Part 9 of the Netcromancer by M.J.Miello
But I am getting ahead of myself. Declaring my intention to help Zee create an AI was still two years into the future. But something else happened that first night at the Fleetfoot. After the throng had died down, I noticed that there was an undercurrent of sadness woven into this event. Small, quiet conversations broke off from larger tangents. Shared memories brought on laughter of the kind that covered up deep pain.
I realized that these men were still smarting from their loss. Christopher Carpentieri was still very much here. I could sense the fleeting references to the ubiquitous “he” that inhabited their stories. I tried to join the conversations, hoping to learn more about him. But his specter kept dancing away from every group that I joined, with some other topic rising to take its place.
The conversations I could join were all about some obscure bits of hacker trivia, comparisons of the different programming languages, or a theory about what was going to happen on X-files. Sometimes there was some speculation about Zee and his history. There were questions about where his money came from, rumors of his rivalry with the department chair, and reports that the reason he wore a wedding ring was that he had a wife that he left behind in Greece. It was all interesting enough, but I couldn’t help but feel excluded from the reminiscences of Christopher Carpentieri. Inwardly I scolded myself for this morbid fascination. To them, he was a lost brother, to me he was a curiosity. My interest was voyeuristic and base. I tried to push him out of my mind.
“This is all really weird,” Billy said, still holding his nearly full mug of beer. “Isn’t it?”
“Nah,” I said, holding my fifth empty mug, “This is the most normal thing that has ever happened to me.”
Over the following year, the BAC was everything I could have hoped it to be. I was put to work in the computer lab that first summer (no more tearing down drywall with my uncle every weekend!). In the Fall, I resumed taking classes and continued to spend most of my class-time “helping out.” I also graded projects and tests. It all felt like I was just hanging out with friends, laughing, making jokes, creating ridiculous acronyms, writing the most absurd programs we could think of, and, in general, making a sport out of trying to master our sacred machines.
But by far, the best part of those years took place at the Fleetfoot. I was fascinated with every word Zee said. The view of the world that unfolded through his lectures was a far broader vista than any academic discipline had ever provided me before. The whole world was an acceptable pallet for cognitive science—as if society was one massive program. Through studying its ebbs and flows we could understand why the world functioned or misfunctioned. We could learn how to see the world—fix the world—make the world over.
Once, Zee had forced us to analyze the functioning of a traffic signal outside the Fleetfoot and propose how we could improve upon it. Then he mercilessly pointed out the flaws in all of our solutions.
“Why does this matter?” Billy asked in frustration. “What could this possibly have to do with anything?”
“These are programmed devices. Stupid as they are, they are following a logic dictated by circuits. They and their kind are affecting millions of lives every day. Who can say what such small inefficiencies can do over billions of repetitions? How many lives needlessly end? Whose fortunes are lost? What fates are swayed? And all determined by these accursedly stupid contraptions—made by men like us. And men like us have the ability to make them better.
“Soon, all human matters will be mediated through the workings of programs. Computers will be involved in all of our interactions from the bank to the bedroom. And therefore it will be the programmers who will ultimately be responsible for the outcome. Men such as you will wield vast power and have profound responsibilities. You will crush human traditions that have endured for millennia and create new ways of living. You will shape the law. Shape the flow of information. Shape the sweep of commerce. Will you be part of the chaos that tears our society apart? Or you will be part of the order that holds it together?”