• Published 4th Apr 2015
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The Iron Horse: Everything's Better With Robots! - The Hat Man



A cute robot pony. A mysterious origin. A princess who believes anyone can learn friendship, even a cold, logical machine. A journey begins...

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Technologic, Part 2

Twilight was breathing heavily and she was glad when Dr. Turing finally set down after a 20-minute flight out over the countryside nearby Trottingham. Though Dr. Turing was not old, he certainly wasn’t as young as Twilight either, and yet he flew with the speed and confidence of a young pegasus.

After he’d come by at around 8 o’clock that morning at the University Arms Hotel, Dr. Turing had taken her, Gadget, and Turing Test out to breakfast (not that Turing Test needed to eat, as she’d needlessly reminded them). While Gadget and Turing Test took a tour of the campus, the good doctor promised to show Twilight something “special.” In about an hour, they’d meet back up at the Cambridle sciences building.

“You…” she began, gasping for air, “you’re faster than you look, Dr. Turing.”

Dr. Turing went over to her, offering her a handkerchief to wipe her brow, which she accepted. “Oh, m-my apologies,” he said. “I used to be on the aerial relay team as a student and I still make it a point to fly to and from my flat. I prefer it to taking a carriage, you see.”

She took a deep breath, letting her heart rate return to normal. She looked around and saw that Dr. Turing had led her to a wooded area with a simple dirt trail leading through the tall grass and weeds.

“Um… this is nice and all, but I was sort of hoping you were going to show me something in downtown Trottingham,” Twilight said, rubbing her chin. “What’s all the way out here?”

Dr. Turing opened his mouth to reply when they both heard a rustling and saw a reddish-orange earth pony stallion in a simple straw hat and overalls come out from behind a tree.

“‘Ello there, mate!” the stallion said. “You out for a stroll? Don’t suppose you’ve gotten lost, ‘ave you?”

“Oh no, quite the opposite,” Dr. Turing replied. He held open his tweed jacket subtly and the stallion gave the slightest nod.

“Well, if you say so, mate. You just stick to the trail, now.” He then walked off as quickly as he’d come.

Twilight furrowed her brow. “Is it just me or did that seem a little… I don’t know… odd?”

Dr. Turing nodded. “It wasn’t, but you’ll understand soon. Please, follow me.”

The two went a little further up the path when they heard a clear, high song from some unseen bird. Then, to Twilight’s surprise, Dr. Turing stopped in his tracks and gave a birdcall in response. But, she noted, not the same birdcall.

And then a third call came back and Dr. Turing continued walking. Before long, they came to a long, plain looking building with small, darkened windows. Dr. Turing reached into his pocket and retrieved a single key, inserting it into the door’s lock and turning it. He opened the door and beckoned Twilight inside.

The interior was simple, with plain wooden tables and bare brick walls. An old radiator was in the corner and a cork bulletin board was on the wall. Nothing was on it, but numerous pushpins were still embedded into it. In the far corner of the room was a tall, rectangular shape about the size of a large bookcase with a sheet over it. There was also a safe by the wall.

“What is this place, Dr. Turing?” Twilight asked, her voice a whisper. She didn’t know why she was whispering, exactly, but something about Dr. Turing’s stiff mannerisms made her feel cautious and somewhat anxious. She fidgeted where she stood as Dr. Turing kept silent, locking the door behind him.

“I apologize, Princess Twilight,” he said, bowing slightly. “I was not able to speak until I was certain that we were away from all prying eyes.”

Twilight tensed up. “Why?” she asked, narrowing her eyes. “Tell me, what’s going on here?”

“Please relax,” Dr. Turing said. “This has all been mere protocol. You are in no danger.” He smiled. “Welcome, Princess Twilight, to Brindley Park, Hut #6!”

Twilight blinked. “I… I’m sorry, but I don’t understand what that means. This is a park?” She looked around the room, making a face. “No offense, but I think Gadget and Turing Test got the better tour.”

“Oh, I’ve no doubt that their tour will be enjoyable, but I think you should find this a bit more exciting than you realize.” He cleared his throat. “Princess Twilight, Brindley Park is a top secret site kept by the Night Guard. It is off-limits to the public and anypony who was involved in the goings-on here has sworn an oath to never reveal what took place without Her Highness’s permission. And I have obtained that permission; Princess Celestia has entrusted me to inform you.”

Twilight blinked. “What?” she asked flatly.

“Ah, y-yes, I suppose that might have been a bit much,” he said, clearing his throat. “Let me start a bit more simply.” He scratched his head idly, eyes turning up as he considered what to say.

“All right,” he said, beginning again, “have you ever heard of something called the Centaurian Raider Encroachment?”

Twilight tapped her chin. “Um… I’m not sure. I think I remember hearing it once or twice. It was some minor thing at the Equestrian and Saddle Arabian border, right?”

“You’re right about the location,” Dr. Turing said, nodding slightly. Then his face grew more grave as his eyes narrowed. “But you are wrong in saying that it was minor. It was, in fact, the closest this country had come to war in quite some time.”

Twilight’s eyes went wide. “What? A war?! How could that be? Ponies would have heard about it!”

“Not in this case,” Dr. Turing said. “Allow me to explain:

“Near the border between Equestria and Saddle Arabia is also the border of the Centaur Kingdom. I’m sure you’re already familiar with one particularly nasty immigrant of that nation: a certain magic-stealing, red-faced brute named Tirek.”

Twilight scowled. “Yes.”

“Well, despite his example, most of the Centaurs are rather kind. They mostly keep to themselves and, as a result, contact between their homeland and Equestria is minimal. However, about ten years ago, a band of raiders crossed over from their border and into Equestria. They struck many small towns and villages, pillaging them and leaving destruction in their wake before returning back over the border where they could not be pursued. These attacks were coordinated, quick, and, ah, precise. We realized they must be more organized than the average, run-of-the-mill bandits.

“Due to the sensitivity of the situation and Her Majesty’s desire to avoid an international incident, the Night Guard was called in to covertly investigate. What they found was that these raiders were a much larger force than could be reasonably expected. They were, for all intents and purposes, a militia. And, what’s more, they were using code.

“Not just any code, mind you. This code was extraordinarily complex, constantly changing, and utterly indecipherable by ordinary methods. They transmitted it to each other by makeshift telegraphs, lanterns, semaphore, or whatever other methods they had. Covertly, of course, many of these messages were picked up by the Night Guard. But nopony had any idea of what was being said. And as the raids grew bolder, more frequent, and even more… well, v-violent,” he said, heaving a sigh, “it was clear that the codes had to be deciphered and broken. And that’s when the Guard got their hooves on something unlike anything they’d ever seen.”

Dr. Turing went to the safe and began to turn the dial on it, inputting the combination to open it. The old door squeaked loudly as he opened it and took out a device, placing it on a nearby wooden table.

The device looked like a small suitcase, but Dr. Turing opened it and inside Twilight could see that it looked a bit like a typewriter. There were small keys, a plugboard with letters on it, and, she noted, four large gears.

“Princess, what I’ve laid before you is called the Enigma Machine,” Dr. Turing continued. “Nopony knows how, but the Centaurs devised this machine and used it to encode and decode messages. They would set it up differently each and every day according to a guide book which, I’m sorry to say, we were utterly unable to obtain. But, ah, the point is that the possible settings for it were extraordinarily complex. An early one could be set up in over 17,000 ways. This one, acquired by a daring infiltrator, could go over 400,000. And near the end, they even had one that could give up to 150 trillion different unique settings! Even if you could somehow guess the message, it would just change the next day. The Night Guard did not have the resources or know-how to defeat such a dreadful thing. So, they called a group of cryptanalysts from around Equestria to help.”

Twilight smiled. “Including you,” she surmised, nodding appreciatively.

He laughed. “Indeed so. The Night Guard called upon me after reading some of my papers and brought me to this place.”

“So, this is why those two Night Guards came to see you at the train station yesterday,” Twilight said.

“And, you might have guessed, that fellow we met along the way here and the ‘birds’ you heard were members of the Guard as well. This place is secluded, but still occasionally used to train new recruits. Nonetheless, it is classified and I needed to request permission to show it to you. On that note, Her Majesty has specified that while you, as a Princess, are to be entrusted with this information, she requests that your companions or friends in Ponyville not be made aware of it, and especially what I’m about to tell you next unless absolutely necessary.”

Twilight nodded, placing her hoof upon her chest solemnly. “Of course,” she replied.

He nodded, the tension in his body lessening slightly. “Might I ask,” he continued, “what you know of the Night Guard?”

“Actually,” Twilight replied, “Princess Celestia told me about the Night Guard not long after my coronation. To most ponies nowadays, the Night Guard is just the branch of the Royal Guard that attends to Princess Luna. But before Luna had returned, I remembered stories that I heard as a filly. Just a bunch of old nags’ tales about scary, shadowy ponies with gray coats, bat wings, yellow eyes, and purple armor. The other foals said they were spooks and boogieponies that would come snatch up bad colts and fillies.”

Dr. Turing covered his beak, stifling a laugh. Twilight chuckled.

“But Celestia told me the truth: the Night Guard never stopped existing, even after Nightmare Moon’s banishment.”

“Quite right!” Dr. Turing said, nodding, apparently pleased that Twilight was in the know. “Instead of disbanding the Night Guard, Celestia repurposed them to serve as the covert wing of the Royal Guard. The Royal Guard protects the nation publicly by day while the Night Guard handles things more, um… discreetly.”

A thought suddenly occurred to Twilight: she knew there were numerous divisions and, though she didn’t know it for certain, she now suspected that the ‘RMCA’ that Bon Bon had been part of was one such division.

“Moving on,” Dr. Turing continued, drawing Twilight out of her thoughts, “we soon found that even with some of the best c-cryptanalysts in Equestria here, we were still out of our depth. I personally came up with a system of ‘cribs’ - educated guesses, really - about some common words. For some reason, they were quite focused on the weather, so that word, ‘weather’ came up quite often. And we also discovered that the Enigma never encoded a letter as itself, so that, alongside those guesses, cut down the number of possibilities considerably.

“However, I’d heard of some other rudimentary machines that I believed could assist us. It seemed logical, really, to defeat one nefarious machine with another. Drawing up some plans and requests, we asked the Night Guard to provide us with such a machine. They did so, but at great cost and effort. Still, it worked marvelously.”

He winked and walked over to the large object under the sheet. He pulled it away and Twilight gasped.

The machine was indeed the same size and dimension of a large bookcase, but instead of shelves, it contained several rows of cylindrical rotors, each one marked with all the letters of the alphabet around it.

“This machine is called a bombe. Not like the exploding ones, of course,” Dr. Turing continued. “As I recall, they called it that because of all the noise the infernal thing makes. But the point is, we could make some guesses about what some of the letters might be encoded as and then feed it through the machine to work through all possible combinations. If there were no contradictions, it would complete and give us a deciphered message. If not, we had to try it again and again until we got something that made sense.”

Twilight nodded, her face lighting up. “That’s brilliant! So, once you got this machine, you deciphered their messages and stopped the raiders!”

Heaving a sigh, Dr. Turing shook his head. “Not quite. You see, they only had the budget to provide one machine. With all the messages flying back and forth, we were still going about it too slowly, especially if our guesses were off the mark. The raiders were getting worse and worse and we were not stopping them quickly enough. And while the Centaur Kingdom denied any connection to the raiders, they didn’t seem that keen on stopping them, though they claimed otherwise. If Equestrian forces had chased them across the border, however, we’d have been risking war. Even the offer to help as part of a joint operation was rebuffed!

“But still the Night Guard commanders were reluctant to ask Her Majesty for more bombes, believing that she would not be in favor of spending so much public money on these machines. Her mistrust of technology was well known, you see, and frankly many of the commanders shared that attitude. At my wits’ end, I realized that things were on the brink of disaster and we were being asked to do the impossible. And s-so, I…” He paused and swallowed. “I personally sent a letter to Princess Celestia herself, circumventing the chain of command entirely and stressing the need for more bombes.”

Twilight gasped. “And… what happened?”

The griffon straightened his tie and puffed out his chest, slightly fluffing out his wings. “In fact, she surprised us all and ordered the Guard to give us all we asked. ‘Action this very day!’ she wrote. And so we got over a dozen new bombes and went from just a few decoded messages to hundreds of them!”

Twilight wore a smile. “So, you finally beat the raiders.”

“Indeed so,” Dr. Turing said, a hint of smugness in his voice as he raised his chin. “It turned out the raiders were not sanctioned by the Centaurian government, but it was unwilling to invest the time and money into stopping them. However, we learned of a major raid on Saddle Arabian territory and while the Centaur Kingdom was resolute in not letting us across their border, the Saddle Arabians were more than happy to join in a large ambush. The raiders, unaware that we’d ‘read their mail,’ were caught off guard, quickly subdued, and some of their top leaders apprehended. What was left of their organization fell apart quickly thereafter.”

Twilight placed her hoof on Dr. Turing’s shoulder. “So you prevented a war! You’re a national hero and… and nopony even knows it!” she cried.

“Oh, n-no, it, ah, it was not me, you give me t-too much credit,” Dr. Turing stammered. “It was the combined effort of my colleagues and I, not to mention the bravery of the Night Guard. And,” he added, with a smile, “Her Majesty herself, long may she reign. Without Princess Celestia’s assistance, I shudder to think of what might have happened.”

He stretched his wings, flying up and draping the sheet back over the bombe.

“Princess Celestia wished for you to know more about the goings-on of this nation and the means of making it safe. Though it is well known that Her Majesty is c-cautious… ah, perhaps overly so about technology, you must understand that she is not immovable and does recognize its uses. If you are also more favorable to such things, then perhaps the work of other scientists can go forward. And perhaps, now that you know about this example of Her Majesty’s, ah, flexibility, you can appreciate her a little better.”

Twilight nodded. “I do. Thank you.” She looked one last time around the little building. “You know, this wasn’t what I expected, but I think this did turn out to be an interesting tour after all!”

“I am glad to hear that,” Dr. Turing said, placing the Enigma back in the safe. “Though, ah, if you wouldn’t mind, could you please tell Gadget and Miss Turing that I took you to a b-bird sanctuary or some other boring nonsense?”

Twilight laughed. “I’ll try to come up with something that makes you sound less boring, Professor. I think Equestria owes you at least that much.”

***

Twilight and Dr. Turing entered the Centre of Mathematical Sciences building. In the main foyer, they immediately spotted Gadget and Turing Test. A small crowd of students were milling around, staring and chatting and asking questions. Gadget, blushing and sweating, gave a massive sigh of relief when she spotted Twilight walking toward them.

“Oh thank goodness you’re here, Twilight!” Gadget cried, rushing over to her. Leaning in, she whispered, “Can you and Dr. Turing get rid of all these students? They keep pestering us with questions and all this attention is super embarrassing!”

Twilight nodded and trotted up to the small crowd. “Hello, everypony!” she said cheerfully, getting them all to turn their heads. “Turing Test, I see you’ve got a little fan club!”

“In a manner of speaking, that is correct,” Turing replied. “These students have been making numerous inquiries regarding my abilities. For instance, three of them have asked me if being a robot is ‘fun.’”

“Well, what did you tell them?”

“I informed them that I lacked a basic point of comparison by which I could judge relative levels of fun, but that my experiences are occasionally fun.”

“Well, that’s good to hear,” Twilight said with a nod, noting that all the students in attendance were now fixated on watching the two of them talking.

“Many of them seem to be uncertain about making further inquiries. This stallion,” she said, pointing toward a young stallion with a bowl cut mane and wearing glasses, “has asked his fellow student if he should inquire if I am ‘anatomically correct.’”

The group of them all turned to stare at the young stallion, who turned bright red and did a very good impression of a turtle as he attempted to withdraw his head back through his shirt collar.

“Uh, I think that’s enough inquiries for now, Turing Test,” Twilight said, forcing a smile.

“Yes, quite so!” Dr. Turing said, giving all the students a hard glare.

The students grumbled a bit, some mumbling polite goodbyes as they dispersed.

“Oh, thank Celestia that’s over!” Gadget sighed. “Well, our tour was fun, right up until all those students started bugging us. How was your, um... ‘thing’?” she asked, making quotation marks with her mechanical fingers.

“It was really interesting. Dr. Turing took me to some old book depository in Trottingham. It was fascinating for me, but probably nothing you’d find interesting.”

Gadget nodded, but Turing Test tilted her head.

“Your heart rate and eye movement have altered slightly, Twilight Sparkle,” she said. “I apologize, but these signs indicate that you are not being truthful. Am I correct?”

Twilight and Dr. Turing both froze, glancing at each other.

“Ooh, busted!” Gadget said, a sly grin on her face. “Looks like you caught them, Turing Test!”

“Is there some reason for this fabrication?”

Twilight sighed. “Look, I’m sorry, but it’s just something Dr. Turing asked me to keep between us. Can you please not ask us anything further?”

Turing Test nodded. Gadget pouted slightly, but shrugged her shoulders. “If you say so, Twilight.”

Dr. Turing, however, still furrowed his brow and took a long look at Turing Test. “Ah, pardon me, but I wasn’t aware that you had the ability to detect lies.”

Turing Test shook her head. “I do not. However, certain physical signs may indicate stress that accompanies the telling of lies. However, it is not a perfect method. For instance, I was unable to discern Blue Blazer’s deception despite spending a significant amount of time with her. Some ponies may simply be more skilled at deception than others. Twilight Sparkle is not among their number.”

Twilight made a face while Gadget snickered. Dr. Turing seemed to relax.

“Well then,” he said, “I think we should get moving; we’re running a little behind schedule as it is. Miss Turing, Gadget, Princess, if you’ll follow me?”

The griffon led them down a hallway and to a set of stairs. They descended three floors into another sub-basement. Before two heavy metal doors were a pair of security guards and another pony, a unicorn who smiled when he saw them coming.

“Ah, there you are!” he said, walking over to greet them. “Allow me to introduce myself: my name is Choco Mint. But please, you can just call me Mint.”

Choco Mint was a rather tall and slender unicorn. He was pale green and had a wavy, almost poofy dark brown mane and tail and sparkling emerald eyes. He was wearing a dark brown necktie that matched his mane. On his flank was a cutie mark depicting a pair of thin, chocolate mint cookies, one of which had a bite taken out of it. Twilight noted that his green color really could be described as “mint green” and with his mane, it did look like frothy chocolate cream or mousse. He also wore a calm, confident smile.

“Why Talon,” he said, raising his eyebrows slightly, “you didn’t tell me our guests would be two such lovely ladies!”

Twilight couldn’t keep the slight blush from her cheeks and Gadget wore one to match as she started to giggle. She had to admit, he was a decidedly handsome pony. Before she knew it, he’d taken up her hoof and kissed it, then done the same for Gadget.

Dr. Turing narrowed his eyes and puffed out his cheeks indignantly, his feathers ruffling. “Mr. M-Mint, I will thank you to p-p-please try to remain professional!” he exclaimed.

Mint gave a little pout and put a hoof to his chest. “Oh, but of course! I’m sorry, Talon, I wasn’t thinking. I was just so--”

“Never mind!” the griffon snapped. Calming himself down and smoothing his feathers, Dr. Turing placed his claw on Mint’s shoulder. “This smooth-talking lad here is my assistant. He will be conducting the main test today after some baseline exams.”

Twilight blinked. “Wait, what baseline exams?”

“Just a few rudimentary measurements,” Mint said, waving a hoof, “before we get to the main event.” He then fixated his eyes on Turing Test and his smile faltered slightly.

Twilight turned and it was then that she noticed Turing Test’s eyes. They were shifting, focusing and refocusing as she stared back at Mint.

“Turing Test?” she asked.

“Yes, Twilight Sparkle?” she asked, not looking at her.

“Is something the matter?” she asked.

Turing looked from her, to Mint, and back to her again. “I do not believe so. Perhaps the machinery in this building is affecting my sensor readings.”

Twilight waited for her to say more, but when she didn’t, Dr. Turing cleared his throat, getting their attention.

“Ah, well, Mr. Mint, this is the famous Turing Test. Shall we begin?”

Mint nodded. “Yes, I believe so.” He stuck out his hoof and Turing placed her own upon it. “Charmed,” he said flatly, this time making no attempt at kissing it. In fact, Twilight thought his voice now had an edge to it.

Deciding not to comment on this, Twilight followed as they walked through the doors and into a much wider, more spacious room. She and Gadget both gasped when they saw what was before them.

Over a dozen ponies, many in lab coats, were spread out all over the room, but each and every one was engaged in working on the massive piles of electronics and wires nearby. All along the wall were towering metal machines. A jungle of wires led through them and many of them were adorned with knobs, dials, switches, and glass-covered meters. Twilight had owned numerous bits of scientific equipment herself back in the Golden Oak Library, but this was on another level entirely.

“Princess Twilight, Gadget, Miss Turing,” Dr. Turing said, gesturing to the sight before them, “welcome to our workshop. This is where we are putting together the Automatic Computing Engine - or ‘ACE’ as we’ve taken to calling it.”

“Wow!” Twilight exclaimed breathlessly.

“Oh my gosh!” Gadget squealed, her mechanical hands going to the side of her face. “It’s even more amazing than I’d imagined!”

“Whoa, what the heck are those?!” exclaimed a scientist, a purple unicorn mare, as she bounded over to Gadget. Her eyes were fixated on Gadget’s mechanical arms. “These are incredible! How did you build them?!”

Gadget balked and took a step back. “Th-these? Oh, they’re just, um, something I made to help me with my work…”

“But how do they operate?” The mare seized Gadget’s hoof eagerly. “I’d love to know!”

“I, um, well…”

“Oh-oh-oh-oh, wait, there it is!” The mare’s jaw dropped open and she assumed a look of pure, childlike joy when she saw Turing Test. “Hey, everypony, the automaton is here!”

The commotion was enough to attract the attention of all the other engineers nearby and soon they were all milling about. Most of them didn’t know what to look more awed about: Gadget’s arms, the Princess in their midst, or Turing Test.

“Look at these polymer coils! They’re warm! I wonder how they made them so conductive!”

“It’s a real honor to have you here, Your Highness!”

“Are the arms heavy? And how many kilos can you lift per arm?”

“Look at the way it moves its head. Automaton, can you look over here? Oh my gosh, it did!”

“Listen, I heard the way you handled Tirek. It must have been absolutely brilliant to watch!”

“What sort of maintenance do they require? Oil? Do the wires ever get crossed?”

There was a sharp clapping sound and they all turned to see that Dr. Turing had taken to the air and was clapping his claws together, getting their attention.

“Yes, yes, everypony, I know you are all v-very curious about our esteemed guests,” he said, managing to smile as he looked down at them. “I assure you we will try to get everyone’s questions answered, but we really m-mustn’t waste time; Princess Twilight Sparkle and Miss Turing Test do have their own matters back in Ponyville, and Miss Gadget is our guest on loan from Vanderbull Industries.

“Why don’t you all write down any questions you have on some note cards or, ah, some papers or something, and our guests can answer them when they get some time?” He landed back on the ground, folding up his wings again and smiled at Twilight and her friends. “Does that seem agreeable, my friends?”

Twilight nodded. “Of course. I’d be glad to answer any questions you have!”

“Likewise!” Gadget said.

“I will comply as well,” Turing Test replied. At the sound of her synthesized voice, the engineers all gave a start and began chatting excitedly.

“Did you hear that?”

“How did anypony do that?”

“Is that a set response? What else can she say?”

Dr. Turing clapped again, silencing them. “Everypony p-please, I must insist we conduct ourselves with a little m-more dignity! We are not children, after all! There will be plenty of time to see Miss Turing in action.”

Now cowed, the other engineers all bowed their heads and tried to regain their composure. The group began to break off, returning to work.

Dr. Turing winked slyly at Turing Test. “Seems you’re quite popular today, Miss Turing. I hope you don’t mind it.”

But Turing Test shook her head. “I do not. I am not accustomed to such eagerness from organic ponies, with few exceptions.” She glanced around the room at the engineers, many of whom were still looking back at her, beaming smiles on their faces. “It is… nice,” she added.

Dr. Turing nodded. “I see. Well, my friends, what you see before you is what will one day be the most powerful general purpose computer ever constructed.” He paused, raising an eyebrow at Turing Test. “Well, present company excluded. I daresay even when it is constructed, it won’t match many of your own mind’s capabilities, Miss Turing. But then, I doubt you will wish to spend all your time calculating the growth of animals and crops and long-term weather pattern planning.”

Turing Test twitched her ears. “You are correct. While I could prove capable of such things, I am content to follow my current directive of making friends.”

Twilight smiled and put her hoof around Turing’s shoulders. “Glad to hear it, Turing. Although,” she added, her grin broadening, “at least we know you’ve got options if you ever decide to get a part-time job and earn a few bits on the side.”

At that, Choco Mint, who’d been standing by in silence the whole time, started chuckling.

“Is something funny, Mr. Mint?” Twilight asked, trying to keep a smile on her face.

“Oh, it’s just that it seems a little funny to pay a machine. I mean, one of the reasons you build a machine to do a job is so you don’t have to pay a pony to do it! Why pay a machine for doing what it’s told?” he laughed.

Dr. Turing shot Mint a look and he stepped back, his laughter cutting off.

“Er, I apologize for that outburst. I’ll have a word with him about his manners,” Dr. Turing said quietly. “Now then, Twilight, Gadget, I am certain we could have one or two of the team show you about the place and explain what we’re trying to accomplish. As for you, Miss Turing, I’ve arranged for those preliminary baseline tests we discussed. We’ll be checking your skills at maths, spatial reasoning, abstraction, that sort of thing.”

Turing Test looked to Twilight.

“That sounds fine to me, Turing Test,” Twilight said, nodding to her. “We’ll catch back up with you later.”

“Acknowledged.” She turned to face Dr. Turing. “Will you be conducting the test, Dr. Turing?”

“Actually, the baseline tests will be conducted by Maregaret Hamiltrot, one of our top up-and-comers. Graceful Hopper will be showing Twilight and Gadget the ACE.” He paused, looking around. “Wait a moment, where is Miss Hopper? Mint, have you seen her?”

Mint jerked his head over at one of the large components of the ACE. “She’s getting some bugs out of the system.”

There was a clatter and a cry of “Ah-ha!” as a navy blue earth pony mare with her mane cut short emerged from behind the machinery. “Another moth!” she said, holding the dead bug up in her hoof. “Tell the boys in the back to get off their flanks and boot this thing up now that I’ve de-bugged the system!”

Gadget smiled and leaned over to Twilight. “I like her already.”

“Now, if you’ll excuse me,” Dr. Turing said, “Mint and I are going to make preparations for the main test. Mint?”

“Right away, Talon,” he said, and followed behind him as the group split up.

***

An hour later, the whole group was gathered back in the main room of the sub-basement. Standing before them all, Maregaret Hamiltrot, a tan pegasus mare with a long mane and glasses, read off the findings from the baseline tests.

“Upon giving the automaton--”

“Robot.”

Hamiltrot smiled. “Er, yes, the robot Turing Test the exams, she managed to complete all items in record time. In Mathematics, she completed every single item correctly in less than 30 seconds, most of which was taken up only by marking them in pencil on her exam sheet. Her Visual Recognition score was also excellent and she shows very good skills in Reading Comprehension and Vocabulary. In almost every area, her skills are perfect, or very nearly. Were she an ordinary pony, she’d most likely be classified as a genius.”

The others gathered nearby were furiously scribbling all this down on their clipboards. Twilight smiled at Turing Test, swelling with pride.

“Um, however, she did rather poorly on test items involving idioms. Even given context, she almost always chose the most literal interpretation, with some exceptions. What’s more, on the Abstract Reasoning section, she received a score of only 47%.”

Another murmur was heard, louder than before.

“That’s slightly below the average!” said one of them.

“Everypony please!” Hamiltrot said, tapping the results she had on her own clipboard. When the group fell quiet again, she continued. “She did very well with analyzing patterns and making predictions, but had difficulties making statements that characterized a situation or extracting a conclusion from an anecdote.”

“For example?” asked somepony else.

“Well, for instance, one of the items involved the story ‘The Timberwolf in Sheep’s Clothing,’ wherein a timberwolf dresses itself in the pelt of a sheep and tricks other sheep to follow it into the woods where it then preys upon them. The subject was asked what lesson could be learned from the story that would apply to real life.”

“I found the story to be an unreliable source of information,” Turing said, cutting in, “as my information on timberwolves does not indicate that they have the capacity for such deception, nor would it be likely that the wearing of wool would be enough to deceive a sheep, given the relative size, distinctive appearance, and scent of a timberwolf. Any information extracted from such a fictitious tale would be suspect, given the lack of accurate information.”

The engineers gathered were writing all this down and several of them chuckled to themselves, a few of them even rolling their eyes.

Turing Test noticed that Twilight’s cheeks had flushed and she was hiding her face behind one hoof. Turing’s metallic ears fell.

“My answer was in error?” she asked. “Twilight Sparkle, have I disappointed you?”

“No, no, not at all Turing!” Twilight said quickly. “It’s okay, we all make mistakes!”

“Y-yes, that’s right!” Hamiltrot said, smiling at Turing Test. “You still did far better than expected for a machine!”

Dr. Turing cleared his throat, stepping out from the group. “Regardless, it still sounds as though she, ah, more than meets the minimum qualifications to take the test, correct, Dr. Hamiltrot?”

Hamiltrot raised her head. “Indeed so, Dr. Turing. She’s ready.”

This caused the numerous engineers to chatter excitedly and some even began to stomp their hooves in applause. Twilight noticed that Choco Mint was wearing a calm, even smug expression. She found it irksome and frowned. Surprisingly, he matched that frown and then turned to look directly at her. The two locked eyes for a moment before Dr. Turing came and clapped Mint on the shoulder.

“Now then, enough dawdling!” he exclaimed. “Let us begin the test properly!”

Mint’s frown faded instantly and he smiled. “Yes sir! Turing Test, everypony, if you’ll come with me, it’s time we reviewed the rules of… the Imitation Game!”

***

Twilight found herself in a small observation area with glass windows overlooking a larger room with a single table and a stool. The room had one entrance and exit. The exit, she was told, would lead to a hallway which in turn split off into two rooms. Turing Test would sit in one, and a pony would sit in another. Twilight, Gadget, Dr. Turing, and a few other scientists were sitting in the small room while Choco Mint and Turing Test stood below.

“Can you hear me, everypony?” Mint hollered.

Dr. Turing pressed a button on a console and spoke into a microphone and his voice echoed out into the small room below: “We hear you loud and clear, Mr. Mint.”

“Then I’ll explain the rules for the so-called ‘Turing Test’ to Turing Test.” Mint cleared his throat.

“The rules are fairly simple. Miss Turing and another pony will each sit in a separate room down the hall. An Interviewer will sit at this table,” here he gestured to the table in the center of the room, “and pass questions to an Arbiter. The Arbiter will go to both Miss Turing and the other pony - identified as Subject A and Subject B - and then ask the questions, and collect their answers in written form. The Arbiter will then report the answers back to the Interviewer.

“The Interviewer may pose a maximum number of ten questions on any topic. They may ask each question to one or the other or both, should they choose. Thus, follow-up questions are allowed. The goal is to then determine, based on the answers of those ten questions, which one is the organic pony and which is the machine. The Interviewer will select either A or B. Should they genuinely feel uncertain, they are allowed to state so.

“Should the Interviewer guess that Miss Turing is the organic pony or vice versa in 50% or more cases, then we can say that she has passed the Turing Test by demonstrating responses at least as intelligent as an ordinary pony. Unsure answers likewise count in her favor, for if she is truly able to respond in such a manner as to leave significant doubt, then she has responded well enough. We will play 30 rounds of the game, with numerous ponies selected at random from the population and from the student body here at Cambridle. We’ll take a break after every ten ponies.

“Does everypony understand the terms of the game and are there any further questions?”

Twilight frowned. “Dr. Turing?” she whispered.

“Hm, yes?” he asked, turning to her. “Is something the matter?”

“Dr. Turing I… I hate to say it, but Turing Test is… well, you know how she is. I think this test might be too difficult for her.”

But Dr. Turing only smiled. “Let’s just see what she can do. You know what they say, after all, Princess Twilight… ‘it’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.’”

Twilight furrowed her brow. “But in this case, it does matter--”

Dr. Turing held up a claw and gave her a wink. “Please trust me. I’m certain we’ll see some interesting results.” That said, he pressed the com button again. “There are no questions up here, Mr. Mint.”

Mint nodded and turned to Turing Test. “How about you? Do you have any questions?”

“Negative. My role is to answer questions, not to ask them.”

Twilight and Gadget laughed, overhearing that.

Choco Mint’s eye twitched. “It seems you’ve got a mouth on you.”

“I have no mouth to speak of.” After a beat, she added, “Or to speak with.”

This drew another round of laughter from above, this time from more than just Twilight and Gadget, though neither Mint nor Turing Test could hear them.

“Let’s begin the test. I’ll escort you to your room.” He led her into the hallway, shutting the door behind them. “Oh, and for each of these rounds, you will be told who your opponent is.”

“Is that a necessary component to answer the Interviewer’s questions?”

Choco Mint shook his head, chuckling. “I suppose that’s up to you.”

Turing Test’s ears shifted as they stopped at a door. “Acknowledged.”

“For what it’s worth, I wish you luck,” Mint said, opening the door for her. “You will need it.”

Turing was about to go in, but she paused, leaning in more closely at him. He squirmed under her scrutiny.

“What? What’s the matter?”

“I have a further inquiry, Choco Mint.”

He tightened his lips. “Yes, what is it?”

“You do not seem to be an engineer or doctor. Am I correct in that observation?”

Mint blinked. “Why… yes, that is correct.”

“Then why are you administering this test instead of one of the University staff?”

Mint stifled a laugh with his hoof. “Well, to tell the truth, I happen to be an expert on the Imitation Game. I met Dr. Turing and he was quite impressed with my skills. He entrusted me to make it as fair as possible. And I assure you that I will.” He made a small motion over his heart. “You have my word.”

Turing Test hesitated for a moment, then nodded, letting Mint shut the door. The test was about to begin.

***

Round 1

The Interviewer was an orange earth pony stallion with a green mane.

“Name and occupation?” Mint asked.

“Uh, name’s Orange Clockwork, mate. I’m a watch salespony.” The stallion shifted in his seat. “So, I just ask questions and decide which one is a machine and which one’s a pony? That sums it up?”

“That’s right, sir,” Mint said. “One is a machine and the other is a male Cambridle student. Beyond that, I’m not allowed to provide any other information. Now, if you’ll write down your first question, I’ll ask it to one or both of the Interviewees.”

Orange Clockwork chuckled. “Well, suppose it’s a bit of an obvious question, then, but I suppose I’ll just ask ‘Are you a machine?’”

Both Clockwork and Mint laughed.

“Can’t get any simpler than that now, can we, mate?” Clockwork asked.

Mint shrugged. “I suppose not. Here, I’ll go ask them. I’ll identify them as only Subject A or Subject B, you understand.”

Mint walked out of the room, closing the door behind him. A minute later, he returned with two notecards.

“Well, um, here are the answers,” Mint said. “Subject A’s response is: ‘No.’” He paused, taking a deep breath. “Subject B’s response is: ‘Yes, I am.’”

Orange Clockwork gawked at him. “You’re puttin’ me on.”

There was some sound coming from the small observation room overhead and he stared at the tinted windows. “Um… well, I mean, I know it’s only one question, but I’d guess B’s the machine.”

Mint smiled. “You are correct, sir.”

TURING TEST SCORE: 0/1

***

Round 2

Interviewer: High Castle; pegasus stallion; police officer.

Subject A: Turing Test
Subject B: Earth pony mare, age 41, homemaker

Question 1: “Do you have any family?”
A: “None that I know of.”
B: “Yes. I am married with two foals. One colt, one filly.”

Question 2: (for A only) “What do you mean by ‘that you know of?’”
A: “I do not know if I have more family members. However, it is possible.”

Question 3: (for A only) “Why do you think it’s possible?”
A: “Since my designation is 003, it is reasonable that there are others who were produced before me.”

Interviewer correctly identified A as a machine.

TURING TEST SCORE: 0/2

***

Round 6

Interviewer: Perky Pat; unicorn mare; caterer.

Subject A: Unicorn stallion; age 15; student
Subject B: Turing Test

Question 1: “Do you have a favorite food?”
A: “Oat burgers.”
B: “Apple Pie.”

Question 2: “What do you do for fun?”
A: “Spend time with mates.”
B: “I enjoy my time with friends.”

Question 3: “What do you do with your friends?”
A: “Whatever we feel like.”
B: “It depends on which friend I am with.”

Question 4: (for B only) “Can you give an example of an activity you enjoy with a particular friend?”
B: “When I am with my friend (name redacted), I enjoy telling jokes.”

Question 5: (for A only) “Why do you like your friends?”
A: “You know, they’re cool.”

Question 6: (for A only) “What do you mean ‘cool’?”
A: “You know, they’re just cool is all! What kind of question is that?”

Interviewer incorrectly identified A as a machine.

TURING TEST SCORE: 1/6

***

Round 8

Interviewer: Friendly Buster; earth pony stallion; bouncer at a pub.

Subject A: Turing Test
Subject B: Earth pony mare; age 20; Cambridle student of mathematics.

Question 1: “What is your favorite color?”
A: “I do not have one.”
B: “Blue, I guess. Red’s nice too, though.”

Question 2: “What sort of music do you like?”
A: “I have not listened to music very much.”
B: “Lots of different kinds.”

Question 3: “What is your hometown?”
A: “I reside in Ponyville.”
B: “I’m from Tall Tale, originally.”

Question 4: “Were you born there?”
A: “Negative.”
B: “Yes, and I lived there for most of my life before I went away for University.”

Question 5: (for A only) “Where were you born, then?”
A: “I was not born. However, I do not know where I was manufactured.”

Interviewer correctly identified A as a machine.

TURING TEST SCORE: 1/8

***

Round 10

Interviewer: Alphane Moon; pegasus mare; Cambridle student of geology

Subject A: Unicorn mare; age 30; sales clerk
Subject B: Turing Test

Question 1: “How do you style your mane?”
A: “I do it up in a cute braid.”
B: “I do not style it in any particular way.”

Question 2: “Do you usually wear any special clothes or accessories?”
A: “I wear a scarf for work, and earrings.”
B: “I do not wear clothes. However, I have experimented with fashion and I do have a pair of brooches.”

Question 3: (for B only) “What kind of brooches?”
B: “They are amethyst stones. They match my eyes.”

Question 4: (for B only) “Where do you wear the brooches?”
B: “On my legs.”

Question 5: “Are you married?”
A: “Not yet!”
B: “No.”

Question 6: “What sort of pony would you like to marry if you choose to get married?”
A: “Just someone nice, funny, responsible, and a nice flank wouldn’t hurt either!”
B: “I have not considered that question before. I am not able to answer.”

Question 7: (for B only) “Why not?”
B: “I do not have enough information or experience to answer such a question.”

Question 8: “Do you prefer hot days or cold days?”
A: “I guess I like hot days a little better.”
B: “I have no preference.”

Question 9: “If you could have any job, what would it be?”
A: “I actually like my job right now! But, I guess if I had to pick, being a movie star would be neat too!”
B: “Until today, I had not considered that subject.”

Question 10: “How long is the longest river in Equestria?”
A: “I think it’s the Mississipony. Either that or the Bronco Grande. I’m not really sure how long either one is, though.”
B: “According to data I have acquired, the Mississipony river is the longest river in Equestria at 3,734 kilometers.”

Interviewer correctly identified B as a machine.

TURING TEST SCORE: 1/10

***

“Thank you, everypony!” Mint hollered. “Let’s take a half-hour break and then resume testing!”

Back in the observation area, Twilight was sitting on the floor with her face in her hooves. “I was so sure Turing was going to pass that last time!” she moaned.

“Well, cheer up, Twilight,” Gadget said, trying her best to keep a smile. “She is getting a lot better! It’s taking longer for the interviewers to figure her out!”

“But still!” Twilight exclaimed. “Only one out of ten!” She heaved a sigh and got to her hooves.

“N-now, Twilight, there’s no reason to be so upset,” Dr. Turing said. “Gadget is correct that she is showing signs of improvement, after all.”

She shot him a hard look. “If she fails just six more times, then she officially fails the whole test, right?”

“Well, yes, but--”

“But nothing!” she snapped. Dr. Turing took a step back, flinching at the harshness of her voice. “This test isn’t fair!”

“Oh really?” said a familiar voice.

They all turned and saw Choco Mint standing among them. Twilight’s expression grew even more sour. “That’s right. It isn’t fair. To pass this test, Turing Test would have to lie, and act like she was a normal, organic pony! But she’s never, ever lied!”

Mint looked to her, offering a kind smile. “You are correct. But allow me to explain why this test is valid. If I may, Talon?”

Dr. Turing nodded.

“Thank you. Now, the so-called Turing Test is being conducted according to what Dr. Turing laid out, but I have been entrusted to come up with a more balanced and fair version of the test. We’ve taken multiple steps to make the test more lenient: we’ve limited the number of questions to ten, we’ve allowed interviewers to state their uncertainty and counting that as success for the machine, and, after the first round’s fiasco, we’ve even limited questions to less ‘direct’ inquiries at your personal request.”

“Maybe so,” Twilight admitted, though she gave a roll of her eyes, “but I don’t see why this ‘Imitation Game’ is how you’re measuring Turing Test’s intelligence. It’s unreasonable to ask her to answer just like a pony!”

“Oh, I disagree,” Mint said, waving his hoof. “Miss Turing’s results on the baseline tests indicate that she has some skills, but the truth is that we could get many of the same results, at least in many of the same subject answers, from the computers we’ve already built and will continue to build, but nopony is making the argument that those machines are truly intelligent. Or sentient. How do we really know if Miss Turing is not just a scaled-up version of that? What seems to be intelligence could merely be a sophisticated bunch of algorithms and subroutines.

“And let’s be honest, Princess,” Mint added with a smirk, “if Miss Turing were passing this test, I doubt you’d still be complaining that this test is unfair.”

Twilight opened her mouth at that, but shut it, realizing that he was probably correct.

“The sad truth is that we really don’t quite have a firm grasp on what intelligence is, but I believe we can all recognize it in our fellow sentient beings: ponies, griffons, donkeys, and all manner of creatures. If a machine can respond in a way that is indistinguishable from such a sentient being, then we can reasonably assume that is also intelligent. To win this game, obviously a pony would have to lie to complete the objective. But Miss Turing isn’t doing it. She’s obstinate and literal and far too single-minded, so it ought to be perfectly obvious by now that she’s nothing more than--”

“Mint!” Dr. Turing snapped. “That is q-quite enough!”

Mint froze, looking around to see that Twilight was gritting her teeth at him, Gadget likewise was wrinkling her nose at him (and her front left mechanical hand was making quite the rude gesture), and Dr. Turing and the other engineers were giving him frosty looks as well.

He used his magic to adjust his collar and loosen his tie. “Ah. Sorry, I just got a little carried away.”

“Mint, I have a lot of faith in you to administer this test,” Dr. Turing said, “but if I think you are letting your bias get in the way of things, I will remove you from it and find somepony else to do it. Is that clear?”

Mint lowered his gaze. “Yes, Tal-- sir.”

Twilight took a calming breath. “Listen, I understand what you’re saying, but I really think I ought to talk to Turing Test.”

Mint stiffened. “You can’t! You’ll contaminate the test if you just tell her how to pass!”

“Hear me out,” she said, cutting him off. “It’s true that one sign of intelligence is learning to adapt to new situations, but so is learning from advice and taking a little direction. Just let me help her come up with a better strategy for answering your questions. There’s no way I can feed her every possible answer to cheat on your test, is there?”

Mint ran his tongue around his cheek. “I… I suppose not.”

Dr. Turing nodded. “I agree. However, once testing resumes, no more assistance should be given. If we set the bar too low, I daresay the results of this test will start to lose any significance whatsoever.”

Twilight smiled. “Thank you. All right, Gadget, let’s go find Turing Test!”

Mint raised a hoof. “When I told her we were taking a break, she said she was going outside. You should be able to find her out there.”

“In that case,” Twilight said with a smirk, stepping over to Gadget, “let’s take a shortcut!”

“Huh? What kind of--”

There was a flash of light and the two were back outside the Centre of Mathematical Sciences.

“--shortcohhwhatthebuckwasthat?!” Gadget took a step back, blinking in the bright light outdoors.

“Sorry,” Twilight said sheepishly. “I teleported us. I thought it would be faster. I’ll warn you next time. Now where is Turing Test?”

It was then that the both of them heard a loud roar and whipped their heads around in the direction of the sound. They both gaped as they saw a shining, metallic object that was rising into the sky and speeding away.

It was Turing Test. She had gone into her P-Mode and was flying away at an incredible rate.

“Turing Test!” Twilight screamed. “Come back!”

But the robot did not turn back. Instead, she disappeared over the treetops surrounding the campus as students milling around cried out, pointing up in the sky as she passed.

Twilight sank to her haunches. “Where could she be going, Gadget? What in Equestria is she thinking?!”

***

What Turing Test was thinking as she rocketed out over Trottingham was this: I am failing.

I assured Twilight Sparkle that I would pass this test and prove my intelligence. I am failing to do so and when I am declared a failure, she will be very disappointed in my performance.

She will be disappointed in me.

She spotted a park below and slowed her velocity. As her jets powered down, she landed gently on a grassy hill and returned to her neutral mode. She lowered her ears, sitting on the soft earth.

For as long as she could remember, she’d known that others regarded her as no more than a machine. To others, she was nothing more than a mindless, mechanical thing that walked and talked. As she’d grown and developed, she’d convinced herself that this was not so and that Twilight Sparkle was right to have faith in her.

But now, when it was finally time to prove herself, she was failing. Badly.

I am a failure. I do not wish to see Twilight Sparkle’s disappointment. I am… She raised her head. This new feeling welling up inside her was something different. It was awful. It was reminiscent of guilt, but also of sadness. What could it be? She scanned her data and came to a conclusion.

Shame. I am… ashamed.

It was then that she heard a loud clamoring coming from the other side of the hill. She got to her hooves and peered around a tree. There was a crowd of ponies cheering and applauding. She couldn’t see what they were cheering for.

Knowing she often attracted unwanted attention, she moved very slowly down the hill coming up behind the crowd. They were standing before stage of some kind. On the stage were flashing lights and puffs of smoke. And emerging from behind it all, she heard loud, bombastic laughter.

“That is today’s show, Fillies and Gentlecolts!” said a blue pony as she come into view through the smoke. “You have borne witness to the greatest feats of prestidigitation in all of Equestria! So please leave a few bits as tribute and be sure to tell your friends what you saw! Tell them of the day you saw the one… the only…”

Turing Test saw the pony stand on two hind legs, lifting her conical hat as more streaks of light and blasts of smoke emerged from it, punctuating her final words.

“...the Great and Powerful Trixie!”

To be continued...

Author's Note:

The Hat Man hopes you have enjoyed this chapter and will see you all next time! In the meantime, he has prepared a series of references that he hopes you will enjoy!
-Historically, a lot of Dr. Turing's story of the Enigma machine is based on Alan Turing's experiences in real life with England breaking Nazi codes, and done in much the same fashion.
-Dr. Turing's old workplace is called "Brindley Park," a play on the real life Bletchley Park and the term "brindle horse," which is a type streaked or striped coloration on a horse or pony.
-Some of Dr. Turing's colleagues are also real-life references:
+Graceful Hopper is named after Grace Hopper, a programmer who did a lot of work in computer sciences and really did coin the term "debugging," and yes, that bit about the moth wasn't a joke... that really was where the term "computer bug" comes from!
+Maregaret Hamiltrot is named for Margaret Hamilton, one of the programmers who helped get human beings to the moon during the Apollo 11 mission. Neither she nor Hopper worked with Turing, as far as I know, but I included them at the request of longtime reader JFalk, who clued me in about them. Thanks, pal!
-The first interviewer for the Imitation Game is named Orange Clockwork, referencing the book and movie A Clockwork Orange.
-The other interviewers are named for the incredibly influential science-fiction writer Philip K. Dick's books and characters. High Castle = the book The Man in the High Castle; Perky Pat = a woman in a simulation in The Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch; Friendly Buster = Buster Friendly, the TV personality in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?; and Alphane Moon = the book Clans of the Alphane Moon.

I hope you enjoyed it, folks! Next time, it's the continuation of the Trottingham Arc! It'll be great!
...and powerful.

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