Scientists Race to Create Cat-Level Artificial Brain.
I stifled a yawn and looked at my watch–2 a.m. I was working the ten p.m. to eight a.m. “graveyard” shift at the Pentagon’s SyNAPSE project, the top-secret initiative to create artificial intelligence on the level of a cat’s brain. Nobody would tell us why we were doing what we were doing, as is so often the case when it comes to humans’ relations with cats. I had asked my two cats–Rocco and Okie–if they were interested in getting up off their duffs and serving their country, and to my surprise they said “yes.”
“I am so there,” said Rocco, the younger of the two. “At the Pentagon we’ll get meat to eat, instead of that freeze-dried belly-button lint you buy us.”
“Iams low-fat cat food is good for you,” I said.
“I don’t see you eating those carrot sticks mom brings home,” Okie added. “Will we have to sleep in the basement at the Pentagon?”
“Don’t think so–it’s the world’s biggest building. They should have plenty of room.”
“I’m in,” said Okie. “Let’s roll.”
So I packed them into cat carriers and we reported for duty. Little did I know that I’d be pressed into service as well.
“We’ve assembled a crack team of scientists from the private sector,” Major Reynolds Howard announced to a room full of owners and cats. “IBM, HP–top-notch people.”
“Excuse me,” Rocco said, sticking his paw up in the air. “Why can’t the U.S. Armed Forces replicate a cat brain without outsourcing the work?”
“The military mind is direct and follows orders,” the Major said. “America’s fighting men and women have had horses, mules and dogs–but no cats. We need to replicate a cat brain, and for that we need the assistance of intuitive creative-types.”
I don’t think cats can roll their eyes, but they can certainly close their eyelids in disbelief.
“You realize that the most creative act this guy performs each week is separating the plastic from the cardboard before he goes to the town dump?” Rocco asked with more than a hint of dubiety in his voice.
“We make do with what we can get in today’s leaner, meaner all-volunteer armed forces,” the Major said before turning his attention to the schedule on his clipboard.
He had then directed us to divide up into groups, with humans assigned the critical task of recording every movement and activity of their respective pets, the better to understand just what it is that makes cats tick. “I’m going out,” Rocco said as he moved towards the door. “Okay,” I said. “Let me just make a note of that.” “Rocco goes out,” I wrote. “How about you Oak?”
“Not right away,” he replied. He’s the older of the two, and like the brass at the Pentagon, he prefers it if younger males do the reconnaissance and lead the sorties against the enemy. When Tha Rock (Rocco’s “hip hop” nickname) returns from the field of battle with the dead chipmunks, birds and squirrels who threaten our way of life, Okie re-emerges to bask in reflected glory.
Two minutes later and Okie has changed his mind and begins to paw at the door.
“I thought you didn’t want to go out,” I said as I opened the door.
“You know the Joni Mitchell line–‘A woman must have everything?’”
“Sure, I had a sensitive girlfriend back in the ’70’s.”
“Same goes for cats.”
He went scurrying out the door as if on a top-secret mission. Rocco was coming the other way, a field mouse already in his mouth, and try saying that five times fast.
“Good job!” I exclaimed, as he dropped his catch. “Let me record your thoughts while they’re still fresh in your mind.”
He gave me that cocked-head look, like the dog in the old RCA Victor ads, as if to say “What you talkin’ ’bout?”–if he were Gary Coleman.
“That’s like asking a fish to explain water,” he said contemptuously. “Cat see mouse, cat catch mouse.”
“I understand, but we’re trying to replicate a cat’s brain, so I have to ask the question.” “Cat says mouse-catching logic self-evident, requires no explanation,” I wrote in the “Comments” section of the chart they’d given me. “I was wondering,” I continued.
“Yes?” he asked as he lifted one leg, the better to lick at where his balls used to be.
“We had you two neutered, and you don’t seem to miss . . .”
“Pussy?” he asked, anticipating me.
“Well, yeah. I mean, you both sleep all day, eat a little, then go out all night, but you obviously can’t . . . procreate.”
He gave me a look of pitiless contempt. “You know,” he said after a while, “I don’t even miss it.”
“So, if there were such a thing as feline Viagra . . .”
“Thanks but no thanks. We’ve got a great bunch of guys in the neighborhood, we’ve got our nightly routine–I don’t want to spoil it.”
“But . . . with love . . .”
“You mean sex . . .”
“Look how poorer western civilization would be. No ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ no ‘Othello.’ You’d throw all that over for a shot at a filthy chipmunk who lives in a hole in our stone wall?”
“You got it,” he said. “Look at you.”
“How are you whipped? Let me count the ways. You have to buy gifts and make nice on your anniversary, Christmas, her birthday, Valentine’s Day . . . and Mother’s Day.”
“Which is hardly fair, since she’s not my mother.”
“Not mine either. Then, anytime she tears up because you make a crack like ‘Anybody die yet?’ when she’s watching Grey’s Anatomy, you have to buy her flowers and tiptoe around the house for two days like you’re walking on eggshells.”
He had me there. “I guess you’re right.”
“Of course I’m right. Now if you don’t mind, I’d like to get back to what guys do best. Hunting, gathering, staying out all night, crawling around in the muck and the mire, living a life of exploit while back-office worker bee drones like you handle the drudgery.”
“You got that distinction from Thorstein Veblen, didn’t you?”
“Exploit and drudgery? On the nosey. ‘Tis a far, far better thing to be a ramblin’ guy than a stay-at-home drone like you.”
As he said this, a metaphorical light bulb flashed in my brain. “You know, I think tomcats are particularly well-suited for today’s new, action Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines.”
Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “Cats Say the Darndest Things.”