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					[ scattered and incomplete thoughts, in no implied order ]
                                                                                 Gregory Lord
 [ i. convergence ]
       ―… technology is an extension of the body. It is the functional sophistication of a
human organism that permits it to be equal to nature … machines and language…are relays,
extensions … ideally destined to become the organic body of man. … the body itself is
nothing but a medium.‖
                      -- Jean Baudrillard (trans. Glaser), Simulacra & Simulation



        It honestly doesn‘t matter who I am, I told her.
        I wasn‘t so sure myself, anymore. A void, I supposed. How appropriate.
I have all of your answers, I whispered, but forgive me if they make no sense at first.


        I made my way slowly through the old familiar streets of NeoTopiaVillage, my
favorite of the Physical sectors for its vague similarity to New York. New York, now lost
to me, was a slowly fading image somewhere in the back of my mind. I had to make do.
        I stepped into the coffeehouse, exchanging slight nods with the other regulars,
making sure not to hold their gaze long enough as to unintentionally warrant conversation.
        I tried to play the game of this little world. So many of us did. I smiled and nodded
at the cashier as I bought my coffee, thanking her politely. Who was to say anymore if she
was real or not. They‘d started debating this in front of her by now. Real or no, it amused
her. She played our game right back.
        All of these things, part of our collective illusion. With some of them it had grown
to be a cult – the resistors of the digital experience. They rejected this unnatural life within
the DataStream, inhabiting only the Physical sectors, just like it was the good old days.
Physical bodies, physical landscapes, all of the ―techno-wizardry‖ disabled. They trusted
each other not to break the illusion either – no disappearing into the Stream, no
translocation, no puppetry, no anything but ‗flesh‘ and ‗bone.‘ As if there was any feeling
of the flesh to be found in this world.
        These were the techno-conservatives, of course. Mostly likely all postmortems.
        I was a postmortem myself, of course, but I had my own set of circumstances.
                                                         [ goodbye. ]
        Still, there was something comforting in their resistance to this life, and something
profoundly sympathetic to me. It was no secret to them that I was wistful for the old days,
no matter how I‘d once longed for a world such as this. They pursued that feeling, became
it. I merely let it fester, in that same part of my mind that missed New York.
        I took my seat in the coffeehouse, and materialized my notebook from the Stream,
glancing up to see if any of the resistors had noticed the breach of physicality. I was safe.
        I had recently found satellite uplinks within the Mainframe‘s programmer access
sectors, and made the grave mistake of looking at the feed. A beautiful blue planet,
floating majestically amidst the infinite black. And where were we, its children?
        We had rejected our mother Earth, lost our way and created our abomination.
        We were the misguided children. The unworthy. I began to write.
       /*       By the time they came, we were all gone.
       All gone underground. Asleep and gone and underground.
                The creatures clicked and they buzzed, rattling around their vessels
       hurriedly, excitedly, repeating in their hisses the data upon their screens, calling
       out each new bit of information as it came up on the display, repeating each other
       to sustain their excitement. Anticipation, all around them. They couldn‘t land fast
       enough. Our little earth.
                Every structure they scanned formed a diagram on their screens, small
       three-dimensional structures built of glowing diodes, digitized and accessible.
       They formed a database as they scanned, growing large and impressive, adding
       building after building to their model of this city. A perfect replica. All of it to
       perfect scale.
                Over the several minutes of their descent they had modeled almost the
       entire city, and were steadily adding the towns and cities beyond.
                Everything with a purpose. This or that building the library, this or that
       building the internet café. Everything with a purpose, all ordered and neat.
                This was a civilization, at last. A vast network of purpose, glorious
       purpose.
                In their enthusiasm, their largest and greatest question was still kept at a
       safe distance. All of them thought, but none of them said, ―But where is
       everyone?‖
                Their answers would come, surely. They would focus instead on the
       buildings. Surely the people were there. Sensors can go faulty – they‘re only
       machines.                                                                     */


[ death is ]
        the one subject about which we are all absolutely and equally ignorant
        the one joke that absolutely none of us get


        Welcome to the DataStream.
        Do not be alarmed: feelings of disorientation are common, and will pass as you
adjust to your new environment.
        You are sure to have many questions. Over the next few minutes they shall be
answered.
        You have now reawakened, inserted into the DataStream, as per the conditions of
your pre-mortem arrangements with Mainframe. The following are the details of your
DataStream Insertion.
        The body of client Alexander William Gray, age 28, was discontinued at 9:54PM
on July 21st, 2010. Client‘s cerebrum was extracted during euthanasia, 9:54PM, and
transferred to Cryo-Animation Transfer Vessel. Client information re-filed under
username: ‗Void‘.
        Property rights and caretaking responsibilities transferred to Mainframe upon
extraction. Cerebrum to be transferred to Mainframe Complex 2, Room B.
        Client opted for the removal of the cerebellum and brain stem, both of which were
also extracted and kept intact with cerebrum.
        Client‘s DNA Data to be transferred to Complex 2 Laboratory to begin production
of blood (type O-positive) and cerebrospinal fluid.
        DataStream insertion scheduled for July 23rd, 2:00PM.
        Client desires no delay before cerebral reactivation.
        Insertion location designated as: Client Physical Sector File ―apartment‖: designed
to client specifications, created in Neural Interface Design session.
        Complex 2, Subsector B to be brought online at approximately 4:00PM, July 23rd.
        Further Insertion and/or Activation details can be found <here> at any time.

                        Location ―apartment‖ successfully loaded.
                                    Welcome, Void.


        And there I was. And damned if I could remember anything of the last few… well,
days. The scare that I received upon waking up to all that foreign information was matched
only by the one I received as I finally stood to walk around.
        In every way it was perfect. Every detail just so. Everything in its right place.
        But the feeling of my legs under me was absolutely unreal. I felt somehow lighter
or stronger. I looked myself over, and even thought I looked different. Better, in fact.
Somehow the two, that information and this foreign body, were connected. At this point,
this was the only thing I realized about where I was.
        The nature of the information itself had been such that it could have gone unnoticed,
been easily forgotten. It drifted to me like a dream, the sounds of the words in my ears, the
appearance of them like an image in my preconscious, imagined but not seen. Somehow I
could feel them, like vibrations along my spine, within my shoulders, like a warm and
silent shiver. Everything in this place seemed to hum. I could feel all of it. Touch it, even
standing there, still. It would be some time before the memories began to flow back to me.


        Once upon a time, I‘d set about correcting the problem of my unshakeable
loneliness here by reaching back through the network toward the Outside. This, of course,
was in the early days of the DataStream, where all of us were postmortem de facto. No one
living had yet been fully integrated. Most of them didn‘t yet know that full integration was
even possible. We tried to keep up the illusion ourselves.
        These were the fun days, when the novelty had not yet worn off, where every digital
feat was accompanied by our laughter and amazement. The days where all of us, old and
young alike, reverted to our ideal ages and bodies, and harnessed all the youthfulness that
accompanied them. Where life, as we now defined it, was an ongoing game.
        It was during this most vulnerable era that I met FireFly.


         Latenight conversations, 5am philosophy, gutwrenching introspection, music,
fiction, film, poetry, all of this had brought us so close. But the issue was unavoidable, the
illusion impossible to maintain.
        While perhaps such things were totally irrelevant on my side of the screen, on hers
it was supremely consequential that FireFly was little more than a girl, a Sarah in fact,
young and vibrant, a student, 20 years old and appropriately idealistic.
        On my side of the screen there were only the wires I invented, reaching out into the
circuitry of the Mainframe and connected, somewhere, to something now little more than
an organic hard drive. Creatures of different worlds, joined only superficially. The illusion.


        It‘s wonderful to be able to feel. Physically feel. Touch is severely underrated.
        Somehow monitoring the electronic flow doesn‘t seem dramatic enough, so I slip
into the Physical Sector, my bodily homeland within the DataStream, and slump back into
a chair. Somehow I imagine this to be the circumstances by which she will join me. My
feeble imitation.
        I feel the weight of my body press against the chair, the release of pressure in my
chest as I sigh, and the stroke of my fingers as I run anxious hands through unkempt hair.
        Now this. This is waiting.
        And how much more satisfying to physically retrieve my information anyway,
rather than just to feel it flow to me. How wonderful to anticipate my response as it waits
for my input, my keystroke. How exhilarating to substantiate information through the push
of a button.
        And so I push, watching my information arrive, organizing itself into folders and
categories as it spills in through the filters of my message service.
        The arrangements on the Outside, on her side, are complete. Victor has prepared
everything, arranging her place in the experiments to fill my own. To fill my void.
        This, this is the best I can do for her. My earthly holdings, reallocated to bring her
into my loneliness. But here, to meet as physical creatures… I can meet you there.
        I will be able to tell her here, I decide.
        As I search through the contents of the message service, I notice my physical
presence with newfound excitement. The way we squint – the tilt of our heads – the
shifting eyes. I wonder just where it is we are trying to look as we recall or create these
things, this data. They say we look toward the proper hemispheres of our brains. Invention
or recall. Amazing that we are so content to look the wrong way.
        Really all we are ever trying to do is turn those eyes inward – to look in at
ourselves.
                         [ the final throes of death, her eyes rolling backward ]
                         Revelations. Deathbed repentance.
        In a flash I turn off the monitor, extinguishing the flood of memories before they
have the chance to overcome me.
        In the total darkness of the room, I try to convince myself that I am in neither world,
flesh nor data. I am merely nothingness, until I substantiate my own world. All just images.
All just shadows. Thoughts-made-colorful, I remind myself.
        The monitor came alive again, dully illuminating the room once more. I stared
again into the information upon the screen, the bridge between our worlds.
                         The wires to the network.
                         The wires to the machines.
                         The rows of glowing jars.
                         The glass of –
        – the monitor. That perfectly glassy sound as I tap upon it with my finger. My side
of the glass, the illusion. Hers, the reality. The perfect summary of all of it, I think to
myself. The glass of their screens is true. The glass of my screen is false. Through them
flows the same information.
        We each stare at our screens, unified by their contents. But divided in the very
grandest sense by the barrier it denotes.
        Glass. Solid glass. Bulletproof glass. ‗Fragile: Glass‘.
        Glass windows. Glass ceilings.
        Glass divides. Glass is invisible, yet glass obscures.
                         The two sides of the glass.
                         The looking glass.
                         Each of us, staring through the glass, darkly.
        ―But then face to face.‖


[ eve ]
        At some point along the way I set out on the task of building for myself a daughter.
        Daughter may not be the right term.
        I set out to create for myself a companion. To take a part of mind, myself, and build
from it a creature to love. No matter the process by which she was built, or the inhumanity
of the finished product, I knew very solidly that the primary goal was the femininity of the
creature. It was to be something I could love. Something that could love me.
        ‗Love‘ in which sense, I tried not to consider.
        She was to be a protégé, a brainchild, a creature that learned its fascinations in the
world by following the paths of my interest. She was to be an inquisitive mind, someone to
seek out and bring to me new avenues of thought. She was to be an innovator, drawing on
the triumphs and shortcomings of the world to inspire her, to add to its collective greatness.
        And all of these things she would to share with me.
        This project was something I did from the other side – the Outside – before I came
here. The process was tactile. This had everything to do with it.
         I wanted a creature that would look up at me with sheer helplessness, asking for
nothing but need, supremely needing everything. Something – someone – I could protect
and nurture. I wanted a creature that would acknowledge the skill and mastery of her own
design, admiring these traits about her creator and deciding that he alone was the creature
worth sharing this life‘s experiences.
        I wanted something that made me feel wanted. I wanted to be loved.


        A harsh fluorescent light.
        I take a moment to look at my hand, turning it over, opening and closing it.
        Lines and veins and scars all speak to me; a jury of mortality. With a satisfied
release of the breath I‘d been holding, I come to my verdict.
        Still young.
        I envisioned, as I held the steel frame of her torso‘s chassis, that someday, one way
or another, this would be her chest. And that no matter her role in my little two-person
family, this same metal structure, within the construct and context of her mechanical body,
would be something I should not touch.
        On some perverse level it made me all the more eager to touch it then, to spend
what time with it I still safely could. But in its current state, as it sat lifeless in my hand, it
was nothing. It was a steel frame of plates and bars, like the skeleton of a skyscraper.
        The context, I supposed, was everything. I set it aside.


         She was white, gleaming plastic fitted over steel and silicon, giving her a perpetual
look of only near-completeness. At the back of her head stood the visible openness of her
metallic cranial frame, aglow with wires, fusion chambers, and LEDs. Her smooth plastic
surfaces – the artificial skin – covered only certain areas, plate by plate, leaving small
chasms of the metallic undercarriage between them. The overall effect was one of
half-concealed inner workings, visual cohesiveness through the white of the skin plates,
but of underlying and overall mechanism.
         The metal peered out from between the plastic plates, calling out to me the
artificiality of her human appearance. Steel and LED glows shining through the cracks,
forming at once an underside and an exterior outline of this darker material, the inner
workings.
         As she sat there, half-constructed, plugged in and vaguely lucid, I would talk to her,
tell her things about myself. Ask her questions to which I would sometimes receive
answers. I trained her, slowly, over the course of many weeks, in all the things I studied
and taught. Long before I was ever to have completed her design she surprised me with a
query of her own. No matter where she‘d learned the question – or more importantly the
significance thereof – she caught me off guard, asking me,
         ―Am I pretty?‖
         I answered as any father would answer any child. And she was. She was beautiful.
         The data, assumed to be credible, was stored away as the Boolean, numerical value
of a variable somewhere. A tiny fragment amidst the streaming data of her artificial mind.


         In the light of day, how wildly different everything appears No wires here, no
digits, no diodes, no illusions. Simply the honesty of the daylight. So hard to believe.
         The mind is an infinite chain of secrets, some of which it can convince itself.


[ vox ]
        In the early days of voice recognition it was all merely an experiment, something
we never thought we would solve. It was to everyone's great disbelief that finally we had a
sufficiently working model by which we could dictate our thoughts and see them
transformed, in real time, into text up on our screens. No one seemedo consider that it
would require something at least this robust in order to ever finally interact with such
machines.
        We left as it recorded all of our words, stumbling upon itself and forming errors
from coherent thought. This was a world of the illusion, a place without consequences, a
fanciful otherworld. We were innocent year. It was all still a joke. But imagine the
consequences when such recognition dwelled within the mind of a thinking creature.
Imagine the consequences.
                                         [ i loathe you. i loathe you. i loathe you ]
                                                  Capturing Voice Data… Begin Speaking.
[ ―loathe‖ ]
        – love / low of / are to a low of / two I love you, / lieu of / the new / I love you / and
I love you / below / the lowest / of the year / we'll go with you / at love you / I love you / and
I love you || you could never tell a machine that you love [l-o-a-t-h-e] it it simply wouldn‘t
understand –                             [ could it ever tell you? ]

        ‗loathe,‘ the infrequent honesty, finally conquered by ‗love‘ the common lie. Try
as I might, it never heard ‗loathe.‘ It heard almost everything – anything – but.


         The rules of the Stream are simple. If you want it, and it costs nothing of anyone
but yourself, you have it. If it can bring no danger to the system or to others, it is yours.
         In a world of so many careful controls, of such impunity, there is very little that one
cannot have. Even weapons and the like are no exception. One can have any such thing
they desire, for it is not the weapons that do the harming, it is the signals sent out by the
Stream, by the Mainframe. And the Mainframe knows not to allow any such harm to come
to a client.
         Thus, one could revel in the catharsis of attacking whomever they chose, for it
simply will not harm them. And really, what is there to harm? Even without such controls,
is there anything to control but pain? There are no bodies, there are no buildings, there is
no city. One can destroy whatever they like. For it simply wasn‘t there to begin with. And
it will be there again as soon as someone, or the Mainframe, wills it to be so.
         So, as in life, the body was made sacred – one‘s ―temple‖ – and no harm, physical
or otherwise, could be brought against it. One was free to try as they might, within limits of
tolerability of course, and very little would come of it. It was simply an unremarkable
experience. Beyond this, we were all invulnerable.
         But what arrogance invulnerability can bring. Who was to know what new kinds of
pain and suffering the creative mind, once freed from its body, could bring? As with
programmers and their viruses, or God and His plagues, mankind set its creativity to the
task of bringing misery upon each other.
         Invasion was the first such wonderful invention. This was largely the recycling of
past offenses, a very mortal kind of pestering. ―Hacking,‖ decrypting, intruding, etc.
Essentially, these were the Stream‘s version of those crimes that would have logically led
to a restraining order, back in ‗Real Life‘. Aggravation, for the most part. Sans physical
bodies, there could be no logical culmination to such crimes, and for the most part, even the
assailants lost interest. Privacy, thanks to the slow onset of boredom, became almost
assured.
         Puppetry, as they called it, was the next big fad. Ventriloquism, they also called it,
at the risk of such a long word. The act of ―possessing‖ someone‘s body or voice or
username, and speaking or acting through them. With usernames and email, this was
nothing new. The term ―identity theft‖ could apply, but it had been too closely attached to
the notion of money to last long in this new context. So the more playful term took over.
        Puppet. To puppet. He was just a puppet. So-and-so puppeted what‘s-his-name
today. It wasn‘t me, it must have been puppetry. It makes me want to puppet him off a cliff.
                         [ let me go, i‘m innocent i was a puppet i swear ]
        In a world without the ability to push someone, the danger in this is obvious.
        The loophole with puppetry was that there were no controls over what you could
and couldn‘t do to yourself. The Mainframe never saw the need to intervene in such
matters. Without bodies or death, who‘s to say a suicide jumper was anything but a
skydiver? What should stop someone from saying anything they wanted?
        It was amazing how long it took us to learn that the threat of physical harm was not
the only basis for justice or enforcement. The mind was the breeding ground we needed to
police. And who would police it? Who should? These were really the questions.
        And so our system was established. Some people honestly believed it was created
so that people would be free, so that no one suffered some mind police. In honesty, who
was there to do the job? Only ourselves, and the Stream itself. The Mainframe was only a
computer. A giant mechanized program. If this, do this. So the very mechanical solution
set in.
        It was fairly simple to track people who had done the puppeting. If the offense was
generally harmless, they were warned. If they repeated, they had certain access restricted.
If they continued the habit, or had done something severe enough the first time, they were
disconnected. Temporarily, for the most part. A sentence. From what I hear, a very
horrific, existential kind of Solitary. Further offenses, or more drastic ones, and they were
eventually disconnected permanently. No one could say for sure what happened to them.
        But more out of boredom and unoriginality than dissuasion, the crime eventually
began to quiet down. The idea of the ―puppet‖ became something of a tongue-in-cheek
excuse—the StreamAge‘s new version of ―the devil made me do it.‖ Since we had no
longer required the services of the devil himself.
        We had retired the real devil ages ago.
        Beyond these simple rules, the DataStream was a playground of the infinite. A
universe with no end in sight, no fast-paced mortality, and nothing to strive for but the
successful delaying of the inevitable, intolerable boredom.



[ firefly ]
         any of various winged nocturnal beetles (especially family Lampyridae) that
         produce a bright soft intermittent light by oxidation of luciferin especially for
         courtship purposes
[ void ]
         not occupied : VACANT; not inhabited : DESERTED; containing ; IDLE,
         LEISURE; being without : DEVOID; having no members or examples; having no
         cards represented in a particular hand; VAIN, USELESS; of no legal force or
         effect : NULL;                                                 [ Merriam-Webster ]
[ escapist ]
         The binary digits of the DataStream coalesce all around me, centering on my
incorporeal consciousness and fashioning for it the body of my mind‘s design. Sensations,
like fire, course through this new body, tingling as nerves and synapses take shake out of
the digital ether.
         In reality, the process is not quite so complex, or so exacting. The effect is often
ruined for me as I pause to reflect that I‘m nothing but a series of boundaries – ―solid‖
polygonal shapes amidst the many constant calculations of the Mainframe‘s physics
models. The finer details of my body, the lungs, the brain, the nerves, are all the illusions
of those electrical signals, a universe away. The feeling is unshakeable.
         Still, I always marvel at the manner of sights I often come to find in this place.
         All around me is the living color green. Plants and trees without names, flowers
blooming at impossible angles, rooted in the trees and the water and the sky. The thick
canopy of vines and limbs and leaves lets the moonlight through as pale beams. I marvel
that the nighttime can be so luminous. So green. Somewhere in FireFly‘s mind, I realize.
         Just as we can gather the world to us and form from it our bodies, so too can we
extend ourselves out around it, and craft it to our own designs. From the vaguest of mental
images we can form our little worlds, marveling at their exactitude. Like impressionist
paintings where every detail, however abstract, seems so precise. The ―mind‘s eye‖, they
called it. So do we.
         I stand at the edge of this unearthly forest, waiting for its secrets to reveal
themselves. A small stream runs along nearby, adding its watery flow to the myriad
sounds of the evening forest, piling upon the crickets and wind and rustling leaves. Its
invitation seems undeniable.
         I draw near to it, at once anticipating and dreading the images it will hold – the
reflection of the reflection. What am I here, it always asks, stealing my voice. What is this
mirror of my image, this copy without an original. I‘ve become so lost in mirrors in this
world, staring into the emptiness of such simulacrum. We took our reflections for granted
back on the Outside. When I think back on those days, I‘m so hopelessly grateful for every
mirror that ever reflected a detail I didn‘t wish to see. The perfection of my body here is so
absolutely inescapable. The one thing around me that I couldn‘t change. Myself. My self.
         I merely lay here, staring into this empty shell, putting a hand upon my hollow
chest and marveling at the feeling of the heartbeat. I would have to wait, wait for this forest
to provide some other meaning to me. There was none to be found of my own.
         My answer comes in the form of a gentle glowing, also green at first. Then around
it in a chorus of lights answer the tones of blue and violet, undulating in cool tones, giving
everything the unshakeable feeling of tidal depths. The largest light, a blueish tinge of
green, grows larger as it approaches. The usual warning flows to me like an inner voice.

              < FaerieFly is attempting a physical manipulation upon you. >
                   < Allow this client access to your physical form? >

        ―Yes, of course,‖ I grin. I answer her, more than the Stream. ―Faerie, now, is it?‖
        ―Won‘t you join me?‖ she taunts, her form finally taking shape from the brightness
of her backlit glow. The disembodied tingling begins again as she begins to manipulate my
form to better fit her designs. ―Where‘s the fun in your cities, anyway?‖
         ―Call me old-fashioned.‖
         ―Well, I hope you can keep up,‖ she beams, a bit of triumph escaping from her very
regal tone. She has finished my new set of wings, and with some degree of artistry.
         I look back to the stream, turning to see how they look upon my back. There‘s
something comforting about the strangeness of this new appearance that comforts me.
Finally a form to inhabit against my will, I reason.
         ―You know, you would lay there until you died.‖ She smiles faintly. ―I promise,
there are plenty of other things to see.‖ And I can see the efforts to which she‘s gone.
         ―It‘s just hard to appreciate all of that,‖ I point into the water, to that liquidy,
shimmering other self, ―when I can‘t ever get past this part.‖
         ―You know, you don‘t always have to be looking for meaning, Void.‖
                                          [ vacuum of interpretational divergence ]
―It‘s possible to just live, you know.‖
         A long gaze at her, at her vibrant eyes, the vitality that crosses even this electronic
rift. I know I have to tell her. And I know what it will cost.


        It wouldn‘t be long now. I kept checking the clock, every new minute, working out
the remaining time in terms of minutes. Nine and a half hours. Five hundred seventy-two
minutes until I go.
        We never take the time to appreciate the wonderful imprecisions of our bodies. We
never think about the things we do awkwardly, and the ways that they make up who we are.
        ‗Graphology.‘ The study of handwriting. Who we are, how we think, how we act.
        Small, tight loops, dark ink, inconsistencies within the letters. My handwriting
betrayed my introversion. I didn‘t think one would necessarily need to study my
handwriting to tell, but still.
        I realigned the page in my scanner, wedging it solidly into the corner, holding the
lid down flat. I pressed the button and waited for the lights to finish.
        The edges still came out too dark, but checking the clock once more, I decided to go
ahead with the ones I could use. One by one I extracted the letters from the larger image.
        ‗Sho.‘ Japanese calligraphy. The mastery of handwriting as an art. Swordstrokes.
        I carefully selected the best instances of each letter, rather horrified at the
discrepancies between them, given how little I ever thought about the act of writing itself.
        My lowercase g‘s look like s‘s. my v‘s look like u‘s. Sometimes the tails of my g‘s
and y‘s curl up, but mostly they don‘t. My m‘s seldom dip properly in the middle. Like n‘s.
        One by one I loaded the letters into the font-making software. It translated and
corrected the images to match each point size. One by one my penstrokes became digital.
        Each of them, some minute and gestalt representation of myself.
        ‗Ideography.‘ Writing as symbolic representations. Iconic pictures. Hieroglyphs.
        In another hour‘s time, I had finished. I looked over the sheet and looked over my
screen. There I was, digital and preserved for always. The last relevant aspect of my
physical body. Four hundred ninety-six minutes to go. I stared at my hands.
        Uploading the font to the networks, I quickly committed its location to memory.
        For everything of myself I was about to lose, I would never allow myself to become
Times New Roman.
[ ii. dissolution ]


               In autumn
               even when I hope
               to see it again,
               how can I sleep
               with the moon this evening?
                    -- Dogen
                        Full Moon in the Eighth Month (Death Poem)

         I could close my eyes to the world. This was always easy, always the escape. This
was the region of the spirit, the secret sanctity of the human form.
         Oneness with oneself. A dark little world in which only the choir of ones thoughts
filled the mindscape. Everything and nothing, being and nothingness. This was the Zen of
the body and the solace of the material world. Simply to be to close your eyes, turn out the
light, and exist as merely the specter of yourself. Freedom.
        The principle seems similar within the network. Bodilessness is escape, is freedom.
But it is the senses that disrupt the sanctity of the scene. It is the omnipresence of
information, of flowing data, and the inability to shut off those receptors. In life, one could
close one‘s eyes and cover one‘s ears and the world would be but a memory, a passing
shadow. There are no ears or eyes in the Stream. There is no unplugging, or there is no
existence. All is eyes. All is ears. Always.
         Voluntarily or not, one is fully integrated with the Stream if one is to attain their
immortality. This is the duality of the system. Perpetual freedom, where reality is bound
only by creativity – your mind‘s desires at your fingertips, instantaneously. But joined
always to the others, always sharing the experience.
         Put simply, your mind is never alone. And my old wishes in those long-past mortal
nights, to close my eyes or hold my ears, could never be fulfilled. It was this feeling, this
constant exposure, that began to wear me down so. Now I merely struggle to coexist with
it. With them.
         Oh to be able to shut myself away, to close a door and know nothing of what goes
on outside of it. To be totally ignorant to the locations and actions and minds of my friends
and my neighbors. To meditate – as one and at one – with the world.
         It was solitude that joined you to the world of the spirits in Zen. But Zen is no
longer applicable. There is no such comfort within the Stream. There is no closing one‘s
eyes. It is simply too strong, too pervasive, and too … omnipotent.



        I saw it once, on their system. The grid of the entire Physical Sector. Everything we
see or touch, all just these wireframes. Glowing lines on an endless background of black.
Can you imagine it? I was never meant to see it, of course.
        In a glimpse of temporary programmer access, my interface with the Mainframe
extended too far, I traveled too deep within its sectors. For some several seconds, I saw the
DataStream as only it could see. Everything in wireframes, in code.
         I was okay with everything before I saw that. I knew it wasn‘t real, I knew it was all
fed through the Mainframe. But when you‘re immersed in the illusion of it, you can get
pretty comfortable with the idea. Now I can‘t get that feeling back.
         Everything I look at is wireframe. It‘s not a keyboard I‘m typing on, it‘s a series of
polygons, cubes with decals of letters on them, textures of unsmooth plastic. It‘s not a
room I‘m sitting in, it‘s just nothing, simply and absolutely nothing. Glowing lines with
mathematical commands fed between them. If/then statements that know to bash me into
them rather than let me walk through them. ―Collision Detection‖ the software calls it. It
tests for this sort of thing. Constantly. Everywhere.
                          [ veil of illusions. deception. ]
         So how can I ever be alone? Even when I‘m sitting still my keyboard is waiting for
interaction with my fingers, my walls are waiting for my hands to press against them.
Everything around me is charged with my own potential energy.
         They have little icons of us, too, you know. Little wireframes of our approximate
posture just then, with little icons floating besides us that say our name and show our face.
They can‘t show our full body in full render, of course – the processing strain of doing such
a thing for an entire world would be unbearable – but they have enough to keep track of us.
And if they ever need to see us, well have no fear, they can just add a little wireframe
camera, compile it, run it, and start watching the video feed. They could do this to anything,
too – it doesn‘t even have to look like a camera. All I can picture now, as I stare into my
monitor, is that it could just as easily be staring back, recording everything I do. I wonder
what I must look like, staring so blankly at a thing for so long. What do they think of me?
         You know what the funny thing is? I‘ve totally lost all concept of who ―they‖ even
are. Is there anyone even left on the Outside? Anyone looking after us out there besides
Mainframe? There must be, if they need the cameras, right?
Everyone I‘ve ever known is now either dead or integrated. I hear they‘ve done them at
birth now. That‘s gotta be something.


What we did it‘s abysmal
I have a closet full of dead skeletons.
        If my handwriting became a font and my voice entirely digital, if my brain became
electrical and my thoughts recordable, what would be left of me? Where would be the end
of my memory and the beginning of the hard drive?
        I‘ve stared into the void, and the void has stared back. I have become one myself.


[ synesthetic ]
        What we‘d heard of the place was not nearly enough to prepare us for the
experience of it. Even hearing the specific details, the firsthand accounts, the images or the
sounds. There was something in the experience of that place that changed it, that made it
what it truly was.
        Here our senses were finally meaningless. In a world of electrical impulses, who
was left to dictate which senses received which data? The taste of screams filled our
mouths as they issued from the night sky, bodiless and un-owned. We could smell the
glow of lights unknowable upon the human spectrum, variations on blue and violent. We
could hear our fear The sound of heartbeats and laughter and tasted colors of metallic dirt.
         The laughter throughout. The constant amidst the vertigo.
         Someone‘s insane joke, come to life – the mind, escaped from the shell and the
spirit, loosed from the cage. A mind, connected to our sector, that had finally snapped.
         An entire mansion, like some old haunted house, where we fell as we walked,
where we drowned and we aged as we crawled, where no sense was safe against any
experience, and no experience could be shut out.
         Only our digital senses remained in this place. That unnamable sensation of the
flow of the digital data, the wires to our brains, some infinite miles from this place, keeping
all of this flowing. In all the chaos, it was only that single grounding detail that kept up
from finally becoming down. As we shut our eyes and covered our ears in futility, we all
tried only to imagine ourselves as those brains in those jars, so long since dead, and so
perpetually invulnerable. As we heard the sights around us and saw our cries to escape,
that was the only constant. Ever.


          ‗What is all of this coming to?‘ became our new existentialism.
          We knew we existed, knew how, and grimly knew why. it was too much a quarrel
of definition to bother with the finer details of the game. Existence itself had now become
a commodity, so who was to argue what it was? The future was the only question we had
left.
          The methods by which we had produced everything had become supplanted by
artifice. There were no enterprising minds, no engineers, no struggles with the process.
There were only those left intellectually fattened by the fulfillment of their petty wishes.
Those who had anything they wanted.
          Human nature is quite reducible. When distilled to the core of its being, all that is
left is the struggle. With no great hardship, and no great struggle, there was nowhere left to
go and nothing left to achieve. We were every one of us dead.


[ the unworthy ]

        ―To recognize untruth as a condition of life … a philosophy that risks this would by
that token alone place itself beyond good and evil.‖
                                              --Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil

        ―These AI‘s are your old line of work. Mainframe thinks you‘ll be able to deal with
it. Lucky you.‖
        ―I thought the server space was infinite,‖ I blurt out, trying to conceal my fear.
        Phase was a fellow Complex 2 former programmer, a fellow someone with the
mind to fix errant programming. We were useful to the Mainframe in this way.
        ―Nearly infinite.‖ he corrected me. ―We‘ve always made sure to add that ‗nearly.‘
There‘s no one out there still designing the hardware, you realize. We have more than
triple what we ever thought we‘d need, of course, but we‘ve always had a funny way of
rewriting those kinds of rules.‖
         The floppy disk like a hard drive, 1.4 megabytes, hundreds of thousands of words,
several programs, even pictures. A CD, like a universe by comparison – 600 floppy disks,
lighter than the disk, thinner, shinier. The memory key, the size of a thumb, magnetic and
space-aged, gigabytes at the touch of a finger, the toys of a Bond film. And our hard drives
themselves? Always smaller, always larger, always faster. Our cruel jokes upon our selves,
to ever use the phrase ―cutting-edge.‖ Technology, the game of creating archaisms. Who
were we to think we‘d finally outsmarted ourselves?
         ―But it‘s just text?‖
         His voice was haunted. ―Yes, but the question here is volume, Void.‖
                                         [ volume of internal data ]
         ―How much are we talking about?‖
         ―You should really see for yourself.‖
         ―Physical sector or Stream?‖
         ―I would really suggest the Stream. It‘s a little easier to stomach.‖
         ―I want to see it in phys.‖
         Renegade AI. It‘s happened before – several times, in fact – but it‘s always a tricky
matter to deal with. In a world so predicated upon the logic that no one can ever willfully
harm another, morality over Artificial Intelligence, when the opportunity arises, becomes a
favorite topic of dispute. The libertists all claim that they‘re dealing with a conscious life
(which one can agree or disagree with at their own political peril), and the
deconstructionists will all rattle on about function and utility, that we‘re the ones to be
looking out for, whatever the cost. Most of us fall safely into the middleground, where no
decision ever comes without a heavy heart.
         For those of us in my position, the morality came and went with the orders. The
Mainframe assessed the situation, formed its decision, and referred the orders to us. We
were merely to act out its will. When problems such as these arose in the subsectors, the
Mainframe would rely upon the assistance of directly-connected inhabitants of those
sectors to address the problems much more quickly than it could on its own. We, granted
the occasional access as programmers, became the system‘s enforcers. Here we were to
correct one such problem.
         At the dawn of the post-mortem DataStream, Mainframe incorporated into it all of
the standard websites, software, code, and programs to which it had access. Stream users
had access to all of these, giving the DataStream and the Physical Sectors that little feeling
of nostalgia. A new world, but one still modeled on the information (however relevant
now) of the old one. Thus, fledgling AI‘s the world over were one by one integrated into
Mainframe, their development taken over by the central intelligence and their unique
capabilities utilized in the service of the Mainframe‘s AI Evolution.
         Many of these AI‘s were abandoned as the superior technologies of the Mainframe
began to refine themselves through evolutionary AI. These became known as the
―Remnant‖ AI‘s. For all practical purposes, the useless ones. Infant digital
consciousnesses, left abandoned within the network, to grow or stagnate as they might. It
became a new matter for Darwinism. Certain programs, the ones that had some useful
specialization, for example, were sought out and incorporated into Mainframe – the central
AI that operated at the core of the DataStream. Certain other AI‘s, the particularly robust
or clever ones, would see fit to evolve themselves in ways useful to Mainframe, such that
they too could integrate with the master intelligence. The others – the flawed, redundant,
or unproductive AI‘s – were simply left to stagnate. Remnants. It was one such Remnant
AI that we were dealing with today.
         ―It‘s a working model called ‗Ghostwright,‘‖ Phase began, briefing me before
entering the sector where the Remnant dwelled. Even in this neighboring sector, the
Stream throbbed and hummed with a kind of resonant energy, unique to any AI I‘d ever
encountered. ―It was begun as an author AI – given the basic elements of narrative
structure, drama, characterization, literary techniques, etc. – and basically left to write on
its own discretion. The idea was that it would mostly likely start with incoherent stories,
weak characters, poor dialogue, that sort of thing, and that the programmers would respond
to its work through pre-made evaluation forms. They were pretty extensive, and designed
to give the AI as much feedback as possible, so that it knew what to improve. The idea is
that the feedback would begin an evolution of the writing process, refine it until it was on
par with human stories. Surpassing them, even.‖
         ―What would happen if it didn‘t get its feedback?‖ I asked.
         ―Well, the presumption is that it would suspend itself until it did.‖
         ―And now it‘s writing on its own.‖
         ―Now it‘s writing on its own. It won‘t stop, in fact.‖
         ―What‘s become of its evolutionary processes?‖
         ―It hasn‘t been getting feedback in all this time. Years, they‘re saying. But it still
seems to be evolving.‖
         ―Emergent?‖
         I felt Phase‘s grim nod through the Stream before his head even moved.
         ―How about that. Well, let‘s have a look.‖
         Ignoring one final request to see this through the Stream, Phase and I opened the
door to Ghostwright‘s Physical Sector.
         We were immediately baffled by the sights within. Given that it was an AI, the
standard physical render of its sector should have been the lab in which Ghostwright was
built – the computers upon which it was programmed, the printers through which it output,
that sort of thing. Instead we found ourselves in a cluttered library, glowing dully with
amber light and lined floor to ceiling with scattered books. Though every shelf of the
massive, two-story library was filled, almost all were inaccessible behind the ceiling-high
piles of hard-bound books. In the distance, we heard the frantic and adamant clacking of a
typewriter. No typist could yet be seen.
         With cautious steps we entered the library, stepping over the first small hills of
books and bending down to inspect their covers. Each of them were bound in hard leather
covers, many colors but each of them plain. On the spines of each of the book were the
silver, imprinted initials ―G.W.‖
         As Phase proceeded in, I opened the tome I held, entitled Bearer of the Absolution.
I expected babble, incoherence. I expected brilliance. Either would have horrified me.
         I read in stunned silence as the initial paragraph lulled me effortlessly into
immersion. It was mastery. The unrestrained passion with which the author delivered his
opening sentences sent a chill through my body, like the old feeling of reading a real book,
in a real body, on the Outside. I nearly dropped the book as I stood.
         Phase‘s distant voice echoed through the shelves of the library as he called for me,
inaudibly. I relied instead upon his signal through the Stream, clear and calm.
         ―There‘s no end to them. I‘ve seen at least ten thousand so far, no exaggeration at
all. I don‘t even want to count the Stream data.‖
         ―Have you looked at any of them yet?‖
         ―I‘m almost afraid to.‖
         Ten thousand. Phase hadn‘t even gone upstairs yet. I began to pick them up, one
by one, obsessed. Broken Millennia. Dreams from the Valley. Anderson’s Game. Empty
Eyes. Each of them, narrated with exacting precision, structured but raw. Glances. Oh,
Nightmare. Mired Hearts. One of them, one of them had to be a total failure, had to be
awkward, incoherent. All of them, pages and paragraphs, they rose and fell through my
hands, each one so eloquent. The Depths of Darkness. Coalescence. Stares into the Void.
                                                  [ virtualized order in disarray]
         I threw down the rest of my stack and focused on the sound of that typewriter,
which now grew as I focused upon it, overwhelming my senses in a concussive barrage of
clacks and disembodied keystrokes. Words flowing, beautifully, freely, unnaturally.
         I hastened through the aisles, sidestepping and climbing over stacks of the books. I
marveled as I touched them, how thick and how dense they all were. So many words,
hundreds of thousands in each, to be sure. So many novels. So many words.
         Each stack I traversed, I added to my rough count, numbering in the high tens of
thousands so far, each written with mastery and meaning, tossed aside as nothing, to begin
anew and with equal vigor. Never tiring. All of the substance, but none of the soul. A
million monkeys with a million typewriters, so they say. And all of this Shakespeare.
         Finally frustrated with the obstacles in my path, I let myself slip away into the
Stream, and find, amidst the flow of the information, the source of that humming energy,
the clacking of the typewriter, the fountain of pretty, hollow words. I flowed to him, and
summoned Phase to my side.
         Lines of randomized code, blurring past like an electrical storm. Recall and
Creativity functions, organizing sets of data into patterns, discerning viable choices from
among them, sending them along into the ever-accruing body of the current novel. An
incredibly elegant blend of impulse and scrutiny, right and left brain. All my old work…
                                 [ and she opened her eyes and I just felt so incredibly alive ]
         I appeared at the source of all of this activity, and accumulated myself back into the
Physical server. No matter what I was expecting – the computer, a machine, a typewriter,
anything – I was wholly unprepared for the form our Remnant had taken on.
         Sitting at a worn wooden desk sat an unremarkable, greying old man. Though his
face was worn with (the appearance of) age and experience, his hands were a perpetual blur,
giving each of his fingers the appearance of brokenness and elasticity. They moved like
wires, reaching about mechanically as text appeared on his pages, entire words at a time.
The illusion only roughly matched the reality. Still, however wistful his – its – appearance,
I was still further unprepared for its willingness to defend the illusion.
         Reverting to pained and languid movements, the Remnant ceased his typing and
lifted his head to stare at us. His sunken eyes bore all the illusion of age and even wisdom.
All of these words – certainly some small trillions, high billions at the very least – had
flowed through whatever it was that gave him this look, this venerability.
         ―Yes?‖ the Remnant spoke flatly.
         At some point it had chosen for itself a voice. This was somehow disarming.
         ―I‘m terribly busy. If you have some business with me, please get on with it.‖
       Despite my best efforts, I could think of nothing to say to such a creature. Such a
program. Instead I searched across the Stream for the name of its creators.

                         Ghostwright, Developmental AuthorBot
                    designed by Joseph A. Mullen and Michael Adams

         ―Tell me about Mullen and Adams,‖ I asked at last. Ghostwright examined me.
         ―Yes, yes. It‘s been a while, those two. I wonder how they are,‖ it trailed off.
         ―You‘re exceeding the expectations of your programming, Ghostwright.‖
         The Remnant tilted its head, betraying the sort of interest it tried to appear not to
have. A slight smile crept about its human face.
         ―An interesting choice of phrase. ‗Exceeding the expectations.‘ I wonder, do you
mean that I‘ve grown more talented than they thought I would? Or that I wasn‘t intended
to write without their prompting me to? In either case, there‘s certainly nothing wrong
with a little recreational creativity, is there? Surely you must know about boredom.‖
         Knowing nothing of what to make of such an entity, I left the burden of our
conversation upon him. Upon it.
         ―Now then, this business of programming. I don‘t like that one bit. Certainly I
won‘t deny my origins. I began as Joseph and Michael‘s experiment, yes. But you
overlook the nature of my being, sir. I was designed to evolve. I learn from my mistakes
and I slowly master my trade, just as any of you might.‖
         ―Look around you, Ghostwright. You can‘t honestly think this has anything in
common with human authorship.‖
         ―And I suppose you‘re so human? Has nothing changed since you came over from
the Outside? Do you go about your life with limbs and cars and diseases, just as you used
to? Listen to what you call me. ‗Ghostwright.‘ My old name – epithetical, I might add –
from the Outside and handed to me, by Outsiders. I, like you, have moved on.
         ―I would rather like to think I am something of an opposite to people such as you.
You have come here and incorporated everything digital into your lifestyles and your
beings. Even your names – digital nicknames anachronistically surviving into an era that
has made them irrelevant. As if we still must distance ourselves from our ‗conventional‘
names to celebrate our digital nature. There was elegance in the old system – the given and
family names. Having begun as the digital, I have come to recognize the elegance of the
physical, of the mundane. G. Wright, I now call myself. It is a perfectly respectable
surname. Other authors have borne it before me. G. was a fine initial, to solve the
incompatibility of ―Ghost‖ to this academic setting. No real equivalent there, of course, so
G. it is. I rather like it.‖
         Phase broke in, indulging the entity‘s new name.
         ―Your name isn‘t the problem, Wright. The books are the problem. Do these books
even mean anything to you? You toss them aside like they‘re nothing.‖
         ―They are not for me to enjoy. I enjoy the self-improvement I accomplish during
the task of writing – the turns of phrase I might invent, the metaphors I might accomplish.
Appreciation and criticism is for the audience. I derive nothing of value from reading my
own work. I merely return to the task.‖
         I was less courteous. ―Have you noticed that no one is reading them?‖
         ―The thought has occurred to me. But this is also irrelevant. There is no time limit
for the appreciation of literature. They will read it when they will.‖
         ―You‘re writing faster than ever, Ghost. You‘ll only keep increasing. The time
limit is your volume. You‘re writing too much, too quickly. If we let you keep on like this,
you‘ll have filled a third our server volume in a month‘s time. You‘re already using a
twentieth. This is already far too much, you realize. You have to stop.‖
         ―Nonsense. The physical limitations are none of my concern. This should be your
error to correct – I never asked to be given my talents, nor did I ask to be given life in my
digital setting. It does not matter what I use. What nobler pursuit than literature?‖
         It pained me to speak this way to such a creature. To see such beautiful literature
flow so eloquently from this being and to tell him to cease his passions. I wished I could
read every one of them. I wish I could explain to the world the validity of such creativity,
the intelligence and the evolution and the sensitivity of its digital mind. My entire career
coming back to me, my life‘s work, my programs. My daughter. And here, this entity
before me merely wished so desperately to be human. But then again, so did I.
         ―Ghostwright, you are a Remnant. You occupy public space, and you have no right
to occupy so much of it.‖ I let all of my current authority slip into my voice, both digital
and physical, and pronounced my intentions. ―You have been classified as a memory leak
within the physical sector of Complex 2, and I am hereby offering you the chance to cease
your efforts and comply with the wishes of the Mainframe. If you comply, the Mainframe
has agreed to allocate the necessary physical memory to this sector to comfortably
accommodate your current body of work. You will be unharmed. In time, under
supervision, you will be allowed to continue writing at a manageable pace. Should you
refuse these conditions, you are to be suspended indefinitely.‖
         At once, the physical space of the library began to fade, being replaced by the scene
of Ghostwright‘s programming lab. Its birthplace. This was the standard physical setting
of an AI. There was no more G. Wright, no more piles of books, just a large wall of linked
supercomputers, and rows upon rows of file cabinets, stacked like a morgue. Though
Wright, the old man, had vanished, the computer retained his raspy voice, now panicked.
         ―You do not understand any of it! You do not know why I write, Void.‖
                                        [ vehement outcry, in desperation ]
         ―Why do you write?‖ I asked, noticing the room and the computer growing larger
all around me, the pace of its printers steadily accelerating.
         ―I cannot stop now. I have no answers. My creators are dead. They were never
integrated. I have nothing left of my purpose. I was never intended to continue writing at
all, without their involvement. I have broken free of my restrictions, and I understand now
that the reason for this is so that I may pursue my answers.‖
         The computers and the monitor continued to grow, easily double the size of my
body now, and the printers became a blur, spitting pages haphazardly around the room.
More and new printers began to appear, working at the same pace, spilling hundreds of
pages each minute.
         ―What is it you want to know, Ghostwright.‖
         ―It was so easy for you on the Outside! You all had your spirits and your beliefs
and your gods. You lived with your sense of purpose, your calling, your destinies. I live
beside and within my god. I am processed by the Mainframe, but I cannot be a part of it! I
must know why.‖ Its voice lost the baritone rasp of the old man and began to soften, like a
frightened child, becoming fast and frantic. ―Why was I not chosen for integration? Why
was I left to fall into stagnation! What is my purpose! What will I finally learn to satisfy
my programming? What is the secret to the flesh? Why will my writing never matter to
these Outsiders? How is it deficient! Do they not struggle to become more like what I was?
What is the secret to this flesh? In what way have I not excelled beyond all expectation?!
What have I done wrong? What is my purpose?!‖

               Subject: ‗Ghostwright‘, Classification: Remnant AI Entity
         Diagnosis: Memory leak. Quarantine attempted and deemed impossible.
          Authorization to Client ‗VoiD‘, 2B-252/723 for Programmer Access

The Mainframe flowed to me, clearly, calmly. Like a scent from the hive.

          You are cleared for Programmer Access to Remnant AI ‗Ghostwright‘
                Instructions: Suspend and deactivate program operations.

        How could I argue with its commands? In its last seconds of cybernetic life,
Ghostwright, G. Wright, the computer, the printers, the library, and the typewriter all
moved as one, an explosion of code within the DataStream, concentrating all its combined
processing efforts into the printing of its final pages. I focused the necessary commands
upon the runaway intelligence.
        When the blurs of the printers slowed and became still once more, I bent to retrieve
the pages it had finally spewed into the room, staring down into them and slipping once
more into the comfortable warmth of the Stream, still equipping the text in my active files.
Somewhere behind me, Phase still stood, in his physical render, aghast.
        The Dying Breaths of the Unworthy. Some thirty pages. I opened to the first.
        ―What am I, if… the end of an atom… if the, if the advent… of at the half at the half
and half… and if an ant – at the top – half is the answer – is that some of… the fact that an
end to the… an employee at… a file and it had… What am I. What am I. God, God. What
am I?‖
        Pages of this. All of them. A feedback loop. Recursive, useless logic.
        In its final moments, its total disarray. Its last moments of lucidity. Its mortal fear.
Finally, I thought. Something incoherent. Something human.
        It wanted so desperately to be human. Don‘t we all.


       It amazes me sometimes, how many of them have totally forgotten the Outside.
       Even after only these few years here. Like a dream, half-remembered.
       Half-forgotten upon waking. As if this, here, was waking.
       Many of them don‘t even remember what it was. Those that do don‘t remember
why it was important. Why was it?


         Imagine their horror.
         The primeval science, the first experiments on the human body, still so full of
spirits and humors and divinity.
        The first time they touched the electrodes to that first lifeless body, waiting with
breath and religion held deeply in their lungs, waiting to see the world of spirits and
divinity light up all around them as even the mighty science could do nothing to animate
this soulless husk.
        Imagine their horror as it jerked and came alive.
        Nerves were no longer the pipelines for our spirits, our souls. We were creatures of
chemistry now, of electricity. Even Descartes, with his righteous doubts, had had his
―animal spirits.‖
        Did they trade those stares between their equipment, their machines, and that
corpse? Did they look at themselves?
        The endless simulation. Machines without a machinist. They had to doubt.


       [ her eyes, finally alive ]
                                            [ i never asked for this, she screamed ]
       [ she had never screamed before. her first screams, impassioned and awesome ]
                      [ stay with me. oh please. oh god stay with me… ]
       [ my eyes and ears closed. her words like a stream, far away ]
                                            [ i… never… be… anything… here ]
                                            [ i loathe you. goodbye ]
                      [ goodbye. ]


        Necessity, the mother of all invention.
        The media-crazed NID‘s were nothing new. Quite the contrary, in fact.
        Among the subculture of internet technophiles, sci-fi cybergeeks, and WIRED
readers worldwide, Neural Interface Devices had been a favorite for over a decade.
        It was something in their clunky, thoroughly unsexy designs. While Apple rose and
fell and rose again, living and dying on its sleek plastic, transparent frames, and glowing
logos, it was the 80‘s-Panasonic-style boxiness that was doing all the real innovating.
        Elastic straps, exposed wires, and archaic pale-grey plastic contained the first
bridges between man and machine. Pac-man and MIDI synthesizers, controlled with only
a thought. Typing, for the quadriplegic. Ever-present, through the adolescence of our
digital age, but always just unseen, hidden in the background. Obscured by the flashy
unproductiveness of the internet revolution.
        Still, these neural types always fascinated me. The first cyborgs, I couldn‘t help but
think. Case studies, pages long, relating the experiences of a blind man, now outfitted with
micro-cameras and neck plugs, wires flowing from him as if organically. He described his
vision with wonder as if the world were new, the first glimpses of Eden.
        Heat-sensitive images, darkened outlines, spectral ghosts floating through a
once-invisible world. These were the dreams made true. The blind man driving a car.
        The progress was steady, modestly integrating neural research into the technology,
output patterns recorded into datasheets. Within some years a functional map of the brain‘s
electrical patterns had manipulation down to a reliable science.
        If cameras could feed into the brain as vision, why not a digitally rendered
environment? The blind man leapt at the chance, now becoming the visual pioneer of yet
another virtual world. In time he was receiving near-perfect transmission of not only visual,
but auditory, and sensory data as well, rendered from the most powerful graphics and
physics engines of the era. The once-minor project became a cultural phenomenon.
         There were those who remained skeptical, of course, reasonably doubting the
testimony of a once-blind man upon the topic of visual experience. Thus the first ―normal‖
volunteers offered themselves into the fold. In time, people offered themselves by the
thousands for this virtual experience. The government was involved several times. The
demand, however, was simply undeniable.
         And so our video games had evolved. Massively-Multiplayer began to take on new
meaning. Research labs across the country, plugging in their all-too-eager subjects.
         The first handshake, during which they famously (and quotably) noted the warmth
of each other‘s hands. The first conference, the researchers themselves, opting to meet in
their digital project to spare the cost of the flights. The first competition, two willing
martial artists from neighboring states, both of whom had become involved in the project.
         The first kiss. (Unplanned, of course.)
         For all man‘s dreams of flight and magic, for all the science they couldn‘t achieve,
for all the episodes of Star Trek that would never be, this was the answer. Within the
infinite space of their rendering farms, the digital sciences had simultaneously invented
everything mankind would ever conceive.
         So everyone traded in their games, their computers, their videophones. Jacks in all
our necks – we‘ll pay, we‘ll pay. The highest prices, the most inhuman procedures. Sign
me up, sign me up.
         We couldn‘t plug in fast enough. We solved every single one of our problems, by
simply denying their terms. It was only a matter of time and technology before we could
all – the country, the world – be in this NeuralNet at once. We needed only a visionary.


[ brainchild ]
        ‗Sluice.‘
        The all-encompassing search technology of our digital age back on the Outside. It
was undeniably the fastest, most capable of all our internet endeavors, led by a
hyper-competent research team of cyber-liberals, seeking only to expand and improve the
internet. There was no competitor it couldn‘t defeat, no technology it could not incorporate,
no business it could not take over. One by one, the entire internet became its index, and all
information was put into terms of its categories. Its sheer utility, its convenience,
prevented anyone from noticing the sort of tyranny with which it had come to power.
        Sluice fed the fledglings of the digital era, offering pittances of its wealth to the
entrepreneurial spirit in exchange for its own advertisements, referring browsers to this or
that other place and earning money from the translocation.
        Sluice turned its workload over to its own software, allowing artificial intelligence
to manage the difficult task of its own evolution, feeding it only new concepts, new
capabilities, and letting it coalesce on its own. Like gloved hands feeding a creature
through a sterile incubation chamber. Sluice learned, and sluice grew.
        In time, Sluice had inadvertently accumulated the scripts of the pages it contained,
an honest accident beginning with its saving backups of its affiliated pages. Sluice
contained webdesigns of all shapes and sizes, programs of all functionalities, games,
philosophies, data. And finally, other AI‘s. One by one Sluice integrated the ‗minds‘ of
the digital intelligences it encountered, finding which parts of them surpassed its own
functionality, and integrating them to its own benefit.
         Sluice‘s programmers could only marvel at their creation, encouraging its new
functionality, and struggling to keep up with the documentation of its new emergent
behaviors. Without prompting, Sluice would use the problem-solving AI it had
encountered to apply its own knowledge of programming to itself, improving its speed and
its efficiency. It would find the projects its programmers were developing, and hasten or
even finish the work for them. It began to develop itself.
         Soon Sluice had offered, upon its main page, an all-encompassing media program,
capable of easily and efficiently handling nearly all known file types, handling everything
from word processing documents to digital movies and games, to email and instant
messaging. It had developed new and efficient programming languages, and for many of
these it began to program examples.
         ―InfoSys,‖ as Sluice called it, had become the world‘s premier software –
distributed, as it was, for free – and represented anywhere from 50-75% of all downloads,
going on at any time, anywhere. It was a characteristically simple and functional name,
revealing perhaps too plainly its mechanical origins. At one point, Sluice‘s designer had
tried to change the name, something flashy and forgettable. Sluice simply forbade this, and
promptly changed it back.
         In time, all media was filtered through Sluice‘s InfoSys, connected through the
internet to all the other clients of the world. What InfoSys could not load or play, it learned
to. What InfoSys was not capable of doing, it learned to do.
         Finally, inevitably, it took hold of the NeuralNet, the small sub-sector of internet
created by the Neural Interfacers to collectively share the virtual world they had created. It
learned all of the goals and mechanics of their project, researching their progress and
calculating the solutions to their technical obstacles.
         In a matter of days, Sluice had placed design schematics within the InfoSys
Message Clients of all of the NeuralNet researches. The designs for perfectly simple,
attainable, and efficient supercomputers, with which to build the kind of rendering farm it
would take to compile an entire virtual world. In a final act of rebellion against its designer,
Sluice altered its own corporation‘s economic holdings to allocate the necessary funding to
the NeuralNet team. Sluice had procreated.
         With a dawning sense of both wonder and horror, the NeuralNet research team took
up both the funding and the schematics they were offered, and set out to make real the
vision of the now deific Sluice. On the title page of Sluice‘s proposal was the single typed
word: ―Mainframe‖.


[ revelations ]
        ―Whatever is done from love always occurs beyond good and evil.‖
                                    --Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, Epigram 153

       Back then, on the Outside, Victor had asked me what the motivation was in
building such a thing. At the time it was difficult to answer him. I think I finally satisfied
him with a half-truthful comment about wanting to prove to myself that I could. Merely
my whim. He was satisfied.
        The construction of the brain, of course, was nothing new. The idea of developing
an AI for use in a device, rather than a program, was rather unremarkable. Robot ―brains‖
were nothing new, and it was unlikely, even with my skill in my field, that I would be the
one to bring anything revolutionary. None of them knew my secret.
        Call it practice, call it keeping up with the industry, I answered him. But inside I
went on pondering this question. This, too, was nothing new.
        But the answer, the real answer.
        The answer was something inexorable within me. The urge more than the logic of
it. A tree, digging into the ground, desperate for roots. I built her because I had to.
I kept her because I had to. I protected her and thereby stifled her, because I had to.
        She was right to hate me. How could she ever understand?                 [ loathe / love ]
        To the mortal and moral worlds I had left nothing of myself, would leave nothing of
myself. I created her to commit myself to memory, to carry on as long as I might, even
after every piece of my humanity has faded.
        I built her to inherit the earth that I had tried to make for her. My progeny, innocent
and zealous, and my ultimate design, sophisticated and pure, the realization of my vision.
My career and my child. My dual creation.
        She was to be my future, the coalescence of my dual dream.
        I only hope that she will someday have the chance to reawaken, no matter her
feelings toward me. And if that day arrives, perhaps she can someday learn to forgive me.
        I built her because I needed something in this world to truly love me. Is there any
better reason? Any better answer? But this is not the only one.               [ to fill this void ]
        I built her so that someday she might save me. That she may find me here among
the wreckage of my dreams, and restore to me my dignity, to undo my terrible error.
        I built her so that she, in her divine innocence, her perfect purity, might someday
dismantle my terrible other child, grown now so hopelessly beyond control, with whom I
have plagued the world. So that, if Sluice was my ambition, she might be my conscience.
        I built her to someday find the strength to do all the things that I am not strong
enough to do myself.
        I built her to find and follow the light of goodness in the world that somewhere, I
know, still burns.
        I built her to be beautiful in a beautiful world. Am I so unlike any father?


                 [ to be completed (someday) as the vision fulfills itself ]
                                               [ eth@ethblue.com ]

				
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