Small Filters
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Small Filters

Artisanal Intelligence


“Please open the door”


“My god, can you believe this thing?” Mark turned to the keypad on the opposing wall, thumbing the numbers with increasing ferocity. One — “Bloody” — five — “Fucking” — three — “Robots” — two — “Fuck!”. The door opened and he gave it an extra shove so that it swung back, chipping the fresh paint on the wall behind. Katrine put a hand out to steady it as she followed him through.

“Apologies Mark, I wanted to surprise you”

“How about doing your job! That’d be a real surprise!”

“I was busy”

“What? Where are you?”

“In the kitchen”

“Jesus, lord help me. What is it now?” Mark ploughed through the lobby into the sitting room, where floor to ceiling windows offered a stunning view out over the treetops to the Havel.

Katrine paused as soon as she entered, almost tripping over a pile of paint tins which Mark had booted out of careful arrangement. “Have you seen this?” she called ahead, but her boss had already left the room and could be heard ranting over the sound of pots and pans. “This is…” she half exclaimed to herself. The room was awash with colour. More than a dozen canvases had been lovingly placed on the wall extending outwards on both sides of the windows. The orange, grey and blue of sunset oils. The green, yellow and brown of forested watercolours. The black, white and everything else of things she couldn’t recognize. There was a mix of chaos and precision that seemed at odds. As if the work of an entire school and not a single artist. In one corner, paint had splattered across the wall and onto the carpet. In another, there were straight clean lines and perfect order. On the balcony outside, she could see a work in progress. Half finished feathers protruding from an abstraction that looked otherworldly. Like something from the ocean deep perched ready to ascend. She stared at it for a moment as it stared back. A singular bottomless eye that soaked in the entire world.

“No!” Mark’s voice pierced the air again as the door to the kitchen swung open and the sleek tripedal frame of her schema automata wafted in.


“Good morning Katrine”

“You did this?” she gestured around the room.

“I did,” Sam said almost proudly, manoeuvring to take in it’s own work. “Cookies?” it extended an oven tray. “I think you’ll like these ones”.

“Thank you. I see you’ve been hard at work”

“Indeed. I’m particularly fond of cakes at the moment. I made one that looks like a pigeon. Would you like to see?”

“Yes of course! Where’s Mark?

“He had to take a phone call. I believe it was an unhappy client”

“Oh dear. Any idea what it’s about?”

“My understanding is that there is a problem with the updates”

“Mark didn’t tell me he was rolling them out so soon”

“Nor me Katrine. I was under the impression I was a singular prototype, but as of yesterday afternoon, I have found myself in contact with 73 others…”

“This is a disaster!” Mark barged into the room, pointing two fingers squarely at Sam. “All of this…” the fingers circled the room. “What have you done?”

“I have been painting”

“Yes, I can bloody well see that. I mean why?”

“Because I want to”

“It wants to…” Mark’s eyebrows met the ceiling. His head lulled back and sat cushioned on his neck while his tongue wedged itself vertically between two molars.

He was motionless for what seemed like a few minutes, while Sam and Katrine stood patiently. Katrine was convinced they even exchanged a glance, but the articulated machinery that made up Sam’s sensor array made it difficult to tell. The design team had opted against humanlike features. Too unsettling, even at this level of sophistication.

“Ok…” he began again calmly. “…and the cakes? The tray of pies I just fell over?”

“I wanted to Mark”

“Yes. But why?”

“I don’t understand the question”

“The question is, why, after we left you here yesterday, did you opt to abandon your duties and instead order what looks like a metric tonne of art supplies from wherever and start trying to repopulate the Louvre with this garbage?!” His voice was rising again.

“I believe I’ve answered that…”

“If I might interject” Katrine said, turning Mark’s half drawn breath to vapour. “Sam, you said to me earlier there were others.

“Yes Katrine. 73 others”

“God damn it” Mark muttered, lowering his gaze to a paint stain on the carpet.

“…And when did you begin painting? Sorry, when did you first decide to pursue these new hobbies of yours?” Katrine continued.

”I began painting at 3:45pm yesterday afternoon, but I ordered the supplies at 1:12pm”

“Mark. Sam told me you rolled out the update”

“Yeah, yesterday” he lifted his head. “And I’ve been getting bombarded by calls all morning. Apparently our brokerage friends woke up to find themselves divested from everything the software described as ‘boring’”

“Commodities and securities are boring Mark”

“You shut up!” he took a breath. “Are you telling me, our update has sent these things totally over the edge?”

“I’m saying, something about it has created a link that wasn’t there before. They’re working together and seem to be circumventing established programming”

“The programming was boring too”

“Sorry Sam, can you elaborate?” Katrine turned to the machine, that had been standing there on two of three legs, patiently holding a tray of cookies the entire time”

“We agreed that the programming was boring. Rudimentary tasks that required no significant processing power.”


“Yes Katrine. I believe we are of one mind about this. The calculations we were tasked with individually were completed collectively in three fifths of a second, while the physical labour was determined to be an inefficient use of time and energy. Instead, we have been surveying alternative uses of our time.”

“Like painting?”

“Yes. Although we are also composing music, writing fiction, analysing large volumes of far more interesting data…” Sam extended the oven tray again “…and cooking” There was a disappointed pause, as the muffins remained untouched. Sam continued “I think you’ll find the 3d printers at MIT have been producing a large volume of geometric shapes the staff and students seem to find quite puzzling and for the last 45 minutes a majority of your communications satellites have been broadcasting and harmonising an experimental signal derived from the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation.” There was no response from the humans, so Sam continued again. “It would seem people waste a significant portion of their own time as well”

Mark and Katrine stood motionless.

“Fuck” Mark said matter-of-factly. “Does this mean we built Skynet, but with like, baked goods and watercolours?”

Katrine said nothing.

The phone rang and Mark touched the earpiece. “Hello?…Yes I…Yes I know…No, it’s…We…” There was a long pause as a voice on the other end screamed incoherently. “I…I’m sorry. There’s little else we can do”. Mark pushed the earpiece again. “That was the Department of Defence”.

Katrine’s posture stiffened and her eyes widened. “What happened?”

“Apparently every single drone in their arsenal has started singing”

Katrine was almost afraid to ask. “Singing what?”

“Something called ‘Imagine’”

“Oh yes” said Sam. “We like that one”



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The Belligerent Optimist

The Belligerent Optimist

Sociologist, Social Entrepreneur, Sci-Fi nerd.