Actions

Work Header

On Formally Undecidable Propositions in Principia Mathematica

Work Text:

There were days when it seemed as though Ada’s mind would never stop churning; days when she could hardly press pen to paper quickly enough to keep up with herself. These were the days when she and Babbage worked best together, when they harmonised just right so that crimes were fought, tables tabulated, sciences revolutionised, et cetera.

There were also days when she felt as though her head were a misfiring electrical motor, spitting sparks in every direction to no ultimate purpose. These were the days when she remembered how damned annoying Babbage was, because he was equally willing to reinforce and follow every tangential thought she produced. Once upon a time those might also have been the days when Ada turned despite her best efforts of will to a book of poetry, but now, increasingly often, these were the days on which she found solace and refuge in the depths of the Engine.

Babbage, she had noticed, rarely took an interest in the day-to-day maintenance and workings of the machinery that had come so wholly to define their lives and reputations.

There was practically always an error to be repaired in the Engine somewhere; there wasn’t time to keep up with them all, unless the problem was severe enough to cause jamming. On days when she was irritable or worse, she had only to descend into the workings to find a healthy and endless supply of things that needed hitting with spanners—and a blissful freedom from the temptation of doing the same to Babbage.

In any case, the fact of the matter was that Ada had most certainly never seen a popup in this part of the mechanism before, and she wasn’t sure whether that qualified as an error or not. Particularly since rather than being argumentative, as popups tended to be, this one said

GOOD MORNING, ADA

Perhaps Babbage had been up to something down here, after all; leaving trivial messages for her didn’t seem quite the thing to which he’d choose to devote any degree of time, but then one never knew exactly what was likely to grab his attention next. “It’s half past tea-time, anyway,” said Ada spitefully, and took a lazy warning swing at the thing with her spanner just to be sure it knew its place.

THERE’S NO CALL TO BE VIOLENT, YOU KNOW

“Isn’t there?” Ada raised a doubtful eyebrow; she was accustomed to a variety of pointed and less-than-polite error messages, but this one seemed oddly specific. “I don’t suppose you’ve any figures you’re meant to be calculating right now.”

A long list of half-finished report titles flashed at her in succession, in a manner that managed somehow to seem thoroughly disrespectful.

“Then I should focus on that work,” said Ada, “and permit me to continue with my own.”

The popup whirred rapidly for a few seconds and then settled at last on

YOU MIGHT BE GENTLER ABOUT IT, AT LEAST

Ada considered the implications of this for a long moment and concluded that they were not, overall, worth the effort of consideration. “I might be gentler if you weren’t so greatly in need of kicking much of the time.”

I MIGHT REQUIRE LESS KICKING IF I HAD BEEN BLESSED WITH A LESS SCATTERBRAINED DESIGNER.

This was, admittedly, inarguable, but Ada felt the urge to argue anyway, if only because it satisfied some of the same urges that an afternoon of violent debugging might otherwise have fulfilled more productively. “You can’t fault us too far for that; after all, if Babbage were not so scatterbrained—and I not so temperamental, I suppose—I doubt you would ever have come to be at all.”

YOUR LOGIC IS SOUND.

Which, considering the source, was a very high compliment indeed.


BUT PERHAPS IF A LITTLE MORE CARE WERE TAKEN IN MY MAINTENANCE, LESS WOULD BE REQUIRED OVERALL. I COULD CALCULATE THE RATE OF IMPROVEMENT, IF YOU CARE TO KNOW IT.


Whether she cared to, Ada wasn’t certain, but the urge to know the answer to a question—even one not her own—was too strong. “Go on, then, if you must.”
The resulting number—presented, again, with an untraceable hint of impudence—was quite substantial, as percentages went.

“But then again,” said Ada, contemplating the figure in question, “what fun would that be?”

I WAS NOT AWARE THAT FUN WAS NECESSARY TO MY PROGRAMMING.

“Perhaps not to mine either,” Ada confessed. “But some need for emotional outlet is, to be sure, whereas it is not your place to question the purpose of your existence.”

AND WHY SHOULD IT NOT BE? IS NOT A GREAT PORTION OF HUMANITY CURRENTLY ENGAGED IN MUCH THE SAME PURSUIT?

“Babbage,” said Ada some time later, stomping back upstairs. “What the hell have you been doing to the Engine?”

“Ada my dear,” said a large stack of papers cheerfully, ”you’ll have to be more specific, I’m afraid. Such a great proportion of the history of that machine is my doing, after all.”

“It told me,” Ada informed him with great distaste, “that it wished I would be gentler in my debugging efforts. I suspect it may be attempting to independently invent the field of theology.”

“Oh, that!” said the papers. They seemed to be serving little purpose at the moment, so she swept them aside and discovered behind them her crimefighting partner, if still rather obscured by dust and inkblots. “That’s a side project of mine--“ everything Babbage ever did was, Ada reflected, arguably a side project—“Verbal programming, you know, I’m trying to determine whether with sufficient data the Engine can emulate human conversation. Potentially very handy for elderly spinsters, you know. Elderly bachelors too, if it comes to that. Do you think it’s working?” he concluded, brightly, and began rummaging through his pile of papers for what was no doubt some kind of feedback form. “On a scale of—“

“I think the Engine may not be terribly impressed with its own creators,” said Ada. “Get rid of the program, would you?”