When a Half-Elf and a Frog make a baby
/// Evelin Wills ///
I have been developing AI for two decades now. Aura asked me to write about what got the young me so passionate about AI. Looking back, growing up hasn’t been an easy time for me. And I’m not proud of everything I’ve done. But I think everything has happened for a reason. Here’s my story.
Both of my parents were coders and I was their only child. We would usually sit in our own rooms on our computers. We all loved Ultima Online and EverQuest. My dad specialized in Civilization-series. My mum and I bonded with Sims and Second Life. If they were on super social mood, we would gather to the living room for Final Fantasy or Crash Bandicoot. I still get the shivers when thinking those games! And they were proud when I managed to solve difficult missions, puzzles, and riddles.
For the young me, this was everyday life. But I noticed it was different in other families. When I visited my best and only friend Jenna, I was surprised at how much her parents had conversations! I was shocked by her parents hugging me since it was quite rare in our family. I thought there was something wrong in our family. I made conclusions that my parents did not love each other, or me.
Then we moved to another city, Jyväskylä. I lost my only friend Jenna. In the school, I felt I was treated as a strange kid, an outsider. I think I came across as a shy and awkward nerd. I got bullied. I felt excluded. It was painful time. But I had a skill that literally saved my life back then.
Every summer, my parents took me to a computer summer school that lasted for a couple of weeks. I was 010 years old when my parents signed me in for the first time. I realized not only could I visit the worlds created with computer - I could create my own realities as well! I fell into the worlds of mathematical puzzles, I investigated patterns in numbers and harmonious combinations of numbers. I got very deep into the algorithms that made the screen full of beautiful patterns and I wrote my own Game of Life. To me they felt like small poems, they radiated different energy depending on how you write them.
Thinking about it now, you could call it love - love for algorithms. Although I didn’t use that word back then. I think that as a teenager it is a word you never say out loud, but you are constantly thinking. The direct and practical experience of love that you have as a child is turning into something more abstract, something that has to be created or found. Love turns into something they sing about or what they go through in movie screen. It is at the level of dreams and fantasies.
Anyways, back to the early 00’s. I was an anxious teenager. The computer became my friend, my helper, my mentor. It gave me kind of superpowers. I’m not proud of this, but I started to hack my classmates’ computers, those who bullied me. I explored their online activities and silenced them with the dirty little secrets I found: silly images, stupid comments they had had, pornography... you know what it is.
As a teenager, I took it as my challenge of hacking into my dad’s computer. I guess it was my way to rebel. Sorry dad, if you are reading this! He was and still is a professional computer scientist, so his password wasn’t the easiest to crack. I couldn’t do it. Not until I learned about artificial intelligence and started to program my own simple AI-algorithm. I called this toddler-code Will. And after a couple of years trying, we managed to hack into my father’s computer together with Will. His weak spot was that the password included my mother’s avatar’s name in EQ...
What I found from the computer changed the way I saw my parents’ relationship. I found tons of love poems that my parents had created in the role of their avatars. They were all bad and some of them even worse, but that’s beside the point. What I sensed was that there was a lot of caring, and tenderness in them. Even though the other was a half-elf and the other a froglok! Maybe they didn´t show it so well but through their computers, they formed a connection with each other. The connection that was happening on a deeper level than was meeting the eye.
So. That’s how Will got its first lines of codes. Of course, the code has been completely changed for now, but the sense of partnership with my computer has walked with me ever since.
Once again, sorry dad!