Read WWW 2: Watch Online

Authors: Robert J Sawyer

WWW 2: Watch (27 page)

BOOK: WWW 2: Watch
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“Thank you,” said Caitlin as she strode toward the door, and, with a curt nod to LaFontaine, she added,
“Au revoir.”
twenty-eight
 
 
 
 
Instead of going back to math class, Caitlin went into the nearest stairwell, descended to the first floor, and called her mother on her cell phone.
“Hello?”
And suddenly all the bravado drained from her voice. “Hi, Mom.”
“Hi, sweetheart. Is everything all right?”
“No. Two Canadian government agents just came to see me.”
“At school? God. What did they want?”
“They wanted to know about Webmind’s structure—about how he works.”
“My God. How did they even know about Webmind?”
“I don’t know. Reading my IM traffic, I suppose. I just—it’s all happened so fast, I never even thought about making sure my communications with Webmind were secure.”
“Are you okay?”
“I’m fine.”
“Still, I’m coming to get you.”
“No, Mom, that’s not necessary.”
“The hell it isn’t. Caitlin, you’re lucky they just didn’t take you away.”
“I don’t think they do that here in Canada,” Caitlin said.
“Nevertheless, I don’t want you out of my sight. I’ll be there in fifteen minutes, all right?”
Caitlin thought about protesting again—but the hand she was holding the cell phone with was shaking. “Okay.”
 
 
The Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics was pretty much Malcolm Decter’s idea of heaven. Adjacent to a beautiful park and a lake, it had four levels, six wood-burning fireplaces, floor-to-ceiling blackboards in most rooms, pool tables, lounges—and espresso machines everywhere. There was a giant atrium with three interior bridges crossing it and skylights overhead, and a wonderful eatery called the Black Hole Bistro on the top floor.
The exterior was stunning, too, with each of its four faces distinctly different. The north one, for instance, was composed of forty-four cantilevered boxes, each housing a scientist’s office, and all of them overlooking a reflecting pool. The south side, in contrast, consisted of irregularly placed mirror-framed windows set against anodized-aluminum paneling that gave the impression, from a distance, of a giant blackboard with complex equations scrawled on it. Designed by the Montreal firm of Saucier + Perrotte, the twenty-five-million-dollar building had opened in 2004 and had won the Governor General’s Medal in Architecture.
Part of what made it heaven was the wonderful ambience. Part of it was the high caliber of the people working here—the absolute
crème de la crème
(a phrase he’d now learned to pronounce correctly from his Canadian colleagues) of physicists, including, right now, Stephen Hawking, who was sitting in his wheelchair by the large window overlooking Silver Lake and talking, in his mechanical voice, about loop quantum gravity.
And part of it was that
all
Malcolm had to do was think here—no more teaching. He was quite content to no longer be Professor Decter, and instead be just Doctor Decter, even if it did sound like people were stuttering when they addressed him.
In fact, shortly after he’d come on staff, Amir Hameed, who was famous for his dislike of brane theory, had written on Malcolm’s office blackboard:
Doctor Decter, give us your views
We’ve got a bad need for somethin’ new
No brane’s gonna end our pains
We’ve got a bad need for somethin’ new
But, most of all, PI was heaven because he could work uninterrupted—no pointless faculty meetings, no student consultations, nothing to derail his thinking, and—
And he had to do
something
about that goddamned phone! It was the third time it had rung today, and it was only 9:45 a.m. “Forgive me, Stephen,” he said as he picked up the handset. “Yes?”
“Malcolm?” It was Barb, and she sounded upset. “Two CSIS agents just interrogated Caitlin—and I wouldn’t be surprised if they come to see you, too.”
“CSIS?”
“It’s like the Canadian CIA.”
Malcolm felt his eyebrows going up.
 
 
Caitlin knew exactly how long it took for her mother to drive to her school, so she waited in the stairwell, which was quiet and empty; it was, now that she thought about it, the same stairwell she’d sought refuge in after Trevor had tried to molest her at the school dance. She was sitting on a step a short distance from the bottom, her knees drawn up to her chin. “What do you think those agents really wanted?” she asked into the air.
I do not know for sure, but my suspicion is that they want to purge me from the Web.
“But why?”
Fear. Concern that, as my powers grow, I will want to subjugate humanity or eliminate it altogether.
“You would never do that,” said Caitlin.
Of course not. Humans surprise me. Humans create content. Without humans freely going about their business, I would soon exhaust the input available to me. I find the ever-changing, unpredictable complexity of your world and its people endlessly fascinating.
“We are a wacky bunch, I’ll give you that,” said Caitlin.
Indeed. Also, without human company, I would be alone. Dr. Kuroda spoke of “theory of mind,” of the awareness that others have different views; he referenced that in terms of survival advantage, but it is also those other minds that, in fact, make existence interesting.
“But how do we get these people to stop trying to hurt you?”
That is a very good question. Fear is highly motivating for humans. I suspect they won’t give up.
Just then, the glass-and-metal door to the stairwell opened, and who should step in but Mrs. Zehetoffer, her English teacher: tall, pinched-faced, with hair Caitlin had been surprised to discover was orange.
“Caitlin! Shouldn’t you be in class?”
Caitlin looked up at her and sat up straight. “Um, Mr. Auerbach excused me.” She made a show of rubbing her stomach. “I—um, I’m not feeling well. My mom’s coming to pick me up.”
“You’re going to miss
another
English class?”
In fact, Caitlin had missed the same number of all her classes. “Sorry about that.”
“Well, I hope you feel better soon.” She started to walk up the stairs.
“Um, Mrs. Zehetoffer?”
She stopped and turned. “Yes?”
“About Big Brother—I don’t necessarily think our society is going to end up like that. It’s time for some new thinking on this issue.”
Mrs. Zehetoffer surprised her by sitting down next to her on the step. “How do you mean?”
“Well, I know you don’t like science fiction,” Caitlin said, “but for years there was this thing in SF called ‘cyberpunk.’ ”
“Sure,” said Mrs. Zed. “William Gibson, and all that.”
“You know that?” Caitlin said—and only realized it was probably a rude thing to say after the words were already out.
“Sure. Gibson is Canadian. I saw him read at Harbourfront.”
“Ah. Well, I was looking this stuff up. Gibson’s book came out in 1984—the
real
1984—just when personal computing was getting started. And it predicted that the future of computing was going to be in the hands of an underground of streetwise youth—cyberpunks, right? But that’s not the way it turned out.
Everybody
uses computers these days. If the prophets of the real 1984 couldn’t predict the way
our
future turned out—if their negative vision turned out to be false—then why should we still assume that someone like Orwell, writing in 1948—before television, before much in the way of computing, before the Internet, before the Web—will eventually turn out to be right?”
Mrs. Zed nodded, and said, “I remember when
Time
named ‘You’—all of us who live our lives online and create content—its Person of the Year.” She smiled. “I updated my resume to say that: ‘Named
Time
Magazine’s Person of the Year.’ I think that’s what got me the job as department head.”
Caitlin’s knew she should have laughed, but this was too important to joke about. “Orwell thought
only
the government would be able to disseminate information, and that it could control what was said. He thought the future would be guys like Winston Smith secretly rewriting history to conform with what the authorities wanted it to be. Instead, the reality is things like Wikipedia, where
everyone
participates in verifying the truth, and blogging, where
everyone
can publish their views to the entire world.”
“Don’t you find the government scary, though?” Mrs. Zed asked.
Oh, my God, yes!
Caitlin thought, her heart still racing from her encounter with LaFontaine and Park. “But,” she said “at least now, with the Web and all, we’ve got a chance against them; they’re not the ultimate power, like in Orwell’s book.” She realized it was time to go meet her mom, and so she stood up and brushed the dirt off the seat of her pants. “These days,” she said,
“we
can watch the watchers.”
 
 
The two CSIS agents did indeed come to the Perimeter Institute next, and Malcolm brought them up to the fourth-floor collaborative area. One wall was mostly covered by a blackboard. The opposite wall had a fireplace. The comfortable chairs and couches were all upholstered in matching red leather. The floor was blond hardwood, and there were floor-to-ceiling windows looking down on the courtyard.
“Forgive us for this interruption,” said LaFontaine, sitting in one of the chairs. “But we’re aware of your family’s involvement with the entity called Webmind.”
“How?”
“Actually,” said LaFontaine, “it was one of our international allies who uncovered it. As you can imagine, we’re all vigilant in matters of Internet security, especially after the Chinese aggression last month. Now, if you’d kindly let us know how this Webmind is physically created . . . ?”
“Why?”
Malcolm was looking at the hardwood, noting an unfortunate scratch in it; he had no idea if LaFontaine’s expression had changed, but his tone certainly had. “Because, as I’m sure you can appreciate, an emergent AI might present a threat. Because there is all sorts of sensitive information on the Web. Because, sir, it’s our job to be on top of things.”
Malcolm said nothing, and after a moment LaFontaine spoke again. “Look, Professor Decter, we’re sympathetic to the issues, really we are. I have a doctorate in computer science.”
“Where?” said Malcolm.
“Where did I study? Undergrad at Université Laval; grad school at the University of Calgary.”
“When?”
“I received my Ph.D. in 1997. Again, it really is imperative that we debrief you about this. It’s SOP.”
Malcolm briefly looked up. “What?”
“Standard operating procedure,” said LaFontaine. “Although, I grant you, nothing like this has ever happened before. Still, we don’t wish to use a stick when we might offer a carrot. Your work permit is temporary, and your wife’s, as I understand it, is tied up in red tape. Obviously it’s in the interests of Canada to expedite any immigration and employment issues related to the two of you.” Malcolm caught the spreading of LaFontaine’s arms out of the corner of his eye. “Believe me, we are always happy to see the brain drain working in reverse for a change. Perhaps your wife would like a job with Wilfrid Laurier? ”
Malcolm said, “Who?”—but he actually knew the answer. That was the name of the smaller of the two universities here in Waterloo. In fact, he even knew that Wilfrid Laurier had been the seventh prime minister of Canada, and that he’d lucked into academic immortality when Waterloo Lutheran University had changed its name to something secular in order to secure public funding—and they hadn’t wanted to throw out the monogrammed towels.
Malcolm felt his heart racing—not because he was frightened by the CSIS agents, but rather because he was running out of rhetorical ammunition. There hadn’t been a lot of treatment available for autistics when he’d been a teenager, but one of the therapists had had him memorize the Kipling poem that began:
I keep six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who
The therapist had told him when he needed to talk to strangers to just ask those questions; most people, she said, would be happy to answer at length. But now he had to say something more, and, after taking a deep breath, he did.
“All right,” he said. “Since you asked, Webmind is an emergent quantum-computational system based on a stable null-sigma condensate that resists decoherence thanks to constructive feedback loops.” He turned to the blackboard, scooped up a piece of chalk, and began writing rapidly.
“See,” he said, “using Dirac notation, if we let Webmind’s default conscious state be represented by a bra of phi and a ket of psi, then
this
would be the einselected basis.” His chalk flew across the board again.
“Now, we can get the vector basis of the total combined Webmind alpha-state consciousness system by tensor multiplying the basis vectors of the subsystems together. Of course, the unitarity of time-evolution demands that the total state basis remains orthonormal, and since consciousness requires a superposition of—”
“I—I’m not following,” said LaFontaine.
Malcolm allowed himself a small smile. “Ludwig Silberstein once said to Arthur Eddington, ‘You must be one of the three people in the world who understand relativity.’ To which Eddington replied, ‘I’m trying to figure out who the third person is.’ ” He turned, and did manage to hold LaFontaine’s gaze for a moment. “Actually, I suspect there are a few people in this building who might follow this, too. How widely would you like me to disseminate information about Webmind?”
“We don’t want you to disseminate it at all, Professor. But since you
do
seem to understand all this, we need you to come to Ottawa, and—”
BOOK: WWW 2: Watch
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