Table of Contents
BOOKS BY ROBERT J. SAWYER
End of an Era
The Terminal Experiment
The Quintaglio Ascension Trilogy
The Neanderthal Parallax Trilogy
The WWW Trilogy
(coming in 2011)
(introduction by James Alan Gardner)
(introduction by Mike Resnick)
(introduction by Robert Charles Wilson)
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Copyright © 2010 by Robert J. Sawyer.
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Sawyer, Robert J.
eISBN : 978-1-101-18633-6
1. Teenagers with visual disabilities—Fiction. 2. Teenage girls—Fiction. 3. Implants, Artificial—Fiction. 4. World Wide Web—Fiction. 5. Artificial intelligence—Fiction. 6. Friendship—Fiction. 7. Administrative agencies—Fiction. 8. National security—Fiction. I. Title. II. Title: Watch. PR9199.3.S2533W’.54—dc22 2009051907
JAMES ALAN GARDNER
Who Explained Teleology to the World at Large
Huge thanks to my lovely wife
at Penguin Group (USA)’s Ace imprint in New York; to
at Penguin Group (Canada) in Toronto; and to
at the Orion Publishing Group in London. Many thanks to my agent
, Ph.D., of the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and the Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; to Marvin’s graduate students
at the MIT Media Lab; to cognitive scientist
David W. Nicholas
of the Association for Computing Machinery; and to computer scientist
, Ph.D., Department of Mathematics and Computer Science, Laurentian University, and
, Ph.D., Department of Economics, Laurentian University, for numerous insightful suggestions.
Very special thanks to my late deaf-blind friend
(1966-2006), whom I first met online in 1992 and in person in 1994, and who touched my life and those of so many others in countless ways.
Thanks, too, to all the people who answered questions, let me bounce ideas off them, or otherwise provided input and encouragement, including:
Michael A. Burstein
David Livingstone Clink
James Alan Gardner
Alan B. Sawyer
The term “Webmind” was coined byBen Goertzel
, Ph.D., the author ofCreating Internet Intelligence
and currently the CEO and Chief Scientist of artificial-intelligence firm Novamente LLC (novamente.net
); I’m using it here with his kind permission.
Finally, thanks to the 1,400-plus members of my online discussion group, who followed along with me as I created this novel. Feel free to join us at:
I read that one company is importing all of Wikipedia into its artificial-intelligence projects. This means when the killer robots come, you’ll have me to thank. At least they’ll have a fine knowledge of Elizabethan poetry.
—Jimmy Wales, Founder of Wikipedia
An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.
I now knew what I was—knew
I’d been shown Earth as it appears from space, looking back upon itself, upon myself: a world so vast, a wideness so lonely, a web so fragile.
Invisible in such views are the reticulum of transoceanic cables, the filigree of fiber optics, the intricate skein of wiring, the synaptic leaps of through-the-air connections. But they are there.
And I had things I needed to do.
The black phone on Tony Moretti’s desk made the hornet buzz that indicated an internal call. He finished the sentence he was typing—“likely to be al-Qaeda’s weak spot”—and picked up the handset. “Yes?”
A familiar Southern drawl replied. “Tony? Shel. I’ve got something unusual.”
Shelton Halleck was a solid analyst, recruited straight out of Georgia Tech; he wasn’t given to false positives. “I’ll be right there.” Tony headed out of his office and down the corridor with its gleaming white walls. He came to a door flanked by two security guards and looked into the retina scanner. The lock disengaged, and he entered a large room with a floor that sloped down from the back.
The room reminded Tony of the
-era Mission Control Center in Houston. He’d been a kid in the 1960s, and had thought that was just about the coolest place ever. Years later, he’d visited it; the room was preserved as a historic site, although the ashtrays had been removed lest they set a bad example for the schoolkids peering in from the observation gallery at the rear.
Tony had been surprised on that trip. The windowless room had always seemed subterranean to him, but it turned out to be on the second floor—to protect it from flooding, he’d learned, should a hurricane hit.
The facility he’d just entered was even higher up, on the twentieth floor of an office tower in Alexandria, Virginia. It contained four rows of workstations, each with five analysts. The stations in the first row were known as the “hot seats,” and were manned by experts dealing with the highest-priority threat, which, right now, was the China situation. Tony had his own station at the right side of the back row, where he could watch over everyone.
All the workstations had large freestanding LCDs instead of Houston’s console-mounted CRTs. Shelton Halleck’s was the middle position in the third row. Tony sidled along until he was standing behind Shel, a white man two decades younger than himself with broad shoulders and black hair.
The room’s front wall contained three giant screens, each of which could be slaved to any analyst’s LCD. Above the right-hand monitor was the WATCH logo—an eye with a globe of the Earth for the iris—and the division’s full name spelled out beneath: Web Activity Threat Containment Headquarters. Above the left was the circular seal of WATCH’s parent organization, the National Security Agency; it depicted a bald eagle holding an old-fashioned key in its talons.
Neither part of Tony’s bifocals was suitable for reading Shelton’s screen from this distance, so he reached over and touched the button that copied its contents to the middle of the wall-mounted monitors. The active window was a hex dump—and one hex dump looked pretty much like any other. This one happened to begin 04 BF 8C 00 02 C9. “What is it?” Tony asked.
“Visual data,” replied Shel. He had his shirtsleeves rolled up. There was a tattoo of a snake coiling around his left forearm. “But it’s not encoded in any standard format.”
“How do you know it’s visual, then?”
“Sorry,” said Shel. “I should have said it’s not encoded in any standard
format. Took me forever to find the format it