Part 8 of the Netcromancer by M.J.Miello
As the night unfolded I realized that this was not, in fact, a gathering to sell me on the BAC. It was a party for their entertainment—I was supposed to be grateful to be included. And for the most part I was. The beer was cold and pleasantly bitter. The conversations were lively. I enjoyed being the subject of curiosity and speculation.
It felt like a long time since I had been asked about my high school experiences, my favorite video games, and what role-playing games I had played. But wherever I could, I turned the conversation to the BAC itself. The Brown Ale Collective was apparently named in honor of the beverage I was at that moment liberally consuming. It was a small, local, secret society—a totally unauthorized organization that existed within the computer science community of the university.
The privileges alluded to were, in fact, many. I would be given a job in the computer lab, preferential standing among computer science majors, first choice in getting seats in Dr. Z’s classes, and, in all likelihood, an eventual officer position in the Computer Science Club and internship placement. If I continued in computer science as a graduate student, I would be granted a teaching assistantship and the associated tuition remission and stipend. Eventually, I could expect a job, assuming that their alumni had anything to say about it. All of these things would coalesce into a prosperous and rewarding career if only I would consent to be an electron orbiting the mighty nucleus that was Dr. Z.
Oh, and there was one more “benefit”—an unheard of boon to any college student—a tab. Every weekday I could eat and drink whatever I wanted between 10 AM and Noon (when there was a convenient dearth of comp-sci classes offered). The source of this fabulous bounty was not made clear, except for the fact that it was definitely, certainly, absolutely not originating from our professor, who would never debase himself by providing impressionable students with alcohol. Nevertheless, most weekday mornings Dr. Z could be found right here imparting his real teachings to his inner circle. While the well-oiled machine of the BAC did most of his busy work for him, Zee was instructing his flock in the dark arts of manipulating computer systems.
I came to see the that my first impressions of Zee were all entirely wrong. I thought he was lazy. I was wrong. He worked nearly all of his waking hours. I thought he was a drunk. But he was a tactical drinker who imbibed according to an algorithm of his own design which dictated when and how much he drank in order to maintain a perpetual blood alcohol content (that other BAC) of .05. This was the level precision he sought in all things: Maximize productivity while not neglecting a hedonistic preference.
Zee was a renegade in his college world for other reasons as well. He published in the as-of-yet barely respectable area of artificial intelligence. But his pedigree was impressive. He had studied under Marvin Minsky’s artificial intelligence laboratory at MIT, and fully subscribed to his theory of the “society of mind” which held that intelligence, and by extrapolation consciousness, could arise out of the working of non-intelligent components—that is, if our programs could mimic all the little things that happened in the brain, consciousness (the big thing) would just naturally follow. But more than that, he believed it was humanity’s destiny to create—no not just to create, but to become—artificial intelligence.
“Do you think it will happen in my lifetime?” I asked him one day.
“You’re lifetime? I have no idea. But it will happen in mine.”
“What makes you so sure?” I laughed.
“Because I am going to make it happen.”
In that moment, I believed him. I knew he would make it so.
“Well, I’ll just have to stick around and watch you do that.”
“Fuck that. If you’re going to standing around you better fucking help.”
“Deal.” I held out my hand to him. He shook it.