803/Preschool for Pre-sentients

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Preschool for Pre-sentients
Date of Scene: 27 March 2020
Location: Stark Tower: Workshop
Synopsis: Stark and Riri stumble on Caitlin's underground lair-- lab, and discuss the possibility of a new kind of AI being developed.
Cast of Characters: Caitlin Fairchild, Tony Stark, Riri Williams

Caitlin Fairchild has posed:
There are several labs in the basement of Stark Tower that are not currently in use. Projects that were mothballed, cancelled, or plain forgotten. The contents of those rooms are often not inventoried regularly either, and like any giant corporation there are just so many plates in the air at once that it's not hard to slip some of the items through the cracks.

It's here that Caitlin's been working almost every spare minute she has, coming in early and staying late to do it. The lack of consistent lighting definitely gives the room sort of a 'mad scientist' vibe; direct lights illuminate her work areas, of course, but many of the ambient lights are dead or turned off. A pharmacy fridge against the wall sports a grisly collection of organic matter floating in saline; animal brains, from the look of it.

Caitlin herself is stooped over a too-low holographic work table. A brain is wired into complex scanning systems, and from the look of it, one energy emitter is scanning the organic material and transferring some data to another laser that's rapidly scanning back-and-forth across a nebulous mass of translucent, slightly luminescing blue gelatin.

Aside from the whirring and humming of lasers, there's little sound in the lab. Notably, the AI sensor leads are disconnected from the room as well. Overzealous maintenance, or a more sinister agenda at hand?

Tony Stark has posed:
There are parts of Stark Tower that Tony hasn't even seen. It's a large complex with more than one building and it goes deep below street level because it's hard to find space for warehouses in Manhattan. The Armory is down here somewhere, corporate rumors suggest - one of the vaults wherein Tony stores the many, many variant suits that he's developed and built over the years. The elevator there typically leaves from the floor below Tony's penthouse, but considering its occupied by campaign staff now he has to take the long way.

The long way that runs straight through Caitlin's makeshift lab.

He's wearing another of the Avengers brand t-shirts SI has been selling, a depiction of the Wasp in silhouette flying upwards. Beneath that is a long-sleeve shirt and the telltale glowing of the miniature reactor built into his chest. Extremely casual.

He's quiet when he wants to be (maybe it comes from being 'married' to a super spy) and he silently moves up alongside Caitlin while she's working. It's only once he's standing there, hands clasped behind his back and leaning forward to carefully inspect the brain on display that he speaks and makes himself known.

"That is the grossest thing I've ever seen and I've seen the porta-potties at Burning Man."

Caitlin Fairchild has posed:
Caitlin shrieks in shock and launches backwards. The noise itself is earsplittingly loud, and the momentum of that much mass and force all at once spells disaster for the lab. Thankfully she fetches up hard against one of the heavy concrete walls. Behind her tinted yellow glasses the whites of her eyes can be seen entirely around the iris.

"Oh criminey, Mister Stark, you scared the heck out of me!" she scolds him. Black athleisure leggings and low-soled running shoes definitely give her a casual air; at least she's wearing a labcoat and her hair's back in a tight bun to keep it out of the way.

Terror gives way to crushing anxiety. "Oh crabapples, you-- you found me early," she says with utter dismay in her voice. "I wanted-- I mean, I didn't steal anything," she says, hastily. "I inventoried everything I, um, borrowed, from the other sections." She fumbles for a digital tablet and holds it out like proof of her story. "And I'll put it all back! I just-- darnit!" she stomps a foot, impatient with her fumbling story. "I wanted to bring you something that -works- and it's not -done- yet, but I'm close, I'm -really- close," she promises him. "Please don't fire me!"

Tony Stark has posed:
Caitlin's reaction doesn't net so much as a startled raise of the eyebrows from Tony, who instead slowly bends back to stand up straight. It's only after she's done moving that he lifts a hand, wiggling the tip of his finger in his ear and squinting one eye closed. When the ringing subsides, he opens his eyes and mouth wide, snaps them closed a couple of times, and wriggles is jaws. Better.

"So exactly what stage are we at?" he asks, looking down at the brain again, "How long before the villagers show up in the lobby with their pitchforks and flaming torches? I'm not sure Happy has enough visitor passes for that."

He reaches onto the workbench to pick up a small item not currently connected to any of the crucial experiment. He turns it over in his hands, flicks it up into the air, catches it, and then puts it back a few inches to the left of where he found it. It's then that he pushes himself up onto the bench, sitting on it and letting his legs dangle over the side.

"I'm not gonna fire you. That intern that has a picture of you on his desktop wallpaper would hunt me down and kill me."

Riri Williams has posed:
     Riri was good at engineering. She's always been good at working with her hands, but AI? That was... a bit out of her wheelhouse. Not that she wasn't giving it a try anyway, since with armor like hers and Iron Man's an AI was kind of crucial. Currently, the Mark I's control system was a marginally smarter digital assistant program. With the Mark II... That wouldn't quite cut it. Therefore, she needed to ask the resident expert on AI who'd coded several. And whose creations could conveniently tell her that he was in a basement lab, which seemed to have lost its security feeds.
     Enjoying the lack of dress code as much as Tony does, the teen who steps through the lab door is dressed in a Captain Marvel tank top, skinny jeans, and converse sneakers. Slightly odder are the pair of chunky AR goggles that are pushed up onto her forehead, and the ruggedized tablet in her hand. "Mr. Stark? JARVIS said you were in here, I had a few things I wanted you to che..." Riri looks up from the tablet in time to take in the lab. ...Jars of brains, wires everywhere, the whole room dimly lit. "...If one of these jars is labeled 'Abby Normal', I'm cashing in some vacation time and taking an extended test flight. To Australia."

Tony Stark has posed:
Tony turns his head slightly when he hears Riri's voice, a little surprised to hear her down here in Castle von Fairchild. When she's done looking stunned at Caitlin's mad science motif, he holds out an arm and points it directly at the tank top Riri wears.

"Not repping the home team," he says sharply, "I'm deducting twenty-five points and revoking your vending machine privileges. I bet you didn't know there was a points system, but there is."

He glances towards a reflective glass surface and tilts his body, looking at the shirt he's wearing. There's a quick glance back towards Riri and he shrugs: "I'm the Boss. I don't have to follow the rules. Though making a pop culture reference from thirty years before you were born is impressive, so I'm upgrading you from silver tier A to gold tier C. The system's very complicated."

That out of the way, he gestures a hand from Riri to Caitlin and back: "Riri Williams, this is Caitlin von Fairchild and her menagerie of brains. Cait, this is Riri Williams - intellectual property thief and genius."

Caitlin Fairchild has posed:
Caitlin's dismay only heightens as Tony's protege-- the wunderkind Riri-- wanders in. It's one thing to defend your position to the boss, but clearly Riri's presence adds an element of extra defensiveness. Still, Caitlin gives Riri a polite nod of the head and a friendly (if unnerved) smile. "Nice to meet you, Riri," she says, with an awkward wriggle of her fingers.

In truth, it'd be hard to miss the look of envy on her face at Riri's casual access to Tony and all his toys.

"Um. Yeah. At. Where I am. Yes," she says, and claps her hands softly while taking a stabilizing breath. "Er, okay. Well, the drone project hit a snag," she reminds Tony. "It's there, it's like... ninety-nine percent done. But we're still using pattern prediction instead of true heuristic learning. The drone leaves the factory as smart as it'll ever be, and it has to be re-programmed with any new data or procedures."

She drifts towards the hologram displayed over the laser printers, and brings up a few images. "Our budget was also shot, so I kind of got creative, and I got lucky with a pulsed nanometer polarized assembly laser. The real breakthough, though, was realizing I didn't *have* to have onboard heuristics. It... came to me when I was having a dream, I admit," she says. "And I woke up and it occured to me that we do a lot of our pattern learning while asleep."

She brings up a series of projected nodes floating in the air. "But it's not enough just to have the storage nodes. We need pathways. For that, I needed living tissue as a model. I've been using cat and dog brains for years for this-- all ethically harvested from a local animal hospital, I promise," she assures the two.

Her fingers drift over the controls. "With the live brain model responding to complex stimuli, I could real-time map and duplicate the neural net." The nodes become joined by branching trees. She uplifts her chin at a literal brain-in-a-jar, hooked up with complex electrodes and electronic suites to a computer running some high-intensity simulation.

"And I've got... well, this," she remarks, and superimposes over the pale blue lines a much more familiar figure in yellow: the neural network map of the JARVIS and HOMER systems. More complex, with more lines and interconnections, but still-- AI.

"The first few prototypes burned out due to chemical dissolution, but I've stabilized the neuragel. If I can keep the system stable long enough to install into a chassis, it's... well, it's a portable AI. Not on the same scale as your systems," she adds, hastily. "But it'll run at a lower power state with onboard learning programs, and then when it gets hooked into the, uh, 'mother brain' computer at night, more complicated heuristic algorithims do the brute force work. Once the subliminal patterns are encoded in there hippocampus, the AI has basically learned to learn, and can start doing it on its own."

She gestures down at the neuragelatin forming into the shape of a brain, barely the size of a peach pit. "Self-Initialized Regulated Intelligence Network. I'm calling her SIRIN."

Tony Stark has posed:
"Ah," Tony says, clapping his hands together in front of him, "Another member of the fun acronym club - or FAC. So, should we call this meeting of FAC to order in Caitlin's Weird Underground Frankenstein Lab ... or - " He puzzles it out in his head for a second, "CWUFL? Eh, that one needs work."

From his place on the bench he leans over to examine Caitlin's work carefully. He even looks on the verge of poking it with an extended finger, though he thankfully restrains himself. He listens to the explanation in silence, sucking his teeth and drumming his fingers on his thigh.

"And here you were thinking you couldn't solve the problem last time we talked. That sounds like an AFATAR - an Absolute Failure to Accept Tony is Always Right. Hah, nailed it." He points at Riri again, "Come on, half-pint, get in on this."

Riri Williams has posed:
     "...I had a Black Widow one on yesterday?" It's true, The camera footage from Riri's lab can prove it. Plus, she actually stopped tinkering long enough to change clothes and didn't actually sleep in the lab. That's an improvement! "Also today's laundry day." Technically, any day Riri remembers to do it is Laundry Day. But that's besides the point. "My step-dad was a fan of the classics." Riri's own tablet bears scrolling code and a network map in green, but that's forgotten now. First, live brains in jars. Terrifying, but still impressive. She's seen Robo-Cop. Second... Was it some kind of omen that she'd stumbled onto another person looking into AI at the same time she was working on her own? And was it a good one or a bad one?
    "...Electrochemical brains. ...But synthetic. That's... I hadn't thought of that." Not that it would've worked for her own project, given the scaling of the Mark II, and the abuse power armor took as a matter of course. ...But still amazing. Quantum-optical processing was a lot harder and could be distributed through the frame. No. Bad Riri. Back on subject. "Nice to meet you. My first AI experiment ended up acting kind of like a cat. ...Turns out your roommate gets kind of upset when a roomba with a robot arm on it knocks their water glass onto their laptop in a fit of pique over being ignored. I'm still trying to train MILLIE to be an actual useful assistant and fetch parts and stuff." ...Oh yeah. She should probably explain that. "Machine Integrated Laboratory Learning Intelligence Experiment." The tablet in her hand, meanwhile, is labeled AISHA.

Caitlin Fairchild has posed:
Caitlin just sort of... goggles at Riri's rambling observations about everyone and everything Caitlin's working on. It takes even Cait's brain a few seconds to catch up and deconstruct everything Riri just laid down for her.

"Oh, I ... didn't know you did AIs, too," Caitlin says, lamely. Because of course Riri does, despite being almost a decade younger than the Amazonian ginger (and very quickly breaking down Caitlin's momentary feeling of exultion).

"You mentioned-- quantum structures? I know that's the latest and greatest for computational density," Caitlin agrees. "But the neuragel is electrically reactive. That's how I get it to grow, and learn. It connects the nodes, makes more complex pathways so it can process more decisions simultaneously."

She takes a slow breath and looks back at Tony, as if trying to gauge how much of his banter is playful encouragement or chivvying insult. "Listen, boss, I'm sorry I did an end-run around the system. After our talk, I ... got the sense that you wanted me to figure this out. I've been working off the clock the whole time, I promise," she adds, quickly. "Regular hours I'm on the drone thing, we /will/ be ready for DARPA."

"So... there really isn't a way to mass produce this or anything," she says, waving a hand at the setup. "The laser setup is pretty finicky and it takes a lot of active work to set up the pathways. And she--" Caitlin gestures at the box under the laser emitter. "She'll take a while to build up enough size to run super complex programs. It grows, y'see?"

"But uh... from my simulations, she's smart enough to at least handle a lot of voice parameters. Interface with software, run complex calculations. It'd make a great backup brain in a car or for a zero-radiation vehicle that needs to operate without any wireless network support. No more ghost in the shell. It wouldn't be... like, /all/ of HOMER, but you could take him with you. And have him learn on the way. Y'know. Eventually."

She holds her breath, waiting for a reaction.

Tony Stark has posed:
"Hey, if it works, it works," Tony answers, putting his hands up defensively, "As long as you're keeping up with the DARPA contract your off-times all yours. If you want to send it building brain goop down here, I am one-hundred percent pro that. I'm guessing you two might even want to copy of each other's papers a little."

He pushes down on the bench and launches himself off of it, grabbing a screwdriver from nearby as he goes. He tosses it into the air and catches it in one hand behind his back, crouching down to look at the machinery Caitlin has hooked the synthetic brain into. He taps it a little with broad end before he takes a closer look, narrowing his eyes into a squint.

"Do you mind if I look under SIRIN's skirt a little bit? I promise I'll be a gentleman."

A pause, then he turns to face Riri.

"Pretend you didn't hear that."

Riri Williams has posed:
     "I... don't really do AI's. I just knew that I couldn't manage armor entirely by myself. I'm good, but I"m not /that/ good. Pretty much every plate doubles as an aerodynamic control surface that all have to be adjusted on the fly in flight to maintain lift, target tracking, monitoring comms traffic, visual processing... It's all a lot. Currently I'm running glorified SIRI to let me use voice commands. AISHA'll hopefully be able to take some initiative." Riri realizes she should probably elaborate. "Uh, Armor Integrated Semi-Heuristic Assistant. I just wanted to get Mr. Stark's opinions on things so far, but if you two are busy I can come back later..." She gestures vaguely with the tablet.

Caitlin Fairchild has posed:
Caitlin pinks furiously at Stark's lazy innuendo. "Uh... it's your stuff, Mister Stark," she says, carefully. "The laser took some jiggering to build but it wasn't anything really groundbreaking. But I'm twenty hours into the build cycle and if you knock it offline, I'll have to start all over again," she explains to him. "It's more a neurobiology experiment than a strictly engineering one," she clarifies. "Simulating the growth of the brain. But--" she gestures at him and steps back half a pace. "It says 'Stark' on the building," she says with a self-effacing shrug.

Caitlin takes the moment to look sideways at Riri, hands clasped loosely behind her back. "SIRIN would work pretty well for that," Caitlin offers, tentatively. "You'd have to spend a lot of time teaching her. I, uh, almost wrecked a exoskeleton because I got ahead of myself," she confesses. "Turns out that jumping off a building is the wrong way to learn to fly. I'm going to run the simulation at 1000x in a virtual petri dish and see if I can't refine the flying software. The exoskeleton repulsors are a bit too bulky for me," she says, and her mouth pulls to the side with a rueful moue. "But with the right flaps and trim controls I bet it'd help a lot with stabilization and thrust vector."

Tony Stark has posed:
"This is what computer simulations are for," Tony announces, looking closely at the box with screwdriver poised but still not actually touching it yet, "You don't need to actually walk through the process in real time. Either HOMER or JARVIS could run complex simulations and, presuming your fake brain can keep pace, you could potentially teach it everything it needs to know in a couple of days."

Caitlin's words seem to compel him not to tinker with the new toy. Instead he stands up again, gesturing between the pair with the pointed tip of the screwdriver.

"You two sounds like you could work together on this," he suggests, "It doesn't sound like what either of you has is perfect for what you're reaching for, but it's on the same path."

He balances the screwdriver on the tip of one finger, flips it into the air again, and snatches it up with the other hand before laying it lazily back on the table with the other tools.

"I can allot you some time with HOMER. JARVIS is too busy keeping Thor from burning the Mansion down with microwave popcorn. You've just gotta promise not to teach him any curse words. We're only up to the C's and I'd hate for him to get ahead without me."

Riri Williams has posed:
     "I mean, it could work. But there are space issues. The computer systems in the Mark II are going to have to be a lot more distributed compared to the Mark I. It's a lot more form fitting. More like His stuff-" Riri nods to Tony. "-And less like the power armor from Fallout 4. I pilot the Mark I about as much as I wear it, I didn't have the high grade alloys and components at the time when I built the prototype, and I've been designing the Mark II ever since that got wrecked. The Mark I's kind of a stepping stone that kept most of the existing chassis the same. ...If you needed smaller repulsors though, I've got a derivative of the ones used in the Jericho in my mmicro-missiles. The main four in the hand and feet have to be large if you want the power and range for weapon use, but pure flight can be smaller and not need quite as complex mechanisms to be able to switch between flight and combat mode..." Aaaand nerd sniped herself again. Riri pinches the bridge of her nose, proffering the tablet to Tony. "It'd be helpful, definitely. Taking a look at HOMER could also let me know if AISHA's developing on the entirely wrong directions. I just wanted to ask if you saw any obvious mistakes that I could head off at the pass. Like how I never ran into the icing problem you did and started using anti-ice paint before I got myself killed." Not like Riri swears that much anyway, although dropped plates and tool incidents are an exception. ...Hopefully HOMER doesn't listen to the audio sensors in her lab ALL the time. "And more people to bounce ideas off of is always good."

Caitlin Fairchild has posed:
"More people is more better," Caitlin says, firmly agreeing with that sentiment. "Maybe there's some cross pollination we can do. Quantum storage is infinitely denser than electrochemical; maybe we can figure out a way to get the best of both worlds?" she suggests to Riri. "But, uh..."

Cait's eyes slide to Tony. "Boss, I... um. I can make this work," she says. "But I'm gonna need a little time to focus on it. There's not a lot of room here for us both."

She takes a deep breath, then releases it slowly. Her fingers itch as if looking for a non-existent ponytail to tug on stressfully; finding nothing, she adjusts her labcoat lapels and makes them work.

"I want to be on the Skunkworks team," Caitlin says, with a rush. "Up in the tower. Prototyping. Raw R&D work. You've seen some of my work. You said it," she says so quickly that it's almost accusatory, "you said I'm an idea person, that I need to be creating things and not just designing someone else's stuff. I don't want to work in Engineering Design forever making gadgets for defense contracts." She swallows, nervously. "Give me just a few more weeks and if I can deliver this, I-I want this to be my ticket upstairs."

Tony Stark has posed:
Tony doesn't even seem to consider Caitlin's idea for very long. Either his mind moves a lot faster than it looks sometimes, or this was already in the cards. Either way, he points a finger at her, clicks, and mimes a pistol. Sucking on his teeth as he does, he tugs the front of the t-shirt he wears down a little bit.

"Deal," he says with a nod.

Then to Riri he gives a more measured, critical look. He doesn't crouch down to be at eye level with her, doesn't even adopt that sort of patronizing way of talking most people utilize with the youth. He tucks his hands into his pockets and considers the question for a little. His hand darts out to snatch the tablet computer away when it is offered, looking over it critically.

"Well, first things first is we want to avoid the Ultron Problem. Which is - don't model it after your own brain if you've got a persistent superiority complex or just any other of a host of psychological issues. That said, let me take a look at it and bring it back to you, huh?"

He waggles the tablet in the air towards Riri, signifying that he plans to keep it, then makes for a pile of uninteresting crates on the other end of the lab. As he moves towards them they slide out of the way as though on hidden rails, revealing a doorway that itself hisses open to reveal an illuminated laboratory beyond - the walls lined with suits of armor descending down into something like a pit eight or nine floors deep.

Riri Williams has posed:
     "No superiority complexes. Got it. And feel free to keep it, it's just linked to my dev server anyway." Riri lets the tablet go without any losses, since it was just a piece of her lab equipment anyway and there were more where that came from. Back to Caitlin. "...I don't really know the chemistry side, but I could take a look at the laser if you want. I'm pretty sure that's a fiber laser, so a new head could let you bolt the laser itself to something nice and solid and have a bit more reliable beam path with your rig only having to move the external fiber run for coarse adjustment-" She's cut off by the sound of the door opening, and Riri's own jaw falls. For a moment, the intensity fades away, and her expression actually looks remotely normal on a teenager. Unadulterated joy and fangirling. "...I /really/ want to, but at the same time if I go in there I won't get anything done for the rest of the day. ...Also I didn't know it existed before today. ...If the door's still open in fifteen seconds, and we're still standing here, he /might/ want us to go in."

Caitlin Fairchild has posed:
Caitlin's jaw drops open so fast it almost hits the floor.

The presence of the iron legion behind a very cool secret door literally yards away from her for most of a month is almost wholly secondary.

"D-deal," Caitlin stammers, at Tony's back. The inventor's walking away, then, and Caitlin looks enviously at rows upon rows of the Iron Man armor. Every iteration, vision, idea, notion, and conception Tony's ever bothered to create as a machine, standing silent sentinel.

"Does he want us to follow him? I don't think I should go in there," Caitlin agrees in quiet aside-- but her green eyes are fixed in wonder at the palace of treasures that Tony casually enters.

"It's an ND-YAG," Caitlin murmurs. "I borrowed it from Medical Research. The precision isn't the problem, it's the fly mirrors that are making it so slow. If you can help with that it'd cut hours off the run time."

She glances at a tiny wristwatch against her inner left wrist. "Thirteen seconds," she murmurs, and holds her breath waiting to see what happens.

Tony Stark has posed:
Through the door, a slice of the laboratory is visible. This is the nerve center of the whole Iron Man operation. Tony may do a lot of the designing up in his penthouse workshop, but this is the forge. This is where he puts the metaphorical hammer to the metaphorical anvil and turns those suits from concept to creation.

A number of robotic arms on treads roll around the upper floor, tending to a number of projects that appear to be on the go at once. A large fabrication unit - more complex than anything most SI employees have access to - churns away on what looks like a 3D-printed version of the armor. Suspended in the air, taking form layer by layer.

This is where the magic happens.

"I definitely don't want you to follow me," Tony's voice echoes out from the door once he's disappeared into the Armory, "You've got work do. Both of you."

The door hisses closed behind him.