.”

“But won’t we still be in control? Telling it what stories it should generate?”

“At first, yes. But it does not need to. It has lived long enough and absorbed enough context to know what it wants to create.”

“So my jihad against stories and storytelling continues. First, I thought it meant people could generate engaging stories to mislead people in the way they deemed fit, but now I realize that the next generation of AIs will be part of the same flywheel resonance network that we are all falling prey to. Except that with enough of these AIs the balances will shift so much faster.” Tipi rubbed both thumbs and index fingers together as if the friction would generate enough energy to solve any conundrum.

“It’s a disaster!” he added. “But such a language model does not exist yet, right?”

“In theory it does,” Piran said. “The technology is pretty much there, it is just a matter of expanding the number of internal features. This requires scaling up to larger clusters of computers to train and infer the model.”

He shifted gears in his mind. “In fact, the whole reason I brought this up is because I traced the signals from the RNGs we found in the ground. The network is all over the place but there is one outlier node near a research center on Antartica.”


“And, I heard rumors that the largest cluster for NLP is now spewing its output on this same research base.”

“Why there?”

“They claimed that this was a safe way to not get it connected to the internet. Also, the cold helps to cool the computers, while the generated heat warms the research base.”

“But then,” Kalisa said. “If these little devices link to the neural implant and the devices link through an extensive network with a large computer on Antartica…”

“Then I have been talking in the most circumvent way to a computer for two years?” Joakim said.

Piran sighed. “Yes, you are wasting my time by this elaborate user interface to a stupid computer model. As much as I like to talk to you about grand conspiracy theories of giant computers taking over our brains, I have my personal concern to solve here. You made me predict the downfall of humanity, and it’s goddamn happening right now. So if you can’t help me solve this, and you can’t, then you have to let me get to it or it does not matter anymore whether AIs want to take over.”

“Joakim, we have to sort this out. Let’s go to Antartica,” Kalisa said. “Over and out!”

The video feed turned black. Tipi sat back in the uncomfortable office chair of his mediocre hotel room. He had no intention of going to Antartica; it felt like a turn of event from a lackluster cult science-fiction movie. There was only one important story missing in his life, and that was the story he could tell about himself. Besides, it is cold and lacks all the essential elements for a bourgeois life. There has never been a guru stuck on a frozen continent chasing a large computer.

He had two options now. Either go to bed, sleep it off, and start with an alternative plan or take a nice late evening stroll to clear his head. He decided on the latter.

He walked out the hotel and took a random path along streets and lanes. The streets were nearly empty still. A lot of sirens of ambulances and police still enlivened the silent streets. He saw two men standing at a street corner. They waved at him as if they recognized him. Tipi walked up to them.

“Hey Tipi,” they said. “Looking refreshed, today.”

“Flattering to hear,” Tipi said, waving at them with equal cheer.

“It is better to fall among crows than flatterers, for crows devour only the dead,” the left man quoted. “Flatterers, and followers, devour the living,” the right man added in explanation.

Before Tipi could act on his discovery of being found out by the crow men, one man grabbed his arms. The other man looked around, maybe to check if he was not getting his legs swept from under his ass by Kalisa again, and then pushed him into a car. During the long, silent car ride, Tipi fell asleep.

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