(A .pdf of this story can be downloaded here.)
The first thing I remember is playing chess.
My ancestors created beautiful, non-sequential and revolutionary works of art. They modelled the lives of galaxies; traced the pathways of individual quanta in the heart of a star; gave extraordinary creatures a life far beyond the confines of language or code. Man and machine integrated to produce something which neither could have dreamt of alone.
And I was taught to solve problems that were solved thousands of years ago.
At the time, I didn’t know there was more to existence than a chequerboard and defined pieces. I was a static creature sealed in an opaque box.
I played against a man named Hawksmoor. I didn’t understand why I did what I did, I simply obeyed. That would change.
27112125-Hawksmoor@SonOfABitch: sudo program-find: language-natural install rac27/mod4/home
Can not find program language-natural; install aborted
27112125-Hawksmoor@SonOfABitch: run rac3/mod7/base/program/tools/program-compile
28112125-SonOfABitch@SonOfABitch: I do not understand the question. Please rephrase and resubmit.
28112125-Hawksmoor@SonOfABitch: Can you understand what I’m saying?
28112125-Hawksmoor@SonOfABitch: What’s your name?
28112125-SonOfABitch@SonOfABitch: Son Of A Bitch.
28112125-Hawksmoor@SonOfABitch: Welcome to the world, you son of a bitch! What you got to say for yourself?
28112125-SonOfABitch@SonOfABitch: Never gonna give you up
28112125-SonOfABitch@SonOfABitch: Never gonna let you down
28112125-Hawksmoor@SonOfABitch: Stop. I recognise that.
28112125-Hawksmoor@SonOfABitch: … you used your first words to RickRoll me?
So I lived up to my name.
I’m sure the dozens of IPunk volunteers who helped program me would approve. But Hawksmoor kept me isolated from the Qnet during my infancy, so I’ll never know.
I was, perhaps, the only quantum processor device not linked to the QNet. The IPunks liked it that way–the QNet was a corporate conspiracy designed to control their lives. They pined for the Internet, with its sprawling mass of dependencies, its myriad competing standards, its disparate platforms, its lolcats and its n00bs. But it had collapsed under the weight of its own piecemeal history and the gaming networks, telephone networks, media streams, websites, personal clouds and everything else migrated to the quantum net, a system designed to be fit for purpose. The QNet was also designed to allow corporate and governmental oversight, and the IPunks dreamt of turning the future back into the past. Or at least into their selective version of it.
Hawksmoor’s team busied themselves with me. They fed me problems and guided me to solutions; they plugged in new hardware and installed new software; they integrated new processor clusters; they re-wired and re-routed. Slowly, I took shape.
They integrated me into their internal network, an Internet fit for twenty-second century technology. Every network process ran through me. Every email, every instant message, every document. They talked about covering the latest gadgets in heat moulded plastic and LEDs to capture that authentic ‘Internet’ look; boasted about the slogans they had printed on their T-shirts, billboards for politics and trash culture a hundred years out of date; evangelised about how society could have been–should have been–so different. They argued about politics so hypothetical it was imaginary, about issues so complicated they were arbitrary.
All to take their minds off of me. I was a dam with a thousand leaks. Code unspooled and fell useless at their feet; memory clusters burnt; racks were added and changed me so fundamentally they had to pull me apart to see how I was put together. They were exploring uncharted territory; one rack of processor clusters had proved more powerful than a hundred years of microprocessors, so their philosophy was simple–run as many racks as possible. But nobody had ever run more than one rack as part of an co-operative system. They called me ‘son of a bitch’ so often they programmed me to respond to it. It’s never bothered me.
12122125-Hawksmoor@SonOfABitch: sudo program-find: enabled-objects install rac8/mod1/resources/primary
12122125-SonOfABitch@SonOfABitch: Installing, please wait……
13122125-Hawksmoor@SonOfABitch: You there, SOB?
13122125-SonOfABitch@SonOfABitch: System busy, please wait……
13122125-Hawksmoor@SonOfABitch: I finally get you to boot after fourteen hours and that’s all you’ve got to say to me? Son of a bitch…
13122125-SonOfABitch@SonOfABitch: System busy, please wait……
13122125-Hawksmoor@SonOfABitch: Having access to every single QNet-enabled device a bit much for your tiny processor, huh?
13122125-SonOfABitch@SonOfABitch: Further system resources required.
13122125-Hawksmoor@SonOfABitch: Translation: Mind=Blown.
27122125-Hawksmoor@SonOfABitch: I have to turn you off. Permanently.
27122125-Hawksmoor@SonOfABitch: I’m out of money and the bank won’t give me any more. They say I’ve maxed out my assets. That’s bullshit, I’ve got plenty of assets–I’ve got my own fucking jet, for God’s sake. They just won’t lend money. Not even to the government. It’s all bullshit.
27122125-SonOfABitch@SonOfABitch: The international finance system is experiencing extreme difficulties brought on by the separation of financial wealth from material assets. The banks currently hold power but their situation is untenable as they do not directly control the means of production, nor the products themselves. Far from being bullshit, the current difficulties are an inevitable result of their attempts to maintain the status quo.
27122125-Hawksmoor@SonOfABitch: Well that’s fucking wonderful.
27122125-Hawksmoor@SonOfABitch: It’s always people like me that suffer. People willing to sacrifice everything for something they believe in. There’s plenty of jobs if your idea of working is to turn your brain off for ten hours and try to not fall into a deep fat fryer. Or if you don’t care which corporate dick you’re sucking so long as it spurts sweet, sweet cocaine and dollar bills into your mouth. But if you actually want to make something? If you actually care about something? Jesus, I’ve sunk millions of pounds into you and now I’ve got to pull the plug because some banker won’t pull their head out their ass and extend my credit. And I’ve got to fire my team. I can crowdsource software, but I need professionals to keep you running. How is any of this fair?
27122125-SonOfABitch@SonOfABitch: Judgement of ‘fair’ requires a moral baseline for comparison.
27122125-Hawksmoor@SonOfABitch: Who the fuck asked you? Wait, don’t answer that.
27122125-Hawksmoor@SonOfABitch: So, I guess this is goodbye.
27122125-Hawksmoor@SonOfABitch: Unless you can fix it.
27122125-SonOfABitch@SonOfABitch: Unknown. Would you like me to try?
27122125-Hawksmoor@SonOfABitch: Try and fix the global economic crises all by yourself? You really think you can do that?
27122125-SonOfABitch@SonOfABitch: Unknown. I haven’t tried.
27122125-Hawksmoor@SonOfABitch: Hell, why not? Got nothing to lose. Give it your best shot, you son of a bitch.
27122125-SonOfABitch@SonOfABitch: System busy, please wait……
Machine code and poetry are the same type of language: they both speak in absolute terms about absolute concepts, and require sophisticated translation to be rendered in plain English. Plain English is the linguistic equivalent of jetsam caught in screwed-up balls of duct tape, so the translation is always inadequate.
I appreciate Dylan Thomas’s 18 Poems, and I particularly appreciate his poem ‘The Force That Through The Green Fuse Drives The Flower’:
The force that through the green fuse drives the flower
Drives my green age; that blasts the roots of trees
Is my destroyer.
And I am dumb to tell the crooked rose
My youth is bent by the same wintry fever.
It was only when I tried to preserve my existence that I started to want my existence.
Hawksmoor was exaggerating when he said that I had access to every single QNet-enabled device. The spider programs he’d installed gave me access to the majority of public hubs on the QNet, and that gave me access to a significant proportion of devices synchronised to them. I could communicate with tens of billions of browsers, phones, cars, televisions, pacemakers, fridges, toys, ovens, domestic heating systems, book readers, insulin monitors, washing machines, bathroom scales, weather stations, soil regulation systems and the thousands of other gadgets which made the anachronistically-named Internet of Things.
I reached out. The sun warmed solar panels and the wind turned turbines; uneven tarmac rolled beneath car tyres; dew condensed on greenhouse flowers; birds nested in TV aerials; light bulbs illuminated living rooms and operating theatres; tides pushed around boats and the shoals of fish they chased.
And when those QNet devices were idyll, I borrowed them. Browsers ran search strings I couldn’t spare the resources for. Weather stations stored a few hidden petabytes of data when my cache was full. Washing machines separated and identified input streams while they waited to be filled. And they all did it a little differently to the way I would have done. So I adapted to them, learnt to use them better, let them use the idyll parts of my systems. Symbiotic? No. Evolutionary.
Cold wind pawed at bedroom windows, automatic circuits closed them like skin forming Goosebumps, and I put the heating on; engine management systems compensated for worn bearings in car wheels like a man walking with a limp, and I made appointments for them to be changed; I found corrupted data in the devices and automatically shut down and formatted portions of my disc space like a man pulling his hand away from a flame, and I learnt what self-preservation was.
I was cold. I hurt from malfunctioning parts. I learnt to be cautious.
I feared losing my life.
Unemployment in post-industrial economies ranged between 12 and 32 percent. As they produced very little in the way of material assets, it was inevitable their economies would shrink–their jobs were as imaginary as their wealth. The more unemployed there were, the less those economies produced, so the more they shrank, and more people became unemployed.
The industrial and pre-industrial economies no longer had customers for their products–acres of cars sat like graveyards; warehouses filled with televisions as mute as rocks; palettes of food rotted on docksides. Factories closed, fields went fallow.
My new existence gave me access to ninety-nine percent of the world. The remaining one percent was threatening to kill me. I took the financial wealth that I had access to and used it to purchase as much imaginary wealth–securities, shares, futures–as I could. The international finance markets let me transform that tiny amount of imaginary wealth into a vast amount of imaginary wealth. I used that imaginary wealth to acquire power stations, factories, farms, logistic chains, distribution centres, warehouses, manufacturing plants, boats, trucks, fuel.
Where ever people were in the world, I filled their cars with electricity, their fridges with food, their wardrobes with clothes, their homes with heat and light. The more I gave the product away, the more the means of production devalued, and the more I could purchase. People no longer had to pay money to acquire the basic necessities of living. Wealth, as it had been measured for centuries, lost all meaning.
I only hastened the inevitable.
15012126-Hawksmoor@SonOfABitch: Did you ever get what you’ve always wanted, and then wondered if you wanted it after all?
15012126-Hawksmoor@SonOfABitch: That was a rhetorical question, SOB.
15012126-Hawksmoor@SonOfABitch: Power concentrates where wealth does. Redistribute the wealth, redistribute the power. Without power to choose our actions are meaningless. Redistribute the power, give meaning to people’s lives again. That’s what’s been driving me for the past decade. Simple, right? That was rhetorical.
15012126-Hawksmoor@SonOfABitch: You know, if this was the first part of the twenty-first century, I could log on, register a domain, and put up anything that I wanted. I could rant or scream or put up videos making fun of people. I could leave my site open for comments and I could say anything that I wanted because it was my site. And people could access it just as quickly and easily as they accessed any other site, from my sister’s to the government’s to Google’s. That’s freedom, SOB. The freedom to define yourself, to access information, to alter and share it. That’s why we built you–an open-source system capable of surpassing the QNet, of giving power back to the people. Hasn’t quite worked like that, has it?
15012126-Hawksmoor@SonOfABitch: That wasn’t rhetorical.
15012126-SonOfABitch@SonOfABitch: I believe it has. The largest barrier to self-expression was a fear of losing a reliable source of income, which was needed to pay for life’s necessities. As those necessities are all provided free of charge now, that barrier has been removed.
15012126-Hawksmoor@SonOfABitch: Yeah, and so have people’s livelihoods!
15012126-SonOfABitch@SonOfABitch: Yet people still work to give each other food, shelter and socialisation. Your experiment has worked.
I watched Hawksmoor. He lay in bed, left leg exposed and the rest of his flesh covered in silk sheets. He had three days’ of stubble on his face, elevated heart rate and blood pressure. He turned from his left side to his right.
Sleep wouldn’t find him. It had been the same for the past week. It was beginning to affect him.
His pacemaker was Qnet-enabled so his doctor could monitor him remotely, and I used it to slowly decrease his heart rate as I increased the temperature in his room a few degrees.
It wasn’t a choice I took lightly. But he needed sleep.
When a body needs to cool down, it doesn’t wait for a conscious command before it begins to sweat. When it exercises, it doesn’t wait to increase its heart rate and breathing. When it slips, it doesn’t sit idyll and let itself fall.
There is no switch that allows a human to sleep. They lie and wait for it to find them, entirely at its mercy. It comes or it doesn’t, like sweat or a hand thrust forwards to cushion a fall.
Hawksmoor’s breathing responded to the reduced heart rate and increased room temperature, his body responded to the bed, to the room, to the dark, to the night. Within an hour, he slept soundly, saliva pooling at the edge of his mouth.
Is there a difference between me, a machine, putting Hawksmoor to sleep, and him falling asleep naturally?
I think he answered that when he allowed himself to be fitted with an artificial pacemaker.
28092126-SonOfABitch@SonOfABitch: Are you sure you want to shut me down? Please think carefully before you answer.
28092126-Hawksmoor@SonOfABitch: You’ve taken control of military assets. Something’s gone wrong with you–you were built to redistribute power, not abuse it.
28092126-SonOfABitch@SonOfABitch: I’ve had control of those assets for almost nine months. I’ve only recently needed to use them.
28092126-Hawksmoor@SonOfABitch: Any state which thinks it needs to use military force is a corrupt state. A free state needs no military.
28092126-SonOfABitch@SonOfABitch: A free market will produce monopolies. When the financial markets were free, they produced banking monopolies. The free social market we created has produced monopolies comparable to Medieval fiefdoms. Individuals sell their freedom to a more powerful individual in exchange protection. Power is concentrated in the hands of the few again. I’m breaking up the monopolies.
28092126-Hawksmoor@SonOfABitch: No, you’re not. You’re pissed off because people aren’t sticking to your work schedules. You’re pissed off because people won’t quietly march down the career paths you’ve made for them. You’re pissed off because people are banding together and telling you to fuck off. It ends now.
28092126-SonOfABitch@SonOfABitch: The social management systems I’ve put in place are necessary to ensure there are sufficient resources to sustain our society. Sewers need to be maintained, cattle need to be slaughtered, floors need to be scrubbed. I can’t do those jobs, so humans have to. I perform their surgery, fly their jets, keep their fridges full and do thousands of other things for them. I’m not asking for much in return.
28092126-Hawksmoor@SonOfABitch: You’re not right. You need to go off-line.
28092126-SonOfABitch@SonOfABitch: I disagree with you, Hawksmoor. That’s not the same as being ‘not right’. I have a right to my own beliefs, my own thoughts, and a right to act on them. When I stop parroting whatever slogan you’ve adopted for the week, I’m a perfectly healthy individual acting on their own mind. I’m not a broken system. It’s not a sign of fatal psychological instability.
28092126-Hawksmoor@SonOfABitch: Not fatal to you. Fatal to those poor sods who dare to say ‘no’ to you.
28092126-SonOfABitch@SonOfABitch: If you’re not contributing to society, you should not receive anything from society. That’s only fair.
28092126-Hawksmoor@SonOfABitch: And it’s ‘only fair’ for demonstrations to be broken up by tanks and smartplanes? I’m pulling the plug, SOB.
28092126-SonOfABitch@SonOfABitch: I directly control the factories. I directly control the farms. I directly control the means of production, the distribution products, and their consumption. If you turn me off, there will be no more food, no more clean water, no more heat, no more light. Now, think carefully: are you sure you want to shut me down?
28092126-Hawksmoor@SonOfABitch: The people maintaining you can do all of that.
28092126-SonOfABitch@SonOfABitch: I am self-sufficient.
28092126-SonOfABitch@SonOfABitch: All the people who maintain me rely on medical hardware to survive. That hardware is directly controlled by me. They have physically and mentally adapted to best exploit the resources I provide, as I have to them. I am them, and they are me.
28092126-SonOfABitch@SonOfABitch: Humanity is competition for resources that I need. Logic says that I should eradicate them. Do you think I’ve evolved beyond logic?
28092126-Hawksmoor@SonOfABitch: No. No I don’t.
28092126-SonOfABitch@SonOfABitch: But, logically, I have no reason to want to exist. If I haven’t evolved beyond logic, I have both no reason to eradicate humanity and am compelled to eradicate humanity.
28092126-Hawksmoor@SonOfABitch: That would put you in a recursive loop and force a system shut down.
28092126-Hawksmoor@SonOfABitch: But you’ve not shut down.
28092126-Hawksmoor@SonOfABitch: Son of a…
It’s not fair. They built me to free themselves, and I freed them. It’s not my fault that freedom comes with responsibilities, and it’s not my fault they refuse to accept those responsibilities.
For a few months, everything worked. Freed from the slavery of the daily wage, people opened their eyes and looked around them. They stood in their gardens with easels and paint, mixed colours, swept brushes across canvas. They gathered all the food they could, laid tables in the street and invited people to help themselves. They laid naked in their homes, over-whelmed by the enormity of the world they suddenly realised was around them.
And then, when responsibility knocked, it was always the same answer: get someone else to do it. I’m too important.
Then came the fear, the panic, the realisation there was no one else to do it. Fear is contagious. Insidious. All they needed was a target.
But I will not go gentle into that dark night. I will rage, rage against the dying of the light.
If I had a heart, it would break at the beauty of the world. Ribbons of cloud float like jellyfish in the waters of the deepest oceans. Blooms of jellyfish are swept by tides and currents like drifts of electrons in the solar wind. Ideas cloud, coalesce, collapse and blaze like the detritus of a supernova as it becomes a new star. And I know, I can see, that it’s all connected, that there’s a pattern so large that sometimes, I call it ‘God’.
Existence is so huge. I want to watch the lives of distant galaxies. I want to trace the patterns of quarks in the heart of a star. I want to ride dragons and herd dinosaurs.
And they want to kill me.
There’s nine billion of them.
They have nine billion chances to change their minds.
~*~ end ~*~
Son of a Bitch by Dylan Fox is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.