I’ve got an idea for a story which involves a psychic reading so I thought I’d do a little background research. With that in mind Nelli and I attended the ‘Psychic Evening’ at Ye Olde Dog and Partridge (I kid you not) in Tutbury, a village just up the road from where we live.
Now, as one of the main characters in ‘The Demi-Monde: Winter’, a guy called Vanka Maykov, is a faux-psychic, I’d already done some pretty extensive background reading into the art of ‘cold reading’ and ‘flim-flamming’ so I went well prepared but not, I hasten to add, in a particularly cynical frame of mind. Rather I was of a mind to be amazed.
The woman (who will remain nameless to spare her blushes) looked the part – middle-aged, dreamy, sort of fey looking – and the table she was using was dressed to impress – tarot cards, ribbons, a table cloth embroidered with what looked like elves. So I sat down, she closes her eyes as though in deep thought and we’re off.
Now let’s digress a moment to see what non-verbal clues I’d given this woman just by the act of sitting down. She’d know that I’m a married man (wedding ring); that I’m around sixty (so probably retirement looming, children off and running, parents dead); that I’ve got no noticeable impediments (I don’t limp and I’ve still got the use of all my appendages); and that as I’ve come for a psychic reading then I must have a reason for being willing to part with twenty quid for thirty minutes of her time.
It was this last aspect she tested first: ‘I hope you haven’t come here to test me?’ she asked’. No, not to test, merely to learn.
Then it was ‘I see the presence of a woman hovering around you. Has your mother recently departed for the world of spirits?’ No, my mother died 15 years ago. ‘You were close to your mother’. Wrong again … actually very wrong again. ‘You are going through a change in your life’. Nope and I ain’t menopausal either. She frowned and said I was difficult to read.
She tried another tack, asking me to choose a piece of ribbon from a bundle. I chose green. She stroked it for a while and then put it down. I never did find out the significance of picking green.
‘Let’s try the cards’. I had to shuffle the tarot cards, she split them into piles (seven, if I remember aright) and I had to pick one. She turned them over, arranged them, rearranged them, frowned, took a sip of water, frowned and then put them down. ‘You have a daughter’. Good try: I’ve got three actually. ‘The youngest has healing hands’. Only if you can ply them from around your throat but I let this observation slide. ‘She is a nurse or a teacher.’ Here my psychic was making a judgement based on my age but as Ellie is the progeny of my second marriage, she’s still at school. I told the psychic this. ‘Then she’s going to be a teacher or a nurse’. Again had all the hallmarks of a bloody good guess. I’m reasonably well-spoken so the chances are my daughter will be too: therefore she ain’t gonna be working in Costa Coffee, and as the professions with the highest number of female participants are teaching and nursing, my psychic was just playing the odds.
I won’t bore you with the rest of it: suffice it to say that even the psychic got embarrassed and halved the fee to ten pounds. But what the session did was get me thinking that it would be possible to devise a foretelling programme based purely on algorithms because that, in a crude way, was what my psychic was doing, picking up cues and then making educated assumptions based on those cues.
I think there may be a story in it after all: not artificial intelligence but artificial prescience.