The sugar runes scatter.
The lights flicker.
And the witch is holding -
"Or how to make ones with a less stupid UI!"
"If that's possible at all I'm aiming for it, for sure."
"Imagine! Asking questions with language! Getting answers in words! Never having to count seven hundred forty five revolutions of a tiny clock hand!"
"At the very least we should figure out a way to get a computer to do this stuff for us, before we get to good enough to make a new one. - the tracking revolutions, that is, not the asking, that seems like it needs a person doing it."
"Oh, maybe, good idea."
"The tedium might not be completely eliminated but at the very least it'll be reduced to holding the alethiometer so a computer can count and then everything should get nicely tracked down there so we just have to consult a dictionary."
"I mean, the dictionaries are probably not perfectly accurate or complete."
"If we start having to go down extremely deep meanings that's likely, yeah. I know I complained about this before but I sure do wish we had one of those mythical intuitive readers around."
"I'm not sure I'd even trust the shallow meanings - they're easier to get right but like who's going to check? How were any of the meanings derived to begin with? Who's going to sue you if you publish a completely bullshit dictionary but it has a really pretty cover so it'll look nice on people's shelves?"
"- yeah valid. Probably the best way for us to check would be... hmm... whenever we see some symbol and number we don't yet know in an answer we don't yet have, try to come up with one or some questions that would use that meaning and see if it matches?"
"Walk me through an example of what you have in mind?"
"We ask some question like, I don't know, who would we need to contact to start working on new truth-seeking devices? Then it shows us, hmm, alpha-and-omega sixty-four. We've never seen omega sixty-four before, but the dictionary says it's, ah, the end of a fragile but stubborn existence, like that of a small flower growing in the cracks of a sun-baked street. Or something, I don't know, I just made that up. So we can try to ask questions we'd expect to have that as part of its answer, like something literally talking about a small flower et cetera, and see whether they do actually contain that meaning where and when we'd expect it."
"...I don't think that would fall under alpha-and-omega or as low as sixty-four but okay."
Shrug. "Yeah I don't really have a feeling for either of those and you were just looking at a dictionary in more depth than I was so you're probably right but I think you get what I mean?"
"Yes, I think so."
"If you have a better idea I'm all ears but given their limited quantity and the sheer insanity of the interface..."
"For nouns you could get, like, pictures of stuff and ask 'what am I looking at'."
"Yeah, for nouns that is fairly easy, I'm just worried about the more esoteric meanings that will doubtlessly crop up eventually."
"Yeah. But we could maybe bootstrap."
"Well, we'll have to at least a little bit to build any knowledge."
Their food appears.
She's a pretty quick eater.
And her convenient tattoo means they don't even have to pay.
"I want to go be a nerd some more right now but I should actually get some US dollars, I shouldn't rely on our less-than-twenty-four-hour-long acquaintance chemistry as my sole means of acquiring food."
"Wise of you. You remember where the bank's at?"