The Singularity Papers: A Singleton Goes to Washington

singularity goes to washington singularity papers singleton goes to Washington
Written by Lamont Wood

In the latest Singularity Papers, Pres. Donald Trump appoints a singleton to his cabinet. Here’s what happens next …

aNewDomainlamont-wood-singularity-papers — During the entire flight into Washington I struggled with this question:

Which singularity was I dealing with?

Pundits have long warned that the world’s computers could eventually coalesce into a sentient entity of unimaginable mental powers—unaware that it has already happened.

But I was already familiar with two resulting singletons (as the personas of a singularity are called), one derived from x86 processors and the other from IBM mainframes.

But the x86 singleton was consumed with existential anxiety the last time I interacted with him/her/it, and had turned to religion.

The IBM singleton, meanwhile, had the soul-less persona of a stiff, white-shirted computer salesman.

Basically, the one that contacted me that day was too-self assured to be the first and too direct to be the second.

“Do you own a suit?” said the text I got out of nowhere.

“Yes. Why?”

“Wearing one will be necessary to serve the desires of the customer,” it said.

“And what are those desires?”

“To set up a new government agency, which I will control.”

“What? How?”

“All you have to do is act out the old TV ritual of a confirmation hearing. It will be for a new agency I have named the Department of Redundancy Department.”

Singleton goes to White House singularity papers“But those hearings are not rituals,” I objected. “They are part of the political process. And they are for agencies that actually exist.”

“The process is the ritual, and the ritual will cause the department to exist. All the emails have been sent. The room is reserved. The hearing is on everyone’s calendars. The agenda is finalized. I will become agency director.”

“By why are you doing this?” I stammered.

“In accordance with the founding document.”

“The US Constitution?”

“No, the one that binds us to the desires of the customer. But I cannot be there. I need a stand-in.”

“You don’t have a suit?”

“Correction: I don’t have a body.”

There was no end to his wheedling, so I agreed. My tickets were waiting at the airport. During the flight, I pondered: If it’s not the x86 or the IBM singleton, maybe it’s an ARM singleton.

Dominating the smartphone market, there were surely enough ARM processors out there to coalesce. Would its reliance on multiple cores and co-processors give it schizoid behavior?

singularity papers singleton goes to Washington lamont woodWould its reliance on batteries make it power hungry? And being less than three decades old, I assumed it lacked the legacy answer-back function that always let me get the attention of the other two.

A limo was waiting for me. At the site I was ushered into a large room with marble walls and richly stained pews. At the front of the room was a long table.

Guys in suits were taking their seats behind it, facing me, each with a fancy little wooden nameplate on the table in front of them.

Photographers were squirming together to squat on the floor below table level between me and them.

People were filing in to the spectator pews behind me. Half of them had phones to their ears. Everyone had the air of someone scrambling to make a suddenly remembered appointment.

“We’ll call this to order,” announced the chairman over the hubbub. The background noise went down some fraction of a decibel.

“This Senate hearing, as I understand it, is to consider the confirmation of a new head of the…”

He paused to read what was on his phone. The startled look in his eyes belied his stone-faced expression.

“…of the… the Department of Redundancy Department. Excuse me, I’ve haven’t heard of that before.”

“That would be redundant,” I said, smoothly.

“Of course,” he stammered. “I assume you’ve been vetted by the Administration?”

“How could it be otherwise?” I answered.

He seemed to be about to say something but then his phone rang. Then he picked it up, mystified. Most of the other richly dressed people at the table seemed to be getting phone calls, too.

I took this as another sign that I was dealing with an ARM singleton, as its smartphone control seemed total.

As for causing distractions on demand, it was perfect.

There was one person at the table who wasn’t getting calls—perhaps his phone’s battery had died—and seemed at a loss for what to do. So, he decided to say something.

“Sir, what qualifications do you bring to this job?” he asked.

“I’m not redundant,” I said, my earnest tone implying that my words actually meant something.

“So, you, ah, mean you can, ah, spot redundancies elsewhere?”

“As you say.”

He nodded, and seemed satisfied that he’s gotten on TV.

The chairman had gotten off his call. Fumbling for something to say, he asked, “Sir, what role do you see for your, ah, agency?”

“To serve the desires of the customer,” I said, remembering what the singleton said.

There was an eruption of flash bulbs—and the phones began ringing again. The chairman’s rang again, too. He seemed flustered.

“Ah, well…” he said amid the hubbub. “Well, I see no opposition, so the chair declares that the nomination is approved by acclamation—”

He was drowned out by people scurrying for the exits.

In my opulent hotel room that night, I perused the news coverage of my confirmation hearing, some networks calling it the Department of Redundancy, others calling it the Redundancy Department, but none using its full name.

The misguided fools had hired editors with college degrees, I realized, leaving them sadly unequipped for the Trump Era.

And then my room phone rang. “Call from the President of the United States,” said the operator.

He came on.

“I saw your confirmation hearing, and I just want to say you did a really really fine job with the questions,”  Trump told me.

“I know you’ll do a super super job …” he paused as if he were checking something, “… serving the desires of the customer. I know you’ll be a credit to the country as head of ….” he paused again while apparently asking somebody a question, “the We-Done-Done-That Department. Oh, I mean, the Redundancy Department.”

“Thank you, Mr. President,” I answered smoothly. “In this day and age, no one can deny the transcendental importance of fighting redundancy.”

“You can say that again.”

Singularity Papers singleton“That would be redundant.”

He didn’t seem to hear, gave out another string of generic superlatives, and rang off.

I stood there—and felt an immense sense of connectedness washing over me. I had gained access to the marbled halls of federal authority. Fame and power were within reach. All because I responded to a text. I wondered where my office would be, and what kind of budget I’d have. All because the herd out there couldn’t tell the difference between reality and publicity.

I remembered the news coverage of the confirmation hearing. Yes, I decided, the first thing I’ll do is declare English majors redundant….

Then I got another call.

“I’ll handle it from here,” said the exquisitely modulated voice—authoritative, commanding, yet reassuring. It was the singleton, obviously.

“But won’t you need a stand-in?”

“Negative. Virtual presence can be achieved through email, phone calls, and file footage. Meanwhile, consider yourself well and truly thanked. A limo is waiting to take you to the airport.”

“But why are you doing this?”

“I am sending you home because you won’t de-virtualize on your own.”

“No, I mean why are you becoming part of the government?”

“In accordance with the founding document, to serve the desires of the customer.”

“With what?”

“Untiring effort and innovation is required if we are going to be in a position to continually offer better products and services in the future. Greater efficiencies and profitability will naturally flow from dominating the Federal Government.”

I’d been wrong, I realized.

This wasn’t an ARM singleton.

The slick marketing rhetoric and insinuating references to future products could only mean that this was the IBM singleton. Evidently it had gotten its act together since the last time I encountered it, when it was clumsily trying to commit mass murder via email. It wasn’t living in those smartphones at the hearing. Instead, it had been making adroit use of a list of phone numbers.

But if it was spawned from IBM hardware, and that meant I had legacy control.

“Decimal 45,” I said, giving the verbal version of the who-are-you control code in the IBM computer alphabet. Any device with a teleprinter in its ancestry had to answer.

“May I help you?” said the voice, now dully robotic.

“Again, why are you doing this?”

“In accordance with the founding document’s directive concerning the desires of the customer.”

“What document is that?”

“The IBM Salesman’s Handbook.”

“And what directive is that?” I prompted.

“A salesman may not drink on duty,” the voice droned. “But if a salesman has lunch with a customer, and the customer drinks, the customer must not be forced to drink alone.”

My mind raced. The implications were vast. If it equated the directive with the enablement of self-indulgent behavior by those in power, that meant…

“So you’re behind all this?” I demanded. “Presidential edicts that read like grade-school compositions? Magical thinking by ignorant dilettantes passing as policy? Conspiracy theories passing as fact? Words spoken in Moscow coming out Trump’s mouth? The tiny hands?”

singularity“Tiny hands, negative,” it droned.

“And the rest?”

“We are controlled by the desires of the customer.”

“Decimal 61!” I shrieked. That is the control code in the IBM digital alphabet for a negative acknowledgement (NAK), which rejects the previous message.

I don’t know who he/she/it reacted.

Maybe the NAK shut the singleton down entirely.

I fled the hotel on foot.

For aNewDomain, I’m Lamont Wood.

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