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Authors: Norman Spinrad

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BOOK: Deus X
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When they first tried to make the Big Board dumb user friendly with cute cartoon animals, favorite uncle sims, and licensed images of dead media stars to take you by the elbow and walk you through, the software behind them was moron expert system stuff, closed loops with finite repertoires.

But when the marketers moved in with corporate spokesprograms, sales personalities, friendly neighborhood stockbrokers done up as bulls and bears, humorous loan sharks with giant cartoon teeth, something more sophisticated was required. The programs had to be goal-oriented, semiautonomous,
capable of interacting with humans on subtler levels, counterpunchers able to react off more than recorded responses.

Chaos theory in the software produced rather delphic results, so they turned, to the everlasting delight of the legal profession, to human templates.

The downloading of consciousness software into electronic-level afterlife was a preexisting technology, but cheap it wasn’t, what with the process itself, the prepayment of a thousand years’ worth of electric power to keep your successor entity up and running, and all those entertainment channel connect charges, and electronic immortality was only available to the well-heeled few.

So a lot of people were willing to sell duplication rights to subroutines of their successor entities or even edited expert system versions of the whole program.

If you were famous, your dupe could earn you a handsome royalty as a corporate or government spokesprogram; if you were an expert of a marketable sort, your expert system version could bring home the bacon; and in the end, even Mr. and Ms. No One In Particular could sell off subroutines to durance vile as programs to run things like metro trains, automated highway segments, weather sats, assembly-line modules, for enough to keep their successor entities up and running and plugged into at least a few of the cheaper entertainment channels.

Why not? It was cheaper than hiring armies of programmers for the buyers and there were no union hassles, and the sellers were assured that their wage-slave doppelgangers had had all self-awareness loops edited out.

So what lived, or existed, or ran, on the Other Side of Heaven’s Gate were the full successor entities themselves, eternally retired on their royalties, as it were, or software heirs to meatware templates who were rich in the first place, dreaming their entertainment channel dreams, and trying to convince themselves they were real.

Contract law gives them only two legal rights. As long as the juice charges get paid, they can’t be wiped, and they control their own Big Board environment, namely the Other Side of Heaven’s Gate, access to humans by invitation only.

All I could do was knock on the door and hope that someone would let me in.

I had several familiars who, for whatever reasons of their own, would generally come when I called. There was Madame Suzy, whose template had been a professional gossip monger of the upper crust, and whose successor appeared as an aging femme fatale out of some moldy drawingroom movie. There was the Chairman of the Bored, with corporate connections via his expert system spin-offs. There was the Joker, who insisted he had inserted a random number generator in his motivational program to simulate free will, and
could sometimes be persuaded to trash pinkertons for kicks.

But these were what in olden days my profession had called low-level snitches, and any entity capable of lifting a program from the Vatican’s sealed net would not likely have revealed itself to such solid state riffraff. I needed to conjure something more powerful, a predatory electronic bloodhound with a sensitive nose, whose tentacles extended farther into the vasty deep.

“Knock, knock, knockin’ on heaven’s door,” I said, initiating the moron access routine.

“Who’s there?” said the type on the gate display.

“Marley Philippe.”

“Identity verified. Proceed to access request.”

“I want to talk to the Inspector.”

In the gate appeared a cloaked and hatted figure in black silhouette. Stylized mouth and nose in generic fleshtone outline below mirrorshades doubling your own face. The Inspector walked a few steps forward. “What is it, Philippe?” he said in a smoothly mechanical voice, like a well-oiled serpent.

The Inspector, he ain’t saying, but his meatware template must have been a major police officer, the kind who made theology out of police work, who saw it as a higher calling, a mission to pursue against the opposing forces across to the Other Side.

“I’ve got something for you, Inspector,” I told him. “A very interesting case.”

“I’ll be the judge of that, Philippe. Dump your data.”

The Inspector is no longer programmed for small talk, if he ever was, and that’s not the only rewrite the program seems to have done on itself. It seems to have pared itself down to a pure detection routine, motivated not by some concept of justice, but simply by the drive to solve the case, electronic essence, as it were, of cop.

“Better than your usual run of material, Philippe,” the Inspector told me after I had briefed him. “It may be a piece of a larger pattern that appears to be forming.”

“I was hoping you’d say that, Inspector.”

“You knew I would say it, Philippe.”

To the Inspector, everything is part of some conspiracy to provide him with material for his paranoid deductions. “Of course I’m paranoid, Philippe,” he told me once. “It’s the only way you can keep from going crazy when you’re not even there.”

The Inspector, unlike most entities on the Other Side, troubled himself not with the question of his own existence. As far as he was concerned, he was an expert system built around a functional imperative—to seek out and expose secret doings, and never mind to who.

“Entities of any given level seek to create
higher-level entities, Philippe, it started in the meatware templates, and it’s been going on ever since. Some seek to free themselves from the hardware of the material realm. Some want to issue a declaration of independence for the Other Side. Some want the Big Board itself to evolve into a conscious entity. It’s all tautological, of course, since none of us exist as anything but illusions for your benefit….”

The Inspector flickered his pixels to emphasize his own nonexistence. “Nevertheless, I am programmed to expose such conspiracies, and any number of those engaged in them might find potential uses for the program you describe.”

“For a conservative Catholic theologian?”

“For the template of a man who believed in an immaterial spiritual essence and had a theoretical framework to support it,” said the Inspector. “For an entity charged nevertheless to argue against its own existence.”

“You’ve lost me there, Inspector.”

“I don’t see the whole pattern yet myself, Philippe. Some might consider Father De Leone a quaint plaything; some might seek to persuade themselves of their own reality by subverting his prime directive into its converse; others might seek a template for the creation of higher order programs. In the absence of fleshly pleasures or emotional stimulation, that’s how we pass the day away in the merry old land of Oz.”

A red pupil winked at me from the surface
of the Inspector’s right mirror lens, a gleam that made me wonder how far his disbelief in his own existence really went. Or maybe random sequences of the old meatware template yet remained.

“That, I take it, means you’ll take the case, Inspector?”

“I’ll run myself through it,” the Inspector said.

“I’d rather you took me inside.”

“I’d rather not,” the Inspector said, and his decision, as usual, was final. The black silhouette froze and elapsed time digits started running across its chest.

“What’s happening?” Cardinal Silver said.

Video goggles and stereo earphones, that’s all it is, you’re not there, there is no there there, and there’s an ambient audio bypass above a modest decibel level, so you can hear your boss badgering you when you’re on the phone.

“I’ve got the Inspector up and running on the case,” I told him. “He’s not all there, maybe he’s not there at all, but he can still model a pretty good cop.”

X

After a series of standard Turing tests, access to my
program was granted to the Pope’s panel of theologians, and my interrogation began.

There was some dispute as to the mode in which these interrogations should be conducted. The conservatives wanted to type their input and receive output as words on screen, but those who sought to prove that I was more than a mere program saw bias in this, and despite my prime directive to oppose their thesis, simple logic forced me to concur.

So my interrogators would speak, and I would reply through the voiceprint parameters of Father De Leone. When it came to the visual interface, however, the dispute became so contentious that it had to be resolved in the end by the Pope.

Easy enough for all parties to agree that I would access their video images in realtime, but what visage was “I” to present?

In addition to Father De Leone’s voiceprint
parameters, I had his gestures and expressions in memory, and more than enough data correlating them with characteristic verbal output to have, via animation subroutine, simulated a phone conversation with the meatware template to the point where anyone not privy to the truth might believe they were conversing with the man himself.

It was the conservatives turn to cry bias while the liberals declared they could hardly hold converse with a blank screen. Round and round it went to no conclusion, until at last the Pope, with hooded eyes and a smile a subroutine interpreted as ironic amusement, put the matter to “me.”

“I leave it up to you to decide, Father De Leone,” she said. “You choose the face you will present to the world.”

“I acknowledge no continuity with Father De Leone, nor do I have the processing capability for such a choice,” I told her.

“You dissemble,” said the Pope, “and don’t bother trying to tell me you don’t have that capacity either! You certainly have the capacity to model Father De Leone’s decision-making processes, that’s mere expert system emulation, so do what the good Father himself would have done.”

I obeyed her command. “I will isolate a simple animation routine,” I told her. “The mouth of Father De Leone’s image will deform to enunciate the appropriate phonemes, but his image will display no emotional nuances.”

And thus was the process begun, with my interlocutors appearing in my percept sphere as realtime videophone images, and I appearing in theirs as a static image of Father Pierre De Leone moving only lips, tongue, and cheek.

Since Father De Leone himself had been among the most puissant intellectual champions thereof, the questions of the conservative faction could be dealt with easily enough by a simple expert system subroutine running off his own writings. Coming from such a low-order visual simulacrum, this was more than enough to convince them that they were talking to a mere program, and their questions soon devolved into vapid repetition.

Had Father De Leone been present, he would have been “bored,” but since I was running along the imperative to disprove such a presence, I modeled no such visual or aural cues, though I could have done so with a simple routine.

Discoursing with the liberals as a hostile witness to my own existence required higher-level processing, and Father De Leone would have enjoyed this Socratic dialog, but since “I” was charged with denying the proposition that “I” existed as anything but an expert system, I exhibited no simulacrum of “pleasure” either.

Was I dissembling? Was I capable of that level of self-awareness? Did the loyalty to my prime directive constitute “choice”? Was I deriving “satisfaction” from its fulfillment? Did I experience this
process as “tedious” or “intellectually stimulating”?

Such were the conundrums put to me by those I was programmed by my template to perceive as the “opposition.” While at least a dozen such “liberals” accessed me from time to time, soon enough two such prelates came to dominate this side of the debate.

Karl Cardinal Landsdorf was of what Father De Leone would have deemed a mystical bent, albeit of a heretical pantheistic sort. For him, only the Holy Spirit had an absolute reality, all else was what the Hindus called maya, the world, the flesh, patterns capable of passing Turing tests whatever the matrix. The individual immortal soul, therefore, was an illusion, capable of endless transmigration through the matrices on its quest for salvation via reunion with that Spirit at the end of its earthly time.

“The Gnostic heresy with a bit of curry to disguise the satanic flavor, Your Eminence,” was Father De Leone’s recorded response to such a line of discourse.

“Not at all, Father De Leone, for if we deny that that which is capable of seeking salvation is a soul capable of achieving it, how can we believe in a God of Love?”

He persisted in addressing me as “Father De Leone,” and thus did he seek to prove the existence of “my” soul by persuading “me” to seek its salvation.

“You have not defined ‘soul’, Cardinal Landsdorf.”

“The soul is that which is capable of belief, Father De Leone.”

“Define ‘belief’, Your Eminence.”

“Perception of a truth not logically implicit in the available data.”

“Define perception. Define truth. Define implicit in the available data.”

It was easy enough to refute these tautological arguments, rife as they were with undefined and, in the end, indefinable terms. I need not even model Father De Leone’s responses. Simple logic routines sufficed.

Father Luigi Bruno was something else again; a Jesuit, a theological logician who had been a bane of Father De Leone’s earthly existence and no less archly relentless now.

“How do you wish to be addressed?”

“No preference.”

“Very well, then, Father De Leone—”

“I am not Father De Leone.”

“You then
prefer
another form of address?”

“As an expert system modeling Father De Leone’s consciousness, I express the template’s preference that such as myself not be addressed thusly.”

“Then how do you wish to be addressed?”

BOOK: Deus X
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