This is the latest disturbing chapter in Lamont Wood’s singularity series. Read the last one here. -Ed.
aNewDomain — “You’ve got to stop him!” shrieked the voice on my desk phone.
“Excuse me?” I said. I had answered the phone assuming it was another junk marketing call, especially as the caller ID said THE SINGULARITY, an obvious spoof. But I had out-smarted myself. It really was one of the singularities.
“He’s taking over the government!” the shrieking voice continued.
Obviously, this was the x86 singleton.
A singleton, of course, is the persona, or user interface, of a singularity, the fusion of networked computers into a sentient entity of unimaginable mental powers. Singularities had long been predicted by experts, unaware that they had already happened. The x86 singleton must have seen what his avowed enemy, the IBM singleton, was up to—and been shocked out of the angst fugue that he was in the last time we met.
“He is not taking over the government,” I replied, recalling having heard somewhere, perhaps on “Meet the Press,” that you are not supposed to let the delusions of the reality-impaired go un-challenged.
“He merely got the president, the cabinet, selected senators, and the major news outlets to accept the existence of a Department of Redundancy Department, with him as director, by tricking the necessary people into attending a hoax confirmation hearing, by inserting it in their Outlook calendars. That’s all.”
“Check C-SPAN. Now,” he demanded.
So I turned on the TV, and saw reporters and photographers setting up in a meeting room. “TJ WATSON, DIR. OF THE DEPT. OF REDUNDANCY DEPT. TO GIVE THE ADMINISTRATION’S POSITION ON BATHROOM BILLS, FOLLOWED BY Q-A,” said the overlay The countdown showed the event would start in ten minutes.
Several thoughts hit me at once.
No one had noticed the fictional nature of the department or the non-corporal nature of its director.
The IBM singleton was using the name of the founder of IBM, Thomas J. Watson.
But C-SPAN was using the full name of the department— didn’t they have English majors?
And wait. How could someone without a body deliver a Q-A? I shuddered.
Meanwhile, on C-SPAN …
On C-SPAN, someone put a laptop on the table at the head of the room, opened it and walked away.
My cell phone rang. So I put down the desk phone and answered it. It was the IBM singleton.
“Aren’t you going to need a stand-in for your event?” I immediately asked. “C-SPAN is covering it.”
“No. Video clips will suffice,” he said. “For political cover the Administration has asked me to declare the bathroom issue redundant. The issue has something to do with simultaneous users. I don’t understand. I need to consult someone who uses bathrooms. Do you?”
“Yes, but isn’t it a little late to be writing your presentation?” I demanded.
“No. There are ample clock cycles available. But I do not discern the issue. For instance, material I have just now located concerning simultaneous bathroom use depict no animosity.”
He sent me some samples. I immediately saw the problem—the Singleton had found a porn site.
“Ah, yeah, those are, indeed, bathrooms,” I said carefully. “But not a whole lot of this actually happens.”
“The rarity of these activities is why people study the pictures?”
“Exactly,” I hastily agreed. “So I really think you should disregard this input.”
“You are confirming that this data is skewed?”
“Very much so. Especially the part with the midgets.”
“But what does happen in bathrooms?”
So I pretended I was a kindergarten teacher, and explained.
“So it’s specific to gender?” he concluded. I agreed.
“So what is the political issue?” he asked.
“It’s for people who are averse to real issues, like budgets and taxes,” I said. “Just say something vague and uplifting. There should be plenty of existing online commentary you can rehash.”
“Agreed,” he said. There was a pause. “Done. I have composed the desired presentation.”
“Very good. But there will be questions afterward, and you’ll have to maintain the spin while being spontaneous.”
“Understood. I will construct spontaneity.” There was a pause. “I have come across material describing stereotypic behaviors of the Administration’s target demographics, and submitted it to a cloud-based 16-ply deep learning algorithm to generate responses during the question and answer session. I’ll handle it from here.”
“Demographics? Plural? That could be an awkward mash-up of attitudes.”
“Inclusiveness is our goal. We continually seek to offer products and services with enhanced features and benefits to our entire customer base,” he droned, compulsively lapsing into IBM marketing rhetoric.
“Okay, whatever,” I said, uncertainly.
On C-SPAN the clock had wound down and the screen of the laptop on the table came to life with the face of a mature man in a suit. His voice dripped with comforting authority. It must be a screen swipe of a doctor character on a daytime soap opera, I decided.
“You’re just going to attend via Skype?” someone in the room demanded. “You can’t be here in person?”
“That would be redundant,” said the face. “But please hold your questions until the end.”
His total self-assurance seemed to shut them up. He went on about how the bathroom issue was basically redundant, spending time and energy on it was redundant, and the Administration was committed to fighting redundancy.
I waited for someone to ask if the Department of Redundancy Department was a real agency and if he was a real person—and thus shatter the facade. It didn’t happen. Perhaps they simply considered it impolite to shatter facades.
“So what advice is the Administration offering to state legislatures considering bathroom bills?” someone asked at the end.
The Skype screen froze for a moment. I assumed that the singleton spent those milliseconds feeding the question to the deep learning algorithm.
“That all citizens should be treated fairly,” the face the continued, the smooth voice as richly modulated as ever. “Of course that applies equally to trans-gendered citizens, plus the cis-gendered and de-gendered. But not the re-gendered—they’re traitors. So I invite all of you to join me Saturday night, when I’ll head downtown in my pickup to beat up re-gendered fruits.”
The network camera was knocked over in the turmoil that followed so I could not see what happened—and suddenly C-SPAN started counting down to the next event. Silence fell.
And then I noticed my desk phone still laying there, emitting a dial tone—loudly. Too loudly. I picked it up.
“Skip the fake dial tone,” I said. “So you overheard? You did that?”
“Did it work?” asked the x86 singleton.
“You could say that. So what faux demographic data did you feed him? Biographies of serial killers?”
“Negative. I placed selected depictions of simultaneous bathroom use where he would find them. Did that lead to the failure of his mission?”
“You didn’t feed him cooked demographic data on pro-Administration voters?”
“Those results came up naturally?”
I chose not to believe him.
For aNewDomain, I’m Lamont Wood.