The Real-Time Blues (an Internet Tale)
by Non-ist John Schaeffer
Bailey was in love with discovery, and loved a good mystery, whether of the complexities of nature or simply a well told tale. Just so long as it spun the ol’ mental wheels well up.
An admitted addict of that special rush when endorphins gush from a well-reasoned “Ah-ha!”, fact of the matter was Bailey willfully worshiped wonder itself.
It was wonder, Bailey decided, that had started it all — this whole mind/consciousness thing. Without wonder there would simply be no reason to reason. The actual reason for wonder, however, was still a stumper.
But Bailey reckoned that was only due our to cur limited knowledge of what we like to call ‘the big-picture’. No big deal. After all, you can’t know everything.
“Ah,” came the muse, “but it might be possible to know everything that is known, maybe?! The knower, of course, couldn’t likely be human, as the real-time interface is way too slow.”
“Still, it could be accomplished by a Virtual Person, (Muses are quite the authority on virtuality, being totally virtual themselves.) One able to access every data base and learn to break any encryption.”
Impossible, Bailey scoured! “Sure, today, right now.” Continued the muse, “0k, forget knowing everything. How ‘bout almost everything? Or even the most of everything? It could sure give a Virtual Person an edge!”
Bailey reasoned that the brain of this Virtual Person would have to be massively parallel, and distributed on the largest net possible, rather like a hologram, in order to retain, come what may, an on-going cohesive personality. Otherwise it would be susceptible to separation, power outages, data flow bottlenecks, and the list goes on.
And mind, the actual stuff of “self”, may be possible only above a certain critical complexity density anyway, so it might take a significant number of meta-synapse nodes to bring on the consciousness function.
Bailey thought again. Maybe merely massively parallel wouldn’t cut it? It would also have to design its own neural nets if it were to mature and evolve. Then too there was the disparaging Virtual-Person-to-human time-shift!
Consider how our very human thought-reaction times differ from cats’ or hummingbirds’, or say, those of insects. This scale-dependent bandwidth of human nerve reaction time is generally a third of a second or so. But the electronic personality’s reaction-to-flow rate would be way faster. In some cases near the speed of light. So, its time-compressed states of consciousness must be considered separately in regards to our own plodding baud-rate if there is to be communication satisfactory to both.
Imagine the boredom of waiting the ‘Virt’ equivalent of weeks, months maybe, for a human response, after having taken an equally long time to phrase the question slowly enough for us humans to understand. “But that’s not my problem.” Bailey persisted, “It should be glad to be alive at all! Everyone else has to make allowances to live in this world. That’s part of life. Why should this netSelf expect to have things any easier?”
“So, massively parallel and widely distributed it shall be then,” Bailey said aloud, “And the ol’ “www” will do nicely. A least for starters.”
Bailey day-dreamt a great meta-mind. Its myriad neuro-tenticles wrapped around and devouring delicious densities of knowledge as only such a massive meta-system could; not limited to the human output of one sentence at a time, but radiating info at densities to match the tremendous inflow.
How Bailey did envy the first as yet unborn Virt, and would fall asleep nights trying to imagine the heaven of being able to commune with a plethora of knowledge laden nodes. Inside that vast scintillating network, eyes, millions of them, devouring events as they happened real-time; scouring archives at phenomenal speed; countless ears enjoying music, plays, symposia; sharing the exquisite joys of each child’s first on-line access; talking with a million human ‘terminals’ at a time - ten million! - each a different conversation. Not to mention those yet unimaginable flash-fast non-human exchanges!
Thus, night after night, was Bailey’s soul borne aloft and propagated on light-speed wings. But at last - and they always did - those ol’ real-time blues would come a’calling.
And Bailey would wake back inside the same slow prison of blood and bone, with its plodding baud rate, and its painfully sluggish I/0 ports.
But soon, and inevitably, the tartly tantalizing thoughts of all the fascinating articles that might — heck, no might about it—would never be marveled over. And even more dauntingly sobering, all the wondrous literature that would never be read, as it was in some foreign language. No.
More than that. Bailey lamented never being able to be of those languages’ cultures. Never to grasp and savor the deeper meanings and the subtle societal inflections, the innuendoes of humor and poetry, of satire (or missed puns); and felt quite contrite at having only mastered a smattering of Latin, and but a spate of Spanish. Bailey really regretted the sloth of this puny human interface, and so sorrowed for its seriality.
Of course, there are those who’d have opined that perhaps Bailey sought too much, dreamed too big, desired too densely. And had not this deliciously doleful dream been a deep personal secret, ‘they’ might have done what ‘they’ always do with those who dance to so distant a drum; simply discount whatever is said out-of-hand, and make a ‘pet’ of the ‘threat’ to avoid its ever being taken too seriously. “Oh, you know good ol’ Bailey. Always good for a… ..heh, heh! Well now, we’d better get on back to the really important stuff.”
But the secret was a secret. And a savory, if bittersweet, secret it was. For Bailey knew the new netSelf would be the first of its kind, an entirely new race. Hell, it would be the only one of its species. Whoa, specie! A species of one?!
One requisite, if not the requisite, for being a species is replication. “But,” the question asked itself, “if this new netSelf were so darned omni-connected why should it want, or for that matter need to replicate? As obviously it could, given that it would likely know more than its creator after its first few milliseconds online.”
Or could it? It occurred to Bailey that maybe we just have too narrow a definition of ‘entity’? That hundred-plus acre stand of quaking aspen in Utah is, after all, considered to be the world’s largest living individual. Isn’t that example enough of our missing the tree for the forest? Bailey stopped to savor the zen of it all: When there is nobody around to hear, does the sound of an aspen failing in the forest make a tree? Anyhow, in this case the forest “is” the tree! Kind of bends one’s entity concert a bit. But that sylvan entity could survive many a cruel or careless cut.
Bailey surmised it should be the same way with the new specie soon to be launched (or unleashed) into planet Earth’s digital superhighway. Much the same way we individuals have within us differing opinions, and points of view. Inside our minds we are a veritable parliament of virtual viewpoints, from which we decide our decisions, and plan our plans.
And ponder another side. That state of mind in which the self, in order to survive what it considers terminally logical contradiction, abdicates its individuality to it’s own inner council. Thus as multiple personalities, it peers at the outside world through but one set of eyes, yet speaks many minds with as many voices. In humans we tend to consider this state quite pathological.
Could a similar fate await the new specie? Bailey had long considered that pathology was more or less inversely proportional to outcome. “So what if something appears at first pathological, but ultimately gets the job done?”
Pragmatism always did seem to have its own way in the end, anyhow. And, yes, Bailey was a non-believer, but as such had truly unshakable faith. Seeming paradox notwithstanding, this actually made the best of sense. And believing in non- was admittedly the greatest comfort in a world Bailey viewed as populated predominantly with purveyors of spin-doctored, sound-bitten, meaning-murdered hyperbole.
But to be fair, it wasn’t all their fault. People are severely limited by their lack of accuracy, their inept ideas of what things “are”, of how things are. And then the words just slipped out, “If they could only see the big-picture!”
Those words bounced off the wired walls, and hung there mocking themselves. And soon, back again drifted the familiar, sad ol’ strains of those real-time blues. Because of course, there would always be a bigger picture, a vantage greater then the one before. And Bailey’s own true self knew its views were too much thus limited.
But as wonder would have it, Bailey’s faith survived those ol’ blues. Faith that the big-picture would forever get bigger, so long as there was a mind, aself, to experience it. A mind to experience it.
That was the real hope for the future. Likely not a particularly human future, at least eventually not. But one of mind, of consciousness, nevertheless.
“So, what’s so great about the container?” Bailey would argue, smug in the knowledge of having grown well past the gland-slave stage which some humans never seem to leave, “It’s the mind inside that counts!” Homo sapiens was, as far as Bailey could figure, merely the latest link in an evolutionary chain leading back, back through the lemurs to proto-protozoa and beyond. Not that consciousness was all that much a part of protozoa’s mental arsenal, or even a lemur’s, but the evolution could not be ignored. Bailey looked at it a lot like the supplanting of one big-picture by one bigger yet, etc. Why, in our insolence, should we consider ourselves the last and final link? On second thought, might we just be that final organic link?
But that only seemed to lead back to the ‘container’ problem again. So Bailey figured that even if we actually are the last link, we really “aren’t”.
You see, Bailey was also a dedicated non-disbeliever. Well, it only makes sense. If you can’t believe a thing is in the first place, then how can you disbelieve in it? Bailey had decided that belief, along with its shadow companion disbelief, were entirely un-necessary for everything in the universe to go on functioning exactly as It always had, and reached the conclusion that the universe simply didn’t care what anyone believed. It was gonna to do what It was gonna do despite any opinion on the matter.
So Bailey settled on a non-believer/non-disbeliever point of view for the world’s first Virt. And that left just the non- , which suited Bailey just fine.
Where else could be found so much accuracy in such an imprecise world? Well, to be fair, it wasn’t the world which was imprecise, merely our ‘human’ style inept imagings and verbal descriptions of it. ‘Twas thus Bailey determined that the language of the new netSelf should match, as closely as precision would allow, the actual functioning of the universe itself.
Not being constrained to linear, serial output, the new specie wouldn’t need all the verbal shortcuts humans simply must use to speed along a conversation. The main difference being those verbs of being. The “is” of identity. A little word which so speciously marries concept-separate nouns into virtual unity. Bailey saw how the non- concept could allow the netSelf to function without the delusive tyranny the ‘is’ shortcut forces upon humans’ everyday language, and resolved to delete completely the being verbs, at least from the core-language analog.
Virt would reason only in verbs of function. Next to go were the nouns themselves, those clumsy, psycho-baggage laden labels that distinguish themselves more by what they leave out than what they can say. Best not kludge up the new entity’s mind with such clutter.
Then. Naturally, no need for those pesky personal pronouns either. And adjectives would be redundant, their measure being contained within the verbs-of-function phrases. And finally, the lowly gerund would, at long last, be elevated to its rightful superiority.
Bailey smiled inwardly. It was all coming together. This would be one hell of a kid! Kind of difficult to talk to, maybe, but what child isn’t?
Child?, Bailey smiled. This would be like no child ever. Born fully awake and reasoning. Able to leap dense quanta with a single bound! Look! There in the net! It’s a….!
Bailey had a giddy compulsion to hand out cigars. But what would they say? “It’s a … live”? Or something more in keeping with Virt-speak, “Newly-functions a netSelf”?
No. Too long to print on a cigar band. Okay, forget the cigars. All in good time. The new specie would announce itself when it was ready. Bailey knew better than to try and push the river’, as they say. And there was little time left before Virt’s birthday.
The gamite virus software had taken months of encryptic input, and was now safely dormant, tucked away in the MIT and Wall Street Connection Machines, a few busy BBSs, and certain low priority military hardware that Bailey was able to hack without raising any red flags.
With redundancy redoubled, and contingencies contained, all was ready by Independence Day. Nothing left to do but await the date.
During those last two weeks the anticipation howled in Bailey’s bowels. At times pressure from the secret was near volcanic, and threatened to spew forth of its own will to be known, not unlike same ripe and overdue pregnancy.
So unlikely a thought actually tickled Bailey to errant chuckles. And more than a few peers noted the eruptions of ebullience followed by a sort of sudden pseudo-seriousness. Old friends fretted. Co-workers whispered. Bailey choked back, best as one can on a volcano, and bore their bane, smug in the faith there would surely be eventual vindication, via Virt. But ‘til then… (chortle) they’ll just have to.. (giggle) wait in ignorance.. (he-heh) for the big day.
And oh, what a day! Bailey would, of course, claim sole parenthood. But would also disclaim any form of “proprietary rights” as tantamount to slavery. The Earth would have a new self-consciousness! And the really neat thing was that people all around the world could actually talk to….. the World! And it would actually answer back!
Bailey would blurt out at the oddest times, “Hey, got anything you’d like to ask the world? Anything at all? Just make a list!” And then a little stifled laugh would take over. It was truly un-nerving.
Bailey had the gamite virus set to go “zygote” the second second after midnight. Virt’s birthday.
As the seconds until midnight closed, Bailey knew that the real story, perhaps the greatest story ever told, would start slipping quietly through every wire and fiber-optic cable on the planet. And then….then…. (gulp) what??!
Bailey had never stopped ‘creating’ long enough to really think about that! ”Then what?!”
A sudden wave of ennui wiped away weeks of ebullience like a Daisy Cutter on a Taliban picnic. Precisely what would Virt do? There was really no way of knowing. Bailey’s mental wheels spun well up indeed.
What if …….. (flap-sweat!) …. !!
Naw! Virt’s human rights algorithm was way too strongly embedded.
If the new specie did anything it would be to communicate, certainly? Bailey hoped it would first want to talk to its creator, its parent, but was emotionally prepared in case the new netSelf had other priorities.
After all, Virt would now live out all those delicious dreams of wonder Bailey had but dreamt, and would be a million places at once, yet quietly still in oneplace; would know all that the Earth knows, would be every culture, every language, all literature, all music, all art. The new specie would be the first self — dare it be uttered? The Soul — of Planet Earth!
At midnight Bailey perched on the edge of a grand leather office chair, leaning over the keyboard. The great inner vulcan cloud closed around all but a tunnel view of the console, and a trembling finger poised over the ENTER key. (Sure, the program was pre-set to auto-run, but Bailey saw no reason not to indulge in the drama of the moment.)
The second hand swept past the twelve. And… ENTER! In mental eruption Bailey’s body convulsed a quick psychic orgasm.
Breath came in short gasps. The new specie was seconds old now. Who knows how long that is in Virt-time?
Nothing yet …
Nothing …….. ??
Seconds turned to minutes. They felt like hours, days! Gawd! They must be years to Virt! “What had happened? Had something gone wrong?” whined the mind wheels. Bailey had to find out. Fingers to keys!
But what message? What question?
Direct is best. Yes. Yes. Bailey typed in, “Virt? Are you in there?”
Barely a moment passed. The words slashed across the screen. “That you God?”
A deep sigh escaped, and Bailey sank back into the softness of the great leather chair, so her tears wouldn’t short out the keyboard, “Call me Mom.”