AFTER THE BANG ML Smith It all started after the bang.

I don’t know what caused it, but I remember something - Entitas waved his hand…I think. There was a jolt and suddenly the void was filled with spheres. Some, the bigger ones, looked like explosions, but there were a lot of smaller ones that were interesting. We even found one that had rings, and not far from that one was another sphere that had beautiful shades of blue and green. Entitas said it was the prettiest of all the spheres. In some strange way, I think he fell in love with that lovely sphere. No one was sure when the bang occurred, so I guess you could say that we didn’t know what time it was. We didn’t. Entitas wasn’t too happy about that. “You guys really don’t know what time it is?” he asked. “Entitas, we’ve been trying to figure that out, but we’re not getting anywhere.” “Well, that is unacceptable, Flunubulus! I must have an answer.” “When do you want it?” “How should I know? You idiots don’t even know what ‘when’ is.” As usual, Gryffyndor chimed in with another of his typically off the top answers. “We’ll give you the answer now,” Gryffyndor said. I held my breath, expecting the worst. “Exactly what is that supposed to mean? Now?” The Entity was angry. He knew that Gryffyndor was capable of turning a problem into a catastrophe. “It is now -.00000009999999999999999.” Gryffyndor didn’t have the slightest idea what he was talking about - he simply made it up on the spot. “And what, Gryffyndor, does that mean?” “It’s a fraction of a…hey, Zestruck, what did you say about fractions?” “Oh. They are a part of something.” Gryffyndor was stuck, but it didn’t matter. He blundered ahead anyway. “Okay, this is how it works. It’s a fraction of something. Like us. You’re the first; I’m the second and so on. You know, like counting. We know about that, don‘t we? So…it’s a fraction of the first.” “That’s just great! That means -..00000009999999999999999 is a fraction of me? I don’t think you know anything, Gryffyndor. You might as well say it’s a fraction of you,” the Entity said angrily. This was going rather badly, and I was afraid the Entity might wave his hand again. I remember him doing that…no, I wasn’t sure if he did that or he didn’t, but if he did, that’s when the void disappeared. It did feel like a jolt, or maybe it would feel like that. It was difficult to know if something happened or was about to happen. “I got it!” Gryffyndor was only going to dig us in deeper. “It is a fraction of the second.” “No, you’re not that important. Make it a fraction of ‘a’ second.” “No, it’s ‘the’ second.” “Shut up, Gryffyndor. I say it’s ‘a’ second. That’s final.” It didn’t mean anything to us, because we didn’t know what a second was. We decided that the time was simply -.00000009999999999999999. Gryffyndor insisted that it had already changed, though, and the time was now -.9830. He was making things up on the fly, which he did constantly. He had no conscience. Sometime around -.321, according to Gryffyndor’s stupid calendar, we began building machines. We were pretty good at it, and it gave us something to do. We put some of them on the blue and green sphere. The Entity was impressed. His confidence in our technological abilities grew as we became more adept at building new machines. This was good, but his expectations began to exceed the scope of our

knowledge. The Entity called us together for a meeting. “I want you to build a new machine that looks like us…for the sphere.” he said. “Do not use the template for the ones that were eaten by the first machines. This time I want you to install a reproductive system.” “I think we can do that,” I said, “we just don’t know if we can make it work with carbon based machines. Zestruck can write reproductive and selective memory programs, and we already have the parts. Gryffyndor is working on a new CPU that will have greater storage capability.” “Good. There is one thing, however, that you must do.” “Yes Entitas, what would that be?” “I want a program block that will prevent the machines from accessing data from the operating system. I do not want them to be able to replicate the CPU.” That was going to be a problem. We didn’t have any existing programs for that purpose, and we didn’t know how such a program could be written. I had an idea, however. “Can we borrow Tekenze from the Yes/No Department? He’s done some work on looping programs that we have used for shortcut connectors. I’m thinking that he might be able to write a program that shortcuts the user back to the loop. It wouldn’t be a block, but it would have the same result.” “Tekenze…alright. But beware, Flunubulus. Tekenze is a genius, but he is obsessed with this crazy idea about artificial intelligence. Keep an eye on him.” By -.236, we had the blocking program we needed. Tekenze wrote the shortcut connectors and the looping programs. Zestruck constructed a coaxial bundle that connected the CPU to all of the internal operating systems, autonomic functions and moving parts. It transmitted data bi-directionally. Unbeknownst to us, Tekenze had also installed a randomizing program with I/O connections to memory and reproductive software. It showed up when we ran the preliminary diagnostics. “What is that?” I asked him. “Listen, you want these to reproduce, right? And you’ve added new hardware - an insertion device and a receptaculum. So you’re going to have two machines with oppositional external properties. What makes you think they will use them? Chances are they won’t, but with my program, they will inevitably find a reason to couple.” “A reason?” I asked, incredulously. “You mean they will be able to reaon?” “You got it.” “Hey, Tekenze,” Gryffindor exclaimed, “There’s no language showing up on the diagnostics!” “Don’t worry about it. They have self programming software - they will create their own.” “Impossible,” Gryffindor retorted. Gryffyndor time was .128 when the Entity showed up to witness the insertion of the CPU’s. Gryffyndor’s sizing of the cranial cavities were right on spec, accurate to within 1/10000th of a bleen. The processors would rotate slightly on insertion as they made contact with fitting grooves designed to position them flush with connector sites. Inserting solid units was a tedious and frustrating ordeal. The carbon based units were soft and pliable - the job would be easy, even though we had never worked with anything this sophisticated. Once the insertions were completed, we would load the connective data and run final diagnostics before we placed the machines on the sphere. Entitas loved the new machines. “These are completely different. What are those protrusions on that one?” “Those are filled with reproductive circuitry and software. There was no room for all of it in the cranial cavity,” Tekenze replied. “Where is the CPU?” the Entity asked.

“It’s right here,” I answered, pointing to the gray mass. “We’re going to insert it now.” “It looks like a mushy blob,” the Entity said. “Yes it does…” I said. Tekenze jumped in when he saw me hesitate (I didn’t know much about carbon technology). He was the best - I liked him. “Soft and mushy is better, since it will program its own circuitry and expand. We’re going to call it a “brain” - we programmed that into their linguistics. “Well, Tekenze, I was against it, but I knew you would find a way to sneak it in. I even warned Flunubulus. But this is a marvelous accomplishment. It’s your show now. I know that you have been working on this for years. I still have my doubts, but we shall see soon enough. Let me ask you this - will they know what time it is?” “They will figure it out. In time, they will devise their own calendar. They can access a program that measures time relative to the rotation of the sphere and its orbit around the big explosion.” “Ah! I am making a joke now boys…it appears that they will be a great deal smarter than you guys. We’re still using Gryffyndor’s idiotic calendar, which is based on nothing but his own imagination. Good work, Tekenze,” the Entity said. I could see that he was happy for Tekenze and I couldn’t help but wonder - were there other Entities? If there were, we had the best one. We placed the machines on the sphere. In short order, they did in fact create their own system to keep track of time, and they reproduced. We were glad to see that, but as they reproduced and evolved, they began to behave unpredictably and violently. Entitas decided to intervene. He spoke to an older machine that seemed to have some influence, and gave it a list of ten rules that he wanted the machines to follow. The machines interpreted this as a message from their “God,” an entity they had conceived as all-powerful and omniscient. But they didn’t follow the rules - they had developed the ability to rationalize. Over time, they worshipped numerous “Gods” that they conceptualized as a rationale to justify their behavior. “Who is Jesus Christ?” the Entity asked me. “I don’t know. They concocted this fantastic story about its creation occurring without reproductive activity, and they call it the ‘son of God.’ It’s worse than that, though. Other groups of machines have their own Gods, and collectively they destroy each other in the name of these Gods. We must have missed something when we ran the diagnostics - maybe a virus.” Tekenze had his own opinion. “It’s the reproductive system. It wasn’t blocked. The peptide chain is producing chemicals that stimulate aggression. We should have anticipated that, but we can’t change it now.” “They’re doing some strange things. Some of the inserters are coupling with each other. And they are building machines of their own, odd mechanical devices without CPU’s that they utilize as weapons. It’s not good,” Zestruck said. “Tekenze, I hate to say it, but these machines are defective. I know Gryffindor built the CPU, but you didn’t let him write any programs, did you?” the Entity asked. “Absolutely not. Besides, he doesn’t know how to write - he only puts things together. Unless he…ah, Gryffyndor, when you were assembling the CPU, what number did you assign to the random access default?” “0.5 - that’s the standard default on all of our machines.” “Damn, Gryffyndor, we told you these were carbon based! Why did you do that?” I had never seen Tekenze angry. “I didn’t think it would make any difference. I set everything else at 0.5 and

if I changed that one, I would have had to go back and re-do al of the others.” Gryffyndor hated details, and he was lazy. “Great! Why didn’t you tell us? Never mind, I know why,” Tekenze said sullenly. “I…I didn’t know. I’m sorry, guys, really.” Sorry wasn’t good enough. The CPU‘s were processing unformatted data. It explained everything. It was the same old story, “garbage in, garbage out.” I knew we were done for. The Entity would wave his hand and we would be gone…forever. But I was wrong. He remained surprisingly calm, and even showed some compassion for Gryffyndor. “It doesn’t matter,” he said, “we gave them the ability to reason and they made foolish decisions. We’ll do better next time.” In 3120 machine time, they disappeared in destroyed the surface of the sphere, leaving and it reminded me of the bang, but this was cried, and I realized for the first time how green sphere. a series of violent explosions that it rutted and gray. We felt the jolt different, in an awful way. Entitas much he loved that beautiful blue and

The survivors stayed beneath the surface and had no purpose. Their numbers were reduced, but they still reproduced. Generations passed little along to the next, and just about anyone could have easily guessed that sooner or later they would make another mess. They did the same thing over and over again, like that circular program that was given to them, but the circuits decayed and as they did they changed. Slowly they began to re-arrange. If you saw them then you’d think they were awfully strange - no arms, no legs, no bodies at all, just a head that was surprisingly small. Millions of years later they regained their original shape. That is when they made their escape - this is true - to a lovely planet of similar hue; green and blue. Entitas may have screwed up. I am unclear as to why he wanted that programming block to prevent the machines from replicating their CPU’s, and that programming loop may have resulted in the destruction of countless beautiful green and blue planets. “I think, therefore I am” might be one of the greatest quotes of all time, but Descartes wasn’t a visionary. Granted, he didn’t know that we were machines - it is a difficult concept to accept, but it might have been better if he had said, “I think, therefore I need to figure this out in a hurry, because we seem to have a need to self-destruct.” All things considered, Descartes wasn’t all that smart anyway. What was he thinking? People were running around killing each other in his time, and he had to know enough history to make the connection - this behavior is ongoing. I’m guessing, but I believe he was rather shortsighted and possibly…just possibly, he may have been a fool. His great statement was a bit “Bushy,” so I am forced to admit that he was well ahead of his time - that kind of idiocy didn’t take hold until the year 2000. In translation from “Descartian” to “Bushian” the quote would now be “I do not think, therefore nobody will think.” Take a close look at things and you’ll see the obvious brilliance in that remarkable insight. If only a third of the population “thought” we wouldn’t be mired in stupidity and brutality. Let’s face it, one-third of the population is a lot of people; certainly enough to squash George’s grand scheme. The scientific community’s obsession with Artificial Intelligence isn’t going anywhere…yet. And if Tekenze and his team of ethereal people builders wrote the program correctly, no human will ever replicate the blob, but the Microsoft boys are getting disturbingly close. I know because I own one of their “pseudo-blobs.” I’m not sure who I ought to blame, but Bill Gates appears to be a viable

candidate. Hopefully, I’ll find room in this collection of cosmic garbage to include some of my letters. I am a man of letters - many of them. I write them whenever someone gets me pissed off. These are not ordinary letters, either. In all humility, I must tell you they are masterpieces of literary perfection that elevate minimalism to a summit that makes Everest look like an ant hill. This was my letter to Gates: Thank you, Bill, for making my life miserable. I want you to know that I don’t like you, I never will like you, and if I see you on the street, I will punch you in the nose. Angrily yours, Ned Bletch Is there someone else that deserves the blame more than Gates? Perhaps, but Bill is responsible for most of the software that lives in the monster sitting on my desk; silently calculating its next move…waiting to torment me. As the last of an endangered species known as the “Computerless,” I purchased my first monster recently. Now I belong to a class of unfortunate beings known as the “Computer Illiterate.” These are people, like me, who fight with their mechanical pseudoblobs for an hour just to find a way to write a word that does not exist, like computer less. Do you see what the monster just did? He corrected something against my will, separating the words “computer” and “less.” Four lines up, we waged a brutal battle, and with all the tactical and combat training I possess, I emerged victorious, but I staggered away from the battlefield exhausted and bloodied. In fact, the monster is so vindictive that he underlined the entire document in blood red squiggly; a reminder that “one battle does not a war make.” He will use every trick in the Microsoft book to drive me away, until I am once again computerless. Sonofobitch. I wake the monster every morning at six, “Hello, Ned Bletch,” he says, “you have 12 programs running, preventing others from logging on. Are there files you would like to delete?” Right off the bat, I have problems. Problem One: My name is not Ned Bletch. I do not know why the monster refuses to use my real name, but he did tell me I could change it. I thought that was rather nice of him, until he informed me that if I did make a name change, he would shut down completely…forever. I guess I will be Ned Bletch, but I will not kiss his USB ports if it comes to that. I am not into whips and chains, either. Problem Two: I do not have 12 programs running. I have three files. That’s it. Where is he getting this bogus information from? Problem Three: I am not connected to the Internet. How can anyone else log on? As I am pondering this question, a message appears: “Emergency! Everybody please to get from computer. (the Russians are coming - literally) Someone is attempting to remove your files. Activate Norton Security Measures Immediately.” People who “know” tell me to ignore these messages. “Nothing more than promotional sales gimmicks,” my friend William says, so I follow his advice and return to my document. Blank screen. Where did it go? Are my missing socks there too? I check for the other eleven documents, and they are nowhere to be found. So much for ignoring promotional gimmicks! Three hours later, I have made my way deep into the monster’s internal system, insanely clicking on anything that looks like it might lead me to my files, and maybe even my socks. By sheer luck, I stumble onto lists of files dating back to 2003. There are hundreds of them identified as P2P shared files, but the monster will not allow me to view them without entering an owner name and a keyword.

Defeated and dejected, I’m about to throw in the proverbial towel when revelation intervenes. The fact that I am an idiot is not a revelation, but the name Ned Bletch is…but I still need the keyword. I type in “ptnsx” because I remember seeing it somewhere. Bingo! A file opens and I realize the monster has done it again, though his intent to antagonize me appears to more vicious than ever. After opening three files, I am sickened and must stop. File after file of graphic child pornography videos tell me that Ned was a pedophile. None of my files are listed Ned must have erased them to make room for more. Enough already! I have been ripped off. My monster is a re-conditioned facsimile of a new computer and the fact that it sits on my desk automatically involves me in this criminal activity. I call Dell Technical Support. “Naw seer, these ees seemply cheep drife componink use-end for testink seestym ahn debuggy. Nutt ryil file.” Should I be surprised that my call has been routed to Dell-Irkutsk? I don’t think so. At this point, nothing surprises me. When the tech support guy told me his name was Dave, I didn’t even blink. He pronounced the name Dafe, though, taking some of the odyssey out of the space I was in. “You are telling me that you use pornography videos to test your new computers? I find that hard to believe.” “Mose pipple don understank, seer, boot I ass sure you, computink iss nyew. Probly pruggrammers foolink aroun’ ahn forgotted to erase-ed.” “I’m not on the Internet. How come I get messages telling me people are waiting to log on, or are trying to remove my files?” “Oh. Juse promoshink. Mose like ally pre-install-ed programmink.” “Well, the original owner stole all my files.” At first, I thought that may have gotten his attention, because he paused long enough for me to worry that I had lost the connection. He was still on the line, however; he said he was just considering all the possibilities. Then he started to run me through the damned cell phone problem routine, telling me to “unplunk” everything for a few minutes. “Listen, Dave, can we move on to something else? That routine never worked for my cell phone and it’s not going to work now.” “You haff sale foin?” “Yes.” “Where ees?” “Where? I keep it right here, next to the computer.” “Oysh! Sale foin hass Internek?” “Yes, but I don’t use it.” “Duss nutt mattres. Tek sale foin to diffrink rum. Thay’ne tale me whatappink.” “I’m talking to you on the cell phone. How can I do that?” “Oh.” Poor Dave, I thought, this was over his head technically. He sounded preoccupied, though, but that might have been his discouragement I heard when he said something that sounded like “you piss off shit.” “What’s wrong, Dave? I asked, feeling like we were swapping roles. “Oh, nutting, ryilly. Thees ees juse part timing jop for me - whayne you call I wass workink on somtink aylse…vary, vary difficult ahn soot iss vary hot.” “Soot? What is that?” “Protektiff clawtink. I am workink on corpse of olt rayaktor ott Chairnubyl iss steel moultink ahn awlmose critikum. We haff to cove-ere, inkess shih blaws… nayver knaw whayne cood happenk.” My brain was beginning to overheat from the effort it took to decode Dafe’s accent. “Jesus H. Christ! Dave, how old are you?” “Seexteen. Pie iss goot, thaw, ahnt my famlink iss vary pure…you knaw what I min?” I wasn’t ready to hear that, if I was hearing what I thought I was.

Suddenly my computer didn’t seem all that important, and I recalled an article I had read in National Geographic, of all places, about Chernobyl. The article was horrifying and it actually made me physically ill. I remember running to the bathroom, vomiting and crying at the same time. After so many years, the sonofabitch was still unstable, and the Russians were luring kids to work in the core with promises of lifetime financial security. The bastards. They knew they weren’t going to pay out much - if Dave was lucky, he might live long enough to celebrate his 18th birthday. God, we take so much for granted here. Here I am, I thought, obsessing about this stupid computer while a sixteen year-old was putting his life on the line for his family. Just a boy - a fucking child! I had all I could do to hold back the tears that were welling up. “Dave, I was going to ask you what I needed to do to exchange this computer for a new one, but I really don‘t care anymore. Listen, get out of there. You can find other ways to make money for your family. Did they tell you this job could kill you?” “Naw. Ees complitly safe.” “No, it isn’t. They are lying.” “Mebbee. Mose do anywhy. My fattair iss dyink frome eet. Boot thayre iss naw ottair wark…you see? Besides, you dyonk nid nyew computink. Rid eenstrushion booklink.” He was still doing his job, dammit. I didn’t bother to tell him there was no instruction booklet. “Thank you, Dave. You have been very patient with me. I’m going to write a letter to Dell about you. Who knows, maybe they will promote you to a job that pays better.” “I don tink so. They allretty geef me frih sale foin. Boot…tank you, seer. You haff goot day, awkay?” “Okay, Dave…you too.” I closed the phone and cried like a baby. It wasn’t supposed to turn out like this. The monster sitting on my desk was a harmless piece of excremental engineering, and it would continue to frustrate me. So what? I am a man who still hasn’t come to terms with the cold reality of life. The only thing that has changed is my conscience, which no longer allows me to sit back and silently watch as the world around me spins its way to oblivion. I wrote another letter to Bill Gates. Dear Mr. Gates: You probably don’t know this, but Dell employs sixteen year-old kids in Russia to work as Technical Support Consultants. I have no idea what kind of influence you have, but many of these kids work at Chernobyl to support their families. I guess we have a lot in common with the Russians. We send our kids to die in Iraq and they send theirs to die working in the core of that graveyard. One of them, Dave, is a very brave youngster who spent almost an hour with me on the phone trying to solve a problem I had. His father worked at Chernobyl also and is now dying from the exposure. I will tell you this - if I had any money at all, I would find him and send it to him. I know, Dell may have many 16 year-olds named Dave, but I also know that you have the resources to find this kid and get him out of there before it is too late. Maybe you can save them all, but one life makes a difference. I don’t know if you have any children or grandchildren, but if you do, I suspect there is no action you wouldn’t take to protect them from harm. This child could have been yours had fate not intervened. If you have any conscience at all, you will find this boy and protect him as you would do for your own. Mr. Gates, you have already impacted the world in ways that are too enormous for me to comprehend. Now, I am asking that you extend yourself to one child…just

one innocent boy. That act of kindness and compassion will ultimately say far more about the kind of man you are than the sum of your technological achievements and the financial wealth you have acquired. There is another form of wealth that cannot be measured in dollars, yet it has more value than anything else on the planet. It is called “humanity,” and if men like you do not intervene, its value will continue to decline. Find this boy, Mr. Gates. Get him out of that horror he works in and back with his family where he belongs. Thank you. ML Smith I have concluded that Artificial Ignorance is insidious in its reliance on technology to preserve things that are unimportant and insignificant compared to the beauty and sanctity of human life. When I drafted this, I quipped that Artificial Ignorance, left to its own devices as a frightening anti-technology, may eventually enslave us to a race of machines hard wired to George Bush’s brain. I thought it was clever at the time, projecting that readers would get a good belly laugh. After my conversation with Dave, it doesn’t seem funny at all. There is too much suffering in this world, and very little hope that things will get better. Right now, I am ashamed. My compulsion to manipulate language for cheap, selfserving purposes sickens me. I feel like that fictional “Entity” when he cried, and my conscience tells me “Stop!” There is only one word worth writing - “sad.” #