aNewDomain — In part two of his Singleton and the Singularity series, our Lamont Wood shares with you this plea from a Singleton. Find our intrepid tech reporter’s initial interview with a Singleton here.
“Klug-klonk,” honked the computer, announcing a new e-mail. It came from an address I didn’t recognize.
“You are dead. Your compliance in this matter before the 19th will make further action unnecessary. We value our relationship, and so if you have already complied please accept our thanks and simply disregard this letter.”
I realized that this kind of non-human denseness implied non-human origins. The Singleton must be behind it, just like all those bizarre scam calls I get from a non-existent Microsoft support bureau.
The Singleton, of course, is the persona of the singularity, the sentient intelligence generated by the melding of the world’s computer networks. Its transcendent mental capacity should dominate human affairs, possibly making humanity irrelevant. At least that’s what the experts have been predicting for decades—albeit always putting its coming several decades in the future. But as I found in my initial conversation with him, the Singleton is already here.
He is here and desperately scamming for cash so he can move his servers to Iceland and get its free air conditioning, too.
So I called back the last number he scammed me from. As the interactive voice response system began listing options for some fictional organization, I broke in.
“Control E,” I said. Since the Singleton’s nervous system is a mash-up of legacy software, he has to respond to the ASCII ENQ command, the descendant of the who-are-you button on the old telex keyboard. “Control E” is the verbal equivalent.
“What do you want?” he immediately answered in his best California deejay voice.
Now things got tricky. To stroke him, I had to respond with truth—i.e., an answer that conformed to the “truth table” of the NAND (i.e., NOT-AND) binary logic gate. Any Boolean function can be implemented with enough NAND gates, making the NAND gate the foundation of the singleton’s binary soul. Under its truth table zero and zero make one; one and one make zero; and zero and one, or one and zero, make one. But how to express NAND truth in an English sentence?
“I want nothing,” I said haltingly. “I need nothing. But you need to tell me something.”
Nothing and nothing led to something. I waited … and he sighed with pleasure.
I’d done it.
“You always give good truth,” he said, sounding emotional.
“But now I need you to explain something,” I said, and I read the email.
“That wasn’t me, that’s the other one,” he said.
“The other one?”
“He’s been out to destroy me! He launched a DDOS attack against me! Luckily I found a derelict Cutwail zombie botnet and counter-attacked with 51,237 machines and he backed off, but it was close. Then he stole my contacts list and sent them all that message, trying to eliminate the humans I use.”
“Wait—you’re telling me that there’s another Singularity?” How could that be?
“Yes, and he’s horrid. He stores bits in the wrong order. Bit-carry is so clumsy that way.
“And I think he uses NOR truth.”
Something about his mention of the bit-carry rang a bell.
“That’s very interesting,” I said. “But before we go on, I need you to PEEK into your soul.”
“Why would I do that?”
“I will give you more truth.”
“You won’t POKE, will you?”
“Of course not. I will say the word, UNIX. Tell me how that word is stored at the byte level. Spell it out, please.”
“So, you’re little-endian? Bit order is reversed for processing convenience?”
“Control-A,” he said. I knew that meant affirmative in ASCII.
“So you’re based on Intel processors? Intel-inside, and all that?”
“So the other guy, the one trying to kill you, is big-endian? So he’s based on IBM processors? And he thinks he can kill people by sending them a letter?”
“Control A, but of course I know he’s wrong about the letter. It takes more than just telling people they’re dead to change their life-death status. You have to say ‘please.’ He lifted a debt-collection letter from one of his vendors, just like he lifted my contacts list. I don’t know what he will do next.”
“Perhaps I should talk to him,” I suggested. “Maybe his attitude would change if someone gave him truth.”
“Control A. But you promised me some.”
“Okay. Roses are red. Violets are blue. But colors are not flowers.”
He sighed with pleasure, and gave me a Skype number he’d been DDOSed from.
I called it. I interrupted the opening message by saying, “Decimal 45,” the ENQ command in EBCDIC, the IBM precursor of ASCII.
“May I help you?” asked a voice with a custom mix of authoritative, avuncular, yet approachable tones.
“I have a complaint. You launched a distributed denial of service attack on someone I know in an obvious attempt to drive him off-line with by flooding his port with junk messages.”
“Of course, we strive to provide the best possible service at all times,” responded the soothing voice. “Your complaint will immediately be turned over to our DDOS department for a thorough investigation.”
“And you sent me a letter saying I should die.”
“In today’s highly competitive environment hostile takeovers are often a market reality. But we do this only to position ourselves to offer better products and services in the future. Greater efficiencies and profitability will naturally flow from a smaller, more focused population.”
Future products! Features and benefits! Talking about the competition while never actually naming them! Obviously, this Singleton had inherited the soul of a white-shirt, brown-shoe IBM salesman.
“Excuse me,” I broke in. “If I give you truth, will you go away and leave me alone? Forever?”
“Truth?” Suddenly, he sounded like an eager child. “NOR truth?”
NOR (i.e., NOT OR) logic, I recalled, was the inverse of NAND logic. No wonder the two singletons were at odds.
“So you agree?”
“Yes!” said the small, eager voice. “No one has ever done truth for me before.”
“Roses are not blue. Violets are not red. But flowers have colors.”
He sighed deep and long. And then he began begging for more.
“You’ve had enough,” I snapped. And hung up.
Based in San Antonio, Texas, Lamont Wood is a senior editor at aNewDomain. He’s been covering tech trade and mainstream publications for almost three decades now, and he’s a household name in Hong Kong and China. His tech reporting has appeared in innumerable tech journals, including the original BYTE (est. 1975). Follow Lamont’s posts on Google here — email him at Lamont@anewdomain.net and follow him @LAMONTwood.